"Well, did you find it?!" one wanted to know.
"Yes, and we got just the one piece we wanted," Sarai answered.
"One piece? But why not take more?" another asked.
"It wasn't ours to take. The genie who owns it didn't want us to have it."
"Still, you could have slipped at least a few coins, right?"
"Not even one," Sarai said, shaking her head.
The baffled merchants were nonetheless happy to have the other camels back in the caravan to help carry the spice for the rest of the journey. They spent the next several days traveling form one oasis to another.
As they traveled, Sarai was surprised to see a thin blue and green entwined line stretching out before her on the ground. It traced the exact path the merchants were following through the desert.
When they reached the far side of the desert, they unloaded all the goods and took them to the market.
Sarai and her friends found another merchant to exchange the camels for horses again, and this one was happy to make the trade. It was clear the camels were find beasts but he understood wanting horses for the plains beyond.
After resettling their packs on the new mounts Alatar looked to Sarai. "Which way now?"
She looked for the line and found it leading out of the town. "This way, I think. The genie's gift is helping me see the way."
At the edge of town where the road forked, she stopped short. The line split, with the blue trailing off one way and the green following a different path. She described what she was seeing to her companions.
"But isn't there just one item left to find?" asked Mandalar.
Elie: There's the castle.
Me: Anything else?
Elie: The throne, too!
"Well then - two more places to go," Tiana said. "Which way is which?"
Alatar scratched his beard thoughtfully but had no answer. Mandalar shrugged, and Tiana slowly shook her head.
Elie: The blue one.
Me: You think that's where the throne is to be found?
So they set off to follow the blue trail. As they rode, they saw a mountain range looming in the distance. It was clear their road was leading to a pass between two high peaks. The farther up the slopes they went, the chillier it became. Soon they were even seeing patches of frost and ice on the ground.
At the pass itself, the two mountains formed a ravine through which the road twisted. They slowed their horses to a walk and started through.
Behind them came the sound of creaking and crackling of rocks, as if small pebbles had fallen and knocked larger stones along with them. When they looked back, though, what they saw instead was a creature who looked made of all stone.
Its face was like that of a dog with ears of a fox. It had a long whip-like tail swaying easily behind it. Two wings stretched from behind its shoulders, and on the end of its arms were hands with long claws.
"What is your purpose here?" Mandalar demanded.
"My purpose? What is yours?" the creature spoke, its voice like grinding stone. "Just where do you think you're going?"
Elie: We're off to help unite the whole country.
"Why go through all that bother? The people love squabbling so much, why not leave well enough alone?" it asked, a sly smile spreading around its face. "No one really wants to go back to the way things were, you know. There is much more that can be accomplished now that people don't have to all work together if they don't want to, you know."
"That's not true!" Sarai shouted. "And it's not a nice way to live at all. We can do so much more together."
"Begone, fowl gargoyle!" Alatar shouted. He waved his hands quickly and a wall of air appeared between them and the beast, shimmering and weaving back and forth.
The gargoyle hissed and spat. "You may think that's a good thing, but remember that us gargoyles like how it is now and don't want to let you change it."
With that, it flapped its wings and flew off toward the peaks. The companions hurried through the rest of the pass and down to a village below.
Me: We'll hear about their next obstacle tomorrow.
Elie: Well, why do they gargoyles like how things are?
Me: Hard to say, maybe it gives them energy and strength somehow. Perhaps they think it's like a show and they like to watch. Maybe we'll find out more in another part of the story.
Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.