Night blooming flowers fell upon Poonguzhali’s beautiful face from atop while the divine music played in the heaven. Poonguzhali’s veins thumbed with music when she heard the Prince’s words!
“My Prince! I am not an apsara or a heavenly damsel. I am a poor boat girl and I didn’t feed you nectar. I gave you the milk that I got from the temple priest of Kuzhagar temple,”
“I will not believe that you are not a heavenly damsel. Aren’t you the daughter of Lord Varuna himself? Samudra Kumari! How many times are you going to save my life? How will I repay this debt?”
“Ayya! If you would allow this poor boat girl to be with you for one more day and night…”
“How is that possible? I have to leave for Pazhaiarai immediately?”
“No. We have received word to take you to Nagapattinam,”
“From Princess Kundavai”
“Who is that other man along with Vandiya Devan, dragging the boat?”
“My cousin Senthan Amuthan. Princess Kundavai sent him here. It was he who had brought her message, asking us to take you to Nagapattinam Choodamani Buddha Viharam,”
“Aha! Has my sister changed her mind about crowning me? I have always wanted to visit Nagapattinam Choodamani Viharam. I will join their Sangam and become a Buddha Bikshu. I will travel around the world and go all the way to China. Aha! My fortunes have changed indeed. Poonguzhali! Come let’s go,” said the Prince and tried to stand.
Poonguzhali then knew that the Prince had not regained his full consciousness and was still in the grip of the fever. Just then, they faintly heard the wail of a man.
The Prince immediately turned around, “Poonguzhali! What was that?”
“It’s an owl My Prince!”
“No! That’s a man’s voice and he is in some danger. Let us go save him right away. I want to do a good deed before joining the Buddha Sangam,” shouted the Prince and tried to run and fainted while attempting it. Poonguzhali who was right behind him held him in her arms.
Senthan Amuthan and Vandiya Devan came running and helped her carry the Prince back to the boat. Poonguzhali started to ply the boat the overloaded boat through the canal.
“Poonguzhali! It would be difficult to row this small boat with four of us sitting inside. I think it would be better if I take my leave now. It is up to you two to take the Prince to Nagapattinam safely. I don’t have to tell you anything more as you do know the gravity of the situation,”
As he spoke, his voice was tinged with emotion and worry and his eyes were filled with tears.
“Why don’t you leave after we are past the woods of Kodi Karai? I left my horse there for you,” said Senthan Amuthan
“No. I would rather get down here itself. I will sleep in Kuzhagar temple for a while and find my way out of the woods before dawn breaks. It would be tough to travel all the way to Pazhaiarai otherwise. God knows, how many obstacles are on my way back!”
Poonguzhali took out the bundle of food that she had taken from the temple priest and held it to him, “Here! Take this. Kuzhar temple prasadam,”
“You both haven’t eaten anything, you should keep the food.”
“Once we are past these woods, there are many villages on our way. Either Senthan or I can go there and get some food for us. But you have to travel without being spotted by anyone. Take the food,”
“Don’t forget that you have the Prince in your boat!”
“Who will believe that this small boat would carry the Prince of the realm? Don’t worry about us. We will take care of him. It’s our responsibility now,”
“Alright! I will get down here,”
Just then they heard the wail of the man yet again. The Prince opened his eyes and exclaimed, “Who was that?” and then slept off again.
Poonguzhali stood up and said, “No. I can’t do this. If the Prince comes to know he would never forgive me. Take care of the boat for a little while. I will pull that mandiravadi out of that quicksand and come back. It is close by, I should be back soon,”
“If you are going, I will come along with you. I will not leave you alone with that scoundrel,” said Senthan Amuthan
“No Amudha, you stay in the boat and take care of the Prince. I will go with Poonguzhali. I have some unfinished business with that mandiravadi!” said Vandiya Devan and ran after Poonguzhali.
Poonguzhali could imagine the horrific scene that would unfold at the quicksand. Mandiravadi buried to his chest in the mud trying to fend off the wolves that would surround him. She could almost hear the Prince’s angry voice berating her, “Woman! You are a vile murderess!” These thoughts gave much speed to her legs and she literally ran through the woods to the quicksand.
But the mandiravadi was not there! Vandiya Devan who came behind her was equally shocked.
“Maybe it was a different quicksand. I remember you telling me that there are many quicksands around this region,”
But Poonguzhali shocked and silent pointed to the shrub nearby, where Senthan’s upper cloth was still tied.
“You think he might have drowned in this. Impossible! It is very difficult to kill Ravidasan. He has hundred lives. He would have escaped somehow!” said Vandiya Devan and removed Senthan’s upper cloth from the shrub. Though he had tried to console Poonguzhali, he was sure that the Mandiravadi was dead and felt that he deserved a nasty horrific end such as this.
They both had realized that there was nothing more to do but to make their way back to the canal. As they walked back, they spotted two figures behind a tree near the canal path. One of them was a female and the other, a male.
Poonguzhali pointed them to Vandiya Devan.
“Who do you think it is?” whispered Vandiya Devan
“The woman is my sister-in-law and the man is mandiravadi! Looks like she came here and rescued him from the quicksand!”
“That’s fine then,”
“That’s not fine. They are looking at the canal and might spot our boat,”
As they spoke softly the figures turned towards them and then immediately hid behind the bushes.
“It looks like they have spotted us!”
“Come with me. I have an idea and don’t be surprised by anything that I say,” said Vandiya Devan and dragged Poonguzhali near the place where Mandiravadi and Rakkammal were hiding.
“Poonguzhali! Listen to me. Mandiravadi is dead, which is a very good thing for us,”
“Ayyo! What a horrible death?”
“Why this sudden compassion after committing the murder?”
“Ayyo! Are you saying that I am responsible for his death?”
“Who else? Who tricked him into that quicksand in the first place? Suddenly you found some compassion in your heart and came here to rescue him but by then Mandiravadi succumbed to his fate. Now God alone knows whether you came to rescue him or to check whether he has drowned in the quicksand.”
“Who asked you to come after me?”
“If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have known about the murder that you have committed. You are a vile murderess!”
“Am I a ‘murderess’ now?”
“Yes. You are. But I am not saying that I am completely innocent either. I killed the Prince by drowning him in the sea and you killed the Mandiravadi in these woods. If you keep mum about the murder that I committed, I will do the same for you,”
“It was ‘you’ who killed the Prince. Just a moment ago, you swore that you haven’t seen him!”
“I lied deliberately. There is no need to lie anymore. Do you agree to what I have to say?”
“If I refuse?”
“If you refuse, I will immediately go to Nandini Devi and tell her about the murder that you committed.”
“What will Nandini do to me?”
“Nothing much. She would just order you to be buried until neck in the ground and command an elephant to step on your pretty little head…”
“Ayyo! How horrible?”
“If you don’t care for such a fate, then do as I say,”
“What should I do?”
“There, your cousin is coming along with a boat. Get on it and go to Elangai and stay there. You can mourn your dear dead Prince on that island,”
“Why should I go to Elangai? Why can’t I stay here?”
“Ah! I am not a fool to allow you stay here. You might go to Periya Pazhuvetarayar and reveal my secrets to him. The dead prince was dear to him and he might try to hunt me down for his murder. I have other errands to complete and wish to live a little while longer,”
“You scoundrel! Why did you kill the Prince? Tell me!”
“I have no shame in telling you the truth. The Prince and his sister had conspired against my master Aditya Karikalan. They tried to snatch the throne away from him. I am beholden to my master and his enemies are mine to slay. That’s why I killed the Prince,”
“You will receive just punishment for this traitorous act!”
“You don’t worry about that. Worry about yourself instead. Will you do as I say or should I…”
“Alright. Not that I have a choice in this matter anyway. The boat is coming near, I will go in that,”
“Listen to me, you should turn the boat towards the sea and go straight to Elangai. I will be watching you from here. If you try to turn it back towards the shore again, I will know. I won’t budge from here until you leave,”
“Alright. May a hundred wolves descend upon you,” cursed Poonguzhali and got on the boat. Vandiya Devan waited at the canal banks until the boat disappeared from his line of sight.
|Ravidasan and Vandiya Devan|
Just then he heard the Mandiravadi’s familiar horrible laugh behind him and he pretended to be frightened and ran away from the spot screaming, “Oh God! Ghost! Ghost!”