Atisa kept count as he continued to patch up his balloon. There it was, spread out on the snowy white field like a wondrous patchwork carpet made up of 222 different
pieces. The pine trees formed a pretty frame.
It was the balloon that was taking up time. Otherwise, the rime machine that had weathered so many storms of ever kind, had been restored to its original shape. It
looked almost as good as new. Except that it wasn’t, Atisa thought wryly. Then he began counting again, going backwards in time. The time machine, complete with
wheels, a balloon and even a navigational stick had been designed by Daedelus, who had lived a long time ago. King Minos of Crete had imprisoned Daedelus more
than—Atisa frowned now as he counted—five thousand years ago. Which meant that the machine he was now repairing, the one that had sustained quite a bit of
damage as he had travelled around the seven wonders, had to be as old as that Atisa whistled at the thought.
He was tacking a bright orange-coloured piece on to the balloon cloth when a shout from the skies drew his attention. There was his father, Gesar, on his small hand
glider. Atisa made out the sound catcher too, the unique machine Gesar had kised and was now experimenting on, shaped like a silver antenna that shook every time he
dived low or picked up speed. Gesar waved as he neared, he circled around the field, zipping low and then zooming up high before he came to a halt not very far away.
Snow had fallen heavily the last few days but today the weather had held, allowing Atisa’s father to take to the skies for a long time. The hand glider was something
Gesar had designed himself. He did manage to get a lot of things done when he wasn’t busy with his flying school.
Now he ran up to Atisa, and there was an urgency about him that Atisa didn’t miss.
‘I heard you,’ Gesar said. ‘And you are quite quick with numbers, I must say.’
He looked around and studied the wonderfully coloured sheet spread out before him. ‘Really looked great from up there and it was fun hearing you doing the counting,’ he
winked. ‘But then I heard something else.’
‘What?’ asked Atisa.
‘A horse. Now I know, it’s snowed heavily and the carts have been stranded in town below, but this was clearly a horse. A horse with an expert rider; mind you. When I
tracked it on my radar, I could see it headed towards the monastery.’
Atisa was puzzled. ‘Do you think it could be one of the monks returning early?’
Atisa’s teacher, Elder Lama, wasn’t supposed to return so early. He was up in the monasteries farther north looking at some old Chinese texts on Buddhism. Atisa ran
his fingers through his hair in some anxiety. Elder Lama would certainly not approve of his long hair. He had grown it to look the way Greek warriors had worn their hair,
well below their shoulders, and it was all held in place by a headband. For a few weeks only, Atisa had grinned, when accosted by his parents.
‘Unlikely, they have their period of study. I was just intrigued. Good, I can see that your machine is all repaired now.’
‘Yes, isn’t it and quite colourful too. Mom won’t have a problem locating it.’
Atisa’s mother, Gaea, named after the earth goddess, was an intrepid explorer, adventurer and archaeologist. Are you all of those or just one of these? Atisa had asked
once looking at her visiting card that was like a hologram. But he had been teasing, for it was while digging underwater that she had come across Daedelus ‘s distinct
engravings on a labyrinth wall that had led Atisa to his first adventure—the search for Icarus— and in turn to each one of the Seven Wonders.
Now his mother was somewhere in Central Asia, in the mountains of Tan Shan, hunting for an old monastery that the old nomadic tribes too knew about. There had been
a mention of it in a text the Elder Lama owned and his mother had been very excited after reading it. She had promised Atisa he could join her as soon as his classes at
the monastery ended for the winter break. Atisa studied old manuscripts with the Elder Lama for he hoped one day to become an explorer as well. An instructor flew
down once every week to teach him the other subjects and then there were the flying lessons his father gave him. So far Atisa had nothing to complain about and the
thought of exploring together with his mother only made his happiness complete. Worrying about Elder Lama’s disapproval for his long hair was something he could put
off for now.
‘I can’t wait to get started, Dad, and the machine’s almost ready.’
‘Yes,’ murmured his father, ‘and we will make it the most efficient machine yet. The sound catcher is now perfectly lightweight, and there are solar cells you can attach
to the flying machine so it doesn’t have to rely only on the wind like last time. It will go much faster. Then there is the lantern…’
‘The lantern?’ ‘Yes,’ and there was no mistaking the excitement in his father’s voice, ‘It’s my new invention. It has a bulb that changes colour according to
temperature and height. So it warns you in advance about changes in the weather, When the weather’s cold, its light is an icy blue in colour, and as it gets hotter, the
lantern changes colour moving from purple when its mild, and red when it’s really hot. But let’s not get into these details now, it’s really simple to operate.’ Gesar’s voice
tapered off before picking up again, ‘Besides, I do think you should leave as early as possible. This good weather will not hold for much longer, you can be sure.’
‘I’m done,’ said Atisa, looking in satisfaction at his work. It had taken 236 patches in all.
His father grinned. ‘Well, well, who would have thought those ancient spears and arrows in Babylon, Egypt, and wherever you went last, could wreak so much damage!’
Atisa grinned as he pulled at the ropes, gathering the balloon in. When it was all folded up into a neat tent, he drove the machine, its wheels rumbling like a chariot, over
the gravely path that led to the hangar.
‘Tell me something, Dad, you didn’t hear the horseman after some time did you?’
‘No, I didn’t, can’t explain that!’
Atisa was still frowning later that night as he remembered that conversation. He had finished checking the equipment he would need for his trip to Central Asia, and now
he was idly star gazing, using the telescope that Daedelus had given him as a parting gift.
The skies were clear, and he could clearly make out the constellation of the Great Bear. He hoped tomorrow afternoon when he would finally leave, the weather would be
as clear. He moved his telescope lower. The white snow-capped roof of the monastery came into view. He saw the empty mountain road that led farther up, and then
something made him draw his breath in sharply.
As he followed with his telescope the line of windows that led to the Elder Lama’s quarters on the monastery’s highest floor, he saw someone trying to break into his
teacher’s rooms. There was someone perched on the old birch tree, leaning forward, scraping away for all he was worth at the wooden window frame. Tethered to the
tree, a few feet below, was the horse. Atisa wasted no more time. He knew for sure this was the horseman his father’s sound catcher had picked up. He rushed
downstairs, taking the stairs in a trice. If he started off right away, he could prevent a break-in at the monastery.
Back of the Book
Young Atisa thought he was all set for a cushy ride on Daedalus’s balloon to join his mother Gaea in seventh-century Central Asia. But danyi, a warrior from China, a
fierce Gobi blizzard and a mysterious white horse compel him to cross paths with Hieun tsang, the famed monk and traveller who is on his way to King Harshavardhan’s
court. It soon becomes clear that Hieun Tsang is a hunted man, and, despite Atisa’s invaluable assistance, the situation only becomes ever more dangerous. Sea
pirates, several assassination attempts, friends, who cannot be trusted-somebody is determined to make sure that the Chinese traveller never returns to his
Who is the implacable enemy that seeks to harm Hieun Tsang? Will he reach China safe with the knowledge he’s so arduously collected? Will Atisa find the
courage needed to defeat the dark forces?
To find out, join Atisa and the great monk on their fantastic adventures.
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