Kumar woke in anguish, breathless. He hadn't had that dream for years now. His heart still racing, he touched the familiar shape by his side, feeling the coarse elephant skin and listening to the jungle's noises.
He thought he heard a voice whisper, "You must live, Kumar."
Was he still dreaming?
Maya put her trunk around his shoulder, comforting him. He took a deep breath to calm down, settling against the elephant more to get back to reality than because he was afraid.
He dismissed the nightmare, the thought, the memory. He untangled himself from Maya and went to a nearby stream to drink. A snake slowly uncurled from a tree branch to reach him, but he threw it away, unconcerned. He was sick of hunting snakes.
He might try tiger hunting again. Tiger hides were better paid than snake skins, providing he had the king's permission to hunt, of course. He didn't want to see the inside of another prison.
He returned to his sleeping spot and sat near his animal friend. He closed his eyes again, lulled by Maya's breath, and soon fell back into sleep, dreamless.
Kumar rode for hours on Maya's back across a beautiful country of unploughed ground and forest, little hills that were green and blue from an abundance of water. He stuck to the forest to spare Maya the glare of the full sun and allow her to eat. They could stop and bathe frequently in the clear water, which they both greatly enjoyed. The water was pleasantly warm and neither of them was bothered by the slimy ground underfoot.
Kumar climbed palms or coconut trees to cut good branches for Maya, who waited patiently. Sometimes Maya hurt herself while feeding as she rubbed against rough tree trunks or tripped on a root or a rock, but Kumar was always ready with the natural liniments of medicinal plants and buffalo dung, readily available around them.
They eventually reached the town of Argantael, capital of Rajendra, famed for the elaborate beauty of its architecture. Every doorway was covered with scrolls of fruits and flowers, birds and beasts entwined in them. It was a walled city with large gates and multi-storied buildings with arched windows and doors. Kumar wasn't particularly impressed, although he could see the difference between this kingdom and his native Akkora. It was just another town, full of people and maybe work. He didn't mind company every now and then.
He left Maya free to feed in the jungle and entered the town by the south gate, walking up a long ramp to an open air market in the largest square of the town.
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Books of the Immortals - Air
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