Chapter 42 – Is This Friendship
He then ran towards his friend and saw Kandamaran lying with a knife stuck on his back, half outside the exit and half inside the passage. Kandamaran’s spear had fallen on the floor inside. After picking up the spear, Vandiya Devan stepped outside the passage. Once outside, he pulled his friend’s body out. The doorway closed shut automatically when the obstruction was removed. The wall hid its secret and stood tall and impregnable, shrouded in darkness. There was a swift breeze and the smell of water. Vandiya Devan realized that he must have come outside the fortress. Dense tall trees and the high, curving walls of the fortress hid the moon. Only a dim light was visible.
Vandiya Devan picked up his friend and draped his body over one shoulder. He had Kandamaran’s spear in one hand as he took one step. He felt the ground under his foot break loose and cascade noisily down a slope. Quickly, he steadied himself with great effort and looked around. In the shadow of the wall and trees, he could see flowing water down below. The flow seemed rapid, with swirls and whirlpools.
Oh God! From the frying pan into the fire! Death awaits every step I take! My guardian angel saved me. That wretched scoundrel of a servant! What’s the point in blaming him? — he was merely following his master’s orders. He must have intended to kill my friend as he stepped across the doorway and then throw his body down into the flood water below. If my foot had slipped some more, both of us would have fallen into the ravine. I might have been able to swim and escape, but Kandamaran’s fate would be sealed.
Vandiya Devan knew that the River Vadavaru encircled the fortress of Tanjore on three sides. This must be it. The river itself may not be deep, but here around the fort the current may be fast. Who knows?
He pushed the spear into the water to feel its depth. Even after all its length was immersed in water, he could not feel the floor. What horrible, merciless killers these men are! But there is no time to think about them now. I must escape and also take my friend to someone who can treat his wound.
Vandiya Devan walked along the bank carefully, without slipping into the flood. Kandamaran on his shoulder and a spear in his hand. His friend moaned lightly once or twice. This revived his spirits and gave him hope. After he had walked in this fashion for a while he realized that the fortress walls were moving away from the river bank. Thick groves of trees appeared. The way became thorny and seemed overgrown. It was rather difficult to walk. He then saw that a large tree had been toppled by the rising flood waters washing away the soil around its roots. The big tree-trunk was now in the water almost spanning it like a bridge to the opposite shore. He stepped on it and walked across, wobbling unsteadily.
The tree was being tossed about by the swift water below. Its upper branches were being tormented by the torrent; the wind was swishing noisily all around. When he could find no more footholds on the tree, he once again felt the depth of the water with his spear. Luckily, Lord Muruga saved him! It was not too deep. He stepped into the water steadying himself with the spear and walked across to the shore. His courageous heart tackled the swirling flood and blowing wind. His strength helped him walk with the burden of his wounded friend. By now his whole body was shivering with the cold and fear. Twice, Kandamaran almost slipped off his shoulder. But somehow he climbed up the bank. With all his clothes dripping wet and the heavy, tall body of Kandamaran on his shoulder, he staggered like a ghost and soon sought cover under the grove of trees on the bank.
He stopped under a mango tree and eased his friend slowly on to the ground. He needed to rest and catch his breath. Also, he wanted to make sure that his friend was still alive. What would be the use of carrying a dead body in this dangerous night? He might as well leave it near the river!
No! No! He seems to be alive, for I can feel his breath. I can feel his quick pulse and heaving chest. What should I do? Should I pull out the knife from his back? If I pull it out the blood would gush out and he may die! His wound must be cleaned and bound with medicines. I cannot do that … who can help?
His words fell like whiplashes on Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan.
“Dear me! You think it was me, who struck you with the knife on your back …!” Thinking of something he stopped suddenly.
“You didn’t strike me. Your knife gently caressed my back! You thankless sinner! It was for your sake that I came hurrying through the secret passage at midnight. I wished to meet you before those men of Pazluvoor arrested you. I wanted to prevent them from harming you. I had sworn a promise that I would find you and recruit you into the Guard Corps of the Commander of Tanjore! You have betrayed me, your good friend with good intentions towards you! Is this friendship? How many times have we sworn loyalty to each other? Promised to help each other? You have forgotten all that! I wanted to tell you and warn you about some important changes in Chozla politics that were about to take place soon. Oh dear! Who can I trust in this world anymore?” He groaned and fainted once again.
“Aren’t there men to trust? Why not trust the Lords of Pazluvoor?” mumbled Vandiya Devan. But his eyes brimmed with tears. He decided that it was best that he had not revealed the real culprit to his friend. He lifted his friend’s body once again on his shoulders and began walking.
Very soon he could smell the fragrance of the night blooming flowers. He soon found Sendan Amudan’s gardens. Oh! What a sight they were! What a difference between their appearance yesterday and tonight! The garden now resembled the garden Ashokavana destroyed by Hanuman or like the gardens of Madhuvana torn apart by the horde of monkeys.
Oh! Pazluvoor soldiers have come here in search of me. They have committed these atrocities and destroyed this garden! Oh dear, how much effort Sendan and his mother must have put in to establish this garden? And all that is destroyed?
Immediately he remembered the danger surrounding him and forgot the sympathy he felt for the ruined garden. What if those soldiers and spies are still waiting for me here? I may have to confront them … but, there, my horse is still tied to the tree in front of the house! Perhaps they have left it there to lure me here to arrest me … Anyway what can I do now? I can leave this friend of mine with the folks in the house and escape on my horse. Maybe I can somehow reach Pazlayarai.
He walked as silently as possible and reached the front door of the house. He tapped on the shoulder of Sendan Amudan who was sleeping on the porch. Amudan sat up startled; Vandiya Devan covered his mouth with his palm and spoke in a soft voice, “Thambi! You must help me. I am caught in a big scrape. This man is my dear friend, Kandamaran, a son of Kadamboor Sambuvaraya. I found him on the way, someone had stabbed him on the back. I carried him here.”
“Oh what scoundrels! They have stabbed him on his back! What courageous warriors they must have been!” said Amudan.
He then said, “I can look after him to the best of my ability. Since this evening, several groups of soldiers have come in search of you. They have totally destroyed my garden! But that’s all right if you are safe. Luckily they did not confiscate your horse. You must ride away immediately.”
“That is my intention. But we must somehow save this fellow’s life.”
“Don’t worry about that. My mother is skilled in such matters. She can doctor him.” Sendan then rose to open the front door and step into the house. He woke up his mother. They carried Kandamaran to the inner room in the house. Amudan’s mother had brought a lamp. He talked to her making signs with his hands. She seemed to have understood him clearly. She examined Kandamaran and the knife which was still stuck on his back. She went into the kitchen and came back with a bunch of herbs and some clean rags. She then signed to her son.
“I trust in God and I like you. Why do you ask?”
“I need your help. I am not familiar with the roads in these parts. I need to reach Pazlayarai as quickly as possible. I am carrying messages to Kundavai Pirati. Can you come with me as a guide?”
Sendan Amudan immediately stood up and made some signs to his mother. She did not seem too surprised and signed back saying that he could go. She also promised to look after the wounded man. Sendan Amudan and Vandiya Devan walked out of the back door and circled back to the horse. They climbed on its back. Vandiya Devan held the reins and guided the horse to walk silently out of the garden. Once they were out, it galloped quickly down the road.
By now five or six soldiers had come up the front porch of the house. They were banging loudly on the door. Amudan’s mother opened the door and stood in the doorway.
“There was some noise here. What was it about?” shouted one man.
Amudan’s mother tried to say something. It came out as garbled un-understandable sounds.
“What is the use of talking to this dumb woman? Let us go in and look.”
“But she is blocking the entrance!”
“Where is that flower seller?”
“Push her aside and go in.”
Amudan’s mother was now loudly saying something in her garbled sounds. She had pushed away the man who was trying to go past her and was trying to bolt the door. All the men converged upon her and pushed upon the door; she quickly let go and two of the men toppled into the doorway. The others stepped across pushing her aside. She began moaning and screaming even louder.
“The man is here!” shouted one of the soldiers.
“Is he found?” asked the other.
“He might try to run, hold him and bind him,” ordered another.
The dumb woman was crying and moaning and trying to kick at the men holding her back.
“The whole place seems a bloody mess!” said the leader.
“Bae bae” said the woman.
“Hey! This fellow seems to be somebody else!”
“Did this man come here yesterday?”
“Bae bbae bae.”
“It is the same fellow.”
“No, no. This is not the man.”
“Bae bbae ba.”
“Whatever you say. This fellow is another stranger. Lift him up. Let’s take him.”
“Bae bbae baaa.” She tried to prevent them.
“Wretched fiend! Keep quiet.”
Four men lifted up Kandamaran. Amudan’s mother was now wailing even more loudly.
“Hey what’s that? A horse galloping?”
“Two of you can carry him. You others run out and see.”
“Throw this fellow down. He won’t go anywhere. Let’s all run and see.”
They dropped Kandamaran down roughly and ran out. The woman’s incessant wails followed them.