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The Paramarajah’s second wife, pink and pulpy, had already given him two sons. Nedunkilli, two years old; and Nalankilli, one. Courtiers whispered in corners and alcoves. A power struggle loomed in the royal household. Bards and poets, eager to fill their stomachs and money bags, sang the young princes’ praises. With each poem, each tale, the boys grew into reigning kings who fought great battles. Stoked by royal retainers, child play morphed to sword play. Sticks turned to steel. Barely thirteen and fourteen, the wastrels fell on one another. Nalankilli killed his older brother Nedunkilli, heir to the throne. Terrified of his father’s wrath, the younger prince took to the jungles.

But over the years, while the stags clashed, the predator had been watching. A Nameless One, it is best he remained nameless, who wore a thick turban and hid his face behind a wrap, tracked down the boy-prince. When the king’s soldiers came upon Nalankilli, he was already dead. A leopard had ripped his throat. They found the animal’s spoor, but the jungle swallowed the killer and had left behind the kill.

The path to the throne chair beckoned Veer. But thorn brushes sprouted and threatened to spoil his journey.

Murmurs regarding Veera’s true father crept along the palace corridors and found refuge in the crevices of dark hearts. I buried the rumours with an accidental death here and a mysterious disappearance there. It grew into a never-ending chore. Devaney’s raptures were my redemption for all the lives snuffed. The feeble-minded did my handiwork. Their greed and ambitions stoked, one feeble mind with strong arms could dispose ten. The hand of fate then plucked that culprit and cut the flow of suspicion. When I washed and looked in the mirror, I realised that my hands worked for fate. But blood had a distasteful smell. I stayed away from meat.

After mourning his sons’ deaths, the Paramarajah departed to press territorial claims. But before he left, he declared Veer Varman heir to the throne. He also installed Devaney as Queen Regent.

The son she gave the Paramarajah had brought them closer. Though I delighted in Devaney and my son, those were painful days. The thought of her in another man’s arms seared my soul. I endured the agony for the sake of my son and for her. I loved them both. Love. Fate toyed with me, for I too had fallen for that debilitating emotion.

But Devaney acted as tutored. Hence the regency from the king. As time staled the novelty of my ardour, like all women she too will think and act as if she knew better. For now, she clung to my words. I was her lord, her deity, and I made the most of her devotion.

Though Devaney welcomed the king’s new found softness towards her, she chafed at the thought of his second wife. That woman will remain nameless. She deserved no better.

‘I let him take whatever he wanted,’ said Devaney. ‘But I gave him nothing. Not even a small moan.’

That was her attempt at revenge on the Paramarajah, or perhaps her words sought to cool the fiery ambers in my stomach. Damming river waters benefits the land but not when one dams one’s love. My torment grew. Devaney was my full moon, my life-giving sun. But my nights were moonless, and the days were dark. The thought of her folding into the embrace of another man burned me, never mind that he was the wedded husband. Whenever the Paramarajah spent the night with Devaney, my spies brought word. On such nights I writhed in the torture of a thousand hells. But the sun would rise and the king would depart. And I would sigh as the red-hot blade withdrew from my flesh.

When the Paramarajah went away, Devaney sought my comfort. She found love. I was a kept man. The lowliest of the low. But without her presence beside me, fruit tasted bland; music was dull; and nature’s beauty eluded my life. She was the heroine in my love story. With passing years, our relationship mellowed and became a pleasant habit. She was my intoxicant, superior to any produced from the juice of fruits or herbs.

As Rector of the academy, I became Prince Vera’s teacher and mentor. He was my joy and my weakness. I became a worrier and employed all my powers of foresight and genius to keep him—my son—from harm.

My love for my Devaney and the identity of my son were my secrets. I hoarded these secrets with a fierce resolve.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019

That was the end of the third chapter. Thank you all for your company and encouraging me with your comments. My novel Vel Paary: The Tamilakam War is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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