Will a mad elephant stop in its heel just because Azhwarkadiyan started wielding his staff? But one cannot fault him for lack of trying. The elephant ran madly towards him and Vandiya Devan knew at that instant that this might be the end of the fat Vaishnavan. He picked up his spear again tried to take aim while the two soldiers who had come with them were screaming their heart out rooted in one place. The mad elephant rampaged its through the thicket of trees and bushes and came to the very edge of the cliff where they were standing. In the next instant, Azhwarkadiyan threw his staff on the elephant while his turban flew in the air and he vanished.
|Azhwarkadiyan attacking the mad elephant|
The elephant in its mad fury had come to the edge of the cliff and one of its legs slipped and it fell through the ravine of the cliff uttering a piercing howl that reverberated through the woods. It took awhile for the dust, sand, stones, leaves and broken twigs to settle down before they could see what had actually happened. They now knew that Azhwarkadiyan must have fallen behind the ravine when he threw the staff on the mad elephant.
Vandiya Devan’s heart was heavy with sorrow and grief. Their journey of few days had passed joyfully amidst jokes and stories and a newfound friendship. Despair and grief washed over his heart when he realized that he would have to find the Prince and give him the message without the help and guidance of the Vaishnavan. Worried about the task ahead, he went to the edge of the cliff and stood near the place where the Vaishnavan had disappeared.
The elephant’s fall had left a trail of dust in the ravine below and at first he couldn’t see anything below and then he heard a voice, “Thambi! What is this? Will you not give me a hand and help me?”
Astonished to hear a dead man’s voice, Vandiya Devan looked around and found the fat Vaishnavan literally hanging in the edge ravine from a tree root. His grief disappeared and his happiness knew no bounds when he said, “What is this Vaishnavarey? You are hanging in Trishanku Svargam after sending that wild elephant to the heavens?”
Next he called the two soldiers who had accompanied them and then unwound his waistcloth for the Vaishnavan to catch on the other end. With a lot groans and grunts the three of them hoisted the fat Vaishnavan from the ravine.
Azhwarkadiyan lay huffing and puffing for a long time on the ground while the others rallied around him recounting and reliving the adventure that they had been through. But soon enough Azhwarkadiyan sat up and said, “Let us start now. We need to get to the king’s road before the day ends. Where is my turban and staff?”
“There is no need to hurry. We can leave after you rest for a while,” said Vandiya Devan.
A lone jackal howled somewhere near them and soon there were sounds of other beasts and birds crying and shouting. The forest suddenly came alive with many myriad sounds. A few vultures started flying around the ravine to prey on the dead elephant.
“An elephant’s death is no ordinary thing. Animals far and wide will come here to feast on its flesh. It is best that we leave right away,”
Agreeing to Azhwarkadiyan’s wise counsel, they left the place almost immediately as fast as their feet would take them. And soon they left the forest path to reach the king’s road. It was busy road with many bullock carts, horse carts and large elephants carrying men and soldiers. Looking at the elephants waking calmly by the road, Vandiya Devan was understandably surprised by the ferocity of the wild elephant that they encountered a few hours ago.
“Where does this King’s road lead to? Where have we come and where are we going?”
“We are on the king’s road that leads to Simhagiri from Anuradhapuram. We should reach Thambilai by nightfall,”
“We could have journeyed comfortably on the King’s road. Why did you lead us through that dangerous forest path?”
“They would have stopped us over hundred times to know the purpose of our journey, if we had come by this road. At Anuradhapuram, they would have stopped us altogether. I have learned that the person whom we have come searching for was last seen heading towards Simhagiri, that’s why I took a short cut through the forest. Despite all this, I am not sure whether we could find him there. Let’s hope that he doesn’t go anywhere else,”
There were many village homes, market places and iron smiths working on both the sides of the King’s road. Vandiya Devan noted that most of them were Sinhala people and they were calmly going about their work and didn’t seem to be scared or frightened by the presence of Chola soldiers going along the road.
“Who controls this region?”
“The Chola armies have captured regions until Thambilai. Beyond that the Fort of Simhagiri and the mountain regions are still under King Mahindan’s control,”
|Sigiriya Fort Today|
“And the people who live here…”
“They are mostly Sinhalese people. You know Ponniyin Selvar has changed the face of war after he came here. The Chola armies fight only the soldiers of King Mahindan in the battlefield while the local populace can carry on with their life without any fear or loss. And the Buddhist monks are delighted with the Prince as he got his soldiers to rebuild and repair many of their monasteries. Isn’t this atrocious? When I meet the Prince, I will surely tell him that I most sternly object to his actions,”
“You must surely tell him that. How dare the Prince act in a manner that could upset you thus? Who does he think he is? Has he sprouted horns in his head?”
“No he hasn’t but Thambi, the Prince possesses a strange power. Even those who disapprove his actions behind his back will find it difficult to speak up in his presence. Only one person possesses that power; the power to make him do anything,”
“Yes. Truly, only the great Vaishnavar Azhwarkadiyan Nambi possesses the power to make the Prince do anything that he wishes. A Prince is surely no match for a man who sent the raging wild elephant to his death,”
“Thambi! You misunderstand me. One cannot compare by any measure a man like Ponniyin Selvar and a poor Brahmin like me. I can bravely face a wild elephant. I might even kill tigers, leopards and bears with my bare hands. But when I come face-to-face with the Prince, all my bravado vanishes. My heart melts and I find it very difficult to articulate, even a word…”
“Then who is this person, who possesses the power to make him do anything?”
“The whole world knows about this. It is surprising that you do not know. I was referring to Princess Kundavai. The Prince will never go against her wishes,”
“Oho! You were talking about Elaya Piratti is it? I thought that you might be referring to your sister Nandini Devi,”
“Nandini too possesses great deal of power but hers is different,”
“How? In what way?”
“If someone is about to go to hell, then Kundavai Devi possesses the power to send him to heavens instead. That’s one kind of power. But do you know what Nandini would do? It wouldn’t be amiss to say that her power is a shade stronger than Kundavai’s. Nandini would convince you that hell is a much better place than the heaven and would have you jumping around happily in hell. That’s her power!”
Vandiya Devan got goose pimples when he heard this. He was astonished by the fact that this Vaishnavan could describe Nandini’s dangerous charm and seductive power so accurately. He even wondered whether Nandini could truly be this man’s sister? Pondering about this deeply, they walked for a while in silence.
The silence was broken by the hoof sounds of a few horse soldiers coming from the opposite direction. Within a few seconds a few galloping stallions passed them by creating a storm of dust and dirt in its wake. But Vandiya Devan managed to look at the face of one of the riders. Aha! What is Parthibendra Pallavan doing in Elangai? What is Prince Aditya Karikalan’s close confidante and sworn sword doing in Elangai? Vandiya Devan was also reminded of the fact that the Pallavan didn’t like him very much.
Soon enough an authoritative voice shouted, “Stop!” and all the horses stopped at his command while the Pallavan turned his around and came near them. He stared hard at Vandiya Devan and then said, “What are you doing here thambi? I heard that you vanished overnight in Thanjavur. I had thought that the Pazhuvur lords would have taken care of you by now,”
“It is quite difficult to get rid of me, My Lord. I am after all the scion of the brave Vanar clan,”
“So you have somehow saved your skin. I always knew that you were clever enough for that.”
“Ayya! I know when to save my life and when you sacrifice it. I would rather give up my life with a sword in hand sparring with a warrior like you, rather than die like a spy in the hands of the Pazhuvur lords,” said Vandiya Devan and drew his sword.
“Che! Che! I have no intention of granting your wish, thambi! I have more important work to do here. Whatever happened to the messages that our Prince had given you?”
“I have delivered both the messages my Lord. To the King and to the Princess as well,”
“What are you doing here then?”
“I had long wished to see Elangai, therefore I came here along with this Vaishnavan,”
“Aha! This Vaishnavan too seems familiar to me,”
“Yes Maharaja! I had come to the Prince to ask him about my sister’s whereabouts. You were next to him…”
“Who is your sister?”
“She is now the younger queen of the Pazhuvur lord.”
“If you are truly the brother of that snake, then you ought to be put to death,”
“Maharaja! One day, I will come to you on my own to fulfil that wish,”
“It would be impossible to impale you on a stake unless I have over a hundred men. Be that as it may, tell me something, have you heard anything about the Prince’s whereabouts? Has he returned to Anuradhapuram?”
“How will we know, about that Maharaja? We came by the forest path and there was a wild elephant that gave us a chase and do you know what happened then?”
“That’s enough. I have no time for your ridiculous tales. And I might just grant your wish if you continue,” said Parthibendran impatiently and turned his horse.
Azhwarkadiyan in the meanwhile was busy staring at the Pallavan’s companions while he was talking to him and after they left, he turned towards Vandiya Devan and said, “Thambi! Did you notice that Pallavan’s three companions? Have you ever seen them before?”
“No. I have never seen them,”
“I have. I have seen two of them at the ruins of Thirupurampayam Palli Padai, in the midnight. I still shudder, when I think about the terrible oath that they swore,”
“What terrible oath?”
“They swore a blood oath to destroy the seed of the Cholas,”
“I am surprised that they arrived here so soon. They are quite cunning and clever. They have now become companions of this rogue Pallavan. I don’t know what to make of this,”
Vandiya Devan was reminded of something that he learned at Kodi Karai. Puguzhali had told him that her brother had ferried two men to Elangai, two days before he had arrived there. “Could these be the men who had come along with her brother? If these men were plotting to destroy the Chola race, then what is the role of Parthibendran in this plot?” wondered Vandiya Devan even as they neared Thambalai.