As Maya’s rage threatened to overwhelm her, the sight of a befuddled Hari sobered her. Recognizing that her anger served no purpose, she fought to regain her calm. Many deep breaths later, Maya had calmed down enough to think on the future course of action. First things first. She pulled Hari outside the dank cave system. To her delight, bright afternoon sun shone down upon them as they emerged.
Cheered by the sight of the sun, Maya decided to take the Naiad’s advice about the olive. Carefully wrapping one and pocketing, she slowly and carefully started to chew on the last one. When she had swallowed the last morsel, she waited for a few moments without any brilliant insights. As minutes passed by, she grew more and more angry and increasingly cheated. Turning to the clueless Hari, she grabbed his shoulders and shook him in anger.
“We have been cheated, dumbo. Wake up. All of this has been pointless. Look here.”
As Maya took alternate turns at shaking Hari and despairing at what seemed like pointless miseries suffered so far, she saw a small shadow that seemed to have a life of its own deep into the trees. Correctly recognizing this as a way out, Maya marched towards the shadow dragging Hari behind her. Taking care to remain in sunlight, she hailed the shadow.
“Hallooo, is anyone there?”
A mellow voice floated out.
“Of course, I am here, sweet girl.”
“Come on out then.”
“Unfortunately I can’t dearie. Not in this fiery sunlight. So annoying, don’t you think?”
“Who are you?’
“Tut, tut. What do children learn these days? I, dear girl, is what you would call a Vetaalam, a spirit. I cannot come in bright sunlight. Just come on in here. I can help you.”
“I am tired of beings pretending to help me and stabbing me in the back. What do you want?”
“Ah not so innocent anymore, are you? Fine, it has been long since I had a nice conversation with anyone. I will answer any question you ask if you answer one of mine before that.”
“What’s the catch?”
“Tut, tut, you ARE crude. I was merely about to suggest that if you cannot answer me, there is no hope for this poor boy anyway. I need a new body. You can leave him to me and continue on your travels unhindered. What do you say?’
“Not on my life.”
“Not your life, girlie. The wee lad’s.”
“Aren’t you supposed to make people’s head burst if they don’t answer your question? When did you start with kidnapping people?”
“First of all, it’s not kidnapping if you surrender him to me. It’s just war spoils. Secondly, the whole head-bursting-if people-lie-to-me thing has grown old. I have evolved. Now, do you want to save your friend or not? He is lost to you anyway.”
Just as Maya started to drag Hari away and towards the bright sunlight again, the clouds suddenly darkened and she clearly saw a multi-coloured peacock feather impression outlined against the sky. Stunned at this apparition, Maya remembered her encounter with Lord Aniruddha a.k.a God Krishna.
She reluctantly turned back to the Vetaalam.
“Fine, ask your question. I agree to your terms.”
“Ah, changed your mind. I like it! Listen and listen well, oh girl!”
“Somaprabha as beautiful as she was talented in many arts and she was deemed a highly desirable bride worthy of the greatest and the most qualified man in her town. Her parents and her brother were justly proud of her manifold accomplishments and unknown to each other promised her hand to a warrior, a poet and an engineer respectively. But unfortunately, before either of the suitors could woo her, a demon carries her away. AS Somaprabha’s family worried, the suitors agree to pool their efforts to rescue her with the agreement that the person who makes the most important contribution in her rescue will win her hand.
They start towards the demon as the poet knows the place where the demon lives. Using the engineer’s vehicular contraption, all three of them arrive at the demon’s place and the warrior manages to defeat the demon. With Somprabha in tow, all of them go back safely to her home. Somprabha now faces a dilemma on who to pick as her husband.
Who should she pick? Come on, put those olive sharpened wits to work, eh?”
Maya thought for a minute before answering.
“She should obviously marry the warrior as without him the poet’s knowledge and the engineer’s contraptions were useless.”
The Vetaalam was silent for a minute before cackling.
“You won, girl, pure and square.”
“Now tell me how to get the powdered unicorn horn.”
“The Karkadann a.k.a the unicorn is a gentle creature that loves young girls like you. You just have to ask!”
“But how do I go to the creature?”
“Close your eyes and hold on to the boy. I can transport you to him. It was nice having a chat!”
When Maya opened her eyes, she found herself standing in front a unicorn so bright and so white that she shielded her eyes.
(1) God Krishna is always pictured wearing a peacock feather in his hair. You can read more about him here.
(2) Last but not the least, you can read more of Maya and Hari’s original background here in the sample chapters for my earlier publication, Maya & the Mind Mystics.