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1. THE BIRTH OF PRINCESS SAMARA
Long ago, in what is now the land of Ethiopia, there was a very large kingdom called Amhara. The ruler, King Menelik wanted to have an heir to succeed him on his throne, but no child arrived although he had been married for many years. The queen also longed for a child and prayed every night, asking to be blessed with one.
One night, an exquisitely beautiful fairy came into the queen’s dreams. Even though the queen was dreaming she could not help think how the fairy’s black skin wonderful contrasted with her blue dress and white wings. The fairy smiled at her, saying she had been sent by the Goddess of the Night to let her know her prayers had been answered, and soon she would be blessed with a daughter.
‘Tell me something about my daughter,’ pleaded the queen. ‘Will she be beautiful? Will she become a great queen?’
‘She will have a beautiful mind and heart,’ answered the fairy, ‘aside from her looks. Your daughter will travel the length and breadth of the world as we now know it. She will go to places most people have only heard of, and other lands few people know about.’
‘Will she have any special talents?’
‘She will be a gifted child, and have a special power. If she prays to the Goddess, there can be night even during the day,’ said the fairy.
‘DARKNESS IN THE DAY?’ The queen was astonished.
‘Yes,’ said the fairy, ‘although only for a short while.’
‘Of what use is that?’ said the queen.
The fairy smiled, and did not say anything.
‘Oh, gentle fairy, tell me if the child will have brothers or sisters,’ the queen said, because she wanted to have a large family.
The fairy said softly, ‘This will be the only child born to you; nevertheless she shall not be short of brothers.’
‘How can that be?’ said the queen anxiously. ‘Will my husband, the king, marry again?’
‘Your daughter will face great obstacles,’ said the fairy, ‘and in order to overcome them she will need the help of young friends, who will be like brothers to her.’
‘Where will she find…these friends?’ asked the queen.
‘In the Hotlands, in the Wetlands and in Snowlands.’
The queen didn’t even know such places existed.
‘Tell me one more thing,’ begged the queen. ‘What kinds of hurdles will she face?’
‘Spectacularly,’ repeated the queen.
‘THE SPECTACULARLY, SCARY…’
‘Scary,’ repeated the queen, feeling worried now.
‘THE SPECTACULARLY SCARY SPELLS.’
The fairy’s satin silk dress started to shimmer, a blue flash of light exploded and she was gone.
When the queen awoke, she rushed to tell her husband what had happened. He was delighted to hear the good news, but, like the queen, anxious to learn of the difficulties t ahead for his new born child. A few weeks later physicians at the royal palace announced the queen would have a child in a few months’ time. When the queen told the king the fairy’s prediction had come true, joy bubbled inside him like water in a brook.
He wouldn’t let her work and carry on with her queenly duties to the extent she wished, because he didn’t want anything to go wrong with her pregnancy. The queen was by nature active, but now because she didn’t do so much she slept fitfully. She often woke up at hours of the night when only the brown-feathered Eagle Owl kept awake.
‘If I had a son, I don’t know what name I would give him,’ she told herself during one of those long, wakeful nights, ‘but as I’m going to have a daughter, I know what I’ll call her. I’ll name her Samravit after my grandmother, who loved me so much.’
While the king snored, the queen would get out of bed and silently drag her chair to the wide window in the room overlooking the blue waters of the Nili Nadi. Grasslands stretched ahead beyond the river and then the woods began. She would sit there and wait until the morning when the red apple-like sun came out from behind the mountains. Nights in Amhara were wonderfully starry, and the queen never tired of staring at them.
‘Oh, Goddess of the Night,’ she prayed, ‘please give my daughter lovely, luminous skin that will glisten like these beautiful nights …’
The day arrived when the queen went into labour. Soon word rushed through the palace that she had been blessed with the most beautiful daughter. Mother and daughter were safe and well, but the royal physicians warned that the queen would not be able to have any more children. The king had hoped to have a large family, but his initial disappointment was drowned in the downpour of delight that rushed over him when he looked at his daughter.
And when the queen looked at the bright-eyed beauty beside her, her heart burned with love for the child she had longed for. Her daughter was not only beautiful but blessed with black, ebony-like skin that shone like the lustrous nights in the kingdom. The Goddess of the Night had granted the queen her wish.
‘Princess Samravit is fittingly regal,’ said the king, approving his wife’s choice of name, ‘but it is to my mind a bit harsh sounding for our lovely child. We need something softer, sweeter and intimate sounding.’
‘What about Samara?’ asked the queen, as she cradled her daughter in her arm.
‘Samara it shall be,’ the king agreed. ‘This is the best news our kingdom has received this year.’
2. BARADO, THE FASTEST HORSE IN THE WORLD
The king, queen and Samara were loved by the people. They too cared about their subjects and never put on regal airs or acted snootily. It was in their nature to be this way, although they had heard of royal families in far-off lands whose subjects did not like their sovereigns and even went to the extent of making fun of them. In those days writers would often engrave or scribble things on blocks of stone known as tablets kept in the public square. People came and stood in front of them to read the latest news and gossip.
Samara was a happy girl, but often felt lonely. She longed to have friends of her own age group to talk to, but young boys and girls in her kingdom were too much in awe of her royal status to talk and behave freely with her.
‘Oh, I wish I had a sister or brother.’ Samara said these words to herself often. ‘I WISH.’
The king and queen worked hard for the welfare of their people, but because they knew how lonely Samara became, they always found time to go off with their beloved daughter for a holiday. One year they went to see the pyramids of Egypt that had taken a long time to build and were only recently completed; everyone went to see them.
‘They are truly magnificent,’ said the king after they spent an entire afternoon wandering around the huge structures, ‘although I’m not sure if they are useful.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ said the queen. The effort in building them had surely been wasted. The same people could have been digging ditches or constructing inns for travellers, far more useful for the community.
Little Samara had never before seen anything as big as the pyramids. They looked like giant anthills. Surely they must be close to touching the sky. What would happen if they were yet higher and punctured it? Wouldn’t it be funny to see all the trees, animals and children falling down from another world into her own world?
When they finished seeing the largest pyramid, a fat, bearded man approached them. The reddish wig on his head was made from horse-hair. The weather was warm but the man wore a poncho with stars painted on it. His coffee-coloured cloak blended well with the brown of the pyramids. The light brown sand and marmalade sky in the background created a perfect hue of varying shades.
‘I am Gobi Pasha’ he announced, ‘the world famous fortune-teller. Would you like to have your fortune told, Little Princess?’ And he bent down to look at Princess Samara in a kindly fashion.
‘I think not,’ said the queen in a curt tone. ‘We don’t have time.’
The king didn’t want to cause any offence, so he dug into his pocket, took out two large gold coins and gave them to Gobi.
‘Thank you, great king,’ he said, ‘and for this act of kindness, let me tell you something you need to know.’ The fortune teller’s eyes became large and round, his face turned towards the sky, and in a deep voice that no longer seemed to be his own, he said: ‘LISTEN TO ME CAREFULLY.’
The queen was keen to go ahead, but the king and Samara decided to wait. Something about the manner in which Gobi uttered the last sentence turned them towards him like magnets.
‘BEWARE,’ said Gobi, in the same voice. ‘Be VERY aware. Dark forces are at work. You, your family and your kingdom are in danger.’
‘From whom?’ cried the king.
‘Zooooooooooooooooooooo.’ And Gobi Pasha began to whirl round and round without answering the king’s question.
‘Oh, do come along,’ cried the queen, and she tugged at Samara and her husband’s hand.
‘What did the man mean by ‘dark forces’ Father?’ asked Samara.
‘Nothing, my dear,’ said the king, but his brow furrowed with worry. Gobi’s words had shaken him. He recollected the predictions the fairy made to his wife, even if the queen had forgotten them.
‘He was clearly mad,’ said the queen.
The following year, the king took them south to see the tallest mountain of the region. It took many hours on horseback before they were able to reach their destination, but it was well worth the tiring journey. Samara was awe-struck by her first glimpse of the snow peaks of Mount Uncha. The king and queen had been there previously and the sight of snow was nothing new for them, but the young princess was enchanted and stared with her mouth open in wonder at the white, glistening peaks.
Samara’s birthday was coming up, and so the king asked her, ‘What would you like for your birthday, my dear?’
Samara thought if she couldn’t have a brother, the next best thing would be to have a pet. Of all the animals she knew of in Africa her favourite was the horse. ‘I’d very much like to have a horse, Papa,’ she said, ‘but it must be very fast.’
‘It shall be a horse and the fastest known to man,’ her father assured her.
True to his word, the king gave his daughter a horse on her thirteenth birthday. It was the fastest horse anyone in the kingdom had ever seen. When it raced in the open field its legs moved so fast they were barely visible to the naked eye.
Samara fell in love with the graceful creature from the moment she set eyes on him. His colour was flawless white, his silky mane glistened in the sun, and when he raced across the fields everyone who watched him was left in no doubt he was indeed the fastest horse in the entire world. His bearing conveyed a grace and nobility of carriage few humans possessed.
‘What are you going to call him, Samara?’ her father asked.
‘His colour reminds me of the peaks of Mount Uncha,’ said Princess Samara, thinking hard. ‘I know,’ and she snapped her fingers decisively. ‘His name shall be Barado!’ For barado was the word for snow.
So it came to be that the white steed, the fastest horse in the whole world, was known as Barado. Samara spent all her time with the horse, so when people saw them they would say, ‘Oh, there is Princess Samara with Barado the sprinting stallion.’
Samara enjoyed a special relationship with Barado because she could understand whatever he said, although no one else could. When Barado spoke, everyone except Samara heard it as a neighing sound, but she could hear what he said in the form of human speech – a rich baritone, actually.
3. SAMARA’S SMALL SACRIFICE
When the king gave the horse to Samara, he hadn’t realised she wanted to travel the length and breadth of his kingdom – but that is indeed what she wanted to do.
‘We have a large empire, Papa and Mama,’ said Samara, when the subject came up for discussion during breakfast. ‘To know it well I need to visit not only important towns and cities but smaller villages too.’
Her father spooned some atmit, an Ethiopian porridge mix, into his mouth and didn’t say anything.
Samara pressed on. ‘My feeling, Papa, is that people start to feel neglected over a period of time if they don’t receive important visitors from the capital. Our empire is so large that many parts of it haven’t been visited for years. People in those places will feel honoured by my visit. If they have any problems they can tell me about them, and I can let you know what they are when I return.’
The king frowned, but he couldn’t deny the truth of his daughter’s argument that there would be political and diplomatic advantages attached to her travels. At the same time, he was reluctant to grant her permission to go, and therefore spooned another portion of atmit into his mouth in silence.
‘The other thing, dear Mama,’ said Samara, turning to her mother for support, ‘is that poor Barado needs exercise. All animals need exercise, but Barado more than others, because he is the fastest horse in the world, is he not? He needs to keep running long distances every day if he is to continue to be the fastest horse in the world.’
‘Well, he could keep running in circles round the race track,’ said the king, who had finished with his atmit and had now found a matter to debate with his daughter.
‘But Papa!’ protested Samara. ‘That would simply be a waste of running!’
‘You need to be accompanied by armed soldiers on horseback for your safety,’ said the king. ‘My concern is if you ride on Barado, unless you go slowly, the other horses will not be able to keep up with you, and I need to be sure you are always safe.’ The king cleared his throat. ‘So will you ask Barado to gallop slowly?’
‘Oh, I’m sure he won’t like that at all,’ said Samara. ‘Firstly if he gallops slowly, it will not be a gallop at all, and secondly we’ll only be able to visit few places.’
The king fell silent and thought a lot. His daughter waited patiently for him to come to a conclusion.
‘All right, you can go,’ he said, to the queen’s surprise and his daughter’s delight. He paused. ‘But before you start to travel you must learn how to whistle for Khabar and how to write long messages on small pieces of parchment.’
Khabar was a falcon trained to keep messages written on parchment safe inside his beak and carried it across vast distances.
Blessed with super vision, if Khabar glided over a town or city, he could make out in a flash where each inhabitant stood. And so, even without the princess whistling to let him know where she was at a particular time, if he knew she was in a certain town or city, he could always find her out.
If Princess Samara had a weakness, it was her love for food. Her fondness for desserts in particular led her to put on weight, which gave her a cuddly look when she was small but did not suit the young princess as she grew older. Her parents saw this, but did not have the heart to tell her to curtail her appetite. But something happened to change her thoughts on the subject of food.
During one of her long distance trips with Barado, Princess Samara reached a village where the people all looked thin and weak as if they hadn’t eaten for days.
She entered one of the houses in the village to find a lavish spread waiting for her, for people all over the kingdom knew of her fondness for good food. The princess suspected something was wrong, and marched straight into the kitchen to find there was nothing to eat inside. That year due to scant rainfall there had been a failure of crops in part of Amhara. The family had decided to go hungry to make sure the princess could have a fine meal.
‘Why don’t you share your problems with me?’ cried the princess, who found she could simply not eat anything.
She climbed back on Barado and raced back to the capital to let the king know what had happened. King Menelik didn’t hesitate for one second to use the gold kept in the treasury of the otherwise prosperous kingdom to help out people of that area.
The next time the princess sat down to have a meal, she ate well but decided to keep a little empty space in her stomach to remind her there were people in the world who didn’t have enough to eat.
When the people learnt of this small sacrifice and saw how she cared for them, their love for the princess grew even more.
As a result of her new resolution the fat in the princess’s body started to melt away and a slimmer, stronger, and more beautiful princess emerged.
4. AN INVITATON FROM ZOOZOO
An evil wizard called Zoozoo ruled over a neighbouring land, which in his arrogance he named after himself as Zoozooland.
He fancied himself to be a man with literary taste, and wrote out a song for his followers to sing in his honour.
‘Zoo zoo be doo,’ went the song. ‘Zoo zoo be doo.’
And his followers, who were mostly paid soldiers, would push forward their hands and legs in robotic fashion.
‘Zoo zoo be doo. Zoo zoo be doo.’ They sang, and they danced.
And Zoozoo clapped with pleasure and shouted out: ‘Zalzala! Zalzala!’
No one knew exactly what this meant, but he used this expression frequently.
Zoozoo had a long, blood-red face with a tattoo in the shape of a spider on each cheek. Thick bushy eyebrows did a zigzag over green eyes that glittered like emeralds. He wore a long white tunic and white shoes all the time. He had a big, booming voice and his laugh was so loud and scary it made sparrows scatter and squirrels scurry up trees for safety.
Zoozoo didn’t care about his subjects at all. He taxed the poor heavily, and if they couldn’t pay the taxes they were thrown into prison. His subjects were terrified of him, because he practised black magic and knew how to cast many fearful spells. People were equally terrified of his sister, known as the Churail, who helped her brother by preparing magic potions.
His subjects would have rebelled against him a long time ago had they known his army was small, but he managed to make people believe he was all-powerful and certain death awaited those who chose to defy him. So, the poor people toiled away in the wizard’s factories, pushing and pulling levers all day long.
How did Zoozoo manage to fool all the people all of the time?
‘Zalzala!’ he would shout, and fix his green, glittering gaze upon them.
And anyone who saw him fell into a temporary trance.
Even with all his black magic and glittering hypnotic skills, Zoozoo wouldn’t have been able to keep his subjects in such submissive acceptance of slavery had it not been for a special concoction called gulgula he fed them. Every week the contents of two or three buckets of gulgula were poured into the Kaala Pani Lake that provided water to the inhabitants of Zoozooland, and this substance dulled their minds and their ability to think clearly.
Zoozoo was jealous of the good king that ruled Amhara, but he was scared to attack King Menelik because the latter had a strong and powerful army. The wizard himself had a small force, because he had sent so many able-bodied men to their death on the merest suspicion they were in some way disloyal to him.
Unable to contain his jealousy, and greedy to grasp more territory, the evil wizard thought hard about how he could destroy King Menelik. One day he thought of a plan.
* * *
‘My master Zoozoo sent me to you,’ the meek messenger began, when he received audience with the king and queen of Amhara, ‘to beg you to come to Nark, capital of Zoozooland.’
‘What’s the occasion?’ asked King Menelik, and because he knew of Zoozoo’s wastefulness added: ‘A grand birthday party?’
‘No, Your Highness,’ said the messenger. ‘Kings and queens from around the world are to gather to discuss ways to improve the lot of the poor.’ And he bowed his head, waiting for the king’s response.
Zoozoo was confident his plan would work, because he knew the king was always thinking about the welfare of his people.
‘I’m a bit suspicious,’ the queen murmured into the king’s ear. ‘That Red Wizard is not to be trusted.’
The king allayed her fears by softly saying to her, ‘We will keep our troops posted outside Zoozoo’s kingdom and instruct our golden bird, Khabar, to tell the commander-in-chief should anything go wrong.’
And with that assurance the queen’s doubts were quelled.
‘Go tell your master,’ said the king, ‘we will come.’
The messenger retreated, relieved to hear the news, for he feared punishment at the hands of the Red Wizard, had he been unsuccessful in his mission.
* * *
When the king and queen reached the wizard’s kingdom, they were greeted with great fanfare. Brass bugles and pointy pipes played in their honour, but they noticed that the poor performers wore tattered togs and looked as though they hadn’t eaten for days.
Zoozoo showed them to their chambers, as they were both tired after their long journey. After his guests had bathed, rested and taken refreshment, he took them on a tour of the palace.
‘What do you think of the lighting?’ said Zoozoo, as he took them inside a brightly lit chamber.
‘Oh,’ said the king.
‘Ohhh,’ said the queen.
The wizard was pleased to see the astonished look on the king and queen’s faces when they saw how the interior of his palace was brightly lit without the presence of a single candle. A cool breeze wafted through the corridors. Only those who knew black magic could create such illumination and cooling. Spells were needed to harness the energy created by a thousand slaves pulling enormous levers every day. The king was dismayed by the thought of how long the poor slaves must have laboured for this result, when a few dozen candles and handheld fans would have worked just as well.
The last part of the tour took the visitors to a large outbuilding besides the palace. Inside this lay the wizard’s latest magical contraption that cost the labour of five hundred thousand labourers working twenty-two hours every day for six hundred days continuously, without so much as a weekend break.
‘And what do you think of THIS?’ said Zoozoo.
It was a silky, gleaming, magnificent flying chariot.
The chariot was actually a large carpet, but with the edges rolled up to form a large box spacious enough to have two seats in the front and two at the back. A glass window screen was propped up in front. There were two windows on either side of the vehicle to stop the wind from disturbing the driver and his passengers when the flying carpet soared through the air. The entire contraption stood on four silver-painted wheels.
The queen was breathless with admiration, but knowing her husband’s views she offered only faint praise.
‘I’ve given this magical device a name,’ said Zoozoo. ‘Three names came to my mind: Mercotola, Chevrotola and Uran Khatola, and I chose the last of these – Uran Khatola.’ He bowed. ‘How do you like that, Your Highness?’
‘Where are all the other guests?’ the king wanted to know, because he was never one to be impressed with rulers who thought too much of their personal comfort. He silently lamented the waste of precious labour in creating a luxury item of little public benefit.
‘They are waiting for us,’ lied the evil wizard. ‘It’s better to have such an important event in an isolated area where kings and queens can be wined, dined and entertained lavishly without the dirty, unwashed masses looking on enviously. Will not the staring strays spoil our savouring?’ He looked to the king for approval imagining the example he gave of stray dogs showed his ability to use language with great skill.
The king was upset when he heard what Zoozoo had to say and would have spoken out angrily, but the queen begged him to hold his temper, as after all, they were in a foreign land.
The wizard didn’t notice anything untoward and carried on with his explanation. ‘I’ve chosen a wonderful venue to discuss the plight of the poor,’ he continued. ‘There’s a new palace I’ve built, using the best blue marble, which lies next to the sea.’ He looked hard at the king and queen for signs of mistrust, because it would have upset his plans if they had refused to co-operate with him. As they did not seem to be suspicious, he added confidently, ‘It’s a beautiful place, where I am sure you will be comfortable and, as I said before, we shall not be disturbed by the annoying antics of the poor and piteous.’
Once again the king became upset when he heard this, and at this point would have gone back to his kingdom immediately, but once again the queen calmed him down. ‘Let’s not forget how the poor starving people of Wetlands need our help,’ she whispered, and seeing the truth of her argument the king nodded and reigned in his temper. Actually, the queen felt the king was being a little too virtuous. She couldn’t help admiring the Uran Khatola and longed to have a ride in it.
At the wizard’s bidding, they both climbed into the Uran Khatola and off they went. The Red Wizard sat at the wheel, the king beside him, and the queen at the back of the chariot, enjoying the sensation of her hair flapping in the wind.
After they had flown for an hour or so, they reached a huge lake. Zoozoo pointed this out to the king, explaining that the lake provided the water supply to the country, and soon they would be able to see the palace Zoozoo had spoken about, which lay a mile or so from the Laal Sea. The king now realised that his soldiers standing on duty outside the wizard’s kingdom would no longer be able to come to their rescue, because no one had anticipated boats could be needed in a rescue attempt. The king decided not to say anything about this to the queen. They continued to fly alongside the coast and saw passing gulls and sea birds looking at them curiously. Soon the contours of the Blue Palace became visible.
5. THE BLUE PALACE
The Uran Khatola slowed down to begin its descent, and landed on a wide avenue in front of the Blue Palace. The roadway continued lengthways through the main façade until it reached two towers that rose at the end of the building.
‘Those towers are so high,’ remarked the queen. ‘Do you keep anything inside them or are they just for show?’
‘There is a suite in each tower, and I have something valuable I keep inside them,’ said the wizard, with a smug expression. ‘Something that needs to be kept secure.’
The king and the queen marvelled at the beauty of the palace, but wondered why they couldn’t see any of the guests.
‘The guests?’ said the wizard in response to a question. ‘Oh, they are all waiting for us inside the palace.’
‘But their chariots are not parked outside,’ protested the queen.
‘Inside a space beneath the palace, my dear,’ answered the wizard craftily.
‘A space beneath the palace?’ repeated the queen in astonishment, for she had never heard of such a thing. Not wanting to show her ignorance, however, she added, ‘Oh, I see. I see.’
Zoozoo stepped in front of the main door to the Blue Palace, and from inside the pockets of his long white tunic he took out a glittering Golden Key, inserted it into the keyhole, and slowly turned it.
‘Why do you need to open the door with a key,’ asked the king, ‘if everyone is already inside waiting for us?’
‘Come, come,’ said Zoozoo in a soothing tone. ‘Only come inside, and all will be revealed soon. I promise.’
When they entered the palace they saw that they had come into a hall full of a maze of mirrors, and didn’t know where to turn. They followed the wizard past a lengthy corridor into another hall that seemed like a hotel suite, for there were two beds and all manner of fresh fruit kept in a silver tray on a central table.
‘There are more things to eat in the kitchen,’ said the wizard. ‘As a matter of fact, there is enough food there to last for several months. You will want to know why, of course?’
At this point he quickly stepped out of the room and the king and queen saw to their horror that the wizard had turned the key and locked them inside.
‘Ha, ha, ha,’ said the wizard, grinning through the glass doors. ‘The reason for keeping so much food is because you won’t be seeing anyone for a long long time.’
‘You won’t get away with this,’ shouted the king.
‘Oh, I will, I will,’ said the wizard. ‘I’ve tricked you, haven’t I? Both of you have fallen into my trap, so how can you say I won’t get away with it? I have already got away with it!’
‘Our army is on standby, ready to invade if we don’t return,’ warned the king.
‘Do you think I hadn’t realised that?’ said the wizard. ‘You must think I have a peanut sized brain! I know about your army. The door to this palace can be opened only with this Golden Key, and I’ve put so many hexes on it no one other than myself can ever use it.’ He gave a gleeful laugh. ‘I don’t keep it with me. My faithful dog Jhabru guards it carefully, and no one can mess with him, no sir, he is a tough and nasty creature. Even if someone did somehow manage to take the Golden Key away from Jhabru, that person would need to deal with my spells. MY SPECTACULAR SPELLS. MY SCAAAAARY SPELLS. Someone might possibly break one of the spells but there is not one, not two but THREE SPELLS.’ He paused and gave a satisfied smirk. ‘So you see, my dears, there is simply no hope for you.’
‘You evil monster!’ shouted the king.
‘No need to boil the blood in your body, my dear sir,’ said the wizard, smiling, ‘or to throw out hot air from your ears. By tomorrow evening your army will be rendered useless, and the people of your country will forget you ever existed. I’ve ways of making sure this happens.’ Zoozoo glanced at his gold watch, because he now had an appointment with his sister. ‘I’m afraid I have to go, so I’ll leave you both here – but I will come to see you again. I’m sure you will find the suite spacious and comfortable.’ He sniggered. ‘Although, of course, you might find it a bit cramped after a while, considering you’ll have to spend the rest of your miserable lives inside.’
‘You will be punished for this!’ said King Menelik. ‘You will live to regret this day.’
‘Do you not realize I could kill you right this very moment if I so wished?’ growled Zoozoo, provoked by this display of courage by the king. Even as the wizard’s face burned a brighter red, the spider shaped tattoos on his face glowed with a grey light as if the spiders were real and would crawl right out of his face at any moment.
The queen shrank back and clutched her husband’s arm in fear
‘Do you know the reason I haven’t done so already?’ Zoozoo’s fake heartiness now disappeared and his true demonic self stood revealed.
The king and queen were both quiet.
‘It’s because I will enjoy visiting you from time to time,’ said Zoozoo, curling his lip ‘and watching you suffer.’
So saying, the wizard clicked his heels, his shoes spun around, his body followed after a few seconds and then he left. The king and queen gasped in astonishment. Zoozoo smiled evilly, knowing the effect this would have on them and their morale. He liked to sometimes use his magical powers to make an impressive exit.
6. THE RED WIZARD MEETS THE CHURAIL
Zoozoo went to his sister, the Churail because he now needed to collect a mass of gulgula that would drug King Menelik’s army as well as the people of Amhara. He reached her house in less than an hour, flying in the Uran Khatola.
‘Oh, it’s my darling brother.’
The Churail cackled in pleasure when she saw her brother’s vehicle parked outside her home as she guessed all had gone according to their evil plans. She poured mice mustard and toad tonic over the drink of Yellow Dog to spice it up, for that’s how her brother liked his drink.
‘I can’t stay long, sister.’ Zoozoo patted the Churails claws by way of greeting and explained he had to hurry to complete various tasks in hand. He quickly piled four buckets of gulgula on to his flying machine.
‘Have you captured the king and queen?’ asked the Churail.
‘Yes, yes, I have them where I want them,’ laughed Zoozoo.
‘Your drink is ready, brother,’ said the Churail. ‘You must be tired. Drink up your evil energiser.’
‘Could you first please open a window?’ the wizard boomed, annoyed at his sister’s habit of keeping all the windows closed leaving her house in a state of darkness.
‘No problem, Zoozoo dear,’ said the Churail, and at once she opened a large window to let the sunlight in.
The red wizard took a gulp of Yellow Dog – to boost his badness, the Churail insisted – and explained to his sister that after a short stop at Nark, he would steer his chariot towards Amhara. He knew that as long as Princess Samara remained there despite the drug in the kingdom’s water supply and his hypnotic abilities, the people of Amhara would not forget her. For his dastardly plan to succeed, he had to get rid of her, one way or another.
This should be as simple as roasting a rat in one of my sister’s cauldrons, he thought, as he gleefully rubbed his hands together. Or even easier. Like frying a fly or boiling a bug. After all, there’s no way on earth the princess can know what has happened to her parents. All she knows is that they are enjoying themselves at a party for kings and queens. It will be a simple matter to capture her and that white nag of hers. He took another swig of Yellow Dog from the bottle the Churail handed him and laughed.
‘No one on earth can rescue the king and the queen,’ said Zoozoo, and he told his sister of the enormous difficulties he had put in the way of any attempt to do so. As the Churail listened to her brother, neither of them realised that Khabar perched outside on the windowsill was listening to everything.
‘I’ve never seen you so happy,’ the Churail twittered. ‘The dark princess will soon join her parents in the Blue Palace.’
‘Oh, yes, dear sister.’ Zoozoo stood up to his full height. ‘That’s indeed the next stage of the plan. I’ll now go see Jhabru the dog and leave the Golden Key in safe keeping with him.’ He laughed.
‘So clever!’ tittered the Churail. ‘My darling brother!’
Zoozoo said goodbye to the Churail and strode to the Uran Khatola, his green eyes gleaming with malicious mischief. He climbed into the machine and started the engine.
‘Once I’ve captured the princess and put her in the Blue Palace, together with her parents, the three of them will rot till their bones become brittle!’ he said aloud. ‘On second thoughts, perhaps I should just kill them off. Now, there’s a thought. It’s been a while since I tasted blood and bone butterscotch. Zalzala! He complimented himself on his literary expressions because at that moment there were none of his acolytes there to praise him.
The Uran Khatola zoomed through the air. Zoozoo’s mouth lay wide open in a red, gummy grin as he dwelled on the imminent success of his plans.
7. A FAIRY VISITS THE PRINCESS
While all these events were taking place, back in Amhara, Princess Samara had a disturbed night. She wondered if her parents were well. Not knowing what had taken place, she decided to send Khabar to them in the morning to find out how they were, and tried to get back to sleep.
Just before midnight, a fairy came to her in her dreams. It was the most beautiful fairy Samara had ever seen. She spoke softly, but her words sent the sensation of a spider stepping over Samara's skin.
‘Dear princess,’ she said, ‘I have come to warn you that your parents are in mortal peril. The hard task of rescuing them has fallen to you, my child, so listen carefully to what I have to say. You must leave for Wetlands by noon tomorrow at the latest. There you will meet a young boy, with a black mole on his chin, who will help you to rescue your parents provided you are good and generous. You must also visit the Hotlands and Snowlands. In both these places you will find a boy who will be like a brother to you and who will help you to rescue your parents, just like the boy you will meet in Wetlands.’
So saying she vanished, before an astonished and grief-stricken Samara had time to ask her any questions. Her chest tightened with fear for her parents. Beads of perspiration shone like while pearls on her dark forehead. She could not get back to sleep.
The next morning Samara discussed her dream with Barado.
‘Do you think it was only a dream, Barado?’ she asked.
Barado shook his head.
‘You mean all that the fairy said is true and my parents are truly in danger?’
Barado nodded his head mournfully.
A steely look entered Samara’s eyes. The fear she felt till now was replaced by anger. Butterflies doing a skip dance in her stomach could not hold their own against the force of her will and quietly disappeared. Samara’s eyes narrowed, as she held her anger in her mind, knowing she needed a resolute, determined mind and careful steps were needed to combat the Red Wizard. If the king and queen could have seen her now, they wouldn’t have seen soft and sweet Samara but strong-spirited Princess Samravit. She looked up at the blue skies and tilted her chin upwards in readiness for battle.
8. JOURNEY TO WETLANDS
‘What shall we do, Barado?’ said Samara.
‘There’s nothing for it,’ said Barado. ‘We must leave immediately. Come, sit on me, my princess. We shall be in Wetlands before sunset.’
‘My poor, trusting parents,’ said the princess with a sigh. ‘Let’s go as quickly as we can, dear Barado’
The princess climbed on top of Barado and they galloped away. He galloped, and he galloped, and he galloped, and he galloped.
They crossed huge rocky mountains, where hardly any one appeared to live and, apart from a few stray plants, hardly anything seemed to grow. They only saw a few mountain goats, and once Samara saw a huge bearded man come out a cave.
(I HAVE REACHED THE WORD LIMIT BUT THERE IS MUCH MORE..)