Friday, 27 February 2015

Chapter 21: The Dungeons

Life is a mystery. One can't really predict the reason for sorrow or happiness in one's life. Sorrows, pain, anguish, happiness, contentment and peace are a part of this mystery. For some, life is an endless canvass of joy and happiness without a dark cloud in the horizon but when fortunes change their sky is crowded with dark clouds and fierce storm blows through their life. Kundavai felt that she was living through such a storm. For many years, this Princess was the apple of everybody’s eye. Her parents, brothers, relatives, friends and her people made life a happy dream. It was an endless stream of happiness, contentment and gracious living. But sadly even royal Princesses are not free from troubles and life soon dumped a whole avalanche of problems on her head.

Her father’s health was worrisome and his mental anguish was a cause of worry. While her brothers were away from the capital, the noblemen who had pledged their sword and fealty to her father were busy plotting to crown her uncle. There were rumours and whispers of an unknown danger that would soon overwhelm the kingdom. A comet has been seen on the sky heralding a period of doom and catastrophe. Astrologers and wise men of the kingdom were seen debating and discussing the disasters that would come upon them, while the common people were disturbed by these portent signs.

Kundavai was iron-willed and none of these would have troubled her much. Born in a dynasty that produced great warriors and wise rulers, she had enough wisdom to solve knotty problems. But something happened… she met someone and her heart that was hitherto untouched, experienced love. But they had no time to explore their feelings for each other. Their time together was shrouded with danger and secrets and their love seemed like a flower that would be plucked even before it could bloom.
Vandiya Devan, A Homeless Prince

Troubles and tribulations multiplied for Kundavai after meeting her homeless prince and her heart experienced an anguish that was alternatively new and painful for her. She couldn’t bear the pain that was caused by the words, ‘Vandiya Devan might be arrested’ and when Nandini said that her soldiers might have killed him, it took all the self-control that she possessed to remain calm.

Nandini’s poisoned words hurt her so much that she was surprised by it. Could it be possible that her regard for this orphaned soldier surpassed the love she bore for her parents, brothers and friends? But there was no time to think or debate about these things. She had to find what happened to that brave soldier, she had sent to Elangai.

That afternoon, right after she had met Nandini and Kandan Maran, she sent a message to Chinna Pazhuvetrayar about visiting his palace. On her arrival, the royal women of Pazhuvur clan invited her respectfully in their midst. After conversing with them for a while, the Princess went to the Chithirai Mandapam where Chinna Pazhuvetrayar was waiting for her. He showed her around the mandapam proudly explaining the brave feats that his ancestors and forefathers had performed in the service of their kings.
Chinna Pazhuvetrayar's Chithirai Mandapam

After looking at all the paintings, Kundavai said, “Ayya! Undoubtedly the Pazhuvur clan has performed many great deeds for this kingdom….”

“Princess! We are ready to serve our kings with our life.”

 “and undoubtedly this kingdom would be the apt prize for such service….”

“Noble Princess! What are you saying?”

“Nonetheless, you could have waited until my father’s demise to seize power.”

It was evident that Kalanthaka Kandar was shaken by Kundavai’s words as his face reflected shock, guilt and surprise. Drops of sweat came upon his brow and he chided himself for acting nervous with a young girl like Kundavai.

Amma! Why are you saying such things? Why are you so angry with me? Do you plan to send me to yamalokam with such words?”

Ayya! They say that even Lord Yama trembles to near Kalanthaka Kandar. Dare I hope that my words have such power? I am but a helpless woman here.”

“Princess! I am shaken to hear such words from you. What folly of mine has angered you thus?

“My Lord! Who am I to talk about your follies? You need to tell me what mistake I have made in wanting to cure my father? I sent two men to Kodi Karai to fetch medicinal herbs for my father, could that perhaps be my mistake?”

“Noble Princess! How could that be a mistake?”

“My Lord! Am I mistaken in assuming that you knew that it was ‘I’ who sent the Pazhaiarai Physician’s son to Kodi Karai?”

“No Princess. I knew about it.”

“Today, I saw your soldiers dragging him towards the dungeons. Undoubtedly all this happened with your knowledge and your express commands even when you knew who had sent them."

 “Yes Princess. But you could have been fooled by that young man. I fear that you sent them on their noble task without knowing that they were spies of the crown.”

“Do you want me to believe this ridiculous story that our Pazhaiarai’s Physician’s son is a spy?”

“My Princess! What if he admits to being a ‘spy’?

The commander’s words startled the Princess, “What do you mean he has admitted? What has he admitted?”

“He has admitted the fact that his companion was a spy and that he had not come to Kodi Karai to fetch herbs instead he was going to elangai taking a message to someone…”

“The physician’s son is a witless fool. Whatever he says should not be considered seriously. It was ‘I’ who sent his companion along with him.”

“Devi! I knew that but I also know that he has fooled you. His name is Vandiya Devan and I know that he is a spy.”

“I do not believe that. He came from Kanchipuram as my brother’s messenger.”

“Princess! He got a message for Chakravarthi too. Spies do need a pretext to learn information hence they undertake such tasks.”

“Ayya! Do you have any evidence that proves that he is a spy?”

 “If he is not a spy, then why did he travel through hidden paths instead of using the king’s road? Why did he go to Kudanthai Jodhidhar and ask about your father’s horoscope?”

“Even I have asked the Jodhidhar about my father’s horoscope…”

“You are the daughter of Chakravarthi’s daughter. You have all the right to ask about your father’s horoscope. But it’s suspicious when someone who is unrelated to the family does so… In my experience, spies from the enemy king behave thus.”

“This is merely your surmise. Do you have other reasons?”

“Why didn’t he ask for my permission to enter the fort? Why did he show Pazhuvur emblem ring to gain entry and lie that he got from my brother?”

“How did he get the ring then?”

“I do not know yet. I intend to find out…”

“Why haven’t your soldiers found that out for you yet?”

“Noble Princess! My soldiers are not magicians. They need to find the spy to find out where he got that ring from?”

“And how would you know whether he is telling the truth?”

Devi! There are ways to make men talk. Our dungeons are proof enough for that… That’s why he escaped from this fort that night and on his way out he stabbed Kandan Maran on the back.”

“Is there any evidence that proves that he stabbed Kandan Maran?”

“Kandan Maran says that it was Vandiya Devan who did it.”

“His testimony is not enough. What if I say that he didn’t stab Kandan Maran?”

“Noble Princess! You are talking as if you were standing next to him when he was stabbed.”

“Commander! I have sense enough to discern when a man is telling the truth and when he isn’t.”

“This spy is then indeed lucky. He has somehow hoodwinked you into believing his version of the story.”

“Ayya! Please do not call him ‘spy’ again in my hearing…”

“Princess! If he wasn’t a ‘spy’ then why did he disguise himself as a street actor to enter Pazhaiarai? Why did he travel to Kodi Karai in disguise? Why did he hide himself in the woods of Kodi Karai from my soldiers and take a boat to Elangai during the dead of the night?”

“So you are saying that he has escaped to Elangai?”

“Yes Princess! That spy is very ingenious. He escaped in a boat to Elangai during the night and my soldiers couldn’t catch him. Instead they captured the Physician’s son,”

Ayya! I do not care about this spy. But the Physician’s son is innocent. I request you to release him from the dungeons immediately,”

“But Princess, even if he was not a spy, he has helped the spy. He has been spinning many wild tales about his friend but I suspect that he has had a hand in helping him escape…”

“I do not care for such suspicions. I want you to release him from the prison immediately,”

“If that is your wish, I cannot take the responsibility. There are dangers lurking at every corner in this kingdom. Our enemies are waiting to march upon us. King Veera Pandian’s bodyguards have sworn a blood oath to kill the seed of the Chola kings. There is treason everywhere…”

“Ayya! If you were to imprison all those who commit treason, I am afraid you will run out of room in the dungeons…”

“We can fill it as much as possible…”

“I suggest that you leave some space for the real culprits… Please release the Physician’s son,”

“Princess! I refuse to take on this responsibility…”

“Commander! Will you release him if you get the Chakravarthy’s orders? Or will you defy that too?”

“Noble Princess! I do not need Chakravarthy’s orders to do it; just the Princesses’ word would suffice. Everyone knows that the Chakravarthy would never refuse you anything. Here is the key to the dungeons…You can free whomsoever you want from the prison. And whatever consequences that follow these actions, will rest solely upon your noble head…”

Saying thus, Kalanthaka Kandar took out a large key from his waistcloth and handed it over with mock respect to Kundavai. Kundavai struggled to control her anger and received the key from him. “Alright Commander! Let the consequences rest on my head…”

“Calamities and disasters will come upon our kingdom through two women…”

“I am one of them and pray who might be the other…”

“Pazhuvur Elaya Rani, Nandini Devi.”

Despite her anger, she smiled and said, “You are placing me on par with the power of the Kingdom indeed. If Periya Pazhuvetar were to hear this, he might just banish you, my lord!”

“I would welcome it whole-heartedly!”

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Volume 1 - New Flood