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 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 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.

Book 1 | Chapter 34 | Two Lions Meet

pic src: express.co.uk

The people of Thanjavur had a special respect for the two Pazhuvettarayars. After all, it was because of the two of them, that this grand city was discovered and was being maintained so beautifully. They loved the pomp and show that the Periya Pazhuvettarayar enjoyed whenever he travelled in and out of Thanjavur. When the elder arrived back from a trip, the younger would wait near the fort gates with the ceremonial guard. The two majestic warriors would hug each other before they both entered the fort in a royal show. They were even compared to Lord Rama and his brother Bharata by some.

But today, when the Periya Pazhuvettarayar entered, there was no pomp, there was no show. The younger one was not there waiting. The Periya Pazhuvettarayar was surprised, but yet did not display this externally. He went straight to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s palace. He was convinced that there must be something very important happening in the city. He wondered if the health of the Emperor had deteriorated even further. Or perhaps, had the big event happened?

The Commander came to the gates of his palace, hugged his elder brother, and led him straight to the discussion room upstairs.

“Kaalanthaka, you are not looking yourself. Is the Emperor fine?”

“Chakravarthy is doing fine. His situation has neither improved nor deteriorated.”

“I am wondering, why then do you look anxious? Why did you not come to the fort gates? And the city also seems silent.”

“Brother, a small incident has happened. Nothing major. I will tell you afterwards. But first, tell me, how was your trip?”

“My trip was successful. The entire coterie has accepted your son-in-law Madhuranthakan as a good candidate. They are ready to use their forces to ensure that this happens. They are all behind us — every one of the vassals who came. There are only three who were not there, and I am sure they will also not be with us — Thirukovilur Malayamaan, Kodumbalur Velaan, and Parthibendran. Kodumbalur Velaan is in Lanka. What would just the remaining two people be capable of? We just need to convince the Emperor and ask him to announce it.”

“We can somehow convince the Emperor. But what about the people? Will they agree?”

“Who cares about the people? But even if we pretend to care, I am not worried. They will agree to what the Emperor says. Arulmozhi is in Lanka. If he was here, then there could be some emotional sway towards him. The people do not have that much of a love for Aditya Karikalan. It is easy to convince the people towards Madhuranthakan. He is a man of character and a staunch Shiva devotee. And if you should ask me, Madhuranthakan definitely looks more majestic than the two Princes. I am not worried.”

“The velakaarar force?”

“That silly bodyguard force has taken their pledge only towards the Emperor, not towards his sons. Even if they interfere, I am relying on your palace royal guards. I am sure your forces can round them up in no time and send them to the underground dungeons.”

“The biggest opposition would come only from Pazhayarai. The Elderly Matron and the young Princess.”

The Periya Pazhuvettarayar laughed loudly, “Kaalanthaka, are you asking me to be afraid of two ladies? I have ways to handle them.”

“The Chakravarthy has asked me to send messages to both his sons to come to Thanjavur.”

“Aditya Karikalan will not come. But Arulmozhi might want to come. We have to stop him. He cannot come here before we instate Madhuranthakan as the crown Prince.”

The Periya Pazhuvettarayar looked into his younger brothers eyes and said, “You were mentioning a minor incident that had happened here in my absence. What happened?”

The younger brother fumbled for words and started, “Anna, there was a young messenger warrior who came from Kanchi. He had scrolls for the Emperor and for the Princess.”

“Thambi, what did you do with him? I hope you have confiscated the scrolls and arrested him.”

“No, Anna. He claimed that he met you at Kadambur and that you had instructed him to give the scroll directly to the Emperor.”

The Periya Pazhuvettarayar stood up in anger and thumped his fist on the table. “Aaha. I did meet a young man in Kadambur. He said he was a friend of Kandanmaran, the prince of Kadambur. He never mentioned anything about a scroll for the Emperor. I knew something was amiss, when I saw his face. What did you do? Did you even see the scroll?”

“Yes, Anna, I did read the scroll. It had nothing new. The message was to invite the Emperor to Kanchi. But later, he was whispering something about danger to the King.”

“Did you at least then become suspicious and arrest him?”

“I became suspicious but did not arrest him.”

“Aaaargh. What did you do then?”

“He wanted to see the city. I sent him with two of my trusted guards. He hoodwinked them and went missing. The guards are scouring the entire city right now. This was why I could not come to the gates.”

“You should be ashamed that you have been fooled by such a young warrior. I should be ashamed that I named you Kaalanthaka Kantan. I should be ashamed that I made you Fort Commander. A young whippersnapper has fooled you using my name.”

“He did not just use your name, Anna. He showed a ring with your insignia on it. He said you gave it to him? Did you give it to him?”

“Of course not!”

“But then, how did the ring get to him then? He used the ring to get into the palace. He showed it to me too. If he did not get the ring from you, he could have gotten the ring only from one other person.”

The older brother hissed, “Who are you insinuating?”

“As though, you cannot guess. I am mentioning your young Queen.”

“I will cut your throat and kill you right here.”

“You can kill me if you want. But you are raising a poisonous snake within your own house. I have been wanting to say this to you for a while. Please, Anna. She is not good for you. She is danger.”

“Kaalanthaka Kanta, I also have one thing that I have been wanting to tell you. You can give or take advice on any matter that concerns me, except for one. The next time, you speak lowly about my wife; I will kill you with these same hands that raised you.”

The tension in the room was palpable. Though no one could hear what was being talked about inside the discussion room, the loud voices, which almost resembled the rumblings of two lions, could be heard outside.

Book 1 | Chapter 34 | Two Lions Meet

pic src: express.co.uk

The people of Thanjavur had a special respect for the two Pazhuvettarayars. After all, it was because of the two of them, that this grand city was discovered and was being maintained so beautifully. They loved the pomp and show that the Periya Pazhuvettarayar enjoyed whenever he travelled in and out of Thanjavur. When the elder arrived back from a trip, the younger would wait near the fort gates with the ceremonial guard. The two majestic warriors would hug each other before they both entered the fort in a royal show. They were even compared to Lord Rama and his brother Bharata by some.

But today, when the Periya Pazhuvettarayar entered, there was no pomp, there was no show. The younger one was not there waiting. The Periya Pazhuvettarayar was surprised, but yet did not display this externally. He went straight to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s palace. He was convinced that there must be something very important happening in the city. He wondered if the health of the Emperor had deteriorated even further. Or perhaps, had the big event happened?

The Commander came to the gates of his palace, hugged his elder brother, and led him straight to the discussion room upstairs.

“Kaalanthaka, you are not looking yourself. Is the Emperor fine?”

“Chakravarthy is doing fine. His situation has neither improved nor deteriorated.”

“I am wondering, why then do you look anxious? Why did you not come to the fort gates? And the city also seems silent.”

“Brother, a small incident has happened. Nothing major. I will tell you afterwards. But first, tell me, how was your trip?”

“My trip was successful. The entire coterie has accepted your son-in-law Madhuranthakan as a good candidate. They are ready to use their forces to ensure that this happens. They are all behind us — every one of the vassals who came. There are only three who were not there, and I am sure they will also not be with us — Thirukovilur Malayamaan, Kodumbalur Velaan, and Parthibendran. Kodumbalur Velaan is in Lanka. What would just the remaining two people be capable of? We just need to convince the Emperor and ask him to announce it.”

“We can somehow convince the Emperor. But what about the people? Will they agree?”

“Who cares about the people? But even if we pretend to care, I am not worried. They will agree to what the Emperor says. Arulmozhi is in Lanka. If he was here, then there could be some emotional sway towards him. The people do not have that much of a love for Aditya Karikalan. It is easy to convince the people towards Madhuranthakan. He is a man of character and a staunch Shiva devotee. And if you should ask me, Madhuranthakan definitely looks more majestic than the two Princes. I am not worried.”

“The velakaarar force?”

“That silly bodyguard force has taken their pledge only towards the Emperor, not towards his sons. Even if they interfere, I am relying on your palace royal guards. I am sure your forces can round them up in no time and send them to the underground dungeons.”

“The biggest opposition would come only from Pazhayarai. The Elderly Matron and the young Princess.”

The Periya Pazhuvettarayar laughed loudly, “Kaalanthaka, are you asking me to be afraid of two ladies? I have ways to handle them.”

“The Chakravarthy has asked me to send messages to both his sons to come to Thanjavur.”

“Aditya Karikalan will not come. But Arulmozhi might want to come. We have to stop him. He cannot come here before we instate Madhuranthakan as the crown Prince.”

The Periya Pazhuvettarayar looked into his younger brothers eyes and said, “You were mentioning a minor incident that had happened here in my absence. What happened?”

The younger brother fumbled for words and started, “Anna, there was a young messenger warrior who came from Kanchi. He had scrolls for the Emperor and for the Princess.”

“Thambi, what did you do with him? I hope you have confiscated the scrolls and arrested him.”

“No, Anna. He claimed that he met you at Kadambur and that you had instructed him to give the scroll directly to the Emperor.”

The Periya Pazhuvettarayar stood up in anger and thumped his fist on the table. “Aaha. I did meet a young man in Kadambur. He said he was a friend of Kandanmaran, the prince of Kadambur. He never mentioned anything about a scroll for the Emperor. I knew something was amiss, when I saw his face. What did you do? Did you even see the scroll?”

“Yes, Anna, I did read the scroll. It had nothing new. The message was to invite the Emperor to Kanchi. But later, he was whispering something about danger to the King.”

“Did you at least then become suspicious and arrest him?”

“I became suspicious but did not arrest him.”

“Aaaargh. What did you do then?”

“He wanted to see the city. I sent him with two of my trusted guards. He hoodwinked them and went missing. The guards are scouring the entire city right now. This was why I could not come to the gates.”

“You should be ashamed that you have been fooled by such a young warrior. I should be ashamed that I named you Kaalanthaka Kantan. I should be ashamed that I made you Fort Commander. A young whippersnapper has fooled you using my name.”

“He did not just use your name, Anna. He showed a ring with your insignia on it. He said you gave it to him? Did you give it to him?”

“Of course not!”

“But then, how did the ring get to him then? He used the ring to get into the palace. He showed it to me too. If he did not get the ring from you, he could have gotten the ring only from one other person.”

The older brother hissed, “Who are you insinuating?”

“As though, you cannot guess. I am mentioning your young Queen.”

“I will cut your throat and kill you right here.”

“You can kill me if you want. But you are raising a poisonous snake within your own house. I have been wanting to say this to you for a while. Please, Anna. She is not good for you. She is danger.”

“Kaalanthaka Kanta, I also have one thing that I have been wanting to tell you. You can give or take advice on any matter that concerns me, except for one. The next time, you speak lowly about my wife; I will kill you with these same hands that raised you.”

The tension in the room was palpable. Though no one could hear what was being talked about inside the discussion room, the loud voices, which almost resembled the rumblings of two lions, could be heard outside.

Book 1 | Chapter 29 | Thieves Thieves !

Painting on the Thanjavur temple walls (src: flickr:asienman)

He heard the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar and his entourage approaching the palace. An idea struck him. He moved towards the door where the guards were still busy playing dice. He defiantly stepped towards them and screamed — “You fellows are thieves. Where are my old clothes?”

“As per our Masters orders, we have given your old clothes to the laundry.”

“Thieves. Thieves. I want my clothes. I had my money and some other things in my clothes. Wait until I tell your Master about you.”

As Vandiyathevan stepped in front towards the gate, one of the three guards stepped in front of him. Vandiyathevan punched him on the face. When the remaining jumped at him, Vandiyathevan tripped one of them and lunged at the other. The three guards collapsed.

“Thieves. Thieves”, he cried again, as the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar entered the gate.

“Ah, there you are, Commander. Not only have they stolen my clothes and belongings, they are even trying to kill me. Is this way a guest is treated? Is this the culture of Thanjavur? Not only am I your guest, I am a Royal Guest. You did hear what the Queen Matron said earlier today. I had brought a message from the crown prince himself. If such a person is treated this badly, I can only imagine how the common man is treated in this kingdom. I am surprised you have such rogues in your personal guard. In our Thondainaadu, such thieves would have been long sentenced to death.”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was still trying to digest the fact that this young warrior had brought down three of his warriors single handedly. His desire of inducting such a warrior into his personal guard only increased.

“Have patience, thambi. I doubt if my guards would have done such an act. I will investigate.”

“Yes Sire. Please investigate. Please help me get back my clothes and belongings.”

“Guards! Come here. What happened here? What did I tell you to do? And what have you done?”

“My Lord, we did exactly as told. Once we brought him here to the palace, we arranged for a hot bath for him. We then served him a wholesome meal. Later, we took him to your gallery. After seeing the pictures in the gallery, suddenly he came running out and started asking for his belongings. He also started assaulting us at that time. This is what happened.”

“Useless fellows, three of you got assaulted by a single person?”

“My Lord, we were reluctant because he was your guest. Give us your permission now, we will show him what we are capable of.”

“Enough of your bravado!” said the Commander.

“Please give them permission. Please give me permission as well. It has been a while since I fought some fine Chozha warriors. I will show them how to deal with guests.” Vandiyathevan cracked his knuckles and looked menacingly at the three soldiers.”

“Enough. There shall be no fighting inside the palace. Where have you kept his clothes and belongings?”

“My Lord, as per your orders, we have kept them safely.”

“Aha, Commander. Look at how these brutes are lying. They told me that they had sent my clothes to the laundry.”

“Idiots”, mumbled the Commander. “All I asked them to do was to give you new clothes. I never told them anything about your old clothes. By the way, why are you so interested in your old clothes? Did you have anything important in it?”

“Yes. I had some money for my travel expenses.”

“Do not worry. I will give you much more than required for your travel expenses.”

“Commander, I am a messenger of the great Aditya Karikalan. Taking charity from others is not permissible by my character.”

“Very well. I will arrange for you to get your clothes and your money back. Did you have anything else in it?”

Vandiyathevan thought for a bit and said, “I did have one more thing in my clothing. I am hoping that your guards have not touched it. If they had, I will kill them.”

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was mighty amused by the temper of the young man. “What is this one other thing?”

“It is a secret of the state.”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar roared in laughter. There cannot be a secret of the state within the Thanjavur fort, which is not known to me. “What is it?”

“It is a secret that Prince Karikalan has sent through me.”

“Prince. Hrmph. The authority of the Prince stops at the other bank of the Palar River. It does not work here.”

“I do understand Sir. I understand your position of importance and your responsibilities.”

“Yes. I am in charge of taking care of the Emperor’s safety at all times. We brought him from Pazhayarai to Thanjavur because of safety concerns. Who knows what would have happened if he had stayed back in Pazhayarai. He may even have been assassinated by those Pandiya rogues. “

“Oho. You have also heard about these plots. I have heard about two plots — one against the Chakravarthy and one against the two princes.”

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar bit his lip and thought for a bit. Perhaps he had spoken a tad bit longer than this boy deserved. He realized that this smart young man might get more information from him, by just having a conversation.

The Commander boomed out — “You do not need to worry about all these plots. To squash these plots and protect the Royal family, we are here. What do you want? I am assuming you just want your old clothes back?”

“I want my old clothes and my belongings that were in them.”

“You still have not mentioned what was the other item in your person?”

“If you must know, I will tell you. I had another scroll similar to the one that I had delivered to the Emperor. This was for the Princess at Pazhayarai. All I want now is my old clothes, my travel money, and that scroll.”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar nodded and stepped into an anteroom for a moment and returned with another soldier who had his old clothes in a large plate.

“Thambi, check if everything is in order.”

Vandiyathevan looked through the items on the plate. His old clothes were present. The scroll was intact. There was much more money than what he had brought. He patiently counted the money, took what was rightly his, and returned the remaining cash back to the plate.

Vandiyathevan also started thinking how the scroll magically appeared now. He reasoned that the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar must have gotten hold of the scroll, read through it, and then slipped it in. He needed to be careful with this man.

Vandiyathevan returned the plate with the extra money back to the Commander and said, “I was born in the Vaanar clan. We do not lust after others fortunes.”

“Thambi, I am impressed with your loyalty. But I insist you keep this extra money as my gift for your travel expenses. When are you planning to leave? I would prefer it, if you meet the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and then leave.”

“I would definitely want to meet the Periyavar before I leave.”

“Very well.”

“Er, Commander, I have a small request. I would like to walk around and take in the sights of this wonderful Thanjavur fort.”

“Sure. I will send two soldiers with you. They will show you all the sights. It is best not to exit the fort gates. Once closed, they do not open until the next morning.”

The Commander then assigned two new soldiers to Vandiyathevan and whispered something in their ears. Vandiyathevan could very well imagine what the Commander would have told them.

Book 1 | Chapter 29 | Thieves Thieves !

Painting on the Thanjavur temple walls (src: flickr:asienman)

He heard the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar and his entourage approaching the palace. An idea struck him. He moved towards the door where the guards were still busy playing dice. He defiantly stepped towards them and screamed — “You fellows are thieves. Where are my old clothes?”

“As per our Masters orders, we have given your old clothes to the laundry.”

“Thieves. Thieves. I want my clothes. I had my money and some other things in my clothes. Wait until I tell your Master about you.”

As Vandiyathevan stepped in front towards the gate, one of the three guards stepped in front of him. Vandiyathevan punched him on the face. When the remaining jumped at him, Vandiyathevan tripped one of them and lunged at the other. The three guards collapsed.

“Thieves. Thieves”, he cried again, as the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar entered the gate.

“Ah, there you are, Commander. Not only have they stolen my clothes and belongings, they are even trying to kill me. Is this way a guest is treated? Is this the culture of Thanjavur? Not only am I your guest, I am a Royal Guest. You did hear what the Queen Matron said earlier today. I had brought a message from the crown prince himself. If such a person is treated this badly, I can only imagine how the common man is treated in this kingdom. I am surprised you have such rogues in your personal guard. In our Thondainaadu, such thieves would have been long sentenced to death.”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was still trying to digest the fact that this young warrior had brought down three of his warriors single handedly. His desire of inducting such a warrior into his personal guard only increased.

“Have patience, thambi. I doubt if my guards would have done such an act. I will investigate.”

“Yes Sire. Please investigate. Please help me get back my clothes and belongings.”

“Guards! Come here. What happened here? What did I tell you to do? And what have you done?”

“My Lord, we did exactly as told. Once we brought him here to the palace, we arranged for a hot bath for him. We then served him a wholesome meal. Later, we took him to your gallery. After seeing the pictures in the gallery, suddenly he came running out and started asking for his belongings. He also started assaulting us at that time. This is what happened.”

“Useless fellows, three of you got assaulted by a single person?”

“My Lord, we were reluctant because he was your guest. Give us your permission now, we will show him what we are capable of.”

“Enough of your bravado!” said the Commander.

“Please give them permission. Please give me permission as well. It has been a while since I fought some fine Chozha warriors. I will show them how to deal with guests.” Vandiyathevan cracked his knuckles and looked menacingly at the three soldiers.”

“Enough. There shall be no fighting inside the palace. Where have you kept his clothes and belongings?”

“My Lord, as per your orders, we have kept them safely.”

“Aha, Commander. Look at how these brutes are lying. They told me that they had sent my clothes to the laundry.”

“Idiots”, mumbled the Commander. “All I asked them to do was to give you new clothes. I never told them anything about your old clothes. By the way, why are you so interested in your old clothes? Did you have anything important in it?”

“Yes. I had some money for my travel expenses.”

“Do not worry. I will give you much more than required for your travel expenses.”

“Commander, I am a messenger of the great Aditya Karikalan. Taking charity from others is not permissible by my character.”

“Very well. I will arrange for you to get your clothes and your money back. Did you have anything else in it?”

Vandiyathevan thought for a bit and said, “I did have one more thing in my clothing. I am hoping that your guards have not touched it. If they had, I will kill them.”

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was mighty amused by the temper of the young man. “What is this one other thing?”

“It is a secret of the state.”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar roared in laughter. There cannot be a secret of the state within the Thanjavur fort, which is not known to me. “What is it?”

“It is a secret that Prince Karikalan has sent through me.”

“Prince. Hrmph. The authority of the Prince stops at the other bank of the Palar River. It does not work here.”

“I do understand Sir. I understand your position of importance and your responsibilities.”

“Yes. I am in charge of taking care of the Emperor’s safety at all times. We brought him from Pazhayarai to Thanjavur because of safety concerns. Who knows what would have happened if he had stayed back in Pazhayarai. He may even have been assassinated by those Pandiya rogues. “

“Oho. You have also heard about these plots. I have heard about two plots — one against the Chakravarthy and one against the two princes.”

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar bit his lip and thought for a bit. Perhaps he had spoken a tad bit longer than this boy deserved. He realized that this smart young man might get more information from him, by just having a conversation.

The Commander boomed out — “You do not need to worry about all these plots. To squash these plots and protect the Royal family, we are here. What do you want? I am assuming you just want your old clothes back?”

“I want my old clothes and my belongings that were in them.”

“You still have not mentioned what was the other item in your person?”

“If you must know, I will tell you. I had another scroll similar to the one that I had delivered to the Emperor. This was for the Princess at Pazhayarai. All I want now is my old clothes, my travel money, and that scroll.”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar nodded and stepped into an anteroom for a moment and returned with another soldier who had his old clothes in a large plate.

“Thambi, check if everything is in order.”

Vandiyathevan looked through the items on the plate. His old clothes were present. The scroll was intact. There was much more money than what he had brought. He patiently counted the money, took what was rightly his, and returned the remaining cash back to the plate.

Vandiyathevan also started thinking how the scroll magically appeared now. He reasoned that the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar must have gotten hold of the scroll, read through it, and then slipped it in. He needed to be careful with this man.

Vandiyathevan returned the plate with the extra money back to the Commander and said, “I was born in the Vaanar clan. We do not lust after others fortunes.”

“Thambi, I am impressed with your loyalty. But I insist you keep this extra money as my gift for your travel expenses. When are you planning to leave? I would prefer it, if you meet the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and then leave.”

“I would definitely want to meet the Periyavar before I leave.”

“Very well.”

“Er, Commander, I have a small request. I would like to walk around and take in the sights of this wonderful Thanjavur fort.”

“Sure. I will send two soldiers with you. They will show you all the sights. It is best not to exit the fort gates. Once closed, they do not open until the next morning.”

The Commander then assigned two new soldiers to Vandiyathevan and whispered something in their ears. Vandiyathevan could very well imagine what the Commander would have told them.

Book 1 | Chapter 28 | Royal Guest

Paintings inside the Thanjavur Big Temple. Src: IndiaTravelPictures

The Commander led the young man back to the main hall where he had first met him. His mind was confused. Vandiyathevan’s reasoning about what he was telling the King was not convincing. But then, the young man had shown the Palm Leaf ring. The Commander had full confidence in his elder brother. He decided that it would be best to detain Vandiyathevan as a guest, atleast until he spoke to the Periya Pazhuvettarayar about this.

Another thought was also floating in the Commander’s mind. He was quite impressed with the lad himself. He would make a fine addition to his secret force.

Vandiyathevan was confused and shifty himself. He was wondering where he might have misplaced the second scroll meant for the Princess. He wondered if it had slipped and fell somewhere in this hall. His eyes scanned the areas where he had been standing earlier in the day.

The Commander waved to a soldier to come near — “Take this warrior to my palace. Settle him down in the guest quarters. Ensure he gets whatever he needs to make him comfortable. Keep him there, until I get there.”

As soon as the soldier and the warrior walked out the hall, another soldier approached the Commander with a scroll. “Sir, this was lying in the corridor between this hall and the Kings chambers. I think it might have fallen from the boy’s clothing.”

The Commander read this second message that the Prince Karikalan had written to his sister Princess Kundavai. It read — “You had asked for a trusted messenger and warrior to help you. The bearer of this message is the best person for you.”

The Commander’s brows narrowed. One could see the rising anger in his face.

Meanwhile, in the Commanders palace, Vandiyathevan was getting a royal treatment. He had taken a bath and had been provided a sumptuous meal. He was being provided with new clothes. He had almost forgotten about the lost scroll.

After the meal, the soldiers took him to the gallery, where there were several dozens of beautiful large paintings. The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar had one of the largest collections of paintings in the land. The paintings depicted the 100 year history of the Chozha lineage. The paintings depicted all the heroic wars that the Chozha kings had fought.

Vandiyathevan spent time engrossed in looking at each of these beautiful paintings, while the guards had settled down near the door of the gallery playing a game of dice. The paintings filled Vandiyathevan with pride. He was proud to be serving a Prince, who belonged to this illustrious lineage.

There was one important feature that Vandiyathevan noticed in several of the paintings. In most of the wars, he noticed a Commander from the Pazhuvettarayar lineage ably helping the Emperor. They were leading the frontline charge. They were riding the Emperor’s chariot. They were even seen lifting the Emperor on their shoulders on the final charge in a war. Why, one of the first people to set foot and help found the grand city of Thanjavur was a Pazhuvettarayar.

After seeing these paintings, Vandiyathevan could now understand, why and how the Pazhuvettarayars enjoyed such privileges in the Chozha kingdom. It was their fierce loyalty.

His thoughts came back to the present. He needed to get out of the predicament that he was caught in. He had to somehow leave before Periya Pazhuvettarayar arrived. If not, his bluff about the Palm leaf insignia ring would be called out. And he would be in big trouble. It was definite that he would be put into the famous Thanjavur underground dungeons. It was believed that no one had ever escaped the underground dungeons alive.

At that time, he thought about his old clothes. He wondered if all this royal treatment was so that, the guards could go through his old clothes. He was almost sure that the second scroll would have gotten to the Commander by now.