Book 1 | Chapter 38 | Stabbed in the back

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Vandiyathevan slowly traced his way down the underground passageway. After a little while, the steps stopped. He was in a chamber of sorts. At the end of the tunnel he could see some glimmering light. He walked closer. It was not light from a window. It was not moonlight. The glimmer was from objects heaped on the ground — heaps of jewels of gold, silver, diamonds, valuable gem stones and pearls, jewelry of every type — crowns, necklaces, and rings. And there were heaps of gold and silver coins and bars. Vandiyathevan looked around astonished. He had never seen so much wealth in his life. Thankfully, his pragmatic side took over. He had to escape from here first. He looked around and something in the corner of the room shook his bones. He saw skeletons. That shook him out of his reverie. The skeleton seemed to tell him to ignore the riches and leave. It seemed to tell him not to make the mistake it did.

He had to flee. He looked around helplessly for the passageway that led him here. He could not find it in the darkness. He flailed helplessly around to find a way to escape from this hell that he had reached.

In a corner of the room he saw a heap of gold over which a spider was spinning its web. That led him thinking on how human beings are led into greed. He had been lured by all three kinds of desires today — pen aasai (desire of woman), mann aasai (desire of land), and pon aasai (desire of wealth). Nandhini had tried luring him using lust. She had also tried luring him by promising to get his kingdom back. And now, this lust of gold and wealth all around him was taunting him.

He wanted to leave this place as soon as possible. “Why am I leading this life of dangerous espionage?” he thought. “I should have just led a simple life of a common man — someone who can sleep when he wants to; someone who can eat satisfying food from what he earns; someone who can enjoy the simple pleasures of life”. He resolved to do exactly that, when he succeeded in getting out of this chamber.

He then heard the creak of a door opening and slamming shut. “When will the surprises of this night stop?” he thought.

He saw two torches this time — coming from two different directions. Vandiyathevan deduced that this chamber he was now hiding in was in the middle of a larger passage. The two torches came closer. Vandiyathevan strained his eyes to see how many people were coming and who they were. There were four people, two coming from either direction.

As they came closer, he noticed that the two people who were coming in from the left hand side were Kandanmaran and a foot soldier. He peered at the right hand side and recognized them as the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and his queen Nandhini.

They walked swiftly towards the chamber. When they met, it seemed like they were surprised to see each other. The Periya Pazhuvettarayar asked Kandanmaran something, to which Kandanmaran responded. Vandiyathevan could not hear what they were saying. Right afterwards, the Pazhuvettarayar pointed to a different direction and said something. Kandanmaran bowed his greetings and left on his way. The Pazhuvettarayar whispered something into the foot soldiers ear as well. This was when Vandiyathevan realized that there was a third way from this chamber, which he guessed must be the way out.

The foot soldier followed Kandanmaran down the third flight of stairs.

All this had happened in just a few minutes. Vandiyathevan thanked providence that he had seen all of this from a hidden stance. He was lucky that he had not gotten caught between these two sets of people.

He slowly followed the faint torch light down the third tunnel. The passage way curved its way for a long distance and then led to a flight of stairs leading upwards. At the end of the stairs, there was another small chamber. The foot soldier reached out to a corner of the wall and turned what looked like a cork screw, to open a small gap in the wall. The gap was just enough for a single person to slip through. The soldier pointed out the gap to Kandanmaran, who started to slip out through it.

When he was half way through, the guard slowly took out his curved short dagger. Vandiyathevan could not bear this any longer. He could not see his friend being attacked. He lunged forward, but was too late. The soldier had struck Kandanmaran’s back. Vandiyathevan cursed the guard for a coward for stabbing someone from behind.

Book 1 | Chapter 25 | Meeting the Emperor

Gangaikonda Chozhapuram temple built by Rajendra Chozhan. img src: http://madhujagdhish.blogspot.com

Vandiyathevan reached the main hall of the palace. The gigantic hall looked like a small Durbar. He presumed that the person presiding over the Durbar would have to be Chinna Pazhuvettarayar. And there he was, sitting majestically on a throne-like chair. The messages that had come in today were being read out to him, and he was dispatching appropriate orders to the soldiers. Others were giving updates on happenings in the town. It seemed to Vandiyathevan that the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar looked a tad more majestic than his elder brother.

All of a sudden, Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s gaze fell on Vandiyathevan. The Fort Commander always had an appreciation for young warriors. It was perhaps because he was always on the lookout to hire the best warriors for his army. He smiled at the young warrior and asked — “Young warrior, where are you from?”

Vandiyathevan replied in a soft voice — “I am from Kanchipuram. I bring a message for the Emperor from my master Prince Aditya Karikalan.”

On hearing the word Kanchipuram, the Fort Commander, became instantaneously angry. “What did you say? Where are you coming from?” he repeated angrily.

“I bring a scroll from the Prince from Kanchipuram.”

“Give that to me.”

“The scroll is for the Emperor.”

Chinna Pazhuvettarayar snatched the scroll from him and read it. He grumbled to himself — “Hmm. There is nothing new in this.”

“The Prince asked me to deliver the message directly to the King.”

“Hmm. I will deliver it to the King. Does the Prince not have even that much trust in me?”

“Oh no, it was not the Prince. It was your elder brother who had ordered so.”

The Commander was clearly flustered on hearing this last statement from Vandiyathevan.

“Where did you see my elder brother?”

“I saw him on my way, at Kadambur. There was some high-level meeting happening there. ”

Vandiyathevan showed the ring with the palm leaf insignia, and said — “He also gave me this at that time.”

The Commander was now sufficiently convinced about Vandiyathevan’s genuineness.

“Oh, then you should go and meet the Emperor now itself before the poet group comes.”

A guard was assigned to take Vandiyathevan to the Emperors room.

When Vandiyathevan saw the Emperor bed-ridden, tears brimmed in his eyes. What a great man, and how he has been reduced to thus. Such was the love for the Emperor in the Chozha kingdom.

“Chakravarthy, I bring a message from my Master and your son, Prince Aditya Karikalan.”

The Emperor’s face lit up and smiled at the Queen, the daughter of the great King Malayamaan.

He read the message and looked up at the Queen again. The smile had faded.

“It seems our son has built a palace of gold in Kanchipuram, and he wants us to come and stay there for some time.”

He sighed.

“Has anyone in our lineage ever built a golden palace for ourselves to live? Our ancestors have raised golden domes for temples such as in Chidambaram, never for ourselves.”

Vandiyathevan gathered his courage and spoke softly — “Chakravarthy! To a son, his parents are his Gods to be worshiped. So he has built a golden palace for his Gods. What is wrong with that?”

Emperor Sundara Chozhan looked at Vandiyathevan — “I do not know who you are, but you speak very sweet words. But I still do not agree. The parents may be the God for the son, but not to everyone. Shouldn’t one build a golden temple for someone who is worshiped by all?”

Vandiyathevan had a quick reply to that as well — “For the son, the parents is God. For the common man, the King is the God. The Vedas say that Kings are the incarnations of Lord Vishnu. With this reasoning, is this not the Golden temple for all?”

The King looked at his wife and said — “Devi, look at this boy. He is so intelligent. I am so glad that our Adityan has a confidante like this boy. I do not need to worry any more about our son.”

“Thambi, whether or not it is apt to build a golden palace, I do not think I would be able to travel. You are looking at me. Do I look like I can travel? Adityan only has to come and see me. Come tomorrow, and I will keep a reply scroll ready for you to take back to my son.”

At this time, Vandiyathevan could hear the shuffling of steps coming closer to the room. “Aha, the poet group is coming. The Fort Commander might also be accompanying them”, thought Vandiyathevan. He needed to warn the King right now, and he should do it as succinctly as possible.

“Chakravarthy, please listen to what I have to say to you. You should leave Thanjavur fort as soon as you can. There is abhaayam (danger) surrounding you here.”

When he was telling this, the Fort Commander, Chinna Pazhuvettarayar stepped into the room. He had heard the last few words that Vandiyathevan was speaking. His face became red with anger.

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.