Chapter 29 – Our Guest
After the poets had departed, the palace doctor mixed a medicinal potion and brought it to the Emperor. Malayaman’s daughter, the Queen Consort received the goblet in her hands and gave it to her lord the Emperor.
The Younger Lord Pazluvoor, who waited patiently till the Emperor had finished, did not let go of his vise like grip on Vandiya Devan’s hand. The Commander dragged him closer to the Emperor’s bed. “My Lord! Do you see any improvement after this new medicine?” he asked.
“The doctor says that there is some benefit and Devi also believes it. But somehow, I do not feel any hope. Commander, I feel that all this is wasted effort! My fate beckons me. Yama, the Lord of Death must have gone to Pazlayarai in search of me. When he knows that I am not there he will arrive here in search of me…”
“My Lord! You should not talk in this depressed fashion. You should not distress our hearts like this. The ancestors of your clan …”
“Ah! You are about to say that my forefathers were not afraid of death! If I too am fortunate like the forefathers of my clan, to go into the forefront of a battlefield and give up my life, I shall not fear such death. Nor will I despair. I shall welcome death with enthusiasm. My elder uncle Raja-aditya fought in the battle field at Takkolam from atop an elephant and lost his life while fighting. He established the fame of Chozla bravery for ever in that battle of Takkolam. He became famous as the `Lord who reposed atop an elephant.’ What fame will I acquire? Will I come to be known as `Sundara Chozla who reposed atop his sickbed’? My other elder uncle, Gandara Aditya was involved in his devotions and had overcome the fear of death. He travelled to the nations on the western ocean on pilgrimage and died on the seashore. He is known as `The Lord who reposed in the west.’ I am not devout like him; nor am I capable of embarking on a pilgrimage like him. How long can I lie upon my bed like this? A burden to all those near and dear … But something tells me in my heart, I shall not remain on this delightful earth much longer…”
“My Majesty! The palace doctor says that there is no danger to your life. The astrologers also say that there is no danger. But this youngster talked to you about some danger …”
“Ah! Isn’t he the young man who came from Kanchi City? Yes, he was saying about some danger about something. What were you saying Thambi? Were you talking about my situation?” asked the Emperor.
Vandiya Devan’s mind worked at lightning speed. If I own up to having warned about danger, suspicions about me will rise and I will surely be in danger. I must escape from this plight. Good, let me try one tactic. Let me secure the help of grammar and prosody to turn a mountain into a molehill!
“My Majesty! Who am I to warn about danger! What danger can approach you when you have the brave Commander, Lord Pazluvoor, the palace doctor and the Empress who looks like the Divine Savitri (mythical queen who saved her husband from the Lord of Death) next to you? I petitioned to you as a stranger — a stranger! I, an ignorant, lone youth, I alone am left to represent the ancient clan of Vaanars. I have been serving the Chozla Empire to the satisfaction of your elder son the Crown Prince. I beg your grace to return to me at least one tiny portion of the lands of my ancient kingdom. I am a stranger! This stranger seeks the protection of you the King of Kings!” Vallavarayan spoke quickly without any hesitation.
The Commander who heard his words, frowned. Sundara Chozla’s face brightened once again. Kindness filled the face of the Empress.
“As soon as he was born, Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, must have written on this boy’s tongue. His command over words is quite remarkable!” said the Empress.
Making use of the opportunity, Vandiya Devan turned towards her and said, “Thaye! I Beg your grace to put in a word on my behalf! I am an orphan without mother or father. I have no other patron or sponsor. I myself have to petition on my behalf. Just like the Goddesses Lakshmi and Parvathi speak to their Lords Vishnu and Shiva on behalf of devotees, I beseech you to speak on my cause. I beg to be given back at least ten villages of my ancient kingdom. I shall be very satisfied with that.”
Sundara Chozla was filled with surprise and happiness as he heard these words. The Emperor called his Commander and said, “Commander, I am becoming very fond of this youth! Look at Devi’s face: she seems ready to adopt him as her third son! Why not fulfil his petition? There should be no problem about that? What is your opinion?”
“What place does my opinion have in this matter! Should we not consult the opinion of Prince Karikala?” asked the Commander of Tanjore.
“Your Majesty! If I ask the Prince he says that he has to consult Lord Pazluvoor! Lord Pazluvoor says that he has to ask the Crown Prince. Between the two of them my petition …”
“Young man, don’t worry. We shall ask them both at the same time,” said the Emperor.
He then said, “Commander, this youth has brought a letter from the Prince. About my going to Kanchi. Like before, Aditya wants me to come to Kanchi. Aditya writes that he has built a new Golden Palace there. He wants me to go over there and live in it at least for some time.”
“We shall act according to thy wishes,” said the Commander.
“Ah! You will act according to my wishes! But my legs refuse. It is impossible to journey to Kanchi. The very thought of travelling in palanquins with drawn screens, like women of the palace, disgusts me. We must write a reply asking Aditya Karikala to come here …”
“Is it advisable to ask the Prince to leave Kanchi at this time to come here? Our enemies in the north continue to be strong!”
“Parthiban and Malayaman can stay back and take care of that. Something in my heart tells me that I must have the Prince here beside me. And that is not enough; we must send a message to the younger Prince who has gone to Lanka — ask him to come back here immediately. I wish to consult both of them and come to a conclusion about an important matter. When Arulmozli is here we can talk to him about your objection in sending rice and foodstuffs to the Lankan campaign.”
“Your Majesty! Forgive me! I do not object to sending foodstuffs to Lanka. Neither does the Officer of Resources & Food Supply object. The citizens and countrymen of the Chozla nation object to it. The last harvest in our country was poor. When supplies are limited to meet our needs, people object to sending shiploads of foodgrains to Lanka. Now they murmur and complain in words. After a while their complaints will become louder. Their shouts will be heard even inside this palace, disturbing your health!”
“Arulmozli will never wish to undertake anything to which the people and citizens object. Anyway considering everything it is best if he comes here at once. After the Elder Lord Pazluvoor returns we shall decide about sending a messenger to Lanka. When is he coming back?”
“He will definitely return by tonight.”
“We can write the letter to Kanchi also tomorrow. Can we send this young man back with that letter?”
“This youngster seems to have journeyed from Kanchi without any rest or stop. Let him stay here and relax for a few days before he returns. We can send the letter with some other messenger.”
“Do that. Perhaps he can remain here itself till Karikala arrives.”
At this point Malayaman’s daughter stood up. The Commander spoke up, “I have spoken for a long time and disturbed you today. Please forgive me for extending this interview till being warned by My Lady!”
The Empress spoke, “Commander, this youth is our guest. Make all arrangements for his comfort. If the Emperor had been keeping good health we could have accommodated him in this palace itself.”
“I shall take care of that, My Lady! You need not concern yourself about it. I shall take care of him very well!” spoke the Younger Lord Pazluvoor. The fingers of one hand twirled his thick moustache as he spoke these words.