Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Chapter 47: The Ghostly Laugh

Now let us see what happened to those who were left behind after the Prince had left them. When the elephant ran through the woods with the Prince mounted on its back, the Senathipathy was shocked beyond words. He shouted and rallied his soldiers and tried to give a chase but not even their fastest stallions could match the speed of the rampaging elephant. Nonetheless, they plodded on through the forest and reached Yannai Eravu where their journey was interrupted. Vandiya Devan who was ahead of the party got stuck in quick sand and was extricated from it with great difficulty. With his horse maimed, it was difficult to proceed any further and their journey halted.

The Commander who was distraught and worried about the fate of the Prince, “I have never in my life made such a blunder. Why are you all standing quietly? Why don’t you speak up? How do we rescue the Prince now?”

Azhwarkadiyan said, “Senathipathy! I have been thinking about this for long and I have an idea!”

“Were you waiting for an auspicious time to tell this idea? Spit it out fast!”

“I don’t think that the elephant that Prince had mounted was mad,”

“Then who is mad, you?”

“No! No! I suspect the Prince learned about your little ruse of stalling him with village feasts. That’s why he led the elephant through the woods. He knows the language of the beast and could easily control it,”

The Senathipathy who thought about this for a while, then acknowledged that it could be true. Though he was piqued by the fact that the Prince would leave them unceremoniously thus, his heart was at peace with the possibility that Ponniyin Selvar might be safe after all.

“Alright. Be that as it may. Nonetheless, we should go to Thondaiman River to find out what happened,”

“Yes. Let us walk by the coast and see if we can hail a boatman to take us there, or else we will have to wait until Parthibendran comes this way on his ship,”

“Vaishnaverey! You are very cunning indeed. Did you plant this idea in the Prince’s head?”

“Senathipathy! I swear on my Lord, I haven’t spoken to the Prince ever since we started on this journey,”

With the bulk of the boats and the fisher folk who ply them, shifting to Manthotham due to the war, there were no boats visible on the coast. Nonetheless, Senathipathy and others stood by the canal watching for one. Finally, they found a small fishing boat cruising along the canal and he agreed to take them along when he realized that the man who was requesting him was the Commander of the Chola army. They decided to take the boat until Thondaiman river but by then the sun had set and darkness was descending upon them. The boatman refused to ply the boat in the dark and risk a collision with the jagged rocks of the coast.

Location of Parthibendran's Ship

Location of Sunken Ship

“Ayya! From here on, the trail of this canal will change directions abruptly and there are many jutting rocks all through the way and we need to navigate carefully even with daylight. We can resume the journey in the morrow,”

By then, the weary party was too tired to argue with him so they settled down to sleep in the woods for the night.

Vandiya Devan didn’t find any of this to his liking and was irritated by the turn of events, so he fought with Azhwarkadiyan instead, “This is your doing!”

“How is this my doing?”

“You reveal everything by half measures. Ever since I met you in Kadambur, you have been toying with me. You knew that the Prince is going to leave on that elephant, then why didn’t you tell me? I too would have got on it, along with Poonguzhali. After much difficulty we met the Prince and now we have lost him, all thanks to you. What will I tell Elaya Piratti when I meet her next in Pazhaiarai?”

“But your mission is complete, now that you have given her Olai to the Prince,”

“No. My mission is complete only when I escort the Prince back to his sister. But unfortunately I have you beside me to create hurdles,”

“Alright! If you feeling thus, I will take my leave from the Senathipathy tomorrow,”

“Oh! Now that your work is done here, you are trying to slip away. I always had a suspicion about you right from the first moment I set my eyes on you,”

They fought for some more time and then slept the night away. When the dawn broke in the morrow, Azhwarkadiyan woke up to the sound of a boat being rowed. The boatman who had rowed them the previous night was ferrying a few men across the canal that joined the sea. And what was more alarming was that a ship stood anchored in the sea and the boat was going towards it bearing a few men.

Whose ship was that? Where did it come from? Where is it bound? Who are the people on the boat? Why are they going to the ship?

All these questions coursed through his mind within a blink of the eye. He went near the Senathipathy and tried to rouse him, “Senathipathy! Wake up! Come here soon,”

Senthipathy, Vandiya Devan and the other soldiers woke up immediately and hastened to his side by the coast. They first saw the ship anchored in the sea and Senathipathy said, “O! That looks like a Chola Ship to me. It could be one of the ships that Pazhuvetrayar had sent. What if the Prince is imprisoned in that ship? Ayyo! Woe to me for sleeping soundly while my Prince is held a prisoner in this ship. Where is our boatman? Fetch him immediately! We need to go and catch that ship,”

That’s when they saw the boatman ferrying a few men on his boat. “There he is! Who are those men? Why are they going to the ship? Hey you! Stop there. Come back here!”

Vandiya Devan who was watching all this silently heard only thing from the Commander’s lament. What if the Prince is imprisoned in that ship? That thought alone made him jump into the water and swim towards the boat that was fast moving away from them. He didn’t have time to spare a thought to anything else. Thankfully, the sea tide for low and it was easy for him to swim very fast and reach the boat. But when he reached the boat, they were near the sea and the water level had risen and he panicked and shouted, “Ayyo! I am drowning. Please save me.” He heard someone laughing in the boat and then the boat stopped as the boatman lowered his oar to aid him and he got onto the boat.

Vandiya Devan looked at the men in the boat and was shocked to see that they were from the Desert Kingdom of Arabia. They were dressed differently and each one of them had a cloth trailing from their turban with which they had hidden their face, except for their eyes. He then looked at the rest of the men and found that they were not foreigners. To his eyes, they seemed quite familiar and that’s when he recognized Mandiravadi Ravidasan.

Didn’t he shout like an owl and come to meet Pazhuvur Elaya Rani? Didn’t he try to take Pazhuvur ring from me in that mandapam? Thank God I got on this boat. The Prince is indeed in great danger.

As they neared the ship, Vandiya Devan tried to talk to his companions but they were silent.

“Where are you going?” he asked

“Can’t you tell? We are going to the ship,” said Mandiravadi.

“Where is the ship going?”

“That we will know once we reach the ship,”

Ravidasan then asked Vandiya Devan, “Where are you going?”

“I am going to the ship”

“Once you are aboard the ship, where will you go?”

“That I will know once we reach the ship,” replied Vandiya Devan cockily.

When they reached the ship, a rope ladder came down and they climbed over it to board the ship. Many were conversing in the upper deck of the ship in a language that Vandiya Devan could not understand. Vandiya Devan hastened to climb up and jumped into the ship shouting, “Where is the Prince? What have you done to him?”
Vandiya Devan fighting fierce Arab Warriors
When he looked around, his heart sank more, as all the sailors were fierce Arab warriors, tall and lean with bloodshot eyes. That’s when he realized the blunder that he had made through his hasty decision. This can’t be the ship that Pazhuvetarayar had sent. Except for Mandiravadi and his companion all were Arab warriors and sailors. It was unlikely that the Prince would be aboard this ship. He immediately turned and tried to hail the boatman who had ferried them thus far. “You there! Stop! I want to get down.”

A hand with an iron grip snaked around his throat choking him while he struggled to free himself. The Arab warriors pushed him to the middle of the deck and surrounded him. Angered by this, Vandiya Devan hit the sailor next to him and he fell down. He heard a fierce growling sound behind him and turned just in time to escape from a short curved dagger. Soon the warriors were around him and no escape was possible. One of them brought ropes and bound his legs and arms and then he was bodily lifted and taken to a room in the lower deck and dumped him unceremoniously down and tied him to the wooden logs that were kept there and left.
Vandiya Devan and Mandiravadi Ravi Dasan
Soon he could feel the ship moving had begun its journey. But where is it going, wondered Vandiya Devan.

If I escape from this peril, I will never jump into anything hastily. I would learn to live like Azhwarkadiyan, to think and weigh the consequences of each action carefully before acting on it.

A ghostly laugh was heard again and he turned his body painfully to see who it was. It was Ravidasan.

“My boy! I came here searching for that Chola Tiger. Though I didn’t get the tiger, I am happy to capture the jackal of Vanar clan, which is an unexpected luck,”

The boatman who witnessed the capture of Vandiya Devan came back immediately and told the others about what had happened.

Senathipathy and the others got into the boat and headed towards Thondaiman river. It was impossible to follow the ship on a small boat in the sea. When they questioned the boatman about his recent passengers, he knew no useful information.

“I was sleeping in my boat when those men woke me up. They offered me a lot of money if I could take them up to the ship. I agreed and took them since you were all sleeping, I went with them,”

As Azhwarkadiyan narrated this to the Prince and then added, “When Vandiya Devan jumped into the sea, I wanted to follow him too but sadly, I am not a good swimmer and I had my own doubts about that ship. I mentioned it to the Commander too. After Vandiya Devan was captured, we couldn’t follow that ship in a small boat, so we came here to check whether you were indeed imprisoned in that ship. We were very relieved when we found you,”
Azhwarkadiyan, Senathipathy Periya Vellar and Arul Mozhi Varmar
Arul Mozhi Varmar who listened to his narration intently said, “But I am not relieved to hear that my friend is aboard that ship. What if the Pazhuvetarayar catch him and send him to the dungeon prison?”

“My Prince! Why should we bear the authority of those upstart Pazhuvur lords? You just need to say the word and I will rouse an army on your behalf and we can destroy their clan,”

“Ayya! Don't ever imagine that I will take up arms against my father’s authority. Please do not suggest such schemes to me,”
Oomai Rani on the Arab Horse

Suddenly they heard the clip-clop hoof sound of a horse and they turned around to see a white horse ridden with no noose or a saddle being ridden by a woman.

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Volume 1 - New Flood