|Kodi Karai Lighthouse|
Nandini looked at the sea and saw the boat nearing Parthibendran’s ship. She sighed deeply and it flared Parthibendran’s protective instincts.
“Devi! Tell me what you want me to do? Whatever makes you happy will make me very happy!”
Many strange thoughts were coursing through Parthibendran’s mind at that instant. He wanted to rescue this beautiful woman from that old wild cat!
Why can’t I take her away from that old brute? If only she could tell me her heart’s desire, I would imprison that old man in the ship and banish him to some uninhabited island. How dare he marry a beautiful young woman who is probably younger than his own grandchildren?
But Nandini was still watching the sea intently as she noted Pazhuvetarayar climbing on the rope ladder to get into the ship.
“Thank the Gods! He got into the ship! Though he is a great warrior he keeps forgetting that he is quite old. I was worried that he might slip and fall into the water while climbing aboard the ship,”
Parthibendran was disappointed when he heard the words.
Why is she so concerned about the old man? Would it be so bad if he were to die? This kingdom would surely benefit from it and this woman would be ‘free’.
“Today, I learned how loyal the old man is towards the Chola Kings. I was astonished to see him wail his heart out. Ayya! Is there any chance that the Prince might have escaped the ravages of the storm?”
“I can’t say anything for sure. The storm was at is peak when he jumped into the sea. It was fate!”
“Don’t put all your blame on fate. It was Kundavai’s greed that brought about this calamity. Do you know, that Kundavai has great belief in astrology and palmistry? She would constantly look at her brother’s horoscope and believe that he would one day become a Chakravarthy! Poor woman, what would she do if she learns that her dear brother died in the storm? I wish I could offer some consolation in her grief!”
“Devi! Why do you wish to console her? She brought this upon herself thanks to her own ‘greed’”
“She is the Chakravarthy’s daughter and if she were to shed even a single tear, the people of this kingdom would fall upon their feet to wipe it away. Such is the legendary beauty of this Princess,”
“At one time, I thought the same but after I met you…”
“After you met me?”
“After I met you, I realized that Kundavai’s beauty couldn’t match the beauty of your little toe!”
“Your eloquence is unsurpassed but I wouldn’t believe it. Tomorrow once you meet Kundavai you will forget me!”
“Never! That will never happen! Devi! Why don’t you test my devotion to you? You will know for yourself the extent of my affection for you,”
“Who am I to command you, my lord? I can merely request you. Ever since, I married Periya Pazhuvetarayar, many in the Kingdom have been berating me for causing confusion and chaos. I request your help to prove that lie,”
Parthibendran was fiercely disappointed by her request. He had hoped that Nandini would bid him to do something impossible and that he would accomplish it forthwith and thus gain her favour. But she was talking about the kingdom’s affairs instead!
“Tell me, Devi! What do you wish me to do?”
“Ayya! Kundavai is responsible for the present difficulties of the Kingdom. Her vain and headstrong behaviour has alienated all the noble lords from the Chakravarthy’s camp. She has decided to enthrone her brother Arul Mozhi in the Chola throne. That’s why she never encouraged any peace talks among the noble lords. But now that she has suffered an irreparable loss and we can strive to make peace. Ayya! Most of the noble lords wish to see Prince Madhuranthakan ascend the throne after Sundara Cholar and the Chakravarthy too wishes the same,”
“Is that so?”
“That’s right Ayya! Why else would the Chakravarthy approve a royal order that decrees the imprisonment of Arul Mozhi? But I didn’t think this was the right way to proceed with peace talks. I have instead proposed that we split the kingdom from the South of Vellattru for Aditya Karikalar and the Northern region to Prince Madhuranthakar. Didn’t the old Pallava Kings rule the Thondaimandalam region and remain happy? Didn’t Cheras and Pandyas rule within their small kingdoms and remain contented?”
“Devi! Why are you telling me about this? How does it matter to me if Chola Kingdom is split into two?”
“Ayya! I thought you were the trusted friend of Prince Aditya Karikalar!”
“I have spent years toiling loyally for other people’s fame and glory. I have lived all my life under the shadow of other people’s glory. I wish to live for myself now. Devi! Listen to me. I have often wondered why I was born in this world. My forefathers ruled the Pallava Kingdom for many years. They built Mammalapuram to resemble heaven on earth! I often wondered whether I was born to re-establish the Pallava rule again but my heart wasn’t in it instead I fought for the Cholas and earned their patronage. I became the trusted friend of Prince Aditya Karikalar and was happy to earn glory with him. I thought I would spend the rest of my life in this manner but today I have realized the purpose of my birth! There! The sea lord too is acknowledging it. Devi! Do not talk to me about splitting the kingdom. Let’s talk something else instead. Ask me to get you precious stones and corals from far away island kingdoms. Ask me to bring precious white pearls from the deepest of the seas in this world. Ask me to get Sanjeevini herb from the lofty mountains of Meru. Let me travel to the sky and make a necklace of those stars for you. Let me bring that full moon for you so that you can use it as a mere mirror…”
“Enough! Ayya! Enough! Kundavai has called me ‘mad’ on many occasions and looks like I might become one, if I heard one more word from you!”
Parthibendran looked a bit abashed and said, “I think it is ‘me’ who is going mad. Forgive me. Tell me, what you wish for?”
“I wish to clean the taint to my name in this Kingdom. The people are saying that the calamity and disaster has come to the Cholas ever since I married Periya Pazhuvetarayar. They say that because of my influence, Prince Madhuranthakar desires the Kingdom that he had earlier refused! They say that the entire conspiracy hatched by the noble lords is my doing! I do not wish to die without making an effort to clear my name,”
“Why do you talk about dying? Do you wish to torment me?”
“Pallava Kumara! Are you familiar with the ancient art of Palmisty? Do you believe in it?” asked Nandini changing the subject abruptly.
Instead of answering her directly, Parthibendran said, “Show me your hands,”
|Nandini and Parthibendran|
Nandini showed him her left hand and Parthibendran looked at it intently and said, “You have many interesting lines. It is quite astonishing to see these in anyone! Show me your other hand!”
Nandini showed him both her hands and Parthibendran looked at them carefully and said, “Devi! Has anyone ever seen your hands to predict your future?”
“Yes. Princess Kundavai saw my hands and said to me once…”
“What did she say?”
“She said that I would die very young,”
“That is true!”
“Ayyo! You too are saying the same thing!”
“It looks like she hasn’t studied the art of palmistry completely. One of your lines does indicate a short life while the other indicates that you might survive the danger and live a long life. After that you will travel across the seas to far away kingdoms and live a happy contented life that even the Kings and Queen would envy. You will gain this happiness through a young man whom you met near the sea and he will move the earth and the sky to fulfil even the smallest of your wishes. These lines indicate it very clearly…” said Parthibendran and then suddenly took her hands and reverently held them to his eyes.
Nandini shook his hands from hers and said, “Chi! How dare you touch me?”
“Forgive me! For an instant I forgot that they were your hands. I thought they were a pair of blooming lotuses!”
“If my lord husband had seen this, he would have put you to death immediately!”
“Devi! I regret the fact that I have just one life to give up for you,”
“Then why do you wish to squander your life like this? Use it to help me instead,”
“Tell me what I should do,”
“I wish to save the Chola Kingdom from fratricidal strife. I need your help,”
“How can I help?”
“Bring your friend, Prince Aditya Karikalar to the Kadambur Sambuverayar’s palace. Lord Sambuverayar has a daughter. If only we could get her married to the Prince, my wish will be fulfilled,”
“This is an easy task for me. I will surely bring the Prince to Kadambur, what else?”
“If we get the Prince married to Sambuveryar’s daughter, the troubles that have plagued this realm will lessen by half. Then we will need to convince him about splitting the Kingdom into two…”
“If I could bring peace in this Kingdom, the taint of my bad reputation will be gone. I will then embrace my fate and end my life in the deep sea,”
“Then I will follow you and save your life. We will be reborn in this world again. I will take you to an island far away from here and establish a kingdom for you,”
“Ayya! I beseech you don’t talk in this manner. I am a woman born and bred in this kingdom and I am bound by the dictates of society. I am the lawful wife of Periya Pazhuvetarayar,”
“Devi! Tell me the truth! Why did you marry this old man? Do you truly love him or did he force you to submit?”
“Please don’t blame my husband. I married him willingly,”
“Why? What for? What did you see in him?”
“I didn’t see anything in him. But he did offer me a life in the palace, troop of servants and maids for me to command and a gracious life of a queen,”
“I can’t believe this!”
“It is difficult to believe but that’s the truth. When I was young, there was someone who abused me for being an orphan and for being poor. She told me that I had no right to play with Prince and Princesses of the realm. I wished to prove her wrong and that’s how I ended being married to the old man,”
“Devi! Who is this woman who insulted you thus?”
“Can’t you tell? Can’t you guess?”
“It was Princess Kundavai, wasn’t it?”
“I will teach her a lesson one day,”
“God has taken care of it. With one stroke of his hand, she has been deprived of her brother and lover. I feel pity for her,”
“I think she deserves a much harsher punishment that this,”
“If you fulfil my wish by bringing the Prince to Kadambur, it will be a just punishment for Kundavai. Her wish to rule over the Chola Kingdom will turn to dust,”
“If I fulfil your wish, what will you give me in return?”
“Whatever you wish will be yours, provided you do not demand anything that would besmirch the honour of my marriage to my Lord Husband,”
“Rani! In the desert kingdoms of Arabia they follow a new religion where married couple can separate and remarry whomsoever they desire…”
“I have heard about it,”
“Let us go to this Kingdom and join their religion…”
“I have had daydreams about doing something like that but it is not possible,”
“Devi! Why do you say thus? It is possible. If you could only say ‘yes’ I will make it possible for you. I will take you across the seven seas and conquer rich islands. I will carve out a new empire for you. I will seat you beside me on golden thrones studded with precious gems. I will place upon your beautiful head a sparkling crown and make the people pay homage to you. It is our fate to be together, that’s why I survived many deadly wars just so that I could rescue you…”
“Ayya! My lord husband is coming back. His boat has almost reached the shores. Calm yourself, we can talk about these things, later.”
“Later, when Devi?”
“Come along with us to Thanjavur. If my husband doesn’t invite you as a guest, then come with us as our prisoner,”
“Your invitation alone is enough for me,”
Pazhuvetarayar’s boat came ashore and he stomped furiously through the beach to reach the tent. Nandini and Parthibendran stood up when they saw him approaching. Poor old man! His anger knew no bounds when he realized that Nandini and Parthibendran had been talking all the while when he was away.
“Nadha! Did you inspect the ship properly? Did you speak to the sailors? Did he say the truth about the Prince?” asked Nandini with a loving voice. Her voice calmed the storm that was blowing in her husband’s heart.
“Yes. Whatever he said was true. The beloved Prince of this realm, that lovely boy is dead, thanks to this scoundrel!” said Pazhuvetarayar grounding his teeth.
“Ayya! I am not responsible for his death. Don’t lay the blame on my head. This tragedy is not of my doing but of that vile woman who rules the Chola Kingdom!”
The old man’s anger was frightening to behold. He thought that the Pallavan was talking about Nandini!
“What did you say?” he shouted and took out a spear that was struck on the ground and aimed at him in anger.
Nandini sprang forward and clutched his hand tightly, “Nadha! What are you doing? How could a great warrior like yourself smear your hands and reputation by killing a guest under your own roof?”
“Rani! Is he a guest? Didn’t you hear what he just said about you?”
“My lord! Are you sure that he was talking about me? If he were indeed talking about me, I wouldn’t wait for you to take revenge. I would kill him myself,”
“Ayya! Am I mad to talk about the Pazhuvur queen? I was referring to the headstrong princess of Pazhaiarai. Kundavai sent a message to Prince Arul Mozhi with Vandiya Devan and signed his death warrant. The Prince jumped into the stormy sea to save him, despite my objections. That’s why I said Kundavai was responsible for the Prince’s death,”
Pazhuvetarayar felt a bit ashamed for jumping to conclusions but instead of accepting his mistake he said, “Don’t try to hide your mistakes by blaming others. What were you doing when the Prince jumped into the sea? How could you allow him to do such an insane act? Go! Get lost! I don’t wish to see you anymore!”
Nandini interjected and said, “Nadha! Wouldn’t it be prudent to take him to Thanjavur along with us? Let him narrate whatever happened to the Chakravarthy or else we will be blamed for the Prince’s death,”
“Let people talk whatever they want, I will chop their heads one by one. I am not afraid of idle talk. But yes, it is better to take him along with us to Thanjavur. Parthibendra! Why are you looking hither and thither? Do you plan to escape?” he said and signalled his soldiers to come near.
“Bind him with ropes!” shouted Pazhuvetarayar and the soldiers surrounded Parthibendran. The Pallava scion stood silently for a while and then showed his prowess in arms. Soon the soldiers lay on the ground moaning and groaning in pain!
“Ayya! If you wish to bind me then don’t send these mere soldiers. I would submit only to that warrior who has won 64 glorious scars in the service of Chola kingdom,”
Despite his anger, Pazhuvetarayar found himself smiling. “You are indeed the scion of the brave Pallava kings, there is no doubt about that. If you agree to come along with us to Thanjavur willingly then there is no need to bind you,”
“I wish to come with you to Thanjur. I want to speak to the Chakravarthy and tell him everything that occurred. I too do not want to be blamed unnecessarily for the Prince’s death,”
“Fine. Let us leave instantly!”
At that moment an owl hooted at a distant in the woods. Nandini looked immediately in that direction.
“The woods of Kodi Karai is very strange indeed! How could an owl hoot in the broad daylight?”
Nandini immediately looked at her husband and said, “Do we leave immediately? Shouldn’t we wait for two or three days here? What if the Prince had survived the storm by clutching a wooden log or something? He might come ashore here,”
“Parthibendra! Do you see how wise the queen is? We didn’t think about this! Yes, let’s tarry for two more days here and we can search the sea near here for any sign of the Prince.”
“I have no objection Ayya! But I don’t think that the Prince would be found. If you had seen the storm that raged that night, you too would be discouraged thus.”