This blog was featured on 04/25/2017
Book Excerpt: The Mountain Goddess by Shelley Schanfield
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Title: THE MOUNTAIN GODDESS
Author: Shelley Schanfield
Publisher: Lake House Books
Pages: 471
Genre: Historical Fantasy

A beautiful warrior princess. A tormented prince. A terrible choice between love, duty, and spiritual freedom.

 

In ancient India, rebellious Dhara runs away to a sacred mountain to study with the powerful yogi Mala, a mysterious woman with a violent past. Flung by war onto an adventure-filled journey, Dhara meets and captures the heart of Siddhartha, whose skill in the martial arts and extraordinary mental powers equal her own.

 

Worldly power and pleasure seduce Dhara, creating a chasm between her and her husband, who longs to follow a sage’s solitary path. She takes on the warrior’s role Siddhartha does not want, and when she returns wounded from battle court intrigue drives them further apart. As Siddhartha’s discontent with royal life intensifies, Dhara’s guru Mala, who has returned to her life as a ruthless outlaw, seeks her former pupil for her own evil purposes.

 

Dhara’s and Siddhartha’s love keeps evil at bay, but their son’s birth brings on a spiritual crisis for the prince.  If he leaves his kingdom to seek enlightenment, he turns his back on love and duty and risks destroying his people. Only Dhara can convince him to stay. 

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Book Excerpt:

The scouting party found the wild-looking woman at the waterfall, asleep by the pool.

“Stay, daughter,” Dhara’s father hissed. She pulled her pony’s reins and halted next to his sturdy horse.

“Who is she, Father?” Dhara whispered back, unable to look away from this apparition, whose skin was as dark as the fearsome goddess Kali’s. She wore a deerskin around her loins, and long, tangled black hair covered her breasts. Well-muscled arms and legs lay akimbo, as if the woman had fallen in exhaustion. A short sword in a jeweled scabbard was thrust into the faded red sash around her waist and a knife was tied to one leg.

“I see no one else, Chief Dandapani!” A young warrior crashed out of the dry underbrush. Monsoon clouds had yet to thunder against Himalaya’s peaks and drench the Koli clan’s high forest home, and dead twigs and branches crackled as he emerged.

The woman sat up straight, instantly awake. The scouting party drew swords or notched arrows, but she did not reach for her weapons. Instead, she stood up in one smooth motion, magnificent and tall. She swiveled her head with deliberate calm, as if measuring her chances against five armed men.

Who was this creature? Dhara sat proud and tall on her pony, trying to look older than her twelve years. Look at me, she wanted to shout, but the woman gave her only the briefest glance.

The woman and the chief locked eyes.

“Namaste,” she said, putting her palms together with that same deliberate slowness. “I am Mala.”

“Mala.” Dandapani gave a quick nod and shifted on his horse. “I am Dandapani, chief of the Kolis. These are our lands. Few travel them and none without our permission.”

“Chief Dandapani, my guru Asita sent me here to make a solitary retreat. I seek only to practice the Lord of Yoga’s disciplines at the mountain goddess’s sacred cave.”

 “Asita!” Dhara was astonished. She glanced up at Dhavalagiri’s snow-capped peak towering above them. It was hard to imagine that the skinny old yogi who had lived up there when Dhara was a little girl was guru to this woman, who looked more like a warrior than a wandering truth-seeker.

Dandapani cocked his head. “Asita was a great favorite among us Kolis.”

“He spoke highly of your clan,” Mala said.

Dandapani and Mala had not taken their eyes off each other. “You are hardly the first sage to seek shelter at the cave, but you may be the first woman.” He smiled faintly. “And the first to come with such a fine sword.”

Mala’s narrowed her eyes. “A woman faces many dangers when she travels alone. But now I have no further need of it. I offer the sword to you, Chief Dandapani.” 

“A fine gift. I accept.”

“Father,” Dhara said in a tremulous whisper. “We must offer hospitality to a truth-seeker…it’s dharma.”

Before Dandapani could reply, Jagai, the weapons master, spoke. “I don’t like this. How do we know who she is? They say Angulimala is hiding in the mountains with picked men, making bloody sacrifices to Black Kali and plotting against the lowland kingdoms. ”

Dhara took sharp breath. Even the isolated Koli clan had heard the rumors. The infamous outlaw queen Angulimala, who some said was Kali incarnate, had disappeared, leaving her renegade army leaderless.

Dandapani suddenly grinned. “How do we know she’s not a demoness? A mortal woman wouldn’t have dared such a journey alone.”

Mala laughed out loud. Jagai frowned and the other warriors looked startled. A powerful current was passing between her father and this woman that Dhara didn’t understand.

“Either way, we have no quarrel with you,” the chief said to Mala. “What happens in the kingdoms along Ganga’s river is no concern of ours. And even a demoness may seek wisdom.” 

“I assure you, my lord Dandapani. I am a simple yogi, seeking peace and solitude.”

A woman yogi! Seeking the highest knowledge, which once gained would make others strive to learn wisdom at her feet! Not just some clever Brahmin wife like those in the village priest’s instructive stories, who received all her learning from a wise husband but had no real mind of her own.

“Well, daughter.” Dandapani looked at Dhara. “What do you say?”

Dhara’s throat was dry. “N-namaste, Mala-ji.” She bowed her head. “Food and a bed await you in our village.”

 

 

 

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