Book 2 | Chapter 26 | Veera Shaivite Cat

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was.. ”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejeweled scepter. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

Vandhiyathevan was puzzled as to why and how this Veera Vaishnavar had come here.

“I was just thinking about you a little while ago. I open my eyes and you jump across the wall.”

Thambi, why were you thinking about me? If you had been thinking of Lord Rama, at least you would have gotten some punyam. Why think of mere mortals like me?”

“Actually I started thinking of Lord Rama only. I was thinking about how Lord Rama had worshipped Shiva at Rameswaram. And then I was reminded of Lord Hanuman. And immediately I thought about you. I wondered if you had also jumped across the ocean to reach here.”

“Who am I, to be compared with the great Hanuman? He had wreaked havoc here in Lanka when he came here. And look at me – I cannot win against a common cat. Look at how he has scratched my leg. My legs are bleeding now.”

“Why did the cat take so much offence to you?”

“I came here searching for you. I tricked the guards in the front gate, and climbed over the back wall. While climbing down the wall, I inadvertently stepped on the cat’s tail. This irritated the cat very much and it started attacking me.”

“Oho. I think I know what is happening here now. The cat came to me and was petting me gently with its tail. I think it is a Veera Shaivite cat. That is why it took a liking to me and hatred towards you.”

“What you say could very well be true. If only I knew this before, I would have given a few whacks to the cat with my staff.”

“Interestingly, ever since I set foot on this holy soil, I have also been feeling a very strong Veera Shaivite attitude. My sword is seeking out the blood of a Veera Vaishnavar. I recollect how you helped me earlier, and that is why I am refraining.”

“When did I ever help you, Thambi?”

“Do you not remember telling me about your sister, the Pazhuvoor Rani? You even showed me the palanquin in which she travelled. I saw the same palanquin outside Thanjavur a few days later. I told her that I had a message for her from you.”

“You seem to be well-versed in the art of telling blatant lies.”

“What I consider imagination, people like you call lies.”

“Anyway, what happened after that?”

“She gave me a ring with the palm tree insignia and asked me to come and see her in her palace.”

“And did you go and see her?”

“Of course, I did.”

“And…”

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was…”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejewelled sceptre. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

“Hmm. They say that the treasury, under the control of Periya Pazhuvettarayar, has countless riches. It seems that it is still not enough for Nandini Devi. And what did she say she would give you in return?”

“She promised to make me the Fort General of Thanjavur.”

“Hah. That would be nice. If you become the Fort General, then I would get undeterred access to Thanjavur.”

“I doubt if that would even be possible. Look at me. I am now caught in this mess, at the beginning of the mission.”

“Do you know why you have been imprisoned?”

“I brought along the ring with the palm tree insignia, thinking that it would have some power here also. It looks like that is the mistake I made.”

“Yes. That is a big mistake. Did you not know that the General here is from Kodumbalur? The Kodumbalur clan and the Pazhuvur clan have been arch-enemies since a very long time. But, do not worry. I am here to free you. Come with me.”

“No. I will not come with you. Please leave soon. My sword is begging me for some Veera Vaishnava blood.”

“I have enough blood within me. Give some to your sword if you want. Come, let us leave now.”

“No. I will not come.”

“Why are you being so adamant?”

“I thought I would get a good night’s sleep today. Travel has made me tired.”

“Oho. So, you want to sleep. Is this how you will finish the task that Princess Kundavai gave you? Did you not promise her that you would not rest a minute till you reached this scroll to her brother, Prince Arulmozhi?”

Nambi took out a scroll from his hip pouch.

Vandhiyathevan looked blankly at Nambi, took the scroll and stammered, “How did you get this scroll?”

“I got it from General Vikrama Kesari. He asked me to return this ring with the palm tree insignia as well. He also asked me to let you know that you can start your journey at any time.”

“Do you know where the Prince is at this time?”

“No. No one knows. Last we heard was that he had left Anuradhapuram and gone towards Malai Nadu. The General has ordered me to accompany you and help you in navigating this new land.  

A fraction of doubt still clouded Vandhiyathevan’s mind. “Can we meet the General before we leave?”

“Of course, we should meet him before we leave. You should give him any news you may have about Vanathi.”

Vandhiyathevan was almost certain now that Nambi was a sorcerer and knew the dark arts.

Book 2 | Chapter 24 | It is all Kundavai’s plan

“Listen, there is even more to what he has to say. He claims that you met this young spy outside the Thanjavur gates when you were travelling here. He also says that you must have given him the ring then. He claims that the spy also came into this very palace and met you surreptitiously here. Or, he says, the ring must have gotten to him through that other magician who keeps frequenting this palace.”

Kandanmaran noticed the Pazhuvettarayar’s angry approach and hoped that he had not heard the conversation between Nandini and himself. He hoped that the Pazhuvettarayar had not formed any wrong impression of him. But then, he now witnessed a miracle.

Nandini looked at him and fluttered her eyes, “Naada, I was worried that you had been away for so long. It is good that you are back in town.”

The old man looked at his lady love, and when he heard those golden words, melted. He smiled awkwardly.

“The work for which I had gone took a little while longer. What is this young man doing here? Has he brought any romantic poetry for you?”

Kandanmaran’s face flushed crimson. Nandini was quick to retort, and she laughed.

“This young man does not know how to be romantic, nor does he know how to write poetry. All he knows is to get wounded in a fight.”

“Yes, I heard. I have also gotten wounded in battle. Never have I been in bed recuperating though. It has been more than a week, and this young man has still not recovered. Or perhaps, it is because he got wounded in the back, that it has taken so long.”

“Sire, I treat you on par with my father. And that is the only reason I am tolerating these words of yours.”

“Else, what would you do?” the Pazhuvettarayar’s voice grew a tad bit louder, and his hand gripped the sword on his scabbard.

Nandini interrupted at this moment. “Naada, you know that it was not just his back that was wounded. His heart was broken too. The man that he thought was his best friend turned against him. The back wound has healed, but the heart has not. You know what transpired that night, when all this happened.”

She looked into the Pazhuvettarayar’s eyes. There must have been some message that was passed on, because the old man regained his composure immediately.

“Yes, I remember that night. This boy is but an innocent person. I should not take his words too seriously. His father is also a very close friend of mine. Anyway, let it be. I came here to share some important news. Perhaps, Kandanmaran should know about this too.”

“I hear they have captured a spy at Mathottam, in Lanka. He was also apparently holding a scroll meant for the Prince. By the descriptions of the spy that I am hearing, it does seem like Kandanmaran’s handsome friend, Vandhiyathevan. This fellow is a slippery one. Look how he escaped from here to Lanka.”

Naada, I am not very surprised that he slipped away to Lanka. I have told you numerous times of the incompetence of your brother and his forces.”

“Hmm. Yes, you have told me many times before and I had not taken it seriously. I think you are right.”

“Listen, there is more to this. Among the spy’s belongings, they found a ring with the palm-tree insignia.”

“Ah, how could he have one of our insignia rings? What does your brother have to say about that?”

The Pazhuvettarayar laughed a loud villainous laugh. “Kaalanthakan seems to think you must have given the ring to the spy.”

Nandini feigned laughter along with Pazhuvettarayar.

“Listen, there is even more to what he has to say. He claims that you met this young spy outside the Thanjavur gates when you were travelling here. He also says that you must have given him the ring then. He claims that the spy also came into this very palace and met you surreptitiously here. Or, he says, the ring must have gotten to him through that other magician who keeps frequenting this palace.”

Pazhuvettarayar continued laughing his loud raucous laugh.

Naada, I was wrong about your brother. He does make up for his lack of intelligence with his wonderful sense of imagination. I am however sad that you were just listening to all these accusations against me without reacting.”

Suddenly, her face turned angry. The change in emotions was drastic. The old man who had fought so many battles before, was confused.

“Of course, I was not silent. I shot back at my brother. I gave him a piece of my mind.”

Kandanmaran was caught in the middle of all this. He wished not to be there. He cleared his throat.

Ayya, we forgot about this young man here, while discussing the intelligence of your brother. Kandanmaran wishes to return to Kadambur. I hope this is fine with you?”

“Yes. I think it is time. His father would already be worried by now.”

“I also wish to send a scroll through him to Kanchi.”

The Pazhuvettarayar was taken aback by surprise.

“Why are you writing to the Prince at Kanchi?”

“If the Princess writes a scroll and sends it to her younger brother in Lanka, why should I not write a scroll for the elder brother?”

“How do you know that the scroll found on the spy was written by the Princess?”

“I know all. You keep asking me why I meet the magician. He tells me many things – one of which is this. The incompetence of your younger brother’s guards is demonstrated again. They told you about the insignia. Did they tell you about the author of the scroll?”

“This news did not come from my brother’s forces. I heard this from Anbil Aniruddha Brahmaraayar, who has just returned from Lanka.”

“Did he tell you about the author of the scroll? I have been telling you for a while now, about vile happenings around you. There are people plotting against you. The Princess is part of all this. I am not saying this based only on the magician’s words. I had the Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar’s son brought here and interrogated. He confirmed this as well.”

The Pazhuvettarayar was confused. He was also not in favour of discussing all this in front of Kandanmaran. Nandini realised this.

Naada, why should we delay this young man’s departure on his journey? I think, with your approval, he should leave now.”

Ayya, please ensure absolute secrecy. Deliver the scroll in person to the Prince. If he wishes to give a reply scroll, ensure it reaches me in absolute secrecy. Do not forget to invite him to the Kadambur palace.”

“I am wondering what I should tell my father, Devi. Can I mention that it is the Pazhuvoor King’s request?”

“Yes. You can. The Pazhuvoor King’s request is always in alignment with his queen’s thoughts. Is that not right, sire?”

The Pazhuvettarayar nodded uncomfortably.

After Kandanmaran left the room, she looked at him with her dove-like eyes, and spoke in her sweetest seductive voice. “Naada, it looks like the conversation with your brother has reduced your trust in me?” He was clearly blown over. “Uh oh. Never. I might even lose trust over my spear and sword, but my trust in you would never diminish.”

“If that is true, why did you throw so many accusative words at me, and that too, in front of that young man?”

Tears brimmed over her beautiful eyes.

“Oh, please do not cry. It tortures my soul to see you cry. But still, there are some activities of yours that I wish to clarify with you. Do I not have the right to do that?”

“Of course, you can. You definitely have the right to ask me. But, not in front of others. Ask me now. There is no one around.”

“Hmm, okay. Why did you send a scroll to Aditya Karikalan? Why did you invite him to Kadambur? Isn’t he the primary enemy of our plan?”

“No. He is not our primary enemy. Our main enemy is the serpent of Pazhayarai, Kundavai. If you remember, I have been telling you that she has her own plan. I think I have found out what that plan is.”

The Pazhuvettarayar was hooked, and was listening intently.

“I think she wants her favourite younger brother, Arulmozhi to be Emperor. She is willing to side-line anybody else, to achieve her purpose. That is the reason why she has sent the spy to Lanka. That is also the reason why she has now come to Thanjavur. Now, do you see why I sent a scroll to Kanchi?”

The Pazhuvettarayar was even more confused, but he did not show it.

“Yes, I see what you are doing.”

“You and your ancestors have been of so much service to this great Chozha kingdom. I want you to enjoy the throne at least for one day. I want to see that glorious sight. If this idea of mine is wrong, please kill me with your sword right now.”

“Nandini, please do not speak such gruesome words.”

Book 2 | Chapter 23 | Nandini’s scroll

She wants her favourite younger brother Arulmozhi to become the king. That is why she has sent for him. If Arulmozhi comes back, she can control the Chozha kingdom the way she wants. She will rule the kingdom by proxy

Nandini was sitting at a bejewelled table, writing a scroll. It was a cool night, one of her handmaidens was fanning her, and yet, one could spot droplets of sweat glistening on her forehead. The message read –

Dear Prince Karikalan, it is with great hesitation that I am writing to you. I am hearing a lot of inauspicious rumours. I am not sure if they are reaching you, or perhaps you are not reacting to any of them. Your father is very sick. Despite several invitations from him to you, you still have not come to meet him. I would like to talk to you. If you think you cannot come to Thanjavur, we can meet at the palace of Sambuvarayar. The bearer of this scroll, Kandanmaran, who is the son of Sambuvarayar, can be trusted with any news from your side. Please revert with your response. – Nandini”

She looked at her handmaiden and said, “Go and bring our guest Kandanmaran here.” Kandanmaran walked into the room. He stood beside a window staring into the garden.

“Ayya, please sit down. I understand that the eyes that have just appreciated Kundavai’s beauty are hesitant to even see me.”

“A thousand Kundavai-s would not be equal to one Nandini Devi.” She laughed off his appreciation.

“Devi, you can talk about anything in front of me, but please do not speak highly of the Princess. When I think of the way she was supporting Vandhiyathevan, my blood boils even now.”

“Still, your imagination did get the better of you when you described your wrestling bout with Vandhiyathevan.”

Kandanmaran felt a little ashamed.

“I had to say something to that effect. It is true that he stabbed me in the back. I hope you do not doubt me?”

“No. I do not. But I do believe you should try and recall, once more, what happened the other night. You met the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and me midway through the passage. Do you remember that?”

“Yes, I do remember that, Devi.”

“Do you remember what you said when we met?”

“Unfortunately, I do not remember the exact words. I do remember that I stood enchanted looking at you that day.”

“You said, ‘Sir, your Devi is the most beautiful woman on Earth.’.”

“Did I say that? No wonder his face flushed red. And I think that is probably the reason why he does not like me too much even now.”

“That is fine. As long as you like him, it is ok.”

“To be honest, I do not like him either.”

“That is also fine. What matters is that I like him a lot. I am blessed to have such a wonderful husband.”

Kandanmaran sat confused not knowing how to respond.

“Ok. Let us get back to that night. After meeting us, what happened?”

“The soldier with the torch went ahead of me. I followed him, thinking of you. We reached the secret door. He opened it, and stepped aside. I entered the secret passage. And then someone stabbed me in the back. That is all I remember. I still feel he must have been waiting for me outside, and then stabbed me when he got the opportunity.”

“That is where I think you are mistaken. I do not think he was waiting outside. I think he was waiting inside the passageway, searching for a way out. Once he saw you, he followed you all the way out. On his way out he must have stabbed you in the back. But, once he did that, perhaps his conscience got the better of him. He took you to the flower seller’s house, left you there, and escaped.”

“In hindsight, I think your theory is more probable, Devi. In this world, you would either see beautiful women or intelligent women. It is rare to see someone both beautiful and intelligent. You are one of those rare ones that Brahma created.”

“I need you to do me a favour. Would you help me with a task?”

“Anything that you tell me to do, Devi?”

“I would like you to take a scroll to Prince Karikalan in Kanchi. After he has read the scroll, and if he is willing, please take him to Kadambur as a guest.”

“Devi – would that be a wise thing to do? You do know about the plan that is being devised by Periya Pazhuvettarayar and some of that area’s chieftains.”

“Yes, I do know about those plans. But right now, all of us are threatened by one common enemy.”

“And who is that enemy?”

“The poisonous snake that came and visited you this afternoon.”

“The Princess …”

“Yes.”

“The Princess has sent your friend Vandhiyathevan to Lanka on the pretext of getting herbs to cure her father. That is a farce. The reality is that, after her father, she wants neither Aditya Karikalan nor Madhuranthakan to become the king.

She wants her favourite younger brother Arulmozhi to become the king. That is why she has sent for him. If Arulmozhi comes back, she can control the Chozha kingdom the way she wants. She will rule the kingdom by proxy. You know who will rule the kingdom with her – your dear friend Vandhiyathevan.”

“Aha. We need to stop this. Should we not tell my father and Pazhuvettarayar about this?”

“Hmm. There is no use telling them. They will not believe this. They do not believe that she is capable of all this. Kundavai’s dirty tricks should be countered by similar tricks. Would you do me the favour or not?”

She gave him the scroll. Caught in the smoke of lust, Kandanmaran held her hand, instead of taking the scroll, “I would do anything for you, Devi.”

Just at that time, there was commotion from the direction of the latha mandapam entrance. The Pazhuvettarayar entered the premises, and he seemed very angry. A parrot kept in a cage near the entrance fluttered its wings in surprise. The hand-maiden at the door let out a gasp on seeing the angry approach of the master of the palace.

Book 2 | Chapter 21 | Who dare disobey me!

“If there is a big calamity that befalls the Chozha kingdom, it would be because of only two ladies.”

Kundavai exclaimed, “One lady is me; who is the other one?”

“The Pazhuvoor Queen, Nandini.”

Princess Kundavai’s life had taken a drastic turn. It used to be a fantasy land, where she did not know the meaning of sorrow or sadness. Life was filled with close friends and hand-maidens, who took care of each and every whim of the Princess. In recent times, she was slowly getting exposed to current affairs. Astrologers were predicting that something bad was going to happen to the Chozha kingdom. She had gotten to know about a plot to overthrow her brother from being heir-apparent. Deadly rumours roamed the streets of the city.

However, Kundavai was one who possessed a very strong will and she was confident that she could solve all this with her diligence and planned actions. She did possess adequate mental acuity to manage all this. She also noticed that she was being drawn towards this charismatic man – Vandhiyathevan. Why was she getting drawn towards him? Why had she been so badly affected when Nandini mentioned that he might be dead?

But this was no time for these thoughts. Things had to be done. She had sent word that she would be meeting the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar in the afternoon.

When the Princess went to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s palace, she was warmly welcomed by the ladies of the palace. She was then ushered into the gallery, where the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was waiting. He proudly guided the Princess through the gallery describing each of the paintings in his collection. When they came to the last painting, which was of the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar himself, she stopped and looked at him.

“This is an excellent collection. It looks like the Pazhuvettarayars have rendered much service to the royal family of this kingdom.”

“It has been our blessing to have done so.”

“But could you not wait until my father dies, to start plotting your activities to capture the throne for yourself? What is the big hurry?”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was shocked. His forehead was covered with beads of perspiration. His hands were shaking. He fumbled for words.

“Oh, Princess. I am deeply hurt by listening to you talk of me like this.”

“If so, please tell me, if I have committed any mistake by sending men to gather herbs to cure my ailing father’s health?”

“Of course, it is not your mistake to have done such a noble thing.”

“Then, why did you capture the Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar’s son and bring him back to the city in chains like a common criminal? You did know that it was I, who had sent him.”

“Perhaps, oh Princess, you do not know yet, that he is a spy.”

“He can never be a spy. How can the son of a famous Vaidhiyar be a spy?”

“Well, he himself admitted that he was one.”

It was Kundavai’s turn to be shocked now.

“How could that be? What did he admit?”

“He admitted that the person traveling with him was a spy. He admitted that his companion was not really searching for any herbs but was in reality, taking a scroll to someone in Lanka.”

“This Vaidhiyar’s son is a fool. Were you not aware that the person who accompanied this fool was also sent by me?”

“Yes, Princess. I am aware. I am also aware that the companion, whose name is Vandhiyathevan, has tricked you as well. He is really a spy.”

“It cannot be. Vandhiyathevan was a trusted messenger who brought a scroll to me from my brother in Kanchipuram. He also brought a scroll for the Emperor. What proof do you have that he is a spy?”

“I know that he delivered these scrolls. Spies have their own ways of deceiving common people. If he is not a spy, why did he have to go to the Kudandhai Josiyar and ask him about the future of the Emperor?”

“Well, I had also asked about the future to the astrologer. What is wrong with that?” shot back the Princess.

“The Emperor’s daughter asking this question is different. A common man asking these questions invokes suspicion.”

“That is just your hunch. Do you have any other proof?”

“If he is not a spy, he should have come into the fort after seeking formal permission from me. Why did he have to show a ring with the palm tree insignia and get into the fort? Why did he have to lie that the Periya Pazhuvettarayar gave it to him?”

“If it was not the Periya Pazhuvettarayar who gave him the ring, who gave it to him?”

“We are still investigating about that.”

“Your men could not even find that till now?”

The Pazhuvettarayar was clearly getting irritated. “I said, we are still investigating. We have just now caught one of the spies. We will interrogate him and find out.”

“And what if he does not tell you the truth?”

“We have ways to make him tell the truth. We have the famed Thanjavur underground dungeons. The other spy had known about this. And that is why he escaped from the fort. On his way, you might have heard, he also tried to kill Sambuvarayar’s son.”

“Do you have proof for that?”

“It is just Kandanmaran’s word that we believe.”

“Hah. Just his words. I am telling you now, Kandanmaran was not stabbed by Vandhiyathevan.”

“What proof do you have for this assertion of yours, Princess?”

“I can find out from a person’s face if he is lying or is a deceitful person.”

“Huh. That spy is a lucky person. He has somehow formed a good impression on you. Unfortunately, I have not been lucky enough to be able to form that kind of an impression on you.”

“Why do you keep referring to him as a spy?”

“If he is not a spy, why did he have to enter into Pazhayarai disguised as a stage performer? Why did he have to go in disguise to Kodikkarai? When he saw my troops, why did he have to hide there for a whole day? Why did he have to sail to Lanka in the middle of the night?”

“Oho. He has escaped to Lanka? Your guards have still not been able to catch him.”

There was visible relief and happiness in Kundavai’s voice.

“Hmm. Yes. This dangerous spy is a tricky one to catch. These idiotic soldiers of mine let him escape and came back with this Vaidhiyar’s son.”

“I do not care about the spy. The Vaidhiyar’s son was sent by me. Release him immediately. He is innocent.”

“This fellow might not be the spy. But he has been an accomplice to the spy. He has been fooling my guards with all kinds of fantasy stories. He has helped the spy sail away.”

“I do not care. Release him immediately.”

“I am sorry, Princess. I am not willing to do that. In the interest of the nation’s security, I cannot do that. There are coups and traitors all over the kingdom. I am hearing rumours that the supporters of Veera Pandiyan are regrouping. These supporters have sworn to vanquish the entire Chozha royal family.”

“Let there be room for the real conspirators. Release this innocent man.”

“I am not willing to do that myself, Princess.” The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was clearly very irritated. He fished for a large key bunch from his tunic and handed it over to the Princess.

“Here are the keys to the underground dungeons. You can go and release the man yourself. You can release any one else you deem to, as well. The repercussions of this act are solely yours.”

Kundavai suppressed the boiling anger within herself. She reached out and took the keys. “Ok. I will do it myself. And I will take responsibility for my actions.”

“If there is a big calamity that befalls the Chozha kingdom, it would be because of only two ladies.”

Kundavai exclaimed, “One lady is me; who is the other one?”

“The Pazhuvoor Queen, Nandini.”

Kundavai chuckled.

“I hope you realise what would happen to you, if your elder brother hears this statement of yours. He will exile you from this kingdom.”

“That would be perfect. I am waiting for that day.”

Book 2 | Chapter 19 | Kandanmarans Imagination

He turned towards Nandini and hissed, “I hear that Princess Kundavai is planning to come to our palace. And I hear that it was you who invited her. Why does she have to come here? Have you forgotten how she insulted you earlier?”

The inauguration function had left the Periya Pazhuvettarayar in a very irritable state. He felt that the whole function had raised the confidence of the people in the royal family. He was very irritated at the fact that land from several villages were being written off in the name of social service. He felt that at this rate, there would be nowhere he could collect taxes from. And if he did not collect taxes, the treasury would not have enough money to send for the troops, which the Emperor kept asking him to send.

He turned towards Nandini and hissed, “I hear that Princess Kundavai is planning to come to our palace. And I hear that it was you who invited her. Why does she have to come here? Have you forgotten how she insulted you earlier?”

“I neither forget good deeds that people have done for me, nor do I forget people who have insulted me.”

“Then why is she coming here?”

“She is the daughter of the Emperor of this country. She does as she pleases.”

“Then, why did you invite her?”

“I never invited her. She invited herself. She wanted to meet Kandanmaran. Could I refuse her request? There will be a time when I will refuse. Until then, I would have to be patient.”

“I cannot be in this palace when she comes. In fact, I cannot be in this town, when she comes. I have some work in Mazhapadi. It will be a few days before I return.”

“I would also prefer that. Leave this poisonous snake to me. I know how to handle her. When you return, you might hear some interesting news. Please do not be shocked when you hear them.”

“What kind of interesting news are you talking about?”

“News such as Kundavai wanting to marry Kandanmaran, or Prince Aditya Karikalan wanting to marry Kandanmaran’s sister.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Not everything that is talked about would happen.”

She looked at him with steely eyes.

“You have been telling everyone that you are going to make that effeminate fool, Madhuranthaka Thevar, the Emperor. Is that going to happen?”

He stood shell-shocked for a moment, and then slowly took her hand and kissed it. “The day when you would become Empress of the Chozha kingdom is nearing.”

Kandanmaran felt very excited about the impending visit of Princess Kundavai. He had heard about her beauty and intelligence. It was also an honour to be visited by the Princess of this large kingdom. He would have to repeat the story of his back-stabbing friend to her as well. He felt a little bad, when he thought about his participation in some of the activities that were being carried out against the royal family, to which she belonged.

When he did meet the Princess, he lost himself in her. He was completely enamoured by her humility, her beauty, and her friendly nature. He spoke to her about his own valour.

“I would have even forgiven him if he had plunged his spear into my heart. The fact that he stabbed me from behind is what makes me so angry.”

The resentment and the anger in his face even made the Princess rethink, for a moment, about whether she should believe Vandhiyathevan, or this young warrior in front of her.

“He started cheating me when we were at Kadambur itself. He did not tell me the real reason why he was going to Thanjavur. He showed some fake insignia and entered the city. He met the Emperor claiming that he had some scroll from Aditya Karikalan. Apparently, he brought you also into the story, by claiming that he was going to meet you and deliver another scroll from your brother. He has escaped from the Fort General’s guards. I still cannot believe he would be a spy. I knew him to be an eccentric person, but a spy, I cannot be sure.”

This was when Kandanmaran’s imagination took over.

“I set out in search of him and wanted to talk some sense into him. He was treading into dangerous territory. I set out alone along the outer walls of the fort. I did not want to take anyone with me, and humiliate my friend. That was when I saw someone scaling down the Thanjavur forts. I recognised it to be my friend. I accosted him and spoke with him. I asked him to tell me the real reason why he had come to Thanjavur, and I promised him all the help that I could offer. It was then he kicked me on my chest. We then started wrestling. Very soon, he accepted defeat and asked for forgiveness. I forgave him. He said he wanted to sit and talk. I led the way.”

“Suddenly he plunged a long knife into my back. And before I could react, he ran away. I lost consciousness. When I woke up next, I found myself in the house of a dumb lady.”

Kundavai smiled within herself. There were so many loopholes in the story that Kandanmaran was spinning. “How did you get to the dumb lady’s house?”

“That is what I am unable to fathom. Apparently, the dumb lady has a son, who also vanished around the same time. If he comes back, we can ask him. Else, we will have to wait until the Fort General’s troops capture Vandhiyathevan.”

“Do you think he will get caught?”

“Of course, he will. I am waiting here only with that thought in mind. I would like to talk some sense into him, and perhaps even get forgiveness from the Pazhuvettarayars.”

“I am impressed by your love for your friend.”

Just at that time, a hand-maiden ran into the house and announced, “Amma, the spy has been caught. They are bringing him into town.”

Book 2 | Chapter 18 | Thanjavur Hospital

“Apparently, someone named Vandhiyathevan, a Vaanarkula warrior from Thiruvallam, in Thondainaadu. My brother-in-law has sent men all over the country to capture the spy.”

In olden years of Tamizh Nadu, royal ladies used to participate significantly in public service. The ladies had separate trust funds, which were used to promote several activities such as temple renovation, daily rituals for temples, and food for travellers. In particular, Princess Kundavai had set up several medical facilities. We have already seen the Ayurvedic hospital at Pazhayarai. On this day, she was all set to inaugurate a hospital on the outskirts of Thanjavur.

The Garuda Mandapam opposite the Perumal temple, just outside the Thanjavur fort, was abuzz with activity. The inauguration of the Thanjavur hospital by Princess Kundavai was to start shortly in this mandapam. Crowds milled around the mandapam. There were administrative personnel, small kings and vassals, band musicians, and official engravers, who had assembled. The royal family had started to arrive. Prince Madhuranthakan came, seated very uncomfortably atop a white horse. Princess Kundavai and several others of the royal family arrived in palanquins. Nandini arrived in her own palanquin with the palm-tree insignia.

The inauguration function started when the Periya Pazhuvettarayar arrived. The temple musicians sang a Devaram song, talking about the benefits of the sacred ash – Thiruneeru.

Nandini whispered to Kundavai, “When Sambandhar sang this song, the sacred ash had such medicinal powers that it cured the Pandiya king of an incurable disease. These days, it seems, the sacred ash has lost its power. We need doctors and herbs to cure people.”

“Yes. In those times, people led a dharmic life. It was because of this that the sacred ash had such powers. These days, people lead lives filled with sins. There are even people who are conspiring against the King and the royal family. Have we ever heard of such things in the past?”

“I am surprised that there are people plotting against the King. Who are they?”

“I am not sure, but I am still investigating. Very soon, I will find out. I am planning to stay on in Thanjavur until I find out about everything.”

“I will try and help you with anything that you require of me, Princess. I will have to leave soon. We have a visitor at home – the Kadambur prince, Kandanmaran. He is a handsome young fellow. He is in a pitiful mental state right now though. He keeps mumbling something about a spy and a backstabber. He keeps talking about a close friend who had turned traitor.”

“Who could have committed such a bad thing?”

“Apparently, someone named Vandhiyathevan, a Vaanarkula warrior from Thiruvallam, in Thondainaadu. My brother-in-law has sent men all over the country to capture the spy.”

“Hmm. I seem to recognise that name somewhere. How do we know if he is indeed a spy?”

“I do not know anything about this. All this information came from Kandanmaran. If you want to know more, you should probably come and talk to him.”

“Yes, I will come and meet him sometime. The Sambuvarayar clan has been loyal to us for several generations.”

By this time, the Devaram music had ended. The accountants ceremoniously read out details of the donations of land and money towards setting up the hospital. The engravers recorded this on brass plaques. On behalf of the treasury, the Periya Pazhuvettarayar ceremoniously handed over the plaques to the accountants to be formalised. Various formal announcements were made, such as the amount allocated for the Chief Doctor’s salary. There were also agreements in kind, such as the donation of milk for the patients’ consumption.

Cheers praising the royal family members rose from the crowd.

Book 2 | Chapter 15 | Sparks Fly

The other half was covered in darkness and the smoke from the lamps in the room. She was shocked to see that the face, which was visible, resembled that of the Pazhuvoor queen, Nandini.

During those times, Thanjavur was famous for its theatre arts. Most of the theatre companies resided within the fort premises. In recent times, the trend of these companies was to create plays based on eminent warriors such as Karikal Valavar and Vijayalaya Chozhan. There were plays on three of the nine days of Navarathri. Crowds thronged the outer balconies of the fort to watch the play. There was a separate seating area for the royal family.

During these plays, Nandini came and sat beside Kundavai. While the people initially did not like this, they consoled themselves with the fact that if their Princess could show such consideration, the people should as well. The third and final play depicted the life of Paranthaka Chozhan.

Koppara Kesari Paranthakan was the grandfather of the current Emperor. He had ruled for a grand period of 46 years. He expanded the kingdom from Eezhanaadu to the River Tungabhadra. He was the Emperor who made the golden dome for the Chidambaram temple. Towards the end of this reign, his son led a large Chozha army against the Canara forces at Thakkolam. He routed the Canara forces but lost his life atop an elephant. When the forces brought the slain king’s body back to the palace, the Emperor and his wife wept. The drama depicted this scene beautifully.

During those times, Paranthaka Chozhan had two able generals – a chieftain from Kodumbalur and the other from Pazhuvoor. The Emperor treated them with great and equal respect. The chieftain from Kodumbalur was none other than Vanathi’s grandfather. The Pazhuvoor chieftain was none other than the current Pazhuvettarayar’s father. The theatre troupe had taken care to portray each of the families equally.

There were some in the crowd who were in the Pazhuvoor camp and others in the Kodumbalur camp. Whenever there was a scene depicting the bravery of one leader, there was a roar from the respective camp. This competitive cheering was growing more and more boisterous. Kundavai was egging Vanathi whenever the Kodumbalur camp cheered; and she egged Nandini whenever the Pazhuvoor camp cheered. Nandini’s ego hurt each time the Princess compared her to Vanathi.

Nandini wanted to get up and leave, but in doing so, she would portray defeat. She gritted her teeth and stayed. Kundavai noticed all this. But there was one thing that was still a mystery to her. During the scenes where the Pandiya king was shown as defeated and running away, the entire crowd was cheering, but there was sorrow writ over Nandini’s face.

“If only my father felt better, he would have loved to see this drama. He is also as accomplished as his grandfather.”

“He will feel better very soon. His favourite daughter has come now. The herbs from Lanka would also come very soon.”

“Herbs from Lanka?”

“Why are you pretending as though you do not know about this? I heard that you had sent the son of the Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar to get herbs from Lanka. Isn’t that true?”

Kundavai bit her lip.

Thankfully, there was more commotion and cheering and the conversation ended there. The play had ended with loud cheers for the Emperor and the audience began to dissolve and leave.

The elder ladies of the palace left for the Durga temple. Queen Vaanama Devi had arranged for special pujas on every night of Navarathri. She had been arranging these pujas for the sake of the Emperor, praying that he would get better. Sometimes, the priest would get possessed and foretell prophesies. It was for this reason that the younger ladies were not allowed for the night puja. However, Kundavai was an exception. The royal matron had confidence in her maturity and bravery. During these times, Vanathi had to be in the palace all alone.

The night of the last play, Vanathi was in a very excited state of mind. She was feeling proud of her ancestors. She was also proud of the fact that the Prince had gone to Lanka to avenge the death of her father. Sleep eluded her. Instead of lying sleepless in her bed, she decided to walk to the terrace. She knew that one could get spectacular views of Thanjavur from the terrace. She was new to this palace. She slowly walked past the long corridors looking for the entrance to the terrace.

Suddenly she heard a feeble voice. It sounded like an old man. The old person seemed to be pleading for help.

“Is there no one who can help me? Please save me.”

She froze. Her legs could not move.

She heard the voice again, “Please, save me. Help!”

It was the Chakravarthy’s voice. Was he in trouble? Did he need anything? Was anything wrong with his health?

She decided to go and check. Her legs shook as she moved forward. The voice seemed to come from downstairs. She peered downwards and saw a large room. She recognised it as the Emperor’s bedroom. She saw the Chakravarthy in his bed too. He seemed to be alone. He seemed to be mumbling to himself.

“I know. I know it was I, who killed you. I did not do it willingly. But still, I realise that it was me. What am I supposed to do? It has been 25 years, and you are still tormenting me. Will your soul never rest? Will you not give me peace? Tell me. What should I do? Please, let me be. Will someone not please save me? Everyone seems to be searching for medicines for my physical illness. Will someone please search for medicines to cure my psychological problem? Ey. Go away.”

He paused.

“No. Do not go. Tell me what am I supposed to do. And then go. Please do not be silent and leave. I will go mad.”

Vanathi heard all of this. She shivered. She trembled with fear. She peeped downstairs again, letting her eyes travel the entire length and breadth of the room. She saw a figure in front of the Emperor’s bed. Only half of the figure was visible. The other half was covered in darkness and the smoke from the lamps in the room. She was shocked to see that the face, which was visible, resembled that of the Pazhuvoor queen, Nandini. Was she dreaming?

She saw another figure hiding behind a nearby pillar and recognised it to be the Periya Pazhuvettarayar. There was no doubt now. She could not understand why the Emperor was saying all these things to Nandini. Why was he lamenting about killing her?

Vanathi felt giddy. She felt that she was going to faint. She did not want to faint right there. She bit her teeth resolutely and walked away from there. She walked a distance away, but the passageways never seemed to end. She could not hold on any further. She fell unconscious.

When Princess Kundavai returned from the temple, she found her dear friend Vanathi unconscious on the passageway, very close to their rooms. 

Book 2 | Chapter 14 | The Princess Arrives

The retinue stopped. Kundavai got down from the elephant. Nandini got out of the palanquin and went up to the Princess to welcome her. The Princess accepted the welcome with a smile. The citizens of the city took in the sight of the two most beautiful women in their kingdom, smile at each other. A roar went up in the crowds.

The residents of the city of Thanjavur were naturally excited. The city wore a festive look. The Princess was coming. There was already a large crowd that was beginning to gather at the gates of the city to welcome the Princess. As much as the people loved Arulmozhi, they loved their Princess even more. Not a day passed, without someone mentioning the beauty or the mental acuity of the Princess.

When the Princess eventually appeared on the horizon, the doors of the fort flew open. A royal retinue from within the fort set out to welcome her. The royal retinue was led by the two Pazhuvettarayars seated atop elephants. Right behind the elephants was the beautiful palanquin that the readers are already familiar with. Behind the silken screens of the palanquin sat the beautiful Pazhuvoor Queen – Nandini.

The retinue stopped. Kundavai got down from the elephant. Nandini got out of the palanquin and went up to the Princess to welcome her. The Princess accepted the welcome with a smile. The citizens of the city took in the sight of the two most beautiful women in their kingdom, smile at each other. A roar went up in the crowds.

While the people of the city almost worshipped their Princess, there had been a bit of resentment towards Nandini from the beginning. But now, having seen her step out to welcome the Princess, the crowds were very pleased. What the crowds did not hear was the stinging conversation between the two ladies.

“Devi! Welcome. We are blessed to have you visit us. We were worried that you might have forgotten about us.”

“Hmm. I was wondering if you had forgotten about me, since you have not visited Pazhayarai either.”

“Moths are naturally attracted to beautiful flowers. People will come to Pazhayarai. But who will come to this ugly Thanjavur city?”

“How can you call this beautiful city ugly? I thought that the city has power and wealth imprisoned within it?”

“That is what I have heard as well. I hear that the Chakravarthy is imprisoned here. But then, you are here now, to save him.”

One could see sparks of fire in Nandini’s eyes when she said these words.

Kundavai laughed sarcastically. “I was not thinking about the Emperor. No man on this earth can imprison Emperor Sundara Chozhan. I was thinking about the beautiful Nandini Devi.”

“Please tell this when my lord is around. He does seem to keep me as though I am in prison. If you can put in a word…”

“What is my word worth here? Also, the prison that you are imprisoned in is the prison of love, and that too, the prison of love of an older man. There is nothing that I can do.”

There was a minor commotion in the crowd near where they were standing. One of the ladies came forward and mentioned that they wanted access to come to the fort during the nine nights of Navarathri. They complained about the strict rules of entry into the fort.

“Rani Nandini, can you not talk to your husband or your brother-in-law, and get permission for these people? Surely, these ladies cannot be a cause for security concern. The Pazhuvettarayar brothers have such control all the way up to the shores of this kingdom.”

“Devi, why do you limit it by the shores? You will soon see that it extends far beyond the shores too.” Kundavai wondered what this evil lady meant.

Meanwhile, Nandini had walked up to the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and communicated the Princess’ wish of letting the women into the fort for the festival.

“Ah. Would anyone object to the wishes of the Princess?” All of them now turned back and went into the fort.

Navarathri was celebrated with gaiety in Thanjavur. The ceremonies were held on a grand scale. The two beautiful ladies joined in the festivities. While the public were regaled by the presence of these two ladies, sparks flew between them in every fiery conversation. Sarcasm and blatant hate became the norm of every dialogue. They resembled two venomous snakes fighting each other.

If there was one person who was affected by all of this, it was the Kodumbalur princess, Vanathi. Kundavai did not have enough time for her. Vanathi sought out a world of her own, and lived in her own solitary thoughts.

Book 1 | Chapter 36 | I will become Empress

Mysore Throne. pic src: deccan chronicle

The Periya Pazhuvettarayar knew that there was a lot of gossip around him wedding a girl half his age. He had also heard that Kundavai had ridiculed this. But he had never known the words that Kundavai had used. His blood boiled and his temper flared. Nandini weeping in front of him just made it worse.

“She called me an old buffalo, did she? I will trample her like an old buffalo tramples a lotus vine. I will …”. His words failed him. Anger had taken over all of his senses. He struggled to maintain his composure, but in vain.

Nandini gently placed her hand on his shoulder and said, “I knew you would be very upset if you heard this. But, why should a lion like you fight a small cat like Kundavai. She is a cat, but a cunning one. With her cunningness, she is controlling all around her. You need to beat cunning with cunning. If you do not like what I am doing, let me know. I will leave this palace right now.”

Pazhuvettarayar calmed down. Love took over. “No. Why should you go? Call a hundred Sorcerers if you need to. You are my love. You are my life. If you leave, what will I do? “

He sighed and looked at her. “The fire inside me that longs for you — when will you extinguish it? When will you satisfy this fire? It has been three years since we got married. You still not have given me the pleasure of being with you. You have always been giving excuses of religious observances. If this is not going to happen at all, please give me poison in a cup with your very hands.””

She clasped his hands and shrieked, “Oh no. Please do not even talk like that. If you ever talk like that again, I will drink from that cup of poison.”

“No, no. I will stop. I will never mention this again. If you ever die, I will go mad.”

“The day we got married, our body became one. These bodies made of earth would go back to the earth one day, when we all die.”

“I object. I will never agree. The other women on this land, Lord Brahma, may have made using this earth, or rock, or limestone, or whatever material. But you, my love, are not the same. Lord Brahma made you special.”

She smiled. “Are you using these lines only at me, or at the other girls that live in your andhapuram as well?”

“I had married the other ladies in my andhapuram mainly to ensure that the family line of Pazhuvettarayars continue on. It has been Gods will, however, that none of them have born me a male child yet. For some years until recently, I had forgotten all about them, and immersed myself into Government matters. That was the time when the Great War with the Pandiyas happened. Even though, there were several young warrior Commanders, I could not stay back and watch. I joined in the war and made pulp out of the Pandiya armies. I was returning from that victory, when I saw you in the middle of the forest. I was enchanted at that moment I saw you. Momentarily I thought you were a deva kannigai, who had come down from the heavens.”

“I had asked who you were. You had replied that you were an orphan and sought refuge. While I brought you back in a palanquin, something kept telling me that you looked familiar. But I could not bring myself to remember. It struck me that, perhaps, you were familiar from a previous birth.”

She repeated after him, “Perhaps .. perhaps”, and smiled at him.

“My religious observances are nearing to an end. My prayers are towards ensuring that the two Princes of Sundara Chozhan do not ascend the throne. My prayers are towards suppressing Kundavai’s arrogance.”

“Consider these as done. I am taking all steps towards making these happen. Things are happening per plan. All our vassal kings except perhaps a couple have agreed to our plan. Barring any foolish happenings, our plan will succeed. “

He paused, “Even today, one such foolish thing happened. A messenger warrior from Kanchi had fooled Kaalanthakan and met the King. The young man claims that he had our insignia ring with him.”

“People who have been fooled will talk about excuses like these. Are there any efforts to catch the young man?”

“The fort is being combed as we speak. He will be caught soon. This should not affect any of our plans. Once the Chakravarthy dies, our Madhuranthakan will ascend the throne.”

She said, “I do have one other thing that I am praying for, and I think it is time I should talk about it to you.”

She looked into his eyes, and continued, “Madhuranthakan, that naive boy who grins at every girl he meets. Hmph. He is not the right person to ascend the throne. When I was young, an astrologer looked at my horoscope. He said that, I would go through great turmoil for my first eighteen years. After that, he said, I would marry a man, who would rule one of the largest kingdoms in this land. A man, to whom, the 53 kings of the larger land would place their loyalty with. A man who would become Emperor.”

Periya Pazhuvettarayar’s felt dizzy when he heard these words.

Book 1 | Chapter 35 | Who caused the Sulking?

Twin temples at Keezhaiyur built by the Pazhuvettarayar feudal lords. (img src: wikipedia)

It was way past midnight when the Periya Pazhuvettarayar returned back to his palace. He thought, perhaps, he should not have been so harsh with his younger brother. But then, he could not tolerate anyone speak like that about his dear wife either. He still could not wrap his brain around how the young warrior could have gotten the ring. Could there be any truth in what Kaalanthakan was saying? He was very confused now. Did he just support a lady he had just recently rescued from within a forest and married? Was he justified in being harsh against his own brother, who had fought besides him in countless wars, and would give his life for him?

But, why does she keep asking for my insignia ring? Why does she go and sit alone in the latha mandapam? Why does she keep meeting that Sorcerer from time to time?

Besides all that, he wondered, why, even after these three years of marriage, she had not let him have conjugal pleasure even once. She had kept giving excuses of religious observances.

He thought to himself, that he had to have a serious conversation with Nandini tonight.

She found the palace courtiers all waiting to pay their respects and welcome him. All, but the Queen herself. When he asked, one of the hand-maidens mentioned that the Queen was still in the latha mandapam.

The Periya Pazhuvettarayar started walking towards the gardens.

She was sulking. She was angry. But he did not know why she was angry.

The Periya Pazhuvettarayar cursed under his breath. Now he would need to pacify her first, before he can have his serious conversation.

“Nandini, why are you angry?”

He tried placing his iron hand on her soft shoulder. She brushed it away.

“I am blessed to even have the touch of your hand that brushed me away. I am here to listen to your beautiful voice, but you will not talk to me?”

“It has been four full days since you left. Do you realize how lonely I have been?”

The iron man, who had fought the countless wars, melted. But one could see the flood of relief in his face.

“Was it for this that you were sulking? It was just four days. What would you do if I went for a war? I would be away for months.”

“I realize you have not understood me fully. I would have come with you to the war ground.”

The Pazhuvettarayar chuckled.

“I would never be able to take you there. Even the sight of a thorn piercing your leg would melt me. How can I fight a war with you besides me? Do you think these four days was difficult only for you? It was hell for me. I could not wait to come back and look at your beautiful face.”

He led her to the nearby chaise, and the two of them sat down. By this time, the thought of having a serious conversation had been forgotten.

“You had been gone for four days. Could you not have come here straight to see me? You had to see your brother first”, she said with feigned anger.

“I also wanted to come here straight. But, I had to make sure that the silly fool, Madhuranthakan had returned safely through the underground tunnel. That was the reason I had to stop by my brothers palace.”

“I am supportive of every activity that you carry out.” She hesitated, but continued, “I do feel bad that, you took a man in my personal palanquin. The entire kingdom thinks that you are taking me with you everywhere.”

Periya Pazhuvettarayar sighed. “I do not feel good about it either. But then, the plan that we are working on is a big one. We would need to do whatever it takes.”

He looked at her and said, “Do not also forget that this was your idea. The idea of smuggling Madhuranthakan in and out of the fort through the underground tunnel was also yours.”

“I was just doing my duty as a faithful wife. I will stop, if you do not like me interfering.”

“Is that all you did? This Madhuranthakan was so deeply engrossed in service to God, like his mother. He was initially against the idea of taking over the throne. We had been trying to brainwash him for a very long while. All it took was two long meetings with you, he has completely turned around. He cannot wait to ascend the throne now.”

Pazhuvettarayar found this as an excellent opportunity to breach one of his topics on his mind.

“You are proving to be a Sorcerer yourself, by doing these amazing tasks. Why should you be talking to another Sorcerer? There are people in the street who are talking about this.”

“I have already mentioned to you before why I talk to the Sorcerer. It is to take care of the poisonous snake that resides in Pazhayarai. You men, can take care of the wars. You deem it as below your dignity to deal with women. But then this snake is dangerous. I cannot forget the way Kundavai humiliated me that day. I remember those exact words. I will never forget those words. She said that I looked like a Deva Mohini and she asked me, why I was marrying an old buffalo like you, who is waiting to die any moment.”

Nandini wept uncontrollably.