|Pazhuvur Elaya Rani - Nandini Devi|
Nandini held the sword to her heart and then kissed it lovingly but to Vandiya Devan, it seemed as though a beautiful lotus was seeking to come close to a burning furnace. Immediately after this, her facial expression changed. She now resembled Goddess Kali who demanded a sacrifice from her devotees.
“Yes. God has given me this sword to fulfil a life’s purpose but I can’t fathom what that is. I often send this to the Ironsmith to sharpen it. I shower it with the same care and affection that a tigress shows its small cubs. I am nurturing this blade with the same love that a fierce Arab warrior shows towards his beloved horse. Just as Queen Vanamadevi is devoutly serving King Sundara Chola, I too am taking care of this sword. But what does God intend for me to do with it, I know not. Its purpose is still a mystery to me. These hands that know only to make garlands of flowers, will they be asked to kill my vicious enemy or will I will be tasked to plunge it within my mine own heart, I know not. I do know that one day, God will reveal the purpose of this sword to me. I wait, day and night for that moment to come. I stay prepared, dressed up thus wearing beautiful ornaments and adorning myself with silks and flowers. People around me think that I love to adorn myself while Pazhuvur lord thinks that it’s because I love him. He doesn’t know the fire that burns in my heart…”
Vandiya Devan listened to Nandini’s tortured speech with a dazed expression and then he asked, “Devi! Where is Periya Pazhuvetarayar?”
“Why do you ask? Are you afraid of that old man?”
“No Devi! When I am not afraid of you, why would I be scared of him?”
“Aha! That’s precisely why I like you. I do not know why, but people are afraid to talk their minds in my presence. My Lord Husband who bears 64 deadly scars upon his body, is frightened to his voice his opinions in front of me. My noble brother-in-law Kalanthaka Kantan trembles when he hears my voice. Prince Madhuranthakan who wishes to rule this kingdom as Chakravarthy comes in my presence with the same devotion that he used to show his Lord Shiva. King Sundara Chola who is at the death’s doorstep loses his consciousness whenever he lays his eye upon me. Parthibendra Pallavan, of whom I have heard many stories of bravery and valour was in my presence for a little while and now he follows me around everywhere. He has even forgotten his duty to his Prince and wants come with me to Thanjavur. He comes near with desire in his eyes but yet he trembles in my presence.
Do you know, when I was young I loved to watch fire? I would long to touch it and extend my fingers towards it but I could never do it. Whenever I see Parthibendran I remember, how I tried to play with fire. Even your own master Aditya Karikalan was for some reason afraid of me. When we were children, he cherished and adored me, yet he was frightened of me. Ah! If only this weren’t so, my life wouldn’t have become so unrecognizable even for me. Ayya! Would you convey this message to him? Tell him I have forgotten the past and that I am the wife of Pazhvur Lord whom he considers as his grandsire. There is no cause for him to be afraid of me. I will not harm him in anyway. Will you tell him?”
“Devi! Forgive me. There is no guarantee that I would go back to him alive. Even if I did, I bear many messages of great import for him. There is a possibility that I might forget to give him your message.”
“Amongst all the men, you are the only brave one around me. You do not utter falsehood just to please me. You speak your heart no matter how bitter the truth is. Vandiya Devarey! I do not go out in a chariot or an elephant like how Princess Kundavai does. I meet very few people and unfortunately most of them are cowards who pander for my favour with meaningless words. You are the only one who doesn’t hide your intentions behind the façade of love…”
“Devi! I find it difficult to hide anything in your presence because your beautiful eyes are sharp enough to unearth the truth of my heart,”
“You might be right but so far I have failed to divine your heart’s secrets. You asked about Pazhvur Lord, didn’t you? He has gone along with Parthibendran to a nearby village to watch Kannagi Koothu and they plan to ask the temple priests about the fate of the lost prince. Poor men, they didn’t know that they would have found the answers to their questions if only they had caught you. It will be past dawn before they come back. Ayya! Let me ask you again. You do know the truth about the Prince’s fate, won’t you tell me about it?”
“No Devi! I cannot reveal truth about the Prince to you. Ironically I had decided today, not to lie about anything. I cannot tell you anything about the lost Prince. I forgot my resolution a few moments ago…” he said and removed the Palm Signet ring that Nandini had given him.
“Devi! Here is the palm signet ring that you gave me. It is true that Kodumbalur Commander’s men took the ring from me but Budhi Vikrama Kesari returned it to me later. Kindly accept this with heartfelt gratitude for all the help you rendered me. I am truly grateful to you,” he said and held the ring in his outstretched hands.
Nandini looked at it intently for a while and then said, “Ayya! I do not take whatever I have given. You are free to keep it. I was testing your truthfulness and you have passed it. You may keep it as my remembrance,”
“Devi! Are you sure about this? If I kept it with me, I might be tempted to use it again,”
“I am not worried about that. Use it in any way you choose. I shall now ask my guards to take you back in the palanquin to the place where they captured you,”
“And if I refuse…”
“If you refuse, you will be trapped in this ancient fort forever. You cannot leave this place without our aid,”
“Devi! Whose Fort is this?”
“This fort was built by the Pallavas. When the Pandya Kings captured the Chola Kingdom, they stayed in this fort. During the reign of Vijayalaya Chola a fierce battle took place and one half of this palace was destroyed and it lies in ruins. People here call this as Pallava or Pandya fort depending on where their loyalties lie. The ruined palace is a maze and only those who are familiar with the place can hope to get out of it. What do you say? Shall I call my men to take to you back or do you wish to stumble your way out of here?”
“No Devi. I will go with your men. I do not have the time to find my way out of here. Before I leave, I wish to ask you something. Is there anything else that you perchance want from me? Can I be of assistance to you in any way?”
“I thank you for the offer. I do need your help. Would it be possible for you to bring me a flying horse?”
“What? Flying horse?”
“Do you mean the fast steeds that are bred in the Kingdom of Arabia?”
“No. I can’t ride such a horse. I want a horse that can fly with wings. I have heard many stories about the existence of such horses and I wish to have one,”
“Why do you wish for such a horse? Do you want to go to the heavens?”
“Do you believe that a sinner like ‘me’ can step into the heavens?”
“Do you think that all the people in the heaven are good? People in heavens too indulge in sins and get cursed. They are sent to our world to seek retribution for their mistakes. Once their penance is complete, they go back to the heaven,”
“No. I do not wish to go to heaven. In the Pandya Kingdom there is a place where there is no greenery. A vast stretch of land that is laid bare to the sun with just rocks. Not even a blade of grass grows here and in these mountains there are many caves that Dingambara Jain Saints once used to meditate in. Not even Amaravathi – the capital of the heavens can match the beauty of those mountains. That’s why I wish to go there,”
“Devi, Your request is quite strange indeed,”
“If I had a flying horse I would go to Pandya Kingdom and then from there I would travel to Elangai. I have heard that there are trees that almost touch the sky in the forests there. Just as we have herds of buffalo grazing here, there are wild elephants there. I would love to see them. I have heard that there are many lands and kingdoms where mountains of frozen water exist. I have heard that when the sun rises here, these mountains would gleam with a silvery sheen. I have also heard of many kingdoms built in the midst of deserts where the sand is white and soft. If I had a flying horse, I could see all these wonders…”
“Devi! It is beyond my powers to procure such a horse for you. However, I can help fulfil a few of your wishes. If the sea is calm, you can reach Elangai within half a day in a good boat. If you have a ship…”
“Ayya! I can’t travel by boat or a ship, as I am afraid of waters. My heart trembles at the very thought of it. Your ideas aren’t of much use to me. You have my leave to go,”
“Devi! Is there anything else that you wish to tell me?”
“No. Do you have something to tell me?”
“I have a question Devi. A few days ago, didn’t you come to Elangai? Didn’t you stand on the ruined streets of Anuradhapura on a full moon night?”
“No. That would be impossible for me. Pazhvur soldiers surround me at all hours. Why do you think that I was at Elangai?”
“Devi, I saw you in Elangai. You just spoke about ‘Flying Horse’. I thought that you might have already procured one and used it to fly to Elangai. Your appearance was however different. You wore an ordinary old sari with no jewel or ornament adorning you. Your hair was not bound but was let out free. Tell me in truth, were you that woman?”
“No. I am not she. Did that woman speak something to you?”
“No. She didn’t speak at all. She could only talk with signs. I thought that since you keep the company of magicians, you might have somehow come there,”
“Then it is quite strange that the mute woman in Elangai resembles you greatly in every aspect,”
Nandini looked dazed and then she sighed heavily and said, “Ayya! You offered to help me, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I did.”
“Do you truly mean it?”
“I do Devi. With all my heart.”
“Do you truthfully mean it?”
“You can depend upon it.”
“Then promise me that if you ever see this mute woman again, you will try to bring her to me. If that were not possible, then you should help me to meet her.”
After half hour, Vandiya Devan was again in Mullaiarrangarai Lake with his horse next to him. Nandini’s men disappeared fast enough after they left him there.
Vandiya Devan began his interrupted journey through the lake bed on the horse. It was past midnight and on the sky the comet was seen stretching from one end to another. He wondered if there was any truth in people’s belief about the disastrous events that come to pass when comets are sighted.
Nandini remained in his thoughts for the rest of the night. When he met her in Thanjavur for the first time, he found her not only beautiful but also distasteful. After meeting her again, he felt pity for her because he realized that she has undergone many untold sorrows in her life. He also realized that he was clueless about her intentions and her association with the Abathuthavigal. Her life was a mystery in most parts and he didn’t know anything about her past apart from what Thirumalai had told him. His mind cautioned him again and he resolved never to meet her again. He was also tempted to throw the palm signet ring in the lake waters but something stopped him from within.
I might need it again to escape from some danger. I will get rid of it after meeting Princess Kundavai at Pazhaiarai I will throw the ring and never again will I agree to spy for anyone!
The dawn broke even while he was thinking thus and Vandiya Devan sore and tired tied the horse to a nearby tree and settled down to nap for a while.