Periya Pazhuvetrayar was irritated beyond words at the end of the festivities that day. The event had ultimately had bolstered the popularity of the King and his children and had also served as an opportunity to learn how unpopular he and his clan had become.
“These people! Brainless creatures! When will they grow brains?" he ranted. “By the time Chakravarthy is dead, I am sure the Kingdom will be thoroughly ruined! ‘Make this village tax free! Let’s not collect taxes from them.’ If we persist thus, there would no village in the Chola Kingdom that would pay any tax. But I am supposed to get money somehow to pay for the army and the supplies in Elangai. Where will I send it from?” he shouted.
“Anna! There is no point in shouting about all this now. Let us wait patiently until the right time comes.” Said his brother, trying to pacify him.
To further his irritation he learned that Princess Kundavai was expected in his palace that day. He immediately went to Nandini and asked, “What is this that I am hearing? Why did you call that woman to our palace? Have you forgotten all the insults and slights that she has given you?”
“I never forget anybody’s insult and nor do I forget those who have supported me. You still haven’t understood me, if you are asking this question.”
“Then, why is she coming here?”
“That’s her wish and will. She is the daughter of the Chakravarthi. She is a princess. She can do whatever she wants.”
“But I heard that you invited her.”
“I didn’t invite her. She invited herself. “I heard that Sambuvrayar’s son is in your palace. I want to see him,” she said. Now, how can I say ‘Don’t come’? One day I might be able to say that. Until then, I have to wait on her thus.”
“I cannot and will not wait on her. I don’t want to be here when she comes to this palace. And what more, I don’t even want to be in this city. I have some work in Mazhapadi today, I will attend to that.”
“That’s a good thing my lord! Let me deal with this snake. I know how to counter her poison. However when you come back, don’t be startled if you hear some unexpected news…”
“What kind of unexpected news?”
“That Kundavai is to marry Kandan Maran or that Aditya Karikalan is to marry Kandan Maran’s sister…”
“What are you saying? If these things happen then what will happen to our plans…”
“Don’t panic. Just because someone is talking about this doesn’t mean that it would actually happen. For instance, you have been telling everyone that Madhuranthaka Devar would be the next king but is that really going to happen? Are we working so hard to crown that effeminate creature Madhuranthakan?” asked Nandini with a seductive glance at her husband.
Overcome with emotion, the Pazhuvur lord took her hand in his and lovingly touched his eyes and said, “My love! I solemnly promise that you will soon be the queen of this realm.”
Ever since Kandan Maran heard that Kundavai was coming to see him, he had grown not only nervous but also restless. Kundavai’s intelligence, grace and beauty were well known everywhere. On one hand, he felt very gratified and proud that she was coming to meet him. He wouldn’t have minded few more bruises and injuries if they would make a Princess like Kundavai want to come and meet him. But on the other, he felt ashamed lying abed injured in the back, stabbed by a friend turned foe. ‘Why did I have to get injured in this manner? Why couldn’t I have been injured in a battle?’ It would indeed have been a proud moment then but instead she has to come and express regrets over a stab wound given by that scoundrel and that too in the back!
He also felt guilty about the role he was playing in the conspiracy against Kundavai’s family. Kandan Maran was a good-natured man and he was also very naïve about many things in life. While he was enamoured by Nandini’s seductive beauty, he was constantly aware of the fact that she was a married woman. But Kundavai was not married and he found himself getting nervous about how to speak to her. Should I speak to her normally or should I try to hide my true feelings and talk what is expected of me? Should I act as if I am enamoured by her beauty? What if I forget my oath and become truly besotted with her? No! That will not happen! I might as well say something foolish and drive her away before letting that happen.
With over a hundred thoughts speeding through his mind, Kandan Maran’s resolution to act foolish vanished the minute he saw Kundavai. Her enchanting beauty, inherent goodness and sincere concern acted like a medicine on him. Wanting to create a good impression he told her all the great things that he had achieved in battle against their enemies though he unsuccessfully tried to sound falsely modest about it. He also showed her the wounds that he had got while fighting for the Kingdom at the border and regrettably added “I don’t really mind him hurting me thus but I can never forgive him for stabbing me on the back. Now I am forced to explain his treachery to everyone or else I might be branded as a coward who was escaping from the battlefield.”
Kandan Maran’s emotional outburst seemed very genuine to Kundavai and for the first time since she met Vandiya Devan, a germ of doubt grew in her mind. Did Vandiya Devan truly stab his friend? Did he fool me with his story? She bid Kandan Maran to tell her all about their fight and Kandan Maran gave free rein to his imagination, so much so that even Nandini was surprised by it.
“Devi Vandiya Devan fooled on the day he arrived as our palace in Kadambur. He never told me why he was going to Thanjavur. He gained entry into the fort through a fake emblem ring and has met the Chakravarthy. He also lied about bringing a message from the Crown Prince. And is that all? He has also involved your name in this by saying that he has got a message for you! Our Fort Commander tried to hold him under guard here to verify his stories but he escaped. I can’t help but admire his cleverness there. At first, I didn’t believe that he could be a spy. Though I know that he is not straight forward or honest, I still couldn’t believe that he could be a spy. I thought that he must have done some harmless mischief by interfering in some unwanted business. I begged the Fort Commander to forgive him and vowed to find him. I didn’t take along any soldier with me as I didn’t want to shame him. My instinct told me that he would somehow find his way out of the fort through the Vadavatru river. And I was right. I saw him jumping down from the high walls of the Thanjai Fort. I went to him before he ran off again and asked, “My friend! What have you done?” But that treacherous cheat started beating me. I couldn’t bear the fact that he would attack someone who has come all the way to help him. I attacked him too. And soon we were rolling on the ground wrestling. After struggling for half hour, he yielded and I asked him, “Why did you come here? Tell me the truth!”
And he said, “I am tired. Let us sit and talk.” So we got up and tried to walk towards the bank of the river. I was walking in front of him when he suddenly pounced on me again with a knife. The last thing I remember is that I fell down and when I woke up next I was in the house a deaf and mute woman.”
Listening intently to his story, Nandini laughed in her head while keeping a serious expression on her face. Kundavai however was confused. She couldn’t decide what to believe or who to believe.
“How did you end up in a deaf and mute woman’s house? Who took you there?”
“That’s a mystery that I haven’t solved yet. That woman didn’t know anything and we couldn’t understand what she was trying to tell us. He had a son it seems but ever since that night even he has disappeared. I will have to either wait for him to return or wait until the Pazhuvur soldiers capture my friend and then ask him about it…”
“Do you really think that they will capture him?”
“I am sure of it. Where else can he run? That’s why I am still waiting here. I wish to plead for his life with the Pazhuvur Lord and hope that he gets a pardon…”
“Ayya! You have the most generous heart.” Said Kundavai but in her heart she whispered, “I wish that they never capture him even is he was a treacherous traitor.”
Suddenly, one of Nandini’s handmaidens came inside hurriedly with a message, “Amma! They have captured the spy. They are dragging him through the streets…”
The minute they heard this, both Nandini and Kundavai looked startled and horrified. Nandini however quickly brought a calm look on her face but Kundvai couldn’t!