After the Prince announced his decision, the Lord Commander took Parthibendra Pallavan aside and spoke to him in confidence. Next he called the commanders of his army and issued orders, dispatching them in various directions.
Parthibendran bid his farewell to the Prince saying, “It is quite unfortunate that I have to leave this Island empty handed. Your brother will be very angry with me for not fulfilling this mission. But there is aught that I can do when you are so stubborn. I will call upon all those who are here as witnesses to absolve me from any blame,”
The Prince smiled and said, “Why do you leave so hurriedly then? Why don’t you come along with us to Thondaiman river?”
“I will not be a party to this action of yours, Prince. My ship awaits me at Trikonamalai. I wish to hurry back to your brother and give him news about whatever happened here,” he said and then turned towards Vandiya Devan, “Vallava! Do you wish to return to Kanchi along with me?”
Startled by this sudden question, Vandiya Devan replied, “No. I wish to go with the Prince,”
“Very well then. You will regret your decision, I am sure.” Said Parthibendran and left with an escort of soldiers that the Commander had provided.
“What did that Pallavan mean by I would regret my decision of staying back with the Prince? Do you know?” asked Vandiya Devan to Azhwarkadiyan.
“I suspect that Lord Commander and that Pallavan are up to something. We will learn about it soon enough. If you ask me, Kodumbalur Periya Vellar is solely responsible for the present predicament of the Prince’s”
“How so? What did the Commander do?”
“He has a niece in Pazhaiarai staying with Princess Kundavai,”
“Yes. Princess Vanathi.”
“Yes. The commander wants the Prince to marry her and rule the Kingdom of Elangai as a king. It was he who urged the Maha Gurus of Elangai to offer the throne to him. But was he prudent enough to keep his efforts under wraps. No. The news of this, reached Thanjavur, which was why my guru, Anirudha Brahma Rayar sent me here to warn the Prince. Vandiya Deva! No matter what happens, we will need to keep ourselves safe as we will be called at the court to give evidence about the Prince’s innocence,”
By then, the Commander had dispatched his army save a few soldiers, in all directions with various instructions. After a while, the Prince’s entourage started with the Commander, Vandiya Devan, Azhawarkadiyan on horse back and Poonguzhali atop the elephant and a few soldiers who were retained. They travelled towards north on the King’s road for a while, but their journey was interrupted numerous times by people who crowded them on both the sides of the road to see the Prince. The villagers near the King’s road had somehow learned that the Prince was on his way and they gathered on the road to cheer.
Long Live Arul Mozhi Varmar! Long live the Prince!
The crowd on the road kept growing with more and more people jostling them, making it impossible to travel. Some tried to follow their horses too!
When the Prince expressed his displeasure about the situation to the Senathipathy, they moved from the King’s road and entered the woods to continue their journey. But the journey through the forest was fraught with natural hindrance and their progress was slow. By mid-day they reached a large lotus pond where hosts from the villages had gathered learning somehow that the Prince would be travelling there. They cheered wildly when the Prince’s party neared them. The commander stopped his horse and said, “Let me go ahead and find out what they want,”
He came back after a while saying, “The villagers around here have somehow learned that the Prince would be traveling through these woods. They have cooked a feast for the Prince and want him to partake their humble offering,”
The villagers neared the Prince gazing at his face with astonishment. Cheering for him enthusiastically, “Long Live the Prince!” Long live Conqueror of Elangai” “Long live the King of Elangai!”
The Prince who looked amused by these cheers called their leader nearby and asked, “Why do your people call me ‘King of Elangai’?
The village head bowed his head respectfully and said, “Prince! Our Kingdom has suffered much under the reign of Kings who would desert us during our time of need. That’s why it is the dearest wish of the people that you ascend the throne of Elangai,”
They partook the feast that the villagers had prepared for them and by the time, they bid their farewells it was very late in the day.
Vandiya Devan and Azhwarkadiyan sat conversing in low voices during the feast. “Thambi! Do you see? This entire feast by the villagers was the Senathipathy’s idea of stalling the Prince. That’s why he sent his commanders ahead to alert and inform the villagers about the Prince’s arrival,”
“It is quite evident but I don’t understand what he means to achieve by making these villagers say that they want the Prince as their King. Does he think that the Prince might reconsider his decision of refusing the throne of Elangai?”
“That might be one of the plans. But he want to stall our journey, that much is evident,”
“Why does he want to do that?”
“I do not know that yet but we will learn it soon enough. Look at the Prince! He isn’t relishing neither the feast nor this interruption to his plans,”
Vandiya Devan looked at the Prince and noted his displeasure. The Prince who was always composed and calm looked angry and sullen.
Poonguzhali in the meanwhile was sitting in a corner by the Lotus pond immersed in deep contemplation about their journey and the disappointment that she felt. She had hoped that she would have ample opportunity to talk to the Prince during the journey. She had blithely imagined many a happy hour spent talking and laughing with the Prince of her dreams. She thought that she would be able to reveal some of her heart’s desires to him during the course of their journey but none of her dreams came to pass. The Prince was forever surrounded by people and crowds.
It looks like I would be blamed in the end for handing the Prince over to his enemies. Why should I do it? Why can’t I run away from here while everyone is at the feast? I can escape the Senathipathy’s wrath… Che! Why should I bother if the Senathipathy is angry with me? I am not answerable to him or to anybody…Why should I allow my desires and wishes to be buried within my heart? Why should I live this life when I can’t follow my heart? Why doesn’t the lightening strike at me suddenly and end my suffering? I have wished for it so many times but the Gods haven’t heard my prayers yet. Maybe I could end this life myself and relieve my suffering…
Oh! What is this? Is this a dream? Isn’t that the dagger that Vandiya Devan threw at the bushes? It went missing when we tried to search for it. How did it end up here? Could that enemy be near here? Did he try to throw it on me and fell short? Let me tuck it in safely. I will feel safer with a blade in hand. I can fulfil my promise to the Prince and then I can use the dagger to end my suffering…No… not in front of him… that would be too cruel. I could take the boat and give up my life in the middle of the sea… My dear dagger I truly thank the man who threw you on my way again…
Poonguzhali’s mind’s eye conjured a vision where she lay with the dagger deeply entrenched in her and heart and with the blood flowing freely. The Prince would then come to her running and gasping for breath. He would say, “Ayyo! You are giving up your life for me?” Poonguzhali would then look up to him with glowing eyes while he would wrap his arms around her. Her blood would drench his clothes while his tears would drench hers. Poonguzhali would then laugh and say, “My Prince! At last you have divined the secret desire of my heart,” The Prince would say, “I know your heart’s desire… but you didn’t have to die to fulfill it.” Poonguzhali’s heart was singing hundred songs of joy and she laughed out aloud!
“You! Mad girl!” called out a voice and Poonguzhali looked up to see Vandiya Devan standing in front of her. “The Prince is angry as it is because of the delay. I won’t have you delaying this journey any further. Come with us now,”
Poonguzhali got up laughing and cheerfully got atop the elephant that had carried her so far…
They started the their journey again but were soon interrupted ominously when an arrow almost fell upon the Prince. Thankfully, he reined in his horse at the nick of the time and the arrow grazed near to him and struck Azhwarkadiyan’s turban and fell down.
Azhwarkadiyan felt his head for injuries, shocked by the sudden turn of events. Poonguzhali on the other hand felt sad that the arrow didn’t kill her instead. Senathipathy who looked shocked and surprized came near the Prince, saying, “My prince! Did you see? Thankfully, I didn’t send you alone. You are in grave danger here,” Then he asked his soldiers to search the nearby woods for the assassins but they couldn’t find anyone in the foliage.
Flustered and alarmed, the Senathipathy started making plans to safeguard the Prince for the rest of the journey. “The Prince needs to travel in the middle while we will travel around his horse guarding him from all directions…”
The Prince interjected saying, “Commander, I have a request…”
“Prince! I am here to serve you. Command me,”
“Senathipathy! I wish to reach Thanjavur alive. I need to prove to my father that I am innocent,”
“Prince! Your father knows that you never aspired to usurp the Elangai throne,”
“I still need to prove that these charges that have been laid against me as untrue. Until then, it is imperative that I keep my life safe,”
“My Prince, I will use this dagger to end my life if I cannot save yours,”
“If you do that, the Chola Kingdom will have lost one of its brave commanders,”
“Yet it wouldn’t be more grievous than losing you, Prince. I have sworn to protect you and if I fail, I will fall upon this sword and slay myself,”
“Since these assassins seem to be following me everywhere, and I fear that if we travel by horse any longer, we will see more such arrows falling upon us,”
“Are you suggesting that we walk or else…”
“Senathipathy! I know the language of elephants and I have travelled atop them many a time in this Island Kingdom. I will don the role of the mahout and travel on this elephant. The mahout can ride my horse,”
The Commander was silent for a while thinking about the Prince’s plan. He looked at the others, hoping that they would have some objection to it.
“Ayya! What if the mahout can’t ride the horse?”
“He can walk or return to the King’s road then,”
“That girl is very strange. What if she refuses to travel on the elephant along with you?”
“She is free to walk or ride the horse, if she can.”
“Alright. As you wish,”
The Prince immediately dismounted from stallion and came near the elephant. Poonguzhali’s beautiful eyes widened when she saw the Mahout getting down and the Prince taking his place.
|Poonguzhali and Ponniyin Selvar|
Their journey resumed again. Poonguzhali was in seventh heaven. The elephant suddenly grew in size enabling her to touch the clouds. It was a dream that she dared not believe. Whose sweet voice is that? But of course the Prince was speaking…
“Samudra Kumari! Would you mind if I travel along with you on this elephant?”
“I will consider it as a boon that the Gods have showered on me, My Prince”
“If this elephant starts running suddenly would you be afraid?”
“I will not be afraid even if the sky falls upon us, so long as you are with me,”
“Where did you leave your boat, Poonguzhali?”
“Near Yannai Eravu (Elephant’s Pass) on the opposite bank,”
“How did you cross Yannai Eravu?”
“When I came the tide was low, so I walked a bit and then swam ashore,”
“Would you get scared if this elephant were to get into the sea?”
“I won’t be scared if it pushes me into the sea. I am Samudra Kumari and it was ‘you’ who gave me this name,”
“When we reach Yannai Earavu, let us go in your boat. You would be able to row the boat with two people in it, wouldn’t you?”
“These hands have plied the boat since I was ten years old. They are not soft to touch like those of the Princess who live in palaces. Didn’t your friend Vandiya Devan tell you about how I brought him to Elangai?”
“He did but today you might have to row much faster than you ever did. We need to reach Thondaimaan River as soon as possible,”
“Prince! I came with the news of these ships hoping to save you from your enemies. Why did you bid me to guide your way there? Don’t you have any mercy in your heart for your slave?”
“Poonguzhali! My father is sick and bedridden. Don’t you know it?”
“I know. People are fearing for his life, ever since the comet appeared on the sky,”
“If he dies before I met him, I would never forgive myself. He would leave this world thinking that I tried to usurp this Kingdom,”
“Chakravarthy would never think thus. This is a plot hatched by the Pazhvur lords,”
“If that is so, then I would like to prove to them that I am not a traitor,”
“In truth, I have no wish to rule this kingdom or any other,”
“Then, what is it that you wish for?”
“I wish to sail on a boat on the endless sea… I wish to visit all the island kingdoms that we ruled and lost. I wish to meet the people of these kingdoms and learn more about them…”
“Strange… very strange,”
“What is strange?”
“That you should wish for things that I have wished for years… Will you take me along with you when you set sail on your boat,”
“I need to fulfil my duty to my King and the Kingdom first. Will you help me?”
“I live to serve you, my Prince.”
“There is a rope hanging from both sides of the elephant, grab it in your hands and hold on to it tightly,”
“Because the elephant is going to run now Poonguzhali!” said the Prince and bent down to whisper something in the elephant’s ears. Soon the elephant’s pace quickened and then broke into a run trumpeting loudly. The speed of the elephant could only be compared to that of a hurricane and soon their companions and the entourage were far behind while the other wild animals of the forest scurried for cover to escape the mad rampaging elephant.
“Ayyo! The elephant has gone mad! What shall we do now?” shouted Senathipathy wildly
Despite the Prince’s warning, Poonguzhali’s heart was filled with dread. She felt as if she was stuck in a gigantic whirlpool with no way to escape. The elephant however didn’t slacken its pace until they reached Yannai Eravu.