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Ponniyin Selvan Part V (59 – 64)

December 15, 2017

Translated from the novel Ponniyin Selvan written by Kalki Krishnamoorthi.

59. An Obstacle before the Omen

Vandhiyathevan was happy to see the boat. He decided that the goddess of good fortune was on his side. Even if he was afraid of water, Karuthiruman on the other hand, made a living rowing boats. If they just let the boat move with the flow of Vadavaru, they would cover half the distance to Kodikarai.

“See, Karuthiruma! This boat was not destroyed by the flood. It had been reserved for us. If you can show me your expertise we will cover half the distance before sunrise. After that even men on horseback can’t catch us!” Vandhiyathevan said.

Karuthiruman looked around with a suspicious eye. He felt something moving among the plants by the wall. He picked up a gravel stone and threw it into the bush. A cat jumped out from there and climbed into the boat.

Vandhiyathevan laughed. “Boatman! You certainly have more guts than me!” He said and threw a stone into the boat.

The cat jumped out of the boat. It ran towards them and in between them.

Now it was Vandhiyathevan’s turn to be frightened. He took a step behind. “You don’t seem any bolder than me!” Karuthiruman said sarcastically.

“I am afraid of cats; just the feel of the beast against my body makes me want to crawl out of my skin. Good! It had run away. Come, let’s go!” Vandhiyathevan said.

“I am not worried about the cat touching me. I worry when it crosses my path. It is a bad omen, it signifies an obstacle,” said Karuthiruman.

“What omen? What obstacle? Nonsense!” Vandhiyathevan dragged Karuthiruman by his hand and got into the boat.

Karuthiruman for his part tried to push the boat away from the roots and into the water. Whether the boat moved or not there appeared four men out of the blue and in the blink of an eye hopped into the boat. Two of them jumped on Vandhiyathevan and pushed him down. They tied him to the crossbars of the boat. The other two men armed with spears stood guard behind Karuthiruman.

Vandhiyathevan saw that the leader of the four was the heavy man who had escorted them out of the dungeon. He marveled at his presence here in such a short time. It meant that he was not some ordinary guard. He must be among the few selected for espionage. Once again he had an inkling that he had seen the man before. While he was wondering who he could be, the man’s voice fell in his ears.

The guard was speaking to Karuthiruman. “Appan! You were released after so many years in prison. Why did you listen to this corrupt man and run away? Let bygones be bygones. I don’t want to tie you up again. If you listen to me and do as I say then no harm will come to you,” he was saying.

The boatman agreed. “Alright, Sir! The chief minister sent people to release me. But I was ruined listening to this fool. From now on I will do as you say. Just don’t send me back to the dungeon,” he answered.

“Yes. The chief minister would like to speak with you. If you tell the truth he will not send you to prison. He will reward you with plenty of goods, gold and jewelry. Where were you going now?”

“To Eezhanadu.”

“Excellent! You thought that you could go that far after deceiving the chief minister and Velar. But this rude young man is capable of giving such bad advice. He ran away from the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s eyes once before. Never mind. Now we must take the boat against the current. Only one of us knows how. Even he is an amateur. Because we were coming with the flow of the river we managed. Now you must show us your expertise. Go across to the other side and then take the boat to the north entrance of the fort. Let’s see!” He said.

“Once we go across we can walk from there, Sir! Going against the tide will be difficult, the current is so rapid!”

“If we disembark on the other side this rude young man will again become a problem. Therefore we must remain on the boat!” The leader of the guards said.

Karuthiruman and the other men began to push the boat. The leader of the guards told Vandhiyathevan, ” Appan! Don’t try your gimmicks again!”

“Sir! You seem to know a lot about me,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“Why not? I was watching you lock the doctor’s son into prison and get away! After that you tried to fool us and run away!”

Pretending to be surprised Vandhiyathevan said, “Sir! You are smarter than me! I thought that no one saw what happened in the dungeon!”

“Brother! There is no place in this Chola empire that is out of reach for the eyes and ears of our chief minister. They are present in Eezhanadu; in Kanji also, and Kadampoor palace; and the dungeon. The chief minister knew that the doctor’s son Pinakapani was a complete idiot. That is why he sent me behind him.”

“Perhaps the chief minister also knew that I will take this route. His eyes and ears are indeed extraordinary. Then he also must know that I am innocent, and it was wrong to lock me up in the dungeon?”

“That is not the chief minister’s responsibility. Deciding whether you are guilty or not is up to the emperor. Punishing you for escaping from the dungeon is up to Kodumbalur Periya Velar,” said the guard.

“Sir! Where are you now taking me?”

“I am taking you to Kodumbalur Velar first. He is waiting at the north entrance of the fort.”

“Periya Velar is waiting for me?”

“Aha! Look at your arrogance! The southern commander, the most respected of all petty kings, lifelong friend of the Chola family, the man who wiped out the Pandyar, heroic warrior Kodumbalur Velar who conquered Eezham, Colonel Poothi Vikramakesari is waiting for you?

“Then who is he waiting for?”

“Parthipenthiran is bringing the Pazhuverataraiyars and the petty kings who had gathered in Thirupurampayam …”

“The elder Pazhuvertaraiyar also?”

“Yes; he is also coming. It appears that he knows the truth about Karikalar’s death. After he arrives there will be an inquisition before the emperor. If you are not guilty, you must prove it then.”

Vandhiyathevan was very much shaken up by this news. He knew that the Pazhuvertaraiyars and Parthipenthiran will together lay the blame on him. God! How can he face the emperor and Prince Arulmozhivarmar? What evidence can he present to prove his innocence?

“Sir! I never harmed you in any way! Please let me escape! I am innocent! I was a close friend of the late prince. Circumstacnces have placed this terrible crime on my head. You serve the chief minister. He only wanted to see the madman. Take him with you. Leave me out! You will be blessed forever!” Vandhiyathevan pleaded.

“If I let you go what will you give me?” The guard wanted to know.

“When the time comes I will help you in the same way.”

“There will be no such time. Even if there was I don’t want your help. Tell me what you have now.”

Vandhiyathevan remembered the gold coins in his possession. “I will fill both your hands with gold coins,” he said.

“Aha! Is that right? Gold? Show me!”

“Loosen these ropes a little! I have it tied in my waist, I can show you!”

“Don’t try your tricks on me again,” the guard said as he bent down to loosen the rope.

Without taking his eyes off from the guard’s face Vandhiyathevan undid his waist roll. He took the gold coins out and handed them to the guard.

His hands filled with the gold the guard said, “Brother! Did you take these coins from Pazhuvertaraiyar’s treasury? Or from the mint factory? Now you have an added charge. There was murder, and then running away from prison, and now stealing from the treasury, altogether three! For each one you can be hung separately.”

“Sir! I have served the Chola kingdom well. I have been a messenger. I tried to save Karikalar’s life putting my life in danger. I have the right to take these few gold coins as payment for my service. I took these only to help me in my journey,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“You tell this during your inquisition,” said the guard.

“Then you are not going to untie me?”

“Even if the sun should rise in the west; even if Paramasivan turns out to be superior than Thirumal – I will not betray the kingdom for a few gold coins!” The guard replied.

Vandhiyathevan cast a sideways glance towards Karuthiruman who appeared to be waiting for a signal.

In one abrupt move he loosened the ties around him and with his hands pulled the turban and mustache of the guard. Both turban and mustache came in his hands; in front of him stood Azhvarkadiyan himself.

“Pretentious Vaishnava! It is you!” He said.

When Azhvarkadiyan tried to save his mustache and turban the gold coins scattered to the floor. In a second Vandhiyathevan freed himself from the rope and pushed Azhvarkadiyan down. With the same rope that was used on him, he tied Azhvarkadiyan to the crossbars of the boat. He took the sword that was securely placed in his waist and held it up in his hand.

While Vandhiyathevan was thus engaged Karuthiruman did not wait idly. He attacked the guard next to him pushing him into the river’s torrent. The guard struggled to stay afloat. Of the other two guards one approached the boatman while the other went towards Vandhiyathevan. Both men were afraid and wary of confrontation. When Vandhiyathevan wielded the sword the guard on his own accord jumped into the water. Karuthiruman raised the oar up and brought it down heavily on the other man’s head knocking him down.

Both of them together tied the guard to the crossbar. The boat was moving along with the river’s torrent. The two men in the water were trying to swim towards the opposite bank.

“Brave Vaishnava pundit! What do you say now?” Vandhiyathevan asked Azhvarkadiyan.

“What is there to say? It is all Narayana Moorthi’s work. He is the one who binds, he is also the one who gets bound! He is the one who attacks, he is also the one attacked! He dwells in the pillar, as well as the reed that bends in the wind! He resides in your sword, as well as on my shoulder!”

“Alright, then he is in this torrential flow of the river also. We will bundle you up and drop you in the water?”

“Pirakalathan was bound to a rock and tossed into the sea. Didn’t Narayana Moorthi save him? If Baghvan will not rescue me in that manner then he will take me directly to Vaikundam itself,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

Vandhiyathevan was immersed in thought. After a while he said, “Look! You have saved my life a few times. I don’t know what your intention was. Whatever it was, I don’t want to kill you. But if I am going to spare your life, you must help me,” he said.

Benevolence nourishes the soul – that is my philosophy. Whatever you need, ask me! If you untie me I will do it,” said Thirumalai.

“At this hour I don’t need any bodily help. We want two horses. You want to know why? Yes, to get away! If you can help us with that then we’ll let you remain here. When the boat docks somewhere along the coast you can use your ingenuity and save yourself!”

“I am glad that you want my help.”

“Can you tell us how to find two horses?”

“I can. Do you know where Vani Ammai’s house is?”

“Which Vani Ammai?”

“Vani Ammai who is deaf-mute by birth, who provides flowers to Thanjai Thalikulathar temple; she is Senthan Amuthan’s mother!”

Karuthiruman was now listening attentively to Azhvarkadiyan.

“Yes; I know the house. It is in the gardens.”

“There are two horses there.”

“How?”

“One belongs to me. I tied it near Vani Ammai’s hut before coming here. Senthan Amuthan was riding the other one. Poor boy! He is not very good at it. On the way the cantankerous mule pushed him down. Already he was running a fever. Now he is bedridden. They say if he survives it would be a new incarnation. So, in any case he will not be needing the horse anytime soon.”

“Who is taking care of him?” Vandhiyathevan was concerned.

“His mother and Poongkuzhali are there,” said Thirumalai.

At this juncture Karuthiruman interrupted. “Which mother,” he wanted to know.

The other two men stared at him for a moment. “What did you ask,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“I asked if the elder stateswoman Chempian Madevi knows that Senthan Amuthan’s life is in danger.”

“Yes; Chempian Madevi is the one who funds their work at the temple. But now everyone in the palace is mourning Karikalar’s death. They have no time for Amuthan!”

Vandhiyathevan looked at Karuthiruman. “What do you say? Shall we pay a visit to Senthan Amuthan and his mother before we leave?” He asked.

Karuthiruman nodded his head in agreement. “Then take the boat to the shore!” Vandhiyathevan said. He then turned to Azhvarkadiyan. “Vaishnava! If you are trying one of your stunts, then beware! Whatever happens to me, I will make sure that I send you to yamalokam first!” He said.

“No, Brother! No! May you be blessed. Send me to the vaikundam where Narayanamoorthi resides with Mahaluxmi sheathed in eterenal light,” said the Vaishnavan. 

60. Amuthan’s Worry

In the hut that was at the center of the nanthavanam Senthan Amuthan lay on a bed stricken with illness. Poongkuzhali was attending to him lovingly. She brought the porridge that Vani Ammai had prepared and made him eat.

Only a short while ago the doctor from Sundara Chola athurasalai had paid a visit to Senthan Amuthan. Before he left Poongkuzhali spoke to him privately.

“How is Amuthan? Will he be alright?” She wanted to know.

“Already he has had one bout of fever and was weak. Then he went on this long trip; he fell down from the horse. None of this really matters! There is something on his mind that is eating him. That is why his body is unable to heal,” said the doctor.

Poongkuzhali decided to ask Amuthan. “What is worrying you, Amutha? Why do you feel so depleted of all vitality? The doctor thinks that it is the sorrow in your heart that is keeping you from recovering!” She said.

“Poongkuzhali! Must I be truthful? Can’t I keep my secret and pretend to be sincere at the same time?” Amuthan asked.

“Are you hinting that I am a liar, I have one thing on my mind, and say something else on the outside?” Poongkuzhali asked.

“Poongkuzhali! It is dangerous to open my mouth in front of you. If you don’t say a word I will be happy just gazing at your face.”

“You would be happy if I too had been a deaf-mute like my aunts!”

“Not at all. There is no end to my happiness when I hear you sing. What is there in empty talk? Sing one of the devotional hymns!”

“No. Only if you tell me what is troubling you, I will sing.”

“Alright! I will. My worry is that I am going to recover soon.’

“What on earth? Here I am praying to all the gods for your recovery. And you are troubled that you might get better?”

“Once I recover, you will leave me. This is what is eating me, Poongkuzhali!”

Poongkuzhali’s face blossomed like the red lotus flower shimmering with droplets of the morning dew. A smile parted her lips. Tear drops hung in the balance.

“Amutha! My heart melts before your love. I don’t have the heart to leave you; but neither can I stay.”

“Yes. The ocean beckons you. So what? I will go with you. Tell me that you will let me. Then my body will recover.”

“Amutha! There is a resolve in my heart that stands in the way.”

“What resolve is that?”

“My dream is to marry the king and be seated on the throne with him. Failing that, I have vowed to remain a virgin.”

“Yes; Ponniyin Selvar resides in your heart. But, Poongkuzhali! Is that possible?”

“You are mistaken. Ponniyin Selvar has the love of all those born in this country. Men, women, the elderly and little children are fond of Arulmozhivarmar. In the same way I gave my affection to him. When he was on the boat with fever you and I together tended to him and saved him …”

“Then … you have no other feelings for him?”

“Amutha! There is someone else born to wed Ponniyin Selvar. She is Kodumbalur Princess Vanathi. A playful remark from me drove that girl to swear, ‘I will not ascend the throne …'”

“The daughter of kings made that vow. You, on the other hand is swearing, ‘I will ascend the throne! Or else, I will remain a virgin!'”

“Amutha! My aunt loved a man born to kings. Her life turned tragic because of it. What my aunt could not attain in her life, I will. Why not?”

“It is my misfortune that you have this desire!”

“Why should you be so disappointed? There is no rule that only those who are born to kings can become kings. It is people like you born in ordinary families who have through their brave deeds founded kingdoms and reigned as kings. You too can make a vow today. Decide that through your physical prowess you will found a kingdom either in this great bharatha country or in a foreign land across the seas. I will be by your side always!” Poongkuzhali said.

“Poongkuzhali! I was not born for such deeds. My heart is not interested in wielding a sword. I don’t want to harm even the smallest of living creatures. Jeweled crown and the mighty throne do not attract me. I want to sing the praise of Sivaperuman and his devotees. Therefore you and I are not suited for each other. My desire to marry you is like the lame craving after the honey pot on the tree. Poongkuzhali! There is no use in delaying you here. You should go! Don’t wait for me to get better,” said Senthan Amuthan.

At that time hearing footsteps outside they stopped talking.

61. Marriage Agreement

Hearing footsteps outside the hut, Poongkuzhali went to the door. Senthan Amuthan sighed thinking of her impending departure. He felt that his life will also depart when she finally walked out of that door.

He was surprised when she turned around from the door and walked back towards him. After opening the door just a wee bit and looking outside she had closed it shut and drawn the bolt. Has she changed her heart? But what is the use? Once again she will preach that he should turn himself into a brave warrior, that he must take over the kingdom, he must rule from the throne. Her soul was a turbulent sea in the throes of the storm of worldly desires. His mind was like the quiet stream weathered by the devotion to Sivaperuman. The only turbulent wave in it was her. He and Poongkuzhali can never agree. There was no use dreaming about it.

Poongkuzhali sat next to him and gazed into his eyes with her kuvalai blossom eyes. Senthan Amuthan’s heart missed a beat.

“Why did you lock the door? Who was outside? Perhaps it was Mother?” He asked.

“Whoever it is, he or she can wait a while. When Raja and Rani are having a private conversation no one should interrupt,” said Poongkuzhali.

Raja – Rani! Who is Raja? Who is Rani” Amuthan stuttered.

“You are Raja; I am Rani! You were not listening to me?”

“No, Poongkuzhali! I said that there was no use in your preaching to me! Our minds are so different; they will never come together,” said Amuthan.

“We have to bring them together,” said Poongkuzhali.

“It is impossible!”

“If you cannot, I can. Amutha! I have decided. I have given up the notion of marrying a prince and being on the throne. Your love is worth a million times more than a luxurious life in the palace. Since you are refusing to take my path, I will come to yours. I will marry you …”

Senthan Amuthan was ecstatic. “Poongkuzhali! Poongkuzhali! I am not down with the flu? I am not dreaming? Did I hear you correctly? Did I understand correctly?” He said.

“Let me repeat it. Listen! Since you are refusing to come my way, I will come to you. I will marry you. My aunt’s life had created unnecessary desires in me. Because I felt that she was cheated out of her right to be on the throne, I angrily decided that I had a right also. When my aunt succumbed to the murderer’s knife my desire also died. I saw the pain and agony that life in the palace can bring. A life in the palace can never compare to the joy of spending one’s life riding in a boat, I found out. Amutha! When you recover we will both go to Kodikarai. There in the middle of the jungle Kuzhakar resides all alone. Both of us will serve the temple gathering flowers. Sometimes we will take a ride on the boat. There are many beautiful islands near Eezhanadu. We will visit one of these islands. You will be Raja then, and I will be Rani. We won’t be quarreling with anyone for that kingdom. Amutha! You don’t have any objections to this, do you?”

“Just one obstacle, Poongkuzhali! Am I deserving of such good fortune? Do you really mean this? You won’t subject me to a big disappointment later? No, no! You are serious! … When shall we leave for Kodikarai?”

“As soon as you are better.”

“I am already well, Poongkuzhali! If you like I will show you!” Senthan Amuthan tried to stand up.

Poongkuzhali held him back. “No! Just be patient for one day!” She said.

There was someone knocking on the door at that time. “Mother is at the door. Please open the door! We will tell Mother our happy news,” said Amuthan.

When Poongkuzhali opened the door she was surprised. Instead of Vani Ammai she saw a palace aid at the door. After knocking he had moved aside respectfully. Following him were Chempian Madevi and Prince Mathuranthakar. Two palankeens were lowered to the ground. Palankeen carriers and guards stood under the tree. One of them held a flambeau. In its light Poongkuzhali took in the scene before her. She bowed her head and greeted Chempian Madevi. “Madam! Please come in!” She said.

“How is your aunt’s son? Poongkuzhali! Where is Vani Ammai?” With these questions Mazhavaraiyar’s daughter the elder stateswoman entered the hut.

Mathuranthakan waited outside. But his envious eyes peered into the hut. When Senthan Amuthan saw that the visitor was none other than the Saiva devotee, their benefactor Chempian Madevi he also rose to his feet.

“Madam! You came at a good time. We are fortunate to share our happy news with you and receive your blessing. This is Sivaperuman’s wish. We have not even told my mother. Madam! Poongkuzhali has taken pity on me and finally agreed to marry me. You must be with us and make this happen. After we marry we have decided to move to Kodikarai Kuzhakar temple and do our floral service there,” he said.

It was difficult to say if this news made Chempian Madevi happy or sad. A smile blossomed on her lips while her eyes filled with tears.

When Amuthan and Poongkuzhali bowed in front of her the great queen said in a voice choking with emotion, “Children! By god’s grace may you have a happy married life!”

At that time Vani Ammai arrived. Through gestures Chempian Madevi told Vani Ammai that she had come to inquire about Senthan Amuthan’s health and she happened to find out about their decision to get married. Vani Ammai’s face also reflected her mixed feelings, sorrow and happiness – upon hearing the news.

After chatting for a while with Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali, Chempian Madevi left. She and Mathuranthaka Thevar walked towards the palankeens.

On the way the elder stateswoman paused under a tree and looked around. After being assured of their privacy she said, “See, Mathuranthaka! The son I carried for ten months and gave birth to lives in that hut. I knew this when he was five years old. When he lay limp on the eighth day following his birth I thought that he was dead. Wanting a child I adopted you and sent him to be buried. Vani, who took him away did not return for a long time. Five years later when I saw her with a child I stumbled on the truth. Yet, I did not abandon you. Nor did I bring him to the palace. I thought that god was teasing me. I treasured you with more love than I gave my own. For that, I beg you to grant me this favor. Say that you don’t want the Chola throne! I will not object to your ascending the throne, – if not for my fear that those born to you may turn out to be deaf and mute!”

As he listened Mathuranthakan’s face looked as if it had taken a thrashing from the devil himself. A girl had been born to the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar’s daughter whom he had married. He recalled that even after two years the child had not started to talk.

The mother who had raised him saw that he was as still as the tree behind him. “Child! Why are we standing here? Come, let’s go! Go to the palace, think it over and tell me tomorrow!” She said.

Faltering Mathuranthakan said, “Mother! What is there to think about? Nothing. Please go ahead. I will come after talking to your son who should have really grown up in the palace!”

“Alright! When you come make sure that the curtains are down on the palankeen. The sight of you may provoke the Kodumabalur soldiers to begin shouting again,” his mother said as she stepped into her palankeen. She failed to see the abrupt transformation that Mathuranthakan’s face underwent. It showed envy and rage.

62. Spear Struck!

For a while Mathuranthakan stood still. He was debating whether to go inside the hut or simply go back to the fort. Apparently having reached a decision he went and talked to the palankeen carriers and guards. He reached into the palankeen and took something. The men carried the palankeen away. With them the light from the flambeau also went.

When Mathuranthakan turned towards the hut he was startled to see a man coming from behind the tree under which he and his mother had stood talking. It was none other than the ‘madman’ Karuthiruman who had escaped from the prison with Vandhiyathevan. His appearance was still that of a madman. So it is not surprising that his sudden appearance at that time and place produced fear in Mathuranthakan. He raised the sharp dagger that he had taken from the palankeen. Karuthiruman held out his hand. “Sir! Stop! I am not your enemy,” he said.

“If you are not an enemy then who are you? My friend,” asked Mathuranthakan.

“Yes, Sir! I am a friend!”

Mathuranthakan’s quiet chuckle was laced with envy and regret. “Friend indeed! When the whole world is deserting me, you have appeared,” he said.

“Yes, Sir! I can help you in a way that no one in this world can,” said Karuthiruman.

“How? Tell me, it is getting late, so hurry up!”

“Late for what?” Karuthiruman stared intently at Mathuranthakan.

“To return to the palace. What else for?”

“You are going back to the palace that is not yours?”

Once again Mathuranthakan was taken aback. “Aday! What do you mean? What do you know? How do you know? Hurry up and speak! Or else …” His hand raised the dagger again.

“Sir! Please lay the knife down. Keep it sharpened for your enemies. Just now you were speaking to the great queen who raised you. Both of you did not see me standing behind the tree …”

“Aha! You eavesdropped on our secret. That gave you the nerve to stop me?”

“No, no! The news the great queen told you, I was already aware of; in fact I know more. The great queen told you that she is not your real mother and that Kandarathithar is not your father. She probably told you who your mother is. But she will not have told you who your father is.”

Mathuranthakan stared at him. “Do you know?” He asked.

“Yes, I do.”

Mathuranthakan was petrified that this madman was going to claim that he was his father. In a voice filled with anger and disgust he asked, “How do you know? Who are you?”

“I am your father’s servant!” When Mathuranthakan heard Karuthiruman’s answer his face brightened.

Karuthiruman moved closer to Mathuranthakan. “Sir! Your father …,” he said in a very low voice.

Mathuranthakan heard him. His head was turning. Recovering his footing he grabbed Karuthiruman’s shoulders firmly. “Is this true? Am I really a prince?” He asked.

“Yes, Sir! I came here several years ago to tell you. I was waiting for an opportunity to speak to you alone. Unfortunately the younger Pazhuvertaraiyar saw me loitering. He locked me up in the dungeon.”

“How did you escape? When?”

“Today. I escaped with the aid of a young man called Vandhiyathevan.”

“Aha! I have heard about him; isn’t he the one being accused of killing Karikalar?”

“Yes, Sir! But that young man is not responsible for Athitha Karikalar’s death.”

“What do we care? Let him be the murderer. Where is he now?”

“He is standing behind that fence over there. He is there with two horses, one for me and one for him. He probably is very angry now because I am languishing here. But I am not worried about that. I have run into you unexpectedly.”

“When did you both arrive,” asked Mathuranthakan.

“Just a short while ago. We had heard that there were two horses tied outside this hut. We were looking for the horses in the dark when your mother’s and your retinue appeared on the road with torches. The light helped us to find the horses. I saw Vani then after many years. While I was speaking to her you arrived at this hut. We did not expect you to come here. Vandhiyathevan ran and hid behind the fence. Vani and I stood behind this tree. Then she also went inside the hut. I was standing here and finally had the opportunity of speaking to you alone.”

“Alright, now what are you planning to do?”

“Whatever you tell me I will do, Sir! After finding out the truth about your birth, are you still going to return to Thanjai palace? Please keep in mind that a few others also know that you are not the Chola tribe prince. The chief minister and his aid Azhvarkadiyan know about this; one day …”

“Yes, yes. I don’t want to return to Thanjai palace. What do you suggest?”

“There are two horses behind that fence. You can pretend to go inside the hut while I engage Vandhiyathevan in talk. You should then come behind the fence; take aim with your dagger, throw it at him and kill him. We will get away on the two horses. We can go to Kodikarai and then to Ilankai. The king of Ilankai is an arch enemy of the Chola tribe; Pandya tribe’s friend for generations. I know him very well. I also know where the jeweled crown and diamond necklace belonging to the Pandya tribe are. What do you think?”

Mathuranthakan was deeply immersed in thought. His mind was building many imaginary castles.

“Sir! It’s getting late. What is your decision? Vandhiyathevan will soon be wandering here …”

“You are telling me to kill him?”

“If you are hesitant then give me the dagger.”

“No, there is other work for this sword. I know about Vandhiyathevan. He is a good soldier. We can take him with us.”

“We can; but we need another horse!”

“There is no shortage of horses! Aren’t I still the crown prince?” Mathuranthakan cackled angrily.

Then, “You can go! Tell him to be patient for a while longer. I will have a few words with the inhabitant of this hut and be there shortly,” he said.

Karuthiruman went behind the fence to find Vandhiyathevan. It was pitch dark. Whenever some travelers passed by on the royal thoroughfare a little light was shed from their torches. In that faint light Karuthiruman found the two horses. But Vandhiyathevan was not there. He called out in a low voice. There was no answer.

“Alright; good riddance!” Karuthiruman concluded.

* * *

When Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman arrived at the hut the surrounding garden lay in darkness. Here and there specks of light peeked out emanating from the small lamp burning inside the hut.

Vani Ammai who was on her way to the lotus pond to fetch water hesitated when she saw the two men. First she saw Vandhiyathevan. Her face blossomed in recognition. She had not forgotten the time when Senthan Amuthan had brought him there. She nodded her head in welcome.

The sight of Karuthiruman startled her as if she had seen a devil. Karuthiruman hastily using gestures tried to calm her. Leaving the two of them alone Vandhiyathevan approached the hut. It was at that time that Poongkuzhali drew the bolt shut on the door. Vandhiyathevan peered in through the lattice window. He was relieved to see Senthan Amuthan happily talking to Poongkuzhali instead of fighting for his life. While he was wondering if it was prudent to interrupt their talk to bid farewell, Chempian Madevi, Mathuranthakan and their retinue arrived. He immediately moved away from the hut and jumped over the fence. When he saw the two horses tied up there he knew that at least up to that moment Azhvarkadiyan had not deceived him. He waited there for Karuthiruman.

When even after the palankeens, the men and their torches had left there was no sign of Karuthiruman, he lost patience. Once again he jumped over the fence. He saw Mathuranthakan and Karuthiruman talking under the tree. He did not want to be seen by Mathuranthakan. He also became suspicious of Karuthiruman’s involvement with Mathuranthakan. He overheard some of their talk.

When Mathuranthakan went towards the hut, surreptitiously Vandhiyathevan followed.

At the door of the hut Mathuranthakan hesitated whether to knock or not. At that time cheerful laughter came from inside the hut. Whether the sound of that laughter changed his mind or whether he had lost the courage to continue, Mathuranthakan turned at once and went back to Karuthiruman.

To avoid being seen by him Vandhiyathevan jumped behind a tree. At that time an alarming sight caught his eyes. On the back wall of the hut there was a lattice window. Through it light came out from the lamp inside the hut. In that light he saw a figure poised with a short spear in its hand.

The figure was peering into the hut through the lattice window taking aim with its spear. But it did not release the spear. It kept taking aim and then giving up. At this time Vandhiyathevan heard the horses leaving. He was conflicted.

If the horses left his escape would be impossible. If he ran after the horses then he cannot stop whatever atrocious deed the dark shadow here had in mind.

Vandhiyathevan’s dilemma did not last even a second. Let the horses leave. His duty was here now. He crept slowly toward the dark figure with the spear.

From inside the hut a woman screamed in a frightened voice.

Throwing caution to the wind Vandhiyathevan ran. The man holding the spear heard him. He turned around.

As he turned he threw the spear at Vandhiyathevan. The spear went threw Vandhiyathevan’s rib cage. He fell down.

Without waiting for even a second or glance at the result of his action, the man who threw the spear ran from there not knowing if his feet or head that carried him.

63. Pinakapani’s Perfidy

When Ponniyin Selvar, Kundavaidevi and others went to the dungeon they did not see Vandhiyathevan there. Instead they saw the doctor’s son Pinalapani tied to the iron rings on the wall.

“Aiyayo! The murderer has escaped! The madman has escaped!” He was screaming. Kundavai and Vanathi remembered him well. It was they who had first sent him to accompany Vandhiyathevan when he went to Kodikarai. When they freed Pinakapani and questioned him he told them what had taken place there. He was angry and wanted the escapees captured without delay.

But his audience did not seem concerned in the least. Not only did they congratulate Vandhiyathevan in their hearts they concluded that it was best that he escaped. When Manimekalai began to put this sentiment into words Kundavai stopped her. “Sister! Do not say anything. This is a serious government matter. What do we -women, know? We can talk later,” she told her.

At that time Colonel senior Velar arrived there. News had reached him that something had gone astray in the dungeon. When he heard the news he also did not seem to be in any hurry to go after the escapees. The truth was that he also did not believe the charges against Vandhiyathevan. He knew that Arulmozhivarmar and Kundavai held him in high esteem. Therefore, instead of being angry he laughed approvingly. “That Varnar tribe young man is very clever. Once he escaped in a similar fashion from Ilankai’s Mathottam prison,” he remarked.

The doctor’s son could not contain himself. “Sir! Shouldn’t we go after them,” he asked.

“Ah! Where will they go? They will remain inside the fort. We will take care of them,” said colonel senior Velar.

“No, no! That murderer knows the underground passage. He will escape through that,” Pinakapani angrily shouted.

The colonel lost his temper. “Fool! You are giving me advice? Aren’t you the reason for their escape? Who knows if you were not working with them? Throw him back into the dungeon,” he told his men.

Pinakapani was terrified. “No, Sir! I swear that I don’t belong with them. I was sent here by the chief minister,” he pleaded.

Ponniyin Selvar intervened. “Yes, he is the chief minister’s man. We can send him back under custody. Let the chief minister decide his punshiment,” he said.

Accordingly the colonel ordered four of his soldiers to take the doctor’s son and hand him over to chief minister Aniruthar.

When the chief minister heard Pinakapani’s account of what had transpired in the dungeon he also did not show much concern. Aniruthar never relied only on one person. If he sent someone to spy, it was his practice to send another man behind to keep an eye. In that way he had sent Azhvarkadiyan this time. Therefore he was not concerned. He believed that Azhvarkadiyan will either capture those on the run or at least bring news of them. He also felt that much will be resolved if those on the run somehow remained missing and out of reach.

Therefore, when Pinakapani ended his story with, “Sir! If four men are sent with me I can capture them,” Aniruthar snapped at him annoyed.

“Fool! You ruined the entire mission! I sent you because I didn’t want anyone outside knowing about that madman. Otherwise, wouldn’t I have gone to him myself? Now so many in the palace have come to know about him. As if this isn’t enough, you want to further advertise this matter? Enough of your service. You are not at all fit for spy work. Go! Don’t ever sight me again! Don’t talk to anyone about what happened today! If I hear you opening your mouth I will order you hanged,” said Aniruthar.

Pinakapani hung his head low and left the chief minister’s residence. The rancor of disappointment was scorching his very being. His fury was aimed at Vandhiyathevan. He believed that he had suffered defeat and infamy because of Vandhiyathevan; the colonel and chief minister had reprimanded him. If these men cared less, let them be, he decided. He felt that it was his duty to find Vandhiyathevan. He did not care as much about the madman. Vandhiyathevan had become his enemy from the day they set off together to Kodikarai; now he had dealt this great injustice to him; he will find him and take revenge.

With this conviction Pinakapani left Thanjai fort. He was certain that Vandhiyathevan would not be found within the confines of the fort and that he would leave using the underground passage. But he had no knowledge of where the underground passage lay or where it opened to the outside. He surmised that the exit lay somewhere along the outer wall of the fort. If he went around checking the wall he may find it. Why? He might even catch Vandhiyathevan and the madman red-handed as they emerged from the underground passage …

With this notion Pinakapani was walking along the outer perimeter of the fort where vadavaru ran close to the wall. He carefully scrutinized the wall as he walked. A few Kodumbalur soldiers were also patrolling around the wall with torches in their hands. The doctor’s son still had the emblem to show that he was the chief minister’s man. If he ran into a soldier he could maneuver his way out of such an encounter. Yet, it would delay his mission. So whenever he saw soldiers with torches ahead he hid among the trees and shrubs on the side. Once while he was thus hiding he was startled to see two men hiding a little distance away. One of them held a sword in his hand. When the torches moved past the shrubs the sword sparkled struck by a ray or two of light. But he still could not make out who the two men were.

Once the soldiers walked past the two men emerged from behind the bushes and began walking in the opposite direction. Pinakapani went along his way. As the men were walking towards the fort’s entrance he thought it was unlikely that they could be Vandhiyathevan and the madman. But he was plagued by doubt; he knew Vandhiyathevan to be very smart and bold. Who could say what plans he could hatch? …

So Pinakapani turned around abruptly and began following the two men at a distance. Because one of them had a sword he did not want to confront them directly. This was not the time to get into fights with strangers for no reason. Any action he takes must be only after ensuring they were the escapees. He did have a short dagger in his hand. It was best to use it without forewarning and once and for all to get rid of his life’s enemy. The north entrance of the fort was now within sight. Adaday! Why is there such a crowd and merriment? Palankeens,  torches, palace guards in front and behind! It was difficult to say if someone important was coming or going!

God! Where are they? All of a sudden they have disappeared into thin air. Did they take a shortcut? Where to? Are they heading towards the royal thoroughfare? Since when is the royal thouroughfare welcoming of escaped convicts? If not, where are they? … Pinakapani recalled that Senthan Amuthan’s garden and hut were somewhere in this vicinity. He knew that once before Vandhiyathevan had taken shelter there. Pinakapani concluded that the two men were indeed Vandhiyathevan and the madman and that they were on their way to Senthan Amuthan’s house to spend the night or carry out whatever other tricks they had up their sleeves!

Pinakapani walked in the direction of Senthan Amuthan’s garden dwelling. It was not easy to find the way in the dark. After much difficulty when he finally reached the place he was surprised to see palankeens and soldiers there. While he hesitated with indecision the palankeens began to move away. The soldiers followed behind.

Pinakapani’s curiosity was piqued as he looked around the garden. He could see the heads of two horses over a fence. As he approached the hut he saw two people talking under a tree. Are they the men he came after? Are the horses waiting for their getaway? How can this be? Is someone higher up helping these men to getaway? Is the royal family involved in this? The madman had boasted that he knew some secrets. Perhaps these preparations are to ensure that the secrets never come out?

Hiding behind a tree he took a good look at the two people. There was no doubt that one of them was the madman. He could recognize the man’s gruff voice. The other man did not look like Vandhiyathevan. How strange! The resemblance was to Prince Mathuranthakar! A prince’s head adorned with a crown, the elaborate vestment covering his shoulder! Pearl necklaces, bracelets … What can Mathuranthakar and this madman have in common?

Never mind. Where is his arch enemy Vandhiyathevan? No doubt he is somehere nearby. He is the man with the sword. Perhaps he is on the horse waiting for the madman! Aha … Perhaps it is Mathuranthakar who is helping them escape? Perhaps it is Mathuranthakar who urged Vandhiyathevan to kill Karikalar? Now perhaps before they  run away Mathuranthakar wants to have a final word with the madman … God! If only these were true and if he can prove it to be so …?

Pinakapani’s deranged brain worked furiously. All he had to do was walk towards the horses and make sure it was Vandhiyathevan. If Vandhiyathevan was alone he should take a shot at him with his short dagger. Afterwards he would threaten the madman and find out the truth. The horses were behind the fence across from the tree where Mathuranthakar and the madman stood talking. He cannot walk past them. On the way there was also the lotus pond. Therefore he must go around the hut to reach the fence.

When Pinakapani went behind the hut he heard the voices of Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali. Ever since Pinakapani saw Poongkuzhali for the first time in Kodikarai he had wanted her. She was the reason for his rancor against Vandhiyathevan. Later on when he went to abduct Manthahini and found out about the newly budding friendship between Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali he was further aggravated. His feelings of enmity extended to Senthan Amuthan as well.

Now as he stared through the small lattice opening on the rear wall of the hut at the cheerful faces of Senthan Amuthan and Poongkuzhali as they chatted happily, his envy was reignited. He leaned in and evesdropped on their talk. He heard them talking about marriage and moving to Kodikarai. The thought that in the end it was this ignorant flower vender’s son who was going to have Poongkuzhali was unbearable for Pinakapani. All thought of Vandhiyathevan and the madman ceased. First of all he must send this singing devotee Senthan Amuthan away from earth. All else will be taken care of later …

Driven by his fury Pinakapani took aim at Senthan Amuthan with his short dagger pointing it through the lattice opening. When Poongkuzhali’s eyes by chance caught sight of the dagger and the hand behind it she screamed out loud. Senthan Amuthan turned to look at what had caused her such terror. Aha, thought Pinakapani … here was a golden opportunity to send the dagger straight into his heart …

At that time Pinakapani heard footsteps behind him. When he turned he saw someone up close. In the dark he could not tell who it was. Whoever it was, he was here knowing Pinakapani’s intention and to hurt Pinakapani. The dagger plunged itself into this newcomer. The newcomer fell down.

At the same time arose the sound of horses leaving. That must be Vandhiyathevan and the madman. That left only Mathuranthakar as the possible candidate who had tried to stop him in the dark. Was Mathuranthakar the target of his dagger? The thought struck Pinakapani faster than a ray of lightening paralyzing him with terror.

From inside the hut came the cries, “Aha! Aiyo!” Pinakapani heard the door being opened and someone coming outside. He began to run. His foremost task at that moment was to get away from there. Catching the men on the horses was secondary.

* * *

Within seconds Poongkuzhali and Senthan Amuthan were outside with a lantern. They saw Vandhiyathevan lying in a pool of blood with a dagger in his chest. One cannot describe their horror and sorrow. With utmost tenderness they carried him inside the hut. They were relieved to see that he was not dead.

Vani Ammani had to administer her herbal treatment on Vandhiyathevan today just as she had done on a previous occasion.

64. “Tell the Truth!”

The boat where Vandhiyathevan had left Azhvarkadiyan drifted a short distance before settling along the shore. The two soldiers who were pushed into the river also finally came ashore. They untied Azhvarkadiyan and the other man. Azhvarkadiyan did not get down from the boat. He pretended to be tied up and told the other men to hide.

The truth was Azhvarkadiyan wanted Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman to escape. He knew that was what the chief minister also wanted. If these two men remained in Thanjai it will lead to an investigation of certain events from the past. The chief minister and Azhvarkadiyan had no doubt that Vandhiyathevan was innocent. Yet an inquiry will produce many awkward moments. Many will be hurt. It will be detrimental to let the public in on this. Arulmozhivarmar will lose a dear friend. Chola kingdom will lose a brave and cunning strategist. The chief minister knew how Kundavai felt about Vandhiyathevan and Manimekalai’s open enthusiasm for him. In consideration of these facts he decided that it was best to help Vandhiyathevan escape at that time.

Thirumalai was hoping that after finding the horses at Senthan Amuthan’s garden Vandhiyathevan and Karuthiruman will travel along the vadavaru shore. As Karuthiruman had suggested if they traveled along this riverbank they can go up to Pamani river. In this way they would cover half of Kodikarai. Therefore they were bound to take this route, Azhvarkadiyan hoped. He waited because he wanted to give a message to Vandhiyathevan.

They were taking longer than his estimation. “I was mistaken; they probably took another route,” just as Thirumalai decided and attempted to leave the boat he heard horses. So once again he lay down and pretended to be captive.

When the horses came closer he shouted, “Oho! Who is there? Please wait! Untie me before leaving!”

But the horses did not stop. He saw Karuthiruman on the first horse. So when the second horse passed him he shouted, “Vandhiyatheva! Vandhiyatheva! Wait!”

The second horse also did not stop. Azhvarkadiyan saw the man on top. He was beyond disbelief. “I am not seeing properly; my mind is playing tricks,” he mused.

At some distance from him the horses stopped. One returned. Karuthiruman alighted from it and came to the boat.

“What a pity! You are still tied up? You were a tremendous help to us. For that I must at least untie you. But don’t play any of your tricks on me!” As Karuthiruman bent while talking Thirumalai jumped out of the boat and pushed Karuthiruman down by his neck.

Taken aback by surprise Karuthiruman lay helpless for a while. Then, “Aiyo, Appa! Leave me alone. You will be blessed. Should you turn against a man who came to help you? There, your friend Vandhiyathevan is waiting. Yes; he calls you his dear friend. If he sees this what will he think? You cannot escape alive! Let me go, Appan! Let me go,” he wailed pitifully.

“Aday! How recklessly you are spinning tales? Who is on that horse? Tell me the truth! If you do I will let you go. Or else, this vey minute your life will end,” said Azhvarkadiyan.

“Yes, yes! I lied. Of course I cannot deceive you. It is not Vandhiyathevan on that horse. It is Prince Mathuranthakar. Let me go! I will ask him to reward you!”

“Alright, alright! Never mind the reward. Where is Vandhiyathevan?”

“He walked away from the horse at that hut in the gardens. After that he was lost!”

“Where are you going?”

“To the same place I was going with Vandhiyathevan.”

“You mean to Ilankai island.”

“Yes!”

“Why is Mathuranthakar going to Ilankai?”

“How do I know? Ask him! He said that he wanted to go with me!”

Azhvarkadiyan pressed Karuthiruman’s chest harder. “Tell the truth! Whose son is Mathuranthakar?” He asked.

“What do you mean? He is Chempian Madevi’s … no, no. Don’t squeeze my chest. I will die! He is dumb Manthahini’s son.”

“Who is Mathuranthakan’s father? Tell the truth! Or else you will not leave this place alive!”

Karuthiruman answered in a very low voice.

“Good; you saved yourself! Finally, tell me one more thing. Whose son is Senthan Amuthan?”

“Why are you asking me? You already found out!”

“He is Kandarathithar and Chempian Madevi’s son?”

“Yes; but I am the reason that he is alive today. The deaf and dumb Vani thought that the baby was dead and was going to bury him. I heard the baby’s cry and saved him. At least for that I deserve to live!”

“In truth, that is the reason I am letting you go now.” With that Azhvarkadiyan rose.

Karuthiruman sprang to his feet and ran. Once he was atop the horse the two men galloped away along the riverbank in that impenetrable darkness of the monsoon season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Comment
  1. ramesh kumar permalink

    awesome.. waiting for next part

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