The clouds in the sky looked upon the land mercilessly. They thundered loudly and brightly and a second later, big droplets of water, as harsh as pebbles, fell to the ground. Amongst the swaying trees, a young woman rode her horse in full gallop. The sound of rain hitting the land made everything else seem unimportant. Maya hugged her coat tightly with one hand. After battling the storm for another half an hour, she finally reached the palace. She could not stop the tears rushing from her eyes and dying at her cheeks, finally getting lost in the rain pouring down. She stepped out of her coat and ran into the hall.
“Mother,” she cried. The shrill in her voice awakened the entire palace. Maya stood there, tears streaming down her face but she had no intentions to wipe them. A minute after, the Queen came in running, her scarlet gown elegantly sweeping the floor as she walked, with a few servants at her side.
At the sight of her mother, Maya completely broke down and ran to hug her. Her sobs still could be heard in the deafening storm.
“Mother, oh my dear, mother, your daughter has failed again. I regret to inform you that I have.”
The Queen stood still with her hand gently caressing Maya’s back. She knew Maya had failed yet again even before she said anything. She never expected her to win as she already had lost all hopes years ago, but she never said so. Maya was the only family she had left, and if Maya believed she could bring her father and the Queen’s husband back, her mother did not plan on telling her otherwise.
“What kind of a daughter am I? My father is out there somewhere, and here I stand, in a palace, having no clue about the dangers he faces on a daily basis.”
The Queen hooked her finger under Maya’s chin and gently forced her to look at her. Maya’s brown eyes sparkled with million different shades of golden in the dim light of the fire glowing in the hearth. She was completely soaked; her face looked tired and deprived of any happiness. Her hands felt rough on a single touch and her beautiful, wavy hair were now strangled and married to the dust and dirt the storm brought along.
“It’s alright, my child, it’s alright,” said the Queen in a voice that instantly provided Maya with a new ray of hope. She patted her back as Maya struggled to stop the tears which now could easily be distinguished from raindrops. “If anyone can find him, it is you, and I know you will. I believe in you. Go to your room and rest, and in the morning, perhaps you can look in the Forest of West for clues.”
Maya sobbed a few more times before she forced herself to stop.
“Yes, mother,” she somehow found the voice inside her to speak.
Maya allowed herself to break down but she could not allow herself to break apart. She knew she can feel as depressed as she wants tonight but as soon as she wakes up tomorrow, she had to be determined and focused to find her father. She was sure this time she will.
She stood near her bed, running her bony fingers through her thick hair, trying to tame them absentmindedly. She was absolute that one day she will find her father and the King of Pataliputra and she knew that day was not far away.
Reminding herself to be strong, she buried her face in the pillow and was asleep a few moments later.
As she promised herself, she woke up next morning completely determined. She got dressed, packed her hunting equipment and left the hall. Outside was quite cold and dewy but it was not nearly enough to stop her. The grass shimmered under the faint sunlight.
She walked straight towards the stables, her pose strict and confident. She was positive she had everything she required. Maya unlocked the door and climbed on her horse Gradi. She looked back at the palace quietly and left without a word to anyone.
She patted him lightly as he started running.
“Giddy up, Gradi, we have a long way to go.”
As she reached the main gates of the City of Pataliputra, Maya could not ignore the fragrance of the newly bloomed flowers, the aroma of the freshly baked breads and the pungent smell of the incense wafted in the air. She was already homesick, but she knew she had to do this, and she was determined to return with her father this time or not at all.
She roamed around in the Forest of West for three days, trying to find anything hinting towards her father’s disappearance. She was tired, thirsty and extremely hungry but she refused to give up. Her horse, Gradi, was nowhere near as determined as she was. He was ready to collapse at any given second. She pulled his reins right under a tree.
“Stop, Gradi, let’s rest.”
She got down and removed all the weights off the horse and let him wander around and eat hay. Stiff from the travel, Maya decided to sit down under the cool shade of a tree. Her tiredness finally caught up with her and before she knew it, she was asleep, curled like a ball under a tree. Hours later, when she opened her eyes, shock was the first thing she felt. The scene around her was changed. The greenery she had found a comfort in was long gone. The trees around her turned icy and grey; the leaves were still but Maya could feel a great blow of wind coming. She looked around frantically and sighed when her eyes landed on a safe Gradi.
Knowing it was not a safe place to stay, she picked up a piece of leave and wrote a few words on it before tucking it in Gardi’s belt and giving him the instructions.
“It is extremely unsafe for you to stay here, Gardi. You have to go. Give mother my message.”
She patted Gardi twice before he took off and never looked back. She let her eyes follow his trail as long as he was still in sight. Just as his figure became vague, her attention turned towards the matter in hand.
She knew she had written it on a leave and promised her mother to bring her father back, but now doubts were starting to form.
She found refuge under a giant tree which had an oddly shaped gap in the between. Just as things were settling down, the tree started shaking with greater intensity every second. Her heart started beating loudly in her chest; she screamed.
Maya ran away from the tree, her screams barely audible. She ran wildly in the scorching sun. Her feet’s sound echoed in the barren land. She could feel someone trying to reach and catch her. Her lungs were about to burst if she didn’t stop to catch her breath. Not a single chirp of a bird, not a single howl of the wolves, not a single swoosh of the wind on the tiniest patch of grass was in the surroundings. Nothing but a tornado could be seen, which was growing larger by the second, trying to pull Maya against the gravity of the planet.
Being unaware is a curse. And as a result of a curse, Maya stumbled in the abyss. It felt like an century had passed, but Maya was still falling. Some water droplets froze near Maya’s face and she saw iridescent ice gleaning. The next moment she was sliding on the ice. She slid further down and fell on her face in the mushy ground.
When Maya caught her breath and could stand on her own two feet, she saw that she was in a forest-much different from the Forest of West.
The trees, plants and everything in between was covered in snow. She could see a frozen stream and doves flew amongst immense pines.
Maya silently and steadily followed the path. She had ventured in an unknown land and was very careful with her every step. She could feel the air getting warmer and windier at the same time. All the life had been sucked from this world and gloom surrounded this place. A frail rabbit chanted and every animal joined in a cacophony.
“Kill that tree, Kill that tree,” they said monotonously and pointed towards a frail looking tree. “Kill that tree, save your father and let there be a meadow.”
She saw a glimmer of hope. There was a withered and highly entangled sets of branches on the tree with a pervading morbid smell. The light of the morning sun, the air around pleaded not to wither with the tree. She waddled near the tree, a new energy surged in her veins. Her will was now breaking into crumbs, but she inhaled a deep breath of gloom and snapped the biggest branch she could see. With a perfect dose of shrieks, the tree fell loose from the ground easily. There was a tumult of the delighted souls, who were now freed by Maya. Life came back to the trees and the ice surrounding it vanished. Maya’s father lay in a corner, gasping for fresh air. His clothes were tattered and he was unable to speak. She hugged him. A rabbit came around and pointed towards the river. Maya understood and waved the animals goodbye. Maya, and her father held their noses and jumped in the strong current of the river and were carried back to their homeland, the City of Pataliputra safely.
Author: Ms. Devaanshi Mahajan, The Heritage School-Delhi
Adapted by: Ms. Mrinal Verma
Illustrated by: Ms. Sakshi Gupta