Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, the
fire died. The air in the hut hung like draped coldness, enclosing them in a
cocoon of frigidness. “Fiona, wake up. The fire is out and it’s freezing in
here. I can see my breath.” Callum shouted across the room.
Fiona opened her eyes and saw ice crystals
coating the window. She reached up to touch, realizing it was inside. She
started another fire in the stove.
Before she lay back down on her cot, the windows
cleared and the room took on a homey warmth
“You didn’t even put wood in it,” Callum said.
“Don’t need the wood. Just lie down until it
warms up a bit and then we’ll look around and see if there’s any food in
here.” Fiona pulled the blankets around her. After dozing off and on, she
yawned and stood up. “It’s morning and we’ve got to get going.”
Elspet yawned and sat up. “What is there to eat
Callum, who lay with his eyes open, staring at
the ceiling, jumped up at the mention of food. “Food? I hope there’s
something in here to eat.”
“There’s not too much. I found a few tins of
beans and some creamed corn.” Fiona opened the cans with a hand can opener.
“Creamed corn? I’d rather starve.” Callum slid
out of bed and walked over to the cupboards, searching for something
different and appetizing.
“You may have to starve then. That’s all there
is to eat.” Fiona dumped the beans and corn into an old aluminum pot and set
it on top of the wood-burning stove. “Sausages, bacon and egg sounds butter,
Elspet looked outside. “There’s no clouds and
the sky is blue.”
“Don’t let that fool you. It’s bitter cold.
We’ve got a busy day ahead of us. Eat up.” She spooned some of the corn/bean
mixture onto paper plates, handed each of them a plastic spoon and sat on
their cots to eat.
After they’d finished, they cleaned up, leaving
the cabin as it was before they arrived. Closing the door behind them,
Callum breathed in the fresh air. “It almost feels nice out here, but I’m
leaving my coat on. At least there’s no wind.”
The trail loomed before them, rocks jutting from
a worn dirt path. As they hiked toward the monastery, Elspet pointed out the
different types of trees. “There’s a few junipers, cypress, pine and birch.
Most trees could never survive at this high of an altitude.”
Callum saw a flock of Tibetan snowcocks heading
down to the river below. Several Himalayan monals darted from the scrubby
bushes as they walked past. A few feathers fell as the birds soared
“What is that?” Fiona watched a snow leopard as
it climbed on top of a pile of boulders. “I hope it’s not one of our traps.
I had enough of wild cats in Mexico. It does look like a leopard of some
“It’s a snow leopard. It won’t come near us,
unless it’s starving to death.” Callum saw the faded spots on its white
coat. “It’s the wolves we need to watch out for.”
“Wolves? Not again!” Elspet sighed. She was
about to say something else when she spotted the monastery. “There it is. I
thought we’d lost it when we came up this winding trail, but we didn’t. We
actually came the right way. It looks beautiful.” A cluster of white stone
buildings with red roofs trimmed with gold leaf, loomed before them. The
onion-domed roofs came to a swirling point, catching the morning sunlight
and nearly blinding them. From a distance they could tell the wooden doors
were ornate and decorative. Perched on a ledge on the side of the mountain,
the monastery invited them with its long row of steps that led up to it,
each carved out of stone.
“These steps remind me of the pyramid in
Mexico,” Fiona said, “but much much higher.”
A herd of yaks stood near the bottom of the
steps, grazing on the alpine flowers. Himalayan blue poppies, red and pink
sheep sorrel, saxifrage, and marigolds carpeted a field, bringing a splash
of color to the barren scene.
“Those yaks are ugly and smelly.” Callum plugged
his nose. “Look at that one with the weird eyes.”
“What weird eyes?” Fiona’s glance moved from one
to the other.
“The one with one red eye and one golden eye.
All the others have brown eyes.” Callum showed them the one standing off by
The yak raised its shaggy head and snorted.
Steam poured from it’s nostrils and warm air mingled with the colder air.
“What’s it doing?” Elspet saw its hooves
scraping the dirt.
“I think it’s going to charge us,” Fiona said.
She was about to tell them to run when the yak ran toward them, it’s horns
aimed at their hearts. Frozen with fear, they stood gaping as the enormous
creature moved closer to them. Suddenly they found themselves lying on the
ground on their backs, watching the yak run past. Fiona looked up. “Who are
A young boy, head shaven and dressed in a bright
orange robe, smiled down at them. He offered his hand, pulling them up to
their feet. “I am Abbik. Why did you not run when you saw the crazy yak?”
Elspet brushed the dirt off her legs. “Thank
you, Abbik. You saved our lives. I think we were too scared to move.”
Abbik watched Callum as he pulled tiny stones
from his hair. “What are you doing at the monastery. Girls are not allowed
here.” Abbik stepped onto the bottom step and looked up.
“We have to go there. We’re here to collect an
opal,” Fiona said.
“Oh. So you are the one,” Abbik said, smiling at
his new friend.
“What one? What are you talking about?” Fiona’s
brow arched downward with confusion.
“The one to collect the opal. I have heard
stories since I first came here of a person who will come on a quest to ask
for the opal.” Abbik used his hands often as he spoke.
“It’s cold out here. Can you take us up there?”
Callum stood on the step next to the young monk.
“I will lead you.” Abbik climbed the steps.
Fiona and Elspet followed the two boys.
“Where did you come from? I mean, where were you
just now?” Callum stopped the boy, holding his arm. “You seemed to appear
out of nowhere.”
“I was down at the ponds, taking care of the
ducks. See this bag?” Abbik held up a dirty burlap bag. “It is full of
feathers. We use them to stuff our pillows and blankets.”
Elspet whispered to Fiona when they were half
way up the steps. “This is way too easy. We can’t just go up here into the
monastery and get the opal. I know there are traps and I think one of them
is that yak.” She turned and looked back at it. The hairy animal stood at
the bottom of the steps watching them. “It gives me the creeps.”
“How many steps are there? I say there are a
thousand of them. At least that’s what my legs feel like. And look how many
more we still have to climb.” Callum sat down and took a few deep breaths.
“Abbik, we are not used to such high altitudes. It’s hard for us to breath.
You’re used to it. Can’t we rest for a while?”
Abbik nodded and they sat, gazing down on the
Elspet and Fiona’s eyes went right to the yak
and never moved.
The boy said, “I climb these steps three times a
day. Once in the morning when I gather the feathers; in the early afternoon,
I go to the pond to catch fish, and then in the evening, before the sunsets,
to gather the goats and put them in the shed.”
“You must be in good shape. Why do you have to
do it all? Since when do young boys become monks? How old are you, anyway?”
Fiona thought he looked eight years old.
“I am nine. My mother and father brought me here
when I was three. They wanted me to learn the Buddhist ways. It is quite
common for boys to be sent to the monastery for training. I will be here
until I die.” Abbik grinned at them, seeing their concern. “I am happy here.
I do not mind the work. One day I will be as Kandarash, a spiritual leader.”
“Is he your boss?” Callum couldn’t think of a
“He is not my boss, as you put it. He is more
like my father. He cares for us and teaches us with proper, patient
training. You will meet him soon. He is the man you seek.” Abbik stood up.
“Come, we must go. I have work to do.”
“You speak good English,” Elspet said.
“We are taught many languages here. Come.” Abbik
dashed up the steps.
An hour later they stood at the gates to the
monastery. Two huge wooden doors opened a way through a massive stone wall.
“This wall is thick. It must have taken years to build.” Elspet had to take
twenty steps to pass its width.
“Wow! It’s even prettier close up than it is
from a distance. What’s the name of the monastery?” Fiona ran her hands over
the wooden gate.
“It is the Sikkipong Monastery. Do you like it?”
Abbik led them through the grounds to the main door.
“I said this before, but I’m saying it again.
Wow! Look at the beautiful woodwork. Who carved all this? And look at the
silverwork and goldwork. This must have taken fifty years to do all this.”
Fiona traced some of the design with her fingers. She could see inside the
monastery from where they stood. Huge mirrors, enclosed in intricately
carved wooden holders, hung on the walls. “The mirrors reflect off each
other, making it look as though the room goes on forever.”
“I am glad you admire the monastery.” A deep
voice spoke from behind them.
Fiona took Callum’s and Elspet’s hands and they turned around. “Hello. Your
monastery is very interesting.” Fiona’s voice faltered with nervousness.
“I’m glad you approve. My name is Kandarash,” the elderly monk said.
Elspet gulped when a dozen other monks, all dressed in orange robes, having
shaved heads, suntanned skin, and sandals on their feet, stepped in behind
“My name means, ‘eagle who sores’. I am sorry to say this, but there is a
strict rule that no females may enter this monastery. Most of the monks here
have not seen a woman since they were children. It is most uncomfortable to
have you here. What brings you to our monastery?”
Fiona answered. “We are here to get the opal. Many years ago a man delivered
it here to one of the monks. I saw in a vision that it was here. I saw you
giving it to me.”
Kandarash’s face showed no expression as he led them into a room. “Stay
here. I must call a meeting to discuss this. Abbik, you bring the boy. I
must also ask you two to not leave this room. Go ahead and admire what you
want, but I ask you not to touch anything.” With that said, the monks and
the two boys disappeared through another solid wooden door.
“Well, I guess us unimportant girls should stay
here and do some dusting or something.” Elspet scoffed.
“It’s their way, Elspet. Not every culture is
like ours in Scotland. We’ve got to respect their attitudes, even if we
don’t like it.” Fiona moved to a window. “Come and see this. What a gorgeous
view from up here. You know your flowers, Elspet. Tell me what those flowers
are down there.”
Elspet stood on her tiptoes and looked outside.
“Those pinkish-purple flowers are orchids. How rare to see them in this
altitude. The monks must have green thumbs. “There are primulas, primroses,
mauve lady slipper, and those blue ones are Himalayan poppies. We saw those
Fiona saw rows of rhubarb, potatoes and carrots.
“They’ve even got a vegetable garden. They probably make Abbik, or one of
the other boys do all the weeding. I wonder what the older monks do? If they
make the boys do all of the work, they what in the world do they do? It’s
autumn, so most of their garden’s been harvested. I wonder who does the
“Fiona, I see that yak again. It’s coming up the
steps. How odd.” Elspet peered down the cascading of steps.
“Elspet, I don’t think it’s a normal yak. It
think it’s possessed by a demon or ghoul. It’s got to be our first trap.”
“Well, it’s almost to the top and I’ll bet it
comes right for us. If it is one of the traps, then its job is to stop us
from getting the opal, even if it has to kill us. Can’t you talk to it,
“I can try. I’ll wait until it comes closer. Do
you think it will come through the gate into the monastery? I hope it
doesn’t come inside. Maybe it will wait outside and we can sneak out the
back door.” Fiona looked around. “If there is one.”
They watched in terror as they yak came through
the gate and headed for the main door, which was wide open. Fiona and Elspet
moved behind a stone pillar to watch. “Now, Fiona. Talk to it.” Elspet
whispered so the yak wouldn’t hear. What do you want with us. We mean you no
harm. We came to get the opal and then we’ll leave.
The yak snorted and stared at the girls. You
aren’t getting the opal. I will stop you. Girls do not belong here at the
monastery. I’ve been guarding it for centuries. Leave now and I will not
harm you. “It wants us to go,” Fiona said to Elspet. “It says if we leave,
it won’t hurt us, but that we shouldn’t try to get the opal.”
“But we have to. If we don’t get the stone, then
Phelan will destroy the world. Tell the yak about Phelan,” Elspet cried.
Yak, the man who put the opal here sent us to retrieve it. There’s an evil
wizard named Phelan who…”
Silence. What you have to say is of no concern
to me. Leave now without the opal.
No. I can’t do that.
Then you and your friends will die. The animal
moved further into the room.
Fiona and Elspet scurried behind a wooden chest
The yak went on a rampage, smashing into
everything with its horns and tossing things into the air. Golden plates
hanging on the wall fell to the ground. The yak stomped on them, denting the
gold with its hooves. Porcelain vases and wooden carvings toppled, breaking
into dozens of pieces. Tapestries and woven carpets tore to shreds as the
yak’s horns dug into them. After destroying everything in its path, the yak
headed towards the the girls. Shoving its sharp horns into the chest and
splintering the slats of rare teak, the yak lifted it high into the air.
With a few shakes of its head, it tossed the chest against the wall. With no
protective barrier between them and the infuriated yak, Elspet and Fiona
accepted death and fell into each other’s arms, sobbing.
Callum and the Abbik chose this time to return.
Seeing the situation and thinking quickly, Abbik shouted. “Fiona! Elspet!”
The noise distracted the yak for several moments, allowing the girls time to
escape. Following Callum and Abbik, they ran from room to room, in search of
a safe hiding place.
The yak chased them, destroying everything in
“In here.” Abbik ushered them into a small room,
slamming the door behind them. “I did not want to do this, but I have no
choice. I’ve never seen a yak go mad before.” He opened the door a crack and
peeked out. The yak had its back to him. He put a blowpipe in his mouth and
spit a dart at the yak. It turned to face the boy and then fell down,
Kandarash and the other monks rushed into the
Abbik threw open the door and ran over to the
yak. “What has happened?”
Kandarash saw the destruction. “The monastery
has been desecrated. Remove this animal. Take it out behind the monastery
and destroy it.”
“What? You’re going to kill it?” Elspet stroked
the yak’s hair. “It wasn’t it’s fault. It was only doing as it was commanded
to do. Don’t kill it.”
Abbik tried to comfort her. “Don’t worry, Elspet.
We use its fur to make our clothes and carpets. We use its hide for our
shoes. The meat is used sparingly, but is needed. Here, in the monastery, we
survive on little meat. A gift like this is welcome.”
Kandarash spoke. “A council was held and we have
no choice but to ask you to leave. I was hesitant to agree, but after seeing
our monastery destroyed, I must agree. It is obvious that you are here on a
quest. You are to finish that quest outside of this monastery. When you are
finished, come back and I will give you the opal. Until I know it is safe,
you will not step foot inside the walls of our sacred palace. I ask you to
Abbik opened his mouth to speak, but was
“Abbik, though it is our way to stay near the
monastery, perhaps it is prudent that you guide them to a place of solitude,
where they can meditate. Take them lower, into the valley. Stay with them
until they are ready and then you may lead them back. Before you leave, we
will feed you.” Kandarash led them into a room. A low table sat in the
center, surrounded by cushions. “Please be seated. Normally we eat
sparingly, but in your honor, we have prepared a feast.”
Sitting on the cushions, Abbik explained the
different dishes. “This is Dal Bhat – lentil soup with boiled rice. Those
are Tibetan dumplings, which are called Momos. They are very good. The dish
on the red plate is Pulau – rice, onion, cinnamon, cashews, sultanas. Next
to it is Aalu Wala – cubed potatoes with chili, cumin and coriander, lamb
beef, chicken, mutton and pork. Try some of the Dudhbari – sweetened milk
balls in pistachio flavored cream with syrup, or the Sikarni, which is
sweet, spiced yogurt with pistachios. You will try?”
Fiona, Callum and Elspet nodded and filled their
plates with the different foods.
“Who made these carpets? Are they made of yak
hair?” Fiona asked questions between bites.
“The monks made them all. Some are from yak’s
hair. Others are made from cashmere and angora. The ones on the walls are
made from silk. It is hard work. I am being trained to make carpets. One day
I will make my very own.” Abbik’s chest puffed with pride.
“That’ll be cool, Abbik. I’m sure you’ll do an
excellent job. What is this?” Callum picked up something that looked like
“That is sugarcane. We don’t have it very often.
When the traders come from the valley, they bring some with them. They only
show up once every three months. Most of them are hesitant to make the
journey. “Lick it. It’s pure sugar.”
After the meal, the afternoon sun blasted
through the windows. “I’m sleepy,” Callum said.
Kandarash stood, wiping his food-stained hands
on a cloth napkin. “It is time.”
Abbik, Fiona, Elspet and Callum stood. “We have
to leave now?”
“I’m sorry, but you must. Dress warm. Abbik, you
must cover yourself and put on warm shoes.”
The boy obeyed Kandarash’s order and
disappeared. When he returned, he was dressed much the same as the Callum.
“Lead them to the meadow. There, they can clear
their thoughts and concentrate on whatever tasks they must encounter. Go, be
safe, and return when it is over.” The monk opened the door.
Before leaving, Fiona looked around. The rooms
were back in order. She admired the monks for their efforts. “Good bye.
We’ll be back.” She stepped outside. The doors closed behind her.