Sunday, 2 April 2017

Chapter 5 – The Underground Passage

After entering the secret underground passage at the Ayyanar Temple, Vandiya Devan walked for a while in the dark. A faint light was seen from the entrance of the tunnel through which he had entered and that gave him the confidence to venture further into the darkness. After taking a few steps, he heard a rumbling sound of a lever being turned and the tunnel entrance closed. The underground passage became so dark that Vandiya Devan became disoriented.

His first thoughts were of the resolution that he took not so long ago -- about not getting involved in things that do not concern his mission.

Why did I get into this tunnel now? My mission was to reach Aditya Karikalar as soon as possible and stop him from coming to Kadambur… then what am I doing here instead? Why do I act so rashly? When will I learn?

He slowly traced his way back to the tunnel entrance and tried to find the lever that would open it but the darkness that had enveloped the place suffocated him from all directions. He could hear faint voices too and surmised that some more people might have come to the Temple, which was probably why Edupankari was lighting all those lamps. Ravidasan’s gang might have come there to meet with Edupankari… then it would be dangerous to try and escape from the tunnel now.

Why did they come here? What are they planning?

Thankfully the Vaishnavan would be there to keep an eye on them.

Why should I wait here until they leave? I probably fall unconscious before I can escape from here. Instead, why not explore this underground tunnel. It might be useful in future to learn where it leads.

After deciding thus, he turned around started walking forward again. The ground was rough and was filled with stones. He surmised that the tunnel might lead him to Kadambur Palace. The bigger question was where in the Palace would it lead him? Most palaces had tunnels such as these built in the women’s anthapuram. During times of peril or war, the womenfolk would use such escape routes to save their honour from their enemies. That apart, they would also use these underground tunnels to hoard their treasures. So it might lead him towards the treasure chamber of the Sambuverayar clan. Nandini had aided the Ravidasan gang to loot the treasure of Cholas from the Dark Palace and Edupankari is probably doing the same with Sambuverayar too.

But why would they want to loot the treasure now, especially when Aditya Karikalan is expected at the Palace? What if they have another motive?

He remembered the coronation drama that had occurred at Thirupurambayam forest and Nandini wielding the sword that was etched with the Pandya royal emblem of Fish. His body shivered when he remembered the scene.

They have no interest in Sambuverayar’s treasure. They are here for a bigger fish obviously.

They have a more dangerous motive and that’s why they are using this tunnel to gain entrance into the Palace.

It is important that I find what lies at the end of the tunnel because it would help me thwart their plans.

He walked slowly feeling his way through the walls. Though it had been just a few minutes since he entered the tunnel, he felt as though he had been inside for more than an hour. He wondered how long the tunnel would be and tried to calculate the distance between the Palace and the Bamboo forest. At the outset, it seemed too vast a distance but then he and the Nambi had wandered through many alleys and streets before they got to the outskirts of the town. Maybe it was not that far a distance after all. If someone were to take an aim through the forest at the palace, the arrow would travel a straight path… that meant he was probably near the palace if not inside it.

Even as he thought that a gush of fresh air came through a hidden crevice in the tunnel and cheered him up. The stale air and the darkness that had enveloped the tunnel had him sweating profusely so much so that he would have fainted in a short while. The fresh air cleared his mind and he stood there for a while. He could hear faint voices of soldiers who probably were manning the fort. He could also see a very faint light from the crevice that was providing him with the fresh air. It had been built so cleverly that those who were on the ground above could not even see it even as they trod upon it!

Now that he had neared the Palace entrance, his destination too should be nearby. But where would the tunnel end, at the treasure chamber of Sambuverayars or at the Anthapuram? He wondered what he would find at the treasure chamber of Sambuverayars?

Will they have pots of gold coins… pearls, gems, diamonds, diadems? Will there be skeletons and skulls guarding his treasure? Will there be webs of a spider weaving their desire on men who chance upon the treasure?

Thinking thus, he kept walking forward. At a point, he stumbled and looked down. He could faintly discern a staircase leading upstairs. This is probably where the treasure chamber would be there or he might be entering the Anthapuram. If it happened to be the Anthapuram, then his plight would be doubly dangerous.

Ah! Kandanmaran’s sister… that dark complexioned beauty. She would be there! He had once thought that he would get married to her. He smiled thinking thus but sadly there was no one there to see his handsome face beaming. He wondered what would happen to the womenfolk if he appeared in their midst at the anthapuram.

What if they were bathing or changing their robes? How awkward it would be!

He laughed when he thought as he climbed the stairs. Next second, the laughter died in his throat as he stared at the sight that unfolded in front of him. He could see hundreds of eyes staring at him from the depths of darkness and they belonged to wild animals. Vandiya Devan took a step back in panic and then heard a sound behind. It was the sound of the tunnel closing!

That meant this chamber was open all this while and when I entered it closed its doors! While one part of his brain issued this warning to him, he stood frozen in that place unable to move.

Why are all these wild animals waiting for me here? Tigers, cheetahs, leopards, lions and lionesses, bears, jackals and wolves were standing there watching him silently! There were two elephants too standing majestically!

Why aren’t they moving? Why are they standing so still? Why don’t they pounce on me and prey on my flesh?

There was a giant big owl sitting on the ledge of the roof. Then he spotted a crocodile on the floor below and he wondered how the beast came to be lying amidst these animals.

That’s when the truth hit him and he exhaled with a relief. They were real wild animals for sure but have been dead and gone for many years. Their flesh has been preserved and their bodies have been stuffed with cloth and straw. Fascinated he touched the animals in wonder as if to make sure they were really dead.

He wondered what to do next.

Should I go on and find the entrance back into the tunnel or move on and find a way to exit this chamber?

The chamber had no visible door and as time ticked on he found himself getting angry and he berated himself for his rash decisions. He circulated the chamber by touching the wall everywhere hoping to find a lever to release him from this prison. At one place there was an elephant’s face with its trunk kept on the wall. In his anger, he twisted the elephant’s trunk saying, “Stupid elephant! It was you who got me into this trouble. Had you not moved at the Ayannar temple, I wouldn’t be here.”

The next instant a cavity opened on its own on the wall and Vandiya Devan astonished put his head inside to have a look around.

The first thing that he saw was a woman’s face. A beautiful dark-skinned woman with beautiful doe-like eyes was looking into a mirror! He was standing near the chamber’s door in such a way that his face was so close to her in the mirror. Almost as though he would kiss her!

The woman looked surprised and then shocked. The next instant a scream escaped her lips and Vandiya Devan panicked and took his hand of the elephant’s trunk and the chamber closed.

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Volume 1 - New Flood