The Ironsmith was intent on his work and didn’t notice Vandiya Devan standing inside his house right away.
“Ayya! Who are you? What do you need? Are you in need of a sword, or perhaps a spear? Nowadays, not many come here for weapons and so I doubt if you would want any,”
“Your actions belie your words Ayya! You are asking this question, even while you are working on a sword?”
“You mean this? This was an unusual work. Someone got this old sword and wanted me to sharpen and repair it. A few years ago, when we were at war with Pandya Kingdom I sold piles and piles of swords and spears. When our army left for Elangai, many came here asking me to forge weapons and armours. But now, people are coming here to sell their old weapons. Did you perchance come here to sell yours?”
“No. I need my weapons for few more years until I finish my work. After that I would probably go from one place to another singing the divine devaram songs. I will probably sell my weapons to you then!”
“If that’s so, what do you need from me now?”
“I have travelled a long way on my horse through the woods and then the King’s road. I have a long way ahead before I reach my destination. I have heard that people fix an iron shoe on the horse’s hoofs to protect it from going lame. Do you know how to do that?”
“Yes. I have heard that people in Kingdom of Arabia practice such things and many people here too are doing the same. I know how to fix the iron shoe,”
“Can you fix it for my horse now?”
“I can do it only after I finish the work in hand,”
Vandiya Devan thought for a while debating within himself the merits of waiting but ultimately his exhaustion won. He decided to rest awhile while he waited for the ironsmith to finish the work. His horse too could use some rest before they set off again.
“I will wait until you finish the work in hand,”
Vandiya Devan watched the Ironsmith’s work for a while and then commented, “This sword looks magnificent and is fit to be borne and wielded by a royal prince no less. Whose sword is this, truly?”
“Appaney! At a short distance from here, there is a small lake called ‘Harishandra’”
“I have heard about it. But what of it?”
“I go to that lake very often and dunk myself in the waters,”
“Very good practice. It will surely weigh in your favour when you finally make your journey towards the heaven,”
“Therefore I have always tried not to utter falsehood and lies,”
“I have no objection to your resolution. I am not asking you to lie by any means,”
“If you don’t ask me about this sword, then I wouldn’t have to lie,”
“Is that so?” thought Vandiya Devan and then said, “Ayya! I will not ask you any questions and you need not break your pledge of truthfulness. If you could finish this work and take up mine quickly I would be very grateful,”
The Ironsmith went back to his work silently while Vandiya Devan scrutinized him intently. He noted that the sword had a fish emblem engraved in the hilt and wondered about its significance. Was it a mere decoration or is there a much deeper meaning attached to it?
Even while he was wondering thus, the Ironsmith kept the hilt of the sword inside the furnace and banged on the fish emblem with a hammer. Vandiya Devan realized that his intent was to hide the identity of the emblem so that no one recognizes it. He wondered why anyone would want to do that. But before he could reach any conclusion about it, he was accosted by Nidradevi (Goddess of Sleep) who started weaving her hypnotic magic over him. After escaping her clutches for many days, Vandiya Devan found himself too weak to resist and he succumbed to her magic. He fell asleep sitting down and soon stretched himself near the Ironsmith’s furnace and slept deeply.
But sadly his sleep was not peaceful and he had many dreams and one of them was about a sword. A man comes up to the Ironsmith to get the magnificent fish emblem sword. As he handed it over, the man asks him, “What’s your price for this work?” and the Ironsmith replied, “I don’t need a fee. Let this be my gift to Pazhuvur Elaya Rani.”
“Be warned! No one should know about this. You should never take the name of Pazhuvur Elaya Rani, ever. You do know what we do to those who betray us, don’t you?”
“Why would I take her name Ayya? I will never talk about it.”
“You are talking so loudly here and this man is sleeping here. What if he hears you?”
“He is sleeping quite deeply. He won’t hear it even if it thunders in here,”
“If you suspect that he knows something, throw him into your furnace and kill him,”
At the end of this conversation Vandiya Devan dreamed that the Ironsmith and the stranger dragged him to the furnace and threw him inside the fire. After that his dreams changed…
Vandiya Devan found himself being escorted to hell by two messengers of death sent by Yama who looked remarkably like the Pazhvur brothers! When they arrived at Yama’s court Lord Yama’s assistant Chitraguptan scrutinized Vandiya Devan’s life on earth and said, “This man is an expert in lying. I can’t count the number of lies that he has told!”
“No! Please! I told all those lies in royal service to serve the Prince and my King. I told them to complete my mission!”
“It doesn’t matter why you told lies but the fact remains that you did. Guards! Throw him in the biggest pit of fire in hell!” said Yama pronouncing his sentence.
All around him Vandiya Devan could hear voices wailing piteously. As the guards dragged him near the biggest pit of fire that he had ever seen and just before he was thrown into it, Princess Kundavai arrived and said, “He told lies to complete the task that I had given him. Throw me into the fire instead of him,”
Nandini Devi too made an appearance suddenly and gave a wonderful suggestion to the guards, “Why don’t you throw both of them in the fire?”
While the guards acted on Nandini Devi’s suggestion, Vandiya Devan shook himself shouting “No! Don’t please!” and woke up. That’s when he realized that he had been dreaming and shook his head. His dream was so vivid that he found his limbs trembling even now!
He shook himself awake and renewed his resolution - never to lie no matter what the situation demands.
“Did I sleep for long?” he asked the Ironsmith
“No. Just a few hours! Do you belong to the race of Kumbakarna by any chance? If you sleep thus in the broad daylight, I wonder how you sleep during the night?”
“God! I have slept for long then. Have you fixed the iron shoe for my horse?”
“I am yet to take it up but I wonder how useful it would be for the likes of you. You sleep so soundly that you won’t know if someone were to take your horse away,”
Irritated by the Ironsmith’s words Vandiya Devan went outside to check whether his horse was still there but it wasn’t. He immediately came inside shouting, “Where is my horse?” and his hand went automatically to the hilt of his sword.
The Ironsmith calmly asked him to go to the backside and he found his horse tied up there and a small boy who was feeding it hay said, “Ayya! Can you be here for a while? I need to measure the horse’s hoof for the shoes,”
Vandiya Devan stood near the horse holding its rein while the boy went about his work.
“Who brought the horse here?”
“I brought it,”
“My father bid me to tie it here,”
“Why did he do that?”
“Sometime ago, the entourage of Periya Pazhuvetarayar passed through this road. If they had seen your horse, they would have surely taken it along with them,”
Vandiya Devan remembered the time when the Pazhuvur soldiers had made fun of his horse at Thiru Narayanapuram. He felt gratitude towards the Ironsmith and his son. After the boy had measured the horse’s hoof they returned to the house.
The Ironsmith was banging on a hoof shaped iron shoe with a hammer.
“Thank you for saving my horse from Pazhuvur soldiers,”
“It is my duty to safeguard the belongings of those who come seeking me,”
“How long has it been since the Pazhuvur entourage passed this way?”
“More than two hours. Surprisingly you slept through the whole thing...”
“I agree that I slept through it but you still wasted so much time. You could have started my work at the very least!”
“How is that possible? Who would want to work after hearing the news that they brought? I had to harden my heart to do your work now. Where are you coming from?”
Wondering about what sort of news that could be, Vandiya Devan said, “I am coming from Elangai?”
The Ironsmith looked at his face for a while and then lowered his voice and said, “Did you meet Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar when you were in Elangai?”
Determined to stick to his truth resolution, Vandiya Devan answered, “Yes. I met him there.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
The Ironsmith stared back angrily at him and said, “Are you playing games with me?”
“No Ayya! I am telling the truth,”
“If that is so then tell me, where is the Prince is right now?”
“At Nagapattinam Choodamani Viharam,”
“I have seen many liars in my life, but never have I seen a more prolific liar than you,”
Vandiya Devan could only laugh in his mind. It was indeed ironical that people believed his lies readily and when he told the ‘truth’ they denounced it as a ‘lie’.
“Thambi! When did you leave Elangai?”
“Four days ago,”
“Ah! That’s why you didn’t hear the news!”
“What news Ayya?”
“Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar apparently drowned in the sea,”
“What? How is that possible? Who told you?”
“Since yesterday, this rumour has been spreading around here. The village elders asked Pazhuvetarayar when he came by this way and he confirmed it. May a thunder fall upon that wily old man!”
“Why are you so angry with him?”
“This danger befell on the Prince because of him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had hatched a plot to assassinate the Prince himself. The people here are so angry with him that they cancelled all the welcome festivities that was arranged for him,”
“Do the people love that Prince so much?”
“Of course. I am surprised that you ask such as question. The village is in mourning and all are in tears thinking about the Prince’s fate and soon the entire Kingdom will be wailing for their beloved son. How would the King take such a blow? He is bed ridden and sick as it is! I shudder to think what other misery might unfold in this Kingdom of ours. No wonder our elders said that sighting a comet on the sky would bring upon calamity and misery in our lives. They were right!”
Vandiya Devan wondered what could be the calamity that might befall them yet. It was a good thing that the Ironsmith didn’t believe his words. He would have to keep mum about the Prince’s whereabouts henceforth and try not to lie.
“Thambi! What are you thinking?”
“I was thanking the God was saving me from the storm that almost killed me in the sea,”
“Is there something called ‘God’s Grace’?”
“Why do you doubt it?”
“If God was really there, why would the atrocities of Pazhuvetarayar continue thus? Why would he claim the life of our beloved Prince then?”
“Ayya! Pazhuvetarayar and his men are very powerful people. It would do you no good to talk about them thus. What if someone were to hear? Please be careful!”
“Thambi! It is ‘you’ who ought to be careful. I talk thus when I am awake but you do that while asleep,”
“Ayyo! What did I blabber?”
“You called the Pazhuvur brothers messengers of Lord Yama. You called Pazhuvur Elaya Rani, many a vile name. While I do agree with you on that count but what if somebody else had heard you! While you were blabbering thus, the Pazhuvur entourage and Periya Pazhuvetarayar himself passed by this way. I got scared as to what would happen if someone were to overhear you,”
“So what did you do?”
“I shut the door and asked my son to take your horse to the backside,”
“Did I… Did I blabber anything else?”
“You spoke many things…”
“Ayyo! What did I say?”
“You said that you tried to convince the Prince to come to Pazhaiarai but he refused and was resolved to give himself up to Pazhuvetrayar. Thambi! That’s not all. You said many things about Pazhaiarai Elaya Pirratti. You need to be very careful,”
Vandiya Devan hung his head in shame. He had never been so mortified or embarrassed ever before. He wondered what he might have said about Princess Kundavai? Could it have been something terribly inappropriate? Henceforth it would be better to bed down in the woods where no can hear him or maybe in a room with the door firmly shut.
“Thambi! How did you get stuck in the storm? How did you escape?”
“The ship that I was travelling in was struck by a lightening and it sank. For many hours, I floated in the waters clutching a sail. Later, a boat girl found and saved my life,”
“Maybe the Prince too could have survived the storm that way, don’t you think?”
“With God’s grace he might have,”
“Where did you stay last night?”
“I slept in Kuzhagar Kovil as Pazhuvur soldiers were camped in large numbers near the light house and left Kodi Karai early in the morning,”
“Ah! That’s why you didn’t hear the news,”
“I thank you for telling me. I need to go to Pazhaiarai and want to avoid travelling behind Pazhuvur entourage. Can you help me?”
“Pazhuvur entourage is going in the King’s road. If you go through Mullaiarrangkarai you will reach Pazhaiarai soon,”
“If you could hasten my work and fix the iron shoe, I can leave immediately,”
The Ironsmith hurried and started hammering the Iron shoe again. For each bang of the hammer he said, “This is for Pazhuvetrayar, this for Chinna Pazhuvetrayar and this for Mazhavarayar and this for Sambuverayar…”
Vandiya Devan could then understand the extent of anger that people had for these noblemen.
After the iron shoe was fixed, Vandiya Devan tried to pay the Ironsmith but he refused the fee.
“I like you so I did the work for you. I don’t want any payment,”
Vandiya Devan thanked him wholeheartedly and climbed on his horse.
“Thambi! Why are you going to Pazhaiarai?”
“Ayya! If you do not ask me this question, I wouldn’t have to lie,”
The Ironsmith laughed and said, “Thambi! You are becoming cleverer by the day but be on your guard when you are sleeping!”
The sun had almost set when he started his journey again but thanks to the Ironsmith’s directions, he found the route that he needs to take. He looked up to see millions of stars lighting his way to Pazhaiarai. To make the way more scenic a few fire flies came out of the bushes and his heart was filled with happiness.
There were many reasons for feeling happy. He was happy that while the rest of the world was worried to death about Prince Arul Mozhi’s disappearance in the sea, he alone knew him to be safe. He was also happy to have fooled the Mandiravadi one more time. And the thing that made him most happy was the fact that he would be seeing Princess Kundavai yet again.
He was elated by the fact that he had completed the task that she had given him. He couldn’t but be proud of the fact that he had surmounted a hundred hurdles successfully to see the task done. He anticipated that he would be in Pazhaiarai the next evening if all goes well on the way.
The stars, the gentle breeze and the cool waters of the lake reminded him of an old love song. He was alone there on the horse and there was no one to object to his singing, hence he sang. We need not guess for whom he is singing this song. But sadly when the song got over, a pack of wolves started howling in competition.
Suddenly a voice was heard laughing uproariously. Vandiya Devan startled and scared turned around in his horse while his hand clutched his hilt. A man came out from behind a tree.