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by Margo Fallis
Chapter 1

His olive green cape dragged on the dirt floor. Specks of crushed rock and broken twigs and leaves caught on the velvety fabric as the wizard paced back and forth. The room, thick with murmurs, suffocated his anxiety. Villagers waited patiently to hear his wise advice. Grazan’s glances darted around the room, taking in the wide wooden ceiling beams. They wandered to the loft; a chuckle escaped his lips when he saw several children hiding under the straw, hoping to hear the adults’ secrets. He watched a strand of the golden hay drift from the loft and land near a stack of oak barrels. Each heavy barrel, with wooden slots fitted to perfection and bound with metal rings, reeked of age and wear. Inside they held ruby red wines, tangy huggle juice, and crushed nectarines, fermenting slowly over the months.

Grazan cleared his throat. Conversations ceased and gazes turned toward him. Next to his left leg sat a burlap bag the size of a large pig. It was tied with a frayed piece of rope and the sides bulged with pressure from the contents. Grazan nodded to the villagers, each eager to hear his words. He cleared his throat once more and spoke. “Villagers of Appleworth, I have called this meeting on this fine summer’s morn to make you an offering. I am seeking something and alas, I find myself too old and tired and cannot find the energy needed to search, so I am asking for aid from you goodly folk. I ask you but one thing, to bring me the most precious thing in this land. Whoever brings the most beautiful and rarest thing in all of the Land of Waterberry will receive the contents of this bag.” The wizard patted it with his gnarled, bony fingers.

Shimmy Ribble squirmed under the wizard’s gaze. “Grazan, what sort of thing do you ask for? There are innumerable rare and beautiful things in this land. Are you asking for a jewel, gold, or simply an evening sunrise?”

 “I do not ask for anything, except that you bring me the most beautiful and rare thing in the Land of Waterberry. You may conduct your search between the hills of Jeshar in the west, the shores of Lake Wite in the east, our village, Appleworth, which is in the north, and the Valleys of Armon in the south. That’s plenty of area for you to cover and two weeks is more than enough time.” The wizard tapped his sword on the dirt floor.

Mumbles rolled like a wave from villager to villager. Zog Arnith stepped forward. “But Grazan, how will we know what to look for?”

“You will know when you find it.” Grazan turned to leave.

“Wait. What is in the bag? I’m sorry, Grazan, but I am bewildered. What do we receive as our reward?” Zog and the others muttered words of confusion.

“I cannot answer you. It is something you will be very pleased with. You are the only ones in this village who made the effort to come here today to hear my words. There are twelve families in this room. Each family is to select a representative. Be sure to select the bravest, strongest, most courageous and wisest of all. By the night of the next full moon, the bag will be given to the person who has brought me the most precious thing.” Grazan nodded at those looking his way. “I will wait in the Woods of Bilbarth until the evening sun sets below the horizon. The representatives must be at my side by then, with a bedroll and enough supplies to last two weeks, or your family will not be included. It is up to you if you choose to participate or not.” With that, the wizard walked through the door, leaving the families in a quandary.

For the next several hours, squabbles between various family members filled the air with shouts and snarls. Grazan sat in the shade, with his back leaning against an ancient willow tree. He sighed, hearing arguments coming from the different houses in the village. “I can do it better than you! I am stronger! You are weak! I am the wisest! You have no stamina!” He shook his head back and forth in disappointment.

As the sky turned fiery shades of pink, orange, crimson and blue, the lucky twelve who had been selected gathered around the wizard. The rest of the families, some very annoyed with the choices made, stayed in the village.

“Grazan, we are here, all of us,” Zog said. “None of us are pleased with the secretiveness of our reward, nor with such vague instructions, however, we are all intrigued enough to follow through with your request. When do we begin our search?”

“Sleep under the stars tonight and when you find the sun’s first golden ray on your face, you may begin your quest. While the one of you who succeeds will be rewarded, the ones who fail may be met with jeers and shouts of disappointment from your families and risk the possibility of being cast out of the village forever. Are you all still willing to go?” He gazed at the group. Each head bowed with acceptance, ready to accept the consequences, no matter what they might be. “Very well. At the next full moon, bring your finds to this spot. I will be waiting.” The wizard pulled out his staff and sauntered back to Appleworth, leaving the twelve alone.

                                                            *  *  *

Xander Qigma, a young orphan boy who had been watching the events of the day unfold, stirred anxiously from the branch of a mingo tree. Its thick grayish-green leaves offered protection from the villager’s wandering gazes. “I can find something precious. Why should I be held back from the quest just because I don’t have a family?”  Dropping from the tree, he landed with a thud in the knee-high grass below. Wanting to hear more, he curled up in a ball and squeezed his thin and undernourished body under a tibbo bush.  Juice from the crushed orange berries seeped in through the fabric of his light brown shirt, staining his elbows. He listened to the men boast with surety that they would be the one to find it. “I’m going to write all of this down in my journal, starting right now.” He pulled a leather-bound notebook and pencil stub from his pocket, scribbled the events of the day, as he usually did each morning and evening, and then closed the book, slipping it and the pencil into his deep back pocket. The arguments went on until the moonbeams danced on the green barley fields. Xander, tired of the squabbling, fell asleep under a twinkling starry sky.

When the sun rose, bringing with it a rosy dawn, Xander longed for the bacon and   buzzi sausages grilling over the open fire. The aroma of spicy meat and fried diffo eggs was more than his empty stomach could bear. He crawled out from under the bush, wiped the rest of the smashed berries off his scratchy burlap shirt, and moved closer to their camp.

            “Throw the extra to the dogs.” Zog, being the largest of the group, he’d taken over the role of leader and the others allowed it, at least for the time being.

Xander peeked out from behind a tree trunk.

 Zog stood as tall as the barn door at his farm. His broad shoulders spread just as wide, giving support to his beefy muscles. The only thing Xander didn’t like about Zog was his long mustache. It was rusty red, like the rest of his hair, and it hung down on both sides to his belly button. Pieces of chewed up food fell from his mouth when he ate and landed in the mustache. Zog never cleaned it out, so there were always bluebottle flies and roaches crawling around in the scraggly hairs.

            Yok Comqul lifted the black cast iron cooking pan off the smoldering fire with his bare hands and tossed the contents into the bushes. Because of Yok's size and strength, Xander feared he’d toss the food back all the way back to Appleworth. Fortunately for Xander, the pile of leftover food landed within his grasp. He waited with anticipation. Yok doused the fire with a bucket of water from Ugsnaw Creek and helped the others pack their bedrolls.

            Just a head shorter than Zog, Yok wasn’t quite as ugly, at least Xander didn’t think so. Yok didn’t have a mustache. His face, pockmarked with hole, took attention away from his unbrushed and plaque-coated teeth. But aside from that, he kept his dark brown shoulder-length hair brushed and lice-free.

Xander grabbed the still warm breakfast before the dogs found it, shoving it into his mouth. He didn’t even stop to flick off the pieces of dirt and twigs. His cheeks bulged with blackened, overcooked sausages, greasy and very chewy bacon, and congealing pink egg yolks. There was so much food in his mouth he could hardly swallow.

            Zog picked up his back pack. “We separate from here. If anyone would like to walk with me for a while, I’d like the company. Come to think of it, we might be safer if we travel in pairs. There are some wild animals that roam in these forests and mountains and other parts of the Land of Waterberry.”

The others agreed. Yok asked to accompany Zog, who approved.

Xander parted the bushes and looked at the others in the group, trying to decide which ones he wanted to follow. His eyes wandered to Wilpo Ermix, who had paired up with Vem Gumk. “I do not want to go with them. Wilpo burps so loud and so often that it would drive me crazy and Vem has smelly feet. If only he changed his purple socks once in a while.  Nope, I don’t want to stay with them.”

 Tupi Isxom partnered up with Smov Kwing. “No way am I going anywhere near Tupi. His breath is so bad that it could kill a wuca and Smov blows his nose all the time; besides that, they’re taking the dogs with them.”

Pussel Aomei and Nomg Evcom decided to travel together. Xander shook his head. “I can’t go with them either. Pussel snores like a bandiff and Nomg breaks off pieces of his toenails and throws them wherever he wants. I’d gag if I found a piece in my stew.”

Larf Zicwo walked over to Jix Dkor. “Do you want to partner up, Jix?” Jix nodded.

Xander chuckled. “Jix is way too skinny. He hardly ever eats, so he would never cook any food, except taffies, or boiled gushnugs, and I’d rather eat a dog. Larf doesn’t take baths. He’s got fleas too. Nuh uh. I’ll not travel with them either.”

Blumb Yibtung and Deji Sleqx were the last two. Neither of them liked the other and didn’t want to be a team. “I’ll go off by myself. I am not traveling with him,” Deji said.

Xander snickered and mumbled to himself. “That’s probably a good idea, Deji, because Blum spits all the time. Of course, you pick your teeth, so which is worse? I think my only choice is to go with Zog and Yok.”

So the six pairs and Xander left camp and headed in six different directions, spreading out like the sun’s rays.

Zog and Yok were the only ones to head into the mountains.

Xander ran behind, being careful to not let them see him. “I’m glad it’s summer. If it was winter, we’d freeze to death in the snow.” 



Appleworth – a village in the northern part of the Land of Waterberry

Bandiff – a large, hairy creature with shaggy brown and white spotted fur, 2 horns and farts when it walks and eats meat.

Bluebottle flies – large blueish-black flies

Buzzi sausages- spicy, made from buzzi meat. A buzzi is a short legged, fat animal that lives in the mud ponds around Lake Wite. They are lazy and eat turnips and glunk onions.

Diffo eggs – laid by diffo birds, have pink yolks. Diffo birds have brilliant pink feathers, neon green beaks and nest in branches of most trees. Found all over Land of Waterberry.

Grazan – aged wizard who lives in Appleworth. He used to be the wizard of Castle Lialy, but after deaths of king and queen with no heirs, he came to live among the common folk of the village

Gushnugs- some sort of vegetable, black roots, have to boil for hours to make it soft enough to eat, and when you bite into them it leaks a putrid oil.

Hills of Jeshar – in the western part of the Land of Waterberry

Huggle juice – crushed huggles, a fruit, similar to a kiwi with hairy brown skin, green seedy fruit inside. When left to ferment for years, produces a licorice wine-like drink.

Lake Wite - in the eastern part of the Land of Waterberry

Land of Waterberry – the land where this story takes place; full of strange creatures, humans, wizards and elves.

Mingo tree – Grows in the Woods of Bilbarth; thick grayish-green leaves.

Shimmy Ribble – female human who lives in Appleworth

Tibbo bush – has pale orange berries, grows in Woods of Bilbarth, berries inedible.

Taffies- some sort of vegetable, brown leaves, horrible smell when it cooks, leathery texture and if you’re not careful, you might find worms in the veins.

Toast – a female plumtuggle, with horn type snout, bulgy eyes, green fur, short neck, round plump body, short orange legs with 4 toes on each foot and longer arms, orange, with 4 fingers on each hand, can climb trees, can’t run well because legs are short and is about eighteen inches high

Woods of Bilbarth – Just outside of Appleworth, place where the journey begins

Wuca – a smelly animal, odor of rotting fruit, hairless, fragile skin where you can see veins through, four short legs which it walks on, long neck and round head with two antenna poking out…yellow eyes

Xander Quigma – orphan boy, joins quest for most precious and rare thing, friends with


The 12 villagers who go on quest:

1- Zog Arnith – red hair, red mustache (long), tall and muscular

2- Yok  Cumqul – no beard, face pockmarked, muscular, never brushed teeth, long dark brown shoulder length hair (Kept hair clean)

3- Wilpo Ermix – burps – they have the topaz

4- Vem Gumk – has smelly feet, wears purple socks

5- Tupi Isxom – has bad breath

6- Smov Kwing – blows his nose all the time

7- Pussel Aomei – snores loud

8- Nomg Evcom – clips off his toe nails and tosses them wherever

9- Larf Zicwo – doesn’t bathe and has fleas

10- Jix Dkor – skinny, never eats

11- Deji Sleqx – picks his teeth

12- Blumb Yibtung - spits

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