The Blue Marble

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Children Stories  |  House: Booksie Classic
A gypsy camp leaves mysterious booty for village boys

Submitted: December 02, 2011

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Submitted: December 02, 2011

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It was an ordinary weekday in the village. Older boys disappeared into the woods or helped their fathers shoe horses, mend wagons or cut sheaves in the field. Those too young to leave their mothers, wandered around the yard in long shirts, as was the custom.

Then there was the in-between group, boys who wore their first pair of pants, but were not ready for the heavier work of adults. Nemtor, taller than the others and considered brave, was the undisputed leader of this group. He led them on short forays into the dense forest, waiting until the men and older boys had disappeared into deeper parts of the woods to hunt game. Ruhan, the only boy in that age group who did not have a father, did not like to go scavenging with the others. He went along only when his mother or a relative would chase him out of the house, hoping he would fit into the mold of the ways of the village.

This day he had run into the woods about an hour after the other boys had left. For several days, an itinerant band of minstrels had performed in the village circle during a countywide celebration and slept in the woods overnight before moving to another settlement. The day after they left, Nemtor led the boys, about eight of them, to see if they could glean something from this camp. Often hikers, campers and adventurers, would leave valuables around their abandoned campsites. A bear, a large snake, or any of the many predators, including marauders, would scare them off and they would escape with very little besides their own skins.

"Look," one of the boys shouted, "there." He pointed to a clearing not far from the group where a pile of things lay.

"Don't touch," Nemtor ordered. "Let me handle this." He would always be the first one to check out any booty. This time there were several velvet robes and leather sacks on the ground, surrounding an ashen spot, still warm from the night before.

The other boys, eyes big as saucers, obeyed in silence.

Nemtor broke a dead branch from a nearby tree and carefully lifted one of the robes. Beetles and leeches crawled around, disturbed from their newly found cover. Then Nemtor kneeled by one of the sacks, poking it with the stick and then beating it several times. Nothing moved.

Nemtor was about to loosen the ties of the bag. By this time Ruhan was approaching the group. He had met two of the gypsy boys during the celebration and somehow a bond was formed between them. When Ruhan saw the pile of things the gypsies had left behind, he felt like these boys were violating something and had no business taking for their own.

"Don't touch it," Ruhan yelled. The sound reverberated in the woods. Nemtor fell backward into a thick cover of brown leaves and the other boys laughed nervously.

"Shut up," Nemtor said. "Shut up."

"It's bad luck," Ruhan said, this time more softly. "The gypsies have a bad curse. Don't touch their things."

Nemtor, still smarting from his fall and the boys' laughter, stood up and cracked the branch against a tree, within inches of Ruhan.

He pushed the stick under Ruhan's chin. Ruhan stood unmoved, though the pressure on his gullet made it hard to breathe.

"Come on, Nemtor," one of the other boys said. "Chill out. Let's see what the gypsies left us."

"Yeah," another said. "They steal enough, it's time we got something back."

Ruhan knew better than to pit himself against this group. Nemtor ordered them around and Ruhan feared what they might do if Nemtor got the bright idea to do something really bad, mostly out of spite.

Fishing through the odd looking things, they found that both sacks contained agates, the size of a hazelnut. Some glowed with milky streaks, some with bright swirls of color. No two were alike.

Nemtor took a agate and offered it to one of the boys. "Here, take it if you dare."

The boy, at first hesitant, grabbed the agate with both hands, clutching it uneasily.

Nemtor began distributing the agates to each of the boys. When it was Ruhan's turn, he refused.

"All right," Nemtor said. "If you don't take it, you can have the velvet robe instead."

He looked at the others. "I think we can make sure our friend wears it, right?"

"Gimme that," Ruhan said, and took an agate from Nemtor's hand. Ruhan agreed mostly because he did not want to make trouble for his mother and family. If a fight broke out, the people of the village would quickly hear about it and Ruhan would be made the scapegoat of whatever happened.

"That's better," Nemtor said. Soon all the agates were distributed among the group. Each boy held seven agates. Nemtor stopped distributing them and decided to keep the remaining twelve or thirteen.

"Let's see what we have here," he said. "Open your hands." Against the flesh of the palms of the youngsters, the agates looked amazingly beautiful. Sunbeams danced in the glassy swirls and metallic veins glittered in golden splendor. "Want to trade?" he said to Ruhan, who had a particularly striking blue agate, unlike most of the others.

"No thanks," Ruhan said. This whole business of scavenging was distasteful to him. Trading and bargaining was just as unpleasant to him. Besides, there was something about that blue agate that seemed to feel different in his hands. He felt like the two gypsy boys were sending him energy through it.

"Look," one of the other boys said, "why don't we make a game with these balls? You know, like we do with horseshoes and turtles."

"And flipping corks," another added.

"Yeah," another one agreed. "It's no fair grabbing for no reason. Just 'cause we found these agates, don't mean we can't play fair."

It was easy enough to switch from flipping corks and racing turtles to rolling the little agates on the ground to see who could hit a choice one, then claim it as his.

The game became so popular, families had to sometimes drag the boys off to supper at night. Some got a beating from their impatient fathers.

Ruhan, fearful at first, came to like the smooth feel and beauty of the agates and that blue one was his favorite. He always kept it under his pillow when the other agates were on the little table near his bed. When playing games, none of the other boys had hit it yet, although they often aimed for it.

One night Nemtor heard a noise outside. The local magician was rustling in the bushes to find a night blooming herb for a potion. Nemtor crawled out the window, surprising the magician, who dropped his hat.

"Bad luck, bad luck," the magician muttered. "Thanks to you, young man, these herbs are useless."

"Sorry, old man," Nemtor said. "How about we make a deal?"

"A deal?"

"I give you a magic agate, straight from a gypsy's hoard, and you give me some of that stuff you use to slip through small spaces?"

"A magic agate...from gypsies?" the magician said. "Let me see it."

"No way. You bring me the powder first."

"Here," the magician said, "I've got some right here in my pocket. I was going to use it tonight to get some bat dung in a narrow cave."

Nemtor took an agate from his pocket. It glowed eerily in the moonlight.

The magician quickly sprinkled a small amount of dust on Nemtor's hand. The youngster handed him the agate and each disappeared, one to his rounds, the other to bed.

Early in the morning Nemtor sprinkled the dust into the bag of agates, shaking it so it blended lightly into the glassy surfaces.

When the boys gathered around to play, crouching on a smoothed out patch of ground, Nemtor made sure when it was his turn, to aim a tiny distance from the mark. He continued to lose, to the surprise of the others.

"Hey, did you lose your touch?" one of the boys asked.

"Had a rough night," Nemtor said.

Then it was Ruhan's turn to roll out his agates. Nemtor did not look at the blue one. He took aim and missed a gray mottled one. He felt his fingers tingle, holding the smoothly powdered agate which now felt more like a hot coal, ready to catch into flames. Now he was ready.

The boys felt a tension in the air and Ruhan's stomach churned as his throat, dry and parched, could not swallow what little spittle was on his tongue. He felt like he was about to lose his favorite agate.

Nemtor's agate, a yellow and orange one, rolled slowly, without faltering, dead on. It smacked against the blue agate like two planets colliding.

The boys looked at Ruhan. He stood up, leaving all the agates on the ground, moving away from the circle.

"Hey, where are you going?" one of the boys said. He did not answer.

"Ra, ra, Ruhan," Nemtor yelled. "Ra, ra! All hail the King of Agates."

Then the others joined in. "Spoil sport, spoil sport."

They bowed in mock adulation and several tried to hoist him on their shoulders. He flailed his arms, eyes filling with tears, and broke away, running as fast as he could toward the woods.

"Sore loser," a tall boy shouted. "Go have a good cry, you sissy."

The gypsies had moved to another village about sixty miles away. It was close to a large mountain chain, famous for sheltering ghosts, goblins and all kinds of strange phenomena. As usual, they set up camp by the wooded area nearby.

One night, when the leader of the gypsies, Simon, was raising his hands toward the stars, watching the smoke from the campfire disappear into the darkness, he felt a sharp pain in his chest. He crouched forward.

Several other gypsy men jumped up and put their arms around him.

"No, no," Simon said. "Leave me be."

"What happened?" one of the gypsy men said.

"It's true," Simon said with a faraway look.

The men, women, children, dogs and even the horses, seemed to stand still when Simon said that. They all felt something very important was happening or had already happened.

A brown, thin dog sidled over to Simon and the old man patted him gently.

"You are a happy creature," he said to the dog. "You do not understand what will happen. We gypsies are given to know. All you know is trust and loyalty. You do not know the evil, the evil."

The dog looked up at Simon with large eyes. The gypsies listened carefully. They respected animals, for animals were their helpers and friends. They accepted the gypsies when nobody else would. Telling his prediction to the dog seemed not only natural, but a relief. They did not really want to hear it directly from Simon.

"The blue agate," Simon said. There was no sound from the group. Even the woods were silent. No bird calls, no crickets, no frogs croaking. Nothing.

"It has been attacked. It has been hit by another one - the orange and yellow one."

The two boy gypsies who had befriended Ruhan felt a cold chill.

"It looks like our friend was outnumbered," one of them said.

"I'm sure he tried to protect it," the other said.

"I wonder if he got the robe?" the first boy said. It had been too late to go back to claim the robe or the agates when the gypsies had left that camp. In the bustle of moving, those items had been overlooked.

"Those other kids probably messed with him. He was a lot like us, kind of a gypsy, too," the first boy said.

"A velvet robe to mock, a blue agate smashed by a yellow and orange one," Ruhan's mother said. "He was babbling these things in his sleep." An aunt, sitting across the earthen kitchen floor watching Ruhan's mother knead some dough, listened intently.

"Your son is very disturbed," the aunt said. "Nobody dreams of mocking robes and a blue marble being smashed by a yellow and orange one."

"He has too much time on his hands," Ruhan's mother concluded. "I will sew him a man's pair of trousers and get him out in the fields and woods to work like all the men do. His childhood is over." 


© Copyright 2017 Liilian. All rights reserved.

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