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PRINCESS SAMARA AND THE SCARY SPELLS
(opening chapters separately uploaded for anyone interested. The king and queen are captured and the princess has to rescue them with the help of new friends)
9. JOURNEY TO WETLANDS
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.
After the mountains they came across thick forests, and Barado had to slow down his gallop to canter along small, narrow paths cut through the woods, or they would have collided with the trees.
Then the forests once more gave way to mountains, but these were not dry and rocky but were covered with snow and, despite being so sad at the thought of her poor parents, Samara was captivated by the beauty of her surroundings.
‘If an artist were to make a painting of the two of us as we now appear,’ said Samara, ‘anyone who saw it would think I was flying five feet above the ground.’
‘Why would they think that?’ asked Barado, mystified.
‘Don’t you see?’ cried the princess. ‘Your colour exactly blends with the colour of these snow-covered mountains. If someone were to make a picture of you, it would be like using white ink on white paper. The only thing that would show up in the picture would be your bright blue eyes.’
Barado had huge, sad-looking blue eyes, and sometimes Samara wondered whether there wasn’t a secret sorrow he was hiding from her. Some time ago she had asked him if there was anything that troubled him, but the horse had simply brushed aside the suggestion while at the same time brushing away a fly with his tail. In spite of his denial, however, Samara was not entirely convinced that her beloved companion was not hiding something from her.
The mountains disappeared and they were now in the plains. The sun grew hotter and Samara began to feel tired.
‘How much further is it?’ she asked Barado.
‘Not much further,’ replied her steed. ‘We are nearing Wetlands now. Can’t you smell it in the air?’
Samara couldn’t smell anything, and couldn’t imagine what Barado was talking about. Her stomach was growling and she longed for some food and a bed to lie down in.
Soon it grew cooler. The light became fainter. Now Samara could feel a moistness in the air, and understood that Barado must have been talking about the smell of the rain. It was raining somewhere not far away.
Barado stopped and honked. He told Samara to take out a raincoat from the bag that fell across his belly.
‘I don’t really mind a bit of rain,’ she said.
‘It’s not just an ordinary drizzle,’ Barado explained patiently. ‘It’s monsoon time in Wetlands. It’ll soon be raining horses, let alone cats and dogs. Sweet Princess, please don’t argue with me,. Put on the raincoat or you’ll catch a chill.’
So the princess dismounted and took out a beautiful pink raincoat from the bag and put it on. Then she remounted Barado who began to gallop off again. They had hardly travelled another mile when Samara began to understand what was meant by ‘monsoon time’. It most certainly wasn’t drizzle.
The droplets of rain were the largest she had ever seen. It was as if someone were relentlessly and tirelessly pouring huge buckets of water from an inexhaustible supply from the sky, where there was not even the tiniest hint of blue. It didn’t stop Barado in his stride, however, for he still galloped, and galloped, and galloped, and galloped.
An hour later they reached a large, bustling town called Singalong (what a quaint, nice- sounding name, thought Samara) the capital of Wetlands. The first thing they had to do was to find a room for the night. Samara and Barado visited many inns, but whenever Samara asked for a room on the ground floor, which is what she preferred, the manager would refuse.
At the sixth inn they visited, the manager, when told of Samara’s preference, actually started laughing. ‘A room on the ground floor!’ he chortled, tears of laughter rolling down his cheeks. ‘I’ve never heard of such a request in this season. You must be either joking or very new to our country.’
For a princess Samara was remarkably patient, but as she was tired and hungry she was nearing the end of her tether. ‘Why ever not?’ she snapped. ‘Surely you have rooms on the ground floor? You cannot build on the first floor without building on the ground floor, or is that indeed how you build hotels in Wetlands? In the air, without any foundation?’
The manager sobered down when he saw that his young customer had become angry. ‘Do not get angry, my dear,’ he said. ‘No, we do build a ground floor before building a first floor. Some people, however, would say that we construct buildings without any foundations, or with such weak foundations that they are practically invisible.’ He saw that his guest was once again getting angry, so he suddenly became much more deferential. ‘The point, Dear Princess – may I call you that?’ He paused.
Samara nodded her assent but said, ‘How do you know I am a princess?’
‘Ah ha! I see that now you are the one who wants to joke,’ said the manager, ‘You look and behave like a princess, if I may say so. Anyhow, the point I was beginning to make was that in Wetlands, no one, absolutely no one, would make the mistake of asking for a ground floor room in this season. The reason, my dear, is that the water comes in. Right now, it’s all we can do in this hotel to keep the water out of the main lobby and reception area; we can’t keep the ground floor rooms dry. At this time of the year, we can only offer rooms on the first floor of the hotel. In the season that is going to begin shortly, this is the best that we can do if you want to stay close to the earth, on terra firma, which, I understand, is what you want to do?’
The mystery was solved, but Samara now wanted to know what season was about to begin.
‘Well, it’s quite simple, actually. We call it Bhansoon, but, to put it in plain words, it could also be called the MUCH MORE RAINY season. You see we have four seasons in Wetlands. We have the DRY season that lasts exactly five days in the year. Then we have the rainy season that lasts nearly three months, and then we have the MORE RAINY season that lasts for six months. Finally, we have the season that is just about to begin, which lasts for nearly three months. This is called the MUCH MORE RAINY season. Do you understand my dear?’
Samara thanked him for his explanation.
‘Shall I book you a room on the first floor?’ asked the Manager.
Samara nodded. She paid for a large room for herself and a private stable for Barado for one week, which was to be the length of their stay. She herself was by now too tired to eat anything, but ordered a bushel of the best hay for Barado, who most certainly must have been exhausted and, she imagined, ravenously hungry from the very long journey.
She fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow, and in her dreams imagined she was once more with her parents, holidaying near the snowflaked peaks of Uncha Parbat.
The next day she woke up late in the morning to find that it was raining outside: a slow drizzle. She had a very slow brunch. Before coming to Wetlands she had worried that she might have found it difficult to eat food in countries other than Amhara. She could never have imagined that the food in Wetlands would taste much better than that which she was used to eating in her own beloved country, and almost regretted not having eaten dinner the night before. Samara ate slowly, because the food was so incredibly tasty, and she wanted to savour every morsel. She took almost two hours over her meal, and when she had finished found she had eaten so much that at first she couldn’t move. After she had waited for fifteen minutes, however, she found that the food had somehow been magically digested.
She went over to the stables and found Barado waiting impatiently for her. ‘Where have you been?’ he complained petulantly. ‘We must try to find the boy who can carry the Golden Key across a lake without a drop of water spilling on it. The good fairy told us that we would find him in Wetlands.’
‘Provided we were good and generous,’ Samara added.
‘Yes, yes,’ neighed Barado, ‘but we are that, aren’t we?’
With Samara on his back, Barado set off at a canter towards the Singalong city centre. It was lunchtime, and there were wonderful smells that emanated from the dishes being served in the various restaurants. It was a pity, Samara thought, that dear Barado ate only hay because right now she wanted to share the tasty food with a friend. It’s far, far better than the sandwiches we have back home, she thought, even though the sandwiches at home were served on silver plates with gold-plated cutlery.
The city centre was in a low-lying area, and the streets were full of water from the rain that poured down incessantly. With Samara astride him, Barado trotted along the sidewalk where the water level was not too high. There were elevated platforms, built by the municipality at intervals alongside the streets, and you could stand there comfortably without being submerged in water. There were also bridges that every now and again intersected the streets, and following Samara’s advice Barado strode up one such bridge. There they paused to watch the strange life in the streets below.
They had reached the centre of the town that was also the main shopping area. It was a noisy place, full of trishaws, chattering women dressed in multicoloured wraparounds, sharp-looking scoundrels and guffawing shopkeepers. Samara thought she had never seen such a fascinating place in all her life. She stood next to Barado and simply gaped.
They spent half a day on top of the bridge without anything much happening and soon began to wonder where they would find the boy the fairy had told Samara about. There was no point going to people’s houses, knocking on front doors and asking if there was a boy who wanted to meet them. At the same time it seemed unlikely that the said boy would find Samara in the hotel where they were staying without her making any effort to find him.
Samara and Barado decided that they would come to the main market every day, stand on the bridge and watch the flow of human traffic. They decided that this was the most likely place where they would find the boy, or rather where he would find them – if he knew who he had to find.
If there was anything Samara looked forward to during the course of the day (apart from the letters that Khabar brought her providing news of her parents’ safety), it was the stupendously exciting food that she ate in Wetlands.
10. SWIMMING IN THE STREETS
The next day the rains became heavier still, and soon they were glad for the bridge that the municipality had built where they could stand with their umbrellas keeping themselves dry because the streets had become completely flooded. It was then that they saw an amazing sight. People were swimming in the streets to get from one place to another!
The main market lay in a low-lying section of the town and the water there was quite high. It was something like the deep end of a swimming pool. Samara saw that it was mostly able-bodied young men and women who swam, but there were a fair number of children swimming as well. There were also a few middle-aged and older men and women who swam through the streets, although they lagged behind the others.
At first the sight was so startling as to be almost unbelievable, but gradually as the days passed Samara became used to it. She also found answers to some of the questions that had bothered her at the beginning of her stay in Singalong. Surely, she had initially thought, people would get sopping wet and would then need to dry themselves as well as their clothes? Wouldn’t this process of continuously getting wet and then drying off cause them to catch a cold and even develop a fever?
They did get a little bit wet, but most swimmers wore watertight Zip-Ups that kept almost all of their bodies and their clothes, and whatever else they had inside their suits, completely dry.
It would not have been adequate to have had Zip-Ups in only three or four standard sizes. Zip-Ups were in fact available in all kinds of sizes, since they might be needed, for example, by women to keep their shopping baskets dry, by shopkeepers to keep their ledgers and accounts books secure, or even poets and writers from getting water splashed on their manuscripts.
Zip-Ups suits are now, alas, no longer available, because the stuff from which they were made no longer exists. What we have today is polythene, which didn’t exist in those days, but the inhabitants of Wetlands and people from other countries of that time had other more nature-friendly material. All Zip-Up suits were made of a grass called lifafa that grew in Wetlands. Like most grass it was green, but unlike the grass that we know it possessed special qualities. You could take a bushel of it and keep pounding till it became paste. This was hard, laborious work, but the results were well worth it, because after you dried out the paste in the sun, the lifafa became a wonderfully air- and watertight material that you could wrap around you. All you needed was to stitch it together, and for that you had threads made by a process of adding water to the lifafa paste, boiling it, and then drying it out. So simple, and yet so magical in its results. This lifafa became the material for all the Zip-Up suits made in Wetlands. Because it was air- and watertight, however, you couldn’t remain very comfortable in it for long. After three or four hours you would have started to feel as though you were suffocating if you had lifafa wrapped around you.
Imagine swimming in all that filthy water, with banana peel, old slippers and other things floating about. Yuck! But actually it wasn’t bad, because all low-lying areas in the country’s capital were kept scrupulously clean to ensure that the swimmers swam in relatively clean water, and for the most part they kept their heads above the water. And the soil didn’t get mixed up with the rainwater to make it all muddy because in Wetlands the soil was a sandy soil that didn’t mix with the water, so there was no slush or sticky mud that attacked your trousers when you walked the streets. Wetlands, although it had so much rain, might once have been a desert because the soil seemed to have a limitless capacity for absorbing water without turning sticky. Biologists used to say about the people, taking into account how well they swam through the streets, that the first human beings must have come from Wetlands. The Wetlanders must have originated straight from fishes, skipping all the other stages of chimpanzee, monkey, gorilla, and orang-utan that most of our ancestors would have gone through.
Samara couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw that even five- or six-year-old children were swimming in the streets. When they swam, they all did the breaststroke rather than free style, and kept their heads well out of the water. They swam back to their homes from school because the streets were flooded with water, and no small child could possibly walk any more. Only the bigger boys could place their feet on the ground.
When Princess Samara saw the people swimming in the streets and learnt how they did it, she, too, was tempted to buy a Zip-Up suit and jump into the water. But she reminded herself that she had a more pressing matter to think of: she had to find the boy who could carry a key through a river without a drop of water spilling on it. Where was he and how would they find him?
11. RAJA, THE SWIMMING CHAMPION
On the fifth day of their stay in Wetlands, shortly after two o’clock when the schools closed, the streets were cleared for some school children to swim across the water. It seemed to be an event of some kind because Samara and Barado heard loud cheering from a crowd of people gathered on an elevated platform. They learnt from a traffic policeman that this was an annual sporting event for school children.
Most people had come to watch the Candle Race. In this race boys had to swim along the length of the street, which was about two hundred metres, carrying a lit candle on their heads without the candle’s flame blowing out. Should any water spill on the candle and douse it, that swimmer was immediately disqualified.
The main Candle Race began, and it was one of the most exciting sport’s events that the princess had ever seen. At the sound of a loud clap the boys jumped into the water and began to swim, carefully balancing small saucers on their heads on which the lit candles were placed. There was one boy in particular who attracted Samara’s attention. He had a black mole on his chin. The boy did not notice her because he was entirely focused on winning the race. He was certainly likely to win because he rapidly outpaced the other boys as he approached the bridge on which the princess stood. Samara leaned across to get a better look at him, and as she did this the clasp to the emerald necklace she wore around her neck that her father had given to her came undone and fell into the water. She gave a shout of despair because it was one of her most prized possessions, especially now that she was so far away from home.
The necklace fell right in front of the boy. He was startled and looked up to see the princess’s face contorted in horror. And then he did something that Samara would never forget for the rest of her life. He put out one of his hands and grabbed the plate on top of his head, taking care that his movements did not extinguish the candle. He held the plate with the brightly burning candle and simultaneously pushed his head and his other hand into the water to search for the necklace, all the while keeping afloat through a rapid movement of his legs. A few agonising seconds later Samara saw his head come out of the water with the necklace in his other hand. He put the necklace into his mouth, replaced the plate with the burning candle on his head and continued with the race.
In these few precious seconds, two of the swimmers had gained a lead on him and without further ado he raced after them across the waters. In a few minutes he had drawn ahead of one of them. Then with a final dash he levelled with the other boy and they were both rushing across the water, neck and neck towards the finishing line. As they approached the finishing line, the other boy’s candle went out.
A roar of applause went up from the crowd that had gathered to watch the event and had witnessed the episode with the princess’s necklace. People crowded around the boy offering their congratulations. The princess and Barado saw everything from a distance, waiting for the crowd to thin out before approaching him.
‘Surely this is the boy we have come to look for, Barado?’ said Samara.
‘No doubt at all, Princess,’ answered Barado.
‘I do hope he agrees to help us, Barado,’ said Samara, anxiously.
Eventually the people went away and the boy swam up to them.
‘I have something of yours, Dear Sister,’ he said, and handed over the green necklace to Samara. (In Wetlands it was usual for people to address each other as ‘dear sister,’ or ‘dear brother,’ and the princess was very pleased to be addressed like this.) The boy appeared to be a couple of years younger than the princess, and she couldn’t help thinking how nice it would have been to have had a younger brother like him.
Samara thanked him profusely, telling him how the necklace held special significance for her as her father had given it to her.
‘You may call me Samara if you want to,’ she said. ‘I wish there was something I could do for you in return.’
‘Perhaps you will be able to do so one day,’ replied the boy. ‘My name is Raja. Tell me something. You don’t seem to be from this region; you are clearly a foreigner. Are you by any chance from the Hotlands?’
The princess explained to the boy that she and Barado had come all the way from Amhara. She told him the story of how her parents had been kidnapped and how she badly needed the help of someone like Raja who was capable of swimming across a lake carrying a golden key without spilling any water on it.
‘I would be most happy to help you, Dear Sister,’ said the boy, ‘but at the moment I am caught up in an emergency.’ He explained that his parents had died when he was only a very small boy and that he lived with his grandmother who had been very unwell for many days.
‘She has caught a terrible infection, caused by a rare mosquito. Here in Wetlands we have no known cure for the problem, but there is a herbal medicine that is sold in the Hotlands that has proved to be a very effective treatment. The Hotlands are famous for the many different medicines and vaccines that they provide.’
‘Can you not buy the medicine here?’ asked Samara.
‘Usually you can find it at a pharmacy,’ he replied, ‘but at the moment all the pharmacies are out of stock of this particular medicine. We normally have camels coming here from the Hotlands every week carrying medicines, and they take away cloth and spices from us, but they have not come for the past two months because of a terrible storm that has been raging in the desert. I think that the storm is over now, but goodness only knows how long the camels will take to get here.’
‘Can you not go to the Hotlands yourself and bring back the medicine with you?’ said Samara.
‘It takes at least a week to reach the Hotlands,’ answered the boy looking worried, ‘and a week to return. I don’t think my grandma can wait that long. I’ve been waiting every day, hoping that the camels would come, but still they have not come.’
It occurred to Samara that she had to offer Raja a ride to the Hotlands, since they were in any case travelling in that direction. Raja could help them cross Lake Kaala Paani, but he surely could not help them till his grandmother was better. Hadn’t the good fairy said that the boy would help them only if they were good and generous? Surely this was the way: to help Raja to bring the medicine to his grandmother. It was the very least she could do, to help someone in need, and Raja was a special boy who had willingly helped her without being asked. It would take only a day at the most for them to reach the Hotlands if they rode on Barado. There was, of course, the question of how Raja would return to Wetlands, but that could be sorted out once he had obtained the medicine. Raja would be good company and might even help them to find the boy they needed in the Hotlands.
‘Yes, we absolutely must help Raja,’ thought Samara, and then she spoke to Barado. ‘What do you think, Barado?’ She whispered her idea in Barado’s ear because she wanted to know what he thought.
Barado nodded his head approvingly.
She relayed her thoughts to Raja, who was overwhelmed with the suggestion that they should take him to Hotlands.
‘That’s very, very kind of you,’ he said. ‘Today has been a grand day. First winning the race and now this. By the way, do you know what is the most tasty snack in the Hotlands?’
‘I’m not sure,’ said the princess, ‘but I find all the food here delicious.’
‘Try some of this,’ said Raja. ‘It’s absolutely delicious.’
The boy took out a piece of cloth from his pocket, unwrapped it and withdrew an orange-coloured cake.
‘What is it?’ asked Samara.
‘Pimplamoo,’ he said. ‘Really tasty stuff. It’s home made. My grandma made it.’
Samara cautiously took a bite. Wow! It was really yummy!
‘Will you come to my home then? You could meet my grandmother. I will pick up a few of my things to travel with and then we can be on our way.’
Raja and Samara climbed on top of Barado and the horse galloped away following the directions that Raja gave him. They took a long, relatively dry, route to Raja’s house that was easier for Barado to navigate than a path that was as straight as the crow flies.
Inside the house they found some neighbours sitting beside Raja’s grandmother who lay on a bed. A physician had just finished examining her. He was a very short, fat man, dressed in a white shirt, white coat and black trousers. He gave the overall impression of being a very large football.
‘My name is Dr Wuwa,’ said the physician introducing himself. ‘You must be Raja.’
Raja nodded, swallowing hard.
‘I was called by one of your neighbours, who had come to see how your grandmother was doing,’ he explained to the small boy who was nearly in tears. ‘At the moment, the situation is not very grave because it will be at least another week before the infection becomes serious, but still we do need the Osfofo herbal concoction as soon as possible. I hope the camels come very soon.’
‘You will have the medicine in three days,’ said Princess Samara, and at this everyone looked at her.
‘I am Princess Samara from Amhara,’ she explained, tears filling her eyes, ‘and for me Raja’s grandmother is just like my own grandmother. We will travel to the Hotlands immediately and be back before the end of the third day.’ She explained to her incredulous audience that Barado was the fastest horse in the world that would take them to the Hotlands in next to no time.
Everybody in the gathering was overjoyed. Dadima, Raja’s grandmother, also had tears in her eyes. ‘I always wanted Raja to have an elder sister,’ she said in a low, faltering tone, ‘and I’m so glad that you are here helping him now.’
‘And he has helped me too, Dadima,’ said Samara, as she explained about the necklace that had fallen into the water.
‘Don’t worry too much, my dear children,’ said Dr Wuwa picking up his briefcase. ‘At the moment there is nothing to worry about, because the illness does not yet have its full grip on her. Just so long as she has the medicine in time. Now I must be going.’
So saying he walked out of the room (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he rolled out of the room).
Slowly the other people left. Masima, the neighbour who had called Dr Wuwa, was the last to go, but not before she had assured Raja and Samara that she would keep a close watch on Dadima.
When Dadima was left alone with Raja, Samara and Barado, she wanted to know more about how Samara came to be travelling in Wetlands. When she heard what had happened to her parents, her eyes at once filled with tears.
‘It must be the evil wizard Googoo that you are talking about!’ she exclaimed.
‘Not Googoo, Dadima,’ corrected Samara. ‘The wizard’s name is Zoozoo.’
‘Oh, it must be the same dreadful one,’ said Dadima. ‘I’m sure his name was Googoo. Does he have yellow hair and bright, green glittering eyes?’
Samara admitted that although she had never met Zoozoo, nevertheless from what she had heard from her parents he fitted that description.
‘Oh, my God!’ exclaimed Dadima. ‘My God! My God!! My God!!!’
‘What’s the matter, Dadima?’ asked Raja who was now very worried. ‘Are you feeling worse?’
‘Oh, my God! My God!! My God!!!’ Dadima shook her head again and again.
‘What’s the matter, Dadima?’ asked Raja again, for he had never seen his grandmother in such distress before, even when unwell. ‘Shall I fetch the doctor?’
‘No, there is no need for him,’ said Dadima. ‘But my children I need to tell you something. You must know, Raja, that your parents did not die in an accident as everyone thinks.’
‘Really?’ said Raja astonished.
Dadima then explained that eight years previously the wizard had invited Raja’s parents, who were the king and queen of Wetlands, to a private meeting to discuss co-operation between the two countries. They had gone to the meeting taking the army chief and other important ministers with them. Since that fateful day neither of them had returned or ever been heard of again. Googoo (Dadima insisted that that was his real name) had come to Wetlands with the army chief and the ministers who had accompanied Raja’s parents. He explained that the king and queen had died in an accident and that in their final moments had left instructions that henceforth General Zumba, the brother of General Zombo, the commander-in-chief of Zoozooland, would manage the affairs of Wetlands under his guidance.
‘And the strange thing is that everyone has accepted this unquestioningly,’ said Dadima. ‘Ever since General Zumba has been in charge of the affairs of Wetlands the country has slid from being one of the richest countries in the world to a nation of poor people. Nowadays, half of what anyone earns goes on taxes and no one ever thinks of protesting.’
‘The army chief and the ministers must have been hypnotised by Zoozoo, and he must have given the Wetlands people something to drink mixed with gulgula!’ exclaimed Samara excitedly. ‘It’s exactly what they must have done in Amhara. But I wonder why you, Dadima, could not be hypnotised? You are actually the Queen Mother, are you not?’
‘That’s true, my dear,’ said Dadima, ‘and Raja here is the prince. I doubt I could have resisted those glittering green eyes if I had taken the – what do you call it? – gulgula.’ Her eyes took on a far away look. ‘In those days I used to keep a fast. I ate no food and drank no water for three days every year and would pray for the wellbeing of my family. It was during the time of my fast that Googoo tried to take over the kingdom. The hypnosis wouldn’t work because I hadn’t drunk anything. When I saw how everyone except myself had been hypnotised, I realised that it must have been because of something mixed in the water, and I made sure that subsequently Raja and I only drank fruit juice.’
‘So that’s why you don’t allow me to drink plain water,’ said Raja, sounding aggrieved. ‘Why didn’t you tell me about all this before, Dadima?
‘You were too young, my dear,’ exclaimed his grandmother, ‘and you were also quite alone.’
‘What did you think had happened to your son, the King of Wetlands, and his wife the Queen?’ asked Samara.
‘Initially I thought they really might have had an accident and died,’ said Dadima, wiping a tear away at the sad recollection. ‘A month afterwards, however, Mausi, the queen’s cat – the queen never went anywhere without her – came home one day with a note tied around her neck. From that note, written by my son, I learnt that he and his wife were both alive and that the wizard had imprisoned them in some palace.’
‘Pa and Ma alive? I can’t believe it!’ Raja’s face was radiant with joy. He turned to the princess. ‘They must be imprisoned in the same palace where your parents are being held.’
‘No doubt,’ said the princess grimly.
‘I wanted to tell you all this before, Raja,’ said Dadima, ‘but I was afraid that you might do something foolish.’ She turned to look at Samara. ‘Now you have an elder sister, who I can see is someone very special. I am sure that together you will be able to do something.’ The emotion and the long speeches she had made now became too much for her, and she burst into a fit of coughing.
‘We most certainly will,’ said Raja, in a very determined voice, ‘but before that we must help you to get better.’
‘Raja is right, Dadima,’ said Samara. ‘We must now be on our way so that we can return as soon as possible with the medicine that will cure you.’
12. JOURNEY TO THE HOTLANDS
Raja climbed on top of Barado in front of Samara because he was both younger and shorter than she was, and his view would have been blocked if she had sat in front of him. Then the horse galloped off.
They passed the same rocky mountains that Samara had seen on the way to Wetlands, but then Barado took a turn southward and they reached the plains where the vegetation grew thick and green. They would have stopped to enjoy the view and walk about, but Barado insisted that they were still a long way off and that they needed to move on, as they had to reach their destination before darkness fell.
The sun grew hotter and they sped past deserts. Sometimes Barado would stop to let a herd of camels pass.
‘Look at their long, curvy necks,’ said Samara to Barado. ‘So funny! And they actually have toes!’
It was evening by the time they reached the Hotlands. Samara had heard about the terrible heat they would encounter, and was therefore most surprised to find that in fact the weather was rather like late winter or early spring in Amhara. There was in fact a slight nip in the air.
‘How everyone exaggerates!’ Samara exclaimed. ‘I learnt that the Hotlands would be as hot as a furnace, but on the contrary it was hotter on the way and here I find the temperature very pleasant.’
‘I suppose you could say that,’ said Barado. For him temperatures didn’t really matter as he was a special horse whose body adapted very quickly to whatever climate he was in.
‘In fact, I’ll put something on,’ said Samara. ‘Perhaps a light jumper. Raja, would you like something?’
‘No, I’m not cold,’ said Raja, who had a lot of bravado about him.
But where were they going to find Hoven, the capital of the Hotlands? There were no milestones in the desert, no signposts and nothing to indicate the direction they needed to travel in. Neither were there any human dwellings that they could have approached and asked for directions. Barado was also at a loss. He had only once been in Hotlands and that was a long time ago.
Samara and Raja got off the horse and sat down on the cool sands of the desert. The three of them racked their brains for a way to reach Hoven.
‘I don’t think there is any point in going any further, unless we are very sure that we are heading in the right direction,’ said Samara.
‘That’s true,’ agreed Raja, ‘but where are we going to find someone who can guide us in this lonely and silent desert?’
They thought about this for a long time.
‘Isn’t there something moving over there?’ cried Barado suddenly.
Indeed, when the three of them stared hard, they could just make out a small, moving speck on the horizon. As they continued to stare at the speck, trying to determine whether it was a man or a beast, it suddenly disappeared out of sight.
‘Quick!’ cried Samara. ‘Let’s follow it!’
‘But I can’t see it any more,’ complained Raja.
‘Neither can I,’ said Samara, impatiently, ‘but we knew where it was a moment ago, didn’t we?’
Raja and Samara once again climbed on top of Barado and he galloped off in the general direction where they had seen the speck. Very soon afterwards they saw what it was: a small boy on top of a camel. From his appearance he seemed to be just a bit older than Raja, with a lighter complexion than the other two children for Raja was fairly dark, though not as dark as Samara.