Book 2 | Chapter 22 | Ponnaar Meniyane

Two of the guards pushed one of the tiger cages to a side, using a system of pulleys and wheels. They then pulled up a trap door closed with a heavy stone slab. Steps led down to the dungeon.

The royal mint of the Chozha kingdom was located in one corner of the Thanjavur fort. It was as heavily guarded as the outer gates of the fort. It was around sunset when Kundavai and Vanathi arrived at the mint. When their chariot came to a halt, the soldiers and the people around cheered and hailed the Princess of the kingdom. It was closing time, and the goldsmiths who had been minting coins through the day were leaving the mint.

The goldsmiths were being frisked and checked before they left for their homes. The Chief Soldier gave the royal ladies a tour of the mint. They saw the process of how beautiful gold ornaments and gold ingots were melted and cast into coin-shaped forms. The coins had the tiger emblem on one side and a ship emblem on the other.

“Akka, what is the advantage of converting the gold into coins?”

“You are indeed a very innocent and naïve girl. If we convert gold into coins, it will facilitate trade between neighbouring countries. It is also very easy to measure and count. It will also enable our subjects to pay taxes and other levies more easily and accurately.”

Kundavai lowered her voice and said, “There is also one unfortunate thing that this conversion facilitates. These people whom we keep hearing about, who are plotting a coup against my father – they can easily sway and buy over people and resources, to get their ulterior work done.”

The Chief Guard heard this last bit of information faintly.

“Princess, you are right. There are many such rumours floating around. The security in the mint has hence been increased significantly in recent times. The number of people who come and go to the underground dungeons below this mint has also increased.”

“I understand people coming into the dungeons have increased. But leaving it too?”

“Yes, Princess. Just yesterday, there was a prisoner who was brought in. A little while ago, they took him away again.”

The Princess and Vanathi walked through the mint towards the back gate. They reached a tall wall on which there was a small gate. They opened the gate and stepped inside. It was dark inside and the ceiling was low.

There were fearsome growling noises coming from all around. There was a guard with a torch sitting in a corner. In the light of the torch, if one looked hard enough, one could see several cages. Roaming inside each of these cages were fearsome tigers. Their eyes glowed in the light of the torch.

Kundavai grabbed Vanathi by her arm and said, “Vanathi, I hope you are not afraid. Please do not faint and fall here.”

“Akka, why should I be afraid of tigers? They are after all the symbol of our kingdom, and hence our protectors.”

“Sometimes protectors join forces with our enemies. We should be careful.”

“Akka, what do they feed these tigers?”

“Prisoners who try escaping the underground dungeon are the food for these beasts.”

“Oh God! How cruel!”

“Vanathi, such is the nature of running a kingdom. One has to do such things.”

“You should have been there when I was speaking to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar. It almost seemed like he would imprison me in this prison.”

“Akka, I don’t think anyone would ever dare do such a thing.”

“Right now, I am worried only about the Vaidhiyar’s son. He did seem to be an innocent boy.” The tigers were growling incessantly.

“Guard, please show us to the entrance of the underground dungeon.”

Two of the guards pushed one of the tiger cages to a side, using a system of pulleys and wheels. They then pulled up a trap door closed with a heavy stone slab. Steps led down to the dungeon.

The Princess, Vanathi, and two guards descended one by one. The darkness intensified. The light of the torches showed the way down the narrow passageway. They moved slowly in a single file. The silence was broken intermittently by the gut-wrenching cries of prisoners who were kept in isolation.

In the midst of this eerie chaos, there was the sound of a sweet and melodious voice. “Ponnaaar Meniyane! Pulitholai Araikku Asaithu!”

The guard held his torch near each of the cell entrances. Some prisoners were kept in isolation. There were some cells with two prisoners. In some cells, the prisoners were chained to rings on the walls. Kundavai looked at each of the prisoners’ faces and moved on slowly.

“Akka, why are all these prisoners kept here? Are they prisoners tried by any court of law?”

“Vanathi, normal prisoners are usually tried in the court of law. These prisoners are those who committed heinous crimes of treason against the kingdom. Some of them are spies and some of them are those who abetted spies. The guards try to extract as much information as possible from them.

Once they get the required information, the prisoners are usually released. But of course, from some prisoners, one cannot recover any information – some people do not have any information – what would they do?”

By this time, the beautiful music was getting closer. When they reached the cell from where the music was coming, the Princess could see that there was a young man inside the cell, sitting in peace, singing his beautiful song.

Yes, the reader is familiar with this young man. It was Sendhan Amudhan, indeed.

The young man bowed to the Princess.

“You seem to be in good spirits, young man.”

“The omnipotent God is everywhere – including here. Why should I not be in good spirits?”

“You seem to be a gnani. What were you doing before you came here?”

“I am not a gnani, Princess. I used to make garlands and worship the Lord. Here I am singing couplets and worshipping the Lord.”

“Is this the only song you know, or do you know other songs?”

“I know a few more, but ever since I came here, I have been singing just this same song. On my way here, I passed through the mint where there were heaps of gold – which reminded me of the beautiful golden skin (Ponnaar Meni) of Lord Shiva.”

“Do you have any relatives?”

“Only my mother. Her name is Vani Ammai. She lives near the thamarai kolam (lotus pond) outside the Thanjavur fort.”

“I will let her know that you are fine and in good spirits down here.”

“That would not be of any use, Princess. Neither can she hear what you say, nor can she reply back. She is both deaf and dumb.”

“Oho. Then your name must be Sendhan Amudhan.”

“Yes, Princess.”

“And what is the crime for which you have been kept here?”

“Until yesterday, even I did not know. Just today I heard that I have been kept here for the crime of helping a spy.”

“Who was the spy you helped?”

“I met him outside the fort gates one fine day. He was looking for a place to stay. I invited him home. I did not know that he was a spy then. He said his name was Vallavarayan Vandhiyathevan.”

On the Princess’ request, Sendhan Amudhan narrated in entirety what happened between him and Vandhiyathevan.

“How is it that you helped someone whom you had just met, so much?”

“There are some people to whom you take an immediate liking. Vandhiyathevan was one such person. He was so likeable. He did not seem to be a bad person at all.”

“At the same time, there are some people whom you will hate on first look. I had one such person in my cell until some time back. Thankfully, soldiers from the Pazhuvoor Queen’s guard came and freed him some time back.”

“Hmm. Is that so? And why is it that you have so much hatred for this man?” exclaimed the Princess.

“This person said he was the son of a Vaidhiyar from Pazhayarai. Apparently, he and Vandhiyathevan had gone down to Kodikkarai together. He spoke badly about my cousin, Poonkuzhali, who lives there. Hence my anger, Princess. But there is one piece of good news that I gleaned out of him.”

“And what is that good news?”

“He says he tried to trick Vandhiyathevan into getting caught by the soldiers sent by the Pazhuvettarayar. Bloody traitor! But thankfully, Vandhiyathevan escaped.”

Both Vanathi and Kundavai exclaimed in unison, “He escaped?”

“Yes. Apparently, Poonkuzhali took him in her boat in the middle of the night to drop him off at Lanka.”

“Young man, you do not look like someone who could have done any wrong. I will ask the Fort Commander to release you.”

“Princess, I request you to grant me some more time. The old man in the next cell has been asking me to teach him a couple of songs. If I do so, he has promised me that he would tell me where he has hidden the Pandiya Coronation Crown. I will learn that secret and then come out.”

The Princess and Vanathi laughed out loudly.

“I do not want you to go mad like the person in the next cell. Then, what will I tell your mother, Vani Ammai?”

The Princess and her entourage left the dungeon. In about half an hour, some soldiers came and released Sendhan Amudhan from the underground dungeon, and guided him to the Thanjavur fort gates.

Book 2 | Chapter 18 | Thanjavur Hospital

“Apparently, someone named Vandhiyathevan, a Vaanarkula warrior from Thiruvallam, in Thondainaadu. My brother-in-law has sent men all over the country to capture the spy.”

In olden years of Tamizh Nadu, royal ladies used to participate significantly in public service. The ladies had separate trust funds, which were used to promote several activities such as temple renovation, daily rituals for temples, and food for travellers. In particular, Princess Kundavai had set up several medical facilities. We have already seen the Ayurvedic hospital at Pazhayarai. On this day, she was all set to inaugurate a hospital on the outskirts of Thanjavur.

The Garuda Mandapam opposite the Perumal temple, just outside the Thanjavur fort, was abuzz with activity. The inauguration of the Thanjavur hospital by Princess Kundavai was to start shortly in this mandapam. Crowds milled around the mandapam. There were administrative personnel, small kings and vassals, band musicians, and official engravers, who had assembled. The royal family had started to arrive. Prince Madhuranthakan came, seated very uncomfortably atop a white horse. Princess Kundavai and several others of the royal family arrived in palanquins. Nandini arrived in her own palanquin with the palm-tree insignia.

The inauguration function started when the Periya Pazhuvettarayar arrived. The temple musicians sang a Devaram song, talking about the benefits of the sacred ash – Thiruneeru.

Nandini whispered to Kundavai, “When Sambandhar sang this song, the sacred ash had such medicinal powers that it cured the Pandiya king of an incurable disease. These days, it seems, the sacred ash has lost its power. We need doctors and herbs to cure people.”

“Yes. In those times, people led a dharmic life. It was because of this that the sacred ash had such powers. These days, people lead lives filled with sins. There are even people who are conspiring against the King and the royal family. Have we ever heard of such things in the past?”

“I am surprised that there are people plotting against the King. Who are they?”

“I am not sure, but I am still investigating. Very soon, I will find out. I am planning to stay on in Thanjavur until I find out about everything.”

“I will try and help you with anything that you require of me, Princess. I will have to leave soon. We have a visitor at home – the Kadambur prince, Kandanmaran. He is a handsome young fellow. He is in a pitiful mental state right now though. He keeps mumbling something about a spy and a backstabber. He keeps talking about a close friend who had turned traitor.”

“Who could have committed such a bad thing?”

“Apparently, someone named Vandhiyathevan, a Vaanarkula warrior from Thiruvallam, in Thondainaadu. My brother-in-law has sent men all over the country to capture the spy.”

“Hmm. I seem to recognise that name somewhere. How do we know if he is indeed a spy?”

“I do not know anything about this. All this information came from Kandanmaran. If you want to know more, you should probably come and talk to him.”

“Yes, I will come and meet him sometime. The Sambuvarayar clan has been loyal to us for several generations.”

By this time, the Devaram music had ended. The accountants ceremoniously read out details of the donations of land and money towards setting up the hospital. The engravers recorded this on brass plaques. On behalf of the treasury, the Periya Pazhuvettarayar ceremoniously handed over the plaques to the accountants to be formalised. Various formal announcements were made, such as the amount allocated for the Chief Doctor’s salary. There were also agreements in kind, such as the donation of milk for the patients’ consumption.

Cheers praising the royal family members rose from the crowd.

Book 2 | Chapter 17 | Coronation Memories

“Dead people can be more cruel than living people. In recent times, the ghost of the dumb girl has begun haunting me. I am not even sure if you will believe this, Kundavai.”

So far, the Emperor had been narrating the story in a third person perspective. He now continued telling as if it was his own story.

“Kundavai, I am going to now tell you some things that I have not told anyone. Only my close friend Aniruddhan knows these events. Even he does not know all of it. These are things that no father would have to tell his own child. But I cannot get myself to tell this to your mother or to your brothers. I am sure you will listen and not laugh at me.”

“From that island, I took the boat to the mainland towards Kodikkarai. I headed straight to Thanjavur, where my grandfather, Paranthakar, was on his death bed.”

“When I reached there, I realised that the great Chozha Empire was in the throes of being shattered into a thousand pieces. The heir to the throne, Rajaditta Chozhan had died in the Thakkolam war. My father Arunjayar had also been grievously wounded in the same war and was fighting for his life. The Canara forces were aggressively striking Thondai Mandalam. Pandiya forces were advancing in the west. In the east, our forces had lost the war in Lanka. My grandfather was a dejected man. The kingdom that he had built over 40 years was on the brink of destruction.”

“At this stage, when he saw me, he saw hope. I had always been his favourite grandson. When I was young, he would never let me out of his sight. I had adamantly left for the Eezham war without his consent. When the forces told him that I was missing, he had continuously been sending ships towards Lanka to search for me. One such search party had found me.”

“He looked at me with hope. He saw a ruler in me. His astrologers had also confirmed the same. On his deathbed, he told me that, after him, my uncle Kandaraaditha Chozhan would take up the throne, and after him, I should become Emperor. He made me promise that ruling this Chozha Kingdom virtuously should be my life’s ambition.”

“My mind was never at peace. It always went back to the tribal girl who had saved my life once. How could I forget her? But, how could I make her my queen? How could I make a tribal deaf and dumb girl as the queen of the Chozha Empire? What would my subjects think of me?”

“Soon after, my grandfather passed away. My uncle, Kandaraaditha Chozhan was crowned Emperor, and I was crowned heir to the Empire.”

“Kundavai, do you see how much love the Chozha subjects shower on your younger brother, Arulmozhi? In those times, they showered me with the same love.”

“On the evening of the coronation ceremony, my uncle and I went up to the upper terrace of the palace to present ourselves to the people. When we stepped out, the crowd roared and cheered in happiness. One could genuinely see the happiness in each of the faces.”

“Suddenly, among those thousands gathered to see us, one face captured my attention – the one sad face in the entire gathering. She had tears in her eyes. The sadness was palpable. It was her – the tribal deaf and dumb girl from the island. My eyes were fixed on her. I saw visions of her face becoming bigger and coming closer. My head was spinning. My legs lost their strength. I fainted. The others thought that I was tired because of all the coronation ceremonies happening since morning.”

“Later, when I gained consciousness, I called my dear friend Aniruddhan to my side, and asked him to go and find the girl. They searched the entire city but could not find her. I asked Aniruddhan to send people to search for her all over the kingdom.”

“Eventually, Aniruddhan’s men reached Kodikkarai where they found a dumb girl at the lighthouse keeper’s house. The men reported that the girl was in a state of madness. However much the men had tried to explain to her, she had refused to come to Thanjavur.”

“After a few restless days, Aniruddhan and I set off to Kodikkarai. We drove our horses as fast as we could. My thoughts were clouded and confused me. What could I do, if I did met her at Kodikkarai? It was also most unfortunate that I was born a very beautiful boy, and as I had grown up, the entire kingdom was enamoured by my beauty – so much so that, the people of the kingdom completely changed my name from Paranthaka Chozhan to Sundara Chozhan. How could I, who was so worshipped, loved, and admired by my people, take this dumb girl back to Thanjavur or Pazhayarai as my queen?”

“The girl somehow had made my life easier. When we reached Kodikkarai, we heard that the day after Aniruddhan’s men had come asking for her, she had climbed atop the lighthouse and plunged into the ocean. A couple of folks had seen her jump and alerted others. They had taken their boats and searched for her, but could not find her. It was sadly assumed that she had committed suicide and Samudrarajan had engulfed her.”

“My mind was split in two. One half was splintered at the loss of her. The other half seemed to be at peace. The question of what would I do with her was now answered. With these conflicting thoughts, I returned to Thanjavur. I immersed myself in royal affairs. I won wars and expanded the kingdom. I married your mother. I had two beautiful sons, and then you.”

“However, I still could not forget her death. The sight of her jumping from the top of the lighthouse into the ocean still vividly comes to mind. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a shock. I have always assured others around me that it was a bad dream of scenes from the various wars that I had been through.”

“Dead people can be more cruel than living people. In recent times, the ghost of the dumb girl has begun haunting me. I am not even sure if you will believe this, Kundavai.”

The Emperor seemed to look into a distance with glazed eyes.

“Appa! You have lived with this guilt and suffering for so many years. No wonder, your illness has grown worse over the years. Now that you have told me about it, I feel that your heart will be lighter and you will become stronger.”

Kundavai’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“I can see that you do not believe in ghosts. But, the ghost of the dumb girl comes here often. She stands beside that pillar, behind that lamp there. If you do not believe me, ask your friend Vanathi. I am sure she saw the ghost too. I think she must have fainted only after seeing the ghost.”

“Appa, Vanathi is a very fearful person by nature. She would run in fear even if she saw a pillar in the darkness. I doubt if she saw or heard anything the other night. It is a surprise to me that she is of the courageous warrior clan of Kodumbalur.”

“Anyway, let us not talk about Vanathi. Let me finish what I have to say.”

“Do you remember the day when we were all sailing down the Ponni river – the day when the young Arulmozhi suddenly went missing? Do you remember the lady who came in the water with the young boy in her arms?”

“Yes, Appa, how I can I forget that day?”

“Do you remember that after taking Arulmozhi and handing him to people in the boat, I also fell unconscious? You all thought that I had fainted due to the stressful events of the day.” Kundavai nodded silently.

“It was not the stressful events, my dear girl. If you remember, the lady from the water vanished soon after I had taken the boy from her. All of you had decided that it was the Goddess Kaveri.”

The old king paused.

“It was not the Goddess. The lady who gave me Arulmozhi was the deaf and dumb girl from Lanka – the same lady love of mine. Had she really died? Was this a ghost? I fainted in confusion.”

“Do you remember the day of your brother’s coronation as Crown Prince? Karikalan had come to the anthapuram, and I had followed him in. I saw her again, this time, amidst the ladies of the palace. She was there glaring at Karikalan with such contempt. That was when I had fainted again. The ghost has been haunting me ever since.”

“In recent times, she has been coming down here in the middle of the night, and warning me. It seems that she has forgiven me for driving her to her death. But she has been warning me that I should not be committing the same sin again. She has been telling me that I should not be giving the kingdom to someone who does not rightfully inherit it.”

The old king caught his daughter’s hands and said, “Will you help me, Kundavai? I do not want this cursed kingdom to go to my sons. Please help me to dispose it off to Madhuranthakan.”

“I have been stuck with this guilty consciousness ever since I became the heir to the throne, and again, when I was made emperor. I felt terrible that I became king when my uncle’s son was still alive. I am being cursed now for what I had done before.”

“Let Karikalan also not have this kingdom, nor Arulmozhi. Let them not inherit a cursed kingdom. Let Madhuranthakan have it. I would like Madhuranthakan to be crowned when I am still alive. After that, I will go off to Karikalan’s golden palace in Kanchi, and rest in peace.”

“Appa, will the Royal Matron agree to this?”

“That is where I need your help. I need you to bring her here. I wonder why the wise Royal Matron had not thought of this before. I wonder what she has against her own son. Why did she have to do all this? Anyway, now that Madhuranthakan has a desire to ascend the throne, it is only right that she agrees to crown him as the head of this kingdom.”

“Appa, it is not enough if one has the desire. One must have the capability to rule this kingdom.”

“How can he not have the capability – he who was born to Emperor Kandaraaditha and the Royal Matron?”

“The subjects of this kingdom will never accept him.”

“My girl, if you ask the subjects, they would have crowned your younger brother, Arulmozhi, as the heir by now. Would that have been right? Would Arulmozhi have accepted it? Not everything should be done according to the wishes of the subjects. Now, please help me. Please request the Royal Matron to come and visit me.”

“I will ensure that she comes. Until then, you take care of yourself.”

On the way out, she paid her respects to Queen Vaanama Devi.

Things were slowly beginning to clear up in Kundavai’s mind. The smoke was clearing up. She began to realise that this was all part of a treacherous plot by a group of people trying to capture the kingdom. She realised that her father, her brothers, and the family were in grave danger. She also realised that she was now bearing the heavy responsibility of protecting her family from this danger.

Book 2 | Chapter 16 | The Emperor confides to his daughter

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 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.

Book 1 | Chapter 32 | Offer to Spy

img src: dlife.com

There was a sound of marching boots of cavalry coming from near. There was a sound of opening and closing of the palace doors.

“It looks like my husband is back from his trip. He will head to the Kings quarters and then to the Fort Commander’s quarters and then come here. You should leave before that. What was Alwarkadiyaan’s message?”

“That Veera Vaishnavar claims that you are siblings.”

“And why does that surprise you?”

“How can someone believe that a black macaque monkey and a green parrot are siblings?”

Nandini laughed out heartily. “We grew up in the same family, in the same house. He loved me as though I was his real sister.”

“The message he gave you was that Lord Krishna was waiting for you to come. The Lord wants to hear your Andal Paasurams again.”

Nandini sighed. “It looks like he still has not let go of that desire. If you meet him again, please tell him to forget me completely. Tell him that I have lost all credibility to become a dedicated devotee of the Lord. Tell him that I cannot become the Andal that he thinks I can become.”

“I do not completely agree. Andal had to sing songs, thread together garlands, and plead with Lord Krishna to marry her. You do not need any of that. Lord Krishna just needs to see you, and he will leave Rukmini, Satyabama, Radha, and his gopikas, and willingly come and marry you.”

“You need to stop this false praise in front of me. I do not like this.”

“Ok. Then please turn around. I will praise behind you.”

“You seem to be a fine wordsmith.”

“Aren’t you guilt of praising too now?”

“Then you can turn around and talk too.”

Vandiyathevan quipped majestically — “Be it in the war ground, or in front of ladies, this warrior will never show his back. I do not have a problem with you praising me in front of me.”

Nandini laughed heartily again.

“It has been a long time since I laughed so heartily. You had not mentioned your name yet?”

“Vandiyathevan is my given name. Some people call me Vallavarayan.”

“Noble?”

“Used to be. I am of the famous Vaanar clan.”

“And your kingdom?”

“At this moment, the earth and the sky, both of which I am a master of.”

“I think it is still possible. You might even get back your kingdom.”

“But, how? What goes into the Tiger’s stomach does not come out?”, said Vandiyathevan, craftily referring to the Chozha kingdom (whose emblem was the tiger).

“Well, I can make that happen.”

“I do not have those Royal ambitions.”

Nandini paused, “Why are the Commander’s men searching for you?”

“The Commander feels suspicious about who I am, and how I got your ring with the palm leaf insignia.”

Nandini felt a pang of fear inside her.

“How did he know that you had the ring?”

“I had always wanted to meet the Emperor. I used the ring to get entry into the Royal palace. The Commander wanted to know how I got the ring.”

He looked at her ashen face, “Do not worry, my Lady. I did not use your name. I told him that I got the ring from the Periya Pazhuvettarayar at Kadambur.”

There was relief in Nandini’s face.

“Did he believe you?”

“I do not think he believed me. Else, why would he get his guards to follow me around, and then now search for me? I think he wanted to put me in front of his brother and check my theory.”

Vandiyathevan hesitated for a moment and asked Nandini — “I have some urgent work outside the fort. I need your help in escaping from here.”

“What kind of urgent work?”

“I have several. For instance, I need to give your reply to Alwarkadiyaan.”

“Why did you want to meet the Chakravarthy so badly?”

“I had always wanted to meet this great man, whose bravery, administrative skills, honesty and humility, stood on par with his beauty.”

“Hrmph. Yes. He is very proud of his beauty. Just like his arrogant and vain daughter in Pazhayarai.”

Vandiyathevan could see sparks of jealousy and hatred when she spewed out these words.

She got up from her chaise. “Can we get into an agreement?”

“My Lady, you are the Queen of the most powerful man in the Chozha Empire. And I am after all a foot soldier. How can I even dream of helping you?”

Nandini looked at him intensely, unable to figure out if he was speaking from the heart, or if it was sarcasm.

“I am looking for a dedicated spy to do surreptitious tasks for me. Would you be interested? Perhaps I can even get this common foot soldier his kingdom back.”

“I have already accepted to do a very similar job to another Royal Lady.”

“Who is that, who is competing with me?”

“The same person whom you just spoke about with love — Princess Kundavai.”

“Several people have already seen this. There is no harm in you also seeing this.”

Vandiyathevan showed her the scroll meant for the Princess.

Nandini could not hide her anger as she read the scroll by the lamps light. Her eyes glowered like hot coals.

“If you wish to leave this palace alive, you would need to do one task of my bidding.”

“Which is ..”

“I am sure Kundavai would give you a reply scroll. I want you to show that scroll to me before you deliver it back to your Master.”

“A very dangerous task.”

“I thought you just mentioned you did not know the meaning of danger?”

“But everything has a price attached to it.”

“Hah. Price. You will get more than what you are imagining. You will get what the powerful Periya Pazhuvettarayar had been begging for, in all these years.”

She threw a seductive glance at Vandiyathevan, as he shuddered.

Suddenly the sound of an owl cut through the silence. Three hoots.

“The real Sorcerer is here. I do not need him anymore. But perhaps, he can help in smuggling you out of the palace. Go and wait in the dark there”, she said, pointing to a corner.

Book 1 | Chapter 31 | Fake Sorcerer

Dilapitated Mandapam near Patteeswaram temple (img src: gcmouli.com)

The path was dark and it took some effort for Vandiyathevan to follow her. At one point, he almost ran straight into a tree. He stumbled and stopped.

“Don’t tell me, you have also forgotten your way through this garden. You are one of those who can see even through the dark!”

Vandiyathevan heard the faint footsteps of several people on the other side of the wall. He let out an almost inaudible laugh.

“What did you see that makes you laugh?”

“It is not what I saw. It is what I heard. Did you not hear those heavy footsteps? Those were people who are searching for me. I am laughing because I have successfully fooled them and escaped.”

“Is anyone following you?”

“If someone was not searching for me, why would I have been sitting in the dark against a large wall in the middle of the night?”

At that moment in time, there was a clearing, and the moonlight shown bright on Vandiyathevan’s face.

She took another quizzical look at him.

“The last time you came, you had a large mustache. Why did you take it off?”

“Those who scale and jump over compound walls in the middle of the night need to keep changing their appearances.”

“You look younger too.”

“With enthusiasm comes youth.”

“What is the reason for the enthusiasm?”

“With people like your Maharani, who would not have enthusiasm?”

“No need for sarcasm. Today, my Mistress might be just a royal lady of the palace. One day, she shall definitely become the Empress.”

Vandiyathevan deduced a vague idea of the situation. He was being led to meet the Pazhuvoor Queen Nandini. He also realized that the girl in front had mistaken her for someone else, probably a sorcerer, who regularly visits her. He felt a tingle of fear. But he reassured himself that this was not a situation that he needed to fear much. He had encountered far more dangerous situations.

They reached close to the palace he had seen from atop the wall. The palace consisted of two buildings, connected by a covered passageway. The passage way was designed as a latha mandapam. It was a tastefully designed chamber surrounded by creepers and landscaping. The building on the left was lighted well and had sounds of laughter coming from inside it. The building on the right was dark and eerily silent.

Vandiyathevan and the girl walked towards the latha mandapam. The girl asked him to wait there, while she went forward. He was struck by the smell of the fragrant flowers in the garden. He heard a silken voice say — “Why do you need to ask me permission? Bring him in. You know I have been waiting for him.”

He recognized the voice as that of the Pazhuvoor Queen. His mind was confused trying to predict how she would react when she saw him. The girl stepped backward and signed for him to come in.

He stepped in to see the chamber beautifully lit by two large lamps. He realized that some kind of fragrant scented oil must be mixed in the lamp oils. There was a large couch on which he saw the beautiful Pazhuvoor Queen lounging.

The smell of the flowers, the fragrance oils, and the beauty of the Lady in front of him, intoxicated him.

The Queen looked at him and was taken aback in surprise, but did not show it.

She looked at the girl and said — “Vasuki, why are you still here? Please go to your place. Let me know if you hear any others approaching.”

And the girl retreated to the dark.

Nandini looked at him and smiled. “I cannot imagine how Vasuki mistook you to be the sorcerer. But it does appear that you are indeed versed in sorcery. How did you manage to come in here?”

“I did not do any sorcery. I was sleeping against the wall. I am thinking that your hand maiden was expecting the sorcerer at exactly the same spot. Hence she brought me here. If she had recognized me and not let me in, I would have showed your ring.”

“With that ring, you could have very well come in through the main door during broad daylight. What is the need for this secrecy and wall scaling?”

Vandiyathevan sighed — “That is a big story. Your brother-in-law, Chinna Pazhuvettarayar had his guards follow me everywhere I went. I somehow slipped away from them and escaped through the narrow side streets of this town. It was at this time that I had ended up at the wall, where your hand maiden had been waiting for the sorcerer. I need to apologize for sneaking in like this.”

“No need to apologize. In a way my question has been answered. Ever since I saw you yesterday on the Kaveri river banks, I have been thinking of you. I was wondering why you had not come and met me yet. It was to ask this question, I had summoned the sorcerer.”

“It is very interesting that I had also been thinking about you several times since we met yesterday, my Queen.”

Vandiyathevan knew that he was not telling the truth when he was saying this. He was actually thinking about the beautiful girl he had met at the Kudandhai astrologer’s house.

“You were saying something about Alwarkadiyaan Nambi ..”, she let her voice trail off.

“Yes, my Queen. I have a message from him. “

“Where did you meet him?”

“I met him at Veeranarayanapuram. He was fighting a verbal dual on who was the bigger God in the Hindu Pantheon. A great commotion was being created. It was at this time when your palanquin was also passing by. It was perhaps the commotion that made you open the curtain and take a peek outside. You were headed towards Kadambur. Since Nambi knew I was also headed towards Kadambur, he had asked me to give you a message. I could not meet you in Kadambur. We were only able to meet on the banks of the Kaveri yesterday. And that too, it was because your palanquin bumped into my horse.”

Until then the Queen had been looking afar with a very lost expression on her face. When she heard the last sentence, she smiled softly and looked at Vandiyathevan and said — “Yes. My palanquin is indeed a very naughty one.”

Book 1 | Chapter 31 | Fake Sorcerer

Dilapitated Mandapam near Patteeswaram temple (img src: gcmouli.com)

The path was dark and it took some effort for Vandiyathevan to follow her. At one point, he almost ran straight into a tree. He stumbled and stopped.

“Don’t tell me, you have also forgotten your way through this garden. You are one of those who can see even through the dark!”

Vandiyathevan heard the faint footsteps of several people on the other side of the wall. He let out an almost inaudible laugh.

“What did you see that makes you laugh?”

“It is not what I saw. It is what I heard. Did you not hear those heavy footsteps? Those were people who are searching for me. I am laughing because I have successfully fooled them and escaped.”

“Is anyone following you?”

“If someone was not searching for me, why would I have been sitting in the dark against a large wall in the middle of the night?”

At that moment in time, there was a clearing, and the moonlight shown bright on Vandiyathevan’s face.

She took another quizzical look at him.

“The last time you came, you had a large mustache. Why did you take it off?”

“Those who scale and jump over compound walls in the middle of the night need to keep changing their appearances.”

“You look younger too.”

“With enthusiasm comes youth.”

“What is the reason for the enthusiasm?”

“With people like your Maharani, who would not have enthusiasm?”

“No need for sarcasm. Today, my Mistress might be just a royal lady of the palace. One day, she shall definitely become the Empress.”

Vandiyathevan deduced a vague idea of the situation. He was being led to meet the Pazhuvoor Queen Nandini. He also realized that the girl in front had mistaken her for someone else, probably a sorcerer, who regularly visits her. He felt a tingle of fear. But he reassured himself that this was not a situation that he needed to fear much. He had encountered far more dangerous situations.

They reached close to the palace he had seen from atop the wall. The palace consisted of two buildings, connected by a covered passageway. The passage way was designed as a latha mandapam. It was a tastefully designed chamber surrounded by creepers and landscaping. The building on the left was lighted well and had sounds of laughter coming from inside it. The building on the right was dark and eerily silent.

Vandiyathevan and the girl walked towards the latha mandapam. The girl asked him to wait there, while she went forward. He was struck by the smell of the fragrant flowers in the garden. He heard a silken voice say — “Why do you need to ask me permission? Bring him in. You know I have been waiting for him.”

He recognized the voice as that of the Pazhuvoor Queen. His mind was confused trying to predict how she would react when she saw him. The girl stepped backward and signed for him to come in.

He stepped in to see the chamber beautifully lit by two large lamps. He realized that some kind of fragrant scented oil must be mixed in the lamp oils. There was a large couch on which he saw the beautiful Pazhuvoor Queen lounging.

The smell of the flowers, the fragrance oils, and the beauty of the Lady in front of him, intoxicated him.

The Queen looked at him and was taken aback in surprise, but did not show it.

She looked at the girl and said — “Vasuki, why are you still here? Please go to your place. Let me know if you hear any others approaching.”

And the girl retreated to the dark.

Nandini looked at him and smiled. “I cannot imagine how Vasuki mistook you to be the sorcerer. But it does appear that you are indeed versed in sorcery. How did you manage to come in here?”

“I did not do any sorcery. I was sleeping against the wall. I am thinking that your hand maiden was expecting the sorcerer at exactly the same spot. Hence she brought me here. If she had recognized me and not let me in, I would have showed your ring.”

“With that ring, you could have very well come in through the main door during broad daylight. What is the need for this secrecy and wall scaling?”

Vandiyathevan sighed — “That is a big story. Your brother-in-law, Chinna Pazhuvettarayar had his guards follow me everywhere I went. I somehow slipped away from them and escaped through the narrow side streets of this town. It was at this time that I had ended up at the wall, where your hand maiden had been waiting for the sorcerer. I need to apologize for sneaking in like this.”

“No need to apologize. In a way my question has been answered. Ever since I saw you yesterday on the Kaveri river banks, I have been thinking of you. I was wondering why you had not come and met me yet. It was to ask this question, I had summoned the sorcerer.”

“It is very interesting that I had also been thinking about you several times since we met yesterday, my Queen.”

Vandiyathevan knew that he was not telling the truth when he was saying this. He was actually thinking about the beautiful girl he had met at the Kudandhai astrologer’s house.

“You were saying something about Alwarkadiyaan Nambi ..”, she let her voice trail off.

“Yes, my Queen. I have a message from him. “

“Where did you meet him?”

“I met him at Veeranarayanapuram. He was fighting a verbal dual on who was the bigger God in the Hindu Pantheon. A great commotion was being created. It was at this time when your palanquin was also passing by. It was perhaps the commotion that made you open the curtain and take a peek outside. You were headed towards Kadambur. Since Nambi knew I was also headed towards Kadambur, he had asked me to give you a message. I could not meet you in Kadambur. We were only able to meet on the banks of the Kaveri yesterday. And that too, it was because your palanquin bumped into my horse.”

Until then the Queen had been looking afar with a very lost expression on her face. When she heard the last sentence, she smiled softly and looked at Vandiyathevan and said — “Yes. My palanquin is indeed a very naughty one.”

Book 1 | Chapter 30 | Tour of the Fort

Thanjavur Fort walls (img src: highwayonlyway.com)

With the two guards for company, Vandiyathevan started his tour of the Thanjavur fort. He knew that the two guards were there to keep an eye on him. But then, he had to escape. He had to escape before the Periya Pazhuvettarayar arrived. He was sure that he would not be spared if the Periyavar found about him. With this fear in mind, Vandiyathevan was constantly looking around the fort for ideas to escape. It would not be too difficult to hoodwink these two soldiers, but to get out of the fort, without the Pazhuvettarayars knowledge was near next to impossible. The common thread in the fort town was that, without their consent, even air could not go in and out of the fort. He did not want to go to the underground dungeons. The Emperor himself had quipped that, Lord Yama was waiting, trying to figure out how to get into the fort.

If there was one person whom I could approach for help, it would have to be the Pazhuvoor Queen. Even that chance was slim, but it was the only chance he could think of. He could perhaps bring up some made-up story about Alwarkadiyaan.

While thinking all of this, he kept asking his escorts about the various mansions and palaces that surrounded them. He needed to know where the Periya Pazhuvettarayar palace was.

While he was being flooded with these thoughts, he heard commotion in front of him. He recognized the parade to be the Velakkaarapadai Parade — the brave bodyguard legion of the Emperor. They were returning back from seeing the King in the evening.

Vandiyathevan went closer to the parade, asking his escorts about the parade and the bodyguards. He said that he wanted to be part of the parade and mingled deeper into the parade. The guards however kept their distance and just kept Vandiyathevan in their eyesight. Vandiyathevan meanwhile was jumping with joy and shouting praiseworthy slogans of the Emperor, along with the bodyguards. The bodyguards in return looked at him with amusement, but no one stopped him.

Half way through the distance to the fort gates, one of the bodyguards near Vandiyathevan noticed a lady who was selling milk and curds. The bodyguard bawdily asked for some curds to quench his thirst. She refused and offered the soldier a tight slap instead. The angry guard started chasing the girl. Vandiyathevan was noticing all this. He started running behind the guard, and the curd-seller girl, crying out — “Catch her … catch her now …”.

The girl, who seemed to be a regular in these parts, ran into the maze of narrow streets that branched off from the main thoroughfare. After a while, the girl could not be seen. The guard looked around, shrugged, and started walking back towards the parade. Vandiyathevan had ducked into the darkness in one of the side streets. He had effectively escaped from the guards of the Pazhuvettarayar.

After a little while, he started walking away from the main thoroughfare. He speculated that, if he went in these side streets long enough, he would hit upon one of the fort walls. He was right. Not long after, the side street ended abruptly in a wall. He decided to rest for a while, until the moon came up. He could then think of the next plan. He sat in a corner in the dark, leaning against the wall. With the light wind and the gentle sound of the rustling leaves of a nearby tree, he fell asleep in no time.

He woke up suddenly. The moon had risen up well. He felt rested. He wondered what caused him to wake up. Did he hear something? Was someone calling him?

He looked at the wall. The wall was much smaller. This could not be the fort wall.

“Ayya. What are you looking at? You were sleeping so soundly. How long should I keep calling you?”

A chill ran down Vandiyathevan spine. Could it be a ghost from atop the tree that was talking to him? No, it definitely sounded like a lady’s voice.

She lowered a bamboo ladder down the tree and rested it on the wall.

“Climb quickly and jump to the other side.”

Vandiyathevan was puzzled, but something inside him told him that this would lead him to escape.

He started climbing the ladder.

“You are such a lazy person. The Pazhuvoor Queen is waiting for you there. And you are here sleeping.”

Vandiyathevan smiled to himself. This was serendipity working in his favour.

Several thoughts flooded Vandiyathevan’s mind. “How would she know I am here? Why does she need to wait for me? Perhaps she was waiting for someone else.”

He crossed over the wall and jumped in. She jumped in right after.

In the moonlight, he saw her face. It was the curd seller girl.

“Walk fast. Follow me.”

Vandiyathevan followed her through a well-kept garden, towards what seemed like a large palace.

Book 1 | Chapter 30 | Tour of the Fort

Thanjavur Fort walls (img src: highwayonlyway.com)

With the two guards for company, Vandiyathevan started his tour of the Thanjavur fort. He knew that the two guards were there to keep an eye on him. But then, he had to escape. He had to escape before the Periya Pazhuvettarayar arrived. He was sure that he would not be spared if the Periyavar found about him. With this fear in mind, Vandiyathevan was constantly looking around the fort for ideas to escape. It would not be too difficult to hoodwink these two soldiers, but to get out of the fort, without the Pazhuvettarayars knowledge was near next to impossible. The common thread in the fort town was that, without their consent, even air could not go in and out of the fort. He did not want to go to the underground dungeons. The Emperor himself had quipped that, Lord Yama was waiting, trying to figure out how to get into the fort.

If there was one person whom I could approach for help, it would have to be the Pazhuvoor Queen. Even that chance was slim, but it was the only chance he could think of. He could perhaps bring up some made-up story about Alwarkadiyaan.

While thinking all of this, he kept asking his escorts about the various mansions and palaces that surrounded them. He needed to know where the Periya Pazhuvettarayar palace was.

While he was being flooded with these thoughts, he heard commotion in front of him. He recognized the parade to be the Velakkaarapadai Parade — the brave bodyguard legion of the Emperor. They were returning back from seeing the King in the evening.

Vandiyathevan went closer to the parade, asking his escorts about the parade and the bodyguards. He said that he wanted to be part of the parade and mingled deeper into the parade. The guards however kept their distance and just kept Vandiyathevan in their eyesight. Vandiyathevan meanwhile was jumping with joy and shouting praiseworthy slogans of the Emperor, along with the bodyguards. The bodyguards in return looked at him with amusement, but no one stopped him.

Half way through the distance to the fort gates, one of the bodyguards near Vandiyathevan noticed a lady who was selling milk and curds. The bodyguard bawdily asked for some curds to quench his thirst. She refused and offered the soldier a tight slap instead. The angry guard started chasing the girl. Vandiyathevan was noticing all this. He started running behind the guard, and the curd-seller girl, crying out — “Catch her … catch her now …”.

The girl, who seemed to be a regular in these parts, ran into the maze of narrow streets that branched off from the main thoroughfare. After a while, the girl could not be seen. The guard looked around, shrugged, and started walking back towards the parade. Vandiyathevan had ducked into the darkness in one of the side streets. He had effectively escaped from the guards of the Pazhuvettarayar.

After a little while, he started walking away from the main thoroughfare. He speculated that, if he went in these side streets long enough, he would hit upon one of the fort walls. He was right. Not long after, the side street ended abruptly in a wall. He decided to rest for a while, until the moon came up. He could then think of the next plan. He sat in a corner in the dark, leaning against the wall. With the light wind and the gentle sound of the rustling leaves of a nearby tree, he fell asleep in no time.

He woke up suddenly. The moon had risen up well. He felt rested. He wondered what caused him to wake up. Did he hear something? Was someone calling him?

He looked at the wall. The wall was much smaller. This could not be the fort wall.

“Ayya. What are you looking at? You were sleeping so soundly. How long should I keep calling you?”

A chill ran down Vandiyathevan spine. Could it be a ghost from atop the tree that was talking to him? No, it definitely sounded like a lady’s voice.

She lowered a bamboo ladder down the tree and rested it on the wall.

“Climb quickly and jump to the other side.”

Vandiyathevan was puzzled, but something inside him told him that this would lead him to escape.

He started climbing the ladder.

“You are such a lazy person. The Pazhuvoor Queen is waiting for you there. And you are here sleeping.”

Vandiyathevan smiled to himself. This was serendipity working in his favour.

Several thoughts flooded Vandiyathevan’s mind. “How would she know I am here? Why does she need to wait for me? Perhaps she was waiting for someone else.”

He crossed over the wall and jumped in. She jumped in right after.

In the moonlight, he saw her face. It was the curd seller girl.

“Walk fast. Follow me.”

Vandiyathevan followed her through a well-kept garden, towards what seemed like a large palace.

Book 1 | Chapter 29 | Thieves Thieves !

Painting on the Thanjavur temple walls (src: flickr:asienman)

He heard the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar and his entourage approaching the palace. An idea struck him. He moved towards the door where the guards were still busy playing dice. He defiantly stepped towards them and screamed — “You fellows are thieves. Where are my old clothes?”

“As per our Masters orders, we have given your old clothes to the laundry.”

“Thieves. Thieves. I want my clothes. I had my money and some other things in my clothes. Wait until I tell your Master about you.”

As Vandiyathevan stepped in front towards the gate, one of the three guards stepped in front of him. Vandiyathevan punched him on the face. When the remaining jumped at him, Vandiyathevan tripped one of them and lunged at the other. The three guards collapsed.

“Thieves. Thieves”, he cried again, as the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar entered the gate.

“Ah, there you are, Commander. Not only have they stolen my clothes and belongings, they are even trying to kill me. Is this way a guest is treated? Is this the culture of Thanjavur? Not only am I your guest, I am a Royal Guest. You did hear what the Queen Matron said earlier today. I had brought a message from the crown prince himself. If such a person is treated this badly, I can only imagine how the common man is treated in this kingdom. I am surprised you have such rogues in your personal guard. In our Thondainaadu, such thieves would have been long sentenced to death.”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was still trying to digest the fact that this young warrior had brought down three of his warriors single handedly. His desire of inducting such a warrior into his personal guard only increased.

“Have patience, thambi. I doubt if my guards would have done such an act. I will investigate.”

“Yes Sire. Please investigate. Please help me get back my clothes and belongings.”

“Guards! Come here. What happened here? What did I tell you to do? And what have you done?”

“My Lord, we did exactly as told. Once we brought him here to the palace, we arranged for a hot bath for him. We then served him a wholesome meal. Later, we took him to your gallery. After seeing the pictures in the gallery, suddenly he came running out and started asking for his belongings. He also started assaulting us at that time. This is what happened.”

“Useless fellows, three of you got assaulted by a single person?”

“My Lord, we were reluctant because he was your guest. Give us your permission now, we will show him what we are capable of.”

“Enough of your bravado!” said the Commander.

“Please give them permission. Please give me permission as well. It has been a while since I fought some fine Chozha warriors. I will show them how to deal with guests.” Vandiyathevan cracked his knuckles and looked menacingly at the three soldiers.”

“Enough. There shall be no fighting inside the palace. Where have you kept his clothes and belongings?”

“My Lord, as per your orders, we have kept them safely.”

“Aha, Commander. Look at how these brutes are lying. They told me that they had sent my clothes to the laundry.”

“Idiots”, mumbled the Commander. “All I asked them to do was to give you new clothes. I never told them anything about your old clothes. By the way, why are you so interested in your old clothes? Did you have anything important in it?”

“Yes. I had some money for my travel expenses.”

“Do not worry. I will give you much more than required for your travel expenses.”

“Commander, I am a messenger of the great Aditya Karikalan. Taking charity from others is not permissible by my character.”

“Very well. I will arrange for you to get your clothes and your money back. Did you have anything else in it?”

Vandiyathevan thought for a bit and said, “I did have one more thing in my clothing. I am hoping that your guards have not touched it. If they had, I will kill them.”

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was mighty amused by the temper of the young man. “What is this one other thing?”

“It is a secret of the state.”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar roared in laughter. There cannot be a secret of the state within the Thanjavur fort, which is not known to me. “What is it?”

“It is a secret that Prince Karikalan has sent through me.”

“Prince. Hrmph. The authority of the Prince stops at the other bank of the Palar River. It does not work here.”

“I do understand Sir. I understand your position of importance and your responsibilities.”

“Yes. I am in charge of taking care of the Emperor’s safety at all times. We brought him from Pazhayarai to Thanjavur because of safety concerns. Who knows what would have happened if he had stayed back in Pazhayarai. He may even have been assassinated by those Pandiya rogues. “

“Oho. You have also heard about these plots. I have heard about two plots — one against the Chakravarthy and one against the two princes.”

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar bit his lip and thought for a bit. Perhaps he had spoken a tad bit longer than this boy deserved. He realized that this smart young man might get more information from him, by just having a conversation.

The Commander boomed out — “You do not need to worry about all these plots. To squash these plots and protect the Royal family, we are here. What do you want? I am assuming you just want your old clothes back?”

“I want my old clothes and my belongings that were in them.”

“You still have not mentioned what was the other item in your person?”

“If you must know, I will tell you. I had another scroll similar to the one that I had delivered to the Emperor. This was for the Princess at Pazhayarai. All I want now is my old clothes, my travel money, and that scroll.”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar nodded and stepped into an anteroom for a moment and returned with another soldier who had his old clothes in a large plate.

“Thambi, check if everything is in order.”

Vandiyathevan looked through the items on the plate. His old clothes were present. The scroll was intact. There was much more money than what he had brought. He patiently counted the money, took what was rightly his, and returned the remaining cash back to the plate.

Vandiyathevan also started thinking how the scroll magically appeared now. He reasoned that the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar must have gotten hold of the scroll, read through it, and then slipped it in. He needed to be careful with this man.

Vandiyathevan returned the plate with the extra money back to the Commander and said, “I was born in the Vaanar clan. We do not lust after others fortunes.”

“Thambi, I am impressed with your loyalty. But I insist you keep this extra money as my gift for your travel expenses. When are you planning to leave? I would prefer it, if you meet the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and then leave.”

“I would definitely want to meet the Periyavar before I leave.”

“Very well.”

“Er, Commander, I have a small request. I would like to walk around and take in the sights of this wonderful Thanjavur fort.”

“Sure. I will send two soldiers with you. They will show you all the sights. It is best not to exit the fort gates. Once closed, they do not open until the next morning.”

The Commander then assigned two new soldiers to Vandiyathevan and whispered something in their ears. Vandiyathevan could very well imagine what the Commander would have told them.