Sunday, 17 April 2016

Chapter 19: At the Nick of the Time

During the welcome reception of Thirunaraiyur Nambi, Pinagapani couldn’t enter the Sabha room. Nonetheless, he stayed with the thronging crowds outside and kept his eyes trained on Vandiya Devan. Vandiya Devan didn’t notice him because he was more intent upon sending silent messages through his eyes to Princess Kundavai. There was one more man who was looking at both of them unnoticed and that was our old friend Azhwarkadiyan Nambi.

After foretelling disastrous fortunes for Prince Madhuranthakan, Vandiya Devan exited his palace and came to the courtyard where his horse was tied. Pinagapani who was waiting for him with bated breath came near him and asked, “Appaney! Who are you?”

Vandiya Devan was startled to see Pinagapani there but he acted as though he didn’t recognise him and asked, “What did you ask?”

“I asked who are you?” repeated Pinagapani

“Who am I? Who are we in reality? Do you perchance refer to this body that is made of five elements – air, water, earth, fire and the sky? Or do you perhaps refer to this entity that rests within this body? Would you be referring to the supreme lord who created this universe and gave life to each one of us? Appaney! Your question is absurd. In truth there is no ‘you’, ‘I’ or ‘me’. Everything that we see around us is maya. It’s an illusion that has been woven around us to keep us bound to this physical plane. If you wish to learn more about it, you should listen to Thirunarayar Nambi’s discourse about the same and get enlightened.” Said Vandiya Devan and then he nimbly got onto his horse within the blink of the eye and trotted out of the palace before Pinagapani could raise an alarm.

Vandiya Devan in Pazhaiarai

However this didn’t deter Pinagapani. He hastened to the city guards and alerted them about the spy’s arrival and along with a few soldiers, they scoured the city and finally found on one of the streets.

“There! He is the spy. Imprison him immediately.”

“Are you insane?”

“Who is insane? Are you referring to my body, my soul or the supreme lord who created this universe?” shot back Pinagapani.

“From the way you are blabbering, it is evident that you are mad.”

“I am not insane. I am the physician who came along with you to Kodi Karai. Guards! This is the spy who escaped from Thanjavur fort. Imprison him immediately!”

When the guards came towards Vandiya Devan, he warned them, “Be warned! Do not lay a hand on me.  I am the soothsayer who came along with Prince Madhuranthakar.”

“No! No! No! He lies! Bind and chain him immediately. He is the spy.” Shouted Pinagapani.

Soon a large crowd had surrounded them gawking at them and guessing whether Vandiya Devan could really be the spy.

“He doesn’t look like a Soothsayer.” Said one of them in the crowd

“Neither does he look like a spy.”

“Have you ever seen any soothsayer who is so young?”

“Why not? If you have the sight it doesn’t matter how young you are. Would a spy roam on the streets of the city so boldly?”

“Why would a soothsayer bear arms?”

“If he is a spy, who does he work for? What is there to spy in Pazhaiarai?”

While speculation about Vandiya Devan’s life, motives and intention ran rife among the crowd, Pinagapani impatiently shouted, “Imprison this spy immediately! This is the order of Pazhuvur brothers.”

Unfortunately for him, this had an adverse effect on the crowd. When they heard the name ‘Pazhuvur’ they decided that Vandiya Devan was after all innocent and sought to help him escape.

That’s when Azhwarkadiyan elbowed his way through the crowd and asked, “I am looking for the soothsayer who accompanied Prince Madhuranthakan.”

Pinagapani countered it saying, “No! No! He is the spy.”

“What’s this trouble? If you are truly the soothsayer come along with me. Princess Kundavai wishes to consult you,”

Vandiya Devan’s heart skipped a beat and he immediately said, “I am the soothsayer. I am ready to come with you,”

Pinagapani who was horrified by the turn of events shouted himself hoarse. “Don’t let him escape! He is the spy! He is the spy!”

‘Why don’t you prove that you are a soothsayer? I will take you to the Princess if you can predict something for us.” Said Azhwarkadiyan and signaled him with his eyes.

“How should I prove that?” asked Vandiya Devan hurriedly.

“There! Do you see those two men on the horses? They look like royal messengers bearing some important message. Why don’t you tell us what possible message they could be bringing here?”

Vandiya Devan trained his eyes on the men who were trotting slowly and looked at them intently and then he said, “These messengers are bearers of unfortunate news. Someone belonging to the royal family has met with an accident at the sea.”

The messengers soon reached the crowd and they stopped the horses from proceeding further. Azhwarkadiyan asked them, “Looks like you are royal messengers. What news do you bring?”

“Yes we are messengers. We bring news about Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar. His ship was trapped in a fierce storm and the prince jumped into the sea to save someone. He is lost to the sea!”
Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar's death news

When the messenger gave the sad news to the crowd a universal shout of dismay and sorrow was heard. It was difficult to discern from where such a huge crowd came. Scenes of wailing, crying and disbelief were seen all over the place. People crowded around the messengers asking them for more details, not wanting to believe that they have lost their beloved prince.

The people in the city knew that the Pazhuvur brothers detested their prince and that they had sent soldiers to Elangai to imprison him. The prince’s death news was the last straw that broke their back. They openly started cursing them for the tragedy that had struck the kingdom.

“Pazhuvetrayars are responsible for this. It is them who had drowned our dear prince in the sea.” As the talk spread further, everybody in the crowd started shouting against the brothers and unrest spread further.

Stuck in the crowd, the messengers from Thanjavur couldn’t move anywhere. Azhwarkadiyan then took charge of the situation and asked the guards who had accompanied Pinagapani, “Why are you guards watching all this silently? Help these messengers reach the palace. Disperse the crowds!”

The guards who too were in despair after hearing the news about the Prince snapped out of it and tried to lead the messengers by parting the crowds. As the messengers moved towards the palace so did the crowds but one soul alone didn’t wail about the Prince’s fate. “Ayyo! What is happening here? This is a plan to help that spy escape!” However no one noticed the poor physician’s son and he couldn’t move out of the crowd as well. He was swept away by the sea of people who were proceeding towards the palace of dowager queen.

Thankfully, Vandiya Devan had got down from the horse right when the crowd had started gathering. When the crowd started moving, Azhwarkadiyan grasped his hand and said, “Leave the horse. We can find it later. Let’s go now,”

Appaney! If you hadn’t arrived at the nick of the time, I know not what would have happened to me.”

“You ought to be used to it by now. That’s how it happens all the time. You will endanger yourself somehow and someone will come at the nick of the time to save you,” said Azhwarkadiyan cheekily.

They had by then reached the edge of the street and waited until the crowds had gone and then Azhwarkadiyan took him towards the opposite street where the palaces of noblemen and ministers lay.

They went to Prime Minister Anirudhar’s locked palace and approached the garden grounds. Through the garden lay a path towards Princess Kundavai’s palace gardens. As they neared the place, Vandiya Devan could see the lake that adjoined the Princess’s palace. On the lake, there was a boat and a fair maiden seated waiting for him. Vandiya Devan’s heart soared high in anticipation of meeting her again. 

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