The next morning, the Emperor summoned his favourite daughter. He ordered the doctor, soldier, and others to go out of the room, so that he could speak in private to her.
“Appa, are you angry with me?”
“Why should I be angry with my dear girl?”
“I defied your orders and came to Thanjavur.”
“Yes. You should not have come here. This palace is not amenable for young girls like you to live in. You should now be aware of what happened last night? I am talking about the way the Kodumbalur princess was found unconscious yesterday night. How is she now?”
“She is fine now. She used to be like this even in Pazhayarai. She used to faint often, but then she would recover very quickly.”
“Did you ask her if she saw or heard anything in this palace that caused her to faint?”
“Yes. I asked, and she was saying something about losing her way trying to find the terrace. She was also saying that she heard someone crying piteously for help. And then she became afraid and fainted.”
“That is what I also thought. And this is why I do not want you to stay here. There are ghosts in this palace that roam around in the night.”
The Emperor shivered and his eyes glazed.
“If that is so, why are you still here in Thanjavur? Should you and mother not come to Pazhayarai too? I do not see any improvement in your health, by you being here.”
“My health is not going to improve. I have lost hope.”
“Why are you being so negative? The Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar seems to think that you can definitely be cured.”
“And I know you sent someone to Lanka to procure herbs for curing me. Do you love your father so much, my dear girl?”
She hugged him. “Of course.”
“Honestly, I am very happy that you have come here. I need to tell you something.”
“My illness is not physical. It is due to mental stress. I am under so much stress, that I cannot even rule this small kingdom of mine.”
“But then, why should you strain yourself? You have two wonderful sons. When you have them, why should you worry?”
“That is my worry, my girl. I am wondering if it would be the right thing to hand over this kingdom to my sons. This kingdom comes with a curse.”
“What curse can possibly come from this kingdom? The Chozha kingdom is the pride of South India. Our ancestors have done so much good in the past. Our ancestors include the great Manu Needhi Chozhan and Sibi Chakravarthy. How can you say that such a kingdom comes with a curse?”
“Appa, I think you are in a dazed mental state. Please come with me to Pazhayarai.”
“I would love to come to beautiful Pazhayarai, but this kingdom still exists only because I am here. If I leave, this kingdom will shatter. The play that was conducted yesterday – do you recall what happened during the play? Did you see the way the different camps of Pazhuvoor and Kodumbalur were boisterously cheering?
Imagine what would happen if I am not here. These camps would just start fighting openly. Like Lord Krishna’s curse, this kingdom will implode within itself, with these people fighting among themselves.”
“I do not want these people to fight among themselves. In the last hundred years, both these families have stood by the Emperor’s side and helped build the kingdom.”
“But what if I said that one of these families might be plotting against you?” The Emperor clearly was shaken. “What are you saying, Kundavai?”
“People who are pretending to be very close to you are plotting against you. They are plotting to ensure that your sons do not ascend the throne. They are planning to crown Madhuranthakan as Emperor.”
“Aha. If only they succeed in doing so, it would gladden me.”
Kundavai was shocked.
“Appa, what are you saying? Do you not want your sons to ascend the throne?”
“I do not want them to get this cursed kingdom. I would be glad if Madhuranthakan becomes Emperor. Would he accept?”
“He would gladly accept. But I am extremely shocked and upset at your views. Would you even want to ask my brother?”
“Of course, I would need to ask Aditya Karikalan. I would also need to ask the Royal Matron.”
“You are very close to the Matron. Please go to her and convince her to change her mind about Madhuranthakan becoming Emperor. Then, go to Kanchi, and convince Adityan to give up his rights over this accursed kingdom.”
Kundavai was shocked and had no words.
“Appa, you keep mentioning about a curse. What curse is this?”
“Sometimes, I get these haunting memories. I have not spoken to anyone about this. Please do not tell anyone about this.”
The Emperor sighed and looked up at the ceiling. And then, he began talking.
“It was an island. The waters were calm. The small island had a lot of greenery. Behind some bushes, there was a young warrior crouching. He was staring intently at a boat. He was staring until the boat was out of sight. He seemed to be relieved that he had escaped being spotted by someone in the boat.”
“The warrior was of a royal family, but was not the heir to any throne. He did not have any desire to rule either. His father had been the youngest of three brothers. Hence, he had never even imagined being the heir. He had joined the army and had a small force with him. He had embarked on a war on a distant land. The army had been defeated badly. The warrior’s force had been completely decimated. While the remaining few soldiers readied to head back to their land, this warrior did not want to go back. How could he, who had lost his entire force, head back? He found it disgraceful.”
“Silently, without anyone knowing, he had jumped off the boat, and had swum to this little island. And he waited for the ship to vanish out of his sight. He then explored the island. The island seemed to be uninhabited. He suddenly heard a human voice – it was the voice of a lady. He turned around and saw a ferocious bear chasing a young girl.
The bear was catching up to her. He grabbed his spear and flung it at the bear. The spear wounded the bear, but did not kill it. The girl was safe, but the wounded bear had turned towards the warrior. The bear and the warrior wrestled for a short time, but the warrior was victorious.”
“He then looked around and searched for her. His eyes found her, hiding behind a coconut tree. He realised that she was a tribal girl. Her behaviour and her mannerisms gave her away. She did have a wide smile on her face – happy to be alive, he guessed. But her beauty was unmatched. He had never seen anyone as beautiful as her.”
“He tried approaching her, but she started running. He did not follow her. He realised that this was a small island, and that he would meet her again very soon. He was tired. He lay down on the sandy beach.”
“Very soon, she returned. With her, came a man. He came to know that he was from a fisherman community, which lived in the Lankan coastline. The man told our warrior that the girl had saved his life from a bear. The man had been on a tree, when the bear had attacked. The girl had distracted the bear and saved his life.”
“The warrior noticed that, for all the questions that he had been asking, the girl did not reply. It had always been the man who had answered. That was when that the warrior realised that the girl was deaf and dumb. The warrior’s heart broke. Yet, his love for the girl increased. He did not feel that the loss of the two senses was significant. Her expressive eyes compensated for them.”
“The warrior stayed on in this heavenly island with his lady love. Days turned into months, and months into years. He stopped keeping count of time. This heavenly time ended very abruptly.
One fine day, a ship anchored close to the island. Men came down to the island in rafts. He came to know that they had come for him.”
“He came to know of several untoward incidents that had happened in his kingdom – an uncle passing away, an uncle who did not have any children, and his father grievously wounded. He came to know that he was suddenly the Emperor that his kingdom was waiting for. He did not want to leave his heavenly island and his lovely lady. Yet, he had to go. His kingdom was waiting for him. He had no choice.”
“He promised a thousand times to the girl, that he would be back. The tribal girl, who had been raised in this isolated island, did not even want to come out in the open, in front of these strange men. As the warrior boarded the ship, he saw the girl sitting on top of a bent coconut tree trunk, with tears streaming down her beautiful face.”
“Kundavai, this sad scene keeps coming to my mind all the time. “
“There is one more scene, which keeps coming back to haunt me. Can I tell you about that scene too? Will you listen to me?”
Kundavai was choking with sorrow, but managed to nod her head, egging him to continue.