Chapter 1 - Aadi Festival

Chapter 40 – Dark Mansion

Let us now consider Vandiya Devan who had disappeared. Remember he went towards the dark mansion to hide from the Sorcerer? At first, he tried to listen to the conversation between Nandini and the Sorcerer. But he could hear nothing clearly. In fact he was not particularly eager to listen to their talk. He realized that while talking with Nandini he had lost control of his faculties and he was now in a state of semi-intoxication.

the wall? … Is there no other way? Dear me! What happened to the good fortune that was helping me all these days? Let me think. Let me use my brain and think! Let me also use my eyes and look all around here. Why is this mansion lost in darkness? What is there inside? If I enter this dark building where will it lead me? Maybe I should explore in here. If not now, it will come in useful some day. Who knows? But how is one to enter this mysterious building? What a huge door! My Lord! Such a strong lock on it! Well … What is this? … a wicket gate embedded on the huge door! Ah! My good fortune has not abandoned me, this tiny door seems to open easily if I push it in.

Vandiya Devan entered the mansion by pushing open the tiny doorway hidden cunningly in the larger door. As soon as he was inside, the first thought that occurred to him was that Nandini should not find out that he had gone that way. So, he gently pulled the door shut. It latched close with a click and drowned him in total darkness. The darkness seemed to g row deeper because even the glimmer of light from the garden was now gone. In that one second as he stepped inside, his eyes had glimpsed several huge pillars. Not even those pillars were now visible. Pitch black, unimaginable darkness!

Idiotic! I stepped in from comparative light, that is why my eyes can see nothing. After a while, I shall be able to decipher shapes as my eyes get adjusted to this darkness. Why should I fear this darkness? Let me walk ahead instead of standing here like a pole. I can grope with my hands and walk forward. Where could the pillar I just saw disappear?

He groped with his hands like a blind man and took a few steps. His hands found a pillar. It was a huge, granite pillar. His hands felt along its circumference and he went around it. Few more steps … another pillar. Still, he could see nothing.

What is this? Have I suddenly become blind? How foolish! How can I suddenly become blind. Why is this … my hands are not finding any more pillars … Ah! Am I stepping into some pit? Oh! here is a step … Luckily he steadied himself and started down the steps feeling with his foot before placing it down. How long was he to grope in the darkness like that! An unexplainable terror took hold of him. He could not go any further.

Let me go back. Let me go back to the gazebo through the wicket gate. It is better to face Nandini and somehow overcome here wiles than face this utter darkness. I can promise whatever she wants for now and manage later.

He turned around and tried to climb back, up the steps. Once he was back on the level floor he was not sure of the directions. His groping hands found no pillar or post. In fact they found nothing for a while. After he had taken several steps his hands found a wall, but he was totally lost. O Lord! Am I to wander in this mansion all through the night till I become deranged? What a predicament! …. Hey, what’s that noise? Are they bats beating their wings? No, this is not that kind of a noise … sounds like footsteps. Somebody is walking. Are they human beings or …?

His throat felt parched and his tongue stuck to his mouth. Somebody was brushing against his face! He used all his strength and with a bunched fist he struck out. “Awwwh.” He felt as if his hand was pulled apart. In the darkness he had struck a granite pillar! He would have laughed loudly if he had not been in such great pain. But, the pain made him forget his fear. He could now hear the footsteps growing louder, coming closer. Sometimes they seemed to be moving away from him. Sometimes they came closer. He waited and listened carefully. His eyes stared in to the direction from which the footsteps came.

Ah! Some light! It’s slowly becoming brighter and also coming closer. Smoke along with light! Is someone coming with a lighted torch? Maybe Nandini is coming in search of me. Then it is good. But, if it is somebody else? Anyway let me hide and watch.

In the light of that distant torch he could make out that he was in a huge vestibule like chamber full of huge pillars. All the pillars were carved with frightening gargoyles and demons. Towards one end, he could see a flight of steps rising out of the floor and curve around as it rose to reach an upper storey. The light was coming from the stairwell.

It cannot be Nandini coming from down below. Is this the entrance to those infamous dungeons of Tanjore? Is

Pazluvoor dressed up like a man. But the impression was dispelled within a second for he recognized him to be Prince Madurandaka whom he had seen in the half light of the courtyard in Kadamboor. Vandiya Devan had never seen the third man who was holding up the torch. He seemed to be some kind of a guard or palace servant.

Vandiya Devan’s brain functioned rather efficiently and he was soon able to deduce why they were coming up the steps from the underground passage.

The Young-Queen of Pazluvoor had come back in the palanquin yesterday itself. The Elder Lord Pazluvoor had come back openly by the main gates some hours ago. But no one must know that this Prince had left the fort or that he had come back! Therefore they were making use of this secret passage. Ah! This is the mystery of this dark mansion! Kandamaran must have met Lord Pazluvoor somewhere along the road after he parted from me at Kollidam. Lord Pazluvoor has employed him on this secret mission sending him as an escort for Prince Madurandaka. Oh yes! I now remember Kandamaran saying, `I too have some affairs in Tanjore. I might come there.’ What will he say if I suddenly appear before him now?

Vandiya Devan abandoned the idea as soon as it occurred. Kandamaran might even kill him in view of his secret activities. Or I might have to kill my dear friend if a skirmish results in view of these circumstances. Why cause unnecessary problems?

By now the three men had ascended the steps and gone up. The light was growing dimmer and dimmer every minute. Vandiya Devan wondered if he should follow them and abandoned that idea also.

I am sure they are going to the palace of the Younger Lord Pazluvoor. What’s the point in going back there? I have escaped from the lion’s den and why should I go back to its lair? There is no point in going back to the gazebo and finding Nandini. Lord Pazluvoor must surely be back there now. In fact it may be dangerous to go back … What can I do? Why shouldn’t I go down these steps and see where they lead?

With these thoughts our heroic youth began walking down the steps.

Chapter 41 - The Vault
Chapter 39 -The World Swirled

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