Chapter 57 – Enchantress
Parthiban had been listening to the story of Karikala without much sympathy in the beginning; now, even he felt moved. He wiped away the teardrops brimming in his eyes.
“My Prince! I never dreamed that such sorrow could result because of the love for a woman. None of us knew that you had such an experience on the day of your coronation. Of course, we were all puzzled by your apathy. We teased and joked and tried to revive your spirits. I remember all that now!”
“Yes, you teased, joked and tried to revive my interest in things. You talked about the great things I was going to achieve during my rule. You and our friends had conquered all the lands from Lanka to the Himalaya’s for my empire that day itself! In fact you captured empires across oceans! I remember all those boasts; I remember how painful all that teasing was.
“After that, one day, Nandini summoned me to her mansion, the Pazluvoor Palace. There was a struggle in my mind — to go or not to go? Finally, I decided to go; I wished to question her and clear up several doubts about various incidents. I wanted to know the secret about her birth. I even suspected if there was any connection between my father’s fainting spell and his seeing Nandini accidentally in the palace that day. You may perhaps recall that though the Emperor recovered quickly on that day, he never regained his health after that. I thought that some unsolved mystery would be cleared by talking to Nandini. I made up all these reasons as my excuses — I really went to her because of that magnetic grip she had over me. I was merely fooling myself by other justifications. Lord Pazluvoor was not in town; there was no one to stop me in his palace. In fact none in Tanjore knew of my old liaison with Nandini. They thought that the newly crowned Prince was coming to their palace to seek the blessings of the elder women of Pazluvoor. I met Nandini in a flower laden gazebo in her garden. …
“Parthiban! We have heard the tales of sailors who have gone across distant seas. They talk about swift, powerful ocean currents in uncharted waters; how ships caught in such currents would be smashed to smithereens. When I stood in front of Nandini that day, I was like one of those sailing ships caught in an unfamiliar ocean current. My body, heart and soul were all shattered into a thousand formless pieces. Even I was amazed by the words I spoke. One corner of my brain wondered, `Oh dear! How can I talk like this?’ but my tongue mouthed unmentionable nonsense at the same time. Nandini expressed happiness about my becoming the Crown Prince. `I have no happiness in that,’ said I. `Why?’ she asked. `What question is this? How can I feel happy, when you have betrayed me like this?’ I questioned. She pretended to not understand me. We continued conversing in that fashion for some time.
“I accused her of forsaking my love and of taking Veera-pandiya for a lover. I spoke sarcastically about her marriage to an old man. `Prince! First, you killed the love I had for you; then you killed the man who loved me in front of my own eyes; perhaps you won’t rest content till you have killed me also. You don’t even like me being alive; that is fine! Please kill me also now, and satisfy your desire!’ saying this she pulled out a sharp knife hidden in her waistband and extended it to me. `Why should I wish to kill you? You are the one torturing me to death!’ I told her.
“In the end I spoke words about which I am now ashamed to even think. `Nothing is lost even now. Say just one word! Promise to leave this old man and come away with me! I will give up my kingdom and come away with you. Let us both sail away to distant lands across the oceans.’ I told her. Nandini laughed horribly on hearing my words. Even now my hairs stand on end if I think of that laughter. `What are we to do by going away to distant lands across the seas? Shall we chop wood for a living? Or shall we raise a plantain orchard?’ she asked with sarcasm. `Yes you will not like such things. After living in a priest’s house you have become the Queen of Pazluvoor now, haven’t you?’ I said.
“She continued, `I don’t intend to be satisfied with this. I intend to sit upon the throne of this Chozla Empire as an Empress. Tell me if you like the idea. Tell me if you will do this: Kill both these Lords of Pazluvoor, throw the Emperor in prison, become the Emperor and make me your consort!’ she demanded. `Oh! What horrible words you speak!’ I retorted. `Was it not a horrible deed to kill my beloved Pandiya who was wounded, right in front of my eyes, on his sickbed?’ asked Nandini. This infuriated me further. I babbled some enraged words at her and rose to leave. She did not let me go easily, `Prince! If you ever change your mind, come back to me. When your heart is ready to make me your Empress come back to me!’ she taunted. I left her that day and have never seen her again,” finished Aditya Karikala.
Parthiban, who heard all this was horrified and shocked. “My Prince, can there be a monster, a ghoul like this on the earth? It is good that you never met her again!”
“It is true that I did not go and see her again. But, she has not let go of her hold over me! She circles around me, day and night, torturing me. She occupies my thoughts throughout the day; fills up my dreams in the night. Sometimes she comes to me with an enchanting smile, hugging me, kissing me; at other times she comes with a sharpened knife, ready to kill me. Sometimes she comes with eyes brimming with tears, sobbing her heart out; at other times her hair is disheveled, long nails have scratched her soft cheeks, she is screaming in horror and fear. She comes laughing at me, like a maddened fiend; like a saint with a calm face, soothing my sorrows. Oh dear God! How can I explain how that wretch torments me! Do you remember what Grandfather said this evening? He gave all sorts of reasons about why I should not go to Tanjore. The real reason for my not going to Tanjore and my trying to bring my father here to Kanchi is Nandini.”
“Prince! Are you avoiding Tanjore just because you are afraid of a mere woman? What can she do? Are you afraid that she will treacherously poison you and kill you?” asked the Pallava nobleman.
“No, Parthiba, no! You have not understood me even now! I am not afraid that she will kill me. I am afraid that she will make me follow her wishes. `Throw your father in prison! Chase your sister out of this country! Kill this old man and place me on your throne!’ If that sorceress says these things once more, if that enchantress orders me once more, I am afraid that I would feel like doing all those things. My Friend! Either Nandini should die or I should die. Or, both of us should die. Otherwise there is no mental peace for me in this birth.”
“What kind of speech is this? Why should you die? Permit me, I will go to Lanka later. I shall first go to Tanjore and kill her; doesn’t matter if I commit the sin of killing a woman ….”
“If you ever dare to do anything like that, you will become my first enemy. If Nandini has to be killed, I shall kill her with these own hands of mine. After that I will kill my own self! I cannot tolerate anyone else harming even the tiny nail of her little finger. Parthiba! You forget Nandini; forget everything I said about her. As Grandfather advised, you leave for Lanka tomorrow itself. Somehow, convince Arulmozli and bring him here. He can stay here in Kanchi; grandfather and grandson can consult with each other and do what they want. We can both go away to Lanka. We can sail away in ships, with large armies to the island kingdoms in the southeast. We can go to Java, Srivijaya, Sumatra, Burma and Malaya. We can install our victorious tiger-flag in all those countries. After that we can turn westward: to Egypt and Persia; to the Arab worlds and Yavana Kingdoms. We can spread the fame of Tamils in all those worlds and raise our tiger-flag in all their cities. My Friend, did you know that in all those countries, they are not bound by restrictions of karppu (sanctity of married women)? Kings in those lands can want any woman under their rule and take her to their beds…”
Before a shocked Parthiban could to reply to this, Lord Milad-udayar Malayaman came up to them.
“There is no story more wonderful than the story of Aravaan! There is no hero like him in any of these countries you were talking about just now. Why are you both up this late? Parthiban, don’t you know that you have to set sail early tomorrow?” asked old Grandfather.
“That is what we have been talking about, without sleeping,” replied Pallava Parthiban.