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The Wishing Dildo Part 1

Summary: It is said that the Wishing Dildo can grant any wish relating to sexuality or fertility, as long as that wish is consensual. Prince Hart sure hopes that is true as he and his friend, trickster Tala, embark on a quest for it. As they travel, they soon discover that sometimes the greatest adventure is the people you meet along the way.

Note: This story contains some discussion of sex and sexuality.

This full-color illustration depicts the characters Jewel and Min standing back to back. Jewel, a tall black woman wearing elegant purple clothing embroidered with gold, stands on the left as she tosses a handful of gemstones into the air. Min, a short tan Chinese woman wearing simple green and brown clothing, stands on the right as she blowing a swirling gust of air. The words "The Wishing Dildo" are written in ornamental golden letters. Illustration by Caitlin Scannell.

This full-color illustration depicts the characters Jewel and Min standing back to back. Jewel, a tall black woman wearing elegant purple clothing embroidered with gold, stands on the left as she tosses a handful of gemstones into the air. Min, a short tan Chinese woman wearing simple green and brown clothing, stands on the right as she blowing a swirling gust of air. The words “The Wishing Dildo” are written in ornamental golden letters. Illustration by Caitlin Scannell.

 

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The Wishing Dildo

Part 1: Six Companions

(Full Length)

Once upon a time in the peaceful Kingdom of Five Quadrants, located on the west side of the Fantastical Continent along the Green Ocean coast, there lived a cisgender prince named Hart. He was honest and strong, kind and generous, graceful and handsome, and he had skin like burnished mahogany, with hair black as jet. And though he had been showered with blessings, Prince Hart had a problem. You see, he was an asexual person who never wanted to have sex, but since he was the queen’s only child and heir, there was a lot of pressure on him to produce an heir of his own. Therefore, Prince Hart sought out a magical solution, and it was said that far to the south, in the Wandering Kingdom, three royal siblings had just the artifact he needed.

Ten years ago, these siblings had gone on a quest to a strange and magical land and returned with the Wishing Dildo, a powerful artifact that had the power to grant any wish relating to sexuality or fertility, as long as that wish was consensual. Once home, the siblings built a tall tower at the place where the Errant River meets the Stormy Sea and filled it with monsters and traps to protect their prize. When that was complete, they announced to the world that anyone desiring to win the Wishing Dildo must come to the Wandering Kingdom and prove their worth by passing three tests. Of course, it was expected that each person who wanted to attempt the tests would first honor the three royal siblings with gifts both valuable and rare.

Now, Prince Hart had a great friend who was a clever trans woman named Tala. Tala was exceedingly adventurous, and she had been to the Wandering Kingdom and seen the tall, domed tower that guarded the dildo for herself. Well, Tala was more than happy to tell Prince Hart everything she knew about it in enthusiastic detail, and when Prince Hart decided to travel to the Wandering Kingdom to attempt the tests himself, Tala immediately volunteered to go with him.

Unfortunately, as Prince Hart began his preparations for this quest, his mother, the queen, struggled with the idea of her only child and heir going out into the world. After all, it could be dangerous, and she wanted to ensure his safety, so she started to draw up plans for a sizable military escort. Then she realized what she was doing and stopped. My fears are valid, she said to herself, but that doesn’t mean that I can make these decisions for my child. While I can share my ideas with him, I need to listen to him and respect the fact that he is mature enough to make his own choices.

So the queen talked it over with Prince Hart. And while he was nervous about rejecting the kind of safety an escort would provide, in his heart, he desperately wanted to leave everyone but Tala behind. Since his mother had tried to force him to marry three months before, she had made meaningful changes, and their relationship was starting to heal. However, she and many others were still struggling with those changes, and Prince Hart wanted to be away from that. He had spent most of his life with other people telling him who he was and what he should do; now he wanted to discover that for himself. If he was going to be a king someday, self-knowledge was essential, and he wasn’t going to find that by surrounding himself with soldiers.

And so Prince Hart consulted with Tala, and together, they came up with a plan; the two of them would leave everyone else behind and use speed rather than numbers to ensure their safety. To that end, Prince Hart asked for his mother’s eight red fairy steeds that were faster and stronger than any ordinary horses. As further protection, he requested his mother’s magical spyglass that always spotted danger. In addition, Prince Hart asked to use her tent of provisions that was small and humble on the outside, but spacious and grand on the inside, with a delicious meal always ready on the table. Finally, Prince Hart requested gifts to give to the royal families of the two kingdoms he intended to pass through, as well as a grand gift for the three royal siblings who held the Wishing Dildo.

Reluctantly, the queen agreed to this plan. She had to admit that it was well thought out, even if it did make her a bit uncomfortable. And two weeks later, everything was ready.

On a sunny late-summer morning, Prince Hart bade both of his mothers farewell, and with eight horses laden with gifts, he rode off with Tala by his side. The two of them traveled southward along the rainy coastline on a route that just so happened to take them by the large trade city of Clearwater Bay. Well, Prince Hart, being an enthusiastic scholar, insisted that they stop and spend the day looking over the magnificent library that was under construction there.

In honor of the prince’s visit, the two of them were greeted by master mason Tomás, a member of the family team that was orchestrating the construction. Tomás was a short, brown, chubby, muscular man with rounded features and a neatly trimmed black beard and mustache. As he led them around the grand, cathedral-like building that would one day house the largest collection of books in the kingdom, Prince Hart noticed that Tomás’s hands were trembling. Concerned, Prince Hart told Tomás that he didn’t need to be nervous. “We are not here to criticize,” he said, “but to admire your progress.”

To that, Tomás replied, “Your concern is kind, but it is not fear that makes my hands shake—that is simply the tremor that runs in my family.”

“Then I apologize,” Prince Hart said. “I should not have assumed.”

And so they continued their tour of the building site. However, when they were examining the intricate carvings underway in the mason’s lodge, they were interrupted by a sudden commotion. One of the wagons carrying stones up from the quarry had broken its axle, and as you might expect, it had done so in the most inconvenient of places—on the narrow stretch of road that led directly into the building site. It was completely blocking the road, and no one could get in or out.

In response, Tomás politely excused himself, walked over to the wagon, and unharnessed the horses. Next, he set the horses on top of the wagon and lifted it up, horses, stones, and all. Tomás then carried the wagon up the road to the carpenters’ workshop, where he gently set it down in a corner to wait for repair. After that, he returned to Tala and Prince Hart and resumed their tour as if nothing extraordinary had happened. Naturally, Tala and Prince Hart were most impressed.

That evening, Prince Hart and Tala were the guests of honor at an elegant supper at which the local nobility did their best to impress the prince on short notice. As the lead masons within the city, many members of Tomás’ family were also present. Normally, commoners such as themselves would have been seated at a distant table on the other side of the room, but Prince Hart asked that they be seated next to him in recognition of their skill and hard work on the future library.

Interestingly, each member of Tomás’s family brought their own hefty ceramic cups and bulky cast-iron utensils with them, which they used in place of the fine cutlery and crystal glasses that had been provided by the nobility. So as to avoid offense, Tomás explained that the weight of these cups and utensils helped reduce the effects of the family tremor while they were eating. Indeed, even with the added weight, several of the family elders experienced shaking that was strong enough to spill wine and fling food. At one point, there was a tense moment when the grandmother’s spoon ended up on Prince Hart’s plate, but he just laughed and handed it back to her, and with this, everyone finally relaxed. All further mishaps were handled with grace and humor.

At the conclusion of the meal, Prince Hart and Tala explained the goal of their journey and told everyone about the Wishing Dildo. As they spoke, Tomás’s family listened with rapt attention. Afterward, many significant looks were exchanged between members of the family.

“That is a challenging quest to undertake,” said the grandmother. “Perhaps you would benefit from taking a strong and skilled companion with you.”

“I’m sure we would benefit from that,” replied Prince Hart.

Tomás cleared his throat uncomfortably and said, “The Wishing Dildo would allow me to address a personal matter of great significance.”

“Then you should come with us!” declared Tala.

“I do have many responsibilities here,” replied Tomás.

“Don’t be silly!” said Tomás’s sister. “We’ll find a way to manage! This is important!”

“Yes,” said his father. “This is an important opportunity, and we will do whatever is necessary to make it happen for you.”

“You are welcome to come with us,” said Prince Hart.

“In that case,” replied Tomás, “I would be honored to accompany you.”

The next day, the three of them followed the coast south and crossed the border into the Kingdom of Gulls. An important trading partner, this coastal kingdom had the most advanced fleet in the Green Ocean. Their ships went south across the formidable barrier that was the Stormy Sea to the islands of the Sunken Sea and even to the Land of Gold that lay beyond. And when they went on these great journeys, they carried with them silver, wine, perfume, silk, linen, and saffron from the Kingdom of Five Quadrants.

Not far past the border, evidence of this kingdom’s greatest import quickly became apparent. You see, the Kingdom of Gulls was an importer of knowledge, and as such, it was a kingdom of innovation and invention. Many of these inventions were powered by the wind, and the coastal countryside was dotted with windmills. However, despite the frequent coastal wind and rain, on this particular sunny day, there was not the slightest breeze coming from any direction, and all of the windmills were still.

After they had been riding for some time, the three companions climbed over a hill and saw a single windmill slowly turning in the distance.

“All of the other windmills are still as stones, and there’s not a breeze around,” said Tomás. “What in the world can be driving that?”

Well, they continued on until they came to a short, tan woman with a round face and shoulder-length black hair, sitting in a tree. She was leaning forward in a most undignified manner and was using her left hand to hold one nostril closed while blowing through the other.

“Hello!” cried out Tala. “What are you doing up there?”

“I’m blowing the windmill to make it turn!” the woman replied.

“Impressive!” said Tala.

“I’ve done better,” replied the woman. “I’m practicing.”

Then the woman grabbed a small branch, intending to swing confidently down to meet them. However, when she put her full weight on the branch, it bent straight down. “Eek!” she squeaked as the branch slipped through her fingers.

The woman landed with a crash in a bush at the base of the tree, but she jumped right back up onto her feet, saying, “I’m okay! I’m okay!” as she tried unsuccessfully to hide her embarrassment.

Tomás and Prince Hart were wide eyed and speechless. Tala, however, knew just what to do. She smiled cheerfully, stepped forward, and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you. I’m Tala! And this is Tomás and Prince Hart!”

“I’m Min,” the woman introduced herself. “So…uh, where exactly are you headed? You have really full saddlebags, so it looks like you are going on a long trip—not that I’m interested in your saddlebags; I mean, I’m not a thief or anything, just, uh…you look like you are on a journey?”

“We are!” said Tala. Then she told Min all about their quest.

“Oh, wow!” Min exclaimed, “I wish I could come with you! I know exactly what I’d wish for!”

“Then come with us!” replied Tala. “I’m sure we could use your talents.”

“Really?!” exclaimed Min.

“Yes, definitely!” replied Tala.

Excited, Min grabbed her bag, canteen, and gloves, checked them twice, and then the four of them were off, riding south toward the capital of the Kingdom of Gulls. It was not easy for the horses to carry two extra people, but they gave the horses frequent rests, and after another day of riding, they arrived in the capital. There, Prince Hart presented the queen with many fine gifts, and she in turn honored them by announcing three days of feasting that would start the very next day.

Tala and Min were both excited about this, but Tomás was concerned about spending so much time with the queen. He knew that people frequently made assumptions about his tremor, as well as about his exclusive use of ceramic cups and cast iron utensils. In addition, he worried how the queen would react to any mishaps.

“Tension makes it worse,” he said to Prince Hart, Tala, and Min, “and I do not want to cause offense.”

“Would it help if I made an opportunity for you to explain the situation to the queen?” asked Prince Hart.

“It is tiring to constantly feel pressured to explain myself,” said Tomás, “but in this case, I feel that would be best.”

“Then I will do so,” said Prince Hart.

“And would it be possible for me to be seated between two of you?” asked Tomás. “It would make offensive mishaps much less likely.”

“I will make the necessary arrangements,” said Prince Hart.

And that is just what he did. And though there were some uncomfortable moments, Tomás carried himself with such dignity and handled each challenge with such grace that no offense was taken.

Meanwhile, for Min, feasting with royalty was an exciting novelty. But by the second day, that novelty had worn thin, and on the third, it had gone entirely. Being around Prince Hart, Tala, and Tomás constantly reminded Min how eager she was to resume their journey, and even though she tried really hard to be polite and focus on the conversation, she couldn’t stop playing with the silverware and staring out the window. Prince Hart and Tomás were quite alarmed by this rudeness, but, fortunately, the queen knew Min’s family and did not take her behavior amiss.

The following day, with their load significantly lightened, they traveled on. Their route now took them to the southwest on a road that led inland to a fertile countryside of gentle valleys and rolling hills. As they progressed, the climate became drier, perfect for growing grain. This year’s crop was head high and nearly ripe.

At midday, the four of them crossed the border into the Gilded Kingdom. Gradually, the climate became even drier, and the houses, clothing, and customs of the people changed along with it. The people here were open and friendly, with much of their daily activities taking place outside of their mudbrick houses. And as the four of them rode by, many people wearing white clothing with colorful embroidery could be seen eating, chatting, and working outdoors.

The next day, they continued their journey through the countryside of the Gilded Kingdom. That afternoon, the four of them happened to be crossing a bridge when they saw a fellow traveler down by the stream below. Ey was tall, with fair skin, sharp features, a hooked nose, and thick, dark tresses and brows. Holding a sturdy basket in her right hand, she was bent like a willow over a calm, deep pool. As they watched, ey slowly stroked the surface of the water with eir left hand. First there was a quiver. Then, all of a sudden, a spout of water surged upward, and she quickly reached out her basket and snatched a large fish right out of the air.

Excited by what she had just seen, Min jumped off her horse and ran to the stone railing. There, she leaned precariously over the edge and shouted, “That was amazing! How did you do that?!”

Soon, they had all dismounted and crowded around the mysterious stranger, eager to understand what they had just witnessed. In response, the stranger sighed and said, “It seems I will get no peace until I answer, so I will tell you that I am a sex worker, and I have become so skilled in my art that I can make people or even certain objects orgasm simply by stroking them with my left hand.”

“Oh, wow!” Min exclaimed. “That’s extraordinary! How does it work? Can you show me?”

Prince Hart, however, was puzzled by something. “I thought that in this kingdom all prostitutes were required to wear a red sash,” he said.

“I am not practicing in this kingdom!” the person snapped back at him. “I am passing through on my way to somewhere more accepting.”

“I apologize!” Prince Hart said earnestly. “That was an intrusive question, and I should not have asked it of a stranger.” Then Prince Hart looked around himself as if suddenly realizing where he was. “And we have surrounded you as well,” he said, stepping backward. “I am deeply sorry. We have let our enthusiasm make us thoughtless.”

“It is a sore subject for me right now,” the stranger explained.

“Most understandable,” replied Prince Hart. “And while having a reason does not excuse my actions, perhaps it will help to know that I am asexual and, as a result, often find sexual customs to be confusing.”

“I am also asexual,” the person responded.

Speechless, Prince Hart stared at eir with wide eyes.

“Perhaps introductions would be appropriate at this point,” Tala said.

“That would be welcome,” the person replied. “I’m Anissa.”

Then Tala grinned and introduced herself, Prince Hart, Min, and Tomás. Next, Tala and Min told Anissa all about their journey and the quest for the Wishing Dildo.

“It sounds wondrous,” said Anissa. “I can certainly think of ways I’d use it if I had it.”

“Then come with us!” Tala and Min said in unison.

Anissa looked uncertainly at Prince Hart, who said, “You would definitely be welcome.”

And so Anissa joined their group, and all five of them continued on to the southwest. That evening, they reached the bank of the Placid River, where they made camp. The following morning, they hired a barge to take them south, then west down the river to the capital.

Once they had boarded, gotten the horses settled, and cast off, there was nothing for the passengers to do but watch the scenery as they glided south through the bustling countryside. This was a big challenge for Min, because, without the immediacy of horseback riding, there wasn’t anything to take her mind off her curiosity about Anissa. And Min’s mind was bursting with questions—questions that she held back because Anissa didn’t seem to like being questioned and Min didn’t want to be rude.

So Min tried to focus on the scenery, and as she did so, the barge passed through a field of people with their heads bent, hard at work with their weeding hooks. Before the rest of her mind had caught up with her, Min asked, “Do you ever wonder why they call it ‘planting the parsnip’ when people don’t even plant parsnip roots? I mean, they sow seeds, right? AND parsnip roots don’t look that much like penises. They are all wide at the base and super pointy at the tip. Carrots are more like it, but you don’t plant grown carrots either, so maybe it should be something like ‘washing the carrot?’ Except that you wash carrots with your hands, which is a different kind of action, so maybe something like ‘baking the carrot’ or ‘stuffing the carrot into the roast?’”

Anissa laughed and said, “I don’t think there’s much logic to euphemisms.”

Min gasped and covered her mouth. “Oh no! I’m not supposed to ask you questions, am I?”

“You can ask me questions,” said Anissa.

“Nope,” said Min. “There are some questions that bother you, and once I start asking, sooner or later, I’m going ask something inappropriate. That is just how it works for me, so it’s better that I don’t even start.”

Well, that didn’t seem like a good solution to Anissa, so she thought about it until she had an idea. “What if I give you permission to ask me any question you want,” she said, “but I just won’t answer anything I consider too personal?”

Min bit her lip uncertainly. “Are you sure that’s going to work?”

“No,” said Anissa, “but I think it is worth a try, don’t you?”

“Well…sure!” Min said with a grin. “Let’s give it a try!”

Now, it’s a strange fact of magic that when people meet on the Fantastical Continent, they instantly understand the basics of each other’s genders, just as if you could tell what a person’s gender was by looking at them, which, of course, you normally can’t. However, knowing the basics of a person’s gender is not the same as knowing the details, and Anissa’s gender was rather complicated, so, after only the briefest of pauses, Min asked, “Does this mean that I can ask you about your gender?”

“What do you want to know?” Anissa replied.

“Well, your pronouns switch back and forth between ey and she, but it doesn’t seem like your gender is changing,” said Min. “Why is that?”

Anissa laughed and then said, “I’m surprised you haven’t met anyone with alternating pronouns before.”

“Oh, I have!” Min exclaimed, “But most people don’t like answering questions about their gender.”

“I can understand that,” said Anissa. “And the first thing that you need to know is that everyone is different. In my case, it is not that my gender is changing, but that I feel both genderless and like a woman at the same time, and that complicated experience is easiest to express by alternating between two pronoun sets.”

“Aren’t those feelings opposites?” Min asked.

“The same could be said of happiness and sadness,” replied Anissa, “but it is still possible to simultaneously feel happy about one thing and sad about another.”

Naturally, this explanation made Min think of more questions, which in turn led to even more questions. And so it was that Min and Anissa spend the rest of the voyage talking as the barge glided down the Placid River’s sweeping curves.

That evening, they arrived in the capital of the Gilded Kingdom. The rulers here were not on the best terms with Prince Hart’s mother, so it was particularly important for him to make a great show of respect and friendship, which he did by presenting the sovereign and queen with fabulous gifts both precious and rare. They, in turn, honored Prince Hart with five days of feasting.

Well, after her last experience with royalty, feasting for five days sounded simply dreadful to Min, and neither she nor Anissa wanted anything to do with temperamental royalty, so the two of them decided to spend their time looking after the horses in the stables. That left Tala, Tomás, and Prince Hart, taking the same preventative measures as last time, to entertain the royal couple. Fortunately, Tala was very entertaining, and she captivated everyone with marvelous stories of her many adventures. However, once the sovereign and queen found out that Prince Hart was on a quest to win the Wishing Dildo, that was all they wanted to talk about. They asked many, many questions and pressured Prince Hart to share his plans with them.

In the stables, Min and Anissa discovered the reason for the royal couple’s intense interest from the local gossip. It turned out that the sovereign and queen had themselves made no fewer than five attempts to win the Wishing Dildo, each time sending a different emissary with a different grand gift, all without success. Upon hearing this, Prince Hart suddenly realized that acquiring the Wishing Dildo was only his first task; once he had it, he would have to find a way to bring it home without causing a diplomatic incident.

Finally, on the sixth day, the feasting was over and the five companions were ready to resume their journey. After a formal farewell, during which the royal couple wished “to see Prince Hart upon his victorious return” with disturbing eagerness, they left, taking the road that led west to the Errant River. Once there, they intended to hire a boat to transport them south down the river to the Wandering Kingdom and the tower that held the Wishing Dildo.

The day was hot and sunny, so, at midday, they decided to stop and eat their meal in the shade of a dense clump of trees a short distance from a crossroads, which, not so coincidentally, would also serve to block their magical tent from view. However, when they entered the grove of trees, they were surprised to find a regal, fat, onyx-skinned woman with smooth features, high cheekbones, and a crown of ebony braids sitting on a stump, bandaging her feet. She was wearing sturdy but ill-fitting clothing, and next to her was a stiff pair of boots that was clearly far too big for her.

When she saw the five of them, the woman gasped and dropped the bandages she had been holding onto the ground.

Well, the moment that Min saw the regal stranger, she was instantly smitten with her, and no sooner had the woman dropped the bandages than Min had leapt off her horse to run over and help pick them up. “Let me help you with those! Oh dear, some of these need to be washed. These three should be all right, though—they didn’t touch the ground! And, oh! This one too! Not this one though, or these two…”

“I’m fine, thank you,” the woman said firmly. “I can get the rest myself.”

“It’s no trouble!” Min said cheerfully, and she continued picking up bandages despite the woman’s attempts to block her. “I’m happy to—Oh my! Are those rubies?!”

The woman sighed in resignation. “There is no point in hiding it further,” she said unhappily. “Yes, those are rubies. And the ones next to them are diamonds.”

“Wow!” said Min. “Are they yours?”

The woman nodded solemnly.

“Wow!” Min repeated, and as the rest of the group dismounted, she carefully set to work picking up gemstones.

Then, with a friendly smile, Tala stepped forward and introduced the five of them.

“I’m Jewel,” the woman replied. “It is a pleasure to meet all of you.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too!” Min said as she poured a pile of gemstones into Jewel’s palm. Only then did Min notice that Jewel had nowhere to put the stones. “Huh, that’s going to be a—Oh! I know!” Min said, and she quickly fashioned a pouch from two of the bandages.

“Your feet look pretty bad,” Anissa said kindly. “I’d like to help. May I look at them?”

Jewel cautiously agreed. Meanwhile, Prince Hart and Tomás pitched the tent. A short time later, Jewel’s feet were washed and bandaged, and everyone sat down inside the tent to enjoy a delicious meal as Min and Tala told Jewel about their quest.

“Is there something you’d like to wish for?” Min asked hopefully.

“There is,” replied Jewel, “but right now I need to get to the capital of the Kingdom of Waterfalls as quickly as possible.”

“On those injured feet?” asked Anissa, deeply concerned.

Prince Hart shared her concern. “That is no small distance to the south,” he said. “And while our path lies to the west, with my companions’ consent, I would like to at least shorten your journey by taking you to the border of the Kingdom of Waterfalls.”

Naturally, everyone agreed, and both Jewel and Anissa were most impressed by this generosity.

“Thank you,” Jewel said, “Your help is deeply appreciated.”

And so it was that Jewel joined their group, and instead of taking the road that led west, they took the road that led to the south. On their extraordinary steeds, they reached the border by evening. There, they made camp, and once the horses had been cared for, they all sat down to eat their delicious supper.

Everyone except for Jewel, that is, because she took this opportunity to sneak out of the tent. Then, hiding behind a bush, she shook all of the diamonds out of her clothing. However, Min noticed Jewel leave, and as you might expect, she did exactly what a concerned, impulsive person would do and followed her.

As luck would have it, Min spotted Jewel in a shower of diamonds.

“Oh, wow!” Min exclaimed loudly. “That’s amazing! How do you do that? Are you magic? You must be magic!”

Moments later, everyone else was outside too.

There was confused murmuring as Min cheerfully collected all the diamonds and handed them to Jewel.

After a long pause, Jewel said, “I have been keeping my gift a secret because, with a gift like mine, it is hard to know who to trust. However, the five of you have shown yourselves to be generous and kind, so I will tell you that I was born with the challenging gift of being so pure that all of my bodily fluids turn into gemstones and precious metals once they leave my body. My sweat turns into diamonds and–”

“The rubies are your blood!” Min exclaimed in horror.

Jewel nodded.

“That’s awful!” said Anissa. “No wonder your feet are so injured if your blood turns into hard, sharp stones. And with those boots, your feet are only going to get worse.” Looking at Prince Hart questioningly, she said, “We can’t let her walk all that way on injured feet.”

“No indeed,” said Prince Hart. “But I do not have a gift for the rulers of the Kingdom of Waterfalls, and visiting them without one is sure to cause insult.”

“Then don’t visit them!” said Tala. “If we tell people we are traders, we can go there and back without anyone knowing.”

Well, everyone thought this was a good plan, and the next morning, they crossed the border and traveled south into the Kingdom of Waterfalls. Soon the climate became warmer and wetter. Lush growth was everywhere, and the fields were full of fruit, corn, rice, and beans, as well as market crops like sugar cane, coffee, and cocoa. Here the houses were made of wood and stone, with steep roofs to shed rain. Naturally, the people here wore fewer layers, though they did favor bright colors and bold patterns.

It rapidly became clear that this was a culture that valued respect, particularly for elders and those of high status. Respect also played an important role in decision making, and it was customary for the whole community to be consulted before any decisions were made. Consequently, decisions took longer to make, but they were usually good ones that met the needs of the entire community. Despite this formality, or perhaps because of it, the people were very friendly with those they considered equals and could often be seen exchanging hugs and talking animatedly.

As they traveled, Min rode constantly by Jewel’s side, asking questions, making comments, and showering her with enthusiastic attention in an attempt to help Jewel feel at ease. Unfortunately, Min’s efforts had the opposite effect. What’s more, Jewel was too worried about hurting Min’s feelings to say anything to her about it.

Thus the uncomfortable situation continued until Tomás decided to intervene. He said, “Tala, I don’t believe that Min has heard your story about the time you rode a flying trunk up to an enchanted garden in the sky.”

“No!” Min replied. “I haven’t!”

“Please tell it to us,” said Tomás. “It’s so entertaining that it is well worth hearing again.”

“I’d be happy to,” Tala said, and with a grin, she began a tale so captivating that, for Min, the rest of the world ceased to exist.

Meanwhile, Tomás and Jewel guided their horses back to the end of the line, leaving Min and Tala riding side by side.

“Thank you,” Jewel said, much relieved.

“It is not hard to see why Min is so taken with you,” Tomás said with a blush. “But she can sometimes get carried away by her own enthusiasm.”

“Min is a wonderfully earnest and vibrant person,” Jewel replied, “but I must admit that I find her attention to be a bit overwhelming.” Then she sighed and said, “I know I need to talk to her, but I just don’t feel up to that right now.”

“Would you like help?” offered Tomás.

“Thank you, but I think it best if I do that myself,” replied Jewel. “Having someone else involved will only embarrass Min further.”

“That is possible,” replied Tomás. “For now, would you like to listen to Tala’s story?”

“I think I’d rather get to know you better,” Jewel said.

And so it was that Jewel and Tomás spent the rest of the day talking while Tala captivated Min, Anissa, and Prince Hart with her marvelous tales.

The six of them arrived in the capital at dusk, and with a bit of negotiation, found a place to stay at a merchant’s inn next to the central market. Tired from the long, hot ride, they ate a hearty meal and went to straight to sleep. Everyone except for Jewel, that is, for as soon as she was certain that the others were sleeping, she got up, dressed, and snuck out of the inn.

The next morning, Prince Hart, Tala, Anissa, Min, and especially Tomás were surprised to find that Jewel had disappeared without saying goodbye. In fact, she hadn’t even taken her pouch of diamonds and rubies with her. Worried about what this could mean, the five of them ate a solemn meal. Then, just as they were dispiritedly saddling their horses, a group of soldiers arrived and told them that the queen and king had summoned them to an audience.

Greatly dismayed, everyone quickly put on their finest clothing, and soon they were being escorted to the palace. Filled with trepidation, they entered the grand audience chamber. And grand it was—the walls were of pink and white coral, with brilliant mosaics of flowers and birds. The queen and king sat upon thrones of gold and ruby carved with leopards, elephants, snakes, and crocodiles. Beside them, on stools of silver and garnet, sat two princesses clad in regal garments, one of whom was grinning at them.

With delight, they recognized the princess as Jewel!

The queen and king were smiling too. “We thank you for aiding our daughter in her escape,” the queen said.

“That is more credit that we deserve,” Prince Hart replied. “We merely sped up a portion of her journey.”

“Nonetheless, we are deeply grateful for your role, however small, in reuniting our family,” the king said.

And then Princess Jewel said, “I apologize for not confiding in you more completely, but after my cousin’s betrayal, I find it difficult to fully trust even those who have proved themselves.”

“Now, in celebration of our daughter’s return, and in honor of our five distinguished guests,” declared the queen, “I proclaim that there will be seven days of feasting and rejoicing!”

“And afterward,” Princess Jewel said, “I would like to join the five of you on your quest.”

“We would be honored to have you with us,” Prince Hart replied.

This image is meant to capture the feeling of an exciting adventure. A road traverses a rocky, mountainous landscape that is dramatically lit by the setting sun.

This image is meant to capture the feeling of an exciting adventure. A road traverses a rocky, mountainous landscape that is dramatically lit by the setting sun.

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