Discover more from Project Fable
Chapter 22 — Conspiracies
Year 63, Kaliyuga
“No one? What do you mean, no one?” Semmaḷvarāyan stood up, lips pursed, eyes glaring at the captain.
“Si—Sire,” the captain quaked where he stood. “We waited at the agreed upon hillock. Neelan did not show. We still have men waiting, but it does seem unlikely, it has been two days since—.”
“Two d—!” Semmaḷvarāyan slammed his fist on the heavy table. “Two days! You waited two days to bring me this news, you dolt?”
“Th—that was the plan, sire. We allowed for an extra day as a contingency. But neither Neelan nor his men sh—”
“Out of my sight!”
The captain quickly bowed, and scurried out of the hall.
“The fools I have here!” Semmaḷvarāyan gnashed his teeth.
“I told you a dozen men will not be enough. Common village thieves, that too.” Thiruvāsagan said dryly. “That Mārthāndan is no easy prey. We missed our opportunity. He will be the undoing of our plans. He—”
“Stop your quibbling, Minister!”
Thiruvāsagan took a deep breath. “I did warn you that we needed a far better plan to deal with Mārthāndan. What do you suggest we now do?”
Semmaḷvarāyan scowled. “We proceed as before.”
“Of course we should. But do find a way to rid ourselves of him, and soon. He is dangerous to be left alive.”
“Yes, I am aware.” Semmaḷvarāyan said indignantly. “Did you discover why he is headed to Vēppamalai?”
“No, I did not. He has not before now, not since the death of Rajamāthā. Like I said before, Mārthāndan did not share the messenger’s scroll. Not with me, nor anyone else at the court.”
Semmaḷvarāyan thought deeply for a moment, scratching his chin. “Hmm. Wait for him come back, then. Let us see what the future bears for us. He may yet prove useful, I have a feeling.”
“I think not. He will not understand our plan, nor is pliable. His loyalty to the royal family is absolute. Mārthāndan cannot be reasoned with.” Thiruvāsagan replied.
Semmaḷvarāyan said nothing, and continued to stare at the ceiling, lost in thought.
“I now ride back to Karkōttai. I shall send word when I know more. Be prepared regardless.”
Semmaḷvarāyan got up, and cleared his throat. “Know this, Thiruvāsagā. Should the plan go awry in any way at all, I shall not think twice about stabbing you in the back.”
Thiruvāsagan eyed the warlord before him, his face impassive. Maybe I should not have conspired with this hot-headed goon. But it is too late now. “Of course. Do as you will.” With a curt nod, he turned and left, adjusting his cowl around his head.
Semmaḷvarāyan smiled slowly to himself. I plan to, Minister, I plan to.
A servant entered the tent, and bowed low. “News from the Chancellor, Lord. The messenger arrived, and left in great hurry.”
Semmaḷvarāyan looked up, and nodded impatiently, his hand outstretched. The servant pulled out a sealed scroll from his tunic and handed it over, and without a word, turned and left. Semmaḷvarāyan pulled open the seal and unrolled the silk cloth. The message was short. “Meesaikāran knows about our friend in the forest. The time is now.” He swore, and crumpled it in his fist.
“Bad news?” Pulithēvan scoffed, and strained against the rope that bound his torso.
“Quiet, dog!” Semmaḷvarāyan threw the scroll at Pulithēvan in irritation.
It struck Pulithēvan on his tired blood-streaked face, but he stared unflinchingly at his captors. “This will not end well for you, Rāyā!”
“Ah, the common bandit is now an astrologer!” Semmaḷvarāyan sneered at the kneeling man before him. He turned to Jayan, and gestured him to follow. They walked out of the tent, and out of earshot of Pulithēvan. Semmaḷvarāyan asked: “How many are gathered at the camp so far?”
“Upwards of six thousand, and we expect the western vassals to send a few hundred more by tonight, as promised.”
“Good, good. That should suffice.” He noticed a beetle that had begun to crawl up his leg. “This god-forsaken forest. We cannot wait for more, Mārthāndan knows now about the camp. But I do not know when he plans to attack. I think soon, only a fool would sit on this information and do nothing.” The beetle now steadily made it way up his leg, and Semmaḷvarāyan watched it with great curiosity, but his thoughts were elsewhere.
“What of Nithilan?” asked Jayan.
“Kill the pup. We require him no longer. That should teach Sīrālan a lesson to remember me by.” Semmaḷvarāyan flicked the beetle from his leg, and crushed it with his heel.
“Indeed. And, I will send Pulithēvan back to the camp.” Jayan paused, and stared at the pulpy remains of the beetle. “The catapults still worry me, prabhu. Our men are almost done building them, but they will take days to move all the way to KarkŌttai. They are useless in the forest.”
“We do not have a choice, do we? Let them build, once we have the palace and the royal family in our hands, we will have all the time in the world. Are all the men ready?”
“Yes. Three hundred await us in various rest houses in the city.”
“Good. Let’s make for KarkŌttai soon. I have had enough of hiding.”
Jayan nodded, still lost in thought. “Let us hope we have at least a day before Mārthāndan brings his men.”
“Men? No, it will be his army that he will bring, most of what is left at KarkŌttai. Let us hope he empties his barracks. I don’t want to waste time waging battles.”
“That bodes badly for Pulithēvan, then.”
“That fool matters not anymore. Take him back, and remind him not to wag his tongue to the men.”
“I will let him see his wife and sons once. That should encourage him to keep his silence.” Jayan smirked. He turned to face Semmaḷvarāyan, his voice sombre. “Our fortunes shall be turned tonight, prabhu. I know it. We no longer need to wallow in this mud hole, it shall be palaces and forts for us! The Eyinar clan shall regain their glory once again!”
Semmaḷvarāyan smiled. “Patience, Jayā. One step at a time. One step at a time.”