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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (18 – 21)

May 3, 2015

From Part II of the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

18. WHICH IS THE WORSE BETRAYAL?

Those who have studied the history of ancient Tamil Nadu would know that in those days many women were at the forefront of societal life. Women who were born into royalty were well respected. Those who were born in the Chola tribe and those who married into it had property rights. Each one according to her rank owned villages, land and livestock. One must pay attention to how they made use of these possessions. Many used their wealth to aid temples in their name. Many women of royalty established funds for lighting of lamps, worship with garlands, supply of devotional food for vagrants and Saiva ascetics, and had such deeds recorded in stone engravings and copper plates.

While it was common in those days for palace women to take an interest in temples, Sundara Cholar’s beloved daughter Madam Kundavai alone used her wealth for a different kind of charity. Perhaps, affected by the illness of her father, she was interested in establishing public medical centers all over the country. We had already seen the hospital in emperor Paranthakar’s name in Pazhaiyarai. Similarly Kundavai Devi had planned on establishing a hospital in Thanjai in her father’s name. On this Vijayathasami day arrangements were made to open this medical center and issue the necessary deeds.

The opening ceremony for Sundara Chola Hospital took place in a village outside the Thanjai fortress, at the Karuda hall opposite Perumal temple. Because the deity guards Thirumal, and because Karudazhvar had brought food, Madam Kundavai established the hospital in the Karuda hall next to the Vishnu temple. For this ceremony, countless number of people from Thanjai Nagar and its surrounding villages had gathered. Crowds of men, women and children had arrived dressed in festive clothes and ornaments. The emperor’s cabinet ministers, officials of high and low rank, stone engraving carpenters, copper plate architects and palace servants had also assembled in large numbers. Velakara army came sending tremors in all eight directions with the sound of their trumpets and tom-toms. The guard soldiers of Thanjai fortress arrived swirling their swords and spears noisily clanging, ‘danar, danar.’ The two Pazhuvertaraiyars arrived stately atop elephants. Prince Mathuranthaka Thevar came seated on a white horse without knowing how to sit and thus perplexed. Princess Kundavai, her friends and some elderly matrons from the palace came parading in a palanquin. From another side came Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s ivory palanquin with the palmyrah seal.

Kundavai Devi, Pazhuvur rani and other women sat in a place under the blue silk awning reserved for the palace women. With a signal from Pazhuvertaraiyar, the ceremony began. Firstly, two chanters sang the devotional hymn ‘mantra is the sacred ash.’ The audience was carried away by the sweet rendition of the song to the accompaniment of musical instruments like lute and mathalam. The crowd was silent.

But from where the palace women were seated the faint sound of two people conversing arose. Pazhuvur Illaiyarani Nandhini moved closer to Kundavai and asked, “Devi! Once upon a time didn’t Sambantha Peruman sing this song, adorn the Pandya king with sacred ash and cure his illness? Why doesn’t the hymn have that power now? Even if the song has no power is the sacred ash also without power? Nowadays we cannot do without medicine, roots, doctors and hospitals!”

“Yes, Rani! In those days justice had the upper hand. Because of that the sacred ash also had power. Now evil has taken over the world. There are enemies in the country who are plotting to betray the king. Have we ever heard of this before? This is why the power of prayer had gone down and medicine has become a necessity!” While speaking the junior stateswoman looked deeply into Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s face.

No reaction could be deciphered from Nandhini’s face. “Is that right? In these days there are enemies plotting against the king? Who are they?” she asked attentively.

“That is what I also don’t know. Some say one; someone else says another. I am thinking of remaining here for a few days to find out the truth. From Pazhaiyarai how can one know about the world?” said Kundavai.

“You made a good decision. If you ask me it is better for you to remain here. Otherwise the empire will crumble to nothing. I will help you as much as I can. There is a guest in our house. Perhaps he too can help you!”

“Who is the guest?” asked Kundavai.

“Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s son Kanthamaran. Have you seen him? As tall as a coconut tree he is in good form. He is forever raving about ‘spy’ and ‘traitor.’ You spoke about betrayal of the empire just now? Can you tell what is a greater betrayal than that?”

“I can. If a woman betrays the man she married that would be a greater betrayal than the one against the empire!”

Saying this Kundavai Devi stared into Nandhini’s face. The change she expected did not happen. Nandhini’s face displayed an enchanting smile as before.

“What you say is correct; but Kanthamaran will not agree. He would say, ‘the most vile betrayal is the betrayal of a friend.’ The man he considered his best friend not only turned into a spy but ran away after stabbing him in the back. Since then Kanthamaran had been raving in this manner!”

“Who is he? Who acted in such a savage manner?”

“Some Vandhiyathevan! From the Vanar tribe that ruled in a place called Thiruvallam in Thondai Nadu! Have you heard?”

Kundavai bit her coral lips with her pearl like teeth.

“Sounds familiar… What happened afterwards?”

“Afterwards what? The friend ran away after stabbing Kanthamaran in the back. I heard that my brother-in-law had sent men to find this spy!”

“What is the certainty that he is a spy?”

“Whether he is a spy or not, what do I know? I am repeating what Sambuvaraiyar’s son is saying. If you like you can ask him in person and find out all the details.”

“Yes; I must see Sambuvaraiyar’s son. I heard that his escape was like a new birth. Since then has he been at the Pazhuvur palace?”

“Yes; They brought him to our palace the morning after he was injured. The responsibility of caring for his wound fell on my head. Slowly he recovered; the wound has not yet healed completely!”

“It is astonishing that it is still not cured completely even with your close attention. Alright, Rani! I will certainly come and see him. Sambuvaraiyar tribe is not from yesterday or day before? Haven’t they been famous warriors from the time of emperor Paranthakar?”

“That is why I also brought this up. At least for the purpose of seeing Kanthamaran you would visit our poor palace, won’t you?” said Nandhini.

By then the devotional singing had ended and the reading of the gifted deeds had started. First emperor Sundara Cholar’s edict was read. ‘Because the junior stateswoman has decided to give all income from the village Nallur Mangalam that we had deeded to our beloved daughter Madam Kundavai, to the hospital, we have made all paddy fields and non paddy fields in that village exempt from taxation,’ the emperor had declared in a letter. Following the reading the official handed the letter to the treasurer, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar, who received it with both hands, raised it to his eyes and then gave it to the accountant to be entered into the accounts.

Following that, the inscription on stone of Madame Kundavai’s gift was read. Not only it was inscribed in granite that the farmers in the village shall rightfully make use of all gifted lands and furnish the doctor at Thanjavur Sundara Chola hospital every year with two hundred measures of paddy and every day for the use of the patients being treated at the hospital fifty measures of cow’s milk, five measures of goat’s milk and water from hundred unripe coconuts, it also included in detail the name of the engraver along with the names of the supervising officials.

After the reading the stone engraving was offered to the Nallur Mangalam village leaders who had come for the ceremony. The village leaders piously accepted the engraved stone and set it up on the elephant standing nearby. ‘Long live, long live the emperor Sundara Cholar, Korajakesari who conquered Madurai,’ the sound from thousands of voices rose and spread in all directions. Competing with the voices the thunderous sound of a hundred drums reached the skies. Then in order the following calls and responses were shouted out – ‘Long live the junior stateswoman Kundavai Devi!’ ‘Long live the bravest of the brave, Athitha Karikalar who beheaded Veerapandyan!’ ‘Long live Prince Arulmozhivarmar who took over Eezham!’ ‘Long live Sivagnana Kandarathithar’s beloved son Mathuranthaka Thevar!’ Finally when the cheers, ‘Long live the treasurer, chief of the granary, tax collector, the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar!’ ‘Long live the chief of Thanjai fortress, the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar Kalanthakandar!’ rose, the sound was very much subdued. Pazhuvur soldiers alone took part in these cheers, the public did not participate as much. At that time Madme Kundavai tried to look at Pazhuvur Illaiyarani’s face but she did not succeed. Especially if the junior stateswoman had seen Nandhini’s face when the cheers were about Athitha Karikalar, there was no doubt that even the iron-hearted princess would have been frightened.

19. SPY CAPTURED

The events of that day were a source of annoyance for the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. It had turned out be an occasion for the public to express their faith in the emperor and his family! ‘Citizens indeed! Senseless cattle herds! If they see four people together the four thousand will follow behind! How many people know to make use of their own mind?’ he fumed muttering to himself often. “Before the emperor reaches heaven he is going to ruin the empire! He keeps ordering, ‘Reduce the taxes on this place!’, ‘Make that village tax-exempt!’ In a short time there won’t be any villages paying taxes. But we have to keep sending money for expenses and grain for food to the battlefield. From where to send?” hearing him shout loudly, even his servants were a little frightened.

“Brother! What is the use of shouting like this? We have to wait until the time comes and show it in our actions!” the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar had to preach him patience.

The elder’s annoyance went over the limit when he came to know that Kundavai was coming to their palace. He went to Nandhini and asked, “What’s this I hear? Why should that monstress come here? It seems you invited her? Have you forgotten the way she disgraced you? ”

“I will never forget the good that was done to me; I will also never forget the harm that was done to me. You still don’t know this nature of mine?” said Nandhini.

“In that case why is she coming here?”

“Her wish, she is coming! She is coming because of her arrogance that she is the emperor’s daughter!”

“Why did you invite her?”

“I didn’t invite her; she invited herself. ‘It seems Sambuvaraiyar’s son is at your house? I must see him!’ she said, I can’t say ‘Don’t come!’ The time will come when I can say that. Until then I will have to bear the insults.”

“I cannot bear it any more. I cannot be in this palace when she comes. I cannot even be in this town. I have some work in Mazhapadi. I will go.”

“Do that, My Lord! I was going to say this myself. Leave that poisonous serpent to me. I know how to drain her poison. When you return, if you hear some strange news don’t be surprised…”

“What kind of strange news?”

You may hear that Madam Kundavai is going to marry Kanthamaran or Athitha Karikalan is going to marry Kanthamaran’s sister…”

“Aiyaiyo! What are you saying? If this happens what about our plans?”

“Is talk the same as deed? You are telling all your friends that Mathuranthaka Thevar is the one to be crowned next! Is it truly going to happen? Are we working so hard to crown Mathuranthakan who walks and talks like a woman?” Nandhini focused her dark eyes on the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar. Unable to bear the intensity of that scrutiny the old man bending his head took her hand and raised it to his eyes saying, “My Darling! The day will soon be here when you would be seated as empress on the Chola empire throne!”

Ever since he heard that Kundavai Devi was coming to see him Kanthamaran had been in a state of excitement. Kundavai’s intellect, beauty and other desirable qualities were well known in the country. How magnificent it was that such a woman was coming to see him? For this he could have been stabbed many more times and lying in bed with fever? Adada! Couldn’t he have been lying in bed injured in the battlefield with a wound on his chest? How honorable it would be if at that time Kundavai Devi came to see him? Instead of that, now I have to retell the same tale that I have told everyone else about being betrayed by a friend?

Every now and then he was reminded of the treacherous scheme that he was involved in against this noble woman’s family. Kanthanmaran was a decent boy. He was ignorant of trickery and perfidy. Even though Nandhini’s beauty attracted him, because she was someone else’s wife he kept his emotions under control. But Madam Kundavai was unwed. How does one approach her? How does one speak to her? While harboring vengeance within one’s self, can one be cordial on the outside? Or would I fall for her beauty and be reduced to the state of giving up my vow? I should never leave room for that to occur… Ah! Why is the princess coming to see me? Let her come; let her come! I would speak rudely and dissuade her from ever coming back.

This decision of Kanthamaran disappeared completely when he saw Madam Kundavai. Her beauty, enthusiasm, generosity, humility and sweet, sympathetic words made Kanthamaran lose his mind. His imagination ran wild. While pretending to not brag about himself he spoke about his brave deeds as if being compelled by her to do so. While pretending to be reluctant he showed the wounds on his shoulders, chest and all over his body that he had suffered in the battlefield. When Kanthamaran spoke emotionally, ‘I wouldn’t have minded if that friendly enemy killed me by stabbing me in the chest. I am sorry that he stabbed me in the back. That is why I am forced to speak now about his betrayal. Or else, won’t it lead to disgrace that I turned my back and fled from the war? I would have forgiven him if he had stabbed me on my shoulder or chest!’, it appeared to be the truth to Kundavai. She began to question if Vandhiyathevan had indeed done this, and if she had been deceived by him. Upon being requested to tell what happened in detail, Kanthamaran obliged. Even Nandhini was surprised at the power of his imagination and the new heights it reached that day.

“See, Devi! He deceived me even on that day when he stayed at Kadampoor. He didn’t tell me his mission in Thanjavur. He had come here and entered with false identification. He had also seen the emperor. He had bragged that he was carrying a letter from Athitha Karikalar. Did he stop there? When he got your name involved saying that he had brought a letter for you as well, the general of the fortress began to suspect. Thinking that he might be a spy he had wanted him kept under guard. Somehow he escaped. There, we must admire his ingenuity. When I heard this news I didn’t believe that my friend was the enemy’s spy. He has some quirks in his nature. I strongly believed that this was one such foolish outcome. ‘I will somehow find him and bring him back. He ought to be forgiven,’ I negotiated with the general of the fortress and set out. In the middle of the night I went along the Vadavaru shore that surrounds the fortress. I didn’t want to disgrace my friend by taking another person with me. After escaping, he had to somehow climb over the fortress wall! Even if he had already done it he had to be hiding in the nearby forest. Therefore I walked along the Vadavaru shore. In the dim moon light  a man could be seen coming down the perpendicular wall of the fortress. Immediately I went and stood there. As soon as he climbed down I said, ‘Pal! What’s this work?’ That cutthroat at once delivered a punch to my chest. What can his punch do to my chest that had withstood attacks from elephants? Still I could not accept the fact that he punched me, who had gone there with good intentions. I also punched. Both of us fought interminably. In fifteen minutes he was defeated. He apologized to me. I too forgave him and said, ‘Tell me the real reason behind your visit! I will help you in whatever way!’

‘I am tired, let me sit somewhere and talk,’ he said. I said, ‘Alright!’ and took him. I walked in front showing the way. Suddenly that perpetrator stabbed me in the back with a knife. The knife had sunk into about half the length of one’s palm. My head was spinning; I fell down. That friendly enemy had run away! When I again regained consciousness I saw that I was at the house of a mute woman…”

Nandhini laughed to herself hearing Kanthamaran’s fictitious account. Kundavai Devi could not decide to what extent to believe it.

“How did you get to the mute woman’s house? Who brought you there?” she said.

“That is an unexplainable mystery to me. The mute woman didn’t know anything. Even if she knew she could not talk. It seems that she has a son. He too has not been seen since that day. No one knows how he disappeared mysteriously. If he returns we can perhaps ask him. Or else we will have to wait until the Pazhuvur soldiers capture my friend…”

“Do you think that he will get caught?”

“How can he avoid getting caught? He cannot grow wings and fly away? I am waiting here for that, to see him. Otherwise I would have gone home. I still have hope that I can ask for clemency on his behalf from the Pazhuvur kings.”

“Sir! Your generosity is indeed remarkable!” said the junior stateswoman. Her mind thought, ‘Vandhiyathevan should not get caught. Even if he is a traitor!’

At that time one of the palace maids came running, shouting, “Madam! The spy was caught! They are bringing him!”

Both Nandhini and Kundavai’s faces expressed bitter unhappiness; Nandhini soon hid it. Kundavai could not.

20. TWO FEMALE TIGERS

The three who were present there grew excited as the maid ran in and revealed the news that the captured spy is being brought on the street. Kundavai’s heart was more disturbed.

“Devi! Shall we go and see what this clever spy’s face looks like?” said Nandhini.

Kundavai reluctantly said, “What do we care about him?”

“In that case, alright!” said Nandhini dismissively.

“I will go and see” Kanthamaran rose unsteadily.

“No; you cannot walk, you will fall!” said Nandhini.

Kundavai, pretending to change her mind asked, “We can also see what his beloved friend looks like! We can see from the palace balcony, can’t we?”

“We can see very well; come with me!” Nandhini got up and walked.

Kanthamaran said, “Devi! If he is my friend, please tell uncle and make arrangements for me to meet him!”

“How can we know if he is your friend?” said Nandhini.

“In that case, I will also come!” Kanthamaran walked unsteadily.

All three of them went to the front tower of the palace terrace. At a distance there were seven or eight horses coming. On them were soldiers with spears. In between the horses a man was walking. His hands were tied in the back with rope. Two of the soldiers on horses held the two ends of the rope.

At a short distance from the soldiers, a crowd of spectators followed.

For those looking from the palace tower the face of the man walking between the horses was not visible at first.

There was silence on the terrace until the procession came closer.

Kundavai’s eager and sad eyes were fixed on the approaching procession.

Nandhini kept looking at the street and then turning to examine Kundavai’s face.

Kanthamaran broke the silence.

“No; He is not Vandhiyathevan!” he said.

Kundavai’s face brightened.

At that time this strange procession had arrived right below the palace tower. The man walking among the horsemen bound by rope looked up. Kundavai knew that he was the doctor’s son.

The man looking up opened his mouth as if wanting to say something. Before that the rope on his two sides had dragged him further along.

Kundavai without showing her happiness said, “What’s this madness? Why are they dragging this man here? Isn’t he the Pazhaiyarai doctor’s son?”

“Oh! Is that so? My brother-in-law’s men are always like this. Leaving the real culprit out they will trouble someone else!” said Nandhini.

Kanthamaran interjected, “Would Vandhiyathevan get caught to them so easily? My friend is a big Indrajith! The guy who fooled me is going to get caught to these men?”

“You are still calling him your friend!” said Nandhini.

“He turned into an enemy. But the affection I have for him has not changed!” said Kanthamaran.

“Perhaps these men have killed your beautiful friend. I heard that these soldiers went to Kodikarai following two spies, ” Nandhini looked at Kundavai’s face after saying this.

She knew that the word ‘killed’ made Kundavai tremble. Hey Proud Woman! To avenge you I have found a good weapon! If I don’t use it fully I am not Pazhuvur Illaiyarani! Wait! Wait!

Kundavai transforming her mind’s agitation into anger said, “Spies indeed! Absolute foolishness! These old men’s intellect is deteriorating more and more! They suspect everyone they see! I sent this doctor’s son to Kodikarai to fetch medicinal plants! Why have they caught him? I am going now to ask your brother-in-law!”

“Oho! You sent this man? Devi! Did you speak about suspicion? Now I have a suspicion. Did you send him alone to fetch medicinal plants? Did you send another person with him?” asked Nandhini.

“I sent another person with him. I told one of them to go to Ilankai island.”

“Aha! I understand everything now! Everything happened as I suspected!”

“I don’t understand anything. What did you suspect? What did happen?”

“No more suspicion; only confirmation. Devi! Did you already know the man you sent with this guy? Or was he a new person?”

Kundavai a bit reluctantly answered, “New person? Or old person? He brought a letter from Kanjipuram; he came from my elder brother.”

“He is the one! He is the one!”

“He is who?”

“He is the spy! Even here he had said that he brought a letter to the emperor…”

“What was the reason that they suspected him to be a spy?”

“What do I know, about it? These are men’s concerns. In fact, that spy also had behaved suspiciously. Otherwise why should he run away secretly in the night? Why should he stab this peaceful man in the back?”

“I also don’t believe that he is the one who stabbed him in the back. If he stabbed him then why did he carry him to the mute woman’s house before leaving?”

“You speak as if you had seen it when it happened, Devi! For whatever reason you have developed a lot of sympathy for this spy. He must possess some magical power. Even he is still calling him his friend! Whatever! A life lost will not return. If these soldiers had killed him…”

Drops of perspiration appeared on Kundavai’s face. Eyes reddened. Throat was blocked, heart beat fast. ‘It couldn’t be! It never could be!’ she said to herself.

“Like he says, if that spy was very clever…” she said.

“Yes, Princess! Vandhiyathevan would never get caught to these men!” said Kanthamaran.

“If he is not caught today he will be caught on another day!” said Nandhini.

Biting her teeth Kundavai said, “Who knows what will happen tomorrow?”

Then angrily, “The emperor fell ill; the entire kingdom had gone topsy-turvy! What authority do they have to capture the people I sent to fetch medicinal plants? I am going now to ask my father.”

“Devi! Why trouble the emperor who is weakened by illness with this matter? Why not ask my brother-in-law? He may not be knowing your intentions. If you let him know he would behave accordingly. Who would dare in this Chola empire to go against the junior stateswoman’s wishes?” said Nandhini.

In that day’s round of war between the two female tigers, it was Nandhini who won. Kundavai’s heart suffered many wounds. The princess had to try hard to hide them.

21. THE DUNGEON

There is nothing more mysterious than life. Who can foretell the onset of a feeling of wellbeing or sadness? The sky has been clear for a very long time.  Suddenly clouds gather, darkness surrounds from all eight directions, amid thunder and lightening rain pours. Sometimes it feels as if there was no air on earth. The leaves on the trees don’t move. Suddenly from somewhere a whirlwind blows in swirling round and round. In its force very large trees fall down exposing their roots. The visually pleasing verdure that towered into the skies only a moment ago has now turned into the asokavanam following Hanumar’s destruction.

Such a tornado was ripping through Kundavai’s life now. Until a short time ago she did not know what sadness was. Life was an interminably joyous festival. Days went by with the understanding that life was nothing but love and caring, dancing and singing, music and art, style and beauty, flower gardens and stately boat rides. Mothers and father, younger and elder brothers, ministers, teachers, nursemaids and friends treated the junior stateswoman as the apple of their eye. She had known sadness only in the imagination through fiction and poetry.

When misfortune struck such a person of good fortune it came crashing one after another. Father’s condition was worrisome. The country was in danger. The two brothers were in far away places. Astrologers and prophets have been saying that an unidentifiable calamity awaited the Chola dynasty. Secret meetings were taking place in the country. The citizens were steeped in an unknowable fear.

Kundavai having followed a succession of strong willed warriors in birth had the moral courage to face such calamity. She had the firm confidence that the dangers facing her tribe and country can be solved with her sharp wit. But, a small incident in her life. An unexpected meeting – had caused her iron-heart to soften and her moral courage to diffuse. When Kundavai met Vandhiyathevan, – her heart that was an unopened lotus bud, began to blossom.

But, how unfortunate – at the same time a beetle had crawled into the flower and started to poison its soft petals! Oh! What agony!

How painful the thought was that the Vanar tribe soldier may have been imprisoned! How damning to her heart was the vicious rumor that he may have been killed? How she had to struggle to not show any of this to the outside world? Why does this heart throb so – not caring of her parents, relatives, siblings, friends and so many others, – but over a vagrant, – one she had met only two or three times, only in passing?

Now is not the time to think about this, or to rationalize and reach conclusions. Without looking for Aries in the Pisces, without looking for omens and ill omens one must make the necessary inquiries and do what needs to be done…

Therefore, that very afternoon, the junior stateswoman sent word that she was coming to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s palace. The women there greeted the junior stateswoman eagerly, they showered her with love. The princess after socializing and chatting with them for a while went to the art gallery. The younger Pazhuvertaraiyar who was waiting for her there attempted to guide her through the paintings. Kundavai also watched and listened.

At the last painting, Kundavai looked up at Kalanthakakandar and said, “Sir! The Pazhuvertaraiyars have provided incomparable service to the Chola dynasty for generations!”

“Madam! It was our good fortune,” said Kalanathaka Kandar.

“There is no doubt that the reward for such service is the Chola kingdom…”

“Madam! What manner of speech is this?”

“Still, you could wait until the emperor’s life comes to an end and he reaches heaven? Do you have to be in such a hurry to seize the governmental powers?”

Kalanthaka Kandar’s face showed that these words pierced his heart like sharp arrows. Beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead. Mustache twitched; hands and legs shuddered.

Wiping the perspiration from his forehead Kalanthaka Kandar looked at Kundavai and said, “Madam! Why this acrimony? Are you intending to send me to yamalokam with your sharp words…?”

“Sir! You know that I don’t have such power. Even Yaman would be afraid to go near Kalanthakar! What can a poor woman like me do?”

“My Lady! Instead of these harsh words you may as well pour molten lead into my ears! Devi! What mistake have I done for this display of vengeful kindness?”

“Who am I to speak of your mistake? You should tell me what my mistake was. Was it a fault to send a person to fetch medicinal plants to cure my father’s illness?”

“No, My Lady, that can never be a mistake.”

“Did you know that I sent the Pazhaiyarai doctor’s son to Kodikarai to fetch medicinal plants?”

“I do, My Lady!”

“I saw today that doctor’s son being bound by rope and dragged along the street by your soldiers. You gave the orders? You did this knowing that I am the one who sent him?”

“Yes, Madam! But you could have sent him without knowing that he was a spy?”

“Pazhaiyarai doctor’s son? A spy? You are asking me to believe this story?”

“Madam! If he agrees to it, we have to believe!”

The princess a bit taken aback asked, “He agreed? How is that? What did he agree to?”

“He agreed that the man who accompanied him was a spy. He agreed that the other man did not in truth travel for the sake of medicinal plants, but to take a letter to someone in Ilanakai…”

“He is a big fool; he would have blurted something. I am the one who sent the person who accompanied him. You know that, don’t you?”

“I know, Madam! But I also know that that man had deceived you. This young man named Vandhiyathevan is really a spy…”

“Not at all, he is the person who brought a letter for me from my brother in Kanjipuram.”

“Princess! He brought a letter from the prince to the emperor also. So what? Spies must do their work by engaging in this kind of perfidy!”

“Sir! What is the proof that Vandhiyathevan is a spy?”

“If he is not a spy why does he take the shortcut and not walk on the king’s road? Why should he visit the Kudanthai astrologer and inquire about the emperor’s horoscope?”

“I too asked the Kudanthai astrologer about the emperor’s horoscope. So what?”

“It is different when you who are the emperor’s beloved daughter asks. It is different when a vagrant with no connections asks. Only a spy of an enemy ruler would think of making that inquiry.”

“This is your guess, do you have any other reasons?”

“He could have entered the Thanjai fortress publicly after asking me for permission. Instead of doing that why should he creep in by showing the ring with the palmyrah seal? Why should he lie that the ring was given to him by the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar?”

“Then, who gave the ring with the seal!”

“We still don’t know that. We must find out.”

“What are your people doing without finding that out?”

“My Lady! My people are not magicians. To find out how he got possession of the ring with the seal we must first find the spy, shouldn’t we?”

“What is the guarantee that he will tell the truth?”

“There are ways to make him tell the truth. Madam! There is the dungeon. The spy knows this. That is why he ran away and escaped from the fortress in the middle of the night. He also stabbed Sambuvaraiyar’s son in the back before running away!”

“What is the evidence that he is the one who stabbed?”

“Kanthamaran’s testimony.”

“That is not enough! I am saying that he didn’t stab Kanthamaran!”

“Madam! Were you there to see?”

“I was not. But I can look at a person’s face and determine if he is guilty or not.”

“That vicious spy is a lucky man. He had somehow earned your good opinion. I don’t have any such luck?”

“Sir! Why do you again call him a spy?”

“Madam! If he wasn’t a spy why did he creep into Pazhaiyarai in the company of dancers wearing a mask? Why is he journeying to Kodikarai harbor in disguise? If he is not a spy why should he hide out of sight the whole day in Kodikarai when he saw my men? Why should he get on a boat and go to Ilankai island once it was dark?”

“Oho! He has escaped on a boat? Your people could not catch him?” There was joy in Kundavai’s questioning.

“Yes, Madam! That phantom of a spy had fooled my men and gone. Leaving him these fools have captured and brought the doctor’s son…”

“Sir! Let the spy be. I sent the doctor’s son. It is certain that he is innocent. He must be released at once.”

“My Lady! Even if he is not a spy he has been an accomplice. He had told some tall tales and deceived my men. He had helped the spy to go into hiding, and get away by boat…”

“Whatever it is, the doctor’s son must be freed.”

“I am not prepared to take that responsibility. The country is surrounded by danger from all four directions. Enemies are waiting to battle. Veerapandyan’s emergency guards have vowed to wipe the Chola dynasty without a trace. All over the country there are sabotages…”

“Sir! If we were to jail all the saboteurs, there will be no room in the jail!”

“We can as long as there is room, can’t we/’

“Let there be some room left for the true saboteurs. Sir! Release the doctor’s son at once!”

“I cannot take that responsibility, Madam!”

“Would you do it if you have the emperor’s orders? Or would you disregard that also?”

“My Lady! I don’t need the emperor’s order for this. That the junior stateswoman’s wishes are the religious order of the emperor is news known all over the world. Here, I will hand you the key to the dungeon. Please go and open the prison and free him. If you would like to free anyone else, please do by all means. You will be responsible for its gains and losses!…”

Saying this Kalanthakakandar handed a large key. Controlling her anger Kundavai accepted the key saying, “Alright, Sir! I accept the responsibility for the consequences!”

“If any great danger befalls this Chola empire, it would have come because of two women,” said the Thanjai fortress leader.

“I am one; who is the other woman?”

“Indeed it is Pazhuvur Illaiyarani Nandhini Devi!”

With a smile Kundavai replied, “You are placing me in the company of the dictator of Chola empire? If this falls in the ears of the elder Pazhuvertaraiyar he will exile you from the country!”

“That will be good! I am waiting for that,” said the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar.

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From → Notes

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