As they moved towards the mandapam, Vandiya Devan neared Azhwarkadiyan and said, “Why is the Prince acting like this? The day we met, he started a fistfight and today a sword fight. Why is he attacking me like this, without any warning? His friendship seems to be very dangerous.”
The Prince who happened to walk near them heard this and said, “Yes. My friendship is indeed very dangerous. You would have realized this last night. You should probably stay as far as possible away from me,”
“My Prince, I am prepared to face any kind of danger standing beside you but when you attack like this suddenly …”
Azhwarkadiyan interjected here and said, “Thambi! Don’t you realize why he did that? The Prince wanted to know who was coming and sought to stop them. Whoever it was, they would stop and watch if two people were fighting in the middle of the road, wouldn’t they?”
Prince said, “Thirumalai is correct. You should also know one more thing about me. Many astrologers have said that there is something very special about my horoscope it seems. Friends who are close to me will inevitably invite jealousy and envy. That’s why I would fight them all the time. So if you wish to be my friend, you should be prepared for this,”
“If that is so, then I will not wait for you to start the fight. I will start it myself. Prince! I have been amiss in my duties. I brought you many important messages from your sister but I forgot one particular message. I will have to give it to you now as there is no other alternative. If you do not wish to hear it, then draw your sword again,”
“There is no need for that. Tell me the message,”
“While we were fighting, did you notice a girl standing in the crowd with a kumud flower in hand? You said, that she distracted me, when I lost the fight? Do you know who that girl is?”
“No. I didn’t look at her properly. I don’t look at women by habit,”
“Ayya! It was she who had sent you the message and I forgot all about it. I have been busy getting defeated in fistfights and swordplay and escaping from mansions that fall on our head ever since I met you. I didn’t find a suitable opportunity to give this message to you. While we were fighting, I saw her in the crowd and remembered the message that she sent you and that’s when you disarmed me,”
“Alright. Who is this girl and why would she send me a message?
“Ayya! That girl’s name is Poonguzhali.”
“Beautiful name, but I don’t believe I know her,”
“Ayya! Do you at least remember the name ‘Samudra Kumari’?”
“Samudra Kumari! Samudra Kumari! I don’t recall this name. I don’t even remember meeting her,”
“Ayya! I beseech you to try and remember, if you don’t, this girl will be heart broken. You met her at Kodi Karai when you were ready to take a boat to your ship. Just then you saw a girl rowing a boat coming near the shore. When she came near, you asked her father, “Who is this girl? And her father replied, ‘This my Kumari!” To this, you said, “Is that so? I thought she was Samudra Kumari!” That girl did not forget these words of yours and has since called herself as ‘Samudra Kumari’. She helped me cross the seas to come to you…”
“Ah! I remember meeting her now. But why is she here with these people? What could possibly make a boat girl from Kodi Karai come all the way to Anuradhapuram? Has she perchance come searching for you?”
“No. That is not possible. She wouldn’t come here searching for me. If she has come here it could be only for you, though I can’t fathom the reason,”
Saying thus he chanced a look at the subject of their conversation. She was walking placidly along with Commander Budhi Vikrama Kesari with her head bent but Vandiya Devan could sense that she was intensely aware of everything that Prince Arul Mozhi Varmer said and did. He also realized that she knew that at that very minute, they were discussing about her. That probably accounted for her sudden modesty.
They neared the mandapam and saw that though it had no roof the surrounding trees and the thick foliage that surrounded it would give them enough shelter. There was a large seat in the center of this mandapam where the Prince, Parthibendra Pallavan and Commander Budhi Vikrama Kesari sat themselves. Vandiya Devan and Azhwarkadiyan stood at a distance near them while Poonguzhali found herself a pillar to lean on, while her eyes were fixated on the Prince. The accompanying army, horses and the foot soldiers awaited their commanders near the woods that surrounded the mandapam.
The Prince asked Parthibendran, “What message did my brother and grandsire send me?
“My Prince! The Kingdom is under grave danger. You probably know about this…”
“Yes I do. The Chakravarthi has been ill for a very long time,”
“That isn’t the only danger that I am talking about. The Kingdom is under threat from many factions. Many of your father’s liege lords have turned traitors and are plotting treason against the King, the Crown Prince and you. They are plotting to enthrone that pious cat Madhuranthakan who knows nothing about running a Kingdom. The Pazhuvur lords, Sambuverayars, Erattai Kudai Rajaliyar, Mazhapadi Mazhavarayar and many others are in this plot. But there is no need to worry about it as we have the border armies of West and North are under our control and we have the support of powerful lords like Malayaman and Kodumbalur Periya Vellar. We can vanquish these treasonous lords within no time but we should not give them time to plan their next move. We will need to destroy everybody who is in cahoots with these lords. Your grandsire is of the opinion that you should stay near your brother, lest these lords try to poison your mind against each other. That’s why he has sent me here, to bring you to Kanchi.
Your brother has also bid me to tell you that he has no wish to rule the Kingdom. He wishes to travel far and wide and conquer lands that lie across the seas. He wants to travel to distant lands that were once under the rule of Cholas and hoist our tiger flag there. Ever since the Pazhuvur lords restricted him from expanding towards the west, his thirst for battle has increased ted-fold times. After you come with me to Kanchi, he is planning to take an army to Thanjavur and destroy our foes there and then coronate you as the King and leave for…
The Prince who was listening to him patiently until then, closed his ears and said, “Please don’t say such words. I have no intention of ruling the kingdom,”
“If you do not wish to hear, then I will not talk about it here as this is best discussed with your brother. But it is imperative that you brothers join hands to destroy those who are plotting against the crown. It is important that you leave immediately along with me to Kanchi. Let us destroy the entire clan of these liege lords Pazhuvetrayars and Sambuverayars. Let us send that pious fool Madhuranthakan to Shiva logam and then you brothers can decide what needs to be done about the succession,”
“Ayya! Do we decide everything here? Shouldn’t we ask my father, the Chakravarthi about his wishes? Did my father convey his wishes about this matter to my brother?”
“My Prince! There is no cause to hide the truth anymore. It is impossible to learn the wishes of your father. The Chakravarthi is imprisoned in the Thanjavur Fort. No one can meet him without the permission of the Pazhuvur Lords and there is no question of talking to him in private. Your brother tried all means possible to make him come to Kanchi. He sent him messages one after another inviting him to the Golden Palace that he has built in Kanchi but there was no reply…”
“It would be difficult for my father to travel since he lost the use of his legs,”
“Prince! Those are mere excuses. Your father is the Chakravarthi, the King of three worlds. He could travel on an elephant, a horse, a chariot or a palanquin. His loyal liege lords should consider it an honour to carry him on their heads if the need arises. But that isn’t the reason. The Pazhuvur lords are determined to keep him imprisoned in the Fort, under their guard. My Prince! You will need to come with me to Kanchi if you wish to save your father’s life,”
It was evident from the Prince’s face that Parthibendran’s words had shaken him to the core. With his forehead creased with worry, the Prince sat silent for a while and then looked Kodumbalur Periya Vellar and said, “Dalapathy! What do you advise? Few days ago, Prime Minister Anirudha Brahma Rayar had come here. You know that he is my father’s close confidante and holds him in high regard. He advised me to stay in Elangai for some more time and you agreed with him. When I said, ‘The war here is at a standstill, then why should I stay here?’ you tried to convince me about staying here. The Prime Minister sent the same message again with this Vaishnavan.
You know the regard and respect that I have for my sister, Elaya Piratti, Kundavai Devi. I have always acted on her counsel and it was she who had sent me here to lead the army in Elangai. Now she has sent the Prince of Vallam with a message, asking me to come immediately to Pazhaiarai, while my brother wants me to come to Kanchi. What do you suggest, Dalapathy?”
“My Prince! Until this morning, I believed that you should stay here in Elangai. Parthibendran argued until the wee hours of the morning about you going to Kanchi, but I did not agree. But when that girl, who is standing there, came with a message this morning that changed my mind. I am of the opinion that you will need to go to Kanchi immediately along with Parthibendran.”
The Prince looked at Poonguzhali who had been watching him intently from behind the pillar and said, “They say that Abhimanyu was killed by foes who surrounded him from all directions while I am being killed by messages from everywhere. What is so special about this message that this girl has brought?”
“It is best that you hear it from her own lips,”
“You, girl! Come forward and tell the Prince,”
Poonguzhali came forward from behind the pillar but she couldn’t say even a word. With her lips trembling, she stood there looking at the Prince.
“Aha! Seems like the entire world has gone mute,” said the Prince. That was the last straw for her. She looked up to see his face once more while tears filled her beautiful eyes. She turned around and ran away from there before anybody could react.
Surprised by her actions, everybody looked at her until she vanished among the woods. Vandiya Devan came forward immediately and said, “Ayya! This girl tried to run away from me once and I was able to catch her. Allow me go after her,”
“Do that. Dalapathy! In the meanwhile, tell us about this message that she had brought,”
“It is quite simple. Prince! Two large ships have been sent to Elangai by the Pazhuvur Lords to arrest you for treason. Even as we speak, these ships lie anchored at shores of Thondaimaan,”