Maya had learned something remarkable. It happened one afternoon by an old rain barrel. She sat among the fragrant elderflowers and a robin flew above her head. The bird was very sweet and cheerful, and Maya regretted that they couldn’t be friends. The problem was that they were too big and they would eat her. She had hidden in the heart of the elderflower when suddenly she heard someone sigh. When she turned around, she saw the strangest creature she had ever seen. He must have had at least a hundred legs on each side of his body, she thought. He was about three times as big as she was, and he was slim and had no wings.
“Goodness gracious,” exclaimed Maya in shock. “You can certainly run very fast.”
The stranger gave her a pensive look. “I doubt it,” he said. “I doubt it. There’s room for improvement. I have too many legs. You see, before all my legs can be set in motion, too much time is lost. I didn’t realize this before and often wished I had more legs. And my wish came true. But who are you?”
Maya introduced herself. The other nodded and moved some of his legs.
“I am Thomas, of the Centipede family. We are admired by everyone in the world. No other animal has as many legs. Eight is their limit as far as I know.”
“You’re tremendously interesting. And your color is so strange. Do you have a family?”
“No, why should I? What use is a family to me? We centipedes hatch from the egg and then that’s it. If we can’t stand on our own legs, then who can?”
“Of course,” said Maya thoughtfully, “but don’t you have any friends?”
“No, dear child. I earn my bread and I doubt.”
“Oh! What do you doubt?”
“I was born doubting. I have to doubt.”
Maya stared at him in amazement. What did he mean by that doubting? She wanted to know, but didn’t want to ask impolite questions.
“Firstly, I doubt if you’ve chosen the right place to rest. Don’t you know what’s in that big willow over there?” said Thomas.
“You see, I doubted if you knew. The hornet fortress is there.”
Maya became a little pale and almost fell off her branch in fright. She asked where the hornet fortress was exactly.
“Do you see that old nesting box for starlings, at the base of the willow? The door of that birdhouse is not facing sunrise, so no bird comes. So the hornets have moved in. The hornets are real villains that have their sights set on the bees. I’ve seen it all.”
Maya looked a little afraid of the hornet fortress. “It’s better if I leave,” she said. But it was too late. She heard a wicked laugh behind her and felt that she was being grabbed by the neck.
Thomas let go of all his legs at once and tumbled head over heels, through the branches, into the rain barrel. “I doubt you’ll get away,” he called. But poor Maya didn’t hear him anymore.
At first, Maya couldn’t see her attacker, but suddenly she saw a large head with long pincers above her. At first, she thought it was an enormous wasp, but then she remembered that it was a hornet. The hornet was beautifully black and yellow striped and was at least four times larger than she was. Maya, who was very frightened, softly called for help. “Call for help, little girl,” said the hornet in a honey-sweet tone. “But I have no idea if anyone will come,” he said, while he smiled ominously.
“Let me go,” Maya cried. “Let me go or I’ll sting you in the heart.”
“Straight in my heart? Very brave. But there will be time for that later.”
Then Maya became angry. She gathered all her strength, and while she let out a loud battle cry, she aimed her stinger at the middle of the hornet’s chest. But to her surprise, the stinger bent and did not go through the hornet’s chest. His armor was too hard for her stinger. Now the hornet also looked angry.
“I could punish you and bite you in the head, but I prefer to bring you to our queen.”
So the hornet flew with Maya into the air and went straight to the hornet fortress. Maya found it so scary that she fainted on the way. When she came to, she was in the half-darkness in a place that smelled bad. She was in the hornet prison. She wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come.
“Fortunately, I haven’t been eaten yet, but that could happen,” she thought, trembling.
Outside, she heard voices, and a little light shone through a narrow slit. Hornets don’t make their walls out of wax, like bees do, but out of a dry mass that looks like some kind of paper. She was very worried about what would happen to her and started whimpering softly. Again she heard voices on the other side of the wall. She peered through the slit. She saw a huge hall, full of hornets, which was brilliantly illuminated by a number of captured glowworms. In the middle sat the hornet queen on a throne. An important meeting was being held. If she hadn’t been so afraid of the hornets, their power and grandeur would certainly have impressed her. It was the first time she had seen this type of insect.
A hornet sergeant walked around and ordered the glowworms to give as much light as possible. Then Maya heard the queen say, “Good, we will keep to the agreements we have made. Tomorrow our warriors will march for an attack on the bee city in the castle park. The beehive must be plundered and the bees must be captured. Whoever captures Queen Helen VII alive and brings her to me will be appointed a knight. Be brave and bring me the rich booty. The meeting is adjourned.”
The hornet queen stood up from her throne and left the room accompanied by her bodyguards.
“My land,” sobbed Maya, “and all my dear bees.” She was desperate and wanted to scream. “No one can warn my people. They will be attacked while they sleep. I hope a miracle happens.”
In the hall, the lights of the glowworms now went out, and gradually it became quiet in the fortress. No one seemed to be thinking of Maya anymore. Outside, she thought she heard the night song of crickets, but she was locked up in the dark, in the hornet prison.