Chapter 1 - Aadi Festival

Chapter 36 – Do You Remember?

Realizing that there would be no way of stopping him, Nandini sighed and turned her face away.

“Hey Queen! Listen, three years ago, one midnight, a corpse was burning in the cremation grounds beside the Vaigai River. No final rites according to the sacred texts were offered and no priest officiated. They had built the pyre with dried leaves and deadwood from the forest. They threw a body hidden behind trees onto that pyre. Then they set fire to it. The dry wood of the forest caught fire easily and burned bright. At that time some men dragged you out of hiding in the forest. Your hands and feet were bound and your mouth was stuffed with cloth. Your lovely tresses, which you have beautifully dressed with flowers today, those tresses were unkempt, sweeping the dust, that midnight. Those men intended to throw you in that burning pyre and roast you alive. One of them said, `Let the fire burn a little more furiously.’ They threw you on the ground as they sat a little apart. Each of those men, individually, took a terrible oath. You were listening. Though your limbs and mouth were bound, your eyes and ears were free. So, you watched and listened. After they had all sworn their oaths, the men approached you again. You, who were quiet till then, tried to make some signs — trying to free your hands from the rope, rolling your ravishing eyes. One of the men noticed, `She seems to wish to say something,’ he said. `Must be the old story, throw her into the fire,’ said another. `Wait, before we throw her into the fire, let us at least hear what she wants; remove the cloth from her mouth,’ spoke a third fellow. Because he was their leader, the other men removed the cloth stuffed into your

convinced. I trusted you, and prevented them from throwing you into that burning pyre. I saved your life. Do you remember all that?” asked Ravidasa.

Nandini turned towards him slightly, “Are you asking me, if I remember? Those incidents have been burned with fire upon my heart.”

“After that night, one day we were all walking along the banks of the wide, South Cauvery. Suddenly we heard the pounding noise of a cavalry coming down the path. We decided to hide in the forest, each on their own, till those horse-men had gone past. But you broke the pact, forsook us and stood on the road side. Those men caught hold of you. Their leader, that fellow of Pazluvoor, fell victim to your charms: Later, you married him. All my men taunted me, saying that you had betrayed us. But I did not let you escape. Somehow, one day I managed to meet you. I intended to kill you, a betrayer, with my knife. Again you employed your wiles and begged for life. You maintained that you came here, merely to fulfil our oath. You promised to remain in this palace and arrange for all sorts of help for me and my men. Is all this true?” Ravidasa finally stopped.

“Yes, everything is true. Who refuted it? Why do you keep repeating that story? Why did you come here now? Tell me that.”

“No, wretched woman! No. You have forgotten everything. You have become engrossed in these comforts and luxuries of being the Queen of Pazluvoor and forgotten your oath. Eating six course meals, enjoying silken garments and new ornaments, reclining on silken couches and sleeping on soft beds, travelling in ivory palanquins — you are a queen now! How will you remember those old happenings?”

“Rubbish! Who wants these soft couches, rich clothes and jewels? You think I live for such luxuries? Never!”

“Or, you have been charmed by the handsome face of the wayside youth! Perhaps you have forgotten the old oaths in the light of this new love?”

Nandini was slightly startled. But she overcame her feelings to shout, “Lies! Lies!”

“If it is false, how come that even though I had sent you word that I was coming, you had not sent your servant girl to the usual place?”

“I did send her. Some other fellow came up the ladder meant for you. That stupid girl thought that he was you and brought him here. Is that my mistake?”

“How does it matter whose mistake it was? For a few minutes my very life was in danger! The soldiers searching for that youth would have imprisoned me. I hid myself in the pond near this garden — immersing myself by holding my breath — till those men left and then emerged from the water to come here. See I am dripping wet!”

“You deserve it. You suspected me! You atoned for your thoughts by immersing yourself in the pool.”

“Woman! swear the truth — are you sure that you haven’t been seduced by that youth’s beauty?”

“Absurd! What do you mean? Will anybody praise the `beauty’ of men? It is only in this shameless Chozla country that the people celebrate their Emperor’s `beauty’. The beauty of men lies in their valor, the battle scars on their body!”

“You say it well. If you speak the truth, then why did the young stranger come here?”

“You wretched female! In the end you showed your tendency? You disclosed our secret to some unknown stranger…”

“You get perturbed unnecessarily. I didn’t tell him anything. I discovered his secrets.”

“What did you discover?”

“He is a messenger taking letters from Kanchi to Pazlayarai. He his carrying the letter for the tigress at Pazlayarai, he showed it to me. I was trying to convince him to bring the letter given in reply back here to me. You came in at that time.”

“Damn the letter; damn the message; what is the use of all that to us?”

“That shows the limit of your understanding. We have sworn an oath to destroy the tiger clan and its very roots. But you men have been thinking only of the male tigers, you forget that clans will also thrive because of female tigers. Moreover, who do you think really rules this Chozla Empire? Is it the old man lying on his sickbed without any strength or use of limbs? Are they the Princes in Kanchi and Lanka? …”

“No; it is that Lord Pazluvoor who is fortunate to have you as his queen. The world knows it.”

“Even that is inaccurate. The world may think so; this old man may also think it and feel self-satisfied. You too have been mislead. In reality, that female tiger-cub at Pazlayarai is ruling this nation. That arrogant female sits in her palace and pulls the strings to make everyone dance. I shall put an end to her exploits. I shall use this youth for that purpose.”

Surprise and even respect now replaced the rage on Ravidasa’s face. “You are a truly capable female! No doubt. But how am I to believe all this as truth? What is the proof?”

“I shall deliver that youth to your responsibility. You lead him through the underground passage and take him outside. Bind his eyes and then lead him. Go with him till Pazlayarai and wait. Bring him back here with Kundavai’s reply. If he tries to escape or hoodwink you, kill him!” said Nandini.

“No way! You and he can go to hell. The Commander’s men are now searching for him inside the fort. Very soon they will begin to look for him outside the fort. If I go with him, I too will be in jeopardy. What do you say about the matter on which I have come?”

“You have not yet told me why you have come.”

“Arrangements have already been made to send men to Kanchi and Lanka. The plight of those going to Lanka is very difficult, they have to be very cautious over there. …”

“What am I to do about that? Do you need more funds? There is no end to your demands for money!”

“The gold is not for our personal use, it is for completing the task we have undertaken. Why do you think I have left you alive, here? Those going to Lanka cannot use Chozla coins. It would be good to have some Lankan funds.”

“You took all this time to say that! I have made arrangements even before you asked.”

Nandini then bent down to look below her couch. She pulled out a bag and placed it in Ravidasa’s hands. “This is full of Lankan gold coins. Take it and leave quickly. He may return any time now.”

Chapter 37 - Lions Clashed!
Chapter 35 - A Sorcerer

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