Saturday, 30 July 2016

Chapter 31: Verdant Green Lands

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…

Azhwarkadiyan Nambi

“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!”

“What ‘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.

Princess Vanathi
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.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Chapter 30: Two Prisons

Kundavai went to the city’s prison directly after her conversation with Vanathi. She asked the guards to wait outside and entered the building where Vandiya Devan was kept in an isolated cell. When she entered the outer chamber she found him singing a love song with his back on the cell bars.

Kundavai waited until he finished the song and then coughed discreetly to gain his attention. Vandiya Devan turned around immediately and welcomed her, “Welcome! Princess! Do sit down!”

“Where do I sit?”

“This is your palace. The city is under your reign. You can sit on any of the thrones available here…”

“When the Vanar clan ruled over this Kingdom did your people build your palaces like this? Under our reign, we call this a prison.”

Devi! I do not know how a palace or prison looks like in our city because we have none. A hundred years ago, many kings brought their armies to our city and destroyed our prisons and palaces.”

“Why would they do that? Why did they hate your palaces and prisons?”

“They were destroyed thanks to a poet’s imagination.”

“Really! How did that happen?”

“When my forefathers ruled over this Kingdom they would imprison the kings and noblemen who didn’t pay their taxes on time. They would be held in cells that overlooked the palace and they would be made to wait for days together before the King would grant them an audience. These people would wait in the cells and watch the days roll by, hoping that one day the King would call them to the court where they could apologize and go back home. But unfortunately it was not easy to gain an audience with the King unless you happen to be a poet. These poets were fortunate beings who could gain the audience of the King at time of the day and when they left the King plied them with gifts, precious jewels and what not! The noblemen and petty kings who were imprisoned would watch these poets take away the gifts that they had once given the King. ‘Aha! See how lucky these poets are? See there isn’t he carrying the golden umbrella that I once gifted the King? Look at that! That poet is going away on my chariot! This one is taking my best horse! Ayyo! My royal elephant is bearing that god-forsaken poet! In the end, there came a poet who heard the lament of these kings and he composed a poem on it. This unknown poet spread the poem all over the Kingdom and the people would listen to it with love and pride. One day, this very poem became the bane of our life when many kings joined their forces together and attacked us, razing our palaces and prisons to dust…”

“Even if they razed your palaces to the ground, they couldn’t destroy this poem that describes the greatness of Vanar Kings. Your clan is indeed glorious…”

“It is however unfortunate that the glorious name of Vanar clan is getting tainted because of my actions.”

“Aha! So you will accept the truth no matter how bitter it is?”

“What else can I do? They say that of all the kinds of slavery in this world, the worst is to be a slave of a woman. In the name of fulfilling your wishes, I tainted the glorious name of my clan. I had to hide, lie, use dirty strategies and tricks just to keep myself alive. When I sought to release my anger and frustration on that physician’s son that satisfaction too was snatched away from me.”

Ayya! Why are you so angry with the Physician’s son Pinagapani?”

“I have valid reasons to get angry. Couldn’t you find somebody sane to send along with me to Kodi Karai? He almost sabotaged my mission to Elangai. And if that weren’t enough he tried to get me arrested as a spy and after I escaped from that he pursued me again and accused me of being Pazhuvur Elaya Rani’s spy in front of thousands of people…”

“Prince of Vallam! Isn’t that true?”

“Isn’t what true?”

“The charge that you are Nandini’s spy?”

Devi! I have taken a vow never to tell the truth.”

“That’s good vow to follow. Did you perchance take it after meeting Nandini at the Harichandra River?”

“No! I took this vow much before that. People kept believing my lies all the time and yet once when I told the truth that the ‘Prince was safe in Nagapattinam’ they laughed…”

“I am glad that they didn’t believe the truth that you uttered. Just imagine what could have happened if they had believed you?”

Devi! It was a blunder that I would never repeat…”

“I thank you for that promise.”

“Promise? What promise did I make?”

“You just now promised me that you would avoid making blunders and fulfil the mission that I give you…”

 “My God! When did I say that? Enough! Release me from this prison… I will be on my way…”

“If that is so then I will never release you from this prison. You will have to live the rest of your life here.”

Vandiya Devan laughed.

“Why are you laughing? Do you find me amusing?”

“No Devi! Do you really think that I depend upon ‘you’ to release me from this prison? Do you really think that this prison can hold me for long?”

The Princess looked at him silently for a while with a strange intensity.

Ayya! You are far too clever for prisons such as this. You are indeed skilled in escaping from them. For a man who escaped the treasure chamber of Pazhuvetarayar this can hardly pose a hurdle.”

“If you truly think so then open this cell and release me.”

“I might open the doors of this for you or even you might escape the confines of this prison on your own but know this, there is a prison that you will never escape from.”

“Are you perchance referring to the underground prison that is under the command of Chinna Pazhuvetarayar?”

“No! I have no doubts, you are clever enough to overcome the tigers and make your escape…”

“Then what prison are you referring to?”

“I was referring to my heart…”

Devi! I am an orphan. I have neither a home nor a roof. I have no one to call my own. The glories of my ancestors are merely stories and some dismiss it as a poet’s imagination. You are the Princess of this realm, the daughter of the Emperor who rules over many Kingdoms…”

“Who knows maybe one day even our glories might become old stories…”

“Be that as it may but you can’t dispute the fact that you are the daughter of the Emperor today. Noble Lords like Pazhuvetarayars and even the Prime Minister of this Kingdom are bound to obey your command.”

“If what you say is true then how can you defy my commands?”

“Wielding political power is different and moreover you are talking about ruling over your heart.”

“What’s so wrong about it?”

“What is wrong is our status in this world. You are a Princess and I am an ordinary soldier.”

“Have you heard of this proverb – ‘Is there a bar that can restrain love?’”

“Wouldn’t this proverb prove true in the case of Poonguzhali and Ponniyin Selvar?”

“Yes. You are right. I thought that my brother was destined to rule this world so I sought to bar his heart.”

“I had heard so much about him that I was very eager to meet him. I wished to travel by his side to far away kingdoms and win glories and victories…”

“I guess that you have lost that particular wish of yours?”

“Yes. Ponniyin Selvar doesn’t seek kingly glories. He is content with a peaceful life. He wishes to build temples that would astonish one and all rather than wage wars…”

“In the meanwhile, Madhuranthakan is single minded about ruling this kingdom. The goat has become the tiger indeed and the tiger is happy to be the goat.

“And thanks to you I became the night wolf. I had to hide, lie and cheat - just to save my skin and escape from my enemies. Princess! I am unsuited for this work! I beg you to release me…”

Ayyo! Why is everyone abandoning me at the time of my need? Vanathi who was my dear friend and companion wants to leave me. Will you leave me too alone in this world?”

Devi! I know not what transpired between the Kodumbalur Princess and yourself. There are Princes, Kings and Noblemen who would consider themselves fortunate if you would but spare a glance at them and they are ready to hold your hand to their hearts if you would give them a chance. On the other hand, I was sent here to serve you…”
Princess Kundavai and Vandiya Devan
Hearing this, Kundavai extended her hand towards him. Vandiya Devan looked at her astonished and then hesitantly grasped with both his hands. He bent his head and held her hand reverently to his eyes. Every nerve end of body tingled with desire, love and longing.

“Vandiya Devarey! I was born in a family that celebrates a woman’s virtue just as they would a man’s bravery. Many women born in our family considered it their duty to follow their husbands to the funeral pyre…”

“I have heard Devi…”

“Then know this… the hand that touched you today will never know the touch of any other man.”

They stared at each other silently… wordlessly. Vandiya Devan couldn’t look away from the tear filled eyes of Kundavai.

Ayya! You are too reckless for your own good. I fear for your life. If anything were to happen to you, what will become of me?”

Devi! I am fortunate to have gained a place in your heart but do not ask me to be a coward.”

“There is a vast difference between being cautious and being a coward. Even Prime Minister Anirudhar doesn’t doubt your bravery…”

“Then what does he doubt about…”

“He fears that you might be Nandini’s spy.”

“If that is so then allow me to give him the same answer that I gave that Physician’s son. Open the door of this cell and tell me where I can find him.”

“The Physician’s son at least knew a little bit of fist fight but our Prime Minister has always exercised his sharp mind instead of a sword.”

“Then I will let him how sharp my sword is…”

“Next to the Emperor it is Prime Minister Anirudhar who the people trust and respect. Even the Pazhuvur brothers steer clear of him…”

“Pazhuvetarayars have tainted their hearts when they rose against the Kingdom. They would steer clear of anybody who would tell the truth. I have nothing to hide…”

“Anirudhar is the cherished friend of my father since childhood. If you disrespect him, you would be disrespecting me and the Emperor.”

“If that is so then tell me how I can win his confidence.”

“He wishes to send someone trustworthy to Kanchi. I have assured him that you can undertake this mission…”

Devi! Do not send me to Kanchi. A voice within my heart keeps telling me, ‘Do not go to Kanchi’.

“Could that voice perchance belong to Nandini?”

“Never! I would never listen to that snake.”

Ayya! Please do not call her thus, I beg you.”

“What is this? Why this sudden change?”

“Yes. My heart has undergone a change indeed after I heard about that deaf and mute woman in Elangai.”

“If that is so then, you will be telling me next that I will have to behave respectfully towards her.”


“And you might also tell me that if she should hand me the Sword that she has prays to everyday and ask me to kill someone, I should go ahead and do it?”

Kundavai shivered when she heard this.

“It is enough if you are respectful towards her, you don’t have to listen to her. I fear that she has no idea what she is involved in.”

“She too said the same thing. She said, ‘I know not why I am worshipping this sword’”

Hearing this Kundavai shivered once again and said shakily, “Only God can save the Chola race.”

“And I wish that the God would use me as a weapon to save it.”

“I wish the same too. Once you return from Kanchi, I want you to go back to Elangai and bring that deaf and mute woman to me…”

“’It is impossible to take her anywhere. It would be like bottling up a storm.’ Someone said this once… yes Azhwarkadiyan did. Maybe he tried to do it once.”

“No. He couldn’t do it. I think that only you can do it.”

“If you truly believe that then don’t send me to Kanchi.”


“My master is in Kanchi and if he asks me I will be honour bound to tell him everything. If he comes to know of the conspiracy that the noblemen are hatching he will be furious. If he knows that the Emperor is literally treated like a prisoner, then he would immediately start for the capital to release him. If he had heard the news about his brother, he might have left Kanchi even as we speak.”

“That’s exactly why we are sending you. You will need to stop him from leaving Kanchi.”

“What if he had already left?”

“If he has already left then join him on the way… you will need to do a very important thing”

“Tell me.”

“I have received word that Periya Pazhuvetarayar and Nandini have started from Thanjavur and are on their way to Kadambur.”

“Is he really going there with Nandini or is he taking someone else in her Palanquin?”

“No! It is Nandini who will be travelling with him. My uncle is here now. How could it be him?”

“Why are they going to Kadambur?”

“They have invited Aditya Karikalan to Kadambur. Outwardly they wish to discuss marriage and work out a compromise by splitting the Kingdom into two.”

“My master would never agree to that.”

“I am not worried about that at all.”

“Then what are you worried about?”

“A nameless dread has filled my heart. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding away. If I happen to sleep, I dream of darkness that comes swirling towards me. This darkness brings along with it many ominous dreams that I dare not describe.”

“In such a situation why do you want me to leave you and go away? I would give my life to save you from any danger…”

Ayya! I do not fear any danger to myself but for my brother. My fears are for my Nandini. I dread them meeting again. I want you to stop them from meeting alone.”

Devi! You know your brother. If he decides to do something it is impossible to stop him.”

“And yet I wish that you become his armour. If necessary I give you leave to tell Karikalan who Nandini really is?”

“Will he believe it?”

“You will need to make him believe it somehow. If you could but stop them from meeting many dangers can be averted.”

Devi! I will try to fulfill this mission but I doubt if it would be successful. Do not blame me if I fail.”

Ayya! Irrespective of whether you succeed or fail, you will remain imprisoned in my heart.”

Monday, 11 July 2016

Chapter 29: Vanathi’s Transformation

Vanathi and Kundavai
Just when Kundavai was about to leave the palace to release Vandiya Devan from the prison, Vanathi appeared before her and bowed respectfully.

“My dearest! I left you and came away… I still have a few affairs to sort out. I will be back very soon until then why don’t you sit in the garden but don’t go near the lake.”

Akka! I have decided not to be a trouble for you anymore. I wish to return to Kodumbalur.”

“What is this? Has everyone suddenly decided to abandon me? Are you angry with me? Why this sudden love for your native home?”

“If I were to get angry with you akka, then I would probably be the most ungrateful creature in this world. I haven’t developed any sudden love for my native home either. What use is a native home when you have no parents? My mother, when she was alive had wanted to perform a puja at the nearby Kali temple in Kodumbalur but she died without fulfilling it. I think if this pooja was performed at the temple, I will stop fainting thus…”

“You don’t have to go all the way to Kodumbalur just for this. I can send word to them to perform the puja.”

“That’s not the only reason why I wish to go to Kodumbalur. I heard that my uncle Periya Vellar is marching towards Thanjavur. He will not come to Pazhaiarai to meet me as it would be out of the way but I want to meet him at Kodumbalur and learn all that had happened in Elangai.”

“Why are you so interested in learning about what happened in Elangai?”

“Have you forgotten that my father too died in Elangai?”

“I have not forgotten… but there is no taint to his name now.”

“I doubt that. My uncle led the battle campaign in Elangai but now he is coming back in a hurry without completing his mission.”

“Are you going to ask him to go back to Elangai to resume the war? Is that why you want to meet him in Kodumbalur?”

“Who am I to say these things? I just wish to learn what had transpired there…”

“Aha! You wish to learn more about the brave deeds that Ponniyin Selvan did in Elangai.”

“Is that wrong akka?”

“No. What is wrong is the fact that you are trying to abandon me at a time when I need you more than ever…”

Akka! I am but one of your companions. You have scores of relatives, friends, servants and handmaidens who are ready to fulfil your wishes… How can you say that I am leaving you alone?

“Even you have begun to talk like this Vanathi! I think the news about my brother has addled your mind. You don’t have to worry too much about that news…”

Akka! My worries about him can’t be any greater than yours… you are his sister after all!”

“Tell me truth! Did you fall in the lake on your own or did you faint?”

“Why would I fall into the lake deliberately? I fainted and fell in the lake and you saved me.”

“You don’t seem grateful enough for saving your life…”

“I will be eternally grateful to you… not only in this life but for eternity.”

“You are talking as if this life is over… listen to me Vanathi! Do not worry your heart about Ponniyin Selvan. I do not think that he is in any danger. I spoke to the people of Pazhaiarai about this and let me repeat the same to you. Once when he was young, Mother Kaveri saved his life and gave him back to us, I think the God of Sea will do the same again. We will soon know more news about him and you will know that I am right.”

“How do you anything for sure? Do you have any proof to support your belief?”

“I believe my heart Vanathi. If something untoward had really happened to my brother, I would know it immediately within the depths of my heart. If he was really in danger, would I be talking to you so casually?”

“I do not trust the heart anymore akka!”

“Why do you say that?”

“For the past few days, I have been seeing a dream. I appears while I am asleep, while I am awake… sometimes it’s like a waking dream.”

“What dream is that?”

“I see your brother’s face on the water and then I can hear him calling me onto him.”

“This may not be a dream Vanathi, it is a vision that proves to us that this news is true.”

“I don’t know about that akka. If you hear my dream fully you will know. When I fainted in the lake, I went to Nagalokam and I saw a wedding…”

“Who was getting married?”

“I do not want to say that akka! That dream has proved to me that one’s heart can’t really be trusted. What we feel and think is different from what the reality really is. I have henceforth decided to trust only the facts that can ascertained by one’s eyes and ears.”

“Vanathi! What you are saying is wrong! There have been many instances where what one hears and sees have been proven wrong. I can give you many examples for this from stories and myth.”

“I will listen to them at a later akka. For now, I beg you… allow me to leave.”

“Kundavai was shocked. She wondered from wherefore this girl became so determined and resolute to have her way!

“Vanathi! Why this hurry? If you are so determined to go to Kodumbalur then tarry for a few days. The whole kingdom is under confusion and chaos. I will need to make proper arrangements for you to go…”

Akka! I have no fear. The palanquin bearers who brought me from Kodumbalur are sitting here idly. They will take me back home…”

“That’s not proper! You think I will send you home thus without any escort or guards…”

Akka! I beg you… I am not frightened of traveling alone. Who would dare to harm me? Everyone knows that I am your cherished companion. I will however beg a favour of you. I would like to visit Kudanthai Jodhidhar on my way to Kodumbalur. I have a few questions for him.”

“Even I wish to visit him but you are in such a hurry…”

“No Akka! This time around I wish to meet him alone.”

This completed Kundavai’s astonishment about Vanathi’s transformation. How did she change so completely from a frightened mouse of a girl to this determined woman? That’s when she knew that it would be impossible to stop Vanathi’s journey.

“Alright Vanathi. Do as you wish. Prepare for the journey while I go to the prison to release Vandiya Devan…”

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Sunday, 10 July 2016

Chapter 28: A Spy for a Spy

The Princess remained quiet for a while unable to decide what to answer. The Prime Minister however relentlessly pursued her with his question. “Why are you silent Princess? Do you still trust that man?”

Ayya! What can I say? If you speak for a little while longer, I might probably suspect myself…”

“The times are such that we can’t believe anyone around us. It is very difficult to bestow trust and faith on anybody these days… We have so many enemies around us today and many mysterious things are happening.”

“Nonetheless, it looks like no mystery or scheme can be planned without your knowledge. How ever did you know all about my messenger?”

“Princess! I have thousand eyes and two thousand ears and they are all over the Kingdom. I have men serving at Pazhuvur palace and one of Nandini’s men-in-arms reports to me all that happens there. I have many people like Azhwarkadiyan who roam around the kingdom learning secrets, schemes and mysteries. I think I will know whatever happens in our Kingdom and in our neighbouring kingdoms as well but no one can be totally sure about it least of all me. Maybe there are many other mysteries that I am not privy to…”

When the Prime Minister spoke so, Kundavai couldn’t help but wonder whether he also knows about the current whereabouts of Arul Mozhi. She found it very difficult to school her face in manner that wouldn’t reveal anything.

“Ayya! What you just said might be true but I can’t believe that Vandiya Devan is Nandini’s spy. I beg of you, please release him immediately.”

“Princess! I want you to think about this very carefully. There is something mysterious about this woman Nandini. Prince Madhuranthakar who was pious and devout fell into her snare and became power hungry. Sambuverayan’s son Kandan Maran has taken her message to Aditya Karikalan. Parthibendran who once opposed the Pazhuvetarayars is now her most devoted slave. He has agreed to her scheme of dividing the Kingdom into two and to offer one part to Aditya Karikalan and the rest to Madhuranthakan and is now on his way to the Prince to convince him about it.”
Crown Prince Aditya Karikalan
“This is horrendous! How dare she suggest such a scheme? Dividing the kingdom indeed! Our ancestors bled to create this empire for the people…”

“I know that you will not agree to this at any cost. Ten days ago, if someone had suggested this to Parthibendran, he would be up in arms against the Pazhuvetarayars but today, he stands in the forefront as one of the people supporting this scheme.”

“What is this mystery? What sort of power does this Nandini hold over these men?”

“Princess! I thought I would ask you this question and here you are asking me about it. Nonetheless, why do you think Vandiya Devan escaped Nandini’s seductive net?”

Ayya! If you ask me for a reason, I cannot give you one. Something deep within my heart tells me that he is true in his intentions.”

“If you trust him so much, then shall we put him to test?”

“What sort of test?”

“We need to send a trustworthy man to Kanchi immediately. He needs to carry our message to Aditya Karikalan.”

“What message would that be?”

“A few moments ago, you called Nandini a snake… but in truth she is more poisonous than any deadly snake in the world. She has only one intention and goal and that is the destruction of the Chola Kingdom.”

“Oh God!” exclaimed Kundavai.

“She has invited Aditya Karikalan to Kadambur Palace under the guise of compromise. She has also proposed a marriage alliance with Sambuverayar’s daughter and one of Periya Pazhuvetarayar’s own daughter for the Crown Prince. The issue of splitting the kingdom would be decided at Kadambur it seems… What worries me is that, all this is being talked in open and I dare not guess what plan she wishes to fulfil in secret. People think that I know everything that happens in the Kingdom but I have to concede defeat here as I cannot hazard a guess about her true intentions.”

Ayya! What do you propose that we do now?”

“We need to somehow stop Aditya Karikalan from going to Kadambur and we need to warn the Prince against her true intentions. Vandiya Devan will carry this message to Kanchi. If the Prince disregards our warning and goes to Kadambur, Vandiya Devan too should accompany him and act as his shadow. He should stay with the Prince day and night and guard him against Nandini’s schemes. He should not allow the Prince to meet her alone under any circumstances…”

Kundavai sighed. She understood the importance of Prime Minister’s concerns but couldn’t discern whether he proposed this plan after really knowing her feelings for Vandiya Devan or with pure political motives.

Ayya! Why do you think it is important that we stop them from meeting?”

“Princess! A few bodyguards of Veera Pandian have sworn vengeance on their dead king and are seeking to uproot the Chola race. These people are right now receiving freshly minted gold straight from our own treasury that is under Periya Pazhuvetarayar’s control. Is there any need for me to say anymore?”

“No…” mumbled Kundavai. Her forehead was creased and her thoughts were far away with her brother battling fever in Choodamani Viharam. He too might be in great danger…

Ayya! Our Kingdom is being struck by one tragedy after another. Amidst all this turmoil, I am happy that we have someone like you who is capable enough to steer us through this storm. What arrangements have you made with regards to my brother Arul Mozhi?”

“I have made arrangements for special pooja and homam to be conducted in all Shiva and Vishnu temples. In the same manner special pooja and prayers will be conducted in Buddha and Jain temples as well. Choodamani Viharam in Nagapattinam are organizing a special mandala pooja… If you have any other suggestions, I can act on it.”

When the Prime Minister mentioned Choodamani Viharam, Kundavai tried to discern whether there was any change in his expression but was disappointed.

Ayya! I remembered something when you mentioned Choodamani Viharam. Periya Pazhuvetarayar for some reason is not very happy with the Bikshus of Choodamani Viharam. It was they who brought the news about Elangai’s crown being offered to Arul Mozhi. I fear that he might even blame them for the Prince’s disappearance. We need to give adequate protection to the monastery…”

“I will do it at once. I will hasten to Thanjavur and with Chakravarthi’s orders send a small army of soldiers to stand guard there. What do you say about sending Vandiya Devan to Kanchi?”

Ayya! I understand the importance of the mission that you wish to entrust upon him that’s why I am hesitating? Should we send him for this mission?”

“If you tell me that you completely trust him then I would like to send him. I have heard of his many brave deeds and I think we need someone like him… someone who completes his mission despite any adverse circumstances. I saw with my own eyes at the courtyard. He bravely pounced on that poor Physician’s son and gave him fistful of blows. If I had not stopped their fight in the middle that Physician’s son might be on his way to Yamalogam.”

Kundavai’s heart blossomed when she heard these words yet she feigned hesitation and said, “He is brave, there is no doubt about that but he is quite reckless. You saw how quickly he started the fight…”

“Then we can send my disciple Thirumalaiappan along with him. He doesn’t have a reckless bone in his body but his mind is sharper than anybody else.”

When Kundavai gave her assent to Prime Minister’s idea she thought thus –
Even the Gods cannot learn what lies deep within this man’s heart. Now he wishes to send a spy after a spy…

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Volume 1 - New Flood