At first, they heard the screeching wail of the parrot and the gasp of the handmaiden, who was discreetly standing by the garden path. When Kandan Maran saw Periya Pazhuvetrayar striding towards them furiously with a screeching parrot in his hand, he trembled in all limbs. What if he had heard their conversation and the part where he had said that ‘he did not like Pazhuvetrayar’? What if he suspects him of trying to seduce his young wife?
He knew that old men who get married to younger women constantly suffer from doubts and insecurity and thereby making theirs and everybody else’s life miserable. Is that why this old man is very angry? Will he suspect that I have been having untoward thoughts towards his beautiful wife?
All these thoughts came and vanished in Kandan Maran’s mind within a few seconds. But he would witness a very astonishing scene that day. When Pazhuvetarayar neared them, Nandini got up and welcomed him with a beautiful smile saying, “My Lord! I was afraid that you might be delayed. Thank God you came back early.”
Periya Pazhuvetarayar just had to hear her voice and see her beautiful smile and he transformed from a furious angry old man into a tame cat! With a slight smile, he said, “Yes. My errand got completed sooner than I thought, so I returned immediately.” And then he looked Kandan Maran and asked, “What is this boy doing here? Has he written a love poem in your honour?” and laughed at his little joke.
Kandan Maran’s face reddened but Nandini laughed harder at her husband’s joke and said, “My Lord, sadly, this boy doesn’t know anything about love or about poems. He knows to fight and get injured. Now that he has healed, he wants to go back home,”
“What do I say about today’s young men? I have seen 24 battles in my lifetime and proudly wear the 64 scars as a token of my bravery but I have never lain in the bed to recover from any of them. But then, I bore my wounds on my chest and shoulders while this boy got stabbed in the back. No wonder!”
Incensed by Pazhuvetarayar’s remark, Kandan Maran said, “Ayya! You are like my father. If somebody else had said this, I would have…”
“Is that so? Show me what would you do if somebody else had said this...” said Pazhuvetarayar and put his hand on his sword.
Nandini interfered and said, “My Lord! This boy is not only got injured in the back but he has also suffered a grievous wound to his heart. His friend’s betrayal has hurt him very much and we should not say anything that would hurt him more. We do know what really happened on the night he got hurt, don’t we, My Lord?”
Pazhuvetarayar understood Nandini’s meaningful look and said, “You are right Nandini. He is just a small boy. I will forget what he just said for his father’s sake. Nandini! I have something very important to tell you. It’s good that he is also here, as it concerns him. In Elangai, at Mandottam, our soldiers have caught a man suspecting him to be a ‘spy’. They found a message for Prince Arul Mozhi Varman on his person and along with that he also had our palm emblem ring. It looks like he might be Kandan Maran’s dear old friend. That boy is very clever, or else he wouldn’t have escaped our soldiers so easily…”
Both the men didn’t notice the slight change in Nandini’s expression.
“What? He escaped is it and that too to Elangai?” cried Kandan Maran with disappointment.
“My Lord! I am not surprised by the fact that his friend escaped. I have said it often enough that your brother is not fit to command this fort. It is small wonder that his soldiers are as inept as their master,”
“When you used to say this, I thought you were wrong but now I think you could be right. Do you know when our soldiers in Elangai questioned this ‘spy’ about our ring, he refused to answer them?”
Nandini sighed and said, “What game is this? How did he get our emblem ring then? What explanation does your brother give?”
“My brother? You will laugh if you hear what he says. He says that this spy could have got our emblem ring from you.” Said Pazhuvetarayar and laughed out aloud.
Nandini laughed along with her husband and said, “I admit, there is none wiser than my brother-in-law in this entire kingdom,”
“Do you know what else he is saying? It truly makes a good story! I can’t but laugh at his assertions! He says that this ‘spy’ met you when you were coming to Thanjavur in your palanquin and that’s when he got our emblem ring from you. He also says that this boy’s friend came to meet you here in the palace on that day when our soldiers were searching for him everywhere. He says that either you should have given him the ring or it could have been the mandiravadi, who comes to meet you. He is saying many such stories to hide his foolishness,” said Periya Pazhuvetarayar and laughed again. But this time, Nandini did not join him in laughter.
“It was wrong of me to have doubted my brother-in-law’s cleverness indeed. He seems to have outdone himself. But I am surprised that you thought fit to listen to all this without defending my honour,” said Nandini her casual expression of good humour had changed within a second to anger.
Pazhuvetarayar immediately stopped laughing and tried to pacify her. The man, who once bore many grave wounds in the service of the King, couldn’t bear the thought of his young wife’s anger!
“Devi, I did not listen to him quietly. I berated him for his foolishness most sternly. If you had been there, you would have felt sorry for him because my words almost reduced him to tears,”
Kandan Maran felt embarrassed and wanted to leave. The scene that he had witnessed made him to pity Periya Pazhuvetarayar more than ever and taught him to be wary of Nandini. He coughed a bit to gain their attention and said, “Ayya!”
Nandini looked at him and said, “We have forgotten this boy amidst the stories that my brother-in-law has been telling. He wants to go home and wants your permission to leave…”
“He can leave immediately. His father is worried about him…”
“I wish to give him a olai. Do I have your permission to do so?”
“Olai? To whom?”
“To the Crown Prince in Kanchi.”
Pazhuvetarayar looked at Nandini and Kandan Maran with suspicion and said, “Olai for the Crown Prince? You have written it? Why?”
“Kundavai wrote a olai for her younger brother and sent his friend to Elangai. Then why can’t I write to the older brother and send him to Kanchi?”
“How do you know that the olai that his friend is carrying is written by Kundavai?”
“Then why do you think mandiravadi comes to meet me? I learned this through his sorcery. Now that we know how good my brother-in-law’s soldiers are, we do need his help. They told you that the spy was caught with our emblem ring, My Lord but they didn’t tell you that Kundavai wrote the olai, that he was carrying.”
“I didn’t hear this from my brother’s soldiers. I got this news from our Prime Minister Anirudha Brahmarayar who was in Elangai, a few days ago.”
“Did that wily Brahmin tell you about the Kundavai’s olai?”
“My Lord! I have warned you many times in the past. All these people in the Kingdom are trying to fool you. They withhold important information from you thinking that you lack the wits to find out. Do you realize the truth in my warning now? But I did not believe in Mandiravadi’s words alone. I questioned the Physician’s son from Pazhaiarai whom your brother’s soldiers had captured. He confirmed whatever the mandiravadi had told me. It is true that Kundavai has sent a message with this boy’s friend to elangai.”
Pazhuvetarayar was lost for words. He couldn’t make any sense of what Nandini was telling. Irritated at large, he cast an annoying glance at Kandan Maran. He didn’t want to ask Nandini for explanations in Kandan Maran’s presence. Nandini understood her husband’s annoyance and said, “Let us not delay this boy’s journey anymore,” She then looked at Kandan Maran and said, “Ayya! I request you to hand this olai in person to the Crown Prince. If he writes a reply, please send it to me with a trusted messenger. And do invite the Prince to your palace at Kadambur,”
Confused and perplexed, Kandan Maran looked at Nandini and Periya Pazhuvetarayar and asked, “What do I tell my father? Shall I tell him that this is the wish of the Pazhuvur lord?”
“Yes you can. My wish is my Lord’s wish. Isn’t that so, My Lord?”
“Yes. Yes,” Nodded Pazhuvetarayar. He didn’t understand anything yet he couldn’t ask Nandini for explanations.
After Kandan Maran left on his errand, Nandini looked amorously at her husband and asked, “My Lord! I fear that the faith and trust that you had in me is dwindling day after day. I think my brother-in-law’s wrong counsel is corrupting your mind…”
“Never. Nandini! I might lose my faith in the heavens above but I would never lose my faith in you. I trust your words more than anything in this world,”
“If that is so, then why did you ask me so many questions in that boy’s presence. I felt insulted,” said Nandini with her eyes full of unshed tears.
Periya Pazhuvetarayar felt guilty and tormented. He tried to wipe her tears saying, “My love! Do no, please do not cry…”
After pacifying her, he said, “I can’t understand a few things that you do. Don’t I have the right to ask, why?”
“You have the right to ask me anything and I am beholden to give you my explanations. But please do not ask such questions before strangers and shame me thus. Ask me now, whatever you want to know,”
“Why have you sent a message to Aditya Karikalan? Why have you invited him to Kadambur Palace? Isn’t he our first enemy?”
“No you are wrong. Our first enemy is that snake in Pazhaiarai. I am calling Aditya Karikalan to Kadambur for the same reason why I had invited Kundavai to our palace. My Lord! Do you remember, I used to tell you that Kundavai has a separate plan in her mind for this kingdom? I have found out what that plan is. She wants this kingdom for her younger brother Arul Mozhi Varman after her father’s demise. I will counter her plans with my move. Now do you understand why I have invited Aditya Karikalan to Kadambur?” said Nandini and looked at the old man with earnest eyes.
Though he didn’t understand anything, Pazhuvur Lord nodded and said, “I understand now, Nandini.”
“My Lord! This glorious kingdom was formed due to the brave deeds of your ancestors and our clan. I intend to see you ascend the worthy throne of this kingdom and I will not rest until I have achieved our goal. But if you lose faith in me, do unsheathe that sword of yours and behead me,”
“My love! Please do not talk such words and torment me.”