The dark night was lit beautifully by the moon. Vandhiyathevan stood looking at the sea, hesitating to go in.
“Is the sea very deep here?”
“Of course not. I have never seen someone as scared as you. The sea here is very shallow – not even up to hip level for a very long distance. That is the reason why the fire atop the lighthouse burns so bright every night.”
Vandhiyathevan hesitantly washed the wet clay off his legs. When he turned around, he saw the Vaidhiyar’s son riding towards him. He was bringing his horse too.
“Oh no! Those two are riding towards the quicksand pit. Stop. Stop!”
Vandhiyathevan ran towards them and stopped them before they reached the pit. Poonkuzhali reached them in a bit as well, and the three of them started walking towards the lighthouse settlement.
She gently caressed Vandhiyathevan’s horse, which seemed to have taken a liking to her.
“It looks like my horse likes you. I need to go to Lanka. Can I leave my horse with you until I come back? Would you be able to take care of it?”
“Sure, I can take care of the horse. All animals take a liking to me. Only humans have a problem with me.”
“But Sendhan Amudhan…”
“I also have problems with humans.”
“Why do you have such hatred against humans?”
“They are wicked. They are filled with lies and deception.”
“You cannot generalise like that. Amudhan is a very nice person. This Vaidhiyar’s son is also a very nice person.”
“How about yourself?”
“I am also a nice person, but I should not be singing my own praises.”
“What are you two doing in these parts?”
“You might be knowing that the Chakravarthy is not well. To cure him, we are searching for a few herbs that are apparently found only in these forests. That is why the Vaidhiyar’s son and I are here.”
“But I thought you said you wanted to go to Lanka?”
“Some herbs might not be available here; I have been instructed to go to Lanka and get them. It seems the mountain that Hanuman brought is still there.”
She smirked sarcastically and said, “Yes. And that is why hundreds of people there are dying of a dangerous plague-like fever right now.”
“I had not heard about that. Even the Chief Vaidhiyar, who sent us, did not tell me about it.”
“I can see that you are lying. Just two days ago, two men came here. They also were telling similar lies like the one that you are telling. They said that a magician had sent them, and that they had to get tiger nails and elephant tail hair, for some occult ritual that they were going to perform. They wanted to go to Lanka to get these items. My brother has taken them in his boat.”
Vandhiyathevan was reminded of Ravidasan, the magician, and the night at the mandapam, when he was on the run from Thanjavur to Pazhayarai. He was wondering who these people, who have gone to Lanka before him, could have been. He thought it best to befriend Poonkuzhali.
“Poonkuzhali, what I told you a few moments ago, was indeed a lie. Please forgive me. Let me tell you the real reason. I am headed to Lanka on a top-secret mission. I would like to tell you about it.”
“Oho. You do not need to tell me about anything. Do you not know that you should not be telling secrets to women?”
“That is for ordinary women. I think you are trustworthy enough to keep a secret.”
“How do you know that I am not ordinary? It has been a very short time since we first met.”
“Ever since I saw you on top of the temple wall, I have been observing you. You seem a very nice person. I like you. I would like to ask you a question, to which I want an honest reply. Can I ask you?”
“You may try.”
“Are you sure that Sendhan Amudhan is not your lover? Are you not going to marry him?”
“Why do you ask this question?”
“Sendhan Amudhan is a close friend of mine. I should not be doing anything to endanger my friendship with him. But if you do not love him…”
“If you do not love him, I was wondering if I could apply for that position.” Vandhiyathevan smiled sheepishly.
He continued, “I do not like the way you talk badly about the beautiful thing called love. Everyone has expressed their feelings on love. The three main Shaivite saints, Appar, Sundarar, and Manickavachagar have all worshipped their Lord through love. Kalidasan has written poems on love. Why, Lord Krishna himself has expressed so much love in his life.”
She stopped him, mid-sentence.
“Please do listen to what I have to say on this.”
“I am listening.”
“I also like you. The hatred that I felt when I saw the two people yesterday vanished when I saw you.”
Vandhiyathevan felt very glad on hearing this.
“But listen, Amudhan may not be my lover, but I have other lovers in my life.”
“Lovers? How many of them? Who are they?”
“I usually go for a walk late in the night. If you follow me, I will show them to you.”
She laughed a manic laugh, which unnerved Vandhiyathevan. He thought she was probably a bit deranged. He decided not to tell her anything more.
When they reached the lighthouse, an old man and his wife came out, hearing the horses.
The old man asked Poonkuzhali – “Who are these people, my girl? Two days ago, you brought two people. Today you are bringing these people. Where did you find them?”
“I did not find them, Appa. They found me. It seems they are here to take some herbs for the Chakravarthy’s treatment.”
Vandhiyathevan stepped forward to the old lighthouse keeper and gave him the scroll that the Princess had given. The old man read the scroll under the light of the lighthouse. And as he read the scroll, Vandhiyathevan could see happiness flushing over his face.
The old man looked at his wife and said, “Princess Kundavai has sent these two men. We are to help them in whatever we can. Let us first give them food. They will be tired. Go tell your daughter-in-law not to close the kitchen.”