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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Fantasy · #1347805
A young girl learns of the magic and danger of making wishes
         Once upon a time, as the story goes, in the icy cold mountains of western Russia, there was a small village. Now, according to legend, this town and the people who lived there were a magical people. No one knew how or why, not even the people, that is until one very magical day, but I will get to that later.
         In this town there were many small houses, and some large ones as well, with many small farms and small families. The family I would like to tell you about was very small. It had in it just a mother, a father and one young girl. Her name was Gabriel. The family was not rich by any means. Farming rutabagas does not often contribute to great wealth, but if you know the right people and have the right lord, even by farming rutabagas, you can survive easily enough.
         Although they did not often exchange great gifts and they had to work quite hard during the warm months of the year, there was always enough wood for the fires and enough wool to make warm sweaters for winter and with the love of a mother and a father, Gabriel was happy. That is until she turned fourteen.
         It was that year that her father decided that she was old enough to take the first harvest of rutabagas to deliver them to the lord of the next town over. Actually, she did very well for being as young as she was but all did not go well. Now, I don't know if you have ever heard of the plague. What the plague was was a terrible sickness that no doctors knew how to cure. When nobody knows how to cure something, it will spread from person to person and a lot of people will die. That's what happened to Gabriel, or at least to her mother and father. After being away from her family for a month, delivering rutabagas, she came back to her home only to find that it was all boarded up and closed. Gabriel didn't know why or what to do so she went to see the lord of the town.
         Walled up in his small castle, the king sat on his large wooden throne wearing his crown down low over his sad eyes and the wrinkles in his forehead that showed that he had been worrying had grown very deep and very dark. The lord had to see people all day long to answer questions about the plague and to solve fights that had broken out because the people were so scared. This was all the lord did day in and day out. When Gabriel finally did get a chance to talk to the king, she only had one question. “What happened to my mother and father?”
         When the king heard her question, it was the most difficult question he had had to answer since the plague had begun. How do you explain to a fourteen year old girl that her parents had gone to heaven and that she would be all alone. However he felt about it though, the king was very wise and knew that he must tell her the truth and that is what he did. When Gabriel heard that her parents had died, she began to cry. This broke the king's heart but he knew that he was not feeling as bad as young Gabriel was. What else could he do?

         The years passed slowly and the plague eventually went away, but Gabriel was still alone. She tried to farm but that didn't work because she was only one young girl and only had two hands. Eventually, the lord sold the farm and Gabriel had to find other work. Sometimes she would clean peoples houses, other times she would cook meals for people but she wasn't often paid with money. More often she was paid with a bowl of warm soup or a warm bed on a cold winter's night. Sometimes that was all she needed, but more often than not, she dreamed of having a home and a family of her own. Gabriel had never forgotten her mother and father and what she wanted most of all was to have them back and to be happy again.

         The plague went on for a whole year and some people had it for longer than that and there were always people dying and the priests and the grave diggers always had a lot of work, but eventually people started to get better. Less people were getting sick and everyone knew that the plague was moving on. Everyone was happy, but a lot of people had died as well and there were still many sad memories.
         One night, as the king was getting ready for bed and thinking about all of the questions he had answered over the past months, he remembered Gabriel. He felt sad for her but didn't know what to do. He had a hard time falling asleep that night. He rolled and tossed for half the night before he finally drifted off. When he did fall asleep, he had a dream. Actually, it was more of a memory from when he had first become the lord of the small town.     
         As a young man, the lord was very rich. As he was entering the small town which he was now the lord of, there was an old beggar who used who walk the streets around the town at night and tell people about how his castle was falling apart and how all his sheep and cows were starving. Now everyone knew that the old man didn't have a castle or any sheep but he wasn't hurting anyone, so they let the crazy old man talk his nonsense, but no one took his seriously. The lord though, he was a different story.
         When the lord had come riding into the town, the old man came up to him and began to tell him of his lands that were being attacked and his castle which he could not repair and asked him for money  and food so he could fix them. Long ago, the lord had learned that it is not smart to throw your money away, but if you were investing it in a good idea, then it would come back to you. He looked at the old man in the eyes and asked him what his castle looked like. The old man looked surprised because no one had ever taken the time to ask him that question before. “Well,” he huffed and puffed, “you haven't seen it?”
              “No.” Said the lord. “I'm new to this town and I don't know any of the lands around here.”
              “Can you draw a good picture?” The old man asked. The lord thought about this for a second.
              “I can.”
              “Then let me tell you my story and you can draw a picture of my castle.” The lord wasn't expecting this but he did like a good story. What the lord decided to do was to bring the old man to the town's tavern and get both of them a room for the night as well as a good meal and a haircut.
         After the old man was clean and shaved, the two of them sat at the dining table, eating a good bowl of stew with brown bread and drinking good drink. The king had a piece of paper and a new feather so he could draw what the old man told him. The old man, although he seemed crazy to most everyone else, did know what his castle looked like. He also knew where his lands were and exactly how many sheep and cows he had. They talked for hours and hours into the very late night as the lord drew. By the time they were both too tired to talk anymore, the king had five pieces of paper filled with drawings of the inside and the outside of the castle, the lands and the village around it. The details were perfect and it all made perfect sense.
         That night, when he fell asleep in the tavern, the lord had a dream. He was the poor beggar and he was talking to the rich lord, who looked just like the beggar, only in clean clothes, on a proud horse  and wearing gold and silver jewelry. The beggar, who was now the rich man kept asking him about his castle and he, who was now the beggar told the rich man about his castle and he knew what it looked like, just like the two of them had done while they were awake. At the end of the dream though, the old man gave him the drawings he had made and told him that this was really his castle.
         When the lord woke up that night, long ago, the old man was gone but all of the drawings for the castle and the land were still there. That's when the lord realized what he had to do. He had to build the castle and become lord of that small town. What he also realized was that the old man had been more than a beggar but was, in fact, a great wizard.
         This time, when the king woke up again, he was back in his small village and again the lord of that village, but now, he had an idea. He went to his chief officer and told him to bring his sharpest eyed hunting hawk. While the officer went off to get the bird, the lord sat down and wrote out a letter to the old man he had met so long ago, the old wizard, even though the lord hadn't seen him in a very long time. He wrote about young Gabriel and told of how her parents had died and asked if the old man knew what could be done.
         When the officer returned with the bird, the lord took the letter and folded it up very small and tied it into a small silk bag around the hawk's leg. After this, he told the officer exactly what he needed the bird to do. The officer had trained the bird to hunt and look for rabbits and other small animals and knew that the bird could find anyone or anything. When he told the hawk who to look for, he hawk understood and flew out of the castle window with the letter tied to his ankle. All that the lord could do was to hope that the bird could find the old man and deliver the letter. He prayed that the old wizard's  magic would work as well for young Gabriel as his had for himself, so long ago.
         Three days later, when the hawk returned without the letter or the silk bag, the lord knew that the old man had gotten his message.

         Now I don't know if it was the next night or the next month but what I do know is that one night, as Gabriel was sleeping in a fresh warm haystack in the barn outside one of the houses which she had been hired to clean and cook in, she was woken up by a hoot, hoot, hooting. Waking up and adjusting her eyes to the darkness, she saw in the window an owl, but it was not like a normal owl. With the full moon behind it in the window, Gabriel couldn't be sure what it was but but she stood up and she walked up to it. When she got close enough to get a good view of the bird, she could see that it was not a normal owl at all but had the face of a very old man and more than this, it was holding a small silk bag in it's clawed foot. Gabriel didn't know what to do. “Hello?” She asked.
              “Hoot, Hoot, Whoo are you?” The owl asked. Gabriel was surprised, not having expected a bird to be able to talk.
              “My name is Gabriel. Who are you?” The owl didn't answer but just went on.
              “Ahh, good. Just who I was looking for. I have something for you.” Dropping the silk bag onto the ground, he said, “Pick it up.” That is exactly what Gabriel did and, opening it, she found inside a lump of coal. She didn't understand.
              “What is this?” She said looking at it in the moon light.
              “That, young Gabriel, is all of the magic in the world wrapped up in on little piece of coal and it is for you.” Still, Gabriel didn't understand. “You see, Gabriel, you have friends and they have friends and those friends are all hoping that you get what you want. They love you Gabriel. With that small lump of coal, you can make any wish in the world and it will come true.”
              “Really?” Gabriel asked, eyes widening.
              “Yes, really, but there is a rule that goes along with that piece of coal. Because it contains all of the magic in the world, it must only be used to make good wishes. Things that help people. If ever it was used to make an evil wish or to hurt someone.....” The owl let out a long sad hoot. “It would be very, very bad.”
         “And it is for me?” Gabriel asked again.
                “It is. It will always be yours and you can't loose it. Use it wisely.” And with this, the owl flapped it's wings once and flew away into the moonlit night.

         When Gabriel awoke that morning, she didn't know if what had happened the night before had been a dream or not, but then she felt something around her wrist. There it was, a small silk bag and in it, the lump of coal. Gabriel knew what she wanted most and decided that to once again have a family and home would be the best wish ever. Closing her eyes, she held the coal in her hand and wished for just that.
         She didn't know if the wish had worked or not, but she did believe the owl and she did want a family again. Gabriel kept the lump of coal in her dress pocket as she worked in the houses of the towns people, cooking and cleaning, but anymore, she had something which she could hope for and put her trust in.
         It wasn't two weeks before Gabriel received a letter from the lord of the village. He wanted to see her but he did not explain why. When she arrived at the castle of the lord, he had a large meal set out and good drink. “Gabriel.” He welcomed her into his castle with open arms and a broad smile. “I have good news for you but I think I should tell you at the dinner table.” The lord had a new dress for her and a place where she could take a bath. When she did arrive at the dinner table, she looked beautiful.
         The lord and the lady of the village, along with many other royals sat around talking of business and politics which Gabriel did not understand but eventually, the lord turned to her and said, “Now comes the important news for our young Gabriel.” Not understanding, Gabriel just waited with a curious smile. “I have just received news from two towns away that you have family. It would seem that they are planning to move into our village and have already bought a large farm and they are very interested in meeting their young niece.” Gabriel began to understand what was happening to her. Was her wish coming true? “Does this mean that I will have a family?” The lord just smiled a warm smile. “I think it does.” Everyone around the table gave a polite round of applaud to their new friend Gabriel.

         When the wagon which carried her Uncle and Aunt finally rolled up to the lord's castle, Gabriel was waiting outside for them to arrive and when they did arrive, she saw the face of the man who was driving and it looked exactly like her father. Although he was a different man that she had never met before, he had the same eyes, the same nose and the same round belly. “And this must be Gabriel!” He said excitedly as the wagon rolled closer. “Hello Uncle.” She said politely, smiling.

         She lived with her Uncle and Aunt, on their farm, for two years and everything was wonderful. Although it was not her real mother and father, they were nice to her and tried to make her happy whenever they could. She always had enough to eat and never had to sleep in a barn or clean anyone else's floors if she didn't want to, and she always kept her lump of coal in her dress pocket.
         Gabriel was very nice and very smart. She would help around the house and went to church at the lord's castle every Sunday, and ever night, when she said her prayers, she would hold the lump of coal in her hand and make a wish that all the people of the village stayed strong and healthy. That is until one very cold and very sad winter's day.
         Gabriel was on her way to the market as she did on Saturday to buy fresh vegetables and food for her family when a young group of boys came up to her. “We know you! Your poor Gabriel!” The teased her. She knew the boys, but she didn't know why they were picking on her. “What do you mean?” She asked innocently. “My father says that you used to clean his barn!” All the boys laughed. “And my father says that the plague got your real mommy and daddy and you don't have a real mommy and daddy!” They laughed again. Gabriel didn't know why they were picking on her, but she began to cry. “Ah ha!” They laughed. “Poor little Gabriel is crying. She doesn't have a rel mommy and daddy!” They laughed and they picked on Gabriel and she hated them for it. She was crying and they kept picking and picking on her and wouldn't stop. They wouldn't let her get passed to go down the street and when she tried to run, they grabbed her and pushed her chanting, “Poor little Gabriel! Poor little Gabriel!” She hated them. She hated them! Finally, she didn't know what to do and through her tears she plunged her hand into her pocket and pulled out the lump of coal. “I hope the plague gets you!” She yelled and ran off down the street towards the market. 
         Gabriel fell asleep that night crying because the boys had picked on her and she really did hope that they plague would get them and guess what. It did.
         Do you remember what the owl had told Gabriel on that very first night when he gave her that small silk bag with the lump of coal in it? About the rule that went along with the coal? Well, Gabriel had broken that rule and now, just like the owl had said, it was going to be very, very bad.

         It was two weeks later when Gabriel heard the news that the three brothers had gone to visit their family in another town. She also heard that they had gotten the plague. Although sad, she was happy too because they had picked on her and she hated them. She didn't tell anyone about her wish though. She knew that it was bad and she was very scared that anyone might find out that she had killed them. As the days went by, Gabriel went about her business, doing her chores and cooking dinner, but inside her, a fear was growing, a fear of the terrible secret she was keeping. Everyday she worried that someone might find out what she had done and it sat on her stomach like a large heavy stone and made her feel sick.
         It was another month before she was told by her Uncle and Aunt that they were going to move again, but they needed her to stay at the house and keep it running. Gabriel knew that something had gone wrong and she also knew that she had done it. It was then that she remembered what the owl had told her on that very first night. She wished that she had never said what she had but it was too late. The three boys were already dead and there was no taking it back now.

         Her new family moved away and now Gabriel was alone. She could tend the farm and with the money that they had left her she could hire help to keep growing vegetables in the field and keep the house warm in the winter but she still had the heavy stone growing inside her and she was afraid to use the magical lump of coal. She stopped praying and going to church and still the stone grew. What could stop it? She would ask herself. She didn't know. That was when she decided to make one last wish. “I wish I would feel better and this hurting would go away.”

         When Gabriel woke up the next day, she was making breakfast for herself when a messenger from the king arrived. In his hands, he had a large cage covered with a blanket. “What is it?” she asked. “I don't know.” Said the messenger, “but it has come from over the ocean and was specially delivered to you, Gabriel.” He brought it inside the house and set it on the table. When his did take the cover off, they saw what was inside but neither of them knew what it was. You see, until that very day, there had never been a monkey in their small village before.
         “Is it some kind of dog?” She asked. The messenger just shrugged. “Like I said, I don't know but it was especially delivered to you.” With this, the messenger was gone and Gabriel was left alone with the monkey. “That's funny.” She thought and gave it some vegetables. It grabbed them up in a snap and ate them down as quick as that. “Well aren't you cute.” She said and opened the cage. All that day, she sat playing with the animal and whenever she gave it a carrot or a potato, it would eat it down. That night, she put the monkey back in it's cage and went to sleep.
         That's when the trouble began. Being a smart little monkey and having a little hand like a person does, it watched her as she closed the cage. When she left to go to sleep, the monkey reached out of it's cage and pulled out the pin that held the cage closed. The door swung open and the little monkey swung out and began to search around. Some time around midnight, that monkey found it's way into Gabriel's room. Looking around, it finally wound up sticking it's hand into her dress pocket and do you know what it found? That's right. The lump of coal.
         Now it's hard to tell what a monkey wishes for but before the sun rose the next day, the lump of coal was back in Gabriel's pocket and the monkey was back in it's cage but there was something different. When she woke up and let the monkey out of it's cage, it didn't seem as small as had the day before. In fact, it was bigger. Not much bigger, but a little. Although Gabriel thought this was strange, not knowing what a monkey was, she thought this might be normal. Maybe it was just a trick of her imagination. Or was it?
         She didn't know what was causing it, but after two weeks, she knew that it wasn't a trick because the monkey was three times as big as it had been when she got it and wouldn't fit in it's cage anymore. It was eating three times as much as well. That's when Gabriel started looking into the cupboards and wonder if there would be enough food to last through the winter or enough money to buy more food for herself and her pet.
         What she did know was that something strange was happening and the stone in her belly was growing again. She decided, one day, to try to figure out what was causing the monkey to grow. That night, she didn't fall asleep. Laying in her bed, she stayed awake and listened to the sounds coming from the other room where the monkey now slept. She didn't need to listen for long before the monkey actually came into her room. She was scared, not knowing what the monkey was going to do, but when she saw it dance over to her closet and reach into her pocket, take out the silk bag and again scurry out of the room, she knew that something was very wrong. She thought he heard the monkey laugh an evil little laugh as it left.
         In the morning, again, the monkey was bigger than it had been the day before and eating more than it had. She knew that she would have to hide the lump of coal somewhere where the monkey wouldn't be able to find it, so that night she put the lump of coal into the bottom of her chest where she kept her sheets and her blankets. “That should stop this.” She thought to herself as she went to sleep. But it didn't.
         The next morning, when she woke up, her dress where she usually kept the lump of coal was torn to pieces. The blankets and sheets were thrown all over the room and she knew that he had found the lump of coal again. When she came out of her room that morning, something was different. She put the breakfast she usually gave to the monkey on a small plate near it, but he picked it up and threw it at her. Scared, she looked at the monkey and raised her voice. “Don't you ever do that again.” The monkey didn't listen. Instead, it just barked at her, sounding almost like she had. “Rooor Roor!” She decided that if that was how he was going to act, she wouldn't feed him. That should fix it, but again, it didn't. When she sat down to eat her own meal that night, the monkey, who was now nearly as big as she was, saw that he wasn't getting anything to eat. She spoke to it sternly. “You can't control yourself so you don't eat!” Again the monkey barked at her, only this time louder and this time she heard her own words. “Roor Bark, Can't control yourself! Don't eat!” The monkey crossed to the table and grabbed her plate and ran back into the other room quickly shoveling the food into his own mouth. That is when Gabriel really got scared. She went in to get her plate back but the monkey barked at her and wouldn't let her near.
         She went to bed that night hungry and crying but the next morning was even worse. She realized that the monkey had gotten the lump of coal again and now was as tall as she was. When she tried to get to the cupboard, he would get in front of her and she couldn't pass. When she tried to leave, he would guard the door and bark at her. “RROOrrr. NO! You go nowhere!” All that day, she spent in her room only eating two potatoes it had thrown at her. She cried and cried and thought about what she could do.
         It took her a long time before she came up with a plan. She still had the lump of coal. She could just wish the monkey away. Going to her pocket, she pulled out the little silk bag and held it in her hand. Walking out of the bedroom, she walked into the kitchen where the ape was. She held the lump of coal out and said “I wish you go...” But before she could finish what she was saying, the monkey jumped across the room and slapping the lump of coal from her hand. Then, quick as a flash, it ran over and picked it up and again barked at her, this time more evil and more human than ever. “Never!” It bellowed. Gabriel knew that things couldn't get any worse. What could she do?
         Now holding the lump of coal, the monkey looked at her and said “Cook food!” Gabriel knew now that she was no longer in charge. Going over to the cupboard, she got out some vegetables and a pot. The ape barked again, “Meat!” Gabriel began to weep.

         This went on for a month, but to Gabriel is seemed like forever. Everyday, she would cook and clean the floors, but the ape, who anymore had become more like a fat, hairy man, would always leave the cupboards empty and the house a mess. Then one day, after the ape had eaten everything there was to eat, it demanded his dinner. “There is no more Food!” Gabriel screamed at him. She had never raised her voice to him before but for the past month she had cried herself to sleep with an empty stomach every night and had come to the end of her rope. The ape man didn't think. It just ran over to her and grabbed her by her throat. Picking her up, it threw her to the ground and began hitting her. “FOOD!” It screamed. “You LAZY USELESS!” But never stopped hitting her. She fought back but was not strong enough. He was going to kill her. Kicking and screaming, she finally broke the grip of the beast and ran.

         She ran and ran. All that day and into the night she ran. It was not until that night in the darkness of the forest that she finally stopped running. Slowing, she eventually stopped to breath. Looking abound herself, she didn't know where she was because she had never been this deep into the forest before, especially at night. She looked around herself scared but still did not see anything she recognized. Finding the biggest tree she could, she sat down next to it and began to cry. This didn't go on for long though because something very strange happened. Through her tears, Gabriel heard something. What she heard was the sound of whistling. It surprised her so much that she stopped crying and listened. It was not her imagination. It was really whistling along with the sound of feet walking in the cold, crisp snow. The song was a slow, sad song to go along with the dark cold night. As whoever was whistling walked closer, Gabriel got scared. She hid behind the tree until he was almost passed. When she did look out to see who it was, the whistler, who had very keen eyes, saw something move. Stopping his sad tune, he looked directly at her and she pulled her head back behind the tree.
         The whistler looked for a second before he came closer. “Hello?” He asked in a soft voice. Gabriel didn't say anything. “Well, I know you're there. Who are you? It's cold out here.” He slowly walked over to the tree and tried to get a peek at her.
                “Stay away.” She said, scared.
                “Whoa. I don't want to hurt you. I just want to know your name.” She looked at him for a long time through the cold night air. He didn't move or make a sound. Finally, “My name is Gabriel.” The whistler smiled and stretched out a hand. “My name is Jaru.” She didn't shake his hand. Gabriel just stood there scared. “Listen,” He said, “I'm going to build a fire and I have a loaf of bread. Are you hungry?” She was but still didn't say anything.
         He smiled again. “Well, like I said, I'm going to build a fire. You can join me if you like.” It was fifteen minutes before he had gathered up enough wood to kindle a little flame but by this time the sweat and fear was making Gabriel shiver and she knew what she needed more than anything was a fire. Moving a little closer, she tried to feel some of the warmth. Jaru knew that she was nervous. “I'm going to gather some more wood. You get warm.” Standing up and walking away from the fire, Gabriel huddled around the small flame and tried to get warm. When Jaru did return, his arms were full. Gabriel backed away quickly, again scared. He just smiled and threw a couple more logs on the fire. Then, sitting down, he opened his bag and took out the loaf of bread. Tearing it in half, he offered it to her. It was a minute before she finally got up the nerve to take it from his hand, but when she did and he didn't bark or try to grab her, she calmed a little. Sitting down by the fire, she started to eat the bread. Jaru lowered his head and said a small prayer and then began his meal.
         “So how does someone get this far into the woods on a night like this?” Gabriel didn't say anything. She just looked at him with dark eyes. “Alright.” He said. “We'll make a trade. I'll tell you some of my story and then you tell me some of yours.” Gabriel waited a second thinking about this and then nodded. “Alright.” said Jaru with a smile.

         “I am Jaru the gambler. I'm good at it too. Maybe too good. I used to gamble on anything. Fights, races, dice, anything. Anytime two people would complete, I could tell you who was going to win. I made a living that way. I also made a lot of enemies. Well, one day, I was given a gift.” Gabriel listened to the story, eating her bread, thinking of her own life and how she had gotten a gift once, from an owl. “I was throwing dice but wasn't betting too much because as I was explaining to the fellow I was playing against, with something as random as dice, you never know who's going to win. That's when he asked me the question that changed my life. He asked me if I would like to know who was going to win in any dice game.... every time? I said of course. I would be rich. I would never loose a bet. That's when he reached into his pocket and pulled out these.” Jaru did exactly that. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a pair of dice. They were not extraordinary in any way. They were just two dice which looked like they had been carved out of bone or antler. The minute Gabriel saw them though, she was wrapped up in their magic. “Oh, can we play?” She asked excitedly. This was the first time that Jaru had seen her smile.
         “And that's the effect that they have on everyone.” He said putting them back in his pocket. As soon as he did, Gabriel thought about what she had said and was shocked and scared all at the same time. “Whoever looks at the dice want to play. The legend goes that these dice are the same ones used by the Roman soldiers who gambled for Jesus' robe beneath the cross. Now I don't know if all that's true, but they certainly are magical. Whenever I play with these dice, I can't loose. Sometimes I will loose a throw here or there, but it will be followed up by ten victories in a row. I think the dice know how to keep the people interest. As I said, the are magical, but there is also a price to be paid.” When Jaru said this, he looked sad.
         Gabriel couldn't help but think of the price she had just paid and the mad monkey man who had just tried to kill her. “You see, whenever I win with these dice, I loose my home.” He looked at her deeply. Since she had seen the dice, she was wrapped by his story and now, she looked in his eyes and both of them felt their own sorrows. “The first time I used them, I won a fortune but because of that, I was run out of town. The game was honest. The people just didn't like loosing. That happened to me again and again whenever I played. I would be run out of town. I thought it was just bad luck until I did an experiment. Once I played a game of Old Man, Old Boat against a cat.” Gabriel laughed at this. Jaru wasn't expecting this but when he heard her soft laugh, he couldn't help but smile as well. “No, really. I played against a cat for this fish dinner. I won. The fish was good. Guess what?”
              “What?” Gabriel asked.
              “The house I was staying in got knocked over that night by a windstorm and again I had to move.”
              “They're cursed.” Gabriel said quietly realizing.
              “Oh no. They're not cursed. I just have to pay for them and they are not cheap. Anymore, I try to keep my gambling to a minimum, at least with these. I'll still bet on a fight or a horse race, but not on these, unless I need to.” Gabriel looked at him amazed. “But we did make a trade. Now you have to tell me your story.”
         Gabriel gulped but she had made a trade. “It started when my parents died.” Gabriel went on to tell exactly what I have told you so far.
                “Can I see the lump of coal?” Jaru asked. Gabriel thought for a second but upon realizing that she had left it with the monkey, she started to grow scared again. “Hold on, hold on. From what you told me the old owl said, you can't loose it. He said you would always have it.” Yes, Gabriel thought. He was right, that is what the owl had said. Reaching into her dress pocket, she was amazed to find a small silk bag and in it, the lump of coal. She took it out and opened it, taking out the lump of coal. Jaru squinted at it in the orange firelight but didn't try to reach for it. “And that's all the magic in the whole world, eh?” Gabriel nodded. “That's what the owl said.” Jaru nodded, letting her know that she could put it away. “Then you had better keep it safe.” 

         She went on with her story for quite some time until they were running low on fire wood. “Hmm. That sounds like a curse.” Said Jaru pursing his lips. “I don't know if there is anything I can do now except to gather more wood and try to keep us both warm.” Jaru once again went off into the woods to gather more wood for the fire but when he heard the howling he knew he had to get back to Gabriel now.   
      “RROOOrrr, Woman! Where is my coal!” Dropping his wood, Jaru ran back to the fire at top speed. When he got there, Gabriel was ready to start running again because she had heard it too. The monkey man beast had followed her and did not sound happy. Dropping to his knees, Jaru folded his hands and said a quick prayer. “What are you doing!?” Screamed Gabriel, now more scared than ever. When she did though, the monkey heard her and they both knew it was coming their way. “Don't run!” Said Jaru. “I have an idea.”

         When they saw the monkey man stomping up to their small camp, Gabriel was petrified. She wanted to cry and run all at once. With dark eyes and an even darker scream, the monkey howled, “Woman, give me the coal!”
         Now, if he had noticed Jaru or not, I don't know, but what I do know is that when the two small bone dice tumbled across the snow in front of him, he certainly noticed them. Stopping and bending over, the monkey picked them up in his hairy hand. “Oh, I'm sorry. I must have dropped my dice.” Slowly, the monkey turned it's head from it's own hand to Jaru. “Um, yes.” He said confidently. “My dice. I dropped them. Ooo Ooo.” If he was picking on the monkey, no one could tell because Gabriel was too afraid and the monkey was too stupid, but the monkey looked back at the small dice in his hand again. “I'll give them back but we have to play a game first.” Jaru just smiled. “Oh, I'm not sure.” The monkey barked at him. “Yes! We Play!” “Alright! We'll play a game. Umm, do you know Old Man, Old Boat?”

         It was then that Gabriel realized just what Jaru had in mind. “Your not a gambling man, are you?” Jaru asked the monkey. “We Play Dice!” It screamed demandingly. “Yes,” Jaru went on, “but what do you have to bet?” The monkey thought for a second. “I bet that I won't kill you!” Jaru was surprised by this but it seemed a good a wager as any. “What you got to bet?” Now this is where the magic really begins. Jaru patted his pockets to see if he had anything that might interest the monkey. Do you know what he found? There in his hip pocket he felt a small lump. It hadn't been there before and he didn't know exactly what it was until he pulled it out. Do you know?
         Reaching his hand into his pocket, he pulled out a small silk bag and in it was a lump of coal. Everyone was surprised. Gabriel felt her own pocket, but it was empty. The monkey saw the bag and knew exactly what it was. “My Coal!” It yelled, snatching for the bag, but Jaru was quick. He snatched his hand back. “Then why was it in my pocket? This is my coal and I'm willing to bet it.”
         Nobody knew how the lump of coal had gotten into his pocket, whether it was magic or prayers, but there it was and the monkey wanted it. Looking at the dice again, “We Bet and We Play!”

         Jaru took a deep breath and walked over to the wood pile and found a board which looked flat enough to play dice on. No one took their eyes of him as he picked up the board and wiped it off. “The game is called Old Man, Old Boat. As you know, when an Old Man dies, he wants to go to heaven, so all of the high numbers will be Old Man.” Jaru looked at the monkey to see if he was following and realized that he was having trouble with rules as basic as this. This might be a difficult game. Glancing over at Gabriel, he realized that she was following his every word, as if her life depended on it, and in a sense, it did. “And when a boat dies, it sinks to the bottom of the sea, so all low numbers are Old Boat. You throw one of the dice. When you see what you've rolled, you call either Old Man or Old Boat. Then I roll. Eight or below is an Old Boat, Nine, we roll again and ten or above is Old Man. Doubles are always high. Old Man. Got it?” He didn't really wait for the monkey to acknowledge because he was pretty sure he hadn't. Setting down the board between them, “All right. Give me a die.”
         The monkey man seemed reluctant to let either of the dice go but realized if he was going to play, he would have to. Gabriel just held her breath. Jaru shook his hand and tossed the die. It came up as one. It was an easy call, Old Boat... or was it? Something was wrong. He didn't know what it was but Jaru had a feeling in his stomach. He looked at Gabriel with a look of suspicion on his face. He could see in her eyes the obvious call. She almost said it to him... Old Boat. He looked at the monkey man who was snarling and just waiting to throw his die. Whatever it was that should make him call Old Boat wasn't there. He thought about it but it just wasn't. “Old Man.” He said slowly. Gabriel gasped and the monkey barked a laugh. “Even I'm not that stupid.” And he threw the other die. One.
         “Haha!” The monkey barked. “Two! Old Boat sinks to the bottom. I kill you!” The monkey didn't need to move to grab his throat. “STOP!” Screamed Gabriel. Never had she sounded so firm or confident. “That's not the rule.”
         For the first time since she had gotten him as a present, the monkey stopped to listen to her. “That's not two. It's a pair of ones. Old man goes to Heaven.” The beast looked down. That is exactly what it was. The monkey's eyes widened in realization and he loosened his grip. “Hmm.” He snuffed. Jaru rubbed his neck. “So, me not die.”
         Taking the lump of coal out of the silk bag, he looked at it while still rubbing his neck. "We needed something to keep us warm anyway.” Jaru flipped the lump of coal into the fire. The monkey man screamed and plunged it's hand into the fire after the lump of coal. Although burnt and screaming in pain, the ape now had the lump of coal.
              “Now I wish you dead!” It yelled in an evil scream.
              “With what? That?” Jaru laughed at the monkey as he reached into the silk purse and pulled out another lump of coal.
         Gabriel's eyes widened as she gasped in surprise. The ape did the same only not as contained. “Give Me!” It yelled.
                “We Bet!” Jaru yelled back, for the first time raising his voice. The monkey froze and then looked down at the dice.
                “We bet.” It said picking up the dice. Jaru looked over at Gabriel.
                “This could be a long game.”

         And it was. All through that night, the beast and Jaru sat calling either Old Man or Old Boat as the dice clattered to the wooden board and after every victory, Jaru simply took the lump of coal he had and threw it into the fire. The monkey man only reached in two or three times to retrieve the lumps of coal he had thrown before he realized that Jaru would always have another and once he won, he would again toss it onto the fire.
         And maybe it was imagination, but with ever piece of coal that he tossed into the fire, the monkey seemed to be shrinking. No, it wasn't imagination. After a full three hours of playing, the monkey had shrunk visibly and seemed to be loosing some of it's courage but the game was still not over.
         The game of Old Man, Old Boat went on for all that night, all the next day and all the next night and as the game went on, the fire, now stoked with a very large heap of coal was burning so brightly and hot that the three of them had to move farther away from it all the time, but still Jaru kept feeding it and ever time he did, the monkeys eyes would flash to the lump of coal wanting to snatch it from the flames.
         When the sun rose on the third day, Gabriel did as well. She hadn't remembered falling asleep through watching the game and the fear within her but when she did arise, what she saw was different than what she had been watching when she had fallen asleep. There, leaning against the large tree which Gabriel had sat down the night before sat Jaru, or at least someone who looked like Jaru, only much much older and next to him, tied with a piece of twine around it's neck was a small and harmless monkey.
         Gabriel, rubbing her eyes in the bright morning light looked at him as if he was a dream. “Jaru?” The old man glanced up at her. “Ah, young Gabriel. How are you this morning?” “I'm fine, I think, but what happened?” Jaru ran his hand over his long beard and looked at his wrinkled hands  as if to let her know the price he had payed for using the dice. “I won.” He said sadly. “I don't understand.” She said trying to remember what had happened the night before.
         “Look.” He said pointing at the fire pit. There, in the stone circle was a heap of coal and ashes near up to her knee. “But I only had one lump of coal?” Said Gabriel confused. “Maybe or maybe not. Maybe every wish that was made turned into a new lump of coal. I can't say I understand it either but every time I reached into the bag, there was another there.” Gabriel thought about this but couldn't make any sense of it. Before she thought for too long, “And this little fellow,” said this old Jaru, scratching the small little monkey's head, “I know him, or at least I know where he's from. I didn't tell you the other part of my story, did I?” Now Gabriel was still scared of the monkey, but this time he seemed much more harmless than the beast which had started playing the game. “The other part?” Old Jaru just smiled.
         “I've traveled all over this world. I've been through jungles and deserts, gambling to make my way but never staying in one place for too long. Now, as I recall, when I was much younger, when I was in the west, I came across an old man who had a monkey on his shoulder. He was a bad man and there was no question about it. He had seen me gamble with my dice and he knew how powerful they were. He wanted them, but instead of asking me for them or making me an honest offer, he poisoned my food and my drink and was going to wait till I was dead and steal them.”
         Gabriel listened with eyes wide and ears open. “As soon as the meal was over, I knew something was wrong. I started to feel sick and figured out what the man with the monkey had planned for me. I did the first thing I could think of. I placed the dice on the table between us and made him a bet for his life. Although he didn't want to bet, when he saw the dice, he couldn't help himself. Again, as every time before, I won and just like that, the fellow passed out dead... and I didn't.” Again Old Jaru looked sad. “But that's not bad. He tried to kill you.”
         Jaru smiled at young Gabriel. “Well, I don't know. From what I have learned, everyone's life is measured out, whether it is ended by old age or poison, we all have a certain amount of time to live and we have to make the best of it.” Jaru's face scrunched up in thought. “I don't know. Maybe I made a good deal, maybe I didn't, but right now I know what I have to do.” Gabriel didn't say anything but  looked at him with a curious look. “I have to go back to the west and return this monkey to where it came from.”
         Standing up slowly, Jaru untied the twine from the tree and, with the little monkey beside him, began walking along the narrow forest road. “Will I ever see you again?” Gabriel called after him. Old Jaru just laughed a little. “No,” He said softly, “but there is something for you over there.” With this, he pointed to the fire pit. Then, turning around, Jaru and his monkey walked into the morning light, Jaru  whistling that same soft, sad song that Gabriel had heard three days ago.
         Gabriel didn't understand. She walked over to the fire pit in the crisp morning air and pick up a stick, wondering if Jaru's stories had been true. Sifting through the ashes, she was about to let the stick fall when something caught her eye. There in the middle of the fire pit, something sparkled. Not knowing what it was, she bent over to pick it up. Although the cinders were still warm, she could reach in without burning herself. What she picked out was something that had been burning at the heart of the fire since the game had begun and even if it had started out as a lump of coal, it was now a beautiful and perfect diamond. Picking it up, she looked at it in the morning sunlight.
         Looking around for Old Jaru, she didn't find him. He was already gone to take the monkey back where it belonged.
         As the story goes, Gabriel never saw or heard from either Jaru or the monkey ever again. Although she was sad, now, instead of a lump of coal, Gabriel had a diamond to remind her of both of them.
         Well, that's the way I heard the story and from what I've seen, ever word of it is true. Oh yes, one other thing. I can't be sure but as I've been told, that diamond held all the magic in the world.         
© Copyright 2007 Jonny Prophet (jonnyprophet at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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