The Water Stone
At the northernmost point of the Lost Desert, where three dramatically dissimilar countries came together in one tiny spot, there was a tiny village called Kavu. Kavu was officially home to the nation of the Lost Desert itself, but snowy peaks of mountains were visible just to the northwest, and the tops of scraggly, dark trees from the Haunted Woods were easily seen when one faced northeast. Kavu experienced the beauty and climatic turmoil of three separate regions but mostly suffered from the desert heat that parched the throats of the villagers.
One year was particularly troublesome. The water supply dwindled, trade prices soared, and the stomachs of Kavuan villagers growled. The village elder, Cornelius, became worried for his people. Traders, which were Kavu’s only food providers, were now rarely coming to the village. The water level of the nearby creek was lowering swiftly from lack of rain, causing Cornelius to officially declare a drought—something he did not often do, as it caused panic among the villagers.
After many months, the villagers feared their village was doomed. Some fled in terror, but others, such as Kayle and his best friend Moris, sprang into action.
~ ~ ~
“C’mon, Moris! My mom needs water from the creek,” said the skunk Lupe, Kayle. “Race you there?”
They raced energetically through the crowded mess of huts: Kayle and Moris, who had grown up together and had been inseparable since birth. Now, eighteen years later, they were still best friends.
Sweat flew from Moris’ brown face as he sped through the outskirts of the village toward the creek.
“I WIN!” he cried, pumping his Gelert paws in the air enthusiastically. Kayle collapsed to the ground, dropping his mother’s water pail.
“Man, I’m parched. Let’s get that water.”
The two friends turned toward the creek, but they were shocked to find that their drink would have to wait: all that remained of the creek was a miniscule, slow trickle on the muddy rut that had once housed a flourishing rush of clear water.
“How could this be?” Kayle asked after a moment of stunned silence. “I was here just last week and the water level was low, sure, but nothing like this!”
“Cornelius was right,” Moris said. “If something isn’t done soon, Kavu might die without water.”
“Let’s just fetch some water from the well,” Kayle suggested, and Moris agreed.
Unfortunately, the well had been reduced to nothing but a puddle of dirty water—it was not even enough for a single drink.
Their throats still dry, the boys ran to meet Cornelius at his home.
“I’m afraid not much can be done at this point, boys,” the old Gnorbu said, shaking his head sadly. “You’ll have to wait a while for your thirst to be quenched.”
“But how long, Cornelius?” Kayle pressed. “The village won’t last two days without any water!”
“True. But don’t think I’m doing nothing: Just yesterday I sent out several men to fetch water from the mountain springs. They should return home shortly to replenish the village.”
“But sir,” Moris said hesitantly, “will that be enough for Kavu to survive? After all, how much can those men really bring with them? Certainly not enough to last even a week in the desert. If we don’t get our own supply soon, well... Won’t we be forced to leave?”
Cornelius took a moment before replying in slow, measured words.
“It is a possibility. We can only hope the drought will soon break. All we need is one or two rainfalls for the creek and the well to have their water restored. We will just have to wait it out, I’m afraid.”
Kayle slammed his fist against a wall, surprising even himself.
“We can’t wait that long! There must be something else to be done. What about the Haunted Woods?”
“We cannot travel to the Haunted Woods,” Cornelius said. “No Kavuan has traveled there since the last traveler disappeared years ago, and I will never again send a villager to their doom.”
“But sir, it may be our only hope.” Moris said. “We could find a cure for our troubles there—doesn’t the witch Edna brew replenishing potions? There must be something there for us.”
“I am truly sorry, but it’s impossible.”
“Then we’ll go,” Kayle said quietly, staring intently at the sand-colored floor.
“Moris and I. We’ll go to the Haunted Woods and find the cure for our suffering.”
“I agree,” Moris said immediately, siding with Kayle as he always did.
Cornelius stared at the adventurous boys in wonder and placed his front hooves together thoughtfully.
“Well, boys, I don’t quite know what to say. I cannot keep you from leaving, but I can strongly encourage you not to go and ask that you include no one else in your journey.”
Kayle and Moris grinned at each other.
“If you’re sure about this,” Cornelius said, “I wish you the best of luck and bid you farewell. I doubt I’ll ever see either of you again.”
~ ~ ~
Moris and Kayle began preparations for their journey that evening. They managed to re-hydrate by drinking small portions of milk and fruit juices. Their plan was to make their way eastward toward the Haunted Woods to seek a cure for their troubles from Edna the Witch. Cornelius had calculated that the village could survive two weeks at most, as long as there was a steady stream of travelers fetching water from the mountain springs. If the boys didn’t complete their mission within that time, they might find themselves returning to an empty village.
The boys awoke early the following morning to leave. Moris arrived at Kayle’s house just as the sun appeared above the horizon. Kayle’s mother opened the door and tears filled her eyes as soon as she recognized Moris.
“Kayle, dear!” she called tearfully. Kayle’s black-and-white face appeared moments later and he was soon assaulted with hugs and kisses from his anxious mother. Moris stood awkwardly off to the side; he had no one to say goodbye to, for he was an orphan.
“Do be careful,” Kayle’s mother said as the boys made their departure.
“So you ready for this?” Kayle said excitedly as soon as he had shut the door behind him. He was looking forward to some adventure.
“Let’s go,” Moris replied nervously.
The friends started off, heading toward the distant, snow-capped mountain tops.
Hours passed as they crossed the endless, scorching hot sand dunes. They drank warm milk and fruit juice to get by, but it hardly quenched their growing thirst.
Other than stopping around midday to eat lunch, they walked steadily until dusk. They silently set up camp, started a fire, and roasted raw slices of meat. They rationed out a few more swallows of juice (the milk had spoiled by now) and went to bed. Kayle fell asleep at once, but Moris lay on his blanket in the dry heat, thinking.
He thought hard about his deceased parents, trying to recall their faces. They had died when he was seven years old, barely old enough to remember. He still could recall that fateful night—he had been out late playing with Kayle when he returned home to discover an empty household. He remembered walking all over his hut, calling their names, but they never answered; just that morning they had suffered a fatal Bomberry accident. Cornelius had informed Moris of the tragic news. Moris had been raised by the entire village ever since, frequently switching from home to home. Everyone had been very kind and sympathetic, but Moris lacked the security of having a constant parent.
Moris shook his head vigorously, trying to shove those thoughts from his mind. He needed rest for the remainder of the journey. They only had two weeks—minus a day, now—and therefore needed to get to the Haunted Woods as swiftly as possible.
Kayle grunted in his sleep, startling Moris. He gazed up at the stars, breathing deeply. They twinkled back at him and somehow made him feel like it would all work out...
“Moris! C’mon, man, we gotta go!”
Moris jerked awake. When had he fallen asleep? It was already light out... Judging by the sun’s position, it was already nearing midday.
“We slept in!” Moris cried, sitting up abruptly.
“Yep,” said Kayle. “We really gotta walk fast today...”
The two hurried to pack their things and begin the treacherous walking once again.
It took two more full, hot days of walking to get to the Haunted Woods; their water supply had run dry by the end of the first day. But finally, their feet sore and their throats dry, finally, they made it. The cool shade underneath the trees was extremely welcoming.
They located Edna’s tower without much difficulty—its stone crenellations loomed high above the leafy trees and were thus clearly visible from anywhere in the Woods. However, after explaining their predicament to the green witch with hearts full of hope, Edna simply laughed in their faces.
“You expect me to use my precious time and resources on some thirsty, unknown village in the Lost Desert? HA!”
“Please,” Moris pleaded. “There must be something you could do for us!”
“Oh, there’s plenty I could do,” Edna responded nastily, sprinkling some spice or other into her bubbling brew, “but there’s nothing I will do. Your concerns are not my concerns, boys. Now scram!”
The boys left the tower, utterly disheartened. Kayle wore a furious expression mingled with sheer anguish, and Moris’ shoulders slumped and his feet dragged with every step. It was hopeless.
“Well,” Kayle finally said, his voice breaking, “I s’pose we’ll need somewhere to sleep tonight... I don’t want to sleep outside in the Haunted Woods; way too creepy.”
Moris nodded silently. They wandered aimlessly about the woods for a while, gloomily glancing around for somewhere to sleep. The closest thing they found to an inn was a huge castle in the heart of the woods, but it looked much too eerie to sleep there.
Finally, almost an hour later, Moris noticed some colorful tents and carts to the northeast. He pointed it out to Kayle and they approached it cautiously, thinking it might be a campground of some sort. They got close enough to see a huge bonfire surrounded by many dancing figures, all wearing very colorful clothing. Some of them were playing tambourines or flutes, and the aura was one of pure, senseless joy. Moris’ expression brightened as soon as his eyes fell upon the strange display.
“Er—who are they?” Kayle asked doubtfully. “And what are they doing?”
“Dancing,” Moris replied, his expression still a display of contentment.
“Right... Well, if you don’t mind, I think we should keep looking for somewhere to stay... This place clearly isn’t what we’re looking for...”
“Wait,” Moris said. “Let’s at least speak to them.” He strode over to the campfire before Kayle had a chance to reply. The Lupe followed sullenly.
As soon as Moris was visible to the camp the music and dancing halted. Moris felt blinded by stares and deafened by the silence, and he began to wonder if this was not such a good idea. But he ploughed through nonetheless, determined to find the help he and Kayle so desperately sought. Clearing his throat, he began to speak.
“Uh... Hello,” he started uncertainly. “My name is Moris. This is Kayle—“ he pointed to his friend. “We need somewhere to stay... Is this a campground?”
“Yes, I suppose you could call it that.” The voice came from a young red Wocky with black waves of hair that billowed down to her waist. She smiled widely at Moris and Kayle before continuing. “Boys, welcome to our beloved gypsy camp.”
Kayle’s uneasiness increased dramatically at these words, and he grabbed Moris’ arm and began dragging him away. “Terribly sorry,” he said, nodding at the gypsies. “We won’t bother you any more.”
“Wait.” This was a different voice, the voice of an older, pink Aisha. She had thick magenta hair, over which was tied a patterned scarf, and golden jewelry adorned her ears, fingers, wrists, and ankles. She wore an interested expression from the stool on which she sat. Her powerful voice compelled Kayle to stop tugging Moris away, and they both froze and stared at the woman. She stood up, approached them carefully, and shook Moris’ hand. “My name is Megan. We will provide you with what you need—hot food, cool drink, and a warm bed. Adria?”
“Yes, Megan?” spoke the first girl, still grinning at the boys.
“Kindly prepare a tent for our guests. Make sure it is spacious and has plenty of blankets and cushions.”
The girl winked at Kayle and disappeared to obey Megan’s orders. Clearly, Megan was a leader of some sort for the camp, whether or not it was official.
“Would you care to share a meal with us?” Megan asked, smiling at the boys. Even Kayle couldn’t turn the offer down—his stomach had been growling uncomfortably for the past several hours, and his mouth was dry as sand. He and Moris nodded eagerly.
The pair soon found themselves immersed in the gypsy feast. They met what seemed like the entire camp. Everyone was eager to speak to them, for visitors were rare.
Toward the end of the meal, after several courses (including dessert) were all devoured, a new face joined them. A husky, pale Usul with straight, dark hair and heavy makeup approached the campfire moodily, glaring down at them all. Moris blinked. Had he seen this woman before? He glanced over at Kayle, who also wore an expression of confused recognition. As she came closer to the fire and was more clearly visible, Kayle realized who she was.
The woman froze and slowly looked down at Kayle. Her eyes narrowed as she studied his face, then—
She jumped back as she recognized Kayle. Kayle stood up excitedly.
“Dara! It is you! I can’t believe this!”
Then Moris remembered her, too. She was the traveler who, years ago, had wandered to the Haunted Woods from Kavu and never returned.
“I’m not Dara anymore!” she replied testily.
“Gindara? What is going on?” Megan said, stepping in. Her eyes were wide with puzzlement.
“I’ll explain,” Kayle said hastily, still looking at the woman—Gindara—in awe. “Dara here used to live in our village in the Lost Desert. She disappeared a long time ago—we all thought she was dead! Dara, why didn’t you ever return home?”
“This is my home,” she said. Finally she bowed her head in resignation. “But it wasn’t always. It is true, I abandoned Kavu for the gypsies, because it is here where I truly belong. I am accepted here like I was never accepted in Kavu.”
Moris dimly remembered Gindara being regarded in Kavu as a coldhearted, mysterious woman, so he understood what she meant. The villagers had generally kept away from her when possible. Still, he recalled Cornelius feeling heartbroken at losing a villager.
“Why didn’t you tell people you were leaving forever?” Kayle said, becoming irritated.
“I didn’t know myself,” Gindara said quietly. “I was just looking for something... different. And I found this.” She shrugged. “I fit in here.”
“It’s true,” Megan said, nodding. “Gindara holds some of the most powerful gypsy magic I have ever seen.”
“Gypsy... magic?” Moris said, rising to his feet.
“Yes,” Gindara said, her eyes glinting. “Magic is indeed my forte. Care for a taste, Kayle?” She grinned maliciously.
“Gindara...” Megan warned.
The Usul shrugged and grabbed a piece of meat from an Elephante’s plate.
“I’m off to bed,” she said, slinking away.
Kayle and Moris looked at each other, dumbfounded. Could this night get any stranger?
Adria had prepared an extremely comfortable tent for them, filled with soft blankets and squashy cushions. Full and content, they drifted off to sleep at once.
The next day was a day of new realizations and insight for Kayle and Moris. They found themselves immersed in the gypsy lifestyle—they discovered their methods for cooking, dancing, celebrating, storytelling, and even fortune telling. By the afternoon Moris had learned how to perform a palm reading.
“Let me see...” he muttered, grasping Kayle’s paw in his own and studying its lines and wrinkles. “You will live a long life—that’s good—and will have much prosperity... Ah, it seems you’re also going to have two dozen children... That can’t be right...”
The sky turned from white to grey to violet, and the boys knew they had to once again face reality. But soon the nightly bonfire was lit, dancing and singing ensued, and they were caught up in the hype once again, quickly forgetting all their troubles.
Finally, after the fire had been reduced to smoldering embers, Megan brought up the dreaded subject.
“So Kayle, Moris, tell me: what brought you to our lovely camp yesterday? I’m rather curious.”
Kayle did not say anything and clearly did not intend to. Moris, on the other hand, responded after a moment. To his own surprise, he explained everything to Megan from the very beginning down to where they were at this very moment. She nodded and listened patiently until he was finished.
“I see,” she said simply. She stared up at the twinkling stars in the dark violet sky for a moment, thinking. “Well, we gypsies have no replenishing concoction like Edna, but we do have something she doesn’t possess: gypsy magic. There’s one in our clan who would be able to create some sort of an amulet or stone to cure your village’s needs... Unfortunately, she’s probably the person who would be the most unwilling to perform such a deed. It’ll be well worth it if you can persuade her.”
“Gindara,” Moris and Kayle muttered in unison.
~ ~ ~
“Excuse me? You want me to use my precious gift of gypsy magic on you two? What’s in it for me?”
The dark Usul was staring at the boys in disbelief. All three were inside her stuffy caravan and it was almost midnight—Megan had explained that Gindara was usually awake during the nighttime.
“Please, Dar—Gindara, it’s for your own village,” said Kayle. “It’ll die without your help!”
“Oh yeah?” Gindara scoffed. “And what did Kavu ever do for me? Exclude, demoralize, and chastise me? Those villagers don’t deserve my help.”
“Gindara,” Moris said quietly. “I understand. My parents both died after you left. D’you think I was treated the best either? I didn’t stay in the same home for more than a month. But still, that tiny, ignorant village provided me a life to live, and I can never turn my back on it. It gave you life, too, Gindara—don’t forget that.”
Gindara glared coldly at Moris for what seemed like an eternity. Then she abruptly turned around in her seat and pulled out what appeared to be a crystal ball. She stared into it for a moment before turning back to face the boys—was that a knowing smile on her face? But it was gone in a flash, and Moris thought he had imagined it.
“Alright, Moris. I’ll do it. But only because I know something you don’t.” Sure enough, that strange grin returned to Gindara’s lips. Moris had not imagined it after all.
~ ~ ~
The next morning Gindara emerged from her caravan, which was a surprise; she nearly always slept late. She looked drained—there were deep circles under her eyes and her skin appeared paler than usual, if that was possible. But her tired eyes housed a look of triumph.
“I finished,” she said to Kayle and Moris. She pulled out a small brown pouch from her skirts and handed it to Kayle. “It is a water stone amulet. As long as the village elder wears it, Kavu’s water supply will be prosperous.”
Kayle clutched the pouch to his chest fervently.
“Thank you, Gindara,” Moris said. “You have done so much for us. How can we ever repay you?”
“You’ll repay me,” she replied mysteriously, then headed back to her caravan for a nap.
Kayle and Moris looked at each other.
“We have to leave now, I suppose...” Moris said slowly.
“Yeah. Kavu can’t last much longer without us. Let’s start packing.”
Moris nodded and stared intently at the graveled ground. He remained silent the entire time they packed. Kayle, on the other hand, chattered away while he stuffed his clothes into his bag, excited to soon return home. They finished quickly and left their tent to bid farewell to the gypsies.
“We will miss you terribly,” Megan said as she hugged Kayle. “Come back and visit soon, yes?” She turned to hug Moris, who was wearing a strange, determined expression.
“Kayle,” he said quietly. “I don’t think I can go back.”
“I think I belong here. I have nothing left in Kavu, no family or anything...”
“A-are you sure?” Kayle’s eyes were wide and round as saucers.
“I am,” Moris replied with finality. “I’m going to live with the gypsies.”
Kayle stared at Moris in shock. He was about to argue—of course he couldn’t stay, it was absurd! But then he recognized Moris’ sincerity and finally understood. It wasn’t the same for Kayle, who had family and friends to return to. But for Moris, the orphan boy who had been shunted from home to home his entire life, he belonged elsewhere. As Moris’ closest friend, Kayle understood that.
“Okay,” he said simply. He hugged Moris tightly and turned to leave.
~ ~ ~
Life hasn’t been the same without you here in Kavu. But the water stone worked like Gindara said—Cornelius wears it constantly, so the well is always full and the creek’s level is higher than ever. How is the gypsy camp? I promise I’ll visit soon; I found some flowers that I think Adria will love. Write back soon!