Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Chapter 47: The Captain’s Death

Oomai Rani on horseback
It is easy to guess who the woman riding the horse’s bareback was. The Prince immediately went near the horse along with Poonguzhali. The others lingered back watching and wondering how a woman could tame and ride an Arab horse with such ease.

Oomai Rani got down from the horse and cast a worrying glance at the Commander, Vaishnavan and the soldiers behind then. She then proceeded to speak with Poonguzhali in sign language.

“My aunt has seen something strange in the forest. She wants us to accompany us,” said Poonguzhali.

The Prince immediately decided to leave with her and asked her whether he is allowed to bring the others. Oomai Rani thought for a moment and then nodded her assent and they journeyed towards South East direction through the thick forest. As they followed her deep into the forest, they had to hurry to keep up with her and the Prince’s eagerness increased with each step. He intuitively knew that something of importance has happened or else Oomai Rani wouldn’t take him on such a long journey through the dangerous woods. The reason for this was soon upon them.

In a small clearing through the woods, they noticed bodies of slain men, soldiers and sailors savagely cut with bleeding wounds and the rotting stink of dead men. The Commander and the Prince who has seen countless wars were astonished by the savagery of the enemy who had cut down the men mercilessly.

The Prince looked around immediately and shouted, “Quick! Quick! See if someone is alive,”

The commander and his soldiers immediately checked the bodies of the sailors for life. Oomai Rani led the Prince through the clearing and under a tree was a man resting his head on the bark of the tree. His body was fully covered with wounds and blood. He had been dealt with a deathly gash on his head from which blood had oozed all over his body. He opened his eyes with difficulty and looked at the Prince piteously. He tried to speak something and with difficulty opened his mouth.

The Prince went near him and carefully held him in his arms saying, “Someone get him water, now!”

“No. I don’t want water. This woman gave me some just a while ago. If she had not come here on time, I would have died. Ayya! I came here with the treasonous intent of arresting you and the Gods have punished me justly,”

The Prince who recognized him after hearing his voice, said, “Ah! Kalapathy! (Those days, the captains of ships were called Kalapathy, just as army commanders were called Dalapathy) What are you saying? How did this catastrophe happen? I cannot believe that you tried to betray me!”

Ayya! I led two ships here on Pazhuvetarayar’s command to arrest you. Here is the royal decree with Chakravarthy’s seal,” said Kalapathy and took out an Oolai from his waistcloth.

The Prince glanced over the Oolai and said, “What treason did you do here? You followed the orders of Chakravarthy. When I learned that you are here, I hastened to meet you, to give myself up. Who attacked you? Tell me quickly!”

The Kalapathy then told everything that happened after he arrived in Elangai. He left for Elangai from Nagapattinam on two ships laden with sailors and soldiers. His heart was not in the task but he couldn’t say no to direct orders from the king. Pazhuvetarayar too had issued a few orders before he left. They asked him to anchor the ships at a safe secluded place and meet the Prince with Chakravarthy’s Oolai. They also cautioned him about Kodumbalur Periya Vellar and that he should not learn about his intentions to arrest the Prince under any circumstance. They asked him to find the Prince’s whereabouts first and then give him Chakravarthy’s message. They didn’t expect the Prince to revolt but if he did, the Kalapathy had orders to arrest him with force. Next Pazhuvetarayar provided him with a few of his own men to help the Kalapathy to fulfil his order.

The Kalapathy took the ships onto the sea with a heavy heart. His men had no inkling as to why they were going to Elangai and this made his mission all the more difficult. He knew that he would have to reveal the true nature of their mission to his crew when they neared their destination but he hesitated fearing the consequences. When they reached Thondaimaan river, he left for Gangasenan Sea Port to learn about the Prince’s whereabouts. He learnt that the Prince was near Anuradhapuram at the Port and then hurried back to his ship.

When he returned to the ship, he learned that Pazhuvetarayar’s men had revealed the true reason of their voyage. Kalapathy’s sailors swarmed around him asking him to confirm whether they would arrest the Prince. Kalapathy tried to pacify them saying, “We have sworn our service and sword to the King’s service and the King has ordered us to imprison his son and bring him back to Thanjavur. We cannot defy his orders,”

“We cannot do that. These are not Chakravarthy’s orders. These are Pazhuvetarayar’s orders!”

“What will you do then? Will you defy the Chakravarthy’s orders?”

“We will go to Maanthodham and surrender our service to the Prince,”

“But the Prince is not in Maanthodham,”

“If that is so, then we will surrender to Kodumbalur Periya Vellar,”

Kalapathy tried to convince them to give up this mutiny but they refused and a handful of Pazhuvetarayar’s men agreed to stay with him. With just ten men supporting him, it was impossible to sway the minds of over 200 men.

“If you are resolved to do this folly then leave now. I will not shirk my duties to my King and defy his orders,”

The mutinous sailors then took charge of one of the ships. At first they wanted to take the ship to Maanthodham but the others rejected the idea. Later, they decided to go there through land and in their hurry to leave, they failed to anchor the ship properly. The ship moved towards the land and ran aground.

After the sailors left, Kalapathy didn’t want to linger around their ship. So he moved his ship to a secluded cove and anchored it. He had heard a disturbing rumour about an Arab ship that sank near the Gangasena port. He had learned that fierce pirates from that ship were roaming around the region.

Kalapathy then decided to travel by land to meet the Prince and he wanted the remaining men to guard the ship safely until his return. The sailors were disheartened by the turn of events and Kalapathy was trying to pacify their concerns when they were attacked.

Just as he feared, the Arab pirates surrounded them and attacked them fiercely. The Kalapathy and his men who were not prepared for this attack and were unarmed. The pirates slaughtered them mercilessly and captured their ship.

“My prince! I alone escaped their deadly attack with grievous wounds. I wanted to tell someone about what happened to us. Thankfully through God’s grace I met you. I got my just rewards for my treasonous acts. Ponniyin Selva! Please forgive me!”

“Kalapathy! You did your duty even during the most perilous times. Why do you ask my forgiveness? If there is a heaven for brave souls, you have earned a seat of respect there,” Said the Prince and touched the forehead of the wounded captain. Overcome with gratitude and pain, Kalapathy clutched the hands of the Prince and gave up his life.

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