Sunday, 17 May 2015

Chapter 39: ‘Here is your war’

When Vandiya Devan shouted his warning, ‘Ayya, draw your sword,’ the Prince heeded it by immediately. Vandiya Devan too drew his sword. They were not ordinary swords but were large and heavy with a sharp edge to it. The soldiers who had met them near the Maha Bodhi tree had given them the swords.

The Prince jumped down from his horse and shouted, “You! Get down now! I can’t bear your upstart behaviour anymore. I mean to put an end to it right away,”

Vandiya Devan shocked by the Prince’s words stared at him wordlessly. He couldn’t decide whether this was for real or a joke. Nonetheless, he got down from his horse.

“Why are you hesitating now? You didn’t hesitate to insult my dynasty last night. Didn’t you say that my forebears were made to wait at the courtyard of your ancestors to await the audience of the Kings from your dynasty? Didn’t you say that the gifts that my ancestors gave your ancestors were given away to mere poets and bards? I can’t the bear the thought of this insult. I want to avenge it!” cried the Prince with anger and came near Vandiya Devan with his sword swirling over his head.

As we mentioned before, these were no ordinary swords. They were massive blades that would require prodigious skill to lift but the way Prince Arul Mozhi was swirling it over his head, it almost seemed weightless.

Those who witnessed their encounter would realize immediately that this was no ordinary Prince who spent his days cushioned within the Palace enjoying the luxuries that his birth afforded.  Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar at that moment almost resembled the warriors of yore, Arujuna and Bheema, the Pandava brothers and great warrior kings of Cholas, Karikala Vallavan and Vijayalaya Cholan.

Vandiya Devan started swirling his sword defensively to parry the Prince’s strokes. At first, he was confused by the Prince’s actions and was hesitant to attack but as their dance became intense his eyes would note only the sword that was moving towards him. With his blood up, Vandiya Devan’s sword clashed with the Prince’s and they fought intensely with the sole intention of disarming each other.

Their dance of war soon reached a stage where the clash of their swords raised the sound of, ‘Danaar’ ‘Danaar’ over and above the sounds of the horses that were approaching them. With their bodies glistening with sweat, they stopped noticing their surroundings and were intent on their swordplay. Azhwarkadiyan didn’t understand the Prince’s actions in the beginning but he knew that Arul Mozhi must have had some reason to attack his companion. He soon realized that the Prince wanted to stop the horsemen coming towards them so he sought to aid him in this plan by moving their horses to the middle of the road.

The army of horsemen approached them near and Azhwarkadiyan was relieved to note that they were holding aloft the Tiger flag of the Cholas. But who was coming?

They learned it soon enough when the drum beaters came forward to announce, “Hail the Commander whose bravery made the King of Elangai run away to his mountain hideout! Hail the Commander who beheaded the King of Pandyas! Make way for the Commander of Chola Army, Kodumbalur Periya Vellar, Budhi Vikrama Kesari!

Hail the brave companion of Crown Prince Aditya Karikalar! Hail the brave sword that vanquished the army of Vengai!! Make way for Parthibendra Pallavar!”
Kodumbalur Budhi Vikrama Kesari
After the drum beaters and the announcers came thirty horse soldiers bearing swords and spears and in their midst the Commander Budhi Vikrama Kesari and Parthibendran came mounted on white horses. A large elephant followed the horsemen and a woman mounted on top of it.

Following the elephant, a battalion of foot soldiers came following them raising a cloud of dust on the road. When the horses reigned suddenly to a halt thanks to the obstruction that Azhwarkadiyan had made, the entire army stopped to watch the men fighting. Soon questions were raised as to who was fighting and men jostled to come to the front to see the spectacle. “Who is fighting? Who are they?”

As the soldiers started following the sword fight between the Prince and Vandiya Devan, they started whispering among themselves and cheering for their favourite.

Commander Budhi Vikrama Kesari and Parthibendra Pallavan dismounted from their horses and came forward to watch the fight.

Parthibendran incensed by the spectacle that was unfolding in front of them said to the Commander, “I told you about that upstart Prince of Vallam. Here he is, fighting with our Prince. How can we watch this silently?” and tried to draw his sword.

Budhi Vikrama Kesari, held his hand and said, “No, please don’t. What a wonderful fight? It’s been so long since we saw anything like this,”

As the fight proceeded intently, the foot soldiers numbering around 300 joined the horsemen to watch the swordplay of the warriors. The woman who had travelled on the elephant dismounted from it and moved among the soldiers to watch the fight. Her face was alight with a delight that was indescribable. Her beautiful eyes followed the movement of the sword and its wielders intently. As the fight progressed fiercely her hands played with a flower imitating their moves. There is no need to introduce her to the readers, as they are quite familiar with our enigmatic boat girl, Poonguzhali.

For a while, the Prince and Vandiya Devan were fighting each other from a position where Poonguzhali could watch the former’s face. They soon moved from that position and now Vandiya Devan could see her. Throughout the fight, Vandiya Devan’s eyes though focussed on the fight would also note the other things that were happening around them. But when his gaze fell on Poonguzhali, he got distracted for a second and that was long enough for the Prince to disarm him. Cheers and hails of victory rose from the crowd that was gathered there and in their midst a peal of laughter was heard from the boat girl. When Vandiya Devan tried to retrieve his sword, the Prince threw his sword down and embraced him heartily saying, “You were not defeated by my sword. You matched my strokes equally. You fell because you were no match for a woman’s beautiful eyes. There is no shame in that. It can happen to anybody,”

Before Vandiya Devan could give his explanations about that, Commander Budhi Vikrama Kesari and Parthibendra Pallavan had joined them, “Prince! It was I who sent this boy to you. Did his behaviour displease you? I was very worried when I saw this fight,”

“Yes Commander. He did displease me. Right from the time we met he has been asking me, ‘They said there is a war happening in Elangai. Where is it happening?’ So I decided to show him, ‘Here is your war,’”

Hearing this cheers and shouts rang again from the crowd that was gathered around them. The Commander neared Vandiya Devan and clapped his back proudly saying, “Thambi! It has been a very long time since I had seen a sword fight like this. You are undoubtedly a worthy warrior to partner him in battle. The Prince often gets an itch to fight like this. He is after all the great grandson of King Paranthakan I who was known as ‘Kunjara Mallan’. You should know that those who do not have the temerity to fight him like this, will not remain his friend for long,”

The Prince in the meanwhile had greeted Parthibendra Pallavan saying, “Ayya! I hastened to meet you when I heard that you had come. How does my brother fare in Kanchi? Is my grandfather keeping good health?”

“Prince! Your brother and father have sent you important messages. It has taken five days for me to find your whereabouts in Elangai. Let us not tarry for a second…”

“If it were not important, surely you wouldn’t have come here on your own. Tell me about these messages,”

The Commander who heard their conversation said, “Let us not discuss this in amidst this crowd. I see an old dilapidated mandapam there. Let us move there and talk. Thankfully there is no dearth of old mandapams in Elangai,” 

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Volume 1 - New Flood