Chapter 23: Will-o-‘the-wisp
Even the normally skeptical and now harassed Maya was enraptured by the purity and sheer other-worldly beauty of the magnificent creature in front of her. The uncaring, unknowing Hari stood listlessly by her. Maya tentatively moved towards the unicorn. The unicorn tossed its head but allowed her to approach. Soon, Maya had progressed to stroking its nose in delight. The creature seemed to be enjoying her ministrations and allowed her to pat its head and run her hands over its horn in delight. Maya was brought to her senses only when she heard the distant baying of an unknown creature.
As she turned to where Hari was standing, she was shocked to notice his absence. She and the unicorn seemed to be the only living beings for what seemed like miles around. In her haste to look for Hari, she had almost started to run from where she was standing when she remembered why she was in the first place and how she had been able to come face-to-face in front of the unicorn because the Vetaalam had allowed it. Turning back now to the creature, she made her request on bended knee.
“Oh noble creature. My friend is not in his senses and I must hurry to find him. Yet, the original reason I came here for, was you. Only the powder obtained from your horn mixed with water can cure him. I am sorry to ask you for this yet there is no other way. Can you help me?”
Maya was a little scared when the creature moved suddenly. When she realised what was happening, her feelings took a swift turn to gratitude. She climbed on the its back and as the unicorn stood up, Maya eyes were already searching the area for Hari. With a thunderous boom, the unicorn took off. In spite of all her worries, in spite of the missing Hari, Maya couldn’t help being exhilarated by the swift ride. She felt a pang of loss as the unicorn slowed and finally stopped in front of a tree in whose roots Hari lay still. On a closer look, Maya realised that Hari couldn’t seem to be able to pry his eyes away from a pulsating ghostly ball of light floating just above his head. Maya vaguely remembered this phenomenon from all her reading in her Guru’s library. The name suddenly came to her like a flash of light.
As she tried to distract Hari, she was worried. What looked like a harmless ball of pale light would kill you if you looked at it long enough by making you addicted to its light. She had once again forgotten the unicorn.
The unicorn trotted in front of the will-o-wisp and blew on it. Maya watched astonished as the places where the unicorn’s breath met the will-o-wisp simply melted away. A few minutes of this and Hari was once again up on his feet though still unaware.
Careful this time, Maya held on to his hand as she turned to unicorn, her eyes glistening with tears.
“Oh, magnificent creature, here I come to rob you of your most precious possession and you show such incredible kindness. How can I repay you?”
The unicorn made a soft musical sound before going towards the nearest tree and started to scrape its horn against it. Maya, suddenly understanding what was happening moved quickly and collected the horn shavings as they fell. When Maya’s hands were filled with glittering white dust, the unicorn turned and gently rested its head on her shoulder before blazing a trail away from her.
Not wasting a moment this time, Maya quickly got her water canteen and removed the cap with her teeth. She then added the white dust to the water careful not to spill a single particle. She then closed the cap and shook the bottle for good measure before forcing Hari to drink from it.
She kept the container to his lips until he had drunk every single drop.
She prayed to all the gods she knew all the while waiting for an intelligent response from Hari. When ten minutes had passed, Maya knew that it wasn’t working the way she thought it would work.
What had she done wrong?