Friday, 30 September 2016

Chapter 35: Time is near

Built hundred years ago, (at the time of our story) we have seen the memorial temple of Ganga King earlier when the Pandya conspirators met to discuss their next move even while Azhwarkadiyan was spying on them. Ravidasan and his gang along with the boy and Vandiya Devan reached the same place that night.

They dumped Vandiya Devan along with his horse near one end of the wall that was half dilapidated and said, “You can sit here awhile. Don’t even think of escaping. It is impossible. Only those who are familiar with this forest can hope to cross it over. If you still dare to escape, you will die for sure.”

“Oh yes! I am sure you will work some sorcery and kill me!” said Vandiya Devan cheekily and laughed.

“Laugh! Laugh Well!” said Ravidasan and laughed as well.

A wolf howled at a distance and an owl hooted in response. Vandiya Devan looked around and noted that the dense forest trees had shielded its surroundings from the rain. Though a few patches of ground were wet but largely, the forest was so dense and thick that the thundering rain that had soaked him to the bone had not flooded the place. He removed his upper garment and dried on the stone wall. He sat down with his back on the wall and watched the clearing, where the rest of the gang was assembled. Ravidasan had however left a guard with him to ensure that he wouldn’t escape.

Ravidasan’s gang was sitting on the ground talking amongst themselves. One of them ventured inside the memorial temple and carried an old throne decorated with gilded gold and bronze. The child whom they called ‘Chakravarthy’ (emperor) was made to sit on the throne. Next, they put out the firelights that they carried, all except two to give out a dim light. The smoke from the extinguished firelight enveloped the place.

“Why is the Rani so late?” asked one of them.

“She can come only when the time is right. I told her to come late in the night. There is still time. Until then, can someone sing the songs of Pandya Empire?”

Hearing this, Edupankari took out a small drum and started playing it and Devaralan started singing a song. The low tone of his voice and the rhythmic beat of the drum made his sad song more poignant than ever.

Vandiya Devan who was watching all this intently closed his eyes for a while. The melancholy of the song lulled him into a drowsy sleep even as he realised that Devaralan was singing about the terrible war that was fought at the same spot that they were sitting on.

Yes. That’s where Varaguna Pandyan and Aparajitha Pallavan had fought for three long hard days. To aid the Pallavan, Ganga King Prathivipathy had come with his army and fell prey to the ferocity of Pandya assault. This war memorial that was built to glorify the Ganga King’s brave deeds and today, it has become a home for these cowardly conspirators.

After the fall of the Ganga King, the Pallavan army disintegrated completely and a Pandya victory seemed imminent. That’s when the Chola army came to aid the Pallavas. At the head of the army was the old wizened warrior who bore 99 battle scars on his body – King Vijayalaya Chola. Paralysed in both his legs, four men bore the warrior on their shoulders and brought him to the battlefield. Unsheathing two long swords, the old warrior created havoc among the warring army. Wherever he went, scores and scores of soldiers fell down like flies. The Pallava army that had disintegrated came together to watch Vijayalaya Chola create history.

He could see the swordplay of the old warrior and the flood of blood right behind him. Drums were beating urgently while horses and elephants beat a retreat. The Pandya army that had almost tasted victory was now trying to flee the scene with their lives intact. And even as they retreated, the Pallavas and the Cholas were intent on extracting their revenge.

“Don’t let them flee! Get them!” they shouted.

Pandya soldiers fled the scene screaming ‘Ayyo! Ayyo!”

As the din of the battle grew louder and louder, the Pallavas and the Cholas emerged victoriously.

Vandiya Devan woke up with a start. He looked around and realised that he had fallen asleep to the song that Devaralan was singing and had seen the war play out in his dreams. The song was still going on… extolling the bravery of Pandyas.

Suddenly Edupankari stopped playing the drums. They could see a firelight approaching the clearing from a distance. Few men were carrying a veiled palanquin. They neared the clearing and kept their burden down. A woman emerged out of the palanquin. It was Nandini Devi but she looked different today. Unlike the other times when she was adorned with flowers, jewels and silk, this time, her hair was free of any restraint. To Vandiya Devan’s eyes, she looked like Durga who had vanquished the hoard of asuras.

Her appearance disturbed Vandiya Devan and his limbs shivered when she approached the throne where the child was sitting. Everyone’s attention was riveted by her appearance and they looked at her with stunned silence.

The woman who had accompanied the child, whom he called as his mother was also present behind the throne.

Nandini approached the throne and then opened her arms to the child. The child looked at her and his mother behind and said, “You are my mother aren’t you? She is not my mother is she?”

“Yes! My sweet.”

“Why does she say that she is my mother then?”

“She is the mother who brought you up?”

“Why didn’t you bring me up then? Why didn’t you keep me with you? Why is she keeping me in a mountain, away from you?”

“My sweet! You have been kept away from me because we need you to be safe to fulfil your father’s wishes and to seek vengeance against those who killed him in cold blood.”

“Yes, I know about that.” Said the child and went near Nandini.

Nandini embraced him lovingly and breathed the scent of his hair. The child too held on to her tightly not wanting to let go her!

Nandini prised open his hands by force and freed herself and then led the child to the throne and made him sit on it. Next, she went near the palanquin and took out a sword that we have already seen. She then asked the palanquin bearers to wait at a distance and then came back to the child and placed the sword on the throne.

The child looked at the sword with admiration and said, “Can I hold it?”

“Very soon my Child. You will need to wait.” She said.

Then she looked at Ravidasan and his gang and asked, “Do we have anybody here who hasn’t taken the holy oath?”

“No Devi!” said Soman Sambavan.

She then looked Ravidasan and said, “Senathipathy!”

Ravidasan laughed thunderously.

Unperturbed by his reaction, Nandini said, “Today you might feel like laughing but by next month, you might see our plans come to fruition.”

“Devi! We have been waiting for you announce this for many years now.”

“Ayya! We are but a mere handful. Our Chakravarthy is just a child. Chola Empire is large and powerful. Their army has countless soldiers. If we had rushed through our plans, all would have been lost. Now the time is ripe to seek vengeance. Ravidasarey! Do you have anything to say or ask? Does anybody here want to ask me questions?”

Ravidasan looked at his gang but none seemed to have any questions to ask.

“Devi! We have no questions to ask. We are eager to hear when we will be exacting our vengeance upon these Cholas. When? Where? Who? How?”

“Alright. I came here to give you news about it. That’s why I called everybody here. That’s why I also wanted our Chakravarthy to come here.” Said Nandini and paused.

Everybody’s attention was upon her now.

“Some of you were impatient. You wanted immediate results. Some of you also feared that I might have forgotten the oath that swore upon our King’s dead body. You didn’t know that I had more reasons to remember my oath every second of my life. For the past three years, I have been plotting each and every move of ours so that it helps our cause. I have no other thought left in my mind but this. The time to strike has finally arrived. Today powerful noble families and influential noblemen are split into two groups. Sambuverayar and his supporters want Madhuranthakan as the next King while Malaimaan and Kodumbalur Vellar are against them. I also heard that Kodumbalur Vellar is bringing his army to Thanjavur to make sure they don’t crown Madhuranthakan. Malaimaan too is raising an army to support his grandson’s claim and at any time a war seems imminent between these two groups.”

“Devi! We heard that you are also trying your utmost to broker peace between these two groups. I heard that you have invited both the parties to Kadambur Palace to talk and negotiate an agreement?”

“That’s right. I had organised these peace talks. Can you guess why?”

“No Devi! Who can indeed fathom what lies beneath the depth of a woman’s heart?”

“That’ true. It is indeed impossible. I will tell you. If a fratricidal war breaks out before our mission is complete then we can’t really predict the outcome. Sundara Cholan is still alive and so is his Prime Minister Anbil Brahmarayan. They would intervene and pacify both the groups. Even if one group wins the war and the other loses, our wishes and intentions will not be fulfilled. That’s why I called for these peace talks. We need to fulfil our mission and take our vengeance before the war starts. Once we do that, a civil war would begin in earnest that would destroy the Chola clan from head to foot. Now do you understand?”

When they heard of Nandini’s plan, they shook their head in surprise and expressed their happiness. Some spoke amongst themselves and shook their head expressing their approval of her intelligent plan.

“Devi! We are in awe of your brilliant mind and the plan that you have put in place. We want to know when we will be putting our plan to action? You said that the date has neared? When will we be doing it and who will do it?”

“That’s the purpose of these peace talks. I have called our first enemy to Kadambur Palace under the pretext of a peace agreement. He will come there for sure. That’s where we will fulfil the holy oath that we swore upon our King’s body. Today is Saturday. By next Saturday, trust me, our first enemy would be dead!”

Nandini’s words had a ripple effect on the gang that was gathered there. Some shouted their encouragement and approval while some clamped their hands on their thighs and gave their approval. Edupankari enthusiastically drummed a small beat on the hand drum!

The unusual sounds of such cheer roused some bats in the nearby tree and they took flight eerily. Vandiya Devan couldn’t hear the conversation that was taking place at the clearing but even he could discern that Nandini had given some good news to Ravidasan’s gang.

Ravidasan stood up and raised his hands to signal silence and then turned towards Nandini.

“Devi! Your last words have filled us with eagerness and hope. We never thought that we would ever see the day when our oath would be fulfilled. I wish to know who get the honour of fulfilling our oath.”

“I am not surprised at this question. It is but natural that each one of you would want to be the sword to strike down the enemy. That’s why I asked you to bring the heir of Veera Pandian here and here is his father’s sword. Let the child decide who deserves the honour of seeking vengeance at his father’s killer and hand over the sword to them. The rest of us will stay close to that person and aid him in whatever way possible. If that person fails in his mission then we should be ready to fulfil it somehow. I will be inside Kadambur Palace and Edupankari is one of the guards there. We will help you to get inside the Palace. Do these arrangements meet with your approval?”

Ravidasan and his gang nodded their assent and said, “Your arrangements are fine Devi. There is, however, one more thing. Whoever Chakravarthy selects to fulfil the oath will emerge as the undisputed leader of this gang. The rest of us should and must listen to him no matter what.”

Nandini’s face broke into a mesmerising smile after hearing this.

“You wish to bind me too into agreeing to this don’t you?”

“Yes, Devi! You are one of us hence we cannot differentiate.”

“Alright. I agree. Do you all agree with what Ravidasan just said?” asked Nandini

The rest of the gang looked at each other and hesitated. Soman Sambavan stood up and said, “How is it possible? Nandini Devi has been helping us for so long. How can we force her to accept somebody’s orders?”

“Please do not worry about me. I have been living only to see our oath fulfilled. I would happily be the slave of anyone who fulfils it for me, willing to listen to him all through my life.”

Next, she turned towards the child who had been avidly listening and watching the entire scene though it was doubtful whether he understood anything.

“My sweet! This is your brave father’s sword. Take it in your small hands and give it to the one whom you like a lot.”

Ravidasan came near the child and said, “Chakravarthy! Take a good look at each one of us. You need to give the sword to whoever you think is bravest here.”

Cowed down by Ravidasan’s scarlet eyes, the child looked around at the rest of the gang.

Everyone stood up and came near the child. There was an air of expectancy and a hushed silence fell over them as their eyes begged the child entreating him silently to give the sword to them.

Ravidasan’s red-rimmed eyes looked at the child with menacing authority as if commanding him to hand over the sword to him.

The child looked at everyone again and then took the long sword in his hands. The excitement among Ravidasan’s gang mounted. Instantly the child turned towards Nandini and said, “Amma! I like you more than anybody else here. I want you to rule my Kingdom until I come of age,” and handed over the sword to her.

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Volume 1 - New Flood