“Oh, ahh, ah! Mom I am so bored! I want to go to Grandma’s house”, wailed Lolly. She brushed her silky brown hair away from her forehead and stared at her mother petulantly with tearful brown eyes.

Mom shook her head in resignation and thought, “I’ll have to send her to her grandma’s house or else she will be weeping and throwing tantrums the whole summer vacation.”

She told Lolly, “Go and pack your bag. We will leave early tomorrow morning.”

“Thank you, mum! I love you!” saying this Lolly started dancing around the house in excitement. She rushed to her room and packed her bag. Her excitement kept her awake the whole night and she got up way before anybody else.  “Goodbye house!  Mom, come on quickly. We are getting late!” she said impatiently.

After a few hours they reached Grandma’s house. Lolly hurried inside, dumped her bag on the sofa and went into the kitchen. She hugged her grandmother tightly. “Oh my gosh! Lolly! You gave me such a fright!”

“Welcome! Welcome!” said Grandpa happily. Grandma gave them some refreshing lime juice.

“Yay, Grandma! Now my holidays will really start!”

Mom got ready to leave, “Bye, Lolly! Take care! Don’t go out much and don’t worry grandma and grandpa.” Mum said.

“I won’t. I won’t. Don’t worry about me. I will be fine.”

Soon after grandma got busy making delicious food and Grandpa was busy with his own work. “What should I do, Grandma? Can I go and call Kanchana?”

“Yes, but come back quickly.”

On the way to Kanchana’s house Lolly jogged and whistled and her head moved from one side to the other as she looked around the village. Kanchana lived at the other end of the village so it was a long walk, but she finally reached Kanchana’s house.

“Lolly! You are here at last.  Yes! This will be my best vacation!” said Kanchana

After they had caught up on each other’s lives, Kanchana suddenly said. “Come, Lolly! I want to show you something strange. Remember that old peepal tree in the centre of the village?”

“You mean the dark and scary one?”

“Yes, suddenly the mud around its roots keeps heaving up as if there is an earthquake going on only there. After some time it settles down.”

The girls walked to the center of the village and Lolly looked at the tree. It was huge and scary, but for some reason she was not afraid. She walked around it a couple of times and suddenly stopped. “Kanchu! See, there is something under the mud here. It feels like metal. Should we try to dig it out?”

“I think we should ask the elders to do it. They keep telling us to keep away from this tree. I wonder why.” said Kanchana.

“Okay. Let’s ask my Grandparents,” replied Lolly.

The girls raced to Lolly’s grandparent’s house, “Grandma! Grandma! We want to tell you something!”

“What is it?”

“We think there is something under the dark peepal tree in the center of the village.”

Grandma gasped, “I don’t want you to go near the tree!”

“But why?”

“Don’t ask questions. Now come on and eat your lunch. Kanchana, you also go and wash your hands and sit down to eat.”

After lunch the girls went into the courtyard. They felt dejected. They tried playing some games but their minds kept going to the tree.

“It’s no use,” said Lolly, “We have to do something. It is as if something is calling out to me.”

“I know what we can do”, said Kanchana.  “We can ask the headman for permission.”

“Let’s go!” said Lolly and they rushed to his house

“Hello uncle!”  They both said smiling at him.

“Hello kids.” said the headman who knew Lolly well as she came to the village every vacation.  “I hope you are enjoying your holidays” he said cheerfully.

“Yes, we are. But we have to tell you something. It is very serious.”

“What happened? Is everything alright?” said the headman looking worried.

“Uncle, there is something under the dark peepal tree…..” Lolly began.

Before she could say anything more, he shouted, “No, no, girls! Don’t go near it. It is very dangerous.”

“Then why don’t you come with us to find out what it is, Uncle!”

“No, no. I am not coming and you also don’t go. I am warning you.” he said and walked away quickly.

“Why don’t they want us to find out what is under the tree? And why won’t they tell us why it is dangerous”, grumbled Lolly.

They walked back deep in thought. Then Lolly said, “I have an idea. Let’s go to the tree tonight and dig around the mud and search for whatever it is that needs to come out.

“But the grownups have told us not to go near the tree.” Kanchana reminded her.

“Yes, But they won’t tell us why. It just sounds like one of those things grownups don’t want  you to do, without any valid reason. I don’t think it is dangerous. So are you coming?”

Knowing that her friend would go without her, if she said no, Kanchana quickly agreed.

“I will bring the spade and you bring a big torch”, Lolly instructed.

“As you say, Captain”, Kanchana retorted back

“At midnight!” Lolly chanted

“At midnight!” Kanchana repeated

At midnight, Lolly tiptoed out of the house holding her breath. She didn’t dare disturb her grandparents.  Kanchana too managed to sneak out of her house without being noticed by anyone.

“Have you brought the torch?” Lolly whispered in Kanchana’s ears.

“Yes, master!” and hand in hand the two girls went towards the tree.

Gathering their courage around them with both hands, the girls looked at the tree. For some reason, it seemed to be looking kindly at them.  Lolly walked around its base and suddenly said, “ Kanchu, shine the torch here.”

In the torchlight, Lolly started digging and after some time, she held up a box to Kanchana.

“See what I found”, she whispered excitedly. The minute the box was in her hand, it seemed as if the tree gave a huge sigh of relief and the mud around it settled down.

Kanchana saw that Lolly held a beautifully carved box in her hand. It was made of copper with a picture of a king and queen carved into it.

They held their breath as they opened the box and saw the most beautiful necklace they had ever seen.

“Oh my gosh! This is so beautiful!” Kanchana exclaimed.

“And I bet it is extremely valuable too.” murmured Lolly. “So now who is going to keep the box till we can give it to the grownups in the morning?”

“Not me”, said Kanchana immediately. “My parents would kill me first and ask questions later.”

“Okay. I’ll take it and hide it in my suitcase.” Lolly decided. “It is already almost two o’clock. People will start getting up soon.”

The people in the village woke with the dawn and Lolly usually did so too, whenever she was here. But the events of the night had tired her out and she slept on as the world woke up.

“Lolly, Lolly! Are you alright? Why are you not getting up? Kanchana has come to meet you. Get up beta!” she heard her grandmother calling her and woke with a start.

“Oh! What time is it?”

“Eight o’clock”, said Kanchana. “Wake up sleepy head. We have a task to complete.”

Lolly rushed to her suitcase and took out the box. She showed it to her grandparents and said, “See what I found!”

Grandmother gasped and said, “Oh my goodness! That is the ancient temple jewels that were missing!”

“Yes, I found it under the peepal tree.”

“But I told you girls not to go near it! You could have been hurt!”

“What? Why?”

Grandpa took up the tale, “Legend has it that a long time ago, the king of the land, King Vrushtidharma, was being hunted by his cousin who wanted to kill him. The king and queen were given shelter in the village and the cousin was arrested and put in jail.

The grateful king presented this necklace to the temple deity and told the priest that the necklace would always bring prosperity to the village. And it did for many centuries. But then one night, a thief decided to rob the necklace. He attacked the village priest. The priest was terrible wounded but he somehow managed to take the necklace and hide it under the banyan tree and he put a curse around it. Only someone pure of heart who did not want the necklace for themselves could retrieve it. Soon after the poor priest died of his injuries.

The thief tried to take the necklace but he was blinded. A few more people too tried and they too suffered the same fate. That is why we told you to stay away from the tree.”

“But why did nothing happen to us?” Kanchana asked in wonder.

‘Because you did not want the necklace for yourself. In fact you didn’t even know what was under the tree.”

Lolly, her grandparents and  Kanchana and her parents all went to the Headman’s house to give him the news.

“I am so proud of you, my children!” the headman said, “Now our village will become as prosperous as it used to be before.”

That evening there was a grand celebration as the necklace was once again placed in the temple. And the happiest people in the village were Lolly and Kanchana.

 

 


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