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(The king and queen have been imprisoned. Their daughter journeys to find friends who will help her to rescue them. Opening chapters are separately uploaded)
13. NANDO THE FIRE BOY
Nando came back with a wooden tray on which had been placed a large bowl of fruit pudding, mainly pomegranates and figs covered with a light coating of cream. Samara helped to transfer the pudding on to three smaller plates.
‘How can you possibly walk into that blazingly hot ghawa so coolly?’ remarked the princess, as she spooned tiny, red jewels of the pomegranate into her mouth.
‘Some of us in the desert are born with this ability,’ said Nando modestly. ‘It’s not a big deal. And we did need a celebration for Raja’s recovery.’
‘That’s true,’ said Samara. ‘I was so scared. I thought there was no way we were going to get hold of the medicine.’ She turned to Raja who was enjoying the pudding. ‘Had it not been for Nando’s ability to face terrible, blazing winds…’
‘If you can walk through fiery winds,’ said Raja, looking up from his plate, ‘maybe you can walk through fire. We should call you Fire Boy.’
‘Fire?’ said Nando modestly. ‘I don’t think so - but hot winds, certainly. Our people call the wind fiery because it will scald and burn your skin, although there is no actual fire burning.’
‘This is the boy we have been looking for, Princess,’ said Raja.
‘I did say you were a princess, didn’t I?’ Nando looked at Samara. ‘Which is your kingdom.’
‘I’m the Princess of Nonamia’ said Samara.
‘Oh, I say,’ exclaimed Nando. ‘Are you the daughter of King Menelik? Your father, how is he? It was because of your father my family were able to escape the clutches of the evil wizard Hoohoo when he declared war on our kingdom.’
‘It’s not Hoohoo,’ said Samara. ‘The wizard’s name is Zoozoo.’
‘Are you talking about the wizard who is tall and has green…’ Nando began.
‘…glittering eyes?’ finished Raja. ‘Yes, it is the same.’
‘And his name is Zoozoo,’ said Samara.
‘If you say so,’ said Nando. ‘Anyway, what brings you here?’
The princess told Nando the whole story. She explained how, after they’d crossed the Kaala Pani Lake with the Golden Key, the next task would be to carry the key through a fiery storm that would scald any ordinary person’s skin.
‘You are the boy we were supposed to meet,’ sighed Samara, ‘and yesterday in the desert we didn’t realise this. Could you possibly…..’
‘Carry the key through a storm?’ said Nando.
‘Yes.’ The princess looked at him hopefully. ‘It will be like an inferno.’
‘It shouldn’t be a problem for me,’ said Nando. ‘There are no storms fiercer than the ones here. Oh, dear princess, do not hesitate to ask me for anything I might be able to do for you. I am happy to go through any fiery storms.’
‘The first task will be to get hold of the Golden Key from a dog called Jhabru,’ said the Princess.
‘Should that be so difficult?’ asked Nando.
‘It is difficult,’ said Raja, ‘because this dog is no ordinary dog. It’s a huge dog, isn’t it, Princess?’
‘About twenty times the size of a normal big dog,’ said Samara, who had been told this by Khabar. ‘But we’ll think of a solution for that later. Where do you live, Nando?’
‘It is not far from here. It’s known as Sutthan, and it’s a place known for its medicinal herbs.’
‘How can you find medicinal herbs in the desert?’ said the princess. ‘I don’t see many plants growing. There’s only yellow, sandy desert everywhere.’
‘You’re right, Princess.’ Nando laughed. ‘In most parts of the Hotlands, few plants grow, but there is an oasis where they do grow plentifully. It is there I live with my kinsmen. We also have fruit trees in abundance. When you met me in the desert yesterday, I was carrying fruit to sell in a nearby town.’
Nando’s eye fell on a large brown packet of medicine on the table. ‘That’s a lot of medicine.’
‘Raja decided to buy extra, in case there were others in Wetlands who also needed the medicine apart from his Dadima,’ explained Samara.
‘That’s a wonderful thought, Raja,’ said Nando. ‘I could have got you a discount.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Raja.
‘Of course, it matters!’ cried Nando. ‘We could have given the extra money away to poor people! I always try and give as much as I can.’
His last sentence was spoken with such vehemence that both Raja and Samara were taken aback.
‘So, do you help poor people with the money you make from selling fruit?’ asked Raja.
‘‘My kinsmen were most upset with me the last time I gave away all the profit I made to the poor.’ Nando smiled sadly at the memory. ‘I agreed never to do so again.’ He paused. ‘We have now agreed I can give away a certain percentage of the profits to the poor.’ He grew serious. ‘I want to do that. The poor need our help.’
Princess Samara saw Nando differently now. It had annoyed her when Nando had talked of wanting to buy Barado, but now she realised his motives were geared more towards helping people than to making lots of money. He was someone after her own heart.
‘Tell us more about yourself, Nando,’ she said.
‘My parents escaped the clutches of the wizard many years ago when he declared war on our kingdom,’ said Nando sadly. His voice grew stern. ‘Zoozoo launched a surprise attack on our kingdom. We would have been forced to surrender for we had a small army but your father, King Menelik come to our rescue with his big army.’
Samara felt proud of her father at this moment, but also missed him greatly. She held back her tears.
‘My parents were saved,’ said Nando, wiping a tear, ‘but alas they did not live long afterwards.’
‘What happened?’ asked Samara.
Nando gave a long sigh as though he was unwilling to recall something.
‘My parents were invited as heads of state to attend a conference in the Wetlands.’ The Fire Boy’s voice trembled, as he blinked away tears. ‘There they appear to have died in an accident.’
‘How do you know this?’ said Raja.
‘The king of that land, a military man, said this is what had happened, and everyone in my country seems to believe it.’
‘This is Zoozoo’s work!’ exclaimed Samara. ‘Your parents may well still be alive!’
Nando stared at his new friends, not understanding.
‘Tell me – who rules your country now?’ asked Raja.
‘A round, fat man, a foreigner, who wears a military uniform, whom everybody appears to trust.’
‘And what about you?’ said the princess.
‘My kinsmen don’t like our ruler,’ said Nando, ‘but the rest of the Hotlanders have no complaint against him. If they are happy with this round, fat man…’ He shrugged.
‘If you and your kinsmen don’t like your ruler, that means you have not been hypnotised,’ said the princess. ‘Don’t you think so, Raja?’ She turned to Raja for his opinion. ‘We know the reason why you were not hypnotised but why hasn’t Nando been hypnotised?’
‘Perhaps Nando has also been drinking purified water like me,’ suggested Raja. They both explained to Nando – who was scratching his head in confusion – how the Red Wizard added gulgula to the city water supply in order to hypnotise the people.
‘So, this is the explanation!’ said Nando, after thinking for a moment ‘I always wondered why it was only us who didn’t like our ruler.’
‘What is the explanation?’ asked Raja and Samara together.
‘My relatives and I live a bit far away from the main towns,’ explained Nando, ‘and we have a few private wells from which we drink, and as far as I know nothing has been added to it.’ He paused. ‘On the other hand, most Hotlanders drink water from a lake, into which the wizard could easily throw his potions.’
Raja said, ‘What is the name of your ruler?’
‘I believe his name is General Gongo,’ answered Nando.
‘That clinches it!’ cried the princess. ‘The evil wizard Zoozoo, through General Zomba, is controlling your kingdom. This fat man, General Gongo, is the brother of General Zombo, the commander-in-chief of the Zoozooland army.
‘I don’t understand,’ said Nando. ‘Where does the wizard come into the picture? My parents went to a land called Wetlands, and, as I told you, and there was a ruler there…’
‘That was a trap set by the wizard to call your parents to the Wetlands,’ said the princess. ‘Don’t you see?’
Nando shook his head.
‘Do you know who the prince of Wetlands is?’ asked Raja.
‘No, I’m afraid not.’
‘You are looking at him,’ said Raja. ‘I am the prince. I found this out only yesterday, and all because of the efforts of the princess.’
‘And you Nando are the prince of the Hotlands!’ said Samara excitedly. ‘Oh, my dear Nando, it’s not that the people have forgotten you or that they are happy with this man, this Zomba. You see they’ve all been hypnotised by the wizard into thinking your parents are dead.’ She paused to catch her breath. ‘After the Red Wizard took control of Wetlands, he decided to invite you there for he knew they would not go to Zooland.’
‘They were kidnapped,’ said Raja, ‘and most likely they are imprisoned in the Blue Palace, like the princess’s parents and my own.’
‘I understand now!’ exclaimed Nando. His face was shining with the thought his parents might after all be alive. ‘I am with you in this, my dear friends. Together we will storm the Blue Palace.’
‘We have other, more immediate, tasks in hand,’ said Samara, smiling at his enthusiasm. ‘First, we need to go back to Wetlands as soon as possible so Dadima can take her medicine and recover.’
‘Shall I come with you to the Wetlands?’ said Nando.
‘You could,’ said Samara, ‘but first you need to go back to your oasis and try and convince your relatives your parents are possibly still alive and imprisoned in the Blue Palace.’
‘I understand,’ said Nando. ‘As my kinsmen and I have not been hypnotised, once I have told them everything, I’m sure they will believe me.’ He looked thoughtful for a few moments. ‘They will want to help in whichever way they can.’
‘That’s wonderful,’ said the Princess. ‘I’m wondering how we can let you know when we are ready to go to Zoozooland.’ She clapped her hands. ‘I know! We’ll send Khabar, the magical bird, with a message for you to be ready, and then we will come and pick you up. Isn’t that clever? Oh, and another thing. You said you have horses, didn’t you?’
‘Many horses,’ replied Nando.
‘So you must explain what we have said to you to your kinsmen and see if you can persuade them to join us in Zoozooland when we give the word.’
‘I am sure my kinsmen will be pleased to join our efforts,’ said Nando.
‘Could you tell them to bring
extra horses as well?’ said Samara, after some thought. ‘These will surely be needed if we succeed in rescuing our parents.’
‘There will be no problem,’ said Nando. ‘I will also ask them to come armed and prepared to fight Zoozoo’s forces.’
‘And ask them to carry extra weapons for us to use,’ said Raja, his teeth clenched in anger at the thought of the ensuing battle.
After further discussion on the subject it was decided this indeed would be the wisest course of action. They talked everything over with Barado, with Samara translating for the horse, and finally he nodded his head in agreement.
The evening arrived, and it became cool enough to travel through the Hotlands, Samara and Raja sat astride Barado, their trusted steed, who streaked across the yellow sands back to Wetlands. They didn’t want to waste any time in getting back to Dadima to give her the medicine to cure her of the dreaded Khang.
They reached Wetlands early the following morning and found Dadima lying in bed. Her breathing was now shallow, and she was running a high temperature. Already frail, she had grown much weaker and paler, even in the few days since they had last seen her.
‘Oh, you’re back!’ Dadima’s eyes lit up upon seeing the children. ‘So soon.’ She tried to sit up in bed, but the effort was too much, and fell back with a sigh.
Doctor Wuwa was immediately summoned. All the neighbours came in to watch Osfofo being administered to Dadima. Three doses of the greenish powder mixed with a cup of warm milk were needed in all, to be given once every two hours.
The first two doses didn’t have any effect at all. Had they been too late in bringing the medicine and starting the treatment?
It was almost lunchtime by the time the third dose was given. Everyone stood around the bed anxiously. Would it work?
The recovery was swift. Colour came back to Dadima’s face, the fever subsided, and her breathing became normal. The neighbours saw everything was going to be all right and one by one they left.
‘You’re looking well, Dadima.’ There was great relief on Raja’s face, for although he knew the medicine was supposed to work, till it actually did, his heart kept racing with anxiety.
After a few hours despite the protests by the children, Dadima refused to stay in bed any longer, and she began to hobble around the house watering the plants. Raja and Samara couldn’t stop her from going into the kitchen and cooking Pimplamoo, a flavoured bread with all kinds of tasty fruit and vegetable fillings inside. It was one of the most sumptuous, mouth-watering dishes Wetlands had to offer.
After lunch, Raja and Samara decided they had better be going to Snowlands. This country was closer to Wetlands than the Hotlands, and if they started at once they would be there by nightfall. Dadima didn’t press them to stay longer because she knew they had important tasks to do. Barado, the superhorse was sure he had rested enough and was ready to travel to Snowlands.
‘Ready when you are, Princess,’ he said to Samara; and they saw he was raring to go.
‘We’ll soon be back with Mother and Father,’ said Raja as he hugged his grandmother good-bye.
‘I don’t doubt you will, Raja,’ said Dadima. ‘Had you been alone I might have worried. But you have your elder sister with you, so I am not worried. I’ll be waiting for the two of you to return, so don’t be too long.’ She handed a large packet to her grandson. ‘Whenever you and Samara feel hungry, have some pimplamoo. There should be enough for at least a week.’
‘Oh, that’s lovely, Dadima,’ said Princess Samara. ‘I love this stuff.’
Pimplamoo kept for a long time without going bad and was something you could never tire of eating.
Raja and Samara mounted Barado to now travel to the third stop on their journey. It would be in Snowlands they hoped to find the boy who could help them cross the River of Ice.
Barado galloped as if he was in a race, and soon the dark grey clouds that hung over the Wetlands like a blanket were gone. The sun appeared with blue skies and white clouds. Colourful birds in formation darted past the clouds. By the evening, it became much cooler, and the birds started to go to their nests. As the sun went down the temperature started to drop, slowly at first and then it got colder and colder.
‘Brrrrrrr,’ shivered Samara.
‘Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr,’ shivered Raja.
Only Barado was unaffected.
He stopped briefly so that Samara and Raja started putting on their warm clothes, but soon, very soon, these were not enough. They had packed plenty of woollens Barado had carried on his back without a word of reproach, but they soon started throwing some of these away to lighten his burden, and besides they were now becoming useless against the bitter, bitter cold. It was time to take out their secret weapon against the cold: thick gloves caps, socks and the extra-warm shawls they had purchased in the Hotlands.
The shawls from Hotland seemed to be magical because they were so light and thin, yet they kept those who wore them warmer than they would have been under a thick blanket. The shawls were in fact so thin that if you rolled them up you could pass them through a ring. This was a test of their fineness. And Samara and Raja had bought two of the warmest shawls available.
‘Are you sure you want them?’ the Hotlands shopkeeper who had sold them the shawls had asked. ‘These are very warm. We receive orders for these only from the coldest lands on earth, where it is too cold even to cry.’
Too cold even to cry? What a strange thing to say? thought Samara, but perhaps she would understand the meaning of this mysterious statement once they reached Snowlands. They wrapped the shawls tightly around themselves. In a trice, the two friends felt as warm and snug as two bugs in a rug.
They reached before nightfall. Everything was white, white, and white. They had reached Barf, the capital, and looked for a lodge to spend the night. Samara and Raja were both excited to be in this new land, and strangely enough not at all tired from their long journey.
‘Could you please slow down, Barado?’ the princess whispered in the horse’s ear. ‘Let’s look around, shall we?’
‘Not a problem, dear princess.’ Barado started to trot along the snow-covered streets.
The snow was all around, but at first glance no sign of visible habitation. So, where did the Snowlanders live? Eventually Samara and Raja would learn that the Snowlanders didn’t live in the kind of houses they lived in, because their houses were mostly made of wood, bricks and cement. It would have been a hard job to dig up the brown and red earth that lay below the huge mounds of snow on the ground and to make mud bricks and construct houses. The snow cover was so thick it would have taken days and days to dig out the mud and have it brought to the surface to be baked and turned into red bricks.
For the Snowlanders it was much simpler to make houses out of ice bricks, and these were easy to make. You simply gathered up a lot of snow and heated it in a big container. Once this had melted you poured the water into little boxes and waited for it to freeze, which it did quickly and turned into an ice brick. Once this was done, it was easy to use the ice bricks to make houses out of them. This is because it’s easy to stick ice bricks together. Ice bricks are naturally sticky, so there was no need for any cement or gummy substance.
Barado stopped outside a large, impressive snow mansion. Outside it stood guards in white uniform.
‘Excuse me, what is this building and who lives here?’ Samara called out to one of the guards.
‘It’s the ruler of Snowland,’ said the young man with a crew cut. ‘This is the Black House.’
The mansion was called such, because although, like all the other houses, it had been made of ice bricks, a special paint was used to colour it black. It was the ruler’s thinking he should have a house different from the others because most of the houses in Snowlands were, of course, white. In Snowlands, most people kept the original white colour of their houses. Only the rich could afford to have their houses painted a different shade. For all that, the white houses looked elegant.
‘I don’t like this black house,’ said Samara. ‘Do you, Raja?’
‘Black is out of place,’ said Raja. ‘If it had been blue or green would have still looked all right. This looks…. scary.’
As an alternative to ice brick houses, the Snowlanders could have used wood. Yes, there was plenty of wood in Snowlands. The tallest trees in the world grew here.
Barado stopped at an Ice Park where they could see Snowlanders walking about with little children.
‘How tall are these trees!’ cried Samara, in amazement.
‘They look like they would reach the stars,’ agreed Raja, craning his neck.
For a tree to survive in Snowlands, it had to be really tall because the taller a tree the deeper its roots. The only trees that could possibly have grown in that cold country would have been those whose roots went much deeper than all the snow that covered the ground so they could take their nourishment from the earth.
It was so cold in Snowlands that it never rained, because of course the rain became hail or sleet well before it reached the ground. So, if you climbed one of the tall trees that grew in Snowlands and went high enough, you might be able to see rain, but never if you were walking on the streets of Snowlands. Many people climbed trees in the hope of seeing rain. They had never seen it fall on the land. Children were especially curious to see what it looked like. So, during festivals and holidays, adventurous boys and girls would climb the trees at a specially marked area in an ice park in Barf. They would return several hours later, with the climbers delighted to have had a vision of beautiful rain. Of course, it was a bit risky, but the children were all loosely but securely strapped to the trees in such a way that they could climb but not fall. It was an adventure for the Snowlanders. The Tall Tree tour operators assured their customers only the best quality strapping material was used during these exercises. Sometimes when an important person climbed up a tree, nets were hung that would catch him or her if he or she fell, but that almost never happened.
The skies darkened and the clouds rumbled. The grey clouds suddenly turned red and a terrifying face appeared in them.
‘Look!’ cried Raja, pointing.
The children looked up and saw a dreadful, sneering face in the clouds. Was it the Red Wizard?
Lightning flashed and there was the loud crash of thunder.
Was Zoozoo sending them all a warning?
15. PRINCE, THE SNOW BOY
If Princess Samara had a weakness it was for ice cream. She loved ice cream and most days this was what she ate for dessert, even though there might be all kinds of puddings and custards ready to be sampled at the royal dinner table in Nonamia. During the tour of the town, she and Raja had seen several parlours in the city that sold something known as a snowlick. It did look like an ice-cream.
You might think that in Snowlands no one would eat ice cream because it was so cold, but you would be wrong because Snowlanders simply adored ice cream, only it was slightly different, and they called it snowlick. If anything, snowlick was better than plain old ice-cream.
Snowlicks were made the same way we make ice cream today. Only the ice cream would be heated up to make it a soft and foamy, and gradually as the customers licked it, it became hard. People would go to parlours and order their favourite snowlick, together with a glass of Pighloo. A Pighloo was something like a drink that is half-liquid, half-solid. It’s a plain drink, like lemonade or orange juice, only served in a semi-frozen state. You might have lemonade semi-frozen, which you would call something like lemon ice. As you drink the lemon ice it slowly started to freeze and harden, but the fun in drinking it was while it was semi-frozen, so you don’t want to dawdle over your drink too much. In Snowlands, if you put a drink out in the open, in a matter of seconds it would freeze. As the customers licked the Snowlicks and drank their Pighloos they would both slowly start to freeze and harden.
‘Lick up your Snowlick,’ mothers would say to their children, ‘otherwise it will harden and won’t be so much fun.’
‘Drink up your Pighloo,’ fathers might say to their children, ‘otherwise it will harden, and you’ll have to heat it up again.’
Despite the scary vision they had seen the previous night the children had a good night’s rest at the Blue Fairy Lodge, which was a three-storey building made of ice. Samara was drawn to the place because of the statue that stood at the entrance of the lodge, after which the lodge had been named. It was a statue made of ice of a beautiful fairy, with blue wings wearing a white dress.
In the morning, after breakfast they asked the elderly lodgekeeper with a snow-white beard who managed the hotel what parlour he would recommend because there were several in the street not far from the lodge.
‘Try Basho’s’ he said. ‘It has the largest variety of flavours and maintains the highest standard of quality.’
They rode with Barado a few hundred yards to where the ice cream parlour was located. Samara and Raja went inside and took their seats opposite a small wooden table. Poor Barado had to wait outside. The ceiling of the parlour was low, and the space was cramped. Anyway, Barado was not a great fan of ice-cream.
‘I’m going to have strawberry flavour,’ said Raja. ‘What about you, Samara?’
‘I’m going to try an unusual flavour,’ said Samara peering at the menu. ‘Look what it says. “Midnight Blue – only by special order”.’
The walrus-moustachioed manager who took their order gave a start of surprise when Samara placed her order.
‘Oh, that’s a special order,’ he said. ‘I’ll have to ask Prince to take care of it.’ He walked across to a door on the outside of which a board said: ‘Kitchen – Do not enter without permission’. He opened the door and gave a loud bellow, which everyone in the parlour could hear: ‘Prince, we have a special request. Yes, a customer is asking for Midnight Blue. Could you come up for a moment, please?’
Shortly afterwards they saw a young boy with bright blue eyes walking up to the counter. His complexion was almost as white as the snow fallen outside. Light brown, curly hair fell over his shoulders. He was athletic but on the thinner side.
Samara and Raja were surprised to see he was wearing only a coloured vest. How could he possibly be so lightly attired and still appear comfortable. They wrapped their shawls tighter and stared at him.
‘This is Prince,’ said the manager, as he came up with the boy. ‘Prince is our expert, who prepares all the special snowlicks in our kitchen. He knows more about flavours than anyone else. If you want Midnight Blue, and if something like that exists, he would be the one who knows how to make it. In fact, he told me he wanted to meet anyone who asked for this flavour. Didn’t tell me why, though…’
The manager trundled off leaving Prince at the table.
The boy noticed Samara and Raja were looking at him in amazement.
‘Are you strangers here?’ he said.
They both nodded.
‘That’s why you are staring at me as though I was a curiosity.’ He smiled to show he had taken no offence.
‘We didn’t mean to be rude,’ said the princess. ‘We were wondering how you keep warm.’
‘It’s simple. I happen to be a Snow Boy.’
‘A Snow Boy? What is that?’ they both asked at once.
‘Now Snowlands has been there for thousands of years, but of late there are some changes,’ said the boy called Prince. ‘During the last twenty years, every now and again a few babies are born who are naturally adapted to the cold. These snow babies don’t need furs, or warm shawls or any other garment to keep warm. These babies are commonly referred to as snow babies, or snow boys and snow girls.’
‘But how is that possible?’ cried Samara and Raja in unison.
Samara knew cats and dogs were born with hair to keep them warm in cold lands, but Prince had no hair on his body.
‘Snow babies are born with an extra coating around their skin,’ Prince explained patiently. He held out his hand and Samara saw that indeed there was a very fine but distinct extra layer over his skin.
Prince continued with his explanation. ‘It’s like having a second skin. Most people have a single skin, but snow babies have two skins. The second skin keeps us warm without the need for any extra clothes.’
‘That’s very convenient,’ said Raja, who felt a tiny bit jealous their new friend had something special he and Samara didn’t have.
‘It is so indeed,’ said Prince. ‘It keeps us warm. We don’t need all those thick garments. I would feel hot and suffocated in them.’ He saw their expression and added. ‘This doesn’t mean I can’t go to warm, or even hot, places. I most certainly can. The second skin adjusts automatically to the outside temperature. It’s just that I cannot wear too many clothes, no matter where I am.’
‘That’s fantastic,’ said Raja admiringly. ‘You can travel everywhere with a minimum of luggage. Poor Barado, our horse,’ – he pointed through the glass to the white steed waiting outside – ‘has had to carry all our clothes, including heavy woollens, over long distances.’
‘To be honest, I don’t even need this vest,’ said Prince smiling. ‘I need to wear something, though.’ He laughed. ‘It’s not polite to go around bare-chested.’
Samara and Raja looked at each other. Prince was most certainly the boy they had come in search of. The question was whether he would agree to risk his life in helping them. Why would he?
Samara hesitated, but decided it was best to ask Prince straight away.
‘Do you know, Prince,’ she said, ‘that we have come here to Snowlands in search of you?’
‘And I on my part have been waiting for you for many months,’ said Prince.
Raja and Samara stared at him, open-mouthed in astonishment.
‘But first, let me get you your snowlicks,’ said Prince, ‘and afterwards we can talk.’
Prince went back to the kitchen
‘Why has he been waiting for you?’ said Raja.
‘Let’s see,’ said Samara.
In a few minutes Prince returned carrying two goblets of snow-licks, the purple strawberry flavour and the Midnight Blue Samara had ordered. Midnight Blue was a blue coloured snow-lick flecked with small white crystals as if they were stars shining in the middle of the night.
‘Wow,’ said Raja.
‘So beautiful,’ said Samara.
‘Lick them while they are still soft,’ said Prince. ‘In a little while they will harden.’
‘Prince’ said Samara, as she started to savour her snowlick, ‘we really need you to help us. I don’t know what we can do for you, but we need you to do something important for us. You will have to risk your life for us.’
‘Tell me,’ said Prince, as he sat on a chair next to them.
Samara and Raja explained to Prince how Zoozoo the wizard had kidnapped both their parents and that this had also been the case with Nando’s parents. Also, that in order to rescue them, they needed someone who could walk through the River of Ice.
‘A river of ice!’ exclaimed Prince. ‘How can you have a river made of ice? Ice is solid.’
‘Well, I don’t suppose it’s actually a river of ice,’ said Samara thoughtfully. ‘More likely it’s a field where you have icy winds blowing, but we need you because the person who walks across the field can’t wear any clothes while he walks across. You see the wizard has cast a spell that would make any cloth catch fire!’
‘Surely you cannot expect me to walk across anywhere without any clothes on!’ protested Prince.
Babe and Raja looked at each other. This was going to be difficult.
‘I have to come with you in any case,’ said Prince. ‘That’s not a problem.’
‘Why would you come with us?’ asked Samara and Raja together. This was not going to be so difficult after all.
‘I don’t have any kidnapped parents,’ said Prince, his expression sad and wistful. ‘My parents were the king and queen of Snowlands. They both died when I was very young, but I have an elder brother, Milan, who’s gone missing on the way to attend a conference in Nark.’
‘Nark, the capital of Zoozooland ruled by the evil wizard Zoozoo!’ exclaimed the princess. ‘But tell me, who rules Snowlands now if your parents are dead?’
‘We have a fat, balding man in military uniform who calls himself General Bonzo who has been ruling here for a long…’
‘Oh, he must be General Zombo’s brother,’ cut in Princess Samara.
‘And who is General Zombo?’ asked Prince mystified.
‘He is the commander-in-chief of Zoozoo’s army,’ the princess explained. ‘They have a big army of strongmen called zombos.’
‘I’m not sure that is the case,’ said Prince, shaking his head. ‘This man Bonzo has been ruling Snowlands as both Milan and I were far too young to rule the land at the time of my parent’s death. You see, although my father was king of Snowlands, he was also a wizard, who had been trained by none other than the Great Wizard of the Himalayas. The Great Himalayan Wizard, as he is known the world over, trained several students, but was especially fond of my father who was nicknamed the Snow Wizard as he was the ruler of Snowlands. There was another student who was right at the head of the class along with my father, a very tall boy.’
‘Did this boy have green eyes?’ asked Samara. ‘He might have been the Red Wizard in his youth.’
‘I don’t know what he looked like,’ said Prince. ‘but I do remember my father telling Milan and I when we were very young that this wizard, who was his good friend, always liked to dress in white.’
‘It must be Zoozoo,’ said Raja. ‘That’s the name he must have given himself later.’
‘I agree, Raja,’ said the princess thoughtfully. ‘Anyway, Prince, please continue.’
‘When I was very young, the wizard invited my parents to stay for a few days with him and his sister.’ He paused, as if trying to control his emotions. ‘There was an … ‘accident’, and both of them died.’ A sob escaped him, but he quickly pulled himself together.
‘How do you know this for certain?’ Samara persisted.
‘Their dead bodies were brought back home,’ said Prince. ‘I saw they were dead. Milan and I were both there.’
All of them were silent for a few minutes. The princess put her arm around Prince, and she felt fear clutch her throat for her own parents who were in so much danger. She looked at Raja and realised he was thinking the same about his own parents.
Samara’s eyes welled up with tears, but in a split second they had frozen and turned into ice. She removed the frozen teardrops from her eyes before they could fall and held them in her hand amazed. Now she understood why the shopkeeper had said it was too cold to even cry in Snowlands.
‘They say everyone is happy in Snowlands,’ said Prince, ‘because no one can cry. Your tears freeze before they can fall.’
All three children had to smile when Prince said this, even in their shared moment of sorrow.
‘Did your father teach you any magic?’ asked Raja.
‘Not to me,’ said Prince ‘I was far too young, but my brother Milan learnt some. You’re not supposed to start learning magic till you are a certain age, you see. Milan was taught many things by my father, who left a magic book given to him by the Great Himalayan Wizard. Milan read and practised many of the spells written in this book.’
‘And did the Red Wizard also have a copy of this book?’ asked Samara, as she spooned snow-lick into her mouth.
‘The Great Himalayan Wizard had made a will before his death, bequeathing a book of magic to each of his two favourite pupils, the Snow Wizard, my father – and this other person, you say is Zoozoo. These each contained different spells. In his will, the Himalayan Wizard wrote that never under any circumstances was one book to be given to the other, because he didn’t believe that either of his two students should have the combined knowledge of both books. The combined knowledge might create too much magical power for a single person. They were, however, permitted to train pupils with the knowledge they had gained from him, and from reading the book of magic bequeathed to each of them. So, it was perfectly in order for Milan to receive lessons in magic from my father and to practice spells in the magic book.’
Raja couldn’t help saying, ‘This is so exciting!’
Samara, too, couldn’t help thinking how wonderful it would be to know some magic; it would help them combat Zoozoo.
‘It was decided,’ Prince continued, ‘that Milan would be appointed as the king once he turned eighteen, but he simply disappeared.’
‘Disappeared!’ interjected Raja. ‘More likely he, too, has been kidnapped by Zoozoo and held hostage in one of the rooms in the Blue Palace.’
‘He did disappear,’ said Prince. ‘You see, I was with him when he disappeared.’
Samara and Raja’s eyes widened in surprise.
‘Zoozoo invited Milan and me to Zoozooland, because he said he wanted to see his old friend’s children. While we were on our way there, passing through the Green Forest outside the capital, Milan changed his mind and suggested we return to Snowlands. He said he needed to go back to read some spells in the book of magic.’
‘And then?’ asked Samara.
‘We had not even met Zoozoo. We saddled our horses and were going back to Snowlands, when suddenly there was a flash of lightning and…’
‘And then what?’ asked Raja, hanging on to Prince’s every word.
‘And then my brother, who was riding alongside me, simply disappeared. He just vanished. He was carrying a golden sword with him and that also disappeared.’
‘Did you search for him?’ asked Samara.
‘I looked everywhere, but he was nowhere to be found.’
‘I suspect this must be one of Zoozoo’s spells,’ said Raja.
‘When Milan didn’t show up for a few weeks,’ said Prince. ‘I decided to myself go to Zoozooland to look for Milan.’
‘And then?’ asked Raja.
‘My mother came to me in a dream, together with a beautiful fairy, and in unison they asked me not to be hasty but to work in an ice cream parlour and wait for a young princess who would come and ask for Midnight Blue flavour. She would take me to Milan. And so, I have been working here in Basho’s kitchen ever since, waiting for you to come.’
‘Was it a beautiful fairy with luminous ebony-coloured skin?’ asked Samara.
‘Eish,’ said Prince, astonished. ‘How did you know?’
Samara explained how the same fairy had come to her in her dream and advised her to go to Snowlands once she had visited Wetlands and the Hotlands.
‘Why did the Snowlanders accept this man, General Bonzo as their ruler?’ asked Raja.
‘When my parent’s dead bodies were brought back, a letter was found in my father’s shirt pocket written in his father’s handwriting that said should anything happen to him and his wife, then this man General Bonzo should rule the country, as Milan and I were too young.’ The Snow Boy’s expression was mournful. ‘And now Milan is not there.’
‘But you are there?’ said Samara.
‘I’m still too young,’ said Prince.
‘All this sounds suspicious to me,’ said Raja, anger in his voice. ‘I’m sure there must be one of Zoozoo’s tricks. Why would your father write such a letter assuming that something was going to happen to him and your mother? Perhaps Zoozoo forced your father to write that letter saying that he would otherwise do something to you and your brother Milan.’
‘Now that I think of it, that’s possible of course,’ admitted Prince.
Raja said, ‘What do you think, Princess?’
Samara seemed lost in thought, and said slowly, ‘Tell me something, Prince – how do people drink water in Snowlands?’
‘The same way everyone else does, princess,’ chortled Raja. ‘Through their mouths.’