River Gaya spread her arms wide and embraced the City of Zora in a full circle before escaping into the Thunder Waterfall which marked the entrance of the city. The silver sword stood perched on a rock in the middle of the waterfall, undisturbed for many years. The sword, along with the Castle and the Statue Park that covered the perimeter of the river was a source of terror in the heart of every citizen of the city. In the past, many people had tried to rebel against their tyrant leader Zora but ended up being a statue in the Statue Park. Rumours began that the city was bewitched and anyone who spoke against Zora would turn into a statue. People lost courage and accepted to serve Zora like slaves. They spent their days in service, hoping that one day a warrior would arise to put them out of their misery. But when the warrior did arise, he was mocked and despised.
Inside a small hut in the third circle, Haku’s grandmother was fussing over the boy’s disregard for the wrath of Zora.
‘Stop it Haku! Your Mom and Dad have already turned into statues! You shall stay put and listen to me unless you want to turn into a statue too!’
Haku was already running out of the door. ‘Don’t worry grandma, Haku will not become a statue. Remember when I was five and told that Zora was monster? Hell, I just uttered it again! See, I can still move my fingers, I can stick my tongue out,’ said Haku while drawing circles in the air with his tongue and fingers, ‘Haku will drink the water of Gaya and remove the sword from the rock! Haku will challenge Zora! Haku will bring his parents back! You wait and watch grandma; the days of suffering will be gone soon and Haku shall be the noble leader! The city shall remember the legend of Haku forever!’
‘Haku! No! Come here now!’ But Haku was already out of sight. She heard Haku calling out to people and asking them to join him. Legend of Haku, huh? He overtakes his father in such fantasies! Let the Spirit of the city knock some sense into the boy. I don’t want to lose him too.
Haku was already at the fifth circle, the outer most circle of houses and the nearest circle to the river. He was calling out to all the other boys of the city to join him. ‘Come on Sudir, Mora and Zamil! Come and watch Haku grab the sword!’
He ran past the Statue Park that separated the river from the residence. He stole a quick glance at his parents as if to receive their acknowledgement. His parents occupied one of the highest platforms; greater the crime, higher the platform so that other people are reminded of their fate if they turn against Zora.
He reached the river along with a small group of onlookers who had managed to sneak away form their restraining parents. He removed his worn-out slippers and made his way towards the river. The murmurs from the other boys drowned in the mighty roar of the river. ‘Do you think Haku will make it this time?’ asked a boy with tangled hair.
‘I don’t think so. It’s fun to watch him swim half-way and return. You know what? He is just as scared as we are. He’s is just noisy, trying to grab the attention of the people!’ said a boy with brown eyes and bent knees.
Haku bent on his knees and gulped the water from the river in his folded palms. As the water entered his intestines, a new energy seemed to fill him. He punched his fist into the air and screamed. The courage shining in his eyes enlightened the others to see the boy’s true determination. The whispers from the mocking boys stopped. Everyone had their eyes on Haku.
Within the inner-most circle, at the dead center of the city, the formidable Castle of Zora stood like a monster, ready to devour anyone who dared to near it. Zora was in the battle arena, enjoying the fierce battle between two swordsmen. One of the messengers approached him, his hands trembling with every step. ‘My Lord –
Zora who didn’t like to be disturbed while he was in the arena, looked at the messenger as if he were an annoying fly. ‘What is it?’
‘It’s the boy my Lord. Haku –
‘Did he make it?’
‘No, my Lord –
‘Go away then.’
‘But, my Lord, this time he managed to reach farther than the previous time.’
‘Idiot! Don’t you get it? I don’t care how far he went each time. I only care whether he reached the sword or not!’
‘Yes, my Lord. Sorry –
Zora waved his hand at the messenger, keen on the battle that had now reached the final stage.
The messenger left immediately, too relieved to escape his presence.
After the battle was over and the winner was rewarded, Zora and his minister left to the courthouse. His minister who was wise and aware of the end that is dawning, chose his words carefully, ‘My Lord, don’t you think we should detain the boy?’
‘Do you think somebody could defeat me Merci?’
‘We cannot disregard the word of the Spirit, my Lord.’
‘There are no spirits Merci. There is only power.’
Merci knew better than to argue. He left the rest to fate and bowed his head towards Zora before taking leave of his presence.
Inside the hut in the third circle, Haku’s grandmother, who had heard Haku’s feat, was mumbling something about the Spirit and her son. When Haku entered the hut, she hugged him tight. Tears came pouring down her cheeks.
‘Haku…My child…’ Her voice choked as she struggled to utter the next word. ‘I never believed the Spirit would light you too. I never saw how much you have grown Haku. The Spirit that failed my son shall not fail again. I can see it…’
Haku was staring at his grandma as if she was from a different world. His grandma was always careful when it came to Zora. She has never encouraged his attempts. Today, he was staring at a different grandma.
‘I have no more worries Haku. I know you shall be the one to save the City. The Spirit lives in you Haku. The end of Zora is near…’
Haku moved his hand to stop his grandma. But he was too late. Her eyes were endlessly staring the roof, her lips portraying a slight smile. Her soft skin had suddenly turned like leather.
As if the city had eyes, Zora’s guards arrived at their hut and they carried Haku’s grandma away. ‘The Spirit has cursed your family kid. You shall be next unless you watch yourself. Now there is no one to restrain you,’ said one of the guards.
‘Man! Don’t stop him! How else will the other kids learn what happens to anyone who opposes the Lord?’ said the other guard.
The guards had a good laugh. Haku had no intention of being a piece of ridicule anymore. ‘Men of honour, mark my words! I shall show everyone that Zora is not invincible. All of you will pay for it when I become the new leader! Mark my words, moron!’
Haku was already running out of the hut. The city reverberated with Haku’s cry. ‘I am coming Zora…’
The news of Haku’s flight had reached the Fort. Zora was already ready with his battle sword. Merci was pacing up and down. He had suggested killing the boy and putting an end to his stupidity.
But Zora heard nothing of it. ‘Fool! I am not a coward. I am not scared of the Spirit! I shall put the boy down in a fair fight and prove that I am the ever-pervading leader of the City. Any doubt Merci?’ snarled Zora
‘None my Lord.’
Haku reached the rock at the center of the waterfall. He pulled the sword and immediately the river turned soft and peaceful as if it bowed down to his courage. People had gathered around to witness the power of the Spirit. Some people were already crying out Haku’s name and singing praises while others were throwing abuses at Zora. With the sword in Haku’s hand shining like lightening, none of the people turned into statues. All the eyes were fixed on Haku so that when Zora arrived at the river, no one spared him a glance.
Zora stepped into the river, ready to charge at Haku. The water tightly gripped his legs as if it had arms. Unable to move, Zora stumbled into the river and fell face down. Haku plunged his sword into the water. Several tiny droplets hit Zora and blood sprouted from his face. Haku lifted the sword once again and directly aimed Zora’s heart. In one large blow, Zora let out a cry and turned into a statue.
As Zora took his final breath, the statues in the Statue Garden came to life. Haku the Spirit child ran towards his parents and grandma. The warmth of his parents brought him tears as the family tightly embraced each other. Several families reunited, and the river was glorious with smiles and tears. A long wait came to an end as Haku led the people into the city once again.