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Ponniyin Selvan Part IV (15 – 20)

September 28, 2016

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

15. Royal Welcome

The front entrance to Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace presented an extraordinary sight. As far as eyes could see throngs of people stood pressed against each other. Men, women, girls, boys and the elderly were in that crowd.

Old men and old women who were not steady on their own two feet stood leaning on their canes. Not minding the crowd that pushed them they stood unsteadily while they waited eagerly to see Athitha Karikalar’s heroic face. Boys and girls, daring to be trampled by the crowd, kept pushing to come to the front. Young women abandoning their shy nature pushed and shoved among strangers to move to the front of the crowd. Young men on the other hand altogether ignoring the ladies without even giving them a sideways glance concentrated on securing the best spots to have a good look at the prince. Several of them climbed on trees on the sides and front of the palace. Many others were dragged down by the palace guards when they tried to climb on the outer wall of the palace.

Many young women with babies on their hips suffered much hardship standing in that crowd. Mothers comforted their crying children saying , “Darling! Don’t cry! Brave Tamil Nadu’s mighty warrior, Athitha Karikala Cholar who decapitataed Veera Pandyan is coming! If you see him today, one day you will also turn into a brave soldier like him!” In the same manner, young men to their lovers, fathers to their sons, praised Athitha Karikalar.

In those days Athitha Karikalar’s fame was spread all around the country. Every citizen wanted to see the prince who at the age of twelve, sword in hand entered the battlefireld and massacred many an enemy; who defeated the Pabdya garrison in the Sevur battlefield; who made Veera Pandyan to run and hide in a cave in the desert; who at the age of nineteen slaughtered Veera Pandyan’s bodyguards, found Veera Pandyan’s hiding place and emerged from there holding his head in his hand.

During the last three or four years many rumors have begun to circulate about this heroic man. Some said that after Athitha Karikalar was crowned as prince, some misunderstanding had arisen between him and emperor Sundara Cholar, and that the emperor did not want Athitha Karikalar to ascend to the throne after him. Some said that Athitha Karikalar wanted to establish his own separate kingdom in Kanji like the ancient Chola nadu prince who established his own kingdom that was the beginning of the mighty Pallava tribe. Some others said that Athitha Karikalar was angry because the emperor favored his younger brother Arulmozhivarman. Others were in complete disagreement insisting that no two brothers were as close and affectionate as Karikalan and Arulmozhi. There were also various theories about why the prince was still not married. There were those who said that the disagreement between father and son rose because of Karikalar’s refusal to marry any of the royal princesses and his wish to wed the temple pattar’s daughter and raise her to the throne. And then there were people who claimed that Athitha Karikalar was insane, that the Pandya socerers have turned him half-mad through their magic, and that was why the petty kings did not want him ascending to the throne after the emperor.

Whatever the story was, the people were eager to see this mighty warrior in person. Anticipation had been brewing in the surrounding villages ever since news spread about the upcoming visit of Prince Karikalar to Kadampoor palace. Once it became known that he was going to be there that evening crowds of people from the surrounding villages for up to ten miles started coming.

It was fitting to describe this  vast crowd as an ocean of humanity. Voices arising from the depths of their beings of these thousands of people combined to produce an indecipherable sound like the rumbling roar of the ocean. At the palace entrance guards stood in formation making way for the prince and his retinue to pass through. Like waves crashing and retreating on the seashore, people pushed by those from behind moved forward to block the way, only to be pushed back again by the guards.

“Here they come,” a man from the top of a tree suddenly shouted. “Where? Where?” A thousand voices rose. A horse came speeding. Paying no attention to the crowd it advanced. People hastily pushed back into the crowd moving out of the way so that they will not be trodden under the horse. “Young Sambuvaraiyan!” They shouted. Yes, it was Kanthamaran! Without answering the questions of those in the crowd he drove the horse fast toward the entrance of the fort and jumped down. Bowing to acknowledge Sambuvaraiyar and Pazhuvertaraiyar who were standing there he said, “The prince is on his way; but his mind is not all there. There are sudden bouts of anger. I came ahead to warn. He must be given a royal welcome. Even if he says something out of character it is better not to react or respond!” When he finished speaking he looked up. He saw the palace women standing on the tower balcony. At once he went in and took the wooden steps leading to the balcony.

Once he was there Kanthamaran’s eyes ignoring everyone else went straight to Nandhini Devi. He went to her and said, “Devi! I have fulfilled your wish. I have brought the prince. He is on his way. But he is behaving like an elephant in rut. I am not sure how we are going to appease him!”

“Sir! What is there to worry? Your sister’s eyes will be the spears that will tame the rutting elephant,” said Nandhini.

“Sister! What are you saying,” said Manimekalai.

“Manimekalai! There is nothing wrong in what Pazhuvur Rani is saying! Won’t a girl be fortunate to have the heroic warrior like Athitha Karikalar as her husband,” said Kanthamaran.

Before Manimekalai could answer Nandhini interrupted. “Sir! Is anyone else coming with the prince,” she asked.

“Yes, yes! Parthipenthira Pallavan and Vandhiyathevan are coming …”

After looking pointedly at Manimekalai, Nandhini said, “Which Vandhiyathevan? You said a friend of yours, .. him?”

“Yes, the same best friend who tried to stab and kill me from behind. Somehow, from somewhere, he joined us on the shore of Vellaru. Due to the merciful nature of the prince I let him be; or else I would have made him meat to my sword then and there!”

A frown appeared on Manimekalai’s face; her eyebrows knitted together. “If it is true that he stabbed you in the back, why should he be allowed to enter the palace,” she asked.

“Darling! Don’t say anything. This is between men. They will wrestle one day; the next day they will pat each other on the back,” said Nandhini.

Smiling Kanthamaran said, “Nothing of the sort. To save face – for the sake of the prince! Oho! You have brought baskets full of flowers! The petals you will be showering on him will cool him down! There, they are here now! I am going down!” He hastily ran down the wooden rungs.

From the palace balcony it first appeared like a rip current in the ocean of humanity that spread as far as eyes could reach. Like a vessel that was caught in the rip current that appears momentarily and then disappears, three soldiers on three horses came before the eyes of the onlookers on the balcony. The next second they were swollen by the waves of people in that ocean. In this disjointed manner the rip current proceeded to advance. Finally it reached the entrance of the fort.

Those seated on the three horses were indeed Athitha Karikalar, Parthipenthiran and Vandhiyathevan. The elephant, horses and the rest of their entourage had stayed behind farther away from them because of the crowd. The three horses came to a stop at the entrance. Music burst into the air. Hearing the sound of music arising from twenty kettle drums, two hundred cornets, three hundred trumpets and five hundred tom-toms the crowd became silent. The sound of music also then came to an abrupt end. In the quiet that followed, a panegyrist stood on a stage that was erected next to the balcony and shouted:

“Manumanthatha who was born in the sun tribe, emperor Sibi of the same tribe who gave his flesh to the dove, Rajakesari who came after emperor Sibi, his son Parakesari, Manuneethi Cholan who sacrificed his son so that the cow will be served justice, Karikal Peruvallathan who marked the Himalaya with the emblem of tiger, Nalankilli, Nedunkilli, Perunatkilli, kulamuttathu thunjia killivallavan, kurapalli thunjia killivallavan, koperuncholar who built seventy two Sivan temples, their descendant Pazhaiyarai Vijayalaya Cholar who bore ninety six wounds on his body, his son Athitha Cholar who built eighty two Sivan temples on the banks of Kaveri from sasyamalai to Kaveripattinam, his son emperor Paranthaka Cholar who conquered Madurai and Eezham and built the ornate gold building in Thillai Chithamparam, his son the heroic warrior Arinjaya Thevar who died at Arttur after defeating the troops of Irattai Mandalam’s Kanara Thevan, his son Pazhaiyarai Paranthaka Sundara Chola emperor who governs from Eezham to the fierce tiger country under one mantle, his eldest son – koperumahanar – commander of the north, crown prince, Athitha Karikala Cholar who decapitated Veera Pandyan is coming! Parak! Parak! Parak!” When the panegyrist stopped, the crowd experienced the stillness that follows a sudden onslaught of thunder and lightening.

Immediately another panegyrist who was standing next to him began. “Kollimalai king – the brave valvil ori who strung the lion, bear, deer and hog with one arrow – his descendant Rajathiraja raja marthanda brave and majestic Sambuvaraiyan – forever a friend of the Chola tribe, the guardian of Veera Narayana lake – commander of five thousand soldiers, welcomes with heartfelt warmth the royal son Athitha Karikala Cholar to his humble abode! May the Chola descendant’s visit bring good fortune!” He shouted.

When his thunderous announcement stopped, flowers rained from the balcony. Athitha Karikalan and Vandhiyathevan looked up. Among the many beautiful faces present Vandhiyathevan saw only Manimekalai’s smiling face. For a brief moment Vandhiyathevan returned the smile. Then as if realizing his mistake he looked away.

Athitha Karikalar’s face turned more severe as he looked up; he jumped down from the horse. The other two men also alighted. Meanwhile the sound of music resumed. The cheers and noise from the crowd that had stopped also rose again. Guests and those gathered to welcome them entered the fort. The gates immediately closed with a loud bang.

Looking back Athitha Karikalan said, “Why are they closing the gates in such a hurry? The way they are holding my father a prisoner in the Thanjai fort, are they going to imprison me here? What happens to the soldiers who have accompanied us here?”

The two old men were speechless for a moment.

It was Pazhuvertaraiyar who regained his composure first. “Royal son! It is the loving hearts of thousands and thousands of people in this Chola Nadu that have imprisoned you and your father; is there any need for a separate prison?” He said.

“Prince! What if this vast ocean of people who have come to catch a glimpse of you enter this small hut? Outside, the place looks like the mathuvanam that was destroyed by the monkeys. Once the crowd disperses we will bring your troops inside. Until then there are many servants here to attend to your needs,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

The noise outside grew even louder. Athitha Karikalan asked Kanthamaran, “Where are the steps leading to the tower balcony?”

When Kanthamaran pointed to the wooden rungs Karikalan hurried towards it. Kanthamaran, Vandhiyathevan and Parthipenthiran followed.

Sambuvaraiyar looked at Pazhuvertaraiyar. “What is this? This is turning out as if we went out of our way looking for trouble! It does not seem as if his brain is functioning well. We listened to kids and got ourselves in a quandary,” he said.

“What is the harm? If it is going to happen, it will; or else, let it be,” said Pazhuvertaraiyar.

“I am not talking about any proposal. Nothing untoward should happen while he is in our house, that is what worries me! These are not good omens. He is like an elephant in heat. Did you see the sullen face and the poisonous mouth?”

“We simply need to bite our teeth and be patient for a few days. That pallavan Parthipenthiran will help to keep him under control. Another bad element has sneaked in with him, he is the one I don’t like. I even suspect that he is a spy. Wasn’t he here the last time we had a meeting? He is the one who was outside yesterday hiding in the woods!”

“He is a friend of my son, isn’t he? Therefore I am not worried about him. Why are they hurrying to the balcony where the women are? Shall we also go?”

At this time Parthipenthiran came back to join the petty kings. Sambuvaraiyar’s last words fell in his ear.

“Whatever doubts you may have about the prince, where women are concerned you need not worry. He does not even look at them.” He said.

Smiling Pazhuvertaraiyar said, ” In that case how will our goal for inviting him here succeed?”

“That depends on the good fortune of both Sambuvaraiyar’s beloved daughter and the Chola empire.”

“Parthipenthira! Never mind about the future prospects of Manimekalai! Why is the prince so angry? He just got here. Why is he speaking so contemptuously already? I will be happy if you just somehow take him from here peacefully,” said Sambuvaraiyar.

“Until we reached Vellatankarai the prince was cordial and happy. Then this Vandhiyathevan and a Vaishnavan joined us. They must have brought some news. Since then his mood has changed …”

“We thought so. Now what can we do? That rascal is here with you!”

“Be patient; I will take care of this. I also have a fight with that young man. I will wait for the right moment to settle it,” said Parthipenthiran.

It so happened when Karikalan and the other two men were on their way to the tower balcony the women were coming down the steps.

Karikalan looked at Kanthamaran and said, “Friend! Should we make our mothers wait here for us? That is a big mistake. It is we who should go to their residence and pay our respects!” He then proceeded to bow and greet the women. Then he moved aside and let them pass. As each person made her way he found out from Karikalan who was who. When he saw Nandhini he said, “Oh! Isn’t it Pazhuvur’s junior grandmother? You are really here? I am so happy!” Nandhini wordlessly glared at him as she passed. Feeling the fire in her eyes Karikalan’s body shuddered. Pulling himself together he said to Manimekalai who came next, “Oho! She must be your sister Manimekalai. She is like the celestial maidens in paintings. We ought to find her a good husband without delay!” Self consciously casting a sideways glance at Vandhiyathevan, Manimekalai went quietly down the steps.

After the women left Karikalan went and stood on the tower’s balcony. A new round of cheers rose from the crowd that had just begun to disperse. People started to come back to the entrance.

Karikalan instructed the panegyrist on the stage to make some announcements. The panegyrist beat on his drum a few times. He signaled the people to be quiet. After repeating a few of Athitha Karikalar’s accolades he announced that such a princely son of the Chola tribe will be staying at the Kadampoor palace for up to a week to ten days; that he would be visiting the surrounding villages and at that time he would meet the people directly to find out their concerns.

That was it! To make all the uproar until then seem like pin drop silence, a thunderous applause broke. Well wishes, cheers and clapping rose together and spread drowning out even the sound of the flood water gushing through the seventy four sluices of the Veera Narayana lake.

Sambuvaraiyar, Pazhuvertaraiyar and Parthipenthiran were still standing at the same place. When Athitha Karikalan joined them he asked, “Parthipenthira! Why did you stop here? Have you joined these old men in their perfidious schemes?”

Taken aback the two old men turned to Parthipenthiran. He was smiling.

Sambuvaraiyar pulled himself together and said, “Royal Son! You said it a while ago; now again you insinuate perfidy. I swear that as long as you are a guest in this hut no harm whatsoever will touch you. Before that my life will depart!”

“Sir! You think that I am afraid for my life? Even when I was in the midst of hundred thousand Pandya Nadu enemies I was not afraid of any harm to me. Why would I be afraid when I am with my close friends? But please do not call this palace a hut. Aha! How tall are the walls of this fortress! How heavy! It’s even bigger than the walls of the Thanjavur fort! What enemies did you have in mind when you built a fort so secure,” said Karikalan.

“Prince! We have no enemies of our own. The Chola tribe’s enemies are our enemies; the Chola tribe’s friends are our friends.”

“Your affirmation gives me much pleasure. Please tell this to your son Kanthamaran also. He considers my friend, the Varnar tribe prince to be his enemy. Isn’t that a big mistake?” Hearing Athitha Karikalan’s comment Kanthamaran looked down.

16. ‘Malaiamman’s Worries’

In the moonlit compound that lay between the palace and the fortress wall, as Kanthamaran guided the way Karikalan walked surveying the place. The other four men followed.

When they reached the place where a stage and shed were set up for folk dance Karikalan stopped.

“Oho! What’s this? What is going to take place here,” he asked.

“Royal Son! If you wish we intend to have folk dance …”

“Aha! Very good! Have kuravai koothu, have villu pahttu. Have Karikal Vallavar drama, and Vijayalaya Cholar drama. We will spend the day hunting in the forest. And the night in singing and acting. Sambuvaraiyar! Do you know what my grandfather Malaiamman told me? While I am at Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace,’Don’t sleep at night,’ he warned me. Do you know my answer to him? ‘Grandfather! I don’t sleep during the day; I don’t sleep at night also. It is three years since I slept. Therefore don’t worry that my enemies will harm me in my sleep. They will have to hurt me while I am awake. Now, who is the man who has that much courage,’ I comforted Malaiamman.” Karikalan laughed out loud.

His voice shaking in anger Sambuvaraiyar said, “Sir! Whether you are asleep or awake … no one will dare to hurt you while you are in this palace!”

“Yes, yes! Who is the fellow who can hurt me inside Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar’s palace? Who can come over these tall walls? Even Yaman cannot. Even Yaman will be afraid when he hears the name Sambuvaraiyar! This is Thirukovalur Malaiamman’s unnecessary worry. He has grown old! In the case of some people, ageing reduces their inner confidence. On the other hand take a look at my Pazhuvur grandfather! How proudly he carries himself! Can anyone say that he is past sixty?” Karikalan smiled.

Compelled to respond Pazhuvertaraiyar cleared his throat. It sounded like a lion’s roar.

“See! It is correctly said that when Pazhuvertaraiyar clears his throat the entire earth shudders. Kanthamara! Vandhiyatheva! Parthipenthira! Think whether you will be as strong when you reach Pazhuvertaraiyar grandfather’s age. Perhaps you may sound like him. But you will not at his age bring a new bride to the anthapuram. Grandfather! You have brought Ilaiyarani with you! I saw her just now! How did she come? In the covered palanquin? Or in a chariot? Or wagon?”

Pazhuvertaraiyar interrupted. “I brought her on a howdah elephant so that the whole country can see!” He said proudly.

“That is the way, Grandfather! Hereafter, always do that! Don’t ever bring her in a covered palanquin. Rather strange rumors are afloat because of that. Listen to this joke; it seems that my uncle Mathuranthakar is sometimes going from place to place secretly in Pazhuvur Rani’s covered palanquin. There is this rumor going around in the country!” Karikalan laughed “Ha, Ha, Ha!”

No one else laughed.Each man’s heart experienced its own terror.

Vandhiyathevan fretted, ‘Aiyo! What a big mistake I made! I told everything to this unpredictable man! He might spill it all without leaving anything out!”

The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar’s heart was like a volcano; it spat out fire and smoke, it boiled and fumed. Like the roar of the volcano before it erupts he once again cleared his throat.

Before he could speak Parthipenthiran stepped forward. “Royal Son! I have known Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani only for a short time. In this short time I have come to regard her with respect and honor. If anyone tries to insult Pazhuvur Rani, I will that very second make him food for my sword! I swear!” he said.

Behind him Kanthamaran took a step forward. “I don’t have to take a sword, I will with my bare hands strangle and kill the man who insults Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. I swear!” He said.

Vandhiyathevan also came forward. “I feel the same way! If anyone speaks ill of Pazhuvur Rani, I will scorch that person with my eyes!” he said.

“Ahaha! wait a second; my friends! It looks as if you will not hesitate to attack even me! You see, Grandfather! How eager they are to preserve the reputation of women-kind! But no one said anything bad about Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani. If they did, I will not listen idly. I will not let the man live until these brave warriors turn up. It is Pazhuvur Rani’s covered palanquin that is being talked about! That coward Mathuranthakan is traveling about secretly in Pazhuvur Rani’s palanquin it appears! While a man is traveling with curtains drawn on both sides of a palanquin and if at the same time Ilaiyarani also goes about in the same manner, it may lead to confusion and mayhem, won’t it?”

“Royal Son! Why would Paranthaka emperor’s grandson and Kandarathithar’s beloved son Mathuranthaka Thevar travel in a covered palanquin,” said Parthipenthira Pallavan.

“The reason is rather strange! Mathuranthakan is going from place to place in a covered palanquin to build support, I hear!”

“Support for what?”

“For what? For ascending the Chola throne after my father! How do you like the story? A few months ago he even came to this Kadampoor palace secretly in the covered palanquin. There was a secret meeting here in the middle of the night. Parthipenthira! Didn’t the old man from Thirukovalur say this in your presence also? He said that because Mathuranthakan is so eager to take the throne, he might send my father to heaven sooner than his time, don’t you remember?”

“I remember, Prince! I did not believe any of that then; now I don’t believe it at all. After we go to Thanjavur and visit your father …”

“Not just you; I too did not believe. If I did, would I have come to this Kadampoor palace as a guest?” Karikalan laughed as if he remembered something.

Kadampoor Sambuvaraiyar cleared his throat. “Royal Son! You must know that there is a history of rivalry between our tribe and the Thirukovalur Malaiamman tribe,” he said.

“How can anyone be ignorant of that? Poets of the Sangam period have sung about it! Malaiamman Thirumudikari killed Kolimalai Valvil Ori during a duel. You are a descendant of Valvil Ori. So you are still nursing that grudge …”

“Royal Son! Revenge was had immediately following Valvil Ori’s death. His relative Athiyaman Nedumalangi went to war against Thirukovalur and destroyed that place; he razed to the ground Malaiamman’s Mullur hill fortress also …”

“Sambuvaraiyar! Athiyaman did not accomplish it alone. It was with the help of my ancestor Cholan Killi Vallavan, Malaiamman defeated Athiyaman. Why do we need this old history now?”

“Even if we forget, Malaimman never forgets. He will always find something to blame us for …”

“Didn’t I say this before? The old man’s days are at an end. Therefore his mind is feeble. I am worried that he should not arrive with a large garrison to save me from any danger while I am here …”

“Prince! If you have any such doubts …” Sambuvaraiyar faltered.

“I have doubts? Not at all. Our relationship with Malaiamman only goes back two generations. Our relationship with Pazhuvertaraiyar goes back six generations. Pazhuvur king himself is here. I am not insane to think that he will do anything against the Chola tribe!” Karikalan laughed like a mad man.

“Prince! I will not do anything against the Chola tribe. I swear. I also will not do anything that is against justice and order. This, I guarantee with twice as much fervor.” Pazhuvertaraiyar spoke in a majestic voice.

“Yes, yes! There is such a thing as justice and law. I have come especially to discuss this with you. In the time remaining after hunting and dancing we can speak about justice and law! Sambuvaraiyar! In this spacious palace where may I ask have you planned to house me and my friends?” Karikalan asked.

“Sir! We have reserved the entire guest quarters at the back for you and the Pazhuvur king. All the other petty kings will stay with me in the front …”

“Oho! More petty kings are coming?”

“Yes, Prince! The kings of the surrounding territories are eager to meet you. Several of them will be here.”

“Let them come! Let everyone come! Very good! We can somehow come to a decision. Never mind about Mathuranthakan’s devious plan. I want to begin my own devious plan with you. There is no better place than this palace for that,” said Karikalan.

17. Poongkuzhali’s Wish

Poongkuzhali’s boat was in the canal that flowed from Nagaipattinam to Kodiyakarai. Senthan Amuthan was with Poongkuzhali in the boat. The boat was nearing Kodiyakarai. Along the canal’s edges golden colored thazham flowers were opening their sheath like covers. Their fragrance permeated the air. A green parrot flew and sat on a thazham flower. The bird’s weight made the stalk rock back and forth like a swing. Rocking along with it the parrot picked the golden petal with its coral beak.

When the boat neared, the parrot said ‘kiki kiki,’ and flew away.

“If one must take birth, one ought to be born as a parrot,” said Poongkuzhali.

“You think so! Who knows how many woes, how many disappointments it has,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“Whatever woes or troubles it may have it is still able to take flight into the immense sky! Can there be anything more joyful than that,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Some would lock up even that free spirited parrot  in a cage,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“Yes, yes! Princesses who live in palaces lock up the parrots in cages. They are cruel monsters! After locking them up they will pet them and play with them. If I happen to be a maid in one of the palaces I will feed poison to the locked up parrots and kill them. I will give the poison to the princesses also …”

“Anyone who hears you now will call you also a cruel monster!”

“By all means let them call me! I would rather be a monster; not a princess.”

“Why are you so angry with princesses, Poongkuzhali? If we think about it, aren’t they also deserving of our sympathy? Like the parrots behind the bars they are also spending their lives locked up in the palace. On the rare occasion when they leave the palace, there is so much security! So much caution! Can they like you hop into a boat, alone, and be out in the lake or sea? Can they roam the jungle like the deer, free and happy?”

“Who asked them to stay locked up? I did not! If they like, why don’t they also roam the jungle?”

“Will alone is not sufficient; it also depends on one’s birth and circumstances. You want to fly in the sky like the parrot. Is that possible? You were born and raised on the coast. That has given you the freedom. That is not possible for those born and raised in a palace. That is not all. Parrots that have been in a cage and had been fed by the hand of a princess – even when the cage is opened and they are let out, they won’t fly away. After circling for a while they will come back to the cage crying “kreech kreech!” I have seen this first hand in Thanjai and Pazhuvur palaces …”

“I will never agree to become a caged bird. If I am a parrot when the princess comes to feed me I will peck her hand …”

“You won’t like being the caged parrot. Nor would you like being the princess who is locked up in the palace!”

“No, I won’t! Instead I will take poison and kill myself!”

“That’s right. Then you should not want to marry a prince who lives in the palace!”

Low down in the sky dark clouds were gathering. ‘palir palir,’ rays of lightening cut across every now and then followed by the distant roll of thunder. After Senthan Amuthan’s last comment lightening sparked from Poongkuzhali’s eyes also.

“Who told you that I want to marry a prince?” She asked angrily.

“No one told me; I thought of that. It is good if there is no such wish in your heart. Forget what I said!” Senthan Amuthan said.

For a while silence reigned in the boat. The only sounds were the sound of the oar plying the water, the dry croaking of frogs, the seabirds calling, the waves washing up and the occasional growl of thunder from the east.

Drawing on his courage Senthan Amuthan cleared his throat. “Poongkuzhali! Didn’t you say that Vandhiyathevan told you what lay in my heart? It is good if you tell me how you feel about it. We can see the Kodiyakarai lighthouse. I may not have another opportunity to speak to you in private. Tomorrow I must leave. It has been many days since I left my mother alone in Thanjai!”

“Why should Vandhiyathevan act as your messenger? Can’t you speak? Why don’t you ask me directly what you have to ask,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Alright; I will. Will you marry me?” Senthan Amuthan asked.

“Why do you want me to marry you,” said Poongkuzhali.

“Because there is love in my heart for you; that is why!”

“If there is love, should it always end in marriage?”

“There is no such condition. This is the way of the world.”

“If I marry you what will you give me? Can you give me the life in a palace, the clothes and the jewelry, elephant and horses, palanquin and maids that I deserve?”

“I cannot; I can give you a peaceful life that is far superior. Listen, Poongkuzhali! My hut is in the beautiful garden outside of Thanjai city. Only my mother and I live there. If you come there your life will change. My mother will love and cherish you. At dawn we will string garlands out of the flowers that bloom on the vines and trees that surround the house. I will take the garlands to Thanjai Thalikulathar temple and Durga Parameshwari temple. You can bathe in the lotus pond in our garden and help my mother with the housework. In the evenings the three of us will draw water from the pond and water the plants. When the sun goes down I will teach you Tamil poems that are more delicious than sweet rice. If you sing them in your melodious voice you will feel the sweetness on your tongue; I will feel it in my ears. If we like we can go to temples, worship the lord and sing these songs. The devotees who come to the temple will be happy listening. Poongkuzhali! What else can there be in this world other than this sweet life, a life of happiness? Think about it and tell me!” After hearing Senthan Amuthan, Poongkuzhali laughed out loud.

“Amutha! You talked about the life that you consider sweet! But do you know what kind of life I want? I want to go to heaven and marry Devendran. I want to ride the Iravatham with Devendran in the sky, among the islands of clouds. I want to take the vajrayutham from Devendran’s hand and throw it into the clouds. When those dark clouds are pierced by the vajrayutham, I want to witness the thousands of light beams that would split the sky into smithereens. When thunder strikes we see it landing somewhere in the jungle or sea! I will not let thunder go to waste. I will see that it falls on the palaces where kings, queens and princes and princesses dwell. I will rejoice seeing those palaces crumbling down. Supposing Devendran does not marry me I will go to Vayuthevan. Even though he already has many wives I will tell him that it does not matter and ask him to marry me. That will be it. After that this world will forever be in the throes of tornadoes and hurricanes. Trees uprooted will fall on palaces and towns destroying them. Caught in the hurricane the vessels in the sea will break up into little pieces. The passengers on the ships will be lost at sea. If there are princes and princesses on these ships I will let them sink to the bottom of the ocean and only save the others. Supposing Vayuthevan also refuses to marry me I will go to Agnithevan. After that, need you ask? This world will have to burn down …!”

“Poongkuzhali, enough! Stop! Through some disappointment of the heart you are speaking in this manner; you are not speaking from the heart. It is my mistake for bringing up the subject of marriage without knowing your situation. Please forgive me for that! Only god can heal your heartache and bring you peace. I will pray night and day for that,” he said.

Poongkuzhali, who was seated, sprang to her feet. She stared at the tree by the edge of the canal. A woman’s face could be seen between the branches of the tree. Senthan Amuthan was startled to see the resemblance to his mother on that face. He knew that it was not his mother. He guessed that this was the aunt who lived in Poothatheevu of whom Poongkuzhali had talked about. Poongkuzhali jumped from the boat and ran to her.

18. Arrow Sprang!

Poongkuzhali saw oomai rani who stood half hidden behind a tree at the edge of the canal. Seeing her there from out of the blue startled Poongkuzhali. She was well aware of oomai rani’s reluctance to meet strangers.

Just as she was thinking, ‘Senthan Amuthan is in the boat, would athai run away at the sight of him,’ her athai started to run. Poongkuzhali at once jumped from the boat, climbed the embankment and looked. She saw her aunt disappearing into the dense forest in the distance.

In the meantime Senthan Amuthan also jumped out from the boat and joined Poongkuzhali on the embankment.

“Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali! Who was it who stood here just now?” He asked.

“Can’t you tell, Amutha?”

“I am not sure. May be …”

“Yes, it is my aunt! The aunt you thought had died!”

“Yes; she did resemble my mother.”

“Don’t just say anything! There is no resemblance between sinna athai and periya athai; neither in appearance nor temperament. Where is the cow that is tied up at home? And where is the lioness that freely roams the wilderness?”

“Alright, let it go, why did the lioness run away after seeing you?”

Poongkuzhali laughed. “She didn’t run after seeing me. She ran after seeing you. She does not like meeting strangers,” she said.

“I am not a stranger?”

Athai does not know that! If she did she would not have run. But before getting to know you she will be reluctant.”

“Poongkuzhali! What are you going to do now?”

“I am going to look for athai.”

“Shall I also join you?”

“What for?”

“To meet periammah and get to know her.”

“Why should you get to know periammah?”

Because Senthan Amuthan had heard some of the old history of his aunt he was eager to meet her. In addition he also hoped that periammah may help change Poongkuzhali’s mind in his favor.

“There are so many reasons; but do I really need a reason to meet periammah,” he said.

Poongkuzhali thought for a while. Then, “Alright, come! Let’s go! It would be difficult to catch periammah if I take you with me. But no harm in trying! Let’s tie the boat here and go,” she said.

They tied the boat hiding it behind a row of aloe bushes and went towards the Kodikarai jungle.

While walking Senthan Amuthan said, “Poongkuzhali! You said that periammah lived in Ilankai island and Pootha theevu?”

“Yes, sometimes she will be in Ilankai island, sometimes in Poothatheevu.”

“Does she come here often?”

“No, very rarely. If I don’t go to see her for a long time then she will come.”

“Is that why she is here now?”

“This time I feel that she is here for a different reason.”

“What reason?”

“She may be here to find out if her adopted son drowned in the sea, or if he survived. Athai knows about the cyclone that hit after the prince left in the ship!”

“Arulmozhivarmar is her adopted son? Then who is her real son?”

“That, I don’t know. One of these days I will unravel that secret.”

“Is her son alive or is he dead?”

“Yes, he may have died. Who knows,” said Poongkuzhali. Then, “Amutha! You saw athai! You said that she resembles your mother; did she remind you of anyone else,” she asked.

“I think so. But I am not very sure. It is rather fuzzy …”

“Do you see Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani often?”

“I do, sometimes. Yes! Now that you mention, I do know who she reminds me of. She does resemble Nandhini Devi. Amazing! How can that be? Poongkuzhali! How did you know of this likeness?”

“I see athai often. I saw Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani here in Kodikarai only a few days ago. I saw at once that there was a resemblance.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“One day I am going to find that out. I am thinking of asking my athai when I see her today.”

“But she cannot speak! How will you talk to her?”

“Don’t you speak to your mother? Amutha?”

“I use signs; I have been doing it from birth. Yet when it is a new subject it is difficult!”

“My elder aunt and I use signs. What we cannot communicate through signs, we do by drawing pictures.”

“What a misfortune that two sisters in the same family were born dumb? How sad the parents must have been!”

“Not only that. When they were small, apparently both sisters were forever fighting with each other. So grandfather took my elder aunt and went to live in Pootha theevu. Grandfather was very fond of my elder aunt. When the child was born an astrologer had said that she had the good tidings of becoming a queen. So when it turned out that the baby was dumb grandfather was heartbroken …”

Talking they entered the forest. Even after a long time spent searching, oomai rani could not be found.

“Amutha! I cannot find her because you are with me. Seeing you she is purposely hiding.”

“My luck goes only so far. My hopes never materialize. Shall I leave?”

“How will you go? You will need my help to get out of this forest.”

At that moment a strange noise rose from inside the forest. It did not sound human, or animal. The sound repeated two or three times. A few deer leaped and ran in the direction of that sound.

Poongkuzhali thought for a while. “Amutha! Follow me without making any noise,” she said.

They both walked slowly in the direction of the sound. In a short time they witnessed an extraordinary scene.

Oomai rani was standing leaning against the base of a tree. She was holding a few fresh green sprigs in her hand. Around her stood seven or eight deer. They were jostling for a bite of the green sprigs from her hand. On her shoulder sat a young deer calf staring at her with its beautiful eyes.

When they saw this extraordinary sight Poongkuzhali and Amuthan stood motionless. It was the fawn on her shoulder that saw them first. Immediately it jumped down. Now the rest of the deer saw them. The deer stood ready to run if they got any closer. Then oomai rani also saw them. From her throat rose another strange cry.

Upon hearing it all the deer leaped and ran away. “Athai cannot speak the language of the humans. But she is fluent in the language of the animals,” said Poongkuzhali acknowledging oomai rani’s presence with a nod.

Oomai rani did not run this time; she reciprocated Poongkuzhali’s gesture. When Poongkuzhali approached her, she embraced her kissing her on her forehead.

Senthan Amuthan waited at a distance.

Aunt and niece spoke through signs. Then Poongkuzhali beckoned Amuthan to come.

Oomai rani looked him up and down a few times. Then she placed her hand on his head and held it there for a few seconds in a manner of blessing. Then she dragged Poongkuzhali away by her hand.

The three of them came to the canal’s edge. Oomai rani sat down on the ground and signaled Poongluzhali to leave.

“Come, Amutha! Let’s go home. Athai will not come with us. She wants us to bring her food here,” said Poongkuzhali.

Both of them started walking towards the lighthouse.

“Poongkuzhali! What is your answer to me?” Amuthan asked.

“I was thinking of coming with you to Thanjai. It is now not possible. Athai wants to see her favorite adopted child. So I have another trip to Nagaipattinam ahead of me. If you joined me Athai may again run and disappear. Then I cannot find out from her all that I want to know.”

Senthan Amuthan said with a sigh, “My luck is only this much. So let me say goodbye to you here!”

“No, no! Come home and eat and bid farewell to your uncle and others! Or else they will all fight with me!”

On the way they came across a man and a woman talking as they stood in the cover of a bush.

“Aha! It looks like my anni Rakamahl. The secret talks have not ceased. Who is here now? The same Pandya nadu spies? Or is it someone else?” Poongkuzhali thought to herself.

Rakamahl emerged from behind the bush. She was startled to see Poongkuzhali. Somewhat managing to hide her shock at seeing them she approached them.

“Poongkuzhali! Where have you been all these days? Your father and brother were so worried,” she said.

“Why should they worry? This is not the first time I have gone away from home!”

“This time you took your athai’s son with you! They were worried that both of you will get married without telling anyone!”

“Anni! How many times have I said to give up this kind of foolish talk? If you speak once more …?”

“No, girl! No! What do I care whether you marry your athai’s son? Or the king’s son? Your elder athai from Ilankai was here looking for you. Did you see her,” she said.

“No, I haven’t,” said Poongkuzhali.

Before they reached home she said to Senthan Amuthan, “Amutha! Careful! Anni is with the Pandya nadu rascals. She will try to dig your mouth. Do not say anything!”

“For the short time that I am going to be here, I will remain speechless,” said Senthan Amuthan.

That evening Poongkuzhali once again rowed her boat toward Nagaipattinam. In the boat oomai rani was seated. Poongkuzhali always found peace in the company of oomai rani. Perhaps the inner harmony that they both shared in their thoughts made way for this peace. But on this occasion Poongkuzhali’s mind knew no such quiet.

She was often revisted by the memory that only a few days ago she had brought Ponniyin Selvan here as he lay unconscious. She felt a stabbing pain in her heart when she thought that she had ferried the prince, only to be delivered to a princess.

When she thought of how she had pushed Senthan Amuthan away, – ‘Go back to your place!’ – she felt pity.

Besides these thoughts there was also the recollection of her father Thiyagavidanka Karaiyar’s warning that day.

“Child! It is better if you curtail your comings and goings a bit. Many strangers are around the place. No one knows why they come. There is much foul work afoot in the nation. Do not get caught in any of this! Our family is forever indebted to the Choal king’s family! Do not forget this!” Her father had said.

Her sister-in-law’s secret dealings combined with her father’s warning made Poongkuzhali frightened as never before. ‘Perhaps those new strangers came looking for her? By following her, will they try to find Ponniyin Selvar? If they do what a disaster that would be,’ she thought.

Any small sound from the surrounding forest made Poongkuzhali jump. No wind was present; it was as if the wind was being forcefully held back in all eight directions, on purpose. When there is such stillness how can there be any noise in the surrounding forest? Oomai rani had no such qualms. She cannot hear. Therefore she was not aware of any noise. Poongkuzhali cannot share her worries with her.

But oomai rani had other abilities. What she could not hear or see, she resolved them through her sixth sense. Therefore no unknown threat can encroach on her!

What is this? Athai is also watching the embankment with concern! Is there really some danger following them? …

Soon the reason became clear, why the embankment held athai’s attention. It lifted Poongkuzhali’s fear.

Half hidden half in the open a group of deer were standing amid the bushes curiously watching the boat! No; they were not looking at the boat! They were looking at oomai rani! Aha! There is no other animal more beautiful than the deer; god who created deer, created man also – it was befuddling to ponder! Evil humans! To hurt and kill such beautiful creatures? …

Admiring the beauty of the deer Poongkuzhali’s hands stopped rowing; the boat stopped.

A strange noise rose from oomai rani’s throat. It was not like the sound that she heard that morning. This was a warning call rising out of fear. Hearing it the deer became alarmed and turned to run. At that same instant an arrow shot out of nowhere and hit one of the deer. Hurt, the deer moaned sorrowfully. Oomai rani jumped out of the boat and ran to the wounded deer.

As she reached the deer, more sounds were heard in the forest. In the next few seconds seven or eight people surrounded oomai rani. Many held spears in their hands. Not far away was Rakammahl, who had led them there.

Oomai rani tried to break free; but she could not. She became still as she realized that it was futile to try.

Two men tied her hands with rope. All of this happened under Poongkuzhali’s watch in a matter of seconds. When she saw oomai rani’s hands being tied she jumped out of the boat yelling. She came running raising her paddle. Five or six of the men came running toward Poongkuzhali. They dragged her back to the boat and tied her up with rope. After that they took oomai rani and were gone.

19. Fire and Laughter

Poongkuzhali in a hurry tried to undo the ties binding her. It wasn’t easy. Wretched men! They had wound the ropes around several times and made knots over knots. Poongkuzhali’s small knife lay on the floor of the boat.

If she can free one of her hands she can reach for the knife. But the rascals had tied her wrists in the back. With the greatest difficulty Poongkuzhali bent down and gripped the knife between her teeth. With the knife firmly held between her teeth she sawed the rope. The tension around her wrists somewhat gave away. She was then able to wriggle out one hand. After that cutting the rope away was easy.

It took almost half an hour to free herself entirely. At this time she heard footsteps on the embankment. A shadow appeared. Perhaps one of those men has returned! Or else maybe they have left one man behind to keep an eye on her! Poongkuzhali readied herself to thow the knife at him once he came into view. She stood there holding the knife. But what a disappointment!

“Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali!” She heard Senthan Amuthan’s voice.

Next second Senthan Amuthan’s frightened face peeked from above the top of the embankment.

Poongkuzhali tucked the knife back in her waist. Amuthan also saw her.

“Poongkuzhali! Are you alive?” He came running.

“My being alive is a problem for you? If you like kill me with your own hands! But you have no courage for that,” said Poongkuzhali.

Siva Siva! Why do you say such cruel words? Why would I kill you? You are the one killing me with your words,” said Amuthan.

“Then, why weren’t you here a little bit earlier? Do you know how I struggled to free myself?” Poongkuzhali tried to stand up as she spoke. With the rope still around her legs she stumbled. Hollering Amuthan reached out and held her.

“Aiyayo! Those rascals left you all tied up? You are bruised all over,” he said.

“You are so full of concern! Why weren’t you here sooner?”

“Again, the same question! How would I know that you were in trouble? ‘Go, go!’ – you chased me, so I was going …”

“Why did you come back; to cremate my body in case I had died?”

Sivaperuman kept the poison in his throat. You have it on your tongue. I came running after hearing from your sister-in-law that you may be in danger. I am being rewarded handsomely for that!”

By then Poongkuzhali had climbed out of the boat.

“I was about to throw this knife at you. You escaped; before I do anything else I am going to stab and kill my sister-in-law with this knife. Where is that cutthroat?”

“Why are you jumping on your sister-in-law, sparing me? Why are you so angry at her? Is she wrong in informing me about you?”

“She is the one who led them to my athai. You saw her talking to someone behind those bushes,” said Poongkuzhali.

“You are wrong! I don’t know what secrets your sister -in-law was sharing with whom! She sure did not turn your athai in. Those who took your athai by force had tied your anni also around a tree. They also left her there with a bloody head wound.”

“This is a joke! I cannot believe it! She has fooled you! Good; why did you come back, where did you see my sister-in-law, – tell me everything!” Poongkuzhali asked excitedly.

Senthan Amuthan did. He was on the road leading to Thanjavur. Heartbroken about leaving Poongkuzhali he was going reluctantly. Suddenly he heard wailing and screaming from the neighboring woods. There was also the sound of people walking fast. Senthan Amuthan hid behind a roadside tree. Seven or eight soldiers armed with spears left the forest and entered the royal thoroughfare. It seemed as if there was a woman among them walking in the middle. Senthan Amuthan watched closely as the soldiers kept walking. He felt that the woman was Poongkuzhali’s athai. ‘It cannot be,’ Senthan Amuthan told himself. He decided that it was his mind playing tricks on him.

Even after those soldiers passed, cries were heard from inside the forest. At first Senthan Amuthan thought, ‘Why get myself in trouble? I should just go my way!’ Yet, his conscience troubled him. He went to find out who it was and if he could help in any way. He saw Rakammahl tied to a tree. Her head had been bleeding. With blood on her face she looked grotesque. Amuthan was terrified to even go near her. Getting his nerve up, he went closer. As he undid her ties he questioned her, “Who is responsible for this barbarous act? Why? Who are those men on the road? Is there a woman among them? Who is she?”

“Yes, Brother! They are dragging your peiammah. I tried to stop them. That is why they have beaten me and left me here tied. Your uncle’s daughter and periammah were going in the boat. They dragged periammah from the boat. I don’t know what became of Poongkuzhali. Run and see,” she said. Alarmed Senthan Amuthan went to find Poongkuzhali. Rakammahl then asked, ‘Wait a little, Brother! Where were that dumb devil and Poongkuzhali going in the boat? Do you know? Why did they leave you behind? Where are you off to alone?’ Senthan Amuthan didn’t like her questions, especially the part about, ‘dumb woman.’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you everything later,’ and came running to the canal. He came agitated wondering if those men had beaten up Poongkuzhali also, or perhaps even killed her. He was relieved to see Poongkuzhali alive and without any bloody wounds …

When he finished his account Senthan Amuthan asked, “Poongluzhali! What do you say now? Wasn’t it a mistake to blame your sister-in-law?”

“From what you say, it does seem that way. Where did you leave her? Let’s go see, come!”Poongkuzhali said.

“What’s the guarantee that she will be there?”

“If she is not there she will be somewhere in the vicinity. Or she will come looking for us. Amutha! Anni asked where my athai and I were headed in the boat?”

“Yes, she did.”

“You did not answer her. Are you sure?”

“I was disgusted by her ‘dumb woman’ remark, so I walked off without answering.

“Hereafter even if she asks politely, do not answer! Why does she want to know where we were going? There must be a reason for that! Amutha! We cannot for sure say that there is no connection between my anni and the men who took away my athai. They may have got their information from anni and then left her there beaten up. Even if that wasn’t the case anni may have followed us with some devious motive. Therefore be cautious in your interaction with her! Don’t trust her completely and be deceived! …”

“Poongkuzhali! Haven’t you said that in the presence of your sister-in-law your brother becomes mute? I will be like him, whatever needs to be said, you take care of it …”

Poongkuzhali laughed. “Your laughter is sweet ambrosia to my ears. It is as sweet as Thirunavukarasar’s devotional song,” said Amuthan.

“I forgot myself for a second there! Do not be fooled hearing my laughter! There are hot coals smoldering in my heart, a fire blazing in my chest.”

“To cool the heart’s fury there is no better remedy than the lord’s flood of mercy,” said Senthan Amuthan.

20. Once Again, The Doctor’s Son

For a while Poongkuzhali and her cousin walked silently through the forest.

Poongkuzhali then exhaled a long sigh. “Amutha! It looks as if you and I knew each other in a previous incarnation,” she said.

“Who cares about previous incarnations now? If there is any good news in this birth, tell me,” said Senthan Amuthan.

“Don’t they say that relatives from one’s previous birth follow one in the present? It must be true. When we parted today at noon, I thought that I will never see you again. Within one hour, here we are …”

“Don’t moan about that; once we cross the forest and reach the Thanjavur road I will go my way, you can go wherever …”

“I am not going to let you go alone like that. After finding my sister-in-law and having a word with her I am going to Thanjavur with you. I am going to seek retribution for the misfortune that happened to my athai. I am going to complain to the Chola emperor …”

“Poongkuzhali! Do you think it is so easy to see the emperor? People like us cannot even enter the Thanjavur fort!”

“Why not? If the fortress door will not open I will break it open! If that does not work I will climb over the wall …”

“What will you do about the guards at the palace entrance?”

“They will be so intimidated by the noise I make, they will take me to the emperor …”

“You cannot intimidate the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar so easily. Without his permission even Yaman cannot approach the emperor – this is what Thanjavur people say. I have also heard that this is the reason that the emperor is still alive.”

“If I cannot see the emperor, I will ask the Pazhuvertaraiyars if there is retribution for this misfortune or not! If they cannot make amends I will go to the chief minister Brahmarayar. If that is of no use, then I will complain to the Pazhaiyarai queens. I will not wait in one place until I know what happened to my aunt. I will not sleep day or night until I find atonement for the injustice done to her. My anni called my athai ‘dumb devil,’ didn’t she? I will also turn into a devil and roam the town and country. ‘Justice! Justice!’ – I will howl … Amutha! Will you also come with me …?”

“I most certainly will, Poongkuzhali! If you want me to, I will. But why do you let your mind be disturbed in this manner? You are thinking too much. The most important matter at hand now is to find your aunt! Don’t we have to rescue her from the rascals who took her? Don’t we have to inform your father, brother and others? …”

“Amutha! My athai has divine power. No one can hurt her in any way. Like the Damayanthi who scorched the hunter, she will scorch evil with her eyes. Therefore I am not that worried about her. But such atrocity takes place in daylight in this Chola empire? – my chief goal is to find a remedy for this! They say that from Paranthaka emperor’s time the rule of law prevails in this country. They brag that in the country ruled by the great Saiva devotee Kandarathitha king, the cow and the tiger have been quenching their taste in the same watering hole. They broadcast that under Sundara Cholar’s rule any little girl can travel day or night without being afraid. In a kingdom with such favorable rapport, an elderly woman – a deaf simpleton who cannot speak – is being abducted in broad daylight by criminals, how outrageous is that? I am not merely concerned about my athai. What happened to her today can happen to me tomorrow! It can happen to any young woman in this country!”

Senthan Amuthan interrupted. “Yes; that kind of danger is present today in this country. Ever since Sundara Cholar became ill and bedridden the rule of law has become topsy-turvy. It is out of control. Danger is lurking everywhere for young women. Therefore it is better for them to get married as soon as possible,” he said.

Poongkuzhali laughed. “Amutha! If a young girl marries you, will you be able to protect her? Do you know to pick up the sword and fight,” she asked.

“I have learned to gather flowers, string them into garlands and sing devotional songs in praise of god. I have not learned to take the sword and fight. So what? Didn’t you teach me to pick up the paddle and ply the water? Like that I will also learn to take the sword and fight. When Mathuranthaka Thevar is eager to ascend the throne and rule the kingdom, why cannot I learn to sword fight,” said Senthan Amuthan.

By now they have reached the tree where Poongkuzhali’s sister-in-law was tied up. That lady was not there. Senthan Amuthan pointed out to Poongkuzhali the drops of blood on the ground that had come from her head wound.

“They really beat her up; this proves that anni was not providing information to those who took athai. But we must somehow find out on whose behalf she was spying,” said Poongkuzhali.

“My uncle’s daughter! Listen to me! All that has happened here is an unexplainable mystery. There are secrets nested into secrets and circles buried into circles. All are puzzles concerning the royal family and the kingdom. Why should you and I worry about this? Why should we jeopardize ourselves?”

“Amutha! However much it concerns the royal family, however secretive it is, can I look away when it concerns my athai? Can you ignore the plight of your periammah?”

“I will say what I think, Poongkuzhali! Didn’t I say that a woman was with the seven or eight men I saw? Didn’t I also say that she could be periammah? The way she was going it did not seem that she was being forced. It looked as if she was going of her own free will …”

“It could be, Amutha! It could be; my athai’s nature is that. She may have gone just to find out where they will take her. If she does not like, she will escape even from among a thousand people. Fortresses and dungeons cannot bar her. That is why I said that I am not worrying so much about what happened to her. My main goal is to seek retribution for the injustice done to my aunt. That injustice was not inflicted today; it was a cruel injustice dealt twenty five years ago! I will not have peace until amends are made,” said Poongkuzhali.

“God! What an impossible task you have set your heart on?” Senthan Amuthan sighed.

There were voices coming from a distance; one sounded like a woman’s. At the royal thouroughfare intersection, Amuthan and Poongkuzhali saw them. There was distaste on Poongkuzhali’s face when she realized that it was the doctor’s son who was talking to her anni Rakammahl. When Rakammahl saw Poongkuzhali she said, “Hey Girl! You survived? I was afraid that they had killed you. Look here! Look at the gash on my head because I tried to save your athai! I was asking the doctor’s son for some medicine.”

“If Karaiyar’s daughter has any wounds I can treat her also,” said the doctor’s son.

Ignoring him Poongkuzhali asked,”Anni! Do you know in which direction they took my athai?”

“I did not see. This doctor’s son is saying that they were on Thanjavur road …”

Anni! Amuthan and I will go after athai. Please tell father! Come, Amutha!” Poongkuzhali began to walk away.

“Poongkuzhali! Wait! You cannot go after them. They rode away on the horses that were waiting around the bend. I have a horse. I can go as fast as the wind and thought. I can find out where they are going. In return I need a favor. Athai and you – where were you both going in the boat? Tell me just that!” The doctor’s son asked.

Anni! We do not need his help! We are leaving. Just make sure that you tell my father,” Poongkuzhali said.

The doctor’s son will not give up. “Look at the arrogance of Karaiyar’s daughter! She does not need my help, she says! Girl! Why are you so angry at me? Did I stand in the way of you marrying a prince? You fooled me and ferried some guy in your boat? Isn’t it that Varnar tribe Vandhiyathevan who pushed your love – the prince – into the sea? What is the point in being angry at me?” He laughed devilishly, “Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Poongkuzhali glared at him. Sparks flew from her eyes. Dragging Amuthan by his hand she got on the road.

After walking for a while in silence she said, “Amutha! After you learn to fight with a sword, you must take this man’s life away first. The doctor’s son will be your sword’s first offering!”

Walking by daylight and night Poongkuzhali and Sentahn Amuthan proceeded toward Thanjavur. On the way they made inquiries about a group of men taking a woman. About half way down they had some information. After that there was nothing. Yet they decided to keep looking until they reached Thanjavur.

Senthan Amuthan was enjoying the journey. Chatting with Poongkuzhali was one reason; the other reason was the coaching he was receiving in the art of fencing. Near Kodikarai itself he bought a scimitar from a blacksmith known to Poongkuzhali. Along the way he kept practicing his strokes. Sometimes he pretended that he was facing an enemy and haphazardly brandished it. Every now and then Poongkuzhali gave him lessons telling him how to hold the sword and how to wield it.

Because of this, the journey was enjoyable to both of them.

When Thanjavur fort came into view Poongkuzhali began to worry about accomplishing her task. Senthan Amuthan also shared her worry.

Entering the fort was an impossible task even for Brahma! How on earth to accomplish everything that Poongkuzhali had in mind?

Senthan Amuthan was reminded of Vandhiyathevan’s skills and chicanery. If he possessed at least one tenth of Vandhiyathevan’s qualities? Or better still, if only he were here now!

Senthan Amuthan started to think what Vandhiyathevan would have done under these circumstances. At that time a covered palanquin appeared on the road. Sun was setting in the west and darkness was creeping in. The curtains on the palanquin displayed pictures of palmyrah palms.

“Aha! It looks like Pazhuvur Ilaiyarani’s palanquin! How convenient it would be if we can meet the Pazhuvur Rani outside the fort and obtain her signature ring,” Amuthan wondered. Poongkuzhali also felt that this was a good idea.

But how can they meet the queen in the palanquin? Guards were walking in front and behind the palanquin! Even if they tried to go near the palanquin they will be stopped by the guards.

“Amutha! Don’t worry! Thanjavur fort is another five miles away. It is unlikely that we won’t get an opportunity before that,” said Poongkuzhali.

Then, out of the blue, opportunity arrived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From → Notes, Uncategorized

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