They had already crossed a long way before their royal cavalcade reached a mountain-forest. It was a large mountain forest, yet no sound of birds chirping was heard there. Not even a shadow of a deer was seen.

At the end of the day, everyone was tired of the futile search for the hunt. None found anything that could be hunted. The shadow of the sun in west elongated till east; slowly the sun went down; the arrow Madan picked up in the morning still stayed in his hand in the evening – he didn’t find a chance to shoot.

He kept his horse under a tree; said to the minister’s son,“See what an inauspicious moment we have started in. We did not find any stalk in this vast forest area. I don’t want this bow and arrow any longer.” He threw his bow and arrow on the ground.

The minister’s son said, “Well prince! Let’s go back then  -it is already evening.”

Madan protested, “What are you telling!”

“This is inauspicious as well as humiliating

Not finding a game after coming for hunting

I brought dishonor upon my family

Having failed in my first venture silly

Listen, Minister’s son! Pitch a camp here

I won’t go to meet father today for sure.”

The minister’s son replied, “My Prince! You are only son of the King – heir of the throne.

Not returning will force them bemoan.

Madan remained resolute as before, “I am not going to listen to you.”

“Neither kingdom, nor king means anything

When Madankumar fails in life for first time.

No, that is not going to happen. Call the people – tell them to arrange tents here.”

Soon the rows of tents of royal troupe were set in the wide valley in the middle of the mountain forest. The prince ordered, “Let all take rest tonight.” Only the minister’s son had reason to worry.  

In the evening, there was much noise; in the late evening, his people were still busy with cooking. In the middle of the night, everyone fell asleep. The tents of his force surrounded his tent; his was decorated with a silk-canopy with dangling gemstone-designs. On their golden royal beds, both the prince and the minister’s son fell asleep.

***

In that bewitching hour of the night, the two fairy-sisters- one time-fairy, another sleep-fairy were on the way to Indra’s palace illuminating the sky with their aura. The stars were sparkling in the sky. The wind was blowing mild. The time-fairy called the sleep-fairy:

 “Look sister, crossing so many forests, bushes and mountains.

Where we came, what are we seeing in the valley astounding?”

“True, every day we go through this route but never notice anything like this. What we are seeing today – fainted stars, faded moon, daitya and danav stopped moving, even the breeze is mild – what happened here today?”

 Startled time-fairy said, “Look downwards, there are lamps alit as if thousand moons blossomed in the earth. Or did anyone collect all the sparkling gemstones of the world here together? Did any of our devatas from heaven come to stay here? – let’s have a look.”

Sleep denied, “Let’s not spoil our time here – the night passes fast.”

Time-fairy was not ready to move without exploring.Sleep-fairy discovered, “No, this is neither gemstone, nor a devata – this is a mortal prince!”

“Prince! How come a mortal can look so beautiful? I am not going from here before seeing him once! – She started floating downwards. Her sister had no other choice but to follow. Coming down, they stood near the bed of Madankumar to see him properly.

Time-fairy was surprised:

“Did Fate-deva create him to puzzle women on the earth!

Did he give his form using a paintbrush?

To draw lines, where did he find the ink? 

Did he collect butter from the ocean of milk?

Why did he create a beauty so rare

If for him he didn’t make a suitable pair?”

Smiling sleep-fairy answered:

“Madhumala is the Tambul princess,

If this is gemstone, she gems-basket.”

As time-fairy expressed doubt whether anything in the world can be more gorgeous than the prince, her sister informed:

“Entire kingdom laughs if she laughs,

All of them cry when she sighs

Making a golden palace in the middle of the sea

King of Tambul keeps her there, not everyone can see.”

The news cheered up the time-fairy, “Is it? Then let’s help the prince meet Madhumala. Hold the other side of bed.”

Sleep, her sister differed again, “No sister, the night will be over soon. We won’t be able to attend Indra’s festival if involve ourselves in mortal’s affairs.”

“No, we have to make sure that two of them unite once we have found one of the pair. Let Paradise go to hell! Let’s carry the bed to the land of Madhumala.”

“What a trouble you invite!” – Sleep sister expressed concern, but then – two of them flew in sky spreading their floral wings holding Madankumar’s bed from both sides amidst that lonely night.

(to be cont._