Tashi felt alive with excitement as he stepped into the cool air of the cavern. He felt Chetak’s warm glow within him; the wind horse had taken on his disembodied form and now rested within Tashi as a drop of pure light energy.

Tashi looked around him with curiosity. The cavern was large and low roofed; both Prince A-KarO and Prince Narsimha had to bow their heads low as they walked ahead of Tashi. Yogi Bishek Ananda led the company with Lama Ozer walking by his side. The two were engrossed in conversation.

The yogi led them towards the back of the cavern, which seemed to disappear into darkness. Here was a small opening: a tunnel leading into shadowy depths.

Tashi felt slightly claustrophobic as he walked into the the darkness of the narrow tunnel. His head touching the ceiling, he concentrated on following the faint glow that emanated from Prince A-KarO before him.

Tashi had almost lost all sense of time in the darkness when, suddenly, the air cleared and the tunnel opened into a roomy cavern. He blinked his eyes when the Yogi switched on a torch. Its bright light hurt his eyes as it danced off the cavern walls, throwing strange shadows. Tashi saw that the cavern branched into three more tunnels: the openings to the right and the left were rather narrow while the one in the centre was quite broad and the air emanating from it smelled fresh. Tashi hoped that the yogi would take the central tunnel and was delighted when that was exactly what he did.

Tashi walked through the tunnel humming a soft tune. The central tunnel ran straight and the air was indeed fresh and sweet. In almost no time, they took a turn and the tunnel opened out into a circular cavern which was well lit by a bonfire blazing in the central pit. Tashi looked around the cavern with curiosity: the walls of the cave were covered with old thangkas and fresh smelling herbs sprouted from cracks in the walls and the ground. The light of the bonfire revealed greenery everywhere, Tashi recognised several mountain herbs of the wild variety.

Right next to the bonfire were two broad benches and a table made out of an old tree trunk. Tashi spotted the guardian sitting on the bench with a basket over owing with herbs. He seemed busy at work, tending to a cauldron over the bonfire and every so often seasoning the potion with herbs.

The tsen deity was half Tashi’s size; his entire form came up to Tashi’s hips. But he was broad-chested and his legs and arms bulged with muscle. His skin was a dark brown in colour, the hue of dark coffee, and looked hard, like the bark of a tree. The tsen, Tashi noticed, had two sets of arms, which were busy stirring the cauldron and throwing in herbs at the same time.

As the rest of the party explored the cave, Tashi warmed his hands by the fireside. The tsen continued to work, apparently unperturbed by the interruption. Tashi eyed the tsen curiously as he stirred the cauldron, when suddenly, the tsen looked up to face Tashi with blazing silver eyes.

In the blink of an eye, a huge hammer had appeared in one of the deity’s hands, a vajra in the other, a bow in the third and a dagger in the fourth.

The guardian roared, “Who disturbs my peace?”

The yogi stepped forward, ‘Lord, it is I, Bishek Ananda. Surely you recall me. This company following me are my friends.”

“I remember you well, yogi,” said the tsen. “Many a time have you walked through my dark halls. But I sense that these who accompany you are not ordinary. Do introduce us.”

The yogi turned to look at Prince A-KarO and the prince gave a slight nod. The yogi said to the tsen, “Gracious guardian, this here is Lord A-KarO and with him is Lord Narasimha, that is the dakini Yeshe Nam Lha and these two are Lama Ozer and Tashi from Sikkim. Do not ask me their full titles, for they have renounced them and now walk the Earth as mortals.”

The tsen smiled. “They are mortal and yet I sense that those three are much, much more.” He folded his four hands and bowed. “As guardian I make you welcome, lords and most gracious lady of immeasurable wisdom, as also Lama Ozer and young Tashi.” Prince A-KarO and Prince Narasimha both folded their hands and thanked him. Yeshe smiled at the tsen and breathed a word of grace over his cauldron. “May you never lack blessed water, gracious tsen.”

The guardian clapped his hands in delight. “I am honoured, dakini.” So saying, all the weapons winked out of his hand and he began stirring the cauldron with great energy. “Now, before we talk, I ask you to share this blessed water with me and break your fast.”

Prince A-KarO smiled. “To share water with a tsen is our privilege.”

The tsen plucked out beaten silver bowls from the air using a magic particular to him and handed each traveler a fragrant bowl of water. Tashi smiled as he sipped the water. He had never had water like this. It filled the appetite of his soul and produced a simple uncomplicated happiness as of a babe at play.

After the company had their fill of the water, the tsen clapped his hands.

“What brings you to my dark halls?”

Yeshe replied, “Gracious guardian, we have entered your halls to make a swift journey to Sikkim. However, the lords here felt that they would benefit from your advice and so we have sought you out.”

The tsen nodded his head and asked, “How may I be of service to you?”

“Before we begin our journey,” said Prince A-KarO, “I would like to know if the road is secure from any demon presence or other negative presence?” The tsen smiled “You are in luck, my lord. This branch of the hidden path has been free of demon presence for over a thousand years. It is a little known branch and those who cross this path are mostly adept yogis who wander from Tibet to India. There are also certain branches of the hidden tribes like the gandharvas, some small and middle deities particular to these mountains and of course the fey that inhabit the high peaks of the eastern Himalayas, who occasionally used my halls for transit.”

“And do you have any idea who we are likely to meet on the road over the next two days of our travel?”

“Well, a band of gandharvas from the heights of Sikkim are travelling to Tibet. Yarghlagh, a snow lion, who is a small deity in the eastern mountains, is also crossing through. There are no yogis for the next week and we have had no monks or lamas in many a year. The lama here is the first to travel through in over three centuries.”

Prince A-KarO nodded and rose to his feet. “Then we had best take your leave, kind guardian, for we have a long journey to make.” As the rest of the group rose, the tsen deity handed Yeshe a silver flask full of his special brew.

“This is fresh blessed water, and when you drink this, you will travel well and will not tire or feel hunger. Drink it once in the morning and you will not need food. This is my little gift to you.”

Yeshe smiled and thanked the tsen. Then she whispered a mantra under her breath. “I confer this gift to you, kind guardian,” she said, holding out her hand. It was full of glittering turquoise and topaz stones which she handed over to the tsen deity, who was smiling with delight.

“Thank you, dakini. You may pass as mortal, but to the discerning eye you are more, much more.”

Yeshe smiled and bowed as the company bade the guardian farewell and took their leave.

Excerpted with permission from The Golden Dakini: The Maitreya Chronicles Part 2, Charu Singh, Hachette.