Chapter 6 – Midnight Meeting
After the gypsy dance and the oracle dance, there was a lavish feast for the guests. Vallavarayan Vandiya Devan could not enjoy the banquet. His body was tired and his mind was agitated. His friend Kandamaran, seated next to him, pointed out the several dignitaries with pride.
Besides Lord Pazluvoor and Lord Sambuvaraya, there was Thennavan Mazlava-raya Lord of Mazlapadi Mazluvoor; The Elder and largest land-holder of Kunratoor had come; then there was triple-crowned Pallava-raya. The Lords Thanthongi Kalinga-raya, Vanangamudi Munai-raya, Deva-senapati Poova-raya; that fearless lion, Lord Muthu-raya, double-canopied Raajali, and the chief land-holder of Kolli Hills — all these men were there at the banquet. Kandamaran whispered their names into Vandiya Devan’s ears and pointed them out discretely.
These dignitaries were not ordinary men; nor was it common to see them all assembled together in one place like this. Each of them was a territorial chieftain; or they had earned the distinction of territorial chieftains because of their bravery. In those days, the title araya or raya which was derived from the sanskrit word raja or Tamil word arasa (meaning king) denoted nobility or royalty. Territorial chieftains and noblemen of equal rank were entitled to add the suffix rayan or arayan to their names. They were also called by the name of their town with the added title. (In fact our hero Vandiya Devan bore the name Vallava-rayan because he was born in the noble family of Vallam.)
But, these chieftains did not bear their titles merely because of their noble birth and thereby enjoy the comforts and indulgence of palace life. Only those men who were able-bodied and brave enough to enter the battle-field could safeguard their titles and territories. Therefore, each of these men had not only participated in several campaigns but they also bore the wounds of such warfare on their bodies. Now, all these men governed their territories or kingdoms under the suzerainty of Emperor Sundara Chozla of Pazlayarai. Many of them were important officials of the Chozla government.
Normally, Vandiya Devan would have felt immense elation at having seen all these noblemen in the same place. However, he felt no joy about it. Why have all these men gathered together here? The question occurred to him again and again. All sorts of garbled doubts filled his mind.
With his mind filled with such confusion, he sought his bed in the isolated spot readied by Kandamaran for him. Because the palace was hosting several important dignitaries, a tiny, covered terrace was allotted to him as a bed-chamber.
“You seem to be very tired. Lie down and sleep well. I will take care of the other guests and later come to sleep in this terrace itself,” said Kandamaran before going away.
As soon as he lay down, sleep swirled into Vandiya Devan’s eyes. Nitra Devi, the Goddess of Sleep took hold of him completely. But what use? There is Mind which cannot be conquered even by the Goddess of Sleep! Even though his body remained still and his eyes stayed tightly shut, thoughts buried deep in the mind blossomed into dreams. Several meaningless incidents, happenings beyond reason took place in that dream world.
Somewhere in the distance a lone wolf howled. One wolf became ten wolves; hundred wolves; they all howled together. While howling they came nearer and nearer and nearer. In that pitch darkness their eyes burned like tiny embers. They came closer and closer. Vandiya Devan tried to turn around and run away to escape. But, on the other side there were tens, hundreds, no thousands of dogs — barking loudly, rushing towards him. The eyes of those hunting dogs glowed like embers. What will happen to me if I am caught in between these mad dogs and wolves? thought Vandiya Devan and shivered.
Luckily there was a temple right in front. He ran into the temple and pulled the door shut, bolting it hurriedly. When he looked around it seemed to be a temple of the Mother Goddess. A statue of Kali stood there with a horrible face and tongue hanging out. A priest rose from behind the statue. He held a terrible machete in his hands. “Oh! You have come,” he said as he came closer and closer.
“What is the history of your noble family? For how many generations have your clansmen ruled their kingdom? Tell the truth!” said the priest.
“The Vallava Rayas of the Vaanar family had ruled for three hundred years. During my father’s times we lost all our lands to the Vaithumba kings,” replied Vandiya Devan. “Then you are not the right sacrifice. Run away,” said the priest with disgust.
Suddenly Kali turned into a statue of Krishna! Two delightful maidens came in, singing the psalms of Saint Andal and danced with abandon in front of the statue. While he was enchanted with these sights, he heard the song “We saw, we saw, we saw things pleasing to the eye,” behind him. Turning around he saw Azlvar-adiyan Nambi. Yes it was him singing. Oh no. Not him; it was just his head that sang. The severed head was placed on the sacrificial alter!
Unable to bear this sight, Vandiya Devan turned away. Upon turning, he banged his head upon the pillar. The dream melted away. Eyes opened. But he saw a sight that seemed to mix reality with dreams.
In a spot directly in front of his terrace, he could see the fortress walls of Kadamboor palace; he could see a head on top of these walls. It was the head of that very same Azlvar-adiyan Nambi. This time he realized that it was neither a dream nor a hallucination. Because, however long he stared at it, the head remained there. It was not merely a head, there was a body behind it. He could easily detect both hands of Azlvar-adiyan holding on to the wall. In addition, the fellow was staring rather intensely at something below, inside the wall.
What is he looking at so earnestly, inside there? … There is some kind of deception and intrigue in this. Azlvar-adiyan could not have come here with good intentions. He must have come here with vile plans to perform some evil deed. Is it not my duty, being Kandamaran’s dearest friend, to stop this wickedness? How can I sleep in idleness without guarding the house of these folks who have fed and housed me tonight? Vallavarayan jumped up. He picked up a knife in its sheath lying on his side and stuck it in his waist-band. He walked towards the direction in which he saw Nambi’s head.
Remember, he was sleeping in a corner of the upper terrace? From there as he walked towards the outer walls of the palace, he had to go around several turrets, pillars and decorative rooftops. After walking on for a while he suddenly heard the sound of voices talking somewhere nearby. He hesitated. Hiding himself behind a pillar he peeped down below.
In a narrow courtyard enclosed by tall walls he saw about ten or twelve men seated comfortably. The towering walls hid the rising moonlight. However, an iron oil-lamp buried in the wall gave some light. All the men seated there were the dignitaries he had met at the banquet earlier; the chieftains and elder officials of the Chozla Empire.
They must have gathered in this midnight conference to discuss some important matter. Azlvar-adiyan must be trying to spy upon what they were saying and doing, by hanging on the outer walls. There is no doubt about the fact that Azlvar-adiyan is a very shrewd and clever fellow. From where he was positioned on the wall, Azlvar-adiyan could more or less see all the men seated in conference below. He could hear their talk very well. But the men seated there could not see Azlvar-adiyan. The courtyard and palace wall were situated in that fashion! Somehow, the fellow had chanced upon such a perfect spot.
Capable fellow. No doubt! But all his cleverness will not work with this Vandiya Devan of the Vaanar clan. Somehow, I must get hold of that masquerading Vaishnava fanatic …. but if I am to catch him, I cannot do so without attracting the attention of the men assembled below. I have
to cross the courtyard before I can reach those walls. There may be some danger in crossing the courtyard in full view of those men.
He recalled the words of Sambuvaraya saying “He need not have come here, today of all days.”
These men are gathered here to discuss something important. It is clear that they do not want anyone to know what their discussions are about. In such a situation if they suddenly see me, they will start suspecting me. By the time I explain about Azlvar-adiyan he would have jumped off the wall and escaped. All that will remain is the doubt about me. If they ask, “Why did you, who were supposed to be sleeping, come here?” what can I reply? I will definitely put Kandamaran in a delicate position. There! Even Kandamaran is part of this meeting; he is seated at the back. If I ask him in the morning I can know all.
As these thoughts ran through his mind, Vandiya Devan saw a covered palanquin resting in one corner of the courtyard below him. Is this not the same palanquin that came behind Lord Pazluvoor and his elephant? That lady who was in it, who parted the curtains to peep outside, I wonder where she is now. I believe the old man did not even send her to the women’s apartments. This is the predicament if somewhat older men marry very young girls. Suspicion drains their very life. They cannot bear to be parted from their young wives even for one moment! Perhaps even now, Pazluvoor’s Young-Queen is in this palanquin! Gosh! Look at the fate of this great warrior! At this age, he is enslaved by a slip of a girl and is on tender-hooks. She is not all that great a Rathi, Menaka or Ramba (heavenly beauties).
No, Vandiya Devan had not forgotten the feeling of distaste which he experienced when he had seen her by the roadside. I wonder what this brave Lord Pazluvoor sees in her? More surprising is this Azlvar-adiyan’s madness. Maybe he is waiting on that wall because this palanquin is here. What is the relationship between him and her? How can I know? Perhaps she is his sister; or maybe his sweetheart. Maybe Lord Pazluvoor forcefully abducted her. He is capable of doing such things. Maybe this fellow is wandering around trying to find an opportunity to meet her and talk to her. Why should I bother about all this. Let me go back to sleep, thought Vandiya Devan.
Just as he made this decision he heard his name being uttered down below. Immediately he began to listen with some interest.
“That fellow who came in saying that he was a friend of your son? Where is he sleeping? He should not hear anything that we utter here. Remember that he serves the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Armies. Till all our plans are complete and the time for action arrives, no one should know about our plans. Even if there is the slightest suspicion that this fellow knows something, he must not be
let outside this fortress. In fact it would be better to put a complete end to his activities …”
Our readers can guess how Vandiya Devan felt upon hearing these words. But he did not move away from the spot. He made up his mind to listen to all their talk.
Who was the Northern Commander-in-Chief? It was none other than the eldest son of Emperor Sundara Chozla. None other than the Crown Prince, next in line for the throne. Why should these fellows object to my serving that Prince? What is it that they are planning that must be kept secret from the Prince?’
At that moment Kandamaran intervened for his friend: “Vandiya Devan is sleeping peacefully in the corner terrace. He cannot hear the discussions in this meeting. He will not interfere in things that do not concern him. Even if he hears something he will not hinder your plans in any way. I will be responsible for that.”
“I am happy that you trust him so much. But none of us know of him or his credentials. That is why I warned you. What we are going to discuss now is about the rights of succession to a large empire. Even if one whisper gets out because of carelessness it may lead to severe consequences. All of you must remember this,” said Lord Pazluvoor.