Friday, 27 March 2015

Chapter 27: The Forest Path

The commander of Elangai, Kodumbalur Periya Vellar was an experienced warrior and a leader. He enjoyed a close relationship with the royal family as a kinsman and a liege lord. His brother Kodumbalur Siriya Vellar (Vanathi’s father) had died on the battlefield in Elangai along with his army and since then, Periya Vellar had been itching to avenge his brother. Though he was advanced in age, he requested for the command of Elangai army and was allowed to lead the Chola armies along with the Prince. But the battle campaign of Elangai was fraught with hurdles thanks to the meddling of the Pazhuvur Lords who were determined to undermine the Prince’s glory. This had furthered the deep-rooted enmity between these two clans.
Kodumbalur Periya Vellar
When the Kodumbalur soldiers had caught Vandiya Devan with the Pazhuvur emblem ring, they suspected him to be a spy but thankfully Periya Vellar mentioned his capture to the Prime Minister who had learned the truth about our hero’s adventures from Azhwarkadiyan. Therefore Azhwarkadiyan was urgently sent to Periya Vellar to rescue Vandiya Devan from his prison.

Periya Vellar looked long and hard at Vandiya Devan and then addressed him almost kindly, “Thambi! Did my soldiers look after you well? Did you get a good place to stay and ample food to eat?”

“My Lord! Your soldiers were very hospitable. They offered me a good place to stay and then sent in a cat as a night’s meal but before I could begin my feast this fat Vaishnavan came and the angry cat scratched him everywhere and ran off,”

The commander smiled at Vandiya Devan’s wit and said, “This boy is very witty. Thirumalai! Did a cat attack you, truly?”

“My Lord! This boy’s ancestors were not only kings but also poets it seems and that accounts for his imagination though in general he speaks the truth. There was indeed a cat at the place where he was held and it did scratch me everywhere,” said Azhwarkadiyan and showed his hands and feet to the Commander.

“I can’t believe that you allowed a cat to attack you thus. It is a good thing that I am sending you along with a good warrior to find the prince,”

“My Lord! I don’t need a warrior to protect me as long as I carry my staff with me. I forgot to take it with me when I went to meet him,”

“Alright. Before you leave, make ample food to carry along with you. Thambi! We are perpetually running short of food supplies here in Elangai. King Mahindan’s army destroyed many dams and lakes. There is no water here for farming and no farmers either to plant crops. When the people here are starving how can we expect them to feed our army? But we are not getting enough food and supplies from our Kingdom also…”

“My Lord! When I was in Pazhaiarai, I heard the families of our soldiers complaining to Elaya Piratti about this,”

“Good! So they too know about our plight. So what did Elaya Piratti say to that?”

“She said that ‘Commander Periya Vellar will never allow his soldiers to starve.’”

“Aha! I have met many royal princesses in my time, but none can compare to our Elaya Piratti,”

“I beg to differ Commander,”

“You do?”

“Yes Commander. I do think that Princess Vanathi is as gracious as Elaya Piratti too,”

“Thambi! Did you meet my niece in Pazhaiarai?”

“Yes My Lord. How can I not meet Elaya Piratti’s inseparable companion? When I took their leave from the Pazhaiarai Adhurasalai, they both had come to send me off,”

“Thambi! Did Elaya Piratti send me any message about my niece?”

“My Lord! I do not wish to lie to you,”

“Thambi! There is no need to lie to anybody,”

“My Lord! If I were to speak the truth to this Vaishnavan my head will burst into pieces,”

“So there is no message for me, from Elaya Piratti?”

“No My Lord! But I do bear some messages about Princess Vanathi to the Prince,”

Beaming at his response the Commander declared, “I have never met a more clever warrior like you,” and genially embraced him. “Now don’t waste any more time. You can leave immediately,”

Vandiya Devan neared the Commander and whispered, “Ayya! Do I really have to travel along with this Vaishnavan? Can’t I go alone?”

“Why do you object to his escort?”

“I have no objections but it is the dagger that I carry, that seems to be objecting. It thirsts for the Vaishnavan’s blood,”

“If that is so, then you should leave that dagger here with me. You cannot find the Prince without his help. No one knows where the Prince has gone. And he also bears a few messages for the Prince from the Prime Minister. Therefore it is for the best that you both travel together. Please do not fight with each other on the way and waste your time,” said Commander and then whispered again to Vandiya Devan, “Thambi! This Vaishnavan will not hinder your work but do be careful with him because he is very clever and crafty. And I would like to know all about the message that he gives to the Prince,”

Until then, Vandiya Devan was under the impression that Azhwarkadiyan was sent along with him as a ‘spy’ to keep an eye on him but when the Commander asked him to spy on the Vaishnavan, he was pleased.

Vandiya Devan and Azhwarkadiyan set off along with two soldiers that afternoon. For two days, they journeyed towards the eastern direction through small villages. As they progressed, they came upon a forest path that was inaccessible and uninhabited with tall trees and dense foliage. They came upon make lakes that lay dry and ruined damaged by the ravages of war. As they walked by the forest path, Azhwarkadiyan pointed out to him how devastating a war could be for the common people while Vandiya Devan tried to argue with him from a soldier’s point of view. After two days, the direction of their path changed south and they entered the densest forest that they have ever seen.

Conversing about the wild animals that they were likely to encounter here Azhwarkadiyan said that the forests were full of tigers, leopards, wild boar, elephants and jackals. Vandiya Devan was reminded of a dream that he had, a long time ago and asked, “If the Jackal attacks us as a pack, isn’t that dangerous?”

“A lone jackal is more dangerous in these forests. Here the jackal and the leopard hunt together. The leopard will hide while the Jackal spies on the prey and warns his master. That’s why the Jackal is also called as Orri (Because it spies for its master).”

While they were talking they heard the sound of rushing water that made Vandiya Devan wonder whether they had come near the sea, “What is that noise? Where is it coming from?”

“There must be a lake nearby I think. Sometimes herds of elephants would come there to bathe and drink,”

“Herds of elephant! Isn’t that dangerous?”

“An elephant herd will not attack anybody. If we stay still, they will pass us by without any incident,” said Azhwarkadiyan. One of the soldiers who had come along with them got on top of the tree to see the source of the sound. He hurriedly got down and said, “Ayya! Ayya! It is a lone elephant, a mad one. It is stamping the ground and uprooting trees. It is coming this way,”

“Ayyo! What will we do now? How will we escape?” said Azhwarkadiyan and looked around him frantically.

“You said that a herd of elephants will not attack us, then why do you fear a single lone elephants?”

“We have nothing to fear from a herd of elephants but a lone elephant is dangerous. It will possess the brutal strength of thousand elephants. No one can face it alone and live to tell the tale,”

“Three of us here has spears and swords and you have your staff…”

“No spear or staff can stop a mad elephant. Come let us get on top of that cliff and hope that the elephant doesn’t notice us,”

Saying thus, Azhwarkadiyan ran towards the cliff while the others followed him. After running for a while, they were at the end of the ravine where the cliff ended and the elephant seemed to be coming in their direction. With nowhere else to run, they stood at the edge of the cliff hoping that the elephant would turn away but soon enough it was evident that the mad beast was rooting its way towards them. The mad elephant let out a piercing roar when it sighted them and started running towards them. The four of them tried to run in different directions but their options were limited and it looked as if the elephant was trying to catch Azhwarkadiyan who was stuck at the edge of the cliff.
Azhwarkadiyan and the Mad Elephant
Vandiya Devan took his spear in hand and tried to aim but the sheer size of the elephant and its speed astonished him and in the meanwhile Azhwarkadiyan’s actions distracted him. With his staff aloft in hand, he shouted, “Stop. Stop right there. I command you! I will slay you right away. I warn you. Stop right there.”

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