Sunday, 30 October 2016

Chapter 39: Gajendra Motcham

Vanathi got down from the palanquin and stood out watching the procession arrive near the temple. Her kidnappers, the Kalamugars too stood next to her silently. The silence was so absolute that she could hear the croaking of a lone frog at a distance.

Vanathi didn’t think she could run and escape the approaching party or her captors. She knew the Prime Minister’s reputation. She might probably escape the Kalamugars with schemes and tricks but the likelihood of Anbil Brahmarayar falling for it was unlikely. His political acumen and brilliant statesmanship were well known even among the sheltered womenfolk of Pazhaiarai. Even in the innermost chambers of anthapuram at Pazhaiarai where womenfolk and servants freely discussed the affairs of the Kingdom and the private lives of every nobleman, no one spoke a word about Anirudhar, ill or otherwise because they feared that he might learn about it somehow. It was a well-known fact that the Emperor who was known for his benevolence in other matters would never tolerate disrespect towards his dear childhood friend.

Vanathi knew all this and more. She knew that Princess Kundavai had great respect towards the Prime Minister, therefore, she hoped to get assistance and protection from him but the Kalamugars’ revelation came as a shock to her.

Why would the Prime Minister send these Kalamugars to capture her of all people? Could they be lying?

Though she was confused about the turn of events, she was, however, sure of one thing.

Irrespective of who came here to question, be it the Pazhuvur brothers, Prince Madhuranthakan or even the Prime Minister, I must not reveal any information about the Prince.

This decision bolstered her heart and gave her new determination.

Let them come… I will let them see how brave the people of Kodumbalur clan can be.

The procession stopped at some distance and a palanquin came forward borne by bearers. After it neared Vanathi, the bearers kept it down and Prime Minister Anirudhar got down from it. At his signal, the bearers and the Kalamugars withdrew to a respectful distance and waited.

“How strange? Is this perchance a dream? You are Kodumbalur Princess, aren’t you? You are the daughter of Kodumbalur Siriya Vellar who sacrificed his life for the honour of the Chola Kingdom in Elangai.”

“Yes. I am the Kodumbalur Princess. Ayya! I hope I too am not dreaming about standing in front of the most respected Prime Minister of this Kingdom and the cherished childhood friend of our emperor.”

“Good. I am happy to learn that you know who I am. It will make my task easier and I need not give you too much trouble.”

“I wish you wouldn’t worry about giving me trouble as I wouldn’t consider it as one.”

“Good! I am glad to see that we understand each other perfectly well. I do not wish to trouble you overly. I have a few questions to ask you, and if you answer them to my satisfaction, I will…”

Ayya! Before you question me, might I ask a few questions of my own?”

“Go ahead and ask. You are like my daughter. A few days ago, I met your uncle Budhivikrama Kesari in Elangai and he requested me to take care of you during his absence and I promised to oblige him…”

“Is that so? Then let me offer my salutations to my father! A few years ago, when I met the Emperor, he had promised to be a father to me and now I have the most powerful Prime Minister too wanting to adopt me as his daughter. I think I am truly blessed.”

“Child! Ask whatever you wish of me quickly. It looks like it is going to rain.”

“Father! Was it you who ordered these Kalamugars to kidnap me and bring me to this isolated temple? Was it you who ordered them to mutilate me, if I failed to answer your questions? These scoundrels are saying so, but I refused to believe them…”

“Child, they speak the truth. It was ‘I’ who ordered them to bring you here. If that is a crime…”

Ayya! Your statement shocks me. You are the most powerful Prime Minister of this Kingdom and yet you have no idea whether an action such as these is a crime or not? You know the law of this land and you are in a position where even if the Emperor commits a crime, you have the right to question his actions and yet you do not know whether kidnapping a lone woman and threatening her with mutilation is a crime or not? If you do not know this simple fact that what will happen to the rest of the women in this Kingdom?”

The Prime Minister was speechless for a short while when Vanathi started her tirade and he found it impossible to get a word in between. His voice hardened with anger when he said, “Princess! Stop, please. Do not expend your talent in a speech here. It would be a wasted effort, I assure you. There are enough and more reasons for me to wonder whether it was a ‘crime or not’ because it solely depends on the answer that you would give to my questions. I learned that a woman who knew a very important secret about the Kingdom was travelling by the Nagapattinam road and I asked my men to stop this woman and bring her to me. They might have made a mistake. They might have kidnapped the wrong woman who had been to Kudanthai Jodhidhar’s house. Tell me the truth daughter! Did you intend to return to Pazhaiarai from Kudanthai? Did your palanquin bearers take you on the Nagapatinnam road by mistake? Tell me that it was never your intent to meet someone who had plotted against this kingdom? If you can prove that these allegations are wrong, then my men have indeed committed a crime and I too am complicit in it. What do you say? Shall I speak plainly? Did you start on this journey to meet Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar?”

The Kodumbalur Princess was shaken to the core by the Prime Minister’s questions and she was also very angry. She knew that there was no point is showing her anger on this man. At that moment somehow she transformed from being an innocent maiden to a woman who would weigh each and every word she spoke, lest she reveals something important.

Ayya! What is this that you are saying? How can Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar plot against his own kingdom? Isn’t it a crime to speak about the most darling Prince of the Kingdom thusly? I think I should report this to Princess Kundavai immediately.”

“Go ahead and report anything you wish, Princess. You need not tarry here for a minute longer after you have answered my questions. I will escort you myself to Princess Kundavai.”

“And if I don’t answer your questions… then?”

“You can’t escape without answering the questions from this old man Princess. You will have no choice but to answer me.”

Ayya! You are the most powerful man in this Kingdom but you will not learn anything from me. I might be a poor orphan girl without any protection in this kingdom but I will not answer your questions. Your men promised to burn my fingers in the fire a little while ago, maybe you should do good on that promise.”

“Princess! I commend your brave heart and steadfastness. You are indeed the daughter of the brave Velir who lay down his life for this Kingdom. You say that you will not answer my question… that is wrong because you have already answered many of my questions. There is but one more question for you to answer which will make all things simpler…”

Vanathi was shocked into silence. She wondered whether she did inadvertently say something that she ought not to say. Then she took heart and reigned in her courage.

No! I didn’t say anything. This old man is trying to trap me into answering his questions.

Ayya! You are known to be the most learned man in this world. I am sure you recite the Vedas every day, therefore, it is not right for you to lie thus. How can you say this? I haven’t said anything about the Prince, then how could you claim that I did?”

“Think carefully Princess. You may be surprised to know that one need not open their mouth to answer a question. Your very silence about my question has indeed answered them. Let me tell you what you revealed then. The entire Kingdom is right now under turmoil because Prince Arul Mozhi Varmar is presumed to be dead. The citizens of this Kingdom right from noble families to the poor beggar are mourning his death yet you are standing here telling me that ‘you don’t know anything about him’. What does that reveal? That shows that you know for a fact that the Prince is ‘well and alive’. I asked you whether you were on your way to Nagapattinam but you didn’t refute that either. You didn’t tell me ‘No I am not going to Nagapattinam… I am going elsewhere” and nor did you counter me saying, ‘How can I meet a Prince who is already dead?’ This essentially means that you know that he is alive and you are on your way to meet him at Nagapattinam. Now, there are just two more questions that you need to answer. Where in Nagapattinam, is the Prince hiding and I need to know how you learned this information? Once you give this information, you need not worry about anything else, I will escort you safely to anywhere you wish to go.”

Vanathi plunged into despair. She knew now that she had doomed the Prince’s fate through her foolishness.

Is there any way that I can redeem myself from this blunder? No, that’s not possible. The only way out is to give up my life!

Ayya! You claimed that you are a friend of my uncle’s and that you consider me as your daughter. I beseech you… I do not wish to go to Nagapattinam and nor do I wish to go to Pazhaiarai…”

“You wish to go back to Kodumbalur… I would be happy to escort you there.”

“No. I don’t want to go there…I wish to leave this world. Please ask your men to sacrifice me at the temple’s altar. I am ready.”

“Princess! I told you that I would fulfil your wish, whatever that would be. Therefore if it is your wish to leave this world then so be it but before that, you will need to answer my question.”

Ayya! There is no use asking me any question, as I will not be answering you. If you truly consider me as your daughter…”

“Princess! I do consider you as mine own daughter. I have known your family for many years. I have great admiration for your father. Your uncle and I have been friends, for the past forty years now. However, it’s been my policy never to mix friendship and politics. Where the welfare of the Kingdom and its people are concerned, we have to set aside these relationships. I can’t turn a blind eye to your crime just because I consider you as my daughter. Just look at Chakravarthy’s actions. Did he stop to consider his relationship with his son? No. When he learned that the Prince had indeed plotted against him, didn’t he send his men to imprison him?”

Ayya! You are saying so many things about the Prince. In what way did the Prince plot against the Emperor and the Kingdom?”

“Ah! So you don’t know about it. That might be the reason why you are refusing to answer my question. Let me enlighten you. Ponniyin Selvan went to Elangai on the pretext of fighting the war. When our armies defeated the Elangai King, he saw an opportunity to grab the Kingdom for his own. Isn’t that treason against the Emperor and his Kingdom? When the Chakravarthy knew about this plot, he sent two ships full of soldiers to imprison the Prince but he foiled their attempts by deliberately jumping into the sea. The rumours of his death are false because I am sure he must have escaped somehow to some secret place. You are an innocent girl, that’s why you don’t know anything about the Prince’s ulterior motives. If you try to hide his secret, you too will be complicit in this plot against the Kingdom and will be treated as one. Therefore tell me the truth, where is the Prince?”

Vanathi’s anger broke all bounds. She couldn’t stand there and listen to the falsehoods and lies that the Prime Minister was speaking about her Prince. Her anger transformed her from a calm gentle creature into a ferocious roaring tiger.

Ayya! You are peddling malicious lies. All your accusations against the Prince are false. In Elangai, when our army was disheartened the Prince took over the command and gave our campaign new life. They fought and defeated the enemy thanks to the Prince’s presence and his war tactics. When the people of Elangai came to know about the Prince’s grace, goodness and benevolence they wanted him to rule as their King. The Buddha Mahasangam offered the throne of Elangai to him but he refused. I can’t believe that you would say such things about him! When the Prince learned that the Emperor had sent his men to imprison him, he hastened to meet them on his own. He didn’t jump into the sea deliberately. He was trying to save his dear friend’s life. The Prince never plotted against the Emperor or the Kingdom. I am an unfortunate creature indeed who had to listen to such falsehoods about the Prince.”

Anirudhar responded to her tirade with a slightly mocking smile, “Princess! If someone were to hear you talk thusly about the Prince, they would conclude that you both were lovers.”

Ayya! What you just said is half true. I have indeed lost my heart to the Prince but I doubt if there is any room in his heart for the likes of me. Even the smallest of the birds in this world can fall in love with the moon but the moon has no knowledge about the existence of the bird.”

“Ah! I didn’t know that my dear friend’s niece had such appreciation of poetry. But then, that’s probably why Princess Kundavai cherishes your friendship so much.”

“Enough! I want no praises from you of all people. Either you let me go free or else command your men to sacrifice me.”

“Princess! You seem to know too many things about Ponniyin Selvar, I am sure you also know where he is hiding right now. Tell me where he is and I will take you to your uncle. He has returned from Elangai now and would have reached Madurai by now.”

Ayya! My uncle is not a person who would entertain friendship with people who have poison in their hearts like you. I am an orphan. I have no parents, no relatives or family to speak of. I know nothing about the Prince and even if did, I will not be revealing it to you. Do not waste any more time…”

“Yes. We can’t tarry anymore. It looks like it’s going to rain anytime now…”

“Where there are people like you, thunder and lightening too would fall…”

Nature seemed to acknowledge Vanathi’s words because even as she said it, a flash of lightening streaked across the sky.

“Woman! Will you not tell me where Prince Arul Mozhi Varman is?”


“My guess is correct then. You are indeed on your way to meet him with a secret message. Is that true or not?”

“Ayya! You are wasting time. I am not going to answer any of your questions.”

“Alright. Then prepare yourself. You will be punished in a manner that befits those who collude with criminals who conspire against the Kingdom.”

“I am ready for whatever punishment you wish to mete out. Lead the way. I will lay my head on the sacrificial altar.”

“No. You are the daughter of Kodumbalur Velir. You deserve a punishment that befits your station in life. Look at that elephant!”

Vanathi looked at the elephant that was in the forefront of his entourage. It was a huge beast dark and massive in size. In the enveloping darkness and the drizzling rain, she could discern only the pearly white ivory of the elephant’s tusk.

“Princess! Have you heard of Gajendra Motchan? When a crocodile caught the elephant’s foot, it cried for help and Lord Vishnu came all the way from Vaikuntam to save his devotee and slew the crocodile and sent it to the nether world. This elephant too has punished many people for their crimes and have sent them to the nether world. You said that you wished to leave this world… this elephant would fulfil your wish within a second. It will wound your body within its trunk and throw you away.”

After saying this, the Prime Minister laughed which sounded terribly sinister to Vanathi. She was sure that he was a demon hiding within the skin of a human.

“Princess! Let me ask you for the last time. Will you tell me where the Prince is hiding or would you rather prefer a terrible death through this elephant?”

“Ayya! Will you ask the elephant to come towards me or shall I go to him?”

Anirudhar signalled with his hands for the elephant to come closer and then he said something incomprehensible in a language that Vanathi didn’t understand. The elephant came forward and entwined its huge trunk around Vanathi’s slender form and lifted her from the ground.

During that moment many thousand thoughts came to Vanathi’s mind. She was shocked and surprised by the fact that she was so brave and courageous while facing the Prime Minister.
Didn’t Princess Kundavai mock me all the time for being timid and meek? If she had only seen me now what would she think? Will she ever know what happened to me? No…She will know one day and will tell Ponniyin Selvar how bravely I gave up my life to safeguard his secret. What will the Prince think then? Will he realise then that I was braver than that boat girl?

The elephant’s trunk moved upwards and Vanathi too moved up.

Yes! That Brahma Rakshashar was right. This elephant is going to throw me. God knows where I will fall but I will be dead soon.

The elephant was ready to throw her. Its trunk was above the head. Vanathi closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable to happen. Thankfully, she also lost consciousness at the same moment. 

Friday, 21 October 2016

Chapter 38: What happened to Vanathi?

Vanathi, the Kodumbalur Princess’ palanquin was travelling towards Thiruvaroor even when the sun had begun to set. As she started on her journey, she found herself totally confused. She wished to go to Nagapattinam Choodamani Viharam and nurse Prince Arul Mozhi who was ailing but there were many hurdles to pass through. Firstly, she wondered whether she would be allowed inside the Viharam. Secondly, the thought that she had to go to Nagapattinam alone scared her. She tried to build courage by reasoning with her heart….

To accomplish even small things, people need to cross over hurdles…everybody is struggling to fulfil their aspirations and dreams and hurdles are everywhere. I just need to build courage in my heart and must not get disheartened. Imagine how courageous that boat girl must be to ply her boat through the sea, day and night. One can only imagine the courage that she must have possessed to save the Prince from the stormy seas where the waves rise up as high as the mountains. And I am scared of undertaking a small journey alone!

It doesn’t matter if I was not allowed to meet the Prince. I can find lodgings to stay near the Prince and if I can meet that boat girl there, then through her I will find a way to meet him. I need to convince him somehow that I am not interested in becoming the queen and that my love is pure, devoid of any such ambitions. After that, I can happily give up my life or I can join the Viharam and become a Bikshuni…

 Vanathi wished to know at what time they would be arriving in Nagapattinam from the palanquin bearers. She therefore opened the veils and stuck her head out. She could see several dark figures hiding behind a large tree on the road and on closer look she knew that they were Kalamuga Saivars. She was not worried about them. Kalamugars were frequent guests of her uncle at their palace in Kodumbalur. They would speak to her uncle, conduct pujas and then demand whatever they needed right royally and leave. Once the head of Kalamugars himself had stayed at their palace. Her uncle was a great patron of Kalamugars and had donated much wealth to temples and to village chieftains to provide food and shelter for these wandering mendicants. She knew that they wouldn’t harm her in any way. They might actually help protect her on her journey. She knew that they were all headed towards the Maha Sangam that was congregated at the Kollidam River and had surmised that that’s why so many of them were seen walking on the roads.

Despite knowing all this, Vanathi in her heart of hearts wondered why this particular group of Kalamugars were hiding behind the tree.

Do they intend to harm me? What if they don’t know that I am Kodumbalur Princess?

Even while she was wondering thus, the Kalamugars emerged from the shadows and came running towards the Palanquin and surrounded them. Even then, she was not scared. She assumed that they would leave her alone once they knew, who she was but before she could open her mouth, they had tied her companion to the tree. This elicited a scream from her mouth but the Kalamugars were unfazed. One of them turned towards her and held up his trident and said, “Woman! Don’t shout. If you come with us quietly we will not harm you or else you will fall prey to this trident.”

Vanathi tried to speak to him courageously and said, “Do you know who I am? I am the daughter of Kodumbalur Vellar. If you touch me, you will be destroyed.”

But the Kalamugan was unfazed by her revelation. He said, “We know who you are. We have been waiting for you in this forest for a long time. Do not make a sound or else we will be forced to silence you.”

At the same time, Vanathi could hear the Kalamugars whipping her palanquin bearers and their screams of pain. She tried to get down from the palanquin but before she could move, the Kalamugars took the Palanquin off the ground and were hurtling towards the dense forest path. As they ran they screamed with a peculiar sound that would have drowned any pleas of help from her. It was impossible to jump out of the palanquin as the entire gang of Kalamugars had surrounded it from all sides. Vanathi decided to wait out and see what would happen.

For about half hour, they ran with the palanquin and in the dense forest there was a clearing where an old Durga temple was there. They placed the palanquin near the entrance. By then, darkness had enveloped the forest and nothing could be seen clearly. One of the Kalamugars went inside the temple and came out with a burning lamp. He held it near Vanathi’s face and said, “Woman! We have a few questions for you. If you tell us the truth, we will not harm you. We will escort you to your destination safely.”

“What questions? What do you wish to ask me?”

“Woman! You left Pazhaiarai alone to meet someone in secret. Who were you planning to meet and where were you going?”

“What do you care, who I am planning to meet? What is it to you? I will not tell you anything about it.”

The Kalamugan laughed and said, “You don’t have to say anything. We know that you had plans to meet Prince Arul Mozhi Varman. Tell us where he is hiding and we will not harm you.”

“You are free to harm me in any way you want but I will not tell you anything.” Said Vanathi with determination.

“So we are free to harm you, is it? I doubt if you would say thus if you knew what we are planning to do you!”

“Go ahead! Tell me what you are planning to do.”

“First we will take one of your beautiful soft arms and burn it in the fire. Next, we will roast your other arm and then we will unravel that long hair of yours and burn that as well…”

“Is that so? Here is my arm. Bring the fire log here and go ahead!”

Vanathi was well aware of the conspiracies that the rebel lords were hatching against the royal family. She surmised that these Kalamugars must be their men and they are trying to find out where the Prince was hiding.

If I underwent torture to save the Prince from these murderous rogues then what more could I ask from life?

It was this thought that gave Vanathi the courage and determination to talk fearlessly to the Kalamugars.

“Woman! Don’t be foolish. Answer our questions or else you will regret your silence later when you roam around like a sightless crone.”

“You are free to torture me in any manner you wish. Go ahead and burn my arms… hack me to pieces and kill me but I will not tell you anything.”

“Alright. I think it is time that we make good on our promises. You! Get that firelight close here…”

Just then, Vanathi’s attention was diverted when she saw a procession of palanquin, elephants and horsemen appearing at a distance. It looked as though the procession was coming towards them. Heaving a sigh of relief, she realized that she would soon be rescued from these Kalamugars.

“There! Be careful now! Someone is coming.” She said to their leader.

Instead of being scared the Kalamugan laughed outright and asked, “Do you know who is coming?”

“It looks like Prime Minister Anirudhar. If I scream they will be able to hear me. Save yourself. Run away from here before they catch you or else….”

“Yes! The Prime Minister is on his way here. It was on his orders that we kidnapped and brought you here.”

Now Vanathi was not only shocked but also afraid. A scream almost escaped from her mouth!

Friday, 14 October 2016

Chapter 37: Disguise Removed

Seeing a fierce looking Kalamugan in the middle of the forest, at the dead of the night, was a fearsome prospect but Vandiya Devan’s natural fearlessness asserted itself after a while.

He wondered, “Where have I seen him? He looks very familiar. Ah! He looks like the same Kalamugan who had commented about him when he was sleeping in the forest after meeting Nandini at Harichandra River. His face looks too familiar. Why? Where else have I seen him?”

The Kalamugan who had been staring at him for a while now burst into a hearty laugh.

“Ha Ha Ha!” To Vandiya Devan’s ears, his voice too seemed very familiar.

“Cha! It’s you. I can’t believe that I came all the way in the middle of the night through this forest, for you!” Vandiya Devan’s suspicion deepened. It seemed as though the Kala Mugan was deliberately trying to disguise his voice.

“Then why did you come and for whom?”

“I came in search of the Prince.”

“Which Prince?”

“How does it concern you? Why do you ask?”

“I too am a Prince. That’s why I asked.”

“You? A Prince? Let me see. Yes! There! It says so right on your face.”

“I think my face is any day better than yours unless you wish to improve upon it by adding matted beards and dreadlocks.”

“Why don’t you try it? It might indeed improve your appearance.”

“I thought so too…”

“What did you think?”

“Nothing. Just untie me. I too will join your group and become a Kalamugan.”

“No thanks. We don’t need any more spies in our group. It’s because of spies like you that our Maha Sangam meeting ended in a sham.”

“What happened?”

“We were waiting for the Prince to come for our meeting. We thought that once he becomes the king, he would pledge to make our leader the Raja Guru of the Cholas (Spiritual Head). But he didn’t come for the meeting.”

“Untie me and I will tell you why your Prince didn’t come.”

“Which Prince?”

“Who else? King Gandarathidhar’s son Prince Madhuranthakan.”

“My guess is right.”

“What did you guess?”

“I guessed that you were a spy.”

“How did you guess that rightly?”

“When I came searching for the Prince, I saw a group of people through the forest path. I didn’t know who they were. They probably thought that you were a spy and that’s why they tied you to that pillar but I can’t believe that they left you alive. I wonder why?”

“I can tell you why if you untie me.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything and I will not untie you unless you promise to listen to whatever I tell you.”

“What should I do?”

“You should promise me that henceforth you will not interfere in matters that do not concern you and then hold your ears and do thopukaranam for 108 times!”

“Is that so?”

Even while Vandiya Devan was engaging the Kalamugan in this conversation he had been busy untying himself. When the Kalamugan asked him to do thopukaranam he had freed himself completely and he sprang upon him and pushed him to the ground. The fire log that he held in his hand fell down but didn’t get extinguished. Vandiya Devan sat on the Kalamugan’s chest and pulled at his beard and hair that came away in his hand. The Kalamugan who had by then recovered from this surprise attack pushed Vandiya Devan away and got up. Vandiya Devan immediately took the fire log and held it to his face and was not surprised to see the familiar face of Azwarkadiyan Nambi beaming at him. They both burst out laughing.

“Vaishanavarey! How come you are lecturing me about not interfering in other people’s business when you are doing the same?”

“I didn’t court danger like you do. If I had not come here at the nick of the time, imagine what would have happened to you?”

“Oh! So you think that it was you who had untied my ropes?”

“No, but you can’t leave this forest without someone guiding you. You would have been hunted by wolves.”

“Forget the wolves. If you had but seen the Mandiravadi’s wolves a little while ago… it’s a blessing that I escaped them unscathed.”

“I know about them. Who else came with the Mandiravadi?”

“A small fish had come along with him and it wanted to devour a tiger.”

“Aha! Tell me what happened? Who came? What did they do? What happened?”

“You tell me why you wore this disguise? Where were you this evening? What happened there? If you tell me about that I will tell you what happened here?”

“I have nothing much to tell you. The Kalamugars had a meeting in the midnight by the Kollidam River. I wore this disguise to the meeting to see what’s happening there. I had thought that I would meet you near the ferry in the morning. Periya Pazhuvetarayar came for the meeting and the supreme Guru of Kalamugars too came but the one person that they were expecting didn’t come.”

“They were expecting Prince Madhuranthakar isn’t it?”

“Yes… but how do you know?”

“If Prince Madhuranthakar ascends the throne, I wonder how he can control this kingdom…”

“Why do you say so?”

“He can’t control a horse, then how can we expect him to control rebel lords like Pazhuvetarayar, bloodthirsty Kalamugars and skirmishing Vaishnavars like yourself…”

Azhwarkadiyan laughed out aloud and asked, “Did you meet Madhuranthakar on the way? Do you know what happened to him?”

Vandiya Devan narrated what he saw early in the evening about Madhuranthakar on the horse that bolted in fear when the firelog came near.

“Poor Prince! I wonder where he is right now. I wonder where he fell when the horse bolted wildly. He might even be in danger of his life. That’s why he didn’t come for the Maha Sangam meeting today. Shall we go and search for him again?”

“Very nice! How does that concern us? Are we not on a mission to reach Kanchi as soon as possible? Come now. Let us leave immediately. We need to be at Kollidam River by dawn.”

“What if Madhuranthakar was lying in the fields or in the dead of the forest drenched in rain and mud? What if he is dying? Then too will you say that it’s none of our business?”

“You are imagining too much. These things will not happen. Anirudhar will take care of it.”

“Prime Minister Anirudhar? What does he know about this?”

“Aha! How can you say that? Anirudhar knows everything that happens in this Kingdom.”

“Then… he also knows what happened in Kadambur Palace.”

“Do you remember we both stood by the road in Kadambur, while Pazhuvur queen’s palanquin passed us by?”

“Of course. I also remember how excited and restless you got when the screen of the Palanquin opened and you asked me to give her a message.”

“And you thought that I intended to send some ‘love message’ to the Pazhuvur queen and admonished me saying, ‘How dare I ask you to do this sort of work?’ My message had no such love. Instead, I wished to warn Madhuranthakar, not to be taken in by the words of these rebel lords.”

“You knew even then that it was Prince Madhuranthakar inside the palanquin.”

“I had a doubt and it got confirmed when the Prince peeked outside. You are a close-mouthed fellow. No matter how much I tried, you never revealed to me that it was not Nandini but the Prince inside the palanquin.”

“You too are close-mouthed. Did you tell me where you were going when I asked you so many times in the afternoon?”

“If I had told you, you would have interfered in that matter as well. As such you courted so much trouble. Henceforth…”

“Does the Prime Minister know about the meeting that the Kalamugars had and the impending arrival of Prince Madhuranthakar?”

“Of course he knew! That’s why he sent me to attend the meeting. At the same time, he also would have sent somebody else to ensure that the Prince does not attend the meeting. You said that some servant held the firelight and that had frightened the horse; he was probably Anirudhar’s man. If the horse had thrown the prince somewhere in the forest, be rest assured he would have been rescued by the Prime Minister's men soon enough. By now, the Prince would be on his way to Thanjavur in a palanquin or a chariot. Come! Let us go.”

“Vaishnavarey! I can’t come.”

“What is this? What about our mission? I heard the news that the Prince has already left Kanchi. Shouldn’t we be hurrying along to intercept him before he reaches Kadambur…”

“You can give the message that Princess Kundavai has sent for her brother. Prince Karikalar is not like Madhuranthakar. He won’t be travelling by palanquin in the night, it wouldn’t be that difficult to meet him…”

“And what do you plan to do instead?”

“To tell the truth, I didn’t follow Madhuranthakar into the forest. I was following somebody else and I came upon the Prince by a coincidence.”

“I know a bit of astrology, shall I test it on you? The person that you were following was a woman, wasn’t it?”

“You truly have a wicked tongue and one of these days I am going to break that head of yours…”

“You can’t do that. I have already pledged this head of mine to a Kalamugan. Now you tell me who is this woman that you were following from Kudanthai?”

“Kodumbalur Princess Vanathi came to Kudanthai Jodhidhar’s house. She left his house on her palanquin. I too left the Jodhidhar’s house after some time. I had no intention of following that crazy girl anywhere but the direction of our path was the same and I could see her palanquin being carried at a distance. That’s when I saw her being attacked by a group of men. They tied her companion to the tree and had driven away the palanquin bearers. Then they bore the palanquin away. Vaishnavarey! I am very worried about that girl. I want to find out what happened to her?”

“Why are you so worried about that girl?”

“How can you say that? She is after all the only daughter of Kodumbalur Siriya Vellar – the great warrior who lay down his life for the honour of Cholas. She is also the cherished companion of Princess Kundavai and there was also the rumour that she is the chosen bride of Ponniyin Selvar…”

“Ponniyin Selvar is dead and drowned in the sea… what is the point of discussing about his marriage?”

“There is nothing to prove that he is dead… it’s just a rumour.”

“Then, in that case, you know for sure that he is alive?”

“Vaishnavarey! If you think that I will blurt out secrets to you, then you better forget it.”

“Alright! Alright! I will not ask you anything. Don’t worry about Vanathi. Princess Kundavai loves her very much…”

“That’s exactly why I am worried. Princess Kundavai doesn’t know that Vanathi is in such a danger.”

“If not today, she will know it tomorrow.”

“What’s the point? What if the Kalamugars sacrifice this girl at their altar to please their God?”

“You said that Kalamugars took Vanathi along?”

“That’s how it looked. Vanathi’s companion also described them as Kalamugars.”

“If that is true then you don’t have to worry about it at all. Kodumbalur clan are great patrons of Kalamugars. If they come to know that Vanathi is the Kodumbalur Princess they will accord royal treatment to her and offer her protection.”

“Really! I didn’t know that?”

“That’s why Kalamugars are strongly protesting against Prince Madhuranthakar as the next heir.”

“Who cares if these skull bearing dreadlock Sanyasis protests against the Prince?”

“That’s all you know. In this kingdom, many influential and prominent clans and lords are patrons of Kalamugars. Many army commanders belong to their sect. That’s why Pazhuvetarayar is courting their good will to support Madhuranthakar’s claim but that got foiled thanks to a horse. Now then, are you going to come with me or not?”

Vandiya Devan hesitantly got up and untied his horse from the nearby tree and followed Azhwarkadiyan through the dense forest path. After a long while, they came out of the forest and found their way to the King’s road. Azhwarkadiyan looked up and pointed at the sky to Vandiya Devan. They could see the entire length and breath of the comet that had stretched from one end of the sky to the other. As they looked at it a cold wind blew across them and they could see a lone dog howling and crying at some distance.

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Volume 1 - New Flood