The Children of Manu

by Darryl Fry
25th June 2022

---Chapter One--- The Boy On Diamond Island pebbles in the streams cry tears of blood, running red past fields of green and ghosts of soldiers in shattered houses where dreams seep out and are lost forever. Aeons have passed since Manjusri cut through the mountain to let the lake of snakes flow through the Gorge of Chobhar into the plains of India. His sword cut through illusions of happiness and greed to reveal the cruelty of Gods and Men. From The Diaries of Kaka Ji The Tarai is in the lowlands beneath the Himalayas with jungle below and grasslands in the foothills. Tigers, leopards and bears hunt in these forests, deer wander in large groups between the dusty road and the mountains. The road marks the border between northern India and the Kingdoms of Nepal. It was the trade route used by explorers, traders, Sadhus and sometimes armies approaching the towering wall of the Himalayas that disappeared into the clouds. Along the edge of the jungle track, three single-horned rhinoceroses grazed in the long grass beside the foothills of the Himalayas. Their hide hung in flaps like armour, steam snorted from their noses and their tails flipped quickly to keep flies away. They suddenly brought their heads up and swivelled their ears like antennas. There was vibration in the ground and musical sounds in the air. They stamped and ran to higher ground crushing everything in their path. Creaking wheels and jingling bells came closer in the dust. A tired elephant slowly tramped the road followed by two pack mules and a horse. They were adorned with bright motifs tied to leather straps, bells and tinkling glass beads, Christian crosses, Hindu symbols, cracked porcelain statuettes of saints and the Madonna. The elephant was tattooed with swastikas and Hindu symbols. A carriage strapped onto the elephant’s back swayed from side to side. These were locally known as hathi howdah. An elderly rider dressed in a tatty military uniform with battered helmet and sword rode the thin horse. He had a wound in his side with a patch of blood seeping under his armoured jacket. The man in the howdah was asleep, his grey hair dropping across his forehead, his long beard bound with a leather strap. His stained faded clothes were middle-eastern. The animals and their passengers crept along the edge of the forest until sunset before pulling up to make camp. The old soldier tethered his horse then helped the grey haired man from his howdah. They put up a small tent, rolled out matting to sleep on and made a fire. The soldier produced a dead chicken from a pack and plucked its feathers. The loose head dangled over his lap. He put the feathers in a hessian bag and tucked it into one of the packs. The bird was soon sizzling over the fire and the soldier broke stale flat bread into quarters and placed them on metal plates. They ate in silence. The grey haired man carried a leather bag across his shoulders from which he produced a clay bottle. He pulled the cork, took a gulp, coughed and passed it to the soldier. ‘Thank you my Lord,’ the soldier said. He too coughed after a drink of the harsh raw alcohol. It was called Arrack, a type of rum made from coconut flowers and sugar cane. The old man’s name was Athanasius Angelus. He had been a priest in the Christian Orthodox church but the rise of the warlord Malek had forced him to flee. Malek was known as The Wizard in Constantinople and his armies had ravaged from Mesopotamia to the shores of the Black sea. Angelus had studied the origins of Malek and knew that his power did not come from the people and it did not come from God. It was something else. A year ago Angelus set out with seven disciples and seven soldiers recruited from the remains of the Holy Roman Empire based in Constantinople. He knew the answer to an old tale could be found in the vaults of Buddhist libraries. Ancient scriptures held the clue about Malek and where he came from. Now with his trusted aide, Marcus, there were just the two left. They stoked the fire and bedded down for the night. One of them was supposed to keep guard but they were exhausted and soon fell asleep. Before dawn Marcus was awakened by his horse stamping and blowing. He sat up and reached for his sword. The mules were also distressed and Marcus could see a small figure pulling at the packs. He jumped up and ran to them. The shadow grabbed a pack and ran off into the jungle. Angelus woke with the noise. ‘What is it? Who’s there!’ ‘We have been robbed Father, someone has run off with the bread!’ ‘Well get after him then!’ ‘It’s too dark Father. We would never catch him if we can’t see him. It will be light soon and we might be able to track him.’ By the time they had packed up the camp, doused the fire with sand and secured the rest of the packs the sun was a burnt semi-circle lighting the forest canopy with splashes of silver and orange. Marcus searched the surrounding area, swishing his sword through the grass and undergrowth. He had been a skilled Roman warrior in his younger days. He had lost his strength but not his skill. He spotted a small track leading into the forest where some of the foliage had recently been disturbed. Light poured through the jungle canopy but it was still full of shadows so he crept carefully along the track carrying his sword with two hands. A small indentation in the undergrowth marked a second track leading left. Someone had covered it with leaves and branches which Marcus recognised as an attempt to cover tracks. Surprisingly nimble for a man his age he carefully followed the signs to a large tree with a thick base. He crouched, listened and watched. Half way up the tree was a mat of branches woven into a small dwelling. The bread bag was hanging from a branch. Several grey monkeys were picking crumbs from it with small wrinkled hands. Marcus got close to the tree and waited. It was an hour before he detected movement in the tree-house. A small head poked between the branches. Its long black hair was tied into a topknot, its young face covered in grime and scratches. A skinny teenage boy wearing just a loin cloth climbed out and scampered down the tree trunk. Marcus grabbed him round the neck and put the edge of his sword to the boy’s throat. He froze like a deer in a tiger’s grip. Monkeys screeched in fury, jumping from tree to tree. Marcus pulled a strap from his pocket, bound the boy hand and foot and threw him over his shoulder. The ragged boy sunk his teeth into his ear and Marcus threw the boy roughly onto the ground. Blood trickled down the side of his face. ‘What are you?’ he shouted. The boy gibbered sounds while writhing, spitting and hissing. ‘A demon. You should die but we’ll see what Father Angelus has to say about you.’ He dragged him to his feet and shoved him down the track onto the main path. Hundreds of grey monkeys followed swinging from branches or running along the path behind them. Angelus was packed and ready to leave. Marcus dropped the boy at his feet. ‘It is a forest demon. Shall I kill it?’ Father Angelus crouched beside the scowling creature. ‘No Marcus. It is a boy, a human one. What is your name child?’ The boy just glared, black eyes shining through dirt encrusted eyelids.’ ‘But he is a thief. We can’t just turn him loose, he will rob us again. What shall we do with him? We have very little food.’ ‘We’ll have to take him with us. Perhaps the monastery will know what to do with him.’ Marcus looked up at the wall of mountains. ‘You believe the monastery - if there is such a thing – is up in those mountains? We still don’t know how to get there. We have followed your map for a year and all we have found are the tallest mountains I have ever seen. If it is up there we will never find it.’ He squinted up at the towering range. ‘It is hot down here yet all the mountains are covered in snow. Surely no one lives there.’ Angelus followed his gaze. ‘Yes it is formidable but with God’s will it is possible. King Ferdinand gave me this map. He says he knows of a Buddhist priest who lives up there. They met on a pilgrimage. His name is Hohm and he is a wise man. It is vital that I deliver Ferdinand’s message about Malek and Nebuchadnezzar’s stone. He may be the only person in the world who knows how to hold him back. With God’s help we will find him.’ He looked to his friend. ‘If I fall you must go on. You must find the monastery.’ He looked down at the boy whose eyes had been darting back and forth between the two men. ‘Nothing in this quest occurs by accident. Not even this boy. You have to take him too.’ ---Chapter Three--- The Girl The western plains of Nepal are a dry rocky landscape dominated by high mountains, steep valleys and fast rivers. Hamlets dot the slopes where families scratch a living from the stony soil. The men of the villages had gone to war many months ago and those left behind watched over the yellow plain for a sign of their return. There had been constant war with invading tribes from China and Hindustan and now civil war between the Thakuri kings in the west and the Licchavi Princes to the east. The rising sun lit a long line of ant-like dots many leagues away. Women, children and elderly lined the ridges of their terrace straining to see what it was. A few descended the zigzag paths to the edge of the green where trickles of water spread a few metres onto the sand before evaporating. By midday clouds had moved across the valley and the ants became men and horses. They walked slowly, some dragging their feet others holding blood stained arms in soiled harnesses. The bedraggled line stretched to the horizon with wagons, mules and yaks. plodding behind. Light rain floated in the air like mist. As they drew near women and children ran out to meet them. They called names, wailed, fell, crawled and pushed their way through the defeated soldiers looking for their loved ones. Some were reunited many were not. It was day’s end before the main group reached the foothills. Some climbed the tracks others limped on carrying broken red and green banners and battered shields. At dusk wounded men and exhausted horses lay in mud brick houses and thatched barns. Tearful women sat alone in their homes and bewildered children wandered in groups looking for their fathers. One of the last to return from the valley was a woman and child. She wore an old sari wrapped around her thin body and a blue embroidered headscarf around the head and shoulders. A small girl about twelve years old clutched her hand, wide frightened eyes watching the grief and the blood. She wore ragged grey trousers and smock that hung to her waist. Her face was streaked with grime and her black hair tied into a pony tail. Her name was Maya but her father nick-named her Pahad, Nepalese for mountain because she was always climbing the cliffs and just when they thought she was lost she would return in time for dinner. Her mother was a Ghorkan woman, wife of the village chieftain, one of the fallen. She knew it was not over. The Thakuris would come looking for slaves and they must not find Maya. She wrapped their possessions - food, clothes, a silver bracelet and her face jewellery in cloth and tied the bundle to a pole. ‘We can’t stay here,’ she said, clutched her daughter’s hand and pulled her to the door. They descended the paths and joined the weary procession heading east. The woman could not keep up pulling her child by the hand while carrying the heavy bundle of jewellery. A torn covered wagon pulled past them and she called out to the driver to let them on board. ‘Please help us! We must get to Naudanda, we seek help from the monastery.’ The driver wore rags tied into a turban and a woolly yak-skin cloak wrapped around his shoulders. He had a long beard beneath a dirt-stained face. A pregnant woman completely wrapped in cloth sat next to him. ‘The wagon is full. Everyone is heading east into Licchavi land.’ He turned back to the road and the mules plodded on.’ ‘I have silver.’ The man pulled the mules to a halt. ‘What kind of silver?’ The woman unhitched the bundle from the pole and pulled out her bracelet. He looked at it and shrugged. ‘We still don’t have room.’ That is enough for one passenger, we could take your daughter but you have to find another way.’ The woman put her hands together and her head wobbled from side to side. ‘I beg you kind sir, I can’t be separated from my only child. She needs my help.’ ‘Go back to your village, we can’t help you. We have no food, our passengers are weak. We will take your child to the monastery but we cannot take you. Maybe you can follow later. Everyone knows where the monastery is. Your bracelet will buy food for your child but it is not enough to feed you too.’ Stained tears pushed past the black kohl round her eyes making wet tracks on her dusty face. She knelt beside the girl. ‘I must send you on Maya. You must go to safety. A young girl would be a valuable slave for the traders – especially you. I am an old woman and they will leave me alone. And Maya, you must never tell people your name.’ She picked up the girl and pushed her through the torn fabric of the wagon. The girl screamed. ‘No Aama no!’ Two arms reached out and pulled her in. A young woman’s face appeared through the gap. She also had black kohl round her eyes and rings through her nose and ears. ‘We will take good care of her Śrīmatī. I am heading to Naudanda. My name is Devna, I will take her to the monastery myself.’ The mother clasped her hands in thanks. The driver called out. ‘She will be fine I make the promise to Shiva himself. But you must pay the fare, we all have to survive and we cannot without food and water.’ She handed over the bracelet. The wagon moved forward. The woman fell to her knees sobbing as the screams of her daughter faded in the sound of wheels and hooves. They disappeared in the mist. The line of defeated warriors and refugees trudged on up the rocky paths. The further they went the smaller the group as some found their homes and others dropped exhausted. Inside the wagon three men, four women and the girl nodded to the shake of the solid wooden wheels as they creaked over rocky paths and inched round narrow ledges, never straight but always up. The air grew thin, cloud touched the ground making vision almost impossible. But the mules were sure footed and dragged the heavy vehicle around the rocky cliffs. Maya lay across Devna’s lap. She stroked her brown hair to calm her and held her hand, tracing the lines of henna that had been drawn there. Maya had a tattoo on her right hand. It looked like a birthmark, each dot slightly raised. The young woman drew in her breath, put her hands together and prayed. ‘This one has been chosen,’ she whispered and wrapped a scarf around the hand. The mark was a Kalachakra, the symbol of a timeless universe and divine consciousness. Six days and six nights the group travelled until word came from the front that the Naudanda monastery had been sighted. A crowd gathered at the top of the hill and gazed down into the valley. Clouds drifted above the rooftops of the busy town mingling with smoke drifting from chimneys. Set in the slopes of the mountain away from the town was a massive stone terraced building part made of brick part carved into the rock. There were twelve levels of white and orange with black roofs. The foundations were built over caves still used as meditation rooms and learning centres for novice monks. One side plunged sheer into the upper reaches of the Kusma River. Beyond the river lay thick forest and more mountains. The outer buildings had been built over hundreds of years. It was a fortress with six white towers and thousands of windows overlooking a central courtyard with a big wooden gate.

Comments

The stories are very interesting, I often follow the web story you share and love it. It feels like I'm playing https://stumble-guys.com

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Ora
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03/07/2022

Thanks. There are three books in the series. The first is how Hanuman and Annapurna get their powers, the second is where they go to find the Bloodstone and the third is the attack and battles in the Highworld. Maybe the trilogy will also be a V game one day. Looking for an agent who can handle it.

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Darryl
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In reply to by oramask

03/07/2022

Looking for a Beta Reader

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Darryl
Fry
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Darryl Fry
30/06/2022

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Darryl
Fry
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Darryl Fry
25/06/2022