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.”