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by Margo Fallis
Chapter 10

            By the time Toast and Xander found a place to camp for the night, the sun had set below the horizon. A purple hue blended into the darkening sky. “I have got to write this down in my journal. Can you believe we met real dragons? Cinder was cute and Ember was too, but Firestorm and Lightning were big dragons that breathe fire and fly, just like in the wizard tales.”

            “It was kind of fun. I liked Cinder. She was nice. What are we going to eat?”

            “We were so interested in the dragons that we forgot to eat. I’ve still got all the food from this morning. While I write in my journal, you go and find us a stream or a spring. I’m thirsty.”

            Toast complained. “You always get to sit there and you make me do all the work.”

            “All right. Wait until I’m done writing and then I’ll go and find us some water.” Xander picked up his pencil and wrote.

            Toast sat on the grass next to him. “We’ve got a ruby now. It’s bigger than the other gems. It must be the most precious things in the Land of Waterberry. Don’t you think so?”

            “It’s precious all right. We’d better be careful with our jewels. If some of the others found out we had three things, they might try to steal them. They’ll be safe in my pocket though. Let me finish writing, Toast. It will only take me a few more minutes.”

The plumtuggle didn’t speak. She sat quietly, listening to the sounds of the night. The round-topped hills lay one after another for as far as Toast could see. She stood and looked up at the stars. Which way is north? The Hills of Jeshar are the western boundary of the Land of Waterberry. I can’t tell which way is south and which way is north.  The sky was full of clouds. Looks like rain to me. Where we’re camped isn’t very protected. We need to find a cave or a thatch of thick woods.

When Xander finished writing, he put his journal away. “Let’s go and find some water. There must be a stream around here somewhere. Leave everything here. We’ll eat when we get back.”

Toast followed. She heard the sound of rushing water. “Xander, I think there’s a waterfall over behind those rocks.” She pointed to the left.

“A waterfall? We’ll get water there then.” Xander pushed branches and bushes out of the way and soon found himself standing at the edge of a pool of water. Just as Toast had predicted, a waterfall roared over the edge of a cliff high above, plunging into the pool.

“Let’s get a drink and get back to camp. I don’t like it here.” Toast knelt down at the water and cupped her hands. She gulped the cool water until she was no longer thirsty. Xander did the same.

“I see a light coming from behind the waterfall,” Xander said, noticing a faint glow.

“I see it too. I wonder what it is.”

“Let’s go and find out,” Xander said.

“No, Xander. I don’t want to. If we go behind the waterfall, we’ll have to swim in the pool and it’s cold. Besides that, I think it’s going to rain.”

“Well, that only means we’ll get wet anyway. Maybe we can stay behind the waterfall until the rain stops.” Xander took off his shoes and put them on a rock. He took the journal out of his pocket, along with the pencil. “I’m going to find out what that light is. Are you coming or are you going to stay here?”

Toast looked at the waterfall. “I’ll stay here and watch your shoes and things. I don’t feel like getting wet.”

“Fine. I’ll be back in a little while.” Xander jumped into the pool of clear water. “It’s cool, but not too cold.” He swam towards the falls. Sheets of water pounded on his back as he swam through. Once he’d passed the main falls, he saw the light again. Creeping out of the water, he stepped onto a slippery flat stone. He squeezed his clothes dry and wiped off his face. “There’s a cave,” he whispered to himself. “What’s making that light? It looks like a lantern.” Trying not to fall on the mossy rocks, he inched his way to the cave entrance and peeked around the corner. “Oh no! It’s Pussel and Nomg.” Each of them held a bag in their hands. “I’ll bet both of them have got a whole bag of rubies!”

Pussel opened the bag, poured a few into his hand and held them up to his face.

“They are rubies!” Toast watched as Pussel put them back in the bag and slipped it into his pocket.

            Nomg picked one ruby out of his bag and wiped it on his shirt until it glowed.    

“Wow! Look at that. Both of them have lots of rubies.” Xander’s eyes bulged with greed.

Nomg put it back into the bag and then dropped the bag into his pack.

 Xander’s gaze moved to the fire. “They’re cooking roasted fimbygrubs. Ick.” Xander watched them stuff their mouths with the blackened grubs. He turned and left, slipping back into the water and swimming over to the place where he left Toast.

“Toast! Toast!” He called to her as he swam across the pool. There was no answer. “Maybe she’s sleeping.” He saw his shoes and his journal, but Toast was nowhere in sight. Pulling himself onto the shore, he first felt his pockets to make sure his gems were still there. He rung out his clothes and put on his shoes and picked up his journal and pencil. “Toast? Where are you? Maybe she went back to camp.”

He walked the path back to where they’d left their food and other belongings. There lay Toast, curled up in a ball sleeping. A fire flickered away. “She made a fire.” Not having the heart to wake her up, Xander sat down and warmed himself. He sipped the on coiberry juice and nibbled the iggy nuts. Feeling tired himself; he yawned and lay down next to his friend.

The sound of loud rumbles filled the sky. Xander sat with a jolt. “Wake up, Toast. We’ve been asleep for hours. I think it’s going to rain.”

The plumtuggle rolled over and opened one eye. “Huh?”

“Wake up. Listen to the thunder.”

Toast sat up. Her ears twitched. “I don’t think that’s thunder. It sounds more like someone snoring.”

“Pussel! It’s Pussel snoring. It must be echoing off the walls of the cave.”

“Pussel? That’s a man making all that noise?”

“Yes, it sure is. I found Pussel and Nomg behind the waterfall. They’ve each got a bag of rubies. Ours is bigger, but they have at least fifty each.”

“We could go and steal theirs,” Toast said.

“Steal them? Isn’t it wrong to steal?” Xander already knew the answer.

“Yes, it’s wrong, but if you want to win, then you’re going to have to steal their rubies. You don’t have to keep them. You can throw their bags into the pool. That way they won’t be able to find them in the morning. We stole the food from Vem and Wilpo didn’t we?” Toast could still taste the delicious anise ropes.

“Yeah. We did steal. We can give some food back to them when we find some, or when we get back to Appleworth. That would mean we aren’t really stealing wouldn’t it? We’re just borrowing. So it really wouldn’t be stealing if we took the bags of rubies and hid them in the water. We could tell Pussel and Nomg after we get back to Appleworth about the jewels. I’m okay with that. Will you help me? It means you’ll have to go in the water and swim.”

“I’ll do it. I won’t like it, but I’ll help you,” Toast offered.

They left everything in front of their campfire, including Xander’s shoes. Heading for the pool of water, they tromped through the bushes. Xander stubbed his toe a few times, but they soon found themselves looking at the waterfall. “You climb on my back and I’ll try to keep you out of the water as much as I can.” Toast jumped onto his back and Xander walked into the water. When it was up to his waist, he leaned forward and swam.

“It’s cold, Xander. Hurry.”

He swam under the falling water. It pelted Toast, nearly knocking her off Xander’s back. Her green hair plastered itself around her face and looked like wet ropes. When they broke through to the other side, she was grateful when he picked her up and sat her on the rock. He hopped up next to her. “We’re going to have to whisper so they don’t hear us. Pussel put his bag of jewels in his pocket. Nomg’s bag is in his pack.” Loud snores belched from the cave.

“He sounds like a bear.” Toast chuckled. She tried to squeeze as much water out of her fur as she could. It dripped and ran down the stone back into the pool.

They tiptoed into the cave. The fire flickered, casting shadows on the stone walls. “We’d better get Nomg’s bag first.” Xander opened Nomg’s back pack and removed the bag of jewels. He pointed to the bag, directing Toast’s gaze. “Shh.” Pussel was sleeping on his back. His mouth hung open and the loud snores escaped. “It’s in his front pocket. Your hands are smaller than mine. Grab it.”

Toast slipped her hand into the pocket and found the drawstring. She tugged it gently. Pussel snored, scaring her. She pulled out her hand.

 “It’s all right, Toast. He’s asleep. Get it.”

Toast grabbed the string again and yanked the bag out. She proudly held it up. Xander tiptoed to her and then the two of them went out of the cave. When they were right behind the waterfall, Xander took the two bags in his hand. “Should I throw them in here, or swim out into the middle of the pool and drop them?”

“The middle of the pool, but make sure I don’t drown.” Toast climbed on Xander’s back and they swam to the deep middle.

Xander dropped the two bags; they sunk straight to the bottom. The moonlight reflected off the still water, giving them enough light to watch the bags disappear into the murky bottom. Xander swam to shore and then they went back to camp. “Good. Now Pussel and Nomg don’t have any precious things. Maybe they’ll just give up and go back to Appleworth.” He felt the jewels in his pocket. “You want to know something, Toast?”


“I don’t feel very good about what we just did. I would feel bad if someone stole our jewels, or should I say borrowed them,” Xander said.

“I feel bad too, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. I thought we decided we weren’t stealing, just hiding them. Anyway, I’m not swimming back into the middle of that freezing pool to get them. We shouldn’t feel that bad. Pussel and Nomg can find something else. They’ve still got a lot of time.”

“You’re right, Toast. They do. I don’t think it’s going to rain after all. I can see stars now. Let’s get some sleep and tomorrow we’ll explore the hills.” Xander squeezed himself as dry as he could and then curled up in front of the fire.

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