A tent flap rustled as someone entered her cerulean pavilion. The giant portable structure was divided into three succeeding "rooms;" the first was a small receiving area where visitors waited. The second took up most of the space within and was a combination office and dining room. Her room, the last of the three, was large enough for a bed, a desk, a chair, a few stools, and pallets for her ladies in waiting. Intent on her papers, Maia did not look up. Tomorrow, there would be important trade negotiations between each ruler and she needed to review to see what she could get and what she could give. If it was anyone she did not need to see, her pages and secretaries would deflect them handily.
Happy chatter floated across the silk walls before the flap to her section whispered as it was pushed aside. "Aunt Maia, Aunt Maia, can we have a story, please, pretty please?"
"We?" Maia asked as she looked up from her desk. She stared at the scene in front of her. Her adorable cousin Thea grinned at her from her position on the back of a large brown-haired boy, her ever-present peevish-looking Chirper under her arm.
When her eyes met his brown orbs, she recognized who this boy must be.
The son who should have been hers.
She had not secured her throne without the ability to dissemble. Maia concealed the firestorm of her emotions as she carefully set her papers down and looked at her little cousin. "It's proper manners to introduce a guest, is it not, Thea?"
"Oops," Thea said contritely. "I forgot. I'm sorry."
"Perfectly alright," Maia said amiably as her heart ached. "Introductions?"
"Sorry! Um, Aunt Maia, this is my friend Nial! Nial, this is my Aunt Maia! She's the Queen of Cille."
A warm smile that Maia found far too familiar filled the boy's face. He bowed, Thea still on his back. The little princess squeaked indignantly as she tightened her grip to avoid falling off. "I almost fell, Nial!"
"Sorry, Thea," Nial said.
Thea harrumphed. "As long as you don't do it again!"
"Bossy," Nial said calmly.
"I suppose you don't want a story?" Maia asked before the two children could continue that particular endless game.
"Oh, no, no!" Thea said quickly. "We do, we do! Nial's just being a doody-head right now."
"Sit down and I'll think of a story to tell," Maia said, once again nipping the argument in the bud.
Nial crouched down so that Thea could hop off. Both children sat cross-legged before her desk, an awkward position where she could not see them. Maia stood and glided to one of the stools. She sat and arranged her sati as she thought of the story she wanted to tell. It had been one of her favorites as a child, or so she was told. Even without her memories, it held a special poignancy for her. She could not think of a more appropriate child to tell it to than the one who should have been hers.
Once upon a time...
A temple stood deep within the forest. It was very far away from people, so the trees were very tall and their branches thick with leaves. Wild flowers grew everywhere and the bushes were thick with juicy berries. It was a holy place, so the strife of men was never near.
In this temple lived a priestess by the name of Charvi. Like her sister-priestesses before and since, she was an orphan, left there by her parents to be raised in the great mysteries of life. Charvi grew up to be a beautiful woman.
One day, a great king was hunting in that great forest, Melech by name. He wandered by the temple and caught sight of Charvi. On first seeing her, he lost his heart to her beauty and grace. She, however, was not impressed.
"How can you break the peace of the temple and bring a weapon?" Charvi scolded him, for it was always against the laws to bring weapons to the temples.
The king broke his bow in two with a great effort. "It was never my intention to go against the laws of the temples. I have no excuse and can only beg your forgiveness."
Perceiving his genuineness, Charvi forgave him.
King Melech stayed at the temple for a time, and the priests and priestesses could only smile as he courted their Charvi. Each day, he would speak with Charvi, and each day, she would smile in his company. They soon fell in love for true and were married in the temple. King Melech gave his bride his royal ring as a sign of their love.
However, as is the way of the world, his kingdom needed his attention, as there was unrest with his nobles and his people. He left the temple, and promised to return for his wife.
Charvi's heart was filled with thoughts of her husband and her sisters could only laugh at how distracted she was by her daydreams. One day, a powerful sorcerer came to the temple but, lost in thoughts of her husband, Charvi failed to greet him properly. Furious at the slight, the sorcerer cursed Charvi. "You who cannot keep your mind to your proper task, may you never enjoy that of which you dream!"
Frightened, poor Charvi could only watch as he departed in a rage, but her best friend, Abira by name, quickly ran after him. She caught up with him and confronted him with great fire. Abira said, "Curse yourself, you arrogant sorcerer! Our Charvi only dreams of the King Melech, her new husband, whom was called away to duty in the first days of their marriage and promised to return for her! Now, because of you, he will never come back for her and she will only know heartbreak! If you cursed yourself a thousand times, it would not be enough!"
The sorcerer was amazed by this speech and appalled when he realized that his extreme wrath was not warranted. "Truly, I regret, for I have done harm. I cannot undo this curse, as the rules of magic do not allow for such a thing, but I can change the terms. If indeed she dreamed of her husband, he need only see a token he has given her for all to be right."
Time passed and still King Melech did not return. Charvi's daydreams turned to worry as neither her husband nor news of him reached her. Worry became panic when she discovered that King Melech had left her with child. When told of this, the chief priest decided that the solution was simple and Charvi would go to the king.
A few chosen friends accompanied Charvi as she left the deep forest temple and journeyed to the city of King Melech. It was a long, hot journey, through forests and on dirt roads. When they came to the capital, they saw the great river that protected the city. They crossed the river by ferry. As the trip had been very tiring, Charvi fell asleep. Her husband's royal ring slipped off of her finger and into the river without her realizing it.
When they arrived at the court of King Melech, they were startled when they discovered that the king had lost his memories of Charvi and their time together. The king refused to believe she was his wife. She strove to remind her husband of their wedding, of his promise to return for her, that she carried his child, but still he remembered nothing, believed nothing.
"The curse, the sorcerer's curse," Charvi whispered, horrified.
Abira attempted to reassure her. "Show him the ring so he may remember you! That is the way to break the curse!"
Charvi looked at her hand and her face became pale. The royal ring was lost!
Saddened, they could only return to the forest temple. In her sorrow, Charvi could not stay with her friends, and went deeper into the forest to hide her shame. Only Abira knew where Charvi lived, for it is the way of best friends to share secrets with each other. In time, Charvi gave birth to a baby boy she named Sar. Charvi focused on raising her son, an intelligent, fearless boy who, as all children do, alternated between delighting his mother and worrying her.
One day, a fisherman caught a great fish in his net. When he cut open the fish, he found a ring, something so grand he knew it could only belong to the king. He rushed to the capital and managed to tell his story to King Melech.
When the king saw his ring, his memory of Charvi and his love for her were restored, just as the sorcerer had decreed. King Melech was ashamed of his behavior, unable to believe he had forgotten his beloved and had dishonored his pregnant wife so. He abandoned his palace and his kingdom and went in search of her.
The king went straightaway to the temple deep within the forest where he had met Charvi. There, Abira barred his way, for though she knew the reason for it, she had not forgotten the king's behavior nor had she forgiven him for the pain he had caused her best friend. "Look who it is," she said angrily. "The great king Melech, who sends away his pregnant wife and shames her before his entire people! What could such a one want in this holy place?"
"I have done a great harm to my wife," replied the king humbly. "I wish to beg her forgiveness and honor her as I should."
"Oh, haven't we heard that song before?" Abira taunted him. "Surely you can sing a different one."
"I know not why, but even when she was before me, I could not remember her," the king replied. He drew forth the royal ring and showed it to Abira. "My memory of my wife only returned when I beheld this ring, the token of love I gave her so long ago. Please allow me to see her!"
Abira softened toward him, if only a little. "Charvi is not here. If you wish to find her, then follow me on your knees."
They journeyed deeper into the forest, Abira the guide forward as King Melech followed behind her, his movement slowed by Abira's condition that he follow on his knees. It did not take long for the king's knees to be scraped bloody and raw. Whenever Abira taunted him with the pace or his injuries, King Melech replied, "I have acted dishonorably. To see my wife and beg her forgiveness, I shall accept your punishment."
It was slow going, for Charvi had concealed herself deep within the forest. Each night, King Melech was forced to wrap his battered knees, but he said not a word of complaint. After a few days of this, Abira relented a little. "You may follow on hands and knees. The only reason I lessen this punishment is because you move too slow."
The king said nothing and followed on his hands and knees. They advanced deeper into the forest until they came upon the grove that was home to the one they sought. There, King Melech beheld his son in the lap of his mother as the two conversed. When Charvi saw her husband, she froze. Fearful that his wife hated him for his sin against her, the king crawled forward and bowed his head to the ground.
"Wife, I acted dishonorably and shamed you. I make no excuse, for the blame is mine and mine alone. I have crawled through this forest just to see you. I beg your forgiveness."
There was silence for a time. King Melech did not dare raise his head, for he was afraid of what he might see in his wife's face. Had she not had enough time to forget him, after all? While his love was still new, hers had had enough time to twist to hate. He would not be able to fault her if it had.
"Sar," Charvi said. "This is your father, my husband, whom I love from the bottom of my heart."
With that, the family was reunited. King Melech brought his wife and son home to his kingdom, where they all lived happily ever after.