Full moon after full moon came and went unnoticed and Mangamma was in a spell. The spell of love that Chokkanatha showered on her in abundance. By the time she could remember that she was to be crowned the Queen, it was too late. Chokkanatha had dutifully tried to forget the Thanjavur Princess after Vijayaraghava Naik refused to give her hand. He felt he was in love with Annam, God help him, he truly was. But there was something amiss in their courtship and he couldn't put his finger on it. How much ever he was near Annam, he felt she was somewhere in a land far away from him, wrapped in her own dreams. What baffled him was her indifference even when he had promised her the Crown of Queen. She seemed to have forgotten the promise totally and that irked Chokkanatha. He decided to wait.
That was when his General Muthu Naik brought him a handwritten note and a portrait from Thanjavur. As Chokkanatha read the note, his expression changed from clear boredom to ecstasy. And he almost swooned seeing the portrait...the portrait of Malarkodi. All his life, Chokkanatha had never seen such a beauty and the handwritten note- it was a note from Malarkodi. Muthu Naik said he himself met the Princess and the note was written by her- her love note to Chokkanatha and the portrait was a self portrait drawn by her. Chokkanatha stood stunned looking at the picture- perfect beauty and lost his heart a second time!
He tried to gather more information from Muthu Naik about the Princess and was happy he had asked. Muthu Naik waxed eloquent about her sword fighting abilities, her dancing skills and her musical expertise. Chokkanatha fell head over heels in love with Malarkodi. He was now sure that Malarkodi would be the Queen of Madurai, Vijayaraghava Naik would pay the price for refusing her hand to him.
He remained in his Chamber that night, peering at the portrait of Malarkodi and dreaming about the beautiful and intelligent Princess. Annam awaited the King in her chamber with bated breath, she had to convey a confidential message. He did not turn up. She waited the next day, there was no sign of him. She tried to convince herself that he was busy with the Tiruchirapuram onslaught of Mughals and Nawabs, but was worried when he refused to meet her, when she sent word through Alarmelamma. It was almost midnight and Annam could not just sleep. She was feeling awful these days, tired and sick all the time. Unable to bear Chokkanatha's indifference, she walked slowly to his chamber, mesmerised by the full moon and its various shades of gray, black and white.
The moment she entered his chamber, her eyes rested on the painting atop the easel, the most beautiful woman drawn with inept perfection. And she saw Chokkanatha lovingly tracing his fingers along the lithe and slender body of the maiden in the painting. The whole world spun around her and she fell unconscious as a heap on the floor. Chokkanatha turned with a start and paled when he saw her limp form on the floor. Alarmelamma came running in, Royal doctor was summoned in the middle of the night and when he announced Annam was bearing the fruit of Madurai's Throne, Chokkanatha stood in stoic silence.
As Annam slowly regained consciousness, she became aware that she had lost both the men in her life- Achaiya and now Chokkanatha. His brooding look and hardened features spoke of his betrayal and Annam mustered all her strength and staggered out of his room without a word. She wallowed in self pity, but was happy for the life inside her. She spent her time reading, visiting temples and listening to music. She carefully avoided Chokkanatha, though she intently listened to all information Alarmelamma could give of his movements. And when Chokkanatha proclaimed war on Thanjavur and assembled his army, Annam decided to confront the King directly.
And she regretted that she did meet him. Chokkanatha made it clear that he indeed was going for Malarkodi, he wanted her in Madurai at the earliest. Annam could continue living in Madurai Palace or if she needed seclusion, she would be granted stay at a rest house in Tiruchirapuram. Annam was devastated, but after careful thinking and planning, she decided to wait for the outcome of war. Dalavoy ( General) Veerappa Naik was summoned to her chamber, who promised to send intricate details of the war to her. With a heavy heart, she watched Chokkanatha leave the Palace garbed in his armor.
Two months later...
Mangamma was now in her second trimester, her movements were restricted to her chamber itself. Shamed by the actions of her husband, the King, she refused to step out. However, the Council of Ministers began trusting her with their problems and were more than happy with her knowledge and wisdom. Slowly, Mangamma found a footing and knew the direction she should choose. Madurai needed her, her child needed her. She was not going down without a fight.
It was Chitra Pournami ( full moon day of Chitra month) and Annam was seated on the terrace of the sprawling palace staring at the bright night sky. Entire city of Madurai was by the Vaigai river, celebrating. A messenger sought to see her urgently and she waved him to come close. He had brought a note from Veerappa Naik. Her pulse kicked up as she read the note. Chokkanatha had entered Thanjavur Palace, but in a fit of rage over losing the battle, Vijayaraghava Naik had pushed his beautiful daughter Malarkodi and her aides into a room filled with gun powder and blew the room. All Chokkanatha could see of Malarkodi was ashes and tangled limbs. Venting his ire, Chokkanatha had hunted Vijayaraghava down and beheaded him. Thanjavur had fallen to Madurai Naiks!
Mangamma felt sorry for the Princess, but could not hide her smile at the turn of events. Now was her time to play! And play, she will, with all her pawns. Chokkanatha now had to crown her as Queen, the Council of Ministers had owed their allegiance to her in his absence. And the offspring in her belly was her trump card. Chokkanatha took two months to return to Madurai and was a completely different person. He refused to attend the Durbar, spent almost all his time in Meenakshiamman Temple, where his beloved Malarkodi's ashes were strewn. That was when Mangamma approached ailing Queen Mother Rengamma, mother of Chokkanatha. The frail woman was immensely happy at the prospect of crowning a very much pregnant Mangamma Queen of Madurai. On an auspicious Vaikasi Visakam day, with all fanfare and pomp, Mangamma was crowned the Principal Queen of Madurai by Rengamma and Chokkanatha. In all the crowd, Mangamma's eyes did not fail to notice the knowing smile and wink of Achaiya- her Achaiya!
TO BE CONTINUED...