She wondered briefly if this lake belonged to someone, but a short observation of her surroundings told her that the waters were unowned. Silt swirled around her ankles and the sparse algae was free to grab at her. The plants bowed their heads, staring at their own reflections in the water, brown encroaching upon the verdant limbs. The fish had absented this lake long ago; there were no marks upon the ever-changing floor to tell travelers that they had ever been. Only a lone bullfrog presided over the dancing insects skittering about the surface and he did not deign to speak with Calliope.
Taking care to make sure that no one else was around, Calliope slipped the unwieldy clothing and strapped flagon from her body, tucking them into the mud under the water. Then she stepped into the lake. It was both familiar and foreign to her.
A flash of sun broke the canopy of trees and stabbed down onto the lake to reflect into her eyes. She blinked and when she could see again, she found she was looking at her own image. She frowned. It was no match for the image she held in her head and she walked further into to the lake to disrupt and distort it with ripples. She wandered to the middle of the lake and laid down, letting the waters wash over her. Her eyes closed.
Despite her weariness, there was a small firing of nerves at the back of her brain reminding her that the desert was just beyond the edge of the forest. She would have to cross it to achieve her goal and she fretted about the lack of protection for an aquatic creature such as herself. Calliope raised her head to make sure that the flagon of traveling waters hadn’t gone anywhere. Sure enough, it was still in its underwater hiding place, nestled among the uncomfortable clothing she had procured. The sun flitted in between the branches and leaves above, dappling the lake and her body with its light. It wasn’t nearly as warm as it was back home, but she took what little comfort she could take from its fickle attentions. She knew the next leg of her journey would be done without its watchful eyes.
There she drifted, alternately dozing and day-dreaming until the canopy turned orange and pink with the setting of the sun, then violet and gray in the twilight. The air grew colder, but she dipped beneath the surface and warmed herself in the dirty waters. She swam to the edge of the lake, retrieved the flagon and clothing, and washed the mud from them. She struggled to put the wet clothing on her body once more, but she managed it and reveled in the moisture clinging to her skin. She strapped on the flagon and strode in the direction of the desert.
The moon was almost at its zenith by the time her feet touched sand and, in the distance, she could see the goal of her travels: the town of Bedrock. It was not three miles from where she stood. Taking a deep breath, she set off onto the treacherous sand which crumbled and slid beneath her feet. The winds, frustrated by the trees of the forest, had free reign here on the open desert and they took great delight in teasing her. They tugged at her hair and clothing, flung sand into her eyes, and chilled her to the bone. Every step became a fight and Calliope cursed under her breath with each movement forward. The moon reached the highest point of sky and began its descent, silently watching the progress of the lone figure on the sand.
As she reached the midway point, the winds seemed to realize her goal and were loath to let go of such easy prey. They gathered together and crafted a funnel, sucking sand up into the center of it and flinging it about. Calliope saw the approaching sandstorm and let out a scream. She tried to run, but could not gain purchase on the unsympathetic sand. As the storm enveloped her, she fell to the ground, coughing and choking. She shut her mouth and eyes as tightly as she could and crawled forward blindly. The winds, determined to push her back, raged ever harder. The sand bit at her, forcing her to halt and tuck her body tight into itself, striving for protection. She shook in that fetal position while the storm continued to bully and batter her. Beyond the tempest, Calliope thought she heard a tiny voice screaming in fury, but she didn’t dare look.
Suddenly, there was silence.
“Are you okay?”
Calliope kept her eyes firmly shut and didn’t move.
“Please, miss. It’s alright. They’re gone. I’m here to help you.”
A hand gently brushed the sand from her face and tucked an errant strand of hair behind one ear. Calliope very slowly opened her eyes to see a small face peering at her in concern. He looked like a teenage boy. “Who…?” Her voice was raw and ragged. She swallowed and tried again. “Who are you?”
“Yorin,” said the boy. “Do you think you can stand?”
Without answering, Calliope struggled to sit up. Pain lanced through her and she found that the winds’ cruel joke had caused real damage. Her clothing was tattered; her skin torn and bloodied. She felt for her flagon and the first stab of fear raced through her. “My waters!” she exclaimed in horror.
“My traveling waters! They’re gone!” She had no idea how the strapped flagon could have become separated, but the boy nodded sadly.
“My cousins have never been kind to travelers,” he said.
“Your cousins?” The heat in her voice made him back up a few paces and, for the first time, she got a good look at him. He was about the size of her hand, from fingertip to wrist. His hair was a magnificent shock of white and he wore a trim little beard of matching hue. His eyes were the goldenrod of sunrise and his wings – oh, he had wings! – shone iridescent in the soft moonlight. “You’re a fairy!”
“That I am indeed,” he said. “My cousins aren’t really cousins by blood, but we fairies have always called ourselves cousins to the other spirits of air. Unfortunately, the desert zephyrs have developed a taste for the more violent sports.”
“Sports.” Calliope spat the word in disgust. “Is that what that was?”
“To them, yes,” said Yorin. “And we must leave the desert before they come back. They only respected my orders to leave because I told them I have the support of Wilma. They will soon discover that she knows nothing about this.
Wilma. The name reminded her of her goal. Calliope felt anger infuse her and, ignoring the pain, she drew herself up to a standing position. Yorin flew higher so as to keep eye level with her.
Carefully controlling her tone, she asked, “Who is Wilma?”
“Wilma Flintstone is the one who saved us. It is she who makes all of this possible.”
“All of what?” Calliope asked.
“This!” Yorin gestured to the desert, the distant forest, and the town behind him. “She is wonderful.”
Calliope wasn’t so sure of that, but she said nothing. She took a step forward and faltered, throwing an arm out for balance. Yorin caught her and lent support. “You are much stronger than you look.”
“It is Wilma that lends me strength,” said Yorin, fervor shining in his eyes. “Still, we must get you inside the town’s protection. You need a healer.”
With his aid, she started to walk. “Perhaps I can have Wilma heal me,” she suggested as innocently as she could.
“Oh, no, Wilma isn’t a healer,” the fairy corrected her.
“What is she?”
“She’s a wife and mother,” said Yorin.
“Then how did she save you?” Calliope wanted to know.
“She has magic. She keeps us all young and strong.”
Yorin paused and looked at her. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Calliope. Calliope Copais.”
Yorin’s face lit up. “You’re a nymph! A naiad!” Then he paused. “Aren’t you? You look…” He trailed off.
“…old?” Calliope finished for him. “Yes, I’m rather older now, which is why I prefer not to use the n-word.”
“But the lake Copais is in Greece! What are you doing here?”
“I’m on an errand for a friend of mine. She’s the one who gave me the flagon of traveling waters so I could be here. She’s an oceanid so she can’t stray as far from her saltwater as we freshwater creatures can.”
“You seem like a good friend,” said Yorin, “to come all this way for an errand.”
“I suppose,” Calliope tried to shrug off the compliment. She stumbled and Yorin caught her again.
“What’s the errand?” he asked once she had recovered.
“It’s a private matter,” said Calliope as gently as she could. Nevertheless, she could see he was hurt by the dismissal.
“Oh, sure, I understand,” he said, trying to cover up his disappointment. “Well, let’s get you to a healer and then you can accomplish your errand.” He picked up the pace and, left with no choice, Calliope followed suit.
They reached the town of Bedrock as the sun broke from its hiding place and chased the moon out of the sky. Yorin led Calliope past the early risers making their way to work. She was astounded to see monstrous creatures stomping around among the people and fairies, their scaly skin glistening in the morning light. She leapt back as a particularly large one crunched by her, its tail lashing from side to side. “What are those things?”
“Those? Oh, don’t mind them. They’re just the dinosaurs,” said Yorin.
“They’re prehistoric animals,” said Yorin, as if that explained everything.
“What Clio would give to have a look at this,” mused Calliope.
They continued down the wide streets and though a few people glanced their way in curiosity, most of the time, they were ignored. “The healer will be at the Bazaar. He’s always there first thing in the morning,” Yorin told her.
“I’m actually feeling much better,” Calliope lied. “I just need some water.”
Yorin smacked his head. “Of course! We need to go to the center of town. Follow me.” By now, the city proper was rousing and the streets were become much more crowded. He flitted past the lumbering dinosaurs, waved at a friendly group of fairies, and brought her to an open area that reminded her of the agoras in Greece. There, in the middle of all of it, was an enormous stone fountain and she almost ran forward to douse herself in the spray. Yorin noticed her eagerness and made a gesture of invitation.
The first touch of water on her skin was like a salve. She dipped her hands into the waters and watched the weals and cuts of the sand wash away. She caught some water in her cupped hands and drank, soothing her raw throat. When she looked at her reflection, she was startled.
The face peered back at her from within the water was less lined. The skin was firmer, the lips fuller, the eyes brighter. It would be unnoticed by anyone else, but Calliope had spent countless hours in the waters of the Copais studying her own aging with dismay. Disbelieving, she reached out to touch the image and a ripple confirmed that it was no illusion. She gasped.
“That’s the effect of Wilma,” said Yorin.
“She said that, but I never dreamed…” Calliope whispered.
“Who?” he asked.
“No one,” she muttered.
“You mean Tyche?” he asked knowingly.
She felt a chill rush through her. “I never said her name. How do you-?”
“The nereid of fortune is not unknown to us fairies. We have traveled the world. We know all lore,” he bragged. “And I know that you are here for the pearls.”
“Your cousins…you set them upon me, didn’t you?”
Yorin shook his head. “That was their own doing. I was sent to bring you in and bring you to Wilma herself.”
Putting forth a bravery she did not feel, Calliope said, “Well, then take me to her.”
“Are you sure you are feeling alright? You should be fully healed when you meet her.”
“I’m fine,” said Calliope through clenched teeth.
“Very well.” The fairy started off and Calliope had no choice but to follow. The streets wound away from the open plaza. More than once, they had to step out of the way as a pair of humans in a foot-powered car came racing through. Calliope examined those around her. Everyone seemed youthful, happy, and friendly. There was a juvenile quality about the town that bespoke of the deeper magic she had been sent to fetch. Finally, they reached the home of the Flintstones.
Calliope was surprised to see a large man with dark hair sleeping on the doorstep. She moved to wake him, but Yorin cautioned her with a finger to his lips. He flew over the man and knocked out a pattern. The door opened and Calliope got her first look at the evil woman Tyche had told her about.
She was about the same height as the average naiad and she had nymph-like proportions, but that was where the similarities ended. A curled bun of bright red-orange hair sat upon her head, tightly coiffed. Her eyes were dark pools, set deep above a pert nose and pursed lips. She wore a one-shouldered sundress of pure white, deliberately meant to off-set the pearls that bedecked her slender neck.
Calliope eyed those pearls with a hunger unbecoming of a visitor. Wilma caught the expression and nodded, forcing a blush from the naiad. The hostess crooked a finger in beckoning and echoed Yorin’s gesture for silence. Calliope stepped over the sleeping man and entered the lair of the enemy. Wilma closed the door once more and offered them each a seat.
“So, you’re a nymph,” said Wilma.
“I don’t care for that term,” said Calliope stiffly. “When one is middle aged, one should use a different identifier, don’t you think?”
Wilma seemed unperturbed by her guest’s rude response. “What would you prefer?”
“Just Calliope is fine, thank you.”
“Calliope, then. Yorin tells me that you were injured in your journey here,” she said. “Are you feeling alright? Perhaps some water?”
“No, I’m fine. Thank you.”
The coldness in Calliope’s voice seemed to startle Wilma. “Calliope, I am not your enemy.”
“Aren’t you?” Calliope asked.
“Not in the least. On the contrary, I’m here to help you.”
“We both are,” said Yorin.
“Perhaps you’ve noticed your new appearance,” said Wilma. Calliope frowned. She didn’t care for people to comment about her looks. “You are rejuvenating. That’s what these do.” She raised a finger to the pearls about her neck. “Your mere proximity to them is healing your body, giving you back your youth. You can be a nymph once again.”
“I was always a nymph.” The word tasted dirty in her mouth. She tried again. “You are robbing other nymphs of their youth just so you can stay young.”
Wilma sighed. “I don’t do it for me. The town of Bedrock is an ancient town and would age and die if we didn’t have the pearls.”
“And the fairies?” Calliope asked.
“We are a dying race as well,” said Yorin sadly. “The pearls offer us another chance at life.”
“The pearls belong in the Mediterranian with the oceanids,” said Calliope.
Wilma nodded. “That they do. Yet, faced with the extinction of your race, your people, your way of life, what would you choose?”
Calliope was taken aback. She hadn’t thought about it in those terms. Still, she rallied quickly. “I am faced with the extinction of my race. Without our eternal youth, can we really be called nymphs? Can we truly be who we are? You have robbed us of our identity.”
“As you would rob us of existence,” said Wilma.
“It was not yours to take in the first place,” said Calliope.
“It was accidental. I did not know when my husband, Fred, gave me the pearls, what they could do. I did not know they were yours.”
“How did you know I would come for them?” Calliope wanted to know.
“Fairy magic. We knew it was only a matter of time before someone would come looking for them, so we set up certain wards and spells to keep us on alert,” said Yorin.
“So you could kill me,” said Calliope.
“So we could reason with you,” Wilma corrected. “Isn’t there any way for everyone to get what they want? The pearls are extremely powerful.”
“They are of the Mediterranean. It is a powerful sea,” said Calliope. “Wait, if you’re so willing to compromise, why did you not approach us long before this?”
“We have sent people and fairies and dinosaurs before, but they never returned,” Wilma told her.
Calliope thought of the monsters that had appeared in Greece and the violence they had met upon approaching. She was ashamed of her people. “I- I’m afraid we don’t deal very well with visitors.”
“Perhaps it is fortunate that you were met with kindness,” said Wilma, a glint in her dark eyes.
“Perhaps we can work out a compromise,” Calliope conceded. “You say the pearls are powerful. Tyche has told me the same. I suppose we could try splitting them up?” Tyche would not be happy about this, she thought, but no better solutions came to mind. They were already responsible for the death of visitors from Bedrock; she would not condemn the entire town to extinction.
“Split up the pearls?” Yorin cried in alarm.
“It is worth a try,” said Wilma.
“What if it doesn’t work? Will we all age? Will we die?” Yorin asked.
“We are all attempting to live,” Wilma soothed him. “If we can ensure the survival of many peoples at the loss of a little youth, isn’t that better than the death of any?”
Yorin considered. “Very well. But we need means of communication. And we need a second plan. If the pearls are not enough by themselves to sustain a people, we must bring them back together.”
“Then we must move,” said Wilma. “We must join the nymphs in Greece.”
“Why us?” Yorin asked.
With a look at Calliope, Wilma smiled for the first time. “This brave naiad has done what many cannot do; she has wandered far from her home and she was weakened for it. Many would die if they left their homes. We, on the other hand, can travel without danger, as long as we are in the company of the pearls. It would be difficult, yes, but not impossible for us to travel and join the nymphs in their ancestral home. We may even be happier for it, but this would have to be agreed upon by the Grecians.”
“I will take this up with them when I return,” said Calliope, “but if I return with a pearl as a showing of goodwill, I believe they will feel the same as I and welcome you into our home.”
“We are agreed, then,” said Wilma. Yorin nodded.
Calliope was relieved. “We are agreed.”