Book 1 | Chapter 49 | Heavy Heart

Another view of the Shore temple at Mahabalipuram. img src: cgtn.com

The three warriors decided to stay in a royal guest house in Maamallapuram. After dinner, Malayamaan went to a cultural program that he heard was happening in the town. Parthibendran and Karikalan went to the terrace. Karikalan was looking at the beautiful night view of the city. There was the flicker of lamps in many households. The evening prayers of the temples were just getting over and the temples were getting locked for the night. It was predominantly silent. He could hear the waves crashing on the shore. He could also hear story-telling at a distance — perhaps the same cultural program that Malayamaan had also gone to.

“Parthibendra, look at Malayamaan. He was so tired just a while ago. Now, he has gone to the cultural program. The people of his era are indeed different. Strong. Defiant.”

“My friend, it surprises me that you have also started talking about people of a different era. What have they achieved that we have not achieved? Look at yourself. You went into battle at such a young age. You have fought and won battles that one can only dream of.”

“Parthibendra”, the Prince caught hold of his friend’s shoulders, “I admire you. You are one of those who speak from your heart. Not like some, who feel something, and talk something else. Only because of that, I tolerate what you just said. You know I hate anyone praising me in my own presence.”

“If I said something which is not true, then you should punish me. What I claim is true. Comparing you to your ancestors is well within the realm of reality.”

“Stop, Parthibendra. I will not take any more of this. My ancestors were legends. I am far from them.”

Karikalan then went to list a few of the great accomplishments of his ancestors. He spoke about the war with the Kalingas. He spoke about the great war with the Pandiyas. He spoke about the Pallavas who built this glorious town of Maamallapuram. He spoke about the art of sculpture.

“You still think, you can compare me with my ancestors?”

“But then, my lord, you should also remember, I do not just praise you all the time. I do from time to time point out your faults too. Like now, I would like to remind you that you are also getting ahead of yourself in terms of promoting the arts, when you should probably be expanding your empire.”

“You should remember that kingdoms tend to ebb and flow over time. There are times, when the kingdoms flourish and then there are times when there is a lull. It is all part of a grand scheme of things.”

Parthibendran was surprised to hear his friend and king speak this way.

“My king, you are not yourself today. I have never heard you speak so dejectedly. Something in your heart is making you talk this way. Would you not share it with me today?”

“Who do you think lives in my heart?”

“It is precisely what I would like to know.”

“The great beings who brought me into this world — my father and mother — are not in my heart. The two people whom I love to death — my brother and sister — would not be there either. My closest friends — you and Vandiyathevan — would not be there. The one lady whom I hate more than anything else in this world, resides there in all her glory. The Pazhuvoor queen — Nandhini — the one person who is worse than the deadliest poison. I have not told this to anyone else till now. You are the first person I have opened up to.”

“I guessed so. Every time, someone spoke about her, I could sense the change in your demeanor. But what caused her to get into your heart? Why the hate? However much you might hate the Pazhuvettarayar, she is now his wife. Is it right to keep her thoughts in your heart?”

“Her venom of love had crept into my heart before she wed the Pazhuvettarayar. I knew her from before.”

“How did you know her from before?”

“It is a long story. It is late. Would you like to hear the story today?”

“Yes, Sire. I would. You have asked me to leave for Lanka tomorrow. I would like to hear your story, console you if possible, and then leave. If I do not hear the story, I would be continuously thinking about you and the mental torture you are going through, and perhaps would not be able to discharge my duty properly.”

“Hah. You are going to console me? I do not think anyone can console me, at least not in this birth.”

He heaved a long sigh, and started narrating his story.

Book 1 | Chapter 48 | Wise Counsel

img src: holidify.com

After hearing what his grandfather had to say, Aditya Karikalan stood rooted to the spot. He could not think straight. Parthibendran also stood staring into nowhere. The waves seemed to suddenly become silent.

Karikalan looked into his grandfather’s eyes and said, “Thatha, I have been hearing these rumors for a while. I did not think such things could really happen. Are you sure?”

“Why not? As per formal succession rules, Madhuranthakan has more rights to become Emperor than you.”

Parthibendran sneered back, “Never. That fool of a person. He cannot even string together four words to make a proper speech. He has never touched a sword, let alone use it. He should have been a girl, or at least that was how he was brought up.” He spat, as the uttered the last few words in rage.

Thatha, I do not care who rules over the kingdom. I can go conquer ten other kingdoms with the help of my sword. It would have been fine, if it had been announced earlier itself that Madhuranthakan was heir apparent. But, when it has been announced that I would succeed the Emperor, far and wide in the kingdom, it is not fair. Would you accept this?”

“I would never accept it. If you ever decide to give up your throne to Madhuranthakan, I would kill you, my grandson, with this very sword. And then, I will go and kill your mother, for having begotten such a son. And then I will kill myself.”

The old king’s eyes were burning as hot embers. He was trembling. “As long as I am alive, I would never accept such a thing. Never.”

Parthibendran was overjoyed. “That is more like it, Thatha. Aaha.” He hugged Malayamaan. Tears rolled down his cheeks.

“If that is how you feel, I will take our forces to Thanjavur. I will kill these vassals who are planning this coup, and bring back my father. There is no other in this world, who can survive an attack by Parthibendran and me.”

“In force, no one can beat you, Karikala. But these people are very good at creating cunning schemes. They will start rumors that a Chozha son is coming to fight a war with his own father. If the Emperor hears this, he will die of sadness. Will you be able to bear the blame of someone who killed his own father?”

“Shiva Shiva. I cannot even hear of such a situation. But then, what is the solution, Thatha?”

“I already told you. We are in a dangerous time. You should first send someone trustworthy to Lanka, and bring back Arulmozhi. It would be very difficult. Knowing Arulmozhi, he will never leave his troops behind and come back.”

Parthibendran stepped in front. “If you agree, I will go myself.”

“That is up to Karikalan to decide. But, whoever goes, will have to be careful. He should not indulge in any other act of bravado, like our friend Vandiyathevan.”

Parthibendran snapped back, “Haha, I always knew…”

The Prince cut him short and begged the old King to continue.

“I originally had some doubt about Vandiyathevan’s loyalty. I came to know that he was also in Kadambur the night of the meeting. But then, I got it confirmed that he was not part of the meeting.”

Thatha, how did you find all this out?”

“I was suspicious when I had not gotten an invitation for the event at Kadambur. So I laid a trap for one of the vassal kings — Kundrathur Kizhaar — when he was returning back to his kingdom, after the meeting. I took to him to my fort, tortured him, and got all this information.”

“Apparently Vandiyathevan and Kandanmaran are close friends from the days when they served in our army.”

“Yes, Thatha. I recall vividly that they were pretty close friends.”

“I was still not sure if Vandiyathevan was in the meeting or not, since he was still in the premises of the fort that whole night. But, I also got to know that he had gotten into a fight with Kandanmaran. This confirmed to me that Vandiyathevan could not have been part of the plot. If he was, they would not be fighting among themselves.”

“Karikala, did you hear the news that Vandiyathevan stabbed Kandanmaran in his back?”

“Impossible. You can put any blame on Vandiyathevan, but he would never stab someone in the back. And that too, never a friend.”

“What if he had found out that the close friend was part of a wicked plot?”

“Even then, he would have fought face to face, and not stabbed someone in the back. Never.”

“I admire the faith you have in your friendship, Karikala.”

“Vandiyathevan would never turn against us. I would never doubt his loyalty.”

Parthibendran also added, “I would also vouch for his loyalty. The only fault that I keep pointing out in Vandiyathevan is his weakness for a pretty face.”

Karikalan roared in laughter. “That is why I have sent him to Kundavai’s palace, after delivering my message to the Emperor. If he sees my sister, he would be enchanted and never leave that place.”

“Any news of Vandiyathevan, after he escaped from Thanjavur?”

“No. I have been waiting anxiously, but no news yet.”

“Once Arulmozhi gets here, we should get Kundavai also here. Then everything will fall in place. We should leave all the strategizing to the Princess.”

“And why is that, Thatha?”

“She is a brilliant strategist, right from her young age. She has a very sharp intellect. There are very few in this world, who can match her intellect. Do you know that our wise Chief Minister, Aniruddha Brahmaraayar himself seeks your sister’s ideas sometimes? You should not feel bad if I praise your sister. You should instead feel proud.”

“What if our friend Vandiyathevan gets enchanted by someone else before he reaches Pazhayarai? What if he meets the famed beautiful queen of Pazhuvoor?”

Karikalan spun around and shot an angry glare at Parthibendran. The Pallava warrior shuddered and kept quiet.

“Parthibendra, I am assuming you are leaving to Lanka tomorrow. You are youngsters. The two of you must have lots to talk about. I will not let an old man like me stay here any longer. I will leave to my palace.”

The old man started walking towards the chariot. The two warriors faced the sea and looked into nothingness, not saying a word.

“My friend, my king, my leader, may I ask you a question? Something seems to be bothering you. It seems to be killing you from the inside. I also gather it has something to do with the Pazhuvoor queen, Nandhini. Whenever anyone mentions Nandhini, your demeanor changes. Your eyes become fiery red. You become angry. What is the problem? How long are you going to keep this within yourself? You have said numerous times, that I am your best friend and confidant. Can’t you even open up to me? It kills me to see you suffering like this.”

Karikalan sighed.

“My friend. This suffering that I face inside of me is something that will kill me forever. It will die with me. It is not that I do not want to tell you about it. I will tell you tonight. Come, let us go with the old king. It is not wise to send him back alone.”