Friday, 2 March 2018

Queen Of Diamonds- Part 2

The embers of the fire refused to die down. As he stood poring into the twilight that was slowly waking up the city, Vijayarenga shook his head, tired of the night. The nights always belong to the wicked. They never sleep, keep pondering and plotting. Plotting, yes, that he had done once. He had sat the whole night trying to dissuade his defenses when he had planned that fateful event. How he wished he hadn't done it? He had blood in his hands, which never let him sleep the nights thereafter. Night after night, he only wished he could sleep, oblivious to the calls of the owls. How he wished...

Maran saw Vijayarenga perplexed and tense, as always. His brow creased and temper hiked, he looked almost at the edge of blowing up. This is where I should step in, he thought to himself and taking few deep breaths, stood before him. "No sleep, I see...", he said and curtsied, nodding his disapproval. Vijayarenga still stood unperturbed. "Dear King, I see your nights growing heavier and thoughtful. But we have work to do. So shall we?", he turned his heel and walked with vigour towards the thrones. Vijayarenga followed Maran. He knew Maran could be at times very persuasive and he was indeed not ready for a full blown argument today. 

"They are doing it again", Maran wrung his hands for the hundredth time as a stoic Vijayarenga watched. How much ever the troops were disciplined, there always was a loose end, someone who would rise up in a revolt. "This gets us nowhere,Vijaya. Queen Mother was in fact a helpful ally and in chucking her out, you did a grave mistake!", Maran's temper was flaring. Two infidel soldiers had slit the throat of a temple priest bang under his nose, right at Meenakshi Amman temple and he had been rendered useless, watching the limp body of the priest being shuttled out hastily in a banana leaf pack. The motive- as always was money. "We can't let this happen, Mara. Have they been caught?", Vijayarenga was gritting his teeth now. "No, I have sent Rangayya running and I think he will nab them soon. There have been witnesses this time", Maran hastily replied.

"Witnesses? Well, this is definitely a first. Who and where are the witnesses now? Why haven't they been summoned earlier?", an array of questions were shot at Maran who turned to the soldiers and nodded his approval. Vijayarenga stood up, went to the window sill and looked up at the city that was by now bustling beneath. He liked it here, undisturbed and left to his own world. A world where a certain damsel with kohl laden eyes has been wreaking havoc the last two days. He always liked his summer palace, with its fruit trees and koels cooing. The sound of tinkling anklets were no distraction to his particular thought of holding a slender waist and playing with a unruly strand of hair. 

The sound of Maran thundering "Tell the King your name", must have irked the witnesses. There was a heavy silence and then somewhere, a koel cooed. "Dear King...may I have your attention?", this was definitley not koel. Maran's voice was as distinct as his razor sharp sword. Slowly turning, Vijayarenga chanced upon the koel, his koel. She stood pensive, her eye lashes batting continuously, her lips trembling and her posture extremely defiant. It was her! The koel of his dreams. Her thin reed of a friend stood closeby, both the girls looking distraught and troubled. Since when was she held by the goons. He glared at Maran and turned his attention to the koel. Had Maran taken his cue right at the temple a couple of days ago? Was this some game he is playing to bring the girl to me? A hundred questions were ravaging his mind as he glanced at her and croaked out his first question- " What is your name, koel?"

Quite taken aback and her temper unleashed, Meenakshi showed enough scorn to scorch the sun and bit out, "Meenakshi, not koel". A throaty laughter emanated from him.Well, feisty. He liked it. "Were they given anything to eat and drink?", he put across the question to Maran, who raised his eyebrows in apparent exasperation. " Of course. Everyone who enters the palace is fed. We have a murder to be investigated, Vijayarenga. Do you think this is the time for your niceties?", he almost gritted out and Vijayarenga could sense his anger. Alright, he sulked. Maran can be a toughie. 

"Where were you when the murder happened?", he masked his face with animosity and queried. "At the Chithirai Veedhi, O King", replied koel's friend. Why is she answering when I question my koel, he frowns and turns his attention to koel. "Now will you tell me what were you two doing in the night of Chithirai Thiruvizha, roaming the streets so brazenly?", his voice now had genuine anger. Two young girls let loose roaming the streets late in the night and who knows what might befall them in these dark days? This was when Mangai laughed. A full no holds barred laughter and her eyes were twinkling with mischief. "She was drunk!", accused Meenakshi still raging at her friend. "I was trying to take the idiot home". Taken aback, Vijayarenga now pondered how to turn this to his advantage. "Well. a drunk witness is of no use to me. Send her back". As Mangai left still hiccuping and laughing, Meenakshi stood fuming. 

"Now tell me Meenakshi. What did you see yesterday? How many of them were there?", his voice was now cool and his eyes, almost devouring her. "Only two of them and they were of course our own soldiers, in full attire", she clipped. "Anything else you noticed of them?", Maran interjected. "Yes, I could see one of them sported the turban of Ramnad army and had a valari", she went on. Ramnad? Well, that about gives a clue. That is why Rangayya was summoned by Maran. He was in charge of Ramnad border, wasn't he? " We have to take a rain check on absconding soldiers at the borders again", he told Maran. "That has already been ordered", he replied. He was about to dismiss her when the last question shot out of his mouth. "Whose daughter are you?" "Does that matter?", pat came the reply. "Well, you may go now", ordered Maran his eyes fixed on Vijayarenga's face. 

As her retreating form faded from his eyes, he turned to Maran. " Should you always be so overbearing?", he spat out. " Or else you would have made yourself a complete fool before her", smiled Maran. "You know her?", a cool calculating smile was slowly forming in his lips. "The King wouldn't know the daughter of a Courtier. But I definitely know her. Daughter of Manikkam, your stable chief", his smile was now warm. At last, someone has held the attention of the King for more than two days in a row and that was a record. Vijayarenga always had roving eyes and this time over, his eyes were fixated on Meenakshi and he knew it! The King was jinxed. Time to get hitched, Vijayarenga, he mused to himself as he left the palace gates.

To be continued...