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 24 | Thanjavur Fort

Chattrams (resthouses) as part of the Thanjavur Palace

Vandiyathevan slept like a log through the night and woke up only after the sun had dawned. He woke up to the beautiful sounds of birds chirping. In perfect tune with this was someone who was singing the beautiful verses by Sundaramoorthy Swami — “Ponnaaar Meniyane ….”

He got up and looked outside towards the garden. Sendhan Amudhan had already taken a bath, was smeared generously with sacred ash and was collecting flowers from the garden, singing softly.

Vandiyathevan had to see the Emperor today. He had to see him before the Periya Pazhuvettarayar came back. If the Pazhuvettarayar gets back, he might never be allowed to meet the Emperor.

He quickly took a bath in the pond nearby. He dressed himself elegantly. He was not quite sure himself, why he had dressed himself so — was it because, he was going to meet the emperor? Or was it because he may meet the Pazhuvur Queen Nandini?

The friends decided to walk together to the fort together. Vandiyathevan had decided to leave the horse behind to rest and recuperate.

“Don’t you have any other relatives, other than your mother?”

“There are relatives. My mother has a brother and a sister. The sister has passed away. My uncle is the priest at the Kodikkarai Shiva temple. He is also the handler of the lighthouse there. He has a son and a daughter.”

Sendhan Amudhan described the daughter, Poonkuzhali, in great detail. He seemed to be enamoured of her.

“When she sings, the ocean king himself stops the waves and listens to her.”

Vandiyathevan said — “You should be lucky. She is the right person for you to get married.”

Amudhan thought for a little and mentioned — “Anna, I do not think she is very interested in me though.”

To this Vandiyathevan retorted, “Come on, Thambi. Does every marriage happen with the initial consent of the lady? I am sure you can convince her. Look at the Periya Pazhuvettarayar. Do you think the lovely Queen Nandini fully approved of getting married to that old warrior?”

“Anna, please do not talk about these big people in public. I urge you not to talk about these people once you are inside the fort. It is not safe for you. The two Pazhuvettarayars are the true rulers inside the fort.”

“But this was not the case, two years ago, was it?”

“No, this happened after the King moved from Pazhayarai to Thanjavur.”

“Why did the King have to move from Pazhayarai to Thanjavur?”

“Anna, I can tell you what I have heard. When the Chozha Kings captured Pandiyanaadu, there were some atrocities that were committed. When there are wars, there are war crimes. That is nothing surprising there. But there is talk of some Pandiyanaadu patriots who are regrouping and wanting to take revenge on the King. The Pazhuvettarayars convinced the King that, the security at Pazhayarai was not enough, and that, Thanjavur would be a better place. Also, there were better doctors in Thanjavur, than in Pazhayarai, to treat the King’s ailments.”

“Everyone keeps saying that the Emperor is sick. Does anyone know what his ailment is?”

“Oh, of course, everyone knows that. He has epilepsy because of which, both of his legs have ceased functioning. He is bed-ridden because of that. He is so weak that, he is not able to ride a horse or even ride a palanquin. More recently, they are saying that he is not also mentally doing very well.”

“What a pity.”

“Oh. Pity. Please do not use that word inside the fort. The Pazhuvettarayars will prosecute for using that word.”

Vandiyathevan got very irritated at this time. He thought — “How powerful these two have become. It is a mistake that the king did, by making these two in charge of the army, the granary, and the treasury. It has gotten into their heads. This needs to be stopped. If I get the chance, I should also try and warn the Emperor.”

They had reached the fort walls. The two friends parted ways.

The ring with the Palm Tree Insignia did wonders at the Fort gates. He was respectfully let in, without any issues. What he saw inside the fort gates impressed him. It was so different than Kanchipuram. The old city of Kanchipuram had only been partially restored by Aditya Karikalan. There were still several old, ancient looking areas inside the Kanchipuram city. In contrast, the buildings inside Thanjavur fort looked so new and modern. They had been built exquisitely with beautiful landscaping and trees all around. The streets inside the fort were filled with people, horse-mounted cavalry, and even elephants. Music wafted through the air from somewhere.

He walked down what looked like the main road. Vandiyathevan guessed that following the main road would lead him to the main palace where the Emperor stayed. After a little while of walking, the road he was walking on, led to a large palace with a very large tiger flag flying on its mast. He reasoned that, this was the palace he needed to get into.

Vandiyathevan quickly thought of a plan to get into the palace.

He also had to ascertain when the Periya Pazhuvettarayar would be back in town.

He noticed a guard on the side of the road.

“Sir, can you tell me where the Pazhuvettarayar is now?”

“Thambi, the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar is in the palace.”

“I am asking about the Periya Pazhuvettarayar. Has he come back? I heard he had gone to Nadunaadu.”

“Oho, I did not know he had gone to Nadunaadu, but he has not yet returned. Nandini Devi returned back yesterday late evening though.”

The palace was magnificently big. There were guards all around the palace. Tourists paused to balk at the sight of the palace and the large tiger flag. The guards waved away those who stayed for too long.

Vandiyathevan did not stand hesitating like the others. He walked straight up to the guards confidently. The guards stopped him by crossing their spears. Vandiyathevan took out and showed them his magic ring. They took a long look at it and waved him in.

The ring that Nandini Devi had given was indeed magical when it came to gaining him entry into difficult places.

He walked in through the gates wondering where he can find the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar. He knew very well, that without his permission, an audience with the King would be impossible.

Suddenly he heard the commotion of a lot of people behind him. They were wearing expensive silk clothing and jewelry. They seemed like a group of poets. The guards seemed to recognize them and let them in.

“Take these poets to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar”, said the chief guard to the sentry.

“This was the best opportunity”, thought Vandhiyathevan, as he decided to follow the poets.