Next day Vandiya Devan found himself on his way to Kudanthai through the banks of Arisalaru River bearing the message that Prime Minister Aniruthar had given for Aditya Karikalan. It was a beginning of the monsoon season (the month of Aipasi in Tamil Calendar) and the everywhere in the Kingdom he could see verdant green lands and cool breeze serenading the trees. He could see various hues of green and each one of them was as enchanting as the other. Doting these green lands and farms were many pristine ponds and lakes reflecting the cloudy skies and welcoming the occasional drizzle of the rain.
Vandiya Devan drank in the beautiful scenes that unfolded in front of him and couldn’t help remembering the sights that he had seen two months ago when he passed by the same route. The varying shades of green fields made a very alluring picture and he compared it with the sage green leaves of the trees, the soft green grass of the meadows and the gleaming green of the frogs that were leaping about.
As he trotted his horse slowly he realized that some sort of sorrow that prevented him from enjoying these sights fully clouded his heart. On the contrary there were many reasons for him to be enthusiastic about. Two months ago when he passed by this way, all the desires that he had borne in his heart have been fulfilled. Some of those wishes were mere dreams that he had never hoped to fulfil in the first place!
He met with the Emperor Sundara Chola… he also had the opportunity of visiting cities such as Thanjavur, Pazhaiarai, Anuradhapuram, Maanthotham…he won the friendship and trust of the most beloved prince in Chola Kingdom, Prince Arul Mozhi Varman…he also got an opportunity to help the Prince at an opportune moment…he met the most beautiful woman in Chola Kingdom and was lucky enough to secure a place in her heart… now who could more lucky than that? When he remembered their last meeting and Kundavai’s declaration he felt happy and sad in equal measures. Questions and doubts swirled through his mind… Do I truly deserve her? Will our wishes ever get fulfilled? What if there are insurmountable hurdles in our way?
Aha! There is no dearth of hurdles! The world is indeed full of hurdles thanks to people like Ravidasan who conspire against the Kingdom, seductresses like Nandini, noble lords like Pazhuvur brothers who turn against their own king, unworthy friends like Kandanmaran and Parthibendran, lovelorn girls like Vanathi and Poonguzhali and if that weren’t enough spies like that Veera Vaishnavan, Kalamugars who can’t fill the belly of the largest quick sands in Kodi Karai…
With the grace of God I have somehow escaped from all these dangers but he knew that none of the dangers that he had faced so far could compete with what he might have to face in this mission that the Prime Minister had set about for him. On one side there is Prince Aditya Karikalar whose recklessness was legendary and on the other is a seductress who has reduced one of the most powerful lords of the Kingdom into a mere puppet. How does he expect me to foil their meeting? Is that even possible? What does that Brahmarayar think of himself? What is his ultimate plan here? Does he wish to remove me from the Princess’ heart altogether? He said that Azhwarkadiyan would join me on the way and he too has not shown up yet. How long do I rein in the horse and trot slowly? I don’t really know who that Vaishnavan is truly but he has never caused me any harm but has only helped me. If he comes along the rigours of the journey would disappear.
There….those thick groves of trees. That’s where I met the Princess for the second time where they were trying to scare Princess Vanathi with the crocodile. When all her companions laughed at my stupidity, Princess Kundavai came forward and spoke sweetly and put the girls in their proper place. Let me stop here for a moment…
Vandiya Devan got down from the horse and stood near the trees almost reliving the moment and then he went near the river bank where the water was lapping near the tree roots. As he stood watching the water, he could almost see the Princess’s face reflected on the water and it increased his longing to see her again… That’s when he heard a familiar voice singing from the top of the tree. It was Azhwarkadiyan perched on top of the tree singing a song about how divine the Lord Vishnu’s form was…
“Oho! So I look divine to your eyes Vaishnavaney! Please let me also have the opportunity to see your divine form as well. Kindly get down from the tree and favour me with your presence.”
Azhwarkadiyan got down from the tree and said, “I was not singing about you! You don’t look divine by any measure to my eyes… I would say that you look only dangerous with your long sword, daggers, spear and what not…”
“Then whom were you referring to?”
“I was singing about my Lord Vishnu whose dwarf form was enough to measure this entire world under his foot…”
“Stop! You will henceforth stop deriding Lord Shiva thus. If you persist you will be encounter danger.”
“What danger? I am under the protection of my Lord Vishnu who didn’t think twice before mounting his Garuda to rescue a mere elephant from a crocodile.”
“It was my duty to warn you and I did that.”
“Alright tell me. What danger are you talking about?”
“That day in Pazhaiarai when the people crowded around the Palace I heard a few Kalamugars discussing.”
“What were they discussing?”
“They wanted to sacrifice the growing crop of Vaishnavas to Maha Kali and then build a pyramid of their skulls and dance a thandavam (Shiva’s Cosmic Dance) atop!”
Vaishnavan brushed his hand on his head and said, “This seems strong enough and I am sure it can withstand the dance of the Kalamugan.”
“I think you will find my warning in good stead because since morning I have been seeing more and more Kalamugars going this way rattling their skull garlands and heaving their trident up and down. It would be better if you could take Lord Shiva’s name and remove that knot of hair in the front…”
“Never! Thambi! Never!”
“I said that my mouth could never utter the name ‘shiva’ and change my appearance. I can probably take my Lord Vishnu’s name and change it perchance. Look there!”
Vandiya Devan looked at the direction where Azhwarkadiyan was pointing. Along the road, a palanquin was coming borne by bearers and a woman companion was walking beside it. The gilded palanquin resembled those that a high-born maiden might travel in and this made Vandiya Devan wonder as to who would be going within. For a minute he wondered if it might be Princess Kundavai and then immediately dismissed the idea.
“Vaishnavarey! Who do you think is going in that Palanquin?”
“Thambi! Listen to me. Do not interfere in matters that do not concern you. You have got into many troubles because of this habit of yours. People, palanquins, chariots and horses will go on the King’s road how do they concern you or your mission? Just get on your horse and gallop away!”
“Really! Looks like our good old Vaishnavan has become all business these days! Maybe you have forgotten what happened in Veeranarayanapuram? Didn’t you ask me to take a message to that woman in the palanquin?”
“That’s old story. Why do you rake it up now?”
“They said that you would join me on the way. That’s why I have been trotting this horse along slowly.
“You are travelling on a horse while I am walking afoot. How can we travel together? You go on your way and wait for me near Kollidam River. I will join you there tomorrow.”
Vandiya Devan then knew that Azhwarkadiyan was engaged in some other spy work that he didn’t wish to inform him about.
“Alright! As you wish.” He said and mounted his horse and noticed that storm clouds had gathered in the sky.
“Vaishnavarey! Do you think it will rain?”
“Do you think I know astrology? It is the month of monsoon so one can expect rains at any moment. It would be best if you were on your way as fast as possible. Try to find a place to stay dry tonight.”
Vandiya Devan for once heeded Azhwarkadiyan’s words and galloped away but when he mentioned ‘astrology’ he remembered Kudanthai Jodhidhar. His house lay on the way and he thought it would be interesting to meet him before he started his new mission. He can try and find what the stars say about Chola Kingdom now.
Will Madhuranthakan ascend the throne? What about Arul Mozhi Varmar? The astrologer had compared him to Dhruv star (Pole Star). What would his fate be? How can his prediction that the Prince would be an Emperor come true when he carelessly rejected the throne of Elangai?
What about the predictions that were made about me? Will I ever get back my Kingdom from the tiger’s mouth? What about my new mission? Will I succeed in it? How can I prevent Karikalar from meeting Nandini? In the past he had met her twice and had gotten away through luck. Will my luck hold on forever? Whenever he thought about Nandini, an unknown dread flooded his heart even though she had behaved with him with utmost respect and love, he couldn’t fathom her motives by any measure. He often suspected that she had allowed him to escape time and again for some future purpose that might lead to his devastation. That’s another reason why he was reluctant to accept this mission.
As he galloped away, his horse rode through the same path that the palanquin had taken a few moments ago. Soon he could see it bearing down the pathway. He overtook it soon but not before seeing who was inside it. It was Kodumbalur Princess Vanathi! He almost reined in the horse and stopped it but then changed his mind and went ahead. He remembered Kundavai had mentioned something about Vanathi leaving her during their last conversation.
Where is this young maiden going that too without any proper escort?
He became more worried about her when he noticed a few Kalamugars under a tree whispering amongst them as they watched the palanquin with their red-rimmed eyes.
To Vandiya Devan, they looked like the same Kalamugars whom he had encountered earlier near the Harishchandra River.
What’s their interest in this young girl? Why are they looking at her palanquin thus?
Vandiya Devan didn’t have much sympathy for Vanathi. He had often felt that the Princess was out to steal Arul Mozhi Varmar away from Poonguzhali. Many a time he also felt an irrational anger towards the poor princess! However Princess Kundavai had boundless love for the girl and would be devastated if some danger befell her.
|Vandiyan Devan and Kalamugars|
Why would she be in danger? No! No! Azhwarkadiyan was right. I need to focus on my mission and not get distracted by women.
Despite this resolution he found himself getting uneasy as he encountered more Kalamugars on the way. Soon he neared Kudanthai and could sight the astrologer’s hut. That’s when he realized that the Kodumbalur Princess too might be on her way to consult the astrologer. Thinking thus, he tethered the horse to a tree near the house and entered it.