Arun looked at his mother lying on the floor, sweat streaming down her face in rivulets as she grimaced in pain, trying not to cry out, but he could see the fear looming in her eyes. The Shaman had said hanging the dead chicken over the door would help, but Arun no longer believed this as others had already died and she only had days left. He whispered to his sister Anusha and said.
"Look after her while I go and get help from the people at Hemalkasa"
"But Arun, how will you get there in time? It's too far away and the river is still dangerously high from the monsoons."
"I've my animal friends to help me"
"But you're too young and it's dangerous!" She gasped, her eyes wide in alarm.
"We've no other choice!" He turned and ran into the jungle sending a piercing whistle screaming through the air. Within seconds a large well muscled leopard appeared, eyes twinkling brightly in the gloom.
"Hiran! I need your speed to get me to Hemalkasa where they say men can heal people"
"You realise how dangerous this is for you ?"
"Yes but I must do it Hiran."
" Climb on, they're good men who saved my cousins from the hunters and raised them up as their own just as your father helped me!" He sprang forward and Arun gripped tightly with his knees and crouched low over his golden speckled back, feeling the prickly hairs flatten together to form a warm sleek coat against his skin as their bodies started to meld together. The branches whipped past his head and he felt dizzy as they sped through time, across the forest to the banks of the great river. Its waters were swollen after the monsoon and the torrent raged past, impossible for his puny form to swim to the distant shore. Hiran stopped at the water's edge and glanced back at Arun as they separated and became two again.
"I cannot take you further as my powers only extend to the river."
Jumping off the great cat and giving him a thankful pat, Arun grabbed a branch and slapped the water three times. Out of the swirling chaos rose a giant crocodile, with a mouth wide enough to take Arun in one gulp. A row of ivory daggers, white as the snow capped mountains gaped in a menacing smile, but then, small eyes recognising Arun, the jaws clamped shut.
"What are you doing so far from home young Arun? The river is dangerous and the current strong."
"Aniket! My mother is dying and I need to get help from Hemalkasa."
"Lie flat against me and I will get you across the water." Arun stepped off the bank and on to Aniket's steady torso. He knelt down and flattened himself against the hard knobbly hide, moulding himself to its form whilst gripping tightly to the powerful shoulders, knowing it would be a rough ride. The amphibian's prodigious strength tore through the ferment effortlessly, his tail sweeping against the water, cleaving a giant wake. Arun felt the thrill of speed, ignoring the icy water chilling his bones as he held his breath and soon they forged through the vortex and surged onto the far bank. Arun rolled off and took a deep breath as he shook the water from his shivering body. He barked twice into the air and waved as Aniket slid back into the ferment. Clearing the water out from his ears, trying to ignore the exhaustion through his limbs, he watched as a magnificent nilgai leapt to his side. The antelope towered over Arun, his steely blue coat shining in the morning sun, with his white throat bib ending in a luxurious hair pennant on his chest.
"Anil, please carry me to Hemalkasa fast. I need their help!"
Anil dipped down keeping his horns out of the way as Arun swung up onto his back, then the animal leapt gracefully into the air. Arun felt the wind stream past his ears and he ducked down to feel the rough coat against his head as he held on, hands meshed into the short mane, body feeling the power beneath him. Time stood still and Arun felt the numbing cold infiltrate his bones.
Suddenly a small group of buildings appeared surrounded by a white wall with a wide open gate through which he could see children running and laughing.
"This is Hemalkasa." said Anil
Arun slid down and staggered through to a large courtyard. The journey against time had drained him but he knew his quest was almost done. People were sitting on a bench watching the children as they all lined up and went into a large building. Among them a man with an unusual type of snake round his neck dangling against his chest turned to Arun smiling, his even white teeth gleaming and his dark brown eyes twinkling. His face held a world of sympathy and comfort and Arun instinctively knew he'd come to the right place. The man hurried over to Arun and caught him before he fell.
"Well young man, where have you come from, riding so dramatically and looking so exhausted and bedraggled? It's not often we get animal tamers here! Let's look at those scratches and bruises."
"Sir... my mother's dying and needs your help. " Arun spluttered, desperate to get back to his mother quickly.
The man frowned as he listened to Arun tell of the sickness and then started shouting to others to get ready to move.
"Luckily we have a visitor with a helicopter or we wouldn't have been able to reach your village with the rivers still high. You can tell me the rest of your story on the way."
He carried Arun through a clearing to a giant machine with whirling wings above its head that roared like a thousand tigers. Arun stared in wonder trying to calm his fears but the man called Prakash gently lifted him up and strapped him into a seat. The machine rose up and then soared forward so that Arun's stomach lurched and he was glad he'd not eaten. Prakash listened to Arun's story while he rubbed some horrible smelling liquid into the scratches making them sting like nettles, but then he smoothed some cream over, which made Arun feel warm and comfortable. The machine flew like an eagle over the trees and settled gently down on a flat stretch of land next to the village. Arun showed Prakash his hut and as he stepped inside Anusha jumped up in surprise and delight and hugged him.
"You made it!"
They both watched as Prakash knelt beside their mother and put the snake against her chest before rummaging around in a large box he's brought.
"We got to her in time. Your mother's going to be ok and able to talk to you in a few hours. Get some rest yourselves and leave her to me."
Arun let the exhaustion hit him as he collapsed in the corner of the hut. His father had warned him of the dangers of using his special powers but he was relieved it had worked. He felt the hands that had been tearing at his heart become caresses as he fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke he saw his mother sitting up, talking quietly to the doctor as he held her wrist and looked at his watch. She saw Arun and her beautiful but tired face lit up in a smile. Prakash started to speak to him and Anusha.
"I've talked to your mother and she's told me about your father and agreed that the three of you can come to Hemalkasa and live with us. Our school is for all tribal children as you are the future for your people. You can help in the animal orphanage when you aren't at school and your mother will look after the other children while they're away from their villages. We can teach you how to control your special powers with animals so you aren't a danger to them or yourself.
Arun's heart leapt with joy. He no longer had to worry about caring for his mother and sister, but would be able to work with his friends the animals and learn as well.
He and his sister studied hard, Anusha becoming a doctor. Arun? He became a legend with many more stories to tell!