Thursday, 23 July 2015

Chapter 50: Pandian’s Bodyguards



When Parthibendran saw the Prince coming towards him on the boat, he was more than surprised. He wondered whether the Prince knew that this was his ship or is he under the assumption that this is one of the ships that had come to imprison him?

Parthibendran soon learned that the Prince did not have any such wrong assumptions. The Prince related all that had happened and Vandiya Devan’s dangerous situation to Parthibendran. “Vandiya Devan is in grave danger and in the hands of fierce Arab pirates. We need to find that ship and rescue him,”

“Though all this is unexpected but I am happy to hear that the ships that came to imprison you have been destroyed. Yet this boy shouldn’t have courted danger without any thought to consequences. Nonetheless, I do not wish to leave him with those pirates. Their ship must be nearby, we will catch them soon,” said Parthibendran and called his captain and told him about their mission.

“If the winds are favourable thus, we can catch their ship by this evening. Once the ship reaches Kodi Karai, it has to go by the narrow coast.”

But the winds had other plans and there was nary a breeze in the sea. The water and air remained petrified while the ship struggled to move through the still waters. The sun seemed intent on boiling the seawaters while the humid increased through the day.

With the weather failing to cooperate, the Prince looked around dejectedly and asked the captain, “The winds have failed us and the ship is not moving! How long will the ship remain still? When will the winds blow again? What if that ship escapes?”

“My Prince! I think there is a storm nearing us. It might hit us here or it might even leave us alone but the sea will not remain calm for long. The sea is so placid now but by nightfall you will see giant waves rising above and tossing us to the depths of the sea!”

“If the storm hits the ship, wouldn’t it be dangerous?”

“It is very dangerous. If the God wills, we will survive this danger,”

“If that is so, then it is unlikely that we will catch that other ship,”

 “The wind and the sea are impartial to all. That other ship too would be stuck in the water just as we are,”

“What if they had gone along the coast?”

“Then there is a chance that people in it might escape. If not, then they too would be immobile in the sea,”

“It doesn’t matter how great the danger is, so long as people dear to us are with us,” said the Prince and looked at the sea again. Through his mind’s eye he could see the Vandiya Devan’s laughing and Poonguzhali’s haunted looks as she bid him farewell.

Where are they now? What are they doing?

We left Vandiya Devan at a truly precarious situation. Let us go back to him now. The lower deck of the ship was filled with many items strewn carelessly around him. They had left him in the storeroom filled with such sacks and wooden logs. He sat still for a long time after they left him there. This isolation allowed him to berate himself most severely for not looking before he leaped into danger. After some time his natural curiosity aroused making him wonder, Whose ship is this? How did these Arab pirates capture a Chola ship? How did Mandiravadi and his companion join hands with him?

Soon he started wondering what they might do with him? His dejected mind and heart conjured image after image of all his dreams making him more desperate. Were they mere dreams? Will I die in the hands of these pirates? No! No! I have escaped from worse troubles than these. Until I am alive there is always hope. I just need to think through this problem and find a way to escape from here.

He looked around him to see where he was kept. At first, it was very dark and when his eyes became accustomed to it he saw that there were many swords, knives and daggers lying right next to him. Though they had tied him securely to a large wooden log, his hands were not. He could stretch them out to pick a knife or a dagger. He could untie himself by hacking the ropes. He also noticed some coconuts lying in the corner. They should suffice to satisfy his thirst and hunger. But if he were to untie himself he would still be locked inside the storeroom.

How to escape from here? Even if I escape, would it be possible to fight with those fierce Arab pirates and Mandiravadi?  Moreover if I kill them all, I would still be stuck in this ship!

No! It is best to tarry and wait a while. Instead of killing me, they have tied me. That is a hopeful sign. I need to be patient and wait.

As hours passed, it became difficult to wait. He felt as if he was thrown in a bowl to steam and boil. Hot and humid, sweat poured out of his body in rivulets. If someone had told him that a ship journey would be so uncomfortable, he wouldn’t have believed it, few days ago. The night he had travelled to Elangai on Poonguzhali’s boat had been so pleasant that it hurt to remember.

Suddenly he could sense a change. The ship had stopped moving and it became more sultry and hot inside the room. With his throat dry and he felt that he could kill someone just to quench his thirst. He reached towards one of the blades to cut through the ropes and that’s when he heard steps coming towards him. He immediately sat straight and tried to look innocent.

It was Mandiravadi Ravidasan and his companion. They opened the door and stood next to him.
Vandiya Devan, Ravidasan and Devaralan

“How is your ship voyage? Are you enjoying it?”

“I am dying of thirst. Give me some water,”

“Ah! Even we are thirsty. But those wretched Arabs have not kept any water in this ship,”

“My mother Goddess Kali is more thirsty than any of us. She thirsts for blood,” said Ravidasan’s companion.

Vandiya Devan turned and looked at him. “Don’t you recognize me thambi? I am Devaralan. It was I who danced in Kadambur after the Kuravai Koothu. The Gods came upon me with their divine message and Mother Kali demanded blood. Royal blood!”

“Ah! I remember now,”

“Yes. We wanted to slake my mother’s thirst with the blood of that Chola tiger but we failed in our mission. We tried to send that Veera Vaishnavan to Vaikuntam but that too failed. Thankfully you came to us and for now we will satisfy our mother’s blood thirst with a sacrifice of a scion from an old clan,”

“Then why do you hesitate?”

“Ah! You might be many things but you are a brave man and we acknowledge it. That’s why we want to take you back and give a blood sacrifice to our holy mother with great pomp and piety. Most importantly, our priestess needs to come,”

“Who is that priestess?”

“You don’t know that? It is Pazhuvur Elaya Rani, Nandini Devi,”

“If it is truly your intention to sacrifice me to your Goddess then please give me some water. I will die of thirst otherwise,”

“We have no water thambi!”

“But you call yourself mandiravadi!”

 “That was well said. I have used a spell and see the effects; the ship has stopped moving altogether. Tonight we will be hit by a storm and it will rain,”

“If it rains, how can it help me? You will be in the upper deck while I am here…”

“You too can come up with us and slake your thirst with rain water that if you heed us,”

“Heed you?”

“Yes. We want to sacrifice those Arab fiends to the Sea God?”

“Why?”

“They wish to take this ship to the Kingdom of Kalinga while we want to go ashore at either Kodi Karai or Nagapattinam,”

“There are six of them and are very fierce,”

“Three of them are sleeping and the rest are exhausted. If we slay those who are asleep, we can manage the rest easily. What do you say?”

Vandiya Devan stared at them with stony silence.

“What do you say, thambi? If you agree to our idea we will untie you.”

Vandiya Devan’s eyes could clearly see the disapproving lines of Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar’s forehead. He would never approve of killing those who are asleep.

“I can’t do it. Slaying those who are asleep is despicable,”

“Fool! These Arab fiends attacked and slaughtered Chola sailors when they were sleeping,”

“Their vile deeds are on their head. I can’t act against my conscious and code,”

“Fine. Be that as it may,” said Ravidasan and picked up a long sword from the pile of weapons while Devaralan picked up a stout club.

When they left, Vandiya Devan noted that they did not lock the door. He twisted his body and took hold of a small knife and slashed the ropes that had tied him. Next he picked up the coconuts that were kept in the room and broke one of them. It held enough water to slake his thirst. Then he put the rest of the coconuts inside a cloth bag.

He then moved to the pile of weapons that were strewn in the room and picked up a long sword and waited with bated breath. Soon he could hear clangs of swords on the upper deck and sound of bodies being thrown in the water. He pounced out of the door and headed towards the deck.

He saw Ravidasan and Devaralan fighting with four Arab pirates with great difficulty. With a loud cry, Vandiya Devan came towards them and started attacking two pirates at the same time. One pirate fell with a deep gash on his fearsome face and while the other was disarmed by Vandiya Devan. Vandiya Devan wrestled with him for a while and then a sail mast fell atop rendering him unconscious.

In the ensuing scuffle, Vandiya Devan learned that Ravidasan and Devaralan were not skilled in sword fight by any measure. They each fought with an Arab pirate but they couldn’t match their adversary in speed or skill but when Vandiya Devan threw their friends’ body aboard they turned to look and they were able to kill them during a moment of distraction.

Exhausted they sat down together after ensuring that their enemies were truly dead.

“My boy! You turned up at the right time. How did you come?”

“Looks like you put a spell on me. The ropes slackened its hold and a sword appeared in my hands,”

“What about your thirst?”

“A coconut broke open on its own and offered me its water!”

“You are quite amusing, my boy!” said the other two and laughed.

Thambi! We were testing you. We had deliberately left those arms near your reach and had not tied you securely to the log,”

Vandiya Devan couldn’t fathom from their expression whether they were telling the truth or not.

“Listen to me! Do you wish to live? Do you want to live with everlasting fame, power and prestige? If you do, then join us. You will get all that you have ever dreamed of and more!” said Ravidasan

“You killed them when they were sleeping, didn’t you?” asked Vandiya Devan

“We were able to kill only two of them. The other man woke up. If you had joined us earlier, it would have been easier,”

“How could you act so despicably? Killing those who are asleep is against all codes of war and morally wrong. How could you do such a thing?”

“This is nothing thambi. If we hesitate for this, how can we achieve other things that we have planned? If you were to join us…”

“You are asking me to join you, but who are you?”

Ravidasan looked at Devaralan and said, “There is no need to hide the truth from him anymore. He has but two choices, either he joins us or he will be slain and sacrificed to the Sea God,”

“Tell him everything then,”

“Listen thambi! We are Veera Pandian’s Abathudavigal. We were elite bodyguards who had sworn our lives to protect him from his enemies,”

“You failed in your oath. Aditya Karikalan won over your king…”

“How do you think he won? He won because of a foolish mistake made by a woman. She had more trust in her seductive allure. She swore to us that she could make that snake, Karikalan dance to her tune. The snake did dance for a while but in the end it lashed out on our king and took its head. Our king’s head rolled in the mud. They took it all the way to Thanjavur in a decorated palanquin. Aha! Thanjavur! Just wait and watch what we do that city of yours!”

As Ravidasan spoke, his eyes reddened and he gnashed his teeth unconsciously. Devaralan’s face too bore the same hatred.

“Whatever happened has happened. What do you intend to do about it now? Do you think you could bring your King back to life?”

“No. My spells are not potent enough to breath life back into the death. But we can avenge his death by slaying his killer and his entire clan. We will put the entire Chola clan to death and destroy their seed. Will you join us?”

“After killing all the Cholas, what will you do?”

“We will crown whomever our Maharani wishes to bestow the honour to,”

“Who is your Maharani?”

“You don’t know that? The woman who is pretending to be Pazhuvur Elaya Rani,”

“What about Madhuranthakan then?”

“He is a snake from the same family,”

“Then Pazhuvetarayar?”

“Ah! Do you think we will keep that old man around? We are merely using his power and position to fulfill our oath,”
Elaya Rani Nandini Devi and Periya Pazhuvetrayar


 “You told me that a woman is responsible for Veera Pandiyan’s death?”

“Yes. Nandini was responsible for his death. She swore to protect our king who was injured in the war. But she failed to do that. At one time, we thought that she had betrayed us to Karikalan and were about to burn her in our king’s pyre. But she swore to avenge his death and took a holy oath along with us. And we spared her life. Until today, she has been fulfilling her oath. Ah! We couldn’t have achieved so many things, without her help,”

“You haven’t achieved anything so far,”

“Wait and watch thambi!

“He hasn’t replied to your question. Is he going to join us?”

“Thambi! What do you say? Will you join us? Who knows by a stroke of luck you might even ascend the throne as the king?”

If the mandiravadi had asked him this question a few days ago, he might have falsely said, ‘I will join you’ but the Prince’s attitude towards life had a strong impact on him. He couldn’t bring himself to say such a big lie against the dictates of his heart.

Instead he tried to change the subject of conversation. “How did you capture this ship? How did you befriend these Arab fiends?”

“That’s because of my spell work thambi!  We met them in Trikona Malai where we bought horses from these Arabs. Thanks to their superior breed of horses, we were able to follow Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar in Elangai. We saw the Prince fleeing with his elephant near Yaanai Eravu. We wished to reach the coast of Yaanai Eruvu before he did and took a shorter route. And at the coast we met the Arabs again. Their ship ran aground near Mullai Theevu and they had captured this ship from the Chola soldiers. They asked us to join to help them during their journey and we agreed.

“Why?”

“We overheard that snake Arul Mozhi talking to Budhi Vikrama Kesari. We knew that he would come back to Chola Kingdom soon. We found it impossible to kill him in Elangai. A ghost woman kept following him trying to save his life. She will not come to Chola Kingdom for sure. So we decided to wait until he comes back…”

Vandiya Devan remembered the events that happened on the night Pera Hara Festival and his first glimpse of Kaveri Amman. Ravidasan suddenly laughed thinking about something.

“You know thambi! These Arab fiends are very strange indeed. They are fierce and barbaric while fighting. Killing men is as good as cutting trees for them. They have no conscious to speak of and nor do they recognize any moral code of war that you were speaking of, a while ago. But they love their horses. In their kingdom, horses are ridden only after they are fitted with an iron horse shoe. And we ride our horses barefoot, which they believe is worse than barbaric. They don’t want to sell their superior horses to beasts like us it seems. You know what happened this morning?

“Tell me…”

“We were aboard the ship and the sails were raised and we started our journey when they heard a horse neighing near the coast. And our Arab friends immediately took a boat to the coast to see whether it might be one of their own horses that escaped from their ship earlier. They took us also along with them…”

“And then…”

“And then what? We couldn’t find the horse but we found you, which was a lucky coincidence. You were so helpful to us to slay these horse lovers!”

“Ravidasa! All that is fine. This boy has not answered our question yet,” reminded Devaralan.

“I will answer your question ayya! I have pledged my service to the Cholas and I will never betray their trust and join you,”

“Have you joined the Velkarar Army? Have you sworn a holy vow in the presence of Mother Kali?”

“No…”

“Then why this hesitation? You are just a soldier who is free to join anybody,”

They didn’t know that no holy vow or oath was necessary for a man who has drunk the bliss of Kundavai’s smiles and her loving gaze. And to this was added the Prince’s friendship too. Who would indeed turn their back on such treasures?

“No matter what happens, I will never join your murderous gang,”

“If this is your final decision, get ready to sacrifice your life to Sea God,” said Ravidasan.



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Volume 1 - New Flood