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.

Ponni's Beloved on Facebook

Ponni's Beloved on Facebook
Like us on Facebook

Volume 1 - New Flood