The horses seemed to gallop endlessly for Vandiya Devan through that long winding forest path that would never end. As they went deep into the dark forest, Vandiya Devan wondered whether they would roam around the forest until wild beasts consumed them. He knew that Thambillai was the last city that the Chola army had captured in this island kingdom. What if this Vaishnavan had betrayed me to the enemies? What if he is luring me towards the enemy? Will he hand me over to them as a hostage?
Thankfully the moonlight beamed through the trees of the forest lighting their path dimly. The three horses that were speeding ahead of them were mere shadows now though the sound of their hoofs reverberated through the silent forest.
Suddenly they heard other sounds; muffled sounds of human voices, laughter and cheers. Soon enough they could see a clearing in the midst of the forest. Soldiers were seen sitting and chatting under the trees while a large vessel was cooking something appetizing under a huge pit of fire. Who are these soldiers? Do they belong to the Cholas or the Elangai king? Why are they in the forest?
Vandiya Devan had very few seconds to wonder about this but that was time enough for one of the horses that were galloping ahead to stop and come towards them. Whilst Vandiya Devan was noting the number of soldiers who had camped amidst the forest, the single horse bearing a soldier approached him suddenly and took him unaware by hitting him on the chest. Startled, Vandidya Devan tried to hit him back but the soldier was quite fast as he bent down and pushed our hero from his horse. Vandiya Devan fell down from the horse with a thud while his horse galloped away in fear.
The soldier who had pushed Vandiya Devan got down from his horse and came near him. Disoriented by the sudden attack, Vandiya Devan got up and would have unsheathed his sword but the clever soldier was quick on the draw as he took his sword from the scabbard and threw it away. It was a challenge that not only cleared Vandiya Devan’s head but also aroused his anger. He immediately made a strong fist and hit him back. Soon they were hitting each other and trying to overpower the other. As the crowd gathered around to see their fist fight, they fought with renewed vigour and force. Their fight could probably be compared to the legendary battle between Hidamba and Bheema or even Arujuna and Lord Shiva who was disguised as a hunter from the tales of Mahabharatham.
Azhwarkadiyan and other soldiers who had escorted them watched the fight with astonishment. Soon the rest of the soldiers from the camp gathered there, shouting encouragement and cheering them madly.
In the end, Vandiya Devan was overpowered by the soldier who sat on his chest and opened his waist cloth and grabbed the message that he had brought across the sea. Vandiya Devan tried his utmost to shake him off his chest but he was rendered powerless.
With the Olai in hand, the soldier sprang to his feet and went near the fire log that one of the soldiers was holding. He also signaled few other soldiers to hold Vandiya Devan, lest he tried to attack him again.
Maddened with anger and infuriated by his defeat, Vandiya Devan turned towards his erstwhile companion, the Vaishnavan and said, “You wretch! How could you betray me thus? Grab that message from him, now.”
“I cannot do that my boy!”
“Chi! I have never seen a worse coward than you in my life. I should never have trusted you,”
Azhwarkadiyan in the meanwhile got down from his horse and walked towards our hero with a slow gait and whispered, “My boy! Don’t despair. The message you brought so carefully from across the sea has reached the right person,”
Even as he whispered these words, the soldiers who were watching them had seen the man who was reading the Olai and they raised a cheer that would have roused the dead.
|Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar|
“Hail Ponniyin Selvar!”
“Long live our Prince!”
Long live Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar!”
Their hails and cheers brought out the entire army of soldiers who were garrisoned in the woods and noting that the crowds were increasing, the Prince addressed them, “I would like you all to help prepare the feast. I will come there shortly,”
The minute he uttered the words, all the soldiers turned around and went back leaving the Prince alone with Vandiya Devan and Azhwarkadiyan.
Battered and bruised, Vandiya Devan looked up in astonishment when he realized that he had been fighting the very Prince for whom he had brought the message.
Aha! So this is Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar. What strength he bears in his arms? I should consider myself lucky to be alive after an encounter with him. He is as handsome as Arjunan and as strong as Bheeman! It is indeed no surprise that people all over Chola Kingdom are singing his praises…
It is indeed a shame that the man who lent his name to this epic, who would one day, become the greatest king in the history of South India, is introduced to the readers thus but our hero is meeting him for the first time therefore it was quite impossible to meet him otherwise.
|King Raja Raja Chola |
The Prince neared Vandiya Devan with a welcoming smile and said, “My friend, I welcome you this beautiful island Kingdom of Elangai. You came here braving the high seas, so I thought that it would be fit to welcome a brave soldier with a battle of fist. Did you enjoy the welcome that I gave you or would you perchance prefer a more warmer welcome?”
Vandiya Devan sprang to his feet and bowed low to the Prince and said, “My Prince! The message that your sister had sent with me, has reached your hands. My duty is complete and my mission is accomplished. There is no need to save this life anymore,”
“Aha! What do I say? You may not worry about your life anymore. It would be my responsibility from this moment onwards. I am answerable to Elaya Piratti for your life henceforth. My friend, this letter that you brought for me was written by my sister’s own hand. Did she give it to you in person?”
“Yes. My Prince. I was fortunate enough to receive it from the Princess’s graceful hands. After that, I didn’t tarry anywhere and journeyed here day and night,”
“That’s evident enough or else it would be impossible to come here so soon. I am at a loss of words to express my gratitude to you,” said the Prince and embraced Vandiya Devan.
All the pain and bruises that the Prince had inflicted on him seemed to fade away in his warm embrace and Vandiya Devan was in the seventh heaven.