Chapter 20 – The First Enemy
Azlvar-adiyan gave his heartfelt thanks to the vampire bat which helped him at the right time; a hooting owl gave further aid. The conspirators gathered in the clearing thought that the noise was made by the owl or the bat.
“Hey fellow! This bat has frightened us. Kill it!” said one man.
“No need. Sharpen your knives and save them for other important tasks; keep them to rout the very roots of our enemy clans! Bats and owls are not our enemy; they are our friends. We are awake when normal folk sleep. These owls and bats are awake with us.” The man called Ravidasa spoke these words.
Thirumalai moved forward step by step, quietly, while he listened to these words of Ravidasa. Soon he neared a large marudai tree. The roots of that hundred year old tree spread in all directions. Hollow spaces could be found in between and below the thick roots. Thirumalai stood in one such hollow blending his body with the tree trunk.
“We have no dearth of funds as long as the royal treasury in Tanjore exists. All we need is determination to complete the task we have undertaken. We should be capable of guarding our secret from becoming known to anyone, until the assignment is done. We have to divide ourselves into two groups. One group must travel to Lanka immediately. The other must go to the Thondai regions and wait for an opportunity to achieve our goal. Both jobs must be completed more or less at the same time. If there is any delay after finishing with one enemy, the other fellow will become forewarned. We should never let that happen. Do you all understand? Who among you are ready to go to Lanka?” asked Ravidasa.
“I can go.” “I shall go.” Several voices rose at the same time.
“When we meet the next time, in the Pandiya Kingdom, let us decide about who is to go to Lanka. Till then, we have several arrangements to make here itself.”
“Which is the best way to go to Lanka?” asked one man.
“We can go by Kodi Karai. That is a good place to cross the sea. But it is difficult to reach Kodi Karai from here.
Enemies all along the way; spies everywhere. Therefore it is better to go to Sethu and cross the sea to Matottam. Those going to Lanka must know how to swim in the sea and they must be ready to row a boat or catamaran if the need arises. Who among you knows how to swim?”
“I do.” “I can.” said a few voices.
“We must first meet Mahinda, the King of Lanka and then complete our job. Therefore, at least one of us who goes to Lanka must be able to speak the Singhala language. Ah!
Why hasn’t our Soman Samban come yet? Did any of you see him today?” asked Ravidasa.
“Here, I am coming.” The voice came from a spot very close to the hollow in which Thirumalai was hiding. Azlvar-adiyan flattened his body further against the tree trunk. Dear, dear me! How troublesome it is, that my wretched body has grown so prosperous.
Two more newcomers came and joined the group in the clearing. Azlvar-adiyan peeped out from his hiding place, showing a bare minimum of his face outside the hollow. He recognized the late comers as the two men who had met under the tree on the southern banks of the Kollidam.
On seeing the two new men, Ravidasa exclaimed, “Welcome! Welcome! I was afraid that you were in some trouble and may not come to this meeting. From where and by which way are you both coming?”
“We came along the bank of the Kollidam. On the way, a pack of wolves surrounded us. It was quite difficult to escape from them. That is why we are late,” said Soman Samban.
“There is reason if you are afraid of the tiger or lion! What can we achieve with the help of men who are afraid of wolves?” asked the man who was holding the lighted twigs.
“Don’t say that my friend! The wolf or jackal is worse than any lion or tiger which is a solitary enemy that attacks alone. We can fight against them and manage. But wolves come in packs. They are more dangerous. Didn’t our incomparable king of kings loose the battle and give up his life because the Chozla jackals came in large packs all at one time? Would it have happened any other way?”
“We shall totally destroy the whole pack of wolves. We shall kill their very roots.” Soman Samban swore with vehemence.
“Here are the tools to help that cause!” said Ravidasa, pointing at the gold coins. Soman Samban picked up a few coins and examined them.
“Yes! The tiger symbol on one side; palm tree on the other side,” he exclaimed!
“Chozla gold! Lord Pazluvoor’s signet. I did what I said I would do. What news from the rest of you? Does Idumban Kari have any special news?” asked Ravidasa.
“Yes. He has news. Let him tell it in his own words,” said Soman Samban.
Idumban Kari began speaking: “As per your orders, I joined the household of Kadamboor Sambuvaraya and am working as a servant in his palace. Last night my efforts bore fruit. Yesterday, a huge banquet was held at Kadamboor. Several guests — the Elder Lord Pazluvoor, Lord of Mazluvoor, Vanangamudi Munai Raya and others had come. The gypsy dance and velan attam, the oracle dance, took place. The man who danced as the divine-man foretold the future when the spirit manifested him. His predictions were helpful to our intentions. Everybody thought that the Elder Lord Pazluvoor had brought his Young-Queen in the closed palanquin to the palace. Lord Pazluvoor announced that Emperor Sundara Chozla was in poor health and that he was not likely to live long. All the dignitaries met and decided that Prince Aditya Karikala was not the rightful heir to ascend the throne; they decided that Prince Madurandaka had the right to succeed as Crown Prince. Some among them were doubtful if that Prince would agree to accept the throne. Lord Pazluvoor then promised that `He will accept personally,’ and opened the curtains of the closed palanquin. Prince Madurandaka came out from the palanquin and agreed to accept the throne…”
“They are going to crown that brave fellow who roams around disguised as a woman! Very good! Let them crown him! Everything is happening according to our plans. An internal confusion in Chozla politics is very useful to our cause. Now, whatever happens, no one will suspect us! Idumban Kari! You have brought very good and important news. But, how did you learn of all this? How did you get the opportunity?” asked their leader, Ravidasa.
“I tried to put myself forward working in the inner chambers of the palace. I was assigned the task of guarding the courtyard where the dignitaries met, to hold their discussions at midnight. While on guard duty, I made good use of my eyes and ears.”
“Did you learn of anything else by making such good use of your senses?”
“Yes. I found something else. Another fellow, a stranger, was spying on that midnight meeting and listening to everything that was being said; he was hiding on the outer ramparts of the palace and watching everything.”
“Oh! Who was he?”
“A fanatic Vaishnava fellow with a topknot on his forehead ….”
“Ah! Was it him? That’s what I surmised. What did you do with him? Did you report him to your masters and get hold of him?”
“No. I did not do that. I had thought that he may be one of us. I thought that you may have sent him.”
“You made a big mistake! He is not one of us. He is short and stocky; a quarrelsome fellow. His name is Thirumalai Appan. Sometimes, he calls himself Azlvar-adiyan Nambi.”
“Yes. That very same fellow. I realized my mistake this afternoon when I found out that he was not one of us.”
“How did you find that?”
“One of the friends of my younger master Kandamaran had also come to the fort last night. I did find out that he had no connection with Lord Pazluvoor and his fellow conspirators. That friend went to sleep in some corner. This morning, my younger master came to the banks of the Kollidam accompanying his friend. I heard him speak of his intentions and stood in front of him often in the course of my duties. My master asked me to come along. The master went back to Kadamboor from the north shore; but, he ordered me to go to the south shore and procure a horse for his friend before I returned. I asked permission to visit my aunt in Kudanthai after that. That is how I could come here without any problem.”
“All this is fine! But, how did you find out about that fanatic topknot fellow?”
“When the ferry boat on the Kollidam was about to leave, that fellow came and joined us in the boat. He exchanged some heated words with Kandamaran’s friend. Therefore, I doubted my conclusions about him being one of us. It appeared as if he was waiting for me on the south shore of the Kollidam. So, I made our secret sign to him but he did not understand. I then knew that he was not one of us.”
“You have committed a grave error! You should not make our sign to persons whose antecedents are not known. My Friends! Please listen to this,” said Ravidasa, and he continued in a more agitated voice, “Our assignment is in Kanchi. And in Lanka. Our greatest enemies are in these two places. But, an enemy more important than those two, our first enemy is Thirumalai Appan who wanders around in the name of Azlvar-adiyan Nambi. He is capable of thwarting our intentions and destroying all of us. He is trying to abduct that peerless lady who is our leader.”
After announcing this, Ravidasa continued, “In the future, if any one of you see him, anywhere, in any circumstance, use any weapon in your hands to pierce his heart and kill him! If you carry no weapon, use your bare hands to choke him to death. Or destroy him cunningly with poison; push him into the flood to feed him to the crocodiles. Lure him to a cliff top and push him to death. Kill him mercilessly,
like you would any poisonous snake, lizard or scorpion. More commendable, if you can give him up as a human sacrifice to the Goddess Kannagi or the Goddess Kali. He is going to be an impediment to our intentions as long as he is alive.”
“Mr. Ravidasa! You are saying this with such conviction. He must be a very artful fellow. Who is he?”
“He? He is a terribly capable spy!”
“I was not sure myself, for a long time I suspected him to be a spy of Sundara Chozla or Aditya Karikala. I realized that he was not that. I now think that he is a spy of that evil old she-devil who lives in Pazlayarai — that Elder Pirati.”
“Ah! Is that true? Why does that old woman, involved in her devotions to the Gods, need a spy?”
“All her devotions are rubbish! That old Queen’s devotion to Shiva is as big a masquerade as this topknot fellow’s Vaishnava fanaticism! She is a fiend who is hostile to her own son. That is why her very own brother, Lord Mazlavaraya of Mazluvoor quarrelled with her; he now belongs to that Pazluvoor fellow’s group.”
“Mr. Ravidasa, are there any others like that Vaishnava extremist?”
“There is an astrologer in Kudanthai. I suspect that fellow. He pretends to foretell the future by astrology to one and all and discovers their secrets. None of you should ever go to him. If you go to him, you will surely be hoodwinked.”
“Whose spy is he? What do you think?”
“I have not been able to find out that! Perhaps he works for that false prince who is in Lanka now. But I am not very concerned about that astrologer. He cannot do much harm to us. I am apprehensive about that Vaishnava fellow. He should be killed upon sight: like some evil, poisonous creature!”
Azlvar-adiyan, hidden under the hollow tree root, heard all this; his whole body was drenched in sweat and he shivered with fright. He doubted if he could ever escape with his life from that forest. To top it all, he felt like sneezing; just at that time! He tried as much as he could to control that wicked sneeze. He stuffed his face into his scarf and “Aatch” he sneezed.
At that time the gentle breeze had died. The whispering trees were quiet. The quiet “Aatch” was heard very clearly by the men gathered in the clearing. Ravidasa looked up and said, “There is some noise near that marudai tree. Take the light over there and see what it is.”
The man holding the lighted twigs came towards the tree. As he came closer and closer, the light increased. He had to take just one more step, the light would then fall completely on Nambi. Then, what will happen? It would be impossible to escape with his life.
Azlvar-adiyan’s heart beat faster and faster. He eyes looked all around, up and down, searching for something to aid his escape. Nothing was obvious. The man came closer. Up there, on that low branch above him, … another giant bat was hanging upside down! Quickly, he stretched his hands out and plucked that vampire bat off its perch. He had a good idea!
As soon as the man with the torch took another step and came closer, Thirumalai threw the vampire bat at him. The torch of twigs fell to the ground. The light dimmed. The man, his face beaten by the strong wings of that huge bat, started screaming. The noise of several men coming closer, running closer, could be heard. Azlvar-adiyan also began running. He ran deeper into the forest and soon disappeared.
Several shouts, “What?” “What happened?” could be heard. The man who had held the torch began a protracted explanation of how the vampire bat attacked him! These noises were audible for quite sometime as Thirumalai ran further away.