Chapter 1 - Aadi Festival

Chapter 34 – Garden Gazebo

The maiden walked briskly down the garden trail winding through a thick grove of mango trees. Vandiya Devan followed as quickly as he could. It was quite difficult to walk in that darkness without running into some bush or creeper. Once, when he hesitated, almost colliding against a flowering bush, the girl looked back to ask, “Why do you stop? Have you forgotten the way? Are you not the fellow who can see in darkness?”

In reply, Vandiya Devan imitated her earlier action and placed his finger upon his lips saying, “Ushh!” They could now hear some noises outside the garden wall and they could hear the presence of some men. They walked on further. Vandiya Devan laughed lightly when they had gone some distance. The girl looked back and asked, “What did you see, to laugh at?”

“I didn’t see anything — to laugh at. I heard and laughed.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you not hear the footsteps of the men who came in search of me? I laughed thinking of them being fooled.”

She now asked with some fear, “What? Is someone looking for you? Why?”

“When you came last time, did you not have a big moustache?”

“What a question! How can fellows like me who have to come in by jumping over walls not change their disguise?”

“You look younger than the last time!”

“Youth comes with enthusiasm!”

“Why the enthusiasm?”

“Why lack enthusiasm when I have the patronage of a great queen like yours?”

“Don’t jest! Today my mistress is merely the Young-Queen. One day she will surely become The Great Queen!”

“That is what I said.”

“Is that all you can say! Perhaps you will declare that she became the Queen because of your magic and sorcery. Perhaps you will even demand half the kingdom.”

Vandiya Devan now guessed half of what he wanted to find out. He did not talk further but walked on in deep thought.

Whom am I going to meet? It may be the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor. Or, it could be the Princess who married Prince Madurandaka, who is the daughter of the Commander. This maid is leading me on, thinking I am some magician or fortuneteller. How should I behave when I meet that Young-Queen, whoever she is? — Dear heart! Do not give up your courage! Courage will lead to victory. Some idea will occur at the right moment. I have survived all sorts of tricky situations so far .. How can I loose in front of a woman?

They neared a large mansion. But they did not go around to the front porch. Neither did they go towards the back doorway. They walked towards a creeper laden pathway that connected to a flower laden bower — a garden gazebo.

Upon coming closer he saw that the flower arbor was situated in the middle of two mansions and connected to both by covered walkways. The mansions connected by the gazebo differed from each other in one important way. The mansion on the right was shining with brilliant lights that could be seen through its windows. They could hear the noise and activity of several persons inside it. There was not even a tiny lamplight in the building to the left. He could see its tall walls in the moonlight. But silence and darkness dwelt in that mansion.

Upon reaching the steps of the gazebo, the maid made a sign for Vandiya Devan to wait. He stood on the steps. His nostrils now realized the fragrance of the blooming flowers around him. What aroma! What a heady fragrance! They filled his nose and made his head swim.

The maid entered the gazebo; he could hear the noises of her talking to someone else with a pleasant voice. “Ask him to come in instantly! Why ask? Haven’t I been waiting here all this while?” the words filled him with dizziness! It was the voice of the Young-Queen of Pazluvoor. No doubt about it: It was Nandini Devi.

I am going to stand in front of her this next minute … How am I going to manage that situation? What will she think upon finding the man who dashed against her palanquin, instead of the soothsayer she was expecting? Will she be surprised? Show anger? Perhaps be happy? .. Or maybe, appear emotionless?

The fragrance of the flowers, the smell of the incense and the enchanting face of the Young-Queen intoxicated Vandiya Devan.

Vandiya Deva! Be careful! You have drunk intoxicating liquor before. At that time you realized the confusion to your intellect and after that you took an oath to never touch liquor — remember that now! Do not loose your intellect in this mesmerizing power more intoxicating than liquor! warned his mind.

Upon seeing Vallavarayan, the Young-Queen Nandini stared at him with surprise: slightly parted coral lips revealing tiny sparkling pearls. Her speechlessness helped Vandiya Devan.

He laughed lightly and said, “My Lady, your maid had a sudden doubt! Whether I was the magician or not! Do you know how she expressed her doubt? `Are you, you?’ she asked!” Vandiya Devan laughed again.

Nandini smiled. Lightning flashed in front of him. It showered honey and nectar!

“She gets such sudden doubts quite often! Vasuki! Why are you standing here like a pole? Go to your place. If you hear any footsteps bang the door shut,” said Nandini.

“Yes my Lady!” said Vasuki as she ran out of a doorway towards the right of the Gazebo. She went down the covered walkway and sat down on some steps leading down to the lighted mansion.

Nandini lowered her voice as she spoke, “Did that foolish girl doubt you being a magician? Half the fellows who declare themselves as “sorcerers” and “magicians” are utter fools and liars. You are a true magician! What magic and sorcery did you employ to arrive here now?”

“My Lady, I did not employ any magic trickery to come here. I climbed a ladder leaning against a wall to come here,” declared Vandiya Devan.

“That is obvious. I asked about what magic you employed to fool my girl.”

“I smiled at her in the moonlight. That’s all! If she had not been charmed, I was planning to use the signet ring you gave me.”

“Oh! You have it safe — don’t you? You could have come here openly in broad daylight when you have that. Why this intrigue in darkness?”

“My Lady! Do you know your brother-in-law, the Younger Lord Pazluvoor? His men are complete knaves and scoundrels. First, they tried to steal my clothes and possessions. Then they followed my shadow without parting even for one second. It took great effort to part from them. After cutting loose from those fellows I entered the lanes and byways around your palace walls wandering aimlessly. At that time when I saw the ladder leaning against the garden wall I thought of you and your kindness in making this arrangement in consideration of this poor fellow. Now I realize my mistake. Please forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive.”

“How is that My Lady?”

“Your expectations were not very wrong. Do you know why I called for the Sorcerer?”

“What you said just now. Since meeting you yesterday, I too have been thinking about you.”

“Do you believe in the bonds of previous incarnations?”

“Meaning ….?”

“People say that if two persons had been friends or had some relationship in a previous birth, they would have a similar relationship in this birth also. That’s what I am talking about.”

“I had no such belief till recently. That belief was born in me yesterday!”

When Vandiya Devan uttered these words, outwardly he was lying. But, when he said those words his inner heart thought of the lady he had seen in the house of the Astrologer of Kudanthai. However, Nandini had no way of knowing that! She thought he was talking about her!

“But, … you have not come here to see me because of that! You talked about some message sent by Mr.Azlvar-adiyan Nambi …”

“Yes, My Lady. At first I wished to meet you mainly to deliver his message. After seeing you once, all those old reasons flew away.”

“Where did you meet Mr. Azlvar-adiyan? What was his message?”

“I met Mr. Azlvar-adiyan Nambi near Veera-narayana-puram. He was using the powers of his wooden staff to prove that Vishnu was the greatest among Gods. At that time the retinue of the Elder Lord Pazluvoor came by in procession. Your palanquin followed him. Perhaps to see what the commotion was about, your golden hand parted the silk curtains. Recognizing you at that time Mr. Azlvar-adiyan Nambi wished to send a message to you. Since, I too was staying at Kadamboor that night, he made me his messenger. But I could not meet you in Kadamboor. I could only meet you on the road near Tanjore. Even that was possible only because your palanquin dashed against my horse!”

Nandini was staring at the roof as she reclined on the couch, while Vandiya Devan talked. Therefore he could not surmise anything from her face or its expression. In the end, when she heard his words, she looked at him with a dazzling smile.

“Yes, my palanquin is a very mischievous palanquin!” she said.

Chapter 35 - A Sorcerer
Chapter 33 - A Beauty Among The Branches

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