Nandini accepted the sword from the child whom they called ‘Chakravarthy’ and held it close to her heart. Next, she embraced the child and breathed the scent of his hair while tears streamed from her eyes.
The rest of the gang looked on in surprise and shock, at the turn of the events.
Ravidasan then said, “Devi, I don’t think that ‘Chakravarthy’ has understood what we told him and gave the sword to you on a whim. Let us explain to him the consequences of his action and then try again.”
Nandini opposed the suggestion and said, “No, Ayya, no. Our Chakravarthy understands the consequences of his actions and that’s why he gave the sword to me. Do not worry about these tears of mine. I am merely happy that I have been given the opportunity to take vengeance for our noble king.”
“Devi, when we are alive, how could we allow a woman to try to take on the first enemy. It isn’t right…” said Soman Sambavan.
“There is no cause to worry. This is my burden and my responsibility. Just because Chakravarthy has given the sword to me that doesn’t mean that the rest of you have no part in this. I want half of you to take Chakravarthy back to Pandavar mountains and the rest can come to Kadambur palace. Those of you who can gain entry into the palace can aid me in this mission of vengeance and the rest can wait outside with fast running horses. Once I complete the mission, we need to make an attempt to escape.”
Ravidasan came forward and said, “Devi, I forgot to tell you something if you permit.”
“Pazhuvetarayar is at the Kalamugar council meeting that is being held at the Kollidam River. I need to return to the Palace before the meeting ends.”
“You said that our first enemy Aditya Karikalan would come to Kadambur Palace. I am not so sure about it.”
“Why do you doubt so?”
“With reason Devi. I know for a fact that Princess Kundavai and Prime Minister Anirudhar have sent messages to the Crown Prince warning him not to come to Kadambur Palace at any cost.”
“Did you think that I didn’t know about this?”
“You knew! Despite that you believe that he will come to Kadambur?”
“Yes. He will surely come to Kadambur. That snake in Pazhaiarai doesn’t know about her own brother and nor does Anbil Brahmarakshan (Demon). I am surprised that even you, who often boast of being a sorcerer, can’t fathom our first enemy’s character. If someone were to go to Aditya Karikalan and tell him that ‘not’ to do something, that would be the first thing that he would go ahead and do. I know this for a fact. Aditya Karikalan is not a putty in Kundavai’s hand like Arul Mozhi Varman and nor is he a cowardly puppet like Madhuranthakan. If his sister and the Prime Minister have sent the message warning him to stay away from Kadambur, then for sure he would come there.”
“Devi, that message will not reach Kanchi. I can guarantee that.”
“What are you saying? Explain.” Asked Nandini sharply. There was a shrill anticipation in her voice.
“Devi, do you know who is taking this message to Karikalan?”
“Not for sure but I can guess.”
“Good! There is no need to guess. We have brought him here. We caught him red-handed trying to escape with our ‘Chakravarthy’. He already knows all our secrets and now he knows more. If we show any more mercy to him it would lead to our destruction for sure. Edupankari! Bring that spy here.”
Edupankari and two others went towards the dilapidated temple. Nandini looked at the direction with bated breath. The serious tones of her face relaxed and a seductive smile bloomed.
Edupankari sprang on our hero suddenly and pulled him upright. Tired, exhausted and half drowsy with sleep, Vandiya Devan woke up with a start. At first, he thought of resisting Edupankari and his friends and then good sense prevailed. He stayed still and allowed himself to be led to the clearing. He wanted to see what they would do with him.
Vandiya Devan smiled at Nandini, who looked peaceful and serene with nary an emotion on her face.
“Ayya… yet again we meet.”
“Yes devi, I have come again, but I didn’t come here by choice.”
The child then told Nandini, “Amma! This man has got a good horse. Can you ask him to give it to me?”
“Child! Come with me. I will take you far away on my horse.”
Ravidasan’s enraged face loomed in front of Vandiya Devan and he shouted hoarsely, “You! Shut your mouth!” and then he turned towards Nandini and said, “Devi, what are your orders?”
Nandini was unperturbed by this exchange, she calmly asked, “How did he come here and when?”
“This scoundrel was trying to escape with our ‘Chakravarthy’ when he took refuge in a mandapam to get away from the rain. Thankfully we arrived there on time to stop it.”
Nandini looked at Vandiya Devan and asked, “Ayya, is this true?”
“Only you can decide whether your people speak lies or the truth. How would I know?” he said.
Nandini’s smile vanished immediately and she became serious. She turned towards Ravidasan and said, “Ayya! I request you and your men to withdraw for a while and give us some privacy. I wish to speak to him alone. Take Chakravarthy also along with you.” And then she bent down and told the child, “My sweet! Go with them for a little while. I will speak to him and get his horse for you.”
Ravidasan acceded to her request and took the child with him and signalled his gang to withdraw to a respectful distance.
Nandini looked at Vandiya Devan and said, “Ayya! I think there is a bond between us…”
“Devi, That is so true! That bond is very strong and very tight indeed and it has bound my body and arms.”
“I would suggest that you stop fooling around thus. I am no mood for such humours! Tell me plainly, how did you come here? Did you come on your own accidentally or deliberately?”
“I didn’t come here by choice or on my own. Your men brought me here. If they had not interfered I would have reached the banks of Kollidam hours ago,”
“I understand that you find it abhorrent to your senses to meet me and you want to leave me and escape as soon as you can.”
“You are wrong. Meeting you is by no means, a difficult proposition but leaving you is. If you say ‘yes’ I will strike down that old Pazhuvetarayar and this murderous gang of thieves with one stroke of my sword and take you away from here.”
“Where would you take me?”
“I will take you to your mother who roams through the forests of Elangai like a mad woman.”
Nandini sighed sorrowfully and said, “Do you want me to roam around like her lost and helpless? Who knows I might even agree to your proposal and come away with you? If I need to see my mother, I will surely request you, one day but before that my wishes need to be fulfilled. Will help me fulfil them?”
“Devi, If I know what you wishes are, then I can tell you whether I can help fulfil them or not?”
“Those who bear true love for me in their hearts will not talk thus. They will agree to help no matter what those wishes are.”
“Devi, those who bear true love in their hearts will also try to warn you about the dangerous path that you are treading. These scoundrels are using you to fulfil some dangerous scheme and will abandon you once they achieve their purpose.”
“Wrong! It is I who is using them to achieve my purpose. I wish that you understand this well.”
“They have brought this child from some forest and are fooling you with lies and falsehoods…”
“Do you know why we need this child?”
“You wish to crown him as the King of Pandyas.”
“Wrong! He will not be just the King of Pandyas. He will rule over the land from River Tungabhadra to Elangai. He will ascend the Chola throne and rule over this kingdom.”
“My God! What a grand scheme indeed? May I ask, how you are going to achieve this? Let me guess! With the help of this gang of murderers and thieves? Do you know that each wing of Chola army has over 20 lakhs of soldiers? And do you think you can vanquish such a great army with the help of this gang that hides itself during the day and comes out bravely during the night?”
“I don’t depend only on them. I have this sword. I have more trust in this than anybody else. I intend to fulfil my wishes with the help of this sword.”
“Devi, you will never use that sword. Your hands do not have the strength to wield a sword, such as this.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I don’t know. I felt that you wouldn’t be able to use the sword.”
“I can prove your statement false, right here, right now.”
“If that is so, then I am lucky indeed. It would be my good fortune to die at the hands of a beautiful woman.” Said Vandiya Devan and bent his head inviting Nandini to behead him.
“You wish to get beheaded? Truly? Don’t want to get crowned by me?”
“How many people do you intend to crown Devi?”
“I have the power to decide who get to wear the crown.”
“Then, what will happen to this child?”
“It is entirely within my power to decide whether I want to crown him or not.”
“Devi, feel free to crown whomsoever you wish but do spare me the honour.”
“Many have complimented the beauty of my curling locks of hair. I do not wish to cover it with a crown.”
“Looks like you will not ever get serious about anything. Alright! Do tell me one thing? What did Princess Kundavai do when she heard that her brother is missing in the sea? Did she grieve a lot?”
Vandiya Devan was astonished by the sudden change of subject. Nonetheless, he recovered quickly and said, “Of course. She was very sad. I don’t think all women are heartless in this world.”
“I also heard that Kodumbalur Princess tried to give up her life by drowning in the lake? Who saved her in the end?”
This reminded Vandiya Devan about Vanathi’s fate in the forest. He wondered what might have happened to her and whether she would have escaped the clutches of her kidnappers.
Nandini persisted with her questions in a serious tone. “Alright! Looks like you will not answer any of those questions. Let me ask you plainly. Do you intend to stop Princes Aditya Karikalar from coming to Kadambur?”
“Yes. I am going to try.”
“What if I tell you that it would be impossible for you to do so?”
“Devi, I am not saying that I can do it, I can only attempt to stop him. If the Prince decides to do something, it is impossible to change his mind.”
“You seem to know the Prince’s character all too well.”
“And you seem to know him better than anybody else in this world.”
“Alright! No matter what, you will not join me will you? You will take sides with my enemy.”
“Devi, who is your enemy?”
“Who is my enemy? Don’t you know? That arrogant Princess in Pazhaiarai is my enemy. Who else?”
“Devi, that’s your imagination. I need to tell you an important truth about…”
“Enough! Save your breath. I know what kind of truth would come out of your mouth. The only truth that you can utter is the one that is coated with falsehoods and lies.” Said Nandini angrily and clapped her hands. Ravidasan and his gang came near them.
Vandiya Devan felt that he had not used the opportunity of a private talk with Nandini to impress the truth upon her. He wondered whether she would ask her men to kill him.
Oh! God! Is this your will? Will I be killed ingloriously in the hands of this murderous gang?
Ravidasan and his gang surrounded them and to Vandiya Devan they resembled hungry wolves intent upon their prey.
“My Queen! No matter what you tell him, he will never join us. I suggest that you leave now. It is way past the time you return. We will sacrifice him in this holy battlefield and leave.”
“Mandiravadi! Be warned! That is not what I wish. Do not lay a hand upon him. If you do, I will cut you into half with this sword of mine.” Growled Nandini.
Ravidasan and his gang watched Nandini’s aggression with open-mouthed astonishment.
“I do not want him harmed. He is useful to me in more ways than you can fathom. He is free to leave whenever he wishes. Please do not stop him.”
“Devi, we are here to carry out your wishes but is it advisable to allow him to leave first? He has a horse.”
“Alright! Tie him to that pillar. It will take a while before he unties himself and by then we would have cleared the forest.”
Acceding to her wishes, Ravidasan’s gang tied him to the pillar of the temple and his horse was tied to a nearby tree.
Nandini got into her palanquin and was borne away through the dense forest path. Ravidasan’s men took the throne inside the temple and then hurried away through the same forest path. With no firelight, the darkness enveloped Vandiya Devan and soon he began to wonder whether all these scenes that he witnessed were a figment of his imagination.
A few bats took flight from the nearby tree completing the eerie picture of forest to the hilt.
A lone wolf howled at some distance and soon it was heard nearby. Vandiya Devan remembered the terrible wolf dream that he had while he was at Kadambur where thousands of wolves had surrounded him from all directions and were trying to devour him.
He tried to untie his bonds but Ravidasan had tied him a tad too securely this time. With no light to guide him, he was finding it difficult to untie the ropes.
Suddenly he heard a sound. It sounded like a man’s footsteps. His horse neighed sensing danger. Something appeared darker than the forest around and it was coming towards him. Is it an animal or a man or could it be something else?
Vandiya Devan steeled his body and waited until ‘it’ approached him closer and then kicked it with all his strength.
‘It’ fell down with a shout that seemed almost human and then seemed to crawl away.
Soon he could hear the sound of a stone being scratched and a firelog was being lit. There was a light at the entrance of the temple and someone was coming towards him. Vandiya Devan tried to turn around and see who it was?
He came close to Vandiya Devan and held the fire log up to see his face. It was a Kalamuga Saivar with matted hair and a massive beard.