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Ponniyin Selvan Part II (45 – 46)

August 31, 2015

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

45. IMPRISONED SHIP

In the blink of an eye the seaport that is Elephant-Pass, passed them. Trees were racing backwards. Birds were flying backwards in the sky. Canals, ponds, countryside, temples and halls raced backwards. A group of deer competed with the elephant for a while. Soon they were taken over and left behind. The elephant alone surged and surged and surged. Poongkuzhali had lost track of both distance and time. She was however surprised to find the elephant still within the borders of Ilankai.

At this speed we could have crossed this island three times! No, no! This elephant is not going across Ilankai island. It is traveling  across the planet. It is going from the south pole to the north pole! Seated on its back, I too am circumambulating the earth. Not just me! The prince too!

When the elephant had begun its ‘rutting’ run, Poongkuzhali was frightened. With fear was mixed, the perplexity of not knowing what was going on. Two or three times the prince turned and smiled at her. After that her fear and apprehension disappeared. An inordinate measure of excitement possessed her. For a short time she was in this world riding on the excited elephant. Suddenly, somehow she found herself in heaven. There, she was seated on Devendran’s Iravatham. It was parading along heavenly routes. Camphor trees showered their fragrant flowers over her. Celestial choristers flew behind her making sweet music on their instruments. Heavenly maidens followed her dancing. Stars lit up both sides of the parade route sparkling and dazzling. Several eons slipped away!

The Iravatham is now slowing down. All of a sudden, this is the earth. The elephant is in the jungles of Eezha Nadu. The elephant-keeper is bending down to pat its forehead. He is whispering in its ear. Cheche! He is not the elephant-keeper; he is Devendran! No, isn’t this the prince?

The elephant quietly came to a stop near a pond that was surrounded by trees on all sides.

Concerned, Poongkuzhali looked around to see if there was a crowd waiting to greet and welcome the prince. No! She turned to check if horses were following from behind. No! She looked at the pond. The alli and chenkazhuneer flowers tore themselves off with their twining vines. They surrounded her from all sides. The flowers delighted in caressing her cheeks, shoulders and her entire body. Their hold tightened, squeezing her out of breath, suffocating her. It felt as if her body jolted and broke itself from the vines falling headlong on to earth. The elephant bent its huge forelegs and knelt down. Then it bent its hind legs also and lay down on the ground. The prince jumped down from the elephant. “Poongkuzhali! Don’t you want to get down?” he called.

Poongkuzhali shook herself to align herself with reality. “Sir! It is difficult to come down to earth from heaven!” she muttered as she climbed down.

The elephant rose, broke a branch from a big tree by the side of the pond and stuffed it inside its mouth.

Arulmozhivarmar sat by the side of the pond. He asked Poongkuzhali also, who was waiting hesitantly, to sit beside him.

The clear water held Poongkuzhali’s face. Owing to the elephant ride and the excitement she felt in her heart her face had turned red competing with the shade of the chenkazhuneer flower.

Looking at her reflection in the water the prince said, “Samuthrakumari! I like you a lot!”

Alli and chenkazhuneer flowers again came over and showered her with kisses! “Do you know why I like you?” the prince asked.

The sky and the ground, the pond with its flowers, the trees around the pond – all revolved in front of Poongkuzhali’s eyes.

“Everyone I know would like me to act according to their wishes. You alone happily agreed to go along with my wish! I will never forget this help, Samuthrakumari!

Poongkuzhali’s body turned into a lute. Her nerves became its strings. Golden fingers pulled those strings making music sweeter than heaven’s.

“The colonel and Parthipenthiran together tried to hinder my journey! The colonel set up many obstacles along the way. He sent men ahead to organize the villagers to greet and entertain us. Parthipenthirar has gone to Trincomalee in a hurry. His intention is to board the ship there and be at Thondaimanaru harbor before us. Aha! They thought that I don’t know their treachery! With your help I have beaten them…”

Poongkuzhali was immediately reminded of what she had done. She felt as if Yaman’s messengers were grinding her alive in an oil-press.

“Sir! All of them tried to free you from being arrested. My deeds are atrocious! I am leading you to the prison!” Poongkuzhali sobbed.

“Adayday! What is this? I had such a good opinion of you. You also have become like them?”

“I did not commit this atrocity through my own free will. I lost my mind to your sweet talk. My mind is clear now. I am leaving …” Poongkuzhali jumped up to leave. The prince lightly touched her hand and held it to stop her.

Now the heavenly maidens had no other work. They mixed the sap of alabaster moon with sandalwood confection and anointed Poongkuzhali with it. Completely defeated and helpless, she sat down again. Covering her face with both hands she began to sob.

Samuthrakumari! I was going to tell you something important. If you are going to cry like this, I won’t. We will just leave at once.”

Wiping her tears Poongkuzhali looked up at him.

“That’s better, listen! You said that all of them want to save me from being captured. It is true. Do you know why?”

“Because of their affection for you. I am the only traitor!…”

“Wait, wait! Indeed everyone loves me! Do you know why? Because some astrologers and palm readers have said – I would be emperor one day. So each one is trying to instill me on the throne and place a crown over my head. Greedy people!”

“Sir! What is wrong with their intent? It isn’t just for this world, you are fit to rule all three worlds!”

“Aha! You are speaking exactly like them! Girl! In this world, there is no prison like the palace; no sacrificial alter like the throne; no punishment worse than a crown over one’s head. No one will agree with this; I thought that at least you might.”

Poongkuzhali’s eyelids fluttered like butterfly wings. Eyes widening she looked at the prince with affection.

Samuthrakumari! Tell the truth! If you were asked to sit on a throne for the rest of your life, would you do it?”

Poongkuzhali thought for a while. Then, with conviction she said, “No!”

“You see! Then why do you want to subject me to this punishment?”

“Weren’t you born for that, in the royal family?”

“So what? Fortunately God did not want to subject me to this punishment. My elder brother is there to rule; there is also my uncle’s son. He also wants to rule …”

“Aha! Has it reached your ears also?” said Poongkuzhali.

“Good question! Do you think that I don’t know? Therefore, Thanjavur throne is not going to suffer for lack of people to occupy it. Moreover, I have no desire to bear the burden of a crown and to rule!…”

“What do you desire?” asked Poongkuzhali.

“That is what you should be asking, let me tell you! Just now we rode on this excited elephant? In that fashion I would like to go through the forests and jungles like a hurricane. I want to get on ships and travel across the seas. I want to climb to the top of tall mountains. I have heard that across the seas there are many Ilankais like this Ilankai, many continents like this Bharatha continent. I want to go to these countries, see the wonders in those places!…”

With her mouth open, Poongkuzhali listened as if she wanted to swallow the words as they came out of his mouth. Unable to contain her excitement she asked, “Sir! When you go to these places will you take me with you?”

“What I stated are my dreams. Who knows if they will come true?” said the prince.

Poongkuzhali came down to earth from her perch in heaven. “Sir! In that case why should you now go to Thanjavur?”

“That is what I was going to talk about. You changed the topic and took me meandering. Samuthrakumari! There is a woman in this Ilankai island who is dumb and cannot speak, who roams around as if in a state of insanity? Do you know her?”

Surprised, Poongkuzhali asked, “Yes, Prince! Why do you ask?”

“I will give the reason later. How do you know her? What do you know about her?”

“Sir! I lost my mother while I was an infant. It was this elderly lady who showed me a mother’s love. She is my guru; my god, what else do you want to know about her?”

“Does she have a permanent residence? Does she always roam about?”

“When Ilankai is approached from Kodikarai there is an island called Poothatheevu, just before the Ilankai shore. There is a cave in that island. She resides there mostly. The first time I saw you was in that cave.”

“You saw me there?”

“Yes! This elderly lady has drawn some beautiful paintings in that cave. I saw you in those paintings! That is why when I later saw you at Kodikarai one day I was taken aback by surprise.”

“Oh! Now I see. I understand now. Samuthrakumari! Do you also know the relationship between this elderly lady and me?”

“I guessed that there was a connection. But I don’t know how!”

“Poongkuzhali! This elderly woman is my aunt. Rightfully, she is the great lady who should be seated on the Thanjavur throne!…”

“Oh, my God! Is that right?”

“But fate had it inscribed differently, what can anyone do? At times I have felt that my father harbored a secret agony in his heart. I found out the truth about it only recently. My father thinks that my aunt is dead. He thinks that she died because of him. I have to tell him that she is not dead, that she is alive. If he knows that, his anxiety will go down. His heartache will end. You know that the emperor is not well. Human life is temporary. No one can say what will happen, when. Thoomakethu has been appearing in the sky for some days now. People are interpreting its presence in many ways. Obviously the emperor’s mind has also been affected by it. Under these circumstances I must tell him what I found out before anything untoward happens. Samuthrakumari! This is why I want go to Thanjai urgently. Now you know how important your help is to me?”

Poongkuzhali, who had been listening with interest let out a sigh. ‘God! Why do you combine so much sadness along with the happiness in life?’ she muttered.

Then she said to the prince, “Sir! If this foolish soul is of any help to you it is because of some good deed in my previous birth. But why do you need help? If you had told the colonel and others won’t they have sent you to Thanjai?”

“No, I did not want to tell anyone of them. This will not seem important to them while they are focused on somehow placing me on the throne. I did not want to discuss my father’s private affairs with them. They would not have understood anyway. I am asking you for another help. Samuthrakumari! That is why I specifically stopped the elephant here. The astrologers who granted me emperorship and the throne have also forecast many dangers – malignity of evil planets – during my life. If something like that happens to me during this journey … if I fail to meet my father, you must go to the emperor. You must somehow meet him and tell him that my aunt is alive. If he wishes you must take her to him. Would you do this, Poongkuzhali?”

“Nothing untoward will happen to you. No evil will dare to come near you, it will run in the other direction; you will certainly reach Thanjavur safely …”

“If in case something happens to me you will fulfill my request?”

“Certainly, Prince!”

“Can I entrust this important matter with anyone else? You tell me!”

“You have given me my job. With that my usefulness here is at an end. Can I say goodbye?” said Poongkuzhali. Her voice was laced with tears.

“Aha! How can that be? We have not yet reached the Thondaimanaru estuary! We have not seen the Chola Nadu war ships! How can we say goodbye before that? Don’t be angry! Bite your teeth and put up with me for just a while longer. Climb on the elephant and come with me for a little longer! As soon as we sight the tiger flag on the ships you can go!” said the prince.

Without answering Poongkuzhali walked toward the elephant. The prince also followed. The elephant knelt down hearing the prince’s command. Both climbed on its back. The prince did not drive the elephant as before. Yet, it walked fast.

Samuthrakumari! I told you a little about what I like in life. Don’t you want to talk about what you like?” said Arulmozhivarmar.

“I am very fond of Yama whose conveyance is the buffalo. I also like very much to stand on top of the rocky mountain at midnight and gaze at the fire-mouthed devils immune to the passage of time…”

“You are a strange girl!”

“Call me a mad woman like your friend. I will not be offended. I also like being in the middle of the ocean amid the waves rowing my small boat. And if there happens to be a cyclone my happiness would have surpassed its limit. Then the boat would ride the wave and land me in heaven; next second it will fall headlong into hell. There is nothing that I like more. This elephant just now ran in a mad haste, that too was exhilarating to me!”

“Ah! Poongkuzhali! If Lord Murugan had come seeking your smile he would not have succeeded. The way he sent yanai-mugan to frighten the gypsy girl Valli, it would not have worked with you!”

When they reached the mouth of the Thondaimanaru estuary Poongkuzhali shouted, “Ah! What is this?”

“What? What?” The prince asked anxiously. “The vessels that I saw with the tiger flag, they are not there! What will you think of me? Just like the colonel suspected, I look as if I meant to deceive you!” she said.

“I will never think that, Poongkuzhali! There is no reason for you to tell this story and bring me here…?”

“Why not, Prince, the reason can’t be love? Can’t a foolish woman be infatuated with Ponniyin Selvar, whom the entire world hails as Manamthan in beauty, and Arjunan in valor, and be driven to do this?”

“Girl! If the colonel were here now, he might think so. But in your mind and mine there is no room for such insane ideas.”

“Sir! In Pazhaiyarai palace, there is a warrior tribe princess known as Vaanathi Devi, would you say that about her also?”

“Yes, yes! I have not forgotten that. This colonel and my sister are trying to tie her around my neck. Wanting to sit on the Chola throne that foolish woman may also harbor such a desire. I am not responsible for that, Poongkuzhali! Forget that! When you saw the ships, where were they?”

“There, at the tip there!I remember it very well!” said Poongkuzhali.

“So what? They may have moved a little from there! Why don’t we take a look from the shore?” said the prince.

“If the ships are gone, well and good. Why should we go and look for them?” said Poongkuzhali.

“Aha! You may think so. But there is nothing else that can disappoint me more!” said the prince.

Three hundred years ago the Ilankai prince Mahnavanman had come to Kanjipuram seeking sanctuary there. Mamalla emperor sent a big troop to get his kingdom back to him. This is where the troops he sent landed. At that time there was only a small canal in the place. To allow the ships to anchor and for the troops to disembark they excavated the canal to make it bigger and deeper. This canal then got the name Thondaimanaru. Near the mouth of the frith the river ran bending and curving. On both sides there was a dense cover of trees. This made it convenient to be hidden from those at sea.

Poongkuzhali had seen the vessels that had come to take the prince in such a deep enclave of the river. The vessels were now not seen in the same place. There were no flags or sails seen from afar. A strange sight awaited at close range. A ship had moved inland from the water and was seen sunken in the mud. Sails and flags were strewn around broken and damaged. There didn’t seem to be anyone around. Poongkuzhali knew for certain that it was one of the two ships that she had seen two days ago. She was astounded that one of the ships that had come to imprison the prince, had itself become trapped there in the mud.

46. TUMULTUOUS INNER SEA

The prince whispered into the elephant’s ear, it lay down. Both of them hurried down from its back. They rushed toward the ship that was sunk in the sand. It was a pitiful sight. All the sails were broken. They wondered perhaps there was someone in the ship. The prince clapped his hands. Poongkuzhali cupped her hands around her mouth and called. There was no answer. Stepping into the water both of them climbed onto the ship holding its side. The wooden planks at the bottom had split and a lot of water and sand had seeped in. Their hope of pushing it into the water and sailing it had to be abandoned. It would be impossible to drag the ship onto the water from there. One elephant would not be enough to drag it to the shore; several elephants and several people would be needed. Maritime carpenters would have to work for many months to repair it.

The prince took the tiger flag that lay caught between the broken mast. He was obviously saddened by the sight.

“Poongkuzhali! Is this one of the ships that you saw?” he asked.

“It does seem that way. The second ship must have been completely destroyed!” answered Poongkuzhali. Her voice sounded cheerful.

“Why so much happiness?” asked the prince.

“Won’t I be happy to see the ships that came to imprison you drowned and lost?”

“It is not right to be cheerful, Samuthrakumari! Something terrible has happened. It hurts me to see this fate of a vessel bearing a tiger flag. We don’t know how this happened. What happened to the soldiers and sailors who were on it? I am even more disturbed when I think about them. Are you saying that the other ship got drowned?”

“It is possible that it drowned. It’s good if it did.”

“Not at all. It could not be. It may have seen the fate of this ship and may have gone to a deeper spot with plenty of water. It is not clear why this ship came so close to the shore. The heritage of Chola Nadu sailors goes back thousands of years. Somehow they ought to have survived this calamity. Either they got onto the other ship and left! Or they must be around somewhere here! Come! Let’s go and see!”

“Where can we look, Prince! The sun is going down, it is becoming dark!”

Samuthrakumari! Where did you leave your boat?”

“My boat is about half way down this river. Because we came on the elephant, and because you drove it so fast, we had come here in such a short time. By boat we would have been here only around midnight.”

“Alright! Before it becomes really dark let’s go and see along the riverbank, come! With these trees here we are unable to get a good view of the sea. Perhaps they have anchored the other ship at a distance in the ocean?”

Leaving the elephant there, both of them walked along the riverbank toward the sea. Soon they were standing on the seashore. The sea was clam. There was no sign of waves. It stretched as a luminous green sheet of metal as far as eyes could travel. In the distant horizon the green of the sea and the pale blue of the sky became one.

There were no boats or vessels. One or two birds flew toward the shore from the sea. That was all! After standing there looking, turning around peering into the distance, the prince said after a while, “Alright! Let’s go back to the sunken ship!”

Both turned and started walking back.

“Poongkuzhali! I will never forget your help. But we must part now,” said the prince.

Poongkuzhali was silent. “Did you hear what I was saying? I have decided to wait in that buried ship. The colonel and others will somehow get here in search of this place. I will discuss with them and decide about how to proceed. But you have no more work here. Find your boat and leave. Please keep in mind what I said about my father…”

Poongkuzhali hesitated. She leaned on one of the trees grabbing one of the low branches.

“What, Ocean Princess? What?”

“Nothing, Prince! I will take leave of you here, goodbye!”

“Are you angry, Poongkuzhali!”

“Angry? What right does this foolish woman have to be angry at you? I am not that arrogant.”

“Then why have you stopped here?”

“I am not angry, Sir! I am tired! It’s two days since I slept. I will lie down here for a while and then go look for my boat.”

It was the day after full moon. The moon was just then rising from the eastern sea. A couple of the moon’s rays fell on Poongkuzhali’s face.

The prince looked at that face. He saw the fatigue and listlessness of that face. He saw her tired eyes closing involuntarily. It is natural for the red lotus to close when the moon rises. But the lotus that was Poongkuzhali’s face was not merely closing. It was faded and crumbling.

“Girl! You said it is two days since you had a wink of sleep. How many days has it been since you had a meal?”

“That is also two days. When I was with you I didn’t feel hungry.”

“What’s to say about my foolishness? Today in the afternoon we all ate till our bellies burst. I failed to ask you if you had eaten! Come, Poongkuzhali! Come to the buried ship with me! I remember seeing some grain spilled over. We’ll gather it and make porridge tonight. After eating you can be on your way…”

“Sir! If I eat I’ll fall asleep there. My eyes are closing even now.”

“So what? You sleep peacefully in that sunken ship. The elephant and I will keep watch from the shore. When the sun comes up you go look for your boat!”

The prince took Poongkuzhali’s hand and led her to the ship. He saw that her legs were in fact unsteady. Tears welled in his eyes when he realized that there was nothing comparable to her love in all of the worlds.

Upon their return they were startled to see smoke arising from behind the ship. Perhaps the occupants of the ship had returned from somewhere! Because their sudden appearance could be cause for undue alarm and hostility, they tiptoed their way in. Even at close range no voices were heard. It was impossible to fathom how many of them were there or who they were. Only the smell of roasted sweet potato greeted them. Knowing Poongkuzhali’s condition the prince considered it most important to relieve her of her hunger. Therefore, nonchalantly he went around the ship. There was a woman lighting a fire and cooking over an open stove. Soon he knew who she was. The elderly woman did not appear to be surprised by their appearance. She seemed to be expecting them. Without talk she welcomed them. Within a short time she also served them a meal. The prince thought that the millet porridge and sweet potato were more tasty than the kingly feast of Pazhaiyarai palace.

After eating the three of them went aboard the ship. The moon was now up and risen. From the ship it was possible to see where the Thondaiman river joined the sea, and the vast ocean beyond that point. The sea that had appeared as a green copper sheet in the twilight of dusk now shimmered as a sheet of gold in the golden light of the moon’s rays.

Even though they were out in the open surrounded by water it was sultry and they were sweating. There was no air at all. When the prince brought this up with Poongkuzhali the elderly woman somehow understood. She pointed to the ash circle in the sky around the moon.

“If there is a circle around the moon it is a forecast for rain and storm,” Poongkuzhali explained.

“Let the storm arrive at its own pace; right now a bit of air would help!” said the prince. Then he expressed his surprise as to how the elderly lady could have arrived there so quickly.

“This is not a big deal for my Atthai; she had accomplished even greater things!” said Poongkuzhali.

“In addition there is no limit to the affection she has for you. What cannot be achieved through love?” she said.

The elderly woman somehow comprehending this also, turned Poongkuzhali’s face and pointed in the distance. Their elephant was standing there. They were astonished to see a horse of very high caliber next to it.

“She arrived on this horse? Does she know how to ride?” The prince asked in surprise.

“There is nothing that my Atthai does not know. She knows horseback, elephants, all of that. She knows how to row a boat. Sometimes it would seem as if she piggybacks on air. She can be from one place to the next so fast. We would wonder how she could have done it.”

The prince turned his attention to the stately appearance of the stallion that was grazing near the shore.

“Isn’t this among the best of the well-bred horses found in the Arab country? How did it get here? How does this elderly lady happen to be riding it?” he said to himself.

In sign language Poongkuzhali asked the Oomaih Rani (yes; we can now call her Oomaih Rani!). She indicated that the horse had climbed ashore near Elephant-Pass, that it was standing there lost, and that she had cared for it and brought it here. To the prince this became cause for even greater bewilderment.

The prince noticed that Poongkuzhali’s eyes were closing even as she spoke. “You said before that you were sleepy. Go and sleep!” he said. As soon as she heard it Poongkuzhali moved away and lied down covering herself with a mat that was on the ship. Within a short time she was asleep. Her steady breathing confirmed it.

But in her sleep she was mumbling a song:

“while the sea with its waves is quiet

why is the inner sea so tumultuous?”

Aha! Vandhiyathevan was humming this song yesterday! Perhaps he heard it from her. The prince thought of asking the Ocean Princess to sing the entire song when she awoke from her sleep. The prince looked at Oomaih Rani. Everyone’s heart overflows at times! Chest heaves! But is there a metaphor for this elderly woman’s inner turmoil? How many enticements, how many delights, how much grief and how many grievances has she got locked up in her heart? How long has she held them there!

Oomaih Rani moved closer to the prince. She combed his hair with her fingers lovingly. With her strong and steady hands she touched his cheeks gently as if tending to a flower. The prince was at a loss for a while. Then he touched her feet and raised his hands to his eyes. She grasped those hands and held them against her face. His hands soon were soaked in tears streaming down from her eyes.

Oomaih Rani signaled the prince to sleep. She said that she would guard and that he should sleep without any worry. The prince didn’t think that sleep was anywhere near him. Yet, to satisfy her he lied down. For a long time a storm raged in his heart. A light breeze blew over. As the body cooled the mind also shut down. A light sleep possessed him.

But even in sleep the prince did not have peace. He had many strange dreams. He rode the skies on stallions from Arabia. Leaving the clouds behind he entered heaven. Devendran took him on his Iravatham. He offered the prince his diamond throne. “Oh! I don’t want this, I want to have my aunt Oomaih Rani sit on this throne,” he said. Devendran laughed saying, “Let her come here. We will then see.” He gave a drink of heaven’s ambrosia to the prince. He tasted it and said, “Oh! This is not as good as Kaveri water!” Devendran took the prince to his anthapuram. There were many maidens there. Indran told the prince, “You can marry the most beautiful among them.” “No one would even come anywhere close to Poongkuzhali’s beauty,” the prince replied. All of a sudden Indran turned into the junior stateswoman. “Arulmozhi! Have you forgotten my Vaanathi?” she asked.

“Sister! Sister! How long are you going to keep me a slave? The Pazhuvertaraiyars’ prison is better than your prison of love! Set me free! Or else keep me in the palace like Viradarajan’s son Utharakumaran. I will spend my time dancing and singing,” he said. Kundavai placed her kanthal flower like finger on her mouth and gazed at him in astonishment. “Arulmozhi! Why have you changed? Who spoilt your mind? Yes, Brother! Love is a form of subordination. You must submit yourself to it,” she said. “No, sister, no! You are mistaken. There is love that does not enslave. Shall I show you? Here, you will see! …Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali! Come over here!” he called.

As dawn broke out Poongkuzhali woke up hearing the sound of hooves. She saw the Oomaih Rani leaving on horseback. She ran to stop her. The horse flew before she could step off the ship and reach the shore.

Dawn was enchanting. There was an excitement in Poongkuzhali’s heart as never before. She looked up at the floorboard of the ship. The prince was sleeping. Poongkuzhali walked along the riverbank listening to the birds chirping. On one of the branches was seated a giant parrot. It was not afraid of Poongkuzhali. It looked at her as if saying, ‘Where have you come?’

“Friendly Parrot! In a short while the prince will leave from here. After that you are my company. You will speak to me, won’t you?” she asked.

At that time, “Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali!” – a voice was heard. At first she thought that it was the parrot speaking. No; she realized that the voice came from the ship. She jumped up and ran knowing that it was the prince calling. But when she went up on the ship, the prince was still sleeping. When Poongkuzhali went near him, his mouth whispered, “Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali!” Delighted, the girl went near the prince and touched him and woke him up.

The prince woke up from his dream and sleep. The sun was rising in the east. Poongkuzhali’s face dazzled as the newly blossoming red lotus. “You called me, why?” she asked.

“I called your name, did I? I must have said something in my sleep. You sang in your sleep yesterday. Can’t I talk?” he said.

The prince jumped up. “Oho! I have slept so late! Where is Aunty?” He looked around. Samuthrakumari said that the elderly woman had left on horseback that morning.

“She did a good thing! Samuthrakumari! You look rested. You too should take your leave. I must be here until my friends arrive. Till then I am going to test this ship out,” he said.

“There! There!” Poongkuzhali called. The prince looked in the direction she was pointing at. Far away in the ocean a vessel was seen. Closer to the shore a small boat was also coming. There were about five or six people on the boat.

“Aha! Now we shall find out in detail!” said the prince.

The prince was afraid that the boat will proceed along the shore unaware of his presence here. He hurried from the sunken ship toward the shore. Poongkuzhali followed him. The elephant also walked behind them swinging its hips.

They waited on the shore while the ship kept moving away from them. The boat was coming towards them. Poonguzhali who was lagging behind until then, out of curiosity stepped forward.

Amid his worries Poongkuzhali’s curiosity made the prince happy. A smile blossomed on his face.

He had plenty of reasons to worry. He felt that he should have been on that ship that kept moving farther and farther away from him. Not only that; there was one person less on the boat. A man who should have been on it was not there. Yes; there is the colonel; there is Thirumalaiappar. There are the soldiers who accompanied them; the boatman. But the Varnar tribe young man was missing. Where is Vallatharaiyan? Where is that excitable man, compassionate warrior, fearless hero, the confidential messenger sent by the junior stateswoman?… Even though he had known him for only two days, he had become like a friend he had known for a long time. The prince was drawn by his personality. He felt regret as if he had lost a rare treasure.

When the boat was close enough to the shore the colonel and others scrambled out of it. Colonel Poothi Vikrama Kesari came running and hugged the prince.

“Sir! You did a good thing; How can you frighten us like this? … How did the elephant calm down? It is now waiting here tame as ever!… Prince! When did you reach here? Did you see the Pazhuvertaraiyars’ ships? Where are they?” Kodumbalur elder Velar rained down his questions.

“Colonel! I will tell our story later. Where is Vandhiyathevar? Tell me!” he said.

“That upstart of a boy is in that ship!” The colonel pointed to the ship in the distance.

“Why? Why? Whose ship is that? Why is Vandhiyathevar on that ship?” The prince asked.

“Sir! My mind is all mixed up. Ask this Vaishnavan! He understands your relationship and that young man’s nature!” he said.

The prince asked Azhvarkadiyan, “Thirumalai! Why is Vandhiyathevar leaving on that ship? If you know why, answer me, please!”

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From → Notes

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