The sky was dotted with thousands of twinkling stars. A lovely half moon rose up on the sky near the sea’s horizon as moon beams danced on the sea waves. It was a beautiful sight worthy enough for a poet to describe. Sadly for Vandiya Devan there were mundane things to do, like washing off the mud.
“Why are you standing? Go and wash the mud. I have to go home or else my anni will not give me any food tonight.”
“Is the sea very deep here?” he asked timidly.
“I haven’t seen a faint-hearted soldier like you before. The sea here is very shallow. You can go all the way to the middle of the sea and find that the water just comes up to your hips. That’s why we have to light up the lighthouse to warn the ships to stay away.”
Vandiya Devan got into the water after much hesitation. After washing himself quickly, he walked over to her wringing his clothes dry. Just then, he noticed his companion, the physician’s son coming towards him in the beach along with the horses.
“Ayyo! He is coming here with the horses. What if they get stuck in the quick sand?”
“Go and warn him.” Said Poonguzhali walking after him as he ran towards the horses warning them to stay away.
When Poonguzhali joined them, she found Vandiya Devan holding the horse’s rein. She caressed the horse and spoke something to it that made it inch closer to her.
“My horse seems to like you. That’s good.”
“Why is it good?”
“I have to go to Eelangai. I thought I would leave this horse here with you. Will you look after it?”
“Yes. I will look after it. All animals like me. Its only the human beings who don’t.”
“Why do you say that? Senthan Amuthan has completely lost…”
“That’s because I prefer the company of animals to humans.”
“What harm did human beings do to you?”
“Humans and men in general are ungracious rogues. They are all full of lies and deceit.”
“You should not think about all men like this. I have known Senthan Amuthan to be a good man. And my companion here, the physician’s son is also a good man…”
“What about you?”
“I am also a good man. But it would be odd to talk good things about myself.”
“Why are you both here?”
“The Chakravarthy is not well. We have been sent here to gather rare medicinal herbs to make a potent medicine that would cure the king. That’s why the chief physician at Pazhaiarai has sent us.”
“You said that you would be going to Eelangai as well…”
“The herbs that are not available here will need to be brought from Eelangai. Which is why I am going there. It seems that a portion of Sanjeevini mountain that was brought by Hanuman is still in Eelangai.”
“Yes. That’s right. And that’s probably hundreds of people are dying there due to shivering fever.”
“Is that so? I didn’t know this. And I doubt if that Pazhaiarai physician also knew about this.”
“It seems that lying is a habitual occupation of all men. Two days ago, two men came here. They too lied, when asked as to why they wanted to go to Eelangai. But their lies were believable to some extent.”
“Who were they? What did they lie about?”
“They said that they were sent here by some mandiravadi. They wanted to go to Eelangai to get a tiger’s claw and an elephant’s tail hair to make a protective talisman for the king. My brother took them to Eelangai in his boat.”
“Oh! Is that so?” said Vandiya Devan. He was reminded of yet another mandiravadi that he had known briefly.
My God! Why did I get stuck in this murky business of carrying messages and spying? Compared to this, warring with the enemies in the battlefield is quite straightforward.
Who would be those two men who had left for Eelangai two days ago? How far can we trust this girl? What if she too is a part of that mandiravadi’s gang? No. No. She is an innocent girl. I might need her help in future so it is better to be friends with her.
“Poonguzhali! Let me to tell you the truth. I am going to Eelangai on an important and secret mission. I would like to tell you about it…”
“No don’t. Don’t you know, that women can’t be trusted with important and secret information?”
“Yes. They say so about other ordinary women in the world. But you are not an ordinary woman.”
“Says who? You have known me for precisely one hour now.”
“Poonguzhali! The minute I saw you sitting on the temple wall, I really liked you. I want to ask you something but you should give me a truthful answer.”
“Is Senthan Amuthan truly not your lover? Will you not marry him?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Senthan Amuthan is my friend. I will not act in any way that would harm our friendship. But if he is not your lover…”
“Continue… why do you hesitate?”
“If he is not your lover, I would like to fill in that vacant position. Poonguzhali! There is no feeling more divine than true love in this world. Even people like Appar, Sundarar and Sambandar sang their verses looking at God as their lover. So many great poets have sung such beautiful songs about love. Can anything compare with Kalidasan’s divine verses of love? Even Krishna got entangled in love with his gopis…”
“Ayya! Let me tell you one thing. Please listen to me.”
“I do like you and it doesn’t disgust me to look at you either but…”
“Thank God! I am very lucky.”
“But do not talk about ‘love’ or anything related to that with me.”
“Senthan Amuthan is not my lover but I have other lovers…”
“Other lovers? Who? How many? Where?”
“In the midnight, I normally go to meet them. You can come with me if you want and I will show them to you.” She said and laughed.
Her laughter disturbed Vandiya Devan greatly. He thought to himself, ‘Looks like this girl is mad. I don’t think she would help my mission in anyway. It’s better not to tell her anything.’
They had by then reached the houses that stood near the lighthouse. Hearing them approach, an old man and a woman came out of the house.
|Poonguzhali brings Vandiya Devan home|
“Poonguzhali! Who are these men? Where did you find them?”
“I didn’t find them appa! They found me.”
“It’s all the same. I have told you so many times to come back home before it gets dark. Do you ever listen? Two days ago, you got two strangers here and today as well. Why are they here?”
“They have come here to search for medicinal herbs to make a medicine for the king, appa!”
“Ayya! Is that correct?”
“Yes. Here is a message from the royal scribe of Pazhaiarai.” Said Vandiya Devan and took out the message. And while he was at it, another oolai fell down from his waistcloth. He picked it hurriedly, angry with himself and muttered, ‘I am such a fool.’
Poonguzhali’s father took the oolai and read it in the light of the lighthouse. He turned towards his wife and said, “This is a message from Elaya Piratti. These men are here on royal business. We need to give them food and shelter. Go and tell your daughter-in-law to keep enough food for them.”