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.