Book 2 | Chapter 3 | Lighthouse Keeper

“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.”

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…”

“Go on…”

“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.”

Book 1 | Chapter 33 | Real Sorcerer

Mahabalipuram (img src; news18)

Nandini looked out into the garden and clapped her hands three times.

Through the foliage, a figure emerged.

Nandini went back to her chaise. Her face was back to her calm demeanor.

The readers might be wondering if the Sorcerers face looks familiar. Ah yes. He is the same person who was present in the Pallippadai midnight meeting. The same person who brought the jewels from the treasury. The same person who had given orders to kill Alwarkadiyaan on sight. It was Ravidasan.

His face was angry. It seemed like sparks flew from his eyes.

He sat down in front of her and chanted a few incantations invoking deadly Gods — “Om Hreem Shreem Bhagavathi …..”

“Enough. Tell me what you want. It looks like my handmaiden had fallen asleep while waiting for you. My lord has come back into the fort. He should be here very soon. Be quick.”

Ravidasan hissed — “You treacherous fool.”

She remained calm.

He hissed back — “I would like to remind you of some events of the past.”

“I feel that there is no point in dwelling in the past.”

Ravidasan’s anger increased. “You need to be reminded of the past. Of the promises. Of who you are.”

She resigned herself to listen to his story, as she saw no point in stopping him.

“Three years ago, deep in the night, on the banks of the River Vaigai, a body was being cremated. There were no royal priests performing the last rites. The corpse was burning on the fire fueled by the twigs and branches, we had gathered from the nearby forest. From the shadows, some others dragged you to near the pyre. Your hands and legs were tied. Your mouth was gagged. Those who dragged you out wanted to throw you onto the burning pyre as well. The men around the pyre made a pledge. You were watching and hearing everything.”

“You had been quiet until then, but after you heard the men take the pledge, you tried telling them something by screaming behind your gag, rolling your eyes, and by trying to move your hands.”

“I noticed this and ordered one of the men to remove your gag. No one believed you. I was the only one who believed you.”

“Do you remember what you said the other day?”

A tear drop slipped past the dove-like eyes of Nandini.

“You promised that you will also take the pledge. You said that you will use your beauty to help the cause. You promised that after the pledge was completed, you would kill yourself. Do you remember all that?”

She looked at the Sorcerer. “Do you ask if I remember all this? It is burned in my heart.”

“Hmm”, the Sorcerer continued. “Yet another day, we were all walking past the Kaveri banks. We heard the sound of horses behind us. We decided to hide in the forest until the warriors passed. You alone did otherwise. You stood in their way. The leader of the warriors, the Pazhuvettarayar was enchanted by you. He took you. He married you.”

“The others in my group ridiculed me for believing in you. I stalked you. I found you one day alone. I was about to kill you with this very sword. You convinced me that this was all part of the plan to execute the pledge. You said you will work from within the palace and help execute the pledge. Do you remember all this?”

She looked at him calmly, and said, “Of course, I remember all this. Tell me what you want.”

“No. You have forgotten all about the pledge. You have forgotten everything. You would have gotten spoiled by these incensed lamps, the silk mattresses, and all this I see around me.”

She hissed back — “You are mistaken. Do you think I came here for all these luxuries?”

“Then, what were you doing with that young warrior I saw you cavorting with, the other day and today. And why did you not send your hand-maiden to the usual spot. The soldiers searching for that young man almost found me. I had to hide in the cold waters in the nearby pond until they disappeared.”

“That was not my fault. The hand-maiden that I had sent mistook the warrior for you and brought him here. And it serves you right. For having being suspicious of me and making so many false allegations against me.”

“Tell me honestly, did you not fall for the beauty of the young warrior?”

She winced. “Do you think I would fall for beauty? Only in this shameless Chozha Kingdom, beautiful appearance is celebrated in royalty. From where I come from, the beauty of men is measured in the number of war wounds that he has.”

“Then why did he have to be here? And why did you give him your ring?”

“I gave the ring to him to get him here. I thought he would be useful to our plan.”

Ravidasan hissed — “Did you tell him …”

“Calm down. I have not and will not tell him any of our secrets. I have only learnt some secrets from him. I have found out that he is taking a message from the Prince of Kanchi to the young tigress in Pazhayarai. You men are all thinking of destroying only the male tigers. The tigress in Pazhayarai is very dangerous. While everyone thinks that the Pazhuvettarayar wields all power here in the Chozha kingdom, the real puppet master is the Princess from Pazhayarai. I will destroy her.”

There were traces of faith and appreciation returning to Ravidasan’s face.

“But how can I believe all this?”

“If you do not believe, you accompany him out of the fort. Take him through one of the underground tunnels. Blindfold him. Wait for him outside Pazhayarai and bring him back with the return message.”

“No. I will not risk doing that. The fort guards are all on alert searching for this young man.”

She looked at him and asked, “What is the real reason you came here for?”

“Hmm. The teams heading to Kanchi and Eezham are ready. The Eezham team is going to face a lot of challenges. The Chozha currency would be of no use in Eezham.”

Nandini reached out to a small bag she had kept ready. “Here. Even before you had asked, I had kept this ready. This bag is full of the local currency in Eezham. This should be sufficient.”

When Ravidasan started to leave, she said — “Please lead this warrior at least outside of this fort. I do not wish to guide him to the tunnel myself.”

She then walked over in the direction of the darkness and looked for Vandiyathevan. She clapped softly. There was still no response or sound that came from the direction.

They searched. They could not find him anywhere.