Chapter 17 – A Horse Galloped
Kundavai had decided that Vanathi was the appropriate bride for her incomparable brother. But Vanathi had one fault: she was too timid. How could a girl who was to marry the bravest of brave warriors, who was to give birth to a son to rule the whole world, be so fainthearted? Kundavai wanted to change her timidity and make her brave and courageous. She had arranged for the deception with the stuffed crocodile for this very purpose. But, the Lady of Kodumbalur passed that test easily.
Upon returning from the house of the Kudanthai Astrologer, Kundavai and Vanathi climbed into their swan shaped barge. The barge floated downstream for a short distance. The girls would often play in the water amidst the thick groves of trees. They reached their favorite spot and disembarked. When everyone had climbed down, one of the girls screamed “Crocodile!” “Help!” She was pointing beyond the tree near which they were standing. All the other girls soon took up the cry and ran hither and thither.
But Vanathi, who was usually of a frightened disposition, did not exhibit any fear. She was not scared even upon seeing the horrible crocodile, with its wide open jaws, right next to her. Vanathi was not afraid even when she saw the faces of the other girls who were pretending to be afraid according to Kundavai’s instructions.
“Akka, the crocodile is powerful only when it is in the water; it has no strength when it is on land. Tell these girls not to be afraid!” said Vanathi.
“You deceiving thief! This is not a live crocodile; it is a stuffed carcass! Someone has already told you that!” said one of the other girls.
“I am not afraid even if it is really alive. I am only afraid of lizards.”
It was at this point, that Vandiya Devan arrived there to save those maids from the terrifying crocodile! He jumped off his horse and in one run threw his spear as he came rushing forward. When Vallavarayan heard the words of the lady who stood in front of the crocodile, his whole body became alert. His disappointment that she had not talked to him earlier at the astrologer’s house was now demolished.
But, that crocodile behind her – with its gaping jaws — somehow created an uneasiness in him. Why is she standing in front of the crocodile? Why is she asking me not to bother? And why is that horrible crocodile not moving from its spot all this time?
The lady continued: “Sir! In Kudanthai, you begged pardon for having entered the astrologer’s house in a hurry. We came away without giving you any reply. You might have perhaps construed that all women of the Chozla country are mannerless creatures. Please do not think so. I was a little confused because my friend had suddenly fainted in that house. That is why I did not reply … …”
Oh, ho! What a pleasing voice this is? Why is my heart pounding like this on hearing her speak? Why is my throat parched? Not even did the marching drums of the war, or even the sweet music of the flute and lute fill me with such joy. Nothing shook me up like this. Why am I not able to interrupt her and say something? Why is my tongue tied? Why has the gentle breeze stopped? Why has the Arisil stopped flowing? And then …. this crocodile? Why is it still, like this?
While Vandiya Devan’s heart was agitated in this manner, his ears could continue hearing that girl’s voice as if in a dream: “… even now, you did this Sir, thinking that you were saving us. You threw the spear at the crocodile. It is rare to find gallants who can handle the spear with such speed and accuracy…”
All the other girls standing under that tree now laughed sharply. The laughter shattered Vandiya Devan’s infatuated dream. The magic cords, — that girl’s speech — which bound him, were cut loose. He examined the crocodile again; moved aside from the girl in front of him and neared the reptile. He shook the spear embedded on its back and pulled it loose. No blood gushed from the hole made by his weapon: then? some plantain fiber and cotton came out.
Those wicked girls laughed again. This time they clapped their hands and applauded.
Vallavarayan’s heart and body shrank with mortification. He had never met such disgrace ever before. Such a great blow to his pride in front of all these women! Are these women? No, no! they are ogresses! I should not tarry next to them. I should not look upon their faces. Damn this! My darling spear! Is this your fate, to suffer such dishonor? How will I wipe out this blemish? …
All these thoughts raced through Vandiya Devan’s mind within one moment. If those who stood there laughingly had been men, the clearing would have turned into a battlefield! Those who dared to laugh would have lost their lives that very instant! River Arisil would have run red with their blood. But they were women! What could he do to them? The only recourse was to run away and escape!
Without even looking back at the face of the girl who had captivated his mind, Vandiya Devan ran up the river embankment. His horse, which was standing up there, neighed. Vandiya Devan felt that even his horse was laughing at him along with those girls. All his anger turned towards the horse. He jumped upon its back and smacked it sharply, twice with his whip. The self-respecting horse quickly galloped along the trail on the riverside.
For a while, Kundavai Pirati gazed in the direction in which the horse had galloped away. She watched till the dust raised by the horse had settled.
Turning towards her companions, she said, “Girls! None of you have any refinement even now! You shouldn’t have laughed like that. When we are alone we can laugh and tease as we wish. Don’t we have to show some decorum when a stranger is in our midst? What would that youth think about the women of the Chozla country?” spoke Kundavai.