“Read it again, Davi.” Granpere said again. The fourth time Davi had said only one word of the scripture incorrectly. Reading had always been difficult for him, but he started the scripture again. The words droned on in his head as he read them. A stupid story about a stupid man and his stupid bird with some stupid moral at the end. Davi didn’t care for these lessons, he had read a hundred stupid stories off a hundred stupid scrolls kept in a hundred different holes hidden in Granpere’s Tent.
Granpere had made him read more ever since one day by the oasis. Davi hated fishing, but it was Granpere’s favorite. The wiry old man had so few teeth that fish was the best food for him. The chickens and goats and camel’s the small water village kept were too tough for his chewing, so Granpere liked to fish. Few trees grew out in the desert, but most if any were in the loamy soil near the Endless Oasis. People called it that because if it ever ended, so would the town. It was a name given as a joke at first, but it seemed that no matter how much water the traders took out of it, the levels never went down. Davi had been out on a tree limb when he had had a fish on the line. He remembered hooking the fish and losing his balance on the branch and falling into the water. Then he blacked out and woke up in his home hours later.
Granpere told him he got pulled in and nearly drowned because silly half-witted Davi didn’t let go of the rod. Some fish are just better left in the pond, he had said. Since then Granpere told him stories of old, forced him to read scriptures written on stinky scrolls and began teaching him weird dances and hand motions. The lessons were always early in the morning before most had awakened, and Granpere said never to tell anyone what he did those early mornings, or about the hidden scrolls or the funny dances. He told him only to practice when he knew he was alone and if he ever got caught to say he had heard it from a trader, or learned it from a passerby, but didn’t know what it meant. Granpere became very secretive after that day at the oasis.
Meanwhile, all around him, life continued as usual in Endless Oasis. Herds were still herded, drovers came and went, water sales continued. Davi’s parents were water sellers, and they kept a small stand right at the entrance of town. They could collect great goods being the first sellers to be reached. Davi spent most of his day loading a camel with full water skins and bringing it too and from the oasis to keep the buckets full. It was a lucrative business, water sales, in the Marabi Desert. Smack in the middle was the Endless Oasis.
It was an odd place, Endless Oasis. The center of a huge desert expanse between two great realms, it could be seen from miles off because of the great abnormal mountainous structures that surrounded it. Not mountains in the traditional sense… it looked more like a giant curved rock had been dropped in the middle of the desert. When travelling West to East from Daudria to Padua, the Drover’s road through the desert lead directly to Endless Oasis. The road comes in on a south eastern bearing. The giant rock appears when one is still 30 miles from it. It appears as a little pebble on the horizon and grows to a mountain of immense size. Nestled on the northern edge is a one mile inlet to the center of the rock face wherein lies the town of endless oasis.
For as long as anyone can remember traders, cattle drovers, and water caravans have come and gone on a regular basis. A few small inns and a few small trade shops and corrals for particularly wild animals are all the town really is along with a series of water shops. Endless Oasis remained a small town incapable of expansion for lack of tillable land. The oasis was rich enough for small numbers, but could never support a full city, many traders brought in all sorts of rare goods and animals and traded them regularly for water. Some caravans would trade only water. Some of the great cities like Padua and Daudria Keep had people that would actually pay for water from Endless Oasis. Their water was a luxury in some circles. It had certain taste qualities lacking in other waters. River water was nothing in comparison. The Rich-wits were dying to find something to spend their money on.
All of this an more made Endless Oasis a small village naturally protected by the desert and surrounding mountains from invasion, and Bandits generally stayed away and no authority dare send any troops across the desert.
It was protected by The Drover, Granpere had told Davi that The Drover stopped here on his way to the Forways. That is what kept Endless Oasis safe. The Drover had stopped everywhere, but he liked Endless Oasis best because he had felt hopeless in his drive across the desert with 100 head of cattle and no water in sight. The Drover had prayed to Sol that he might find enough water to supply his herd, and the next day, he had found the Oasis. Granpere said that The Drover blessed the oasis with his kiss when he bent down to drink. Davi always thought it was funnier if The Drover peed in it, and that was his blessing which was why the Oasis never ran out.
Davi slipped up in his reading. “Again, Davi.” Granpere said again, the fifth time. Davi could barely write his name. He had never taken to scrolls and books the way the other kids in the village had. There were precious few out at Endless Oasis, but everybody read them, and everybody knew them all, front to back, by heart. The book of the gods, the scroll of the drover, the Bird and the Samaritan. There were songs about some of them, the mallet and the bird was a favorite of many as it was a call and answer song that children loved to sing along with. The moral of the song was that curiosity killed the cat, or in this case, the bird. Davi had been more a fan of pushing. Pushing just about anything. He grew up a little faster than the other kids so he was a little bigger and awkward in his body, so he liked to push the other kids around. They called him slow and stupid and Doofus Davi, and he pushed them because he was bigger and stronger. Davi didn’t like being mean, but pushing and rolling, and fighting had always been a faster edge of his.
One day, when Davi was 10, he found a straight piece of reed at the Oasis, and he swung it around a few times. It was about three years ago, and the other kids had begun to catch up to him in size. He found the stick, it was about 4 feet long, and he played with it until he snapped it in two on a tree. He had really liked the reed, so he looked into finding more like it and had begun a collection. If people asked what he had them for, he always told them to build something and to mind their own business. Davi did not consider himself smart, but he knew he wasn’t dumb, but just in case, he wanted to be really good at wielding a stick. He would smack them on trees over and over. Some lasted longer than others, but most of them broke after about a hundred whacks. He didn’t know it then, but he began doing some of the crazy dances Granpere had taught him, and danced with the stick as he did them. He’d never needed the stick since he’d started collecting, but if he ever did, he’s be ready to smack someone with it.
Finally, he finished the scripture to perfection. “And the moral of this scripture, Davi?” Granpere asked ever so calmly as though he hadn’t just dealt with an uncooperative 13-year-old half-witted student.
“Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket?” Davi wasn’t sure, he hadn’t really been paying attention, but he knew the gist of the story, the man in the story had found a bird with an injured wing, so the man nursed the bird back to health. The bird was ready to fly again, but had found he liked the man’s kindness greater than the sky, so he feigned that he still could not fly. Out of kindness, the man believed the bird and continued to feed and nurture the bird. Eventually the bird began asking for lavish things spinning tales of how they might help him one day fly again, the most important of which was a nest of gold that would bring him strength, the bird had said. Rather than question the bird, and risk the favor of the gods for throwing out a wounded animal, the man saw to it that every whim of the bird was met. Eventually, the man died for he had spent so much time saving the bird, that he had lost his job and his family and his money. He apologized to the bird before dying in his bed. Seeing that the man was of no more use, the bird got up from his lavish nest of gold which had cost the man his finest horse (a truly important and lengthy part of the scripture), the bird got up from his nest of gold and sought to fly out into the world again. The bird jumps from the window in the story, but has grown fat and weak in the time he only spent hopping around and faking injury has forgotten how to fly, and the bird plummets to the ground where it breaks both of its legs. A passing cat notices the wounded bird and toys with it for a while and eventually eats it.
“Close, by a stretch you are correct,” Granpere nodded, “the story is not about the man, it is about the bird. Do not forget where you come from, Davi. Wherever your wings may take you, do not forget your role. Birds are meant to fly, not to be fed. What are you meant to do?”
Davi didn’t answer. Granpere always ended his lessons with hypo… hypo… testicle questions? Davi couldn’t remember how to say that word. “Thanks Granpere” Davi moaned. There was still time before his parents would filling the satchels with water. Davi rushed to get his sticks and go to the Knoll where he practiced his dances.
As quietly as he could, Davi retrieved his sticks from the hut where his family slumbered. Carefully, he unwrapped the heavy blanket revealing the lighter blanket that covered the sticks and kept them quiet for transit. He kept them under his makeshift cot of reeds and bamboo shoots. Davi thought himself clever picking this spot, a common place for people to keep hidden treasures. Back out the front door he went with a quick glance to either side of the hut’s low entrance. Good, nobody was watching.
Down the path, through some tall grass, under a tree branch, and the last part, he waded through the water to a hidden cove of tall grass and trees. There he began smacking away. One! Two, Three on that bully… Two Three on another foe. Turning quickly spinning here and there twirling the stick. Davi felt strong, limber, fast. He could defeat any enemy with his stick. He closed his eyes and twirled imagining himself knocking a hundred big scary snarkinlings dead with his favorite spin move.
“CRACK!” his stick suddenly hit resistance and fell the floor after it shook his hands from a sudden obstacle. Davi opened his eyes and looked first to his stick on the ground and fell backwards from the tremor of pain up his hands. He shook his hands out, figuring he had just miscalculated and hit one of the trees. He looked to his left where there should have been a tree and saw a similar stick, like his standing straight up and down in the ground, wobbling in the ground as though someone had just placed it there.
“Hey! Who’s there?” Davi grabbed his stick quickly and set it at his side, one hand forward the other resting bent elbow at his waistline. He felt most naturally ready in this position, ready to fight. “Come on… who is there?”
Davi looked left, he looked right, spun around and checked both directions again. There was no evidence of anyone but the stick in the center of the clearing, still wiggling slightly in the ground.
A noise from a tree near the entrance to the clearing. Davi ran over, I’ve got you now, he thought. He stopped and crept around the tree when he heard a thump behind him. He turned and swung, but stopped short as it was just another stick wobbling offensively in the ground. Frustrated now, Davi stomped the ground with fury, then another thump, from around the tree this time. He dexterously hopped around the tree.
A loud thump this time, from right behind him and suddenly Davi’s legs were taken out from under him. He brought his stick up to defend his chest, but there was a similar stick aimed right at the choker of his neck. Davi followed the bamboo reed up nodule after nodule to the hands that held it, wirey veiny hands held the bamboo reed. The arms were equally as veiny and wrinkly. Wrinkly as the man’s face.