Travis and the Heart of Water
A. A. Gabriel
Tales of dragons
He didn’t remember his parents. He didn’t remember where he came from. The only thing he knew was that his name was Travis. That had been the only thing he could tell the people of Dwr when he had been found stealing plants and secretly living up in a tree on the outskirts of the kingdom. But now, he was fourteen years old and had become loved by all.
His greasy light brown hair, blue eyes and charming face were easily recognizable when he walked around the village overlooked by the prince’s castle. Dwr was the only settlement left in what was once the United Kingdom which had become, like most of the world, in nothing but a deserted land where no living creatures could survive. The only thing that had kept the people of Dwr alive for centuries were the resources that the surrounding area provided since it had been miraculously saved from destruction. Dwr was located right on the slopes of mount Snowdon in what was once the Snowdonia National Park in Wales. But more than two millenniums had left their toll on the environment and the green and habitable area had been reduced to the surroundings of what was left of the Llyn Llydaw Lake to the summit of Snowdon itself.
The Kingdom of Dwr was small and its people feared that water would run out completely before the next winter arrived. Potatoes, rice and other vegetables were cultivated but they demanded a huge amount of water that could only be taken from the two small lakes that were left in the kingdom.
“Medieval times had been much better,” used to tell John, Dwr’s oldest person and the only wise man left. He was eighty-three years old and knew more about the history of the world than anyone else. Kids and grown-ups alike loved to sit around him as he told the glories of centuries past and filled their minds with stories of when the world was a virgin and pristine land where exotic wild animals roamed in huge numbers and people had plenty of food, water and places to explore. Travis was one of those people. It was his favorite thing to be at the old man’s feet and listen to his extraordinary tales, many of them difficult to believe.
“You all know the story, kids. Do you really want me to repeat it?” said John as the village’s boys and girls listened to him patiently and eagerly.
“We do,” said a boy a few years younger than Travis. “Tell us what happened?”
“Alright,” said John moving on the stone he was sitting on as he prepared to fulfill the children’s demands. “It was the year 2500, a little more than two thousand five hundred years ago, humanity had made countless of technologic and scientific advances and discoveries. It was new golden age where the struggles of the past had been solved a long time ago and the world seemed like a true paradise; a heaven where all people and creatures lived long, happy and productive lives. Illnesses were gone, climate change had been stopped and even poverty was a thing of the past. Everyone enjoyed wealth, health and harmony because the countries of the world were led by just people who cared about preserving the human race instead of wiping it out with wars and revolutions. Not a single person would have thought that all that goodness in the world would ever cease to exist. Who could imagine their lives without the comforts and peace that society provided? Who could imagine living in a world were resources and food were limited? Who could imagine having to go to war in order to claim those resources for one’s country? No one could. No one did. The world was a true paradise, a gem in the universe, and it was meant to last forever. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, nothing can stay the same forever without somehow being changed completely or altered in some degree. The mountains erode and become nothing but short hills with the passing of the centuries, children like you grow into strong men and women but will die no matter what, and even the strongest of the stone buildings can be reclaimed by nature if left abandoned for a long time. Humanity’s desire to provide with work, food and shelter to every single human being in the planet had made many governments stop their space missions and ventures. They considered them to be a waste of resources that could be used to improve living conditions on Earth. So, instead of building giant spaceships that would take humans to other parts of the galaxy, cities were improved greatly. And so it happened, humanity stopped focusing on reaching for the stars and instead turned its attention back to what Mother Earth needed, the healing of nature and the nurturing of every human being in it. And since they stopped paying attention to the sky, they didn’t notice what was coming their way until it was too late to do something about it. On Christmas Eve of that year, it was announced to the world that an asteroid three miles in diameter would hit Earth within three days…”
“What’s an asteroid?” interrupted another young boy. He’d raised his small hand up but put it down as soon as the rest of the children turned to him with angry faces because he’d interrupted John’s story that they very much liked to hear.
“An asteroid?” said John looking down at the small and now afraid boy. “An asteroid is a huge rock that falls from the sky.”
“Will another asteroid ever hit Earth again?” asked a girl.
“No,” assured John turning to her. “I don’t think so.”
“Can you finish your story please?” grunted a bigger boy, his arms crossed.
“Yes, of course,” said John looking at the sky as he tried to remember what followed. “The asteroid, which was named Lucifer, fell in the Pacific Ocean and the world was plunged into chaos. The countries declared war on each other as they tried to claim for themselves Earth’s fertile lands. Unfortunately, two other smaller asteroids, Lucifer’s fallen angels, fell and caused even more destruction and death. What followed next was a period of constant wars and fights in every corner of the world, where people did whatever they could to survive. Most countries disappeared, most people died and most of the natural resources of the world were contaminated or consumed in the following centuries. Nuclear plants exploded and polluted river, lakes and oceans. Animals disappeared as they were hunted to extinction or died of starvation. And the general population dropped to levels so low that they could have been categorized as being an endangered species next to all living creatures left in the planet.”
John stopped for a second, delighting himself on the children’s motionless and intrigued faces.
“It was until the year 3000 that things settled a little,” he continued. “There was no people left to send to war, so survivors chose to retreat to remote places and hoped they’d be able to survive still longer. That period, the period we’re living in, is known as the New Middle Ages, where most natural resources have disappeared and where fresh water is the only and most precious thing found and left on Earth.”
Silence took over as John finished his dramatic and known-by-heart story. The passing of adults nearby was the only thing audible and the children waited for John to say something more, something they hadn’t heard before. But when John had been quiet for a minute or so, another boy asked if he could tell them something about the animals that lived in the world before Lucifer had fallen.
“Scary beasts that devoured everything they could like the white shark and the killing whale lived in the oceans and hunted seals,” said John. “There were strange creatures with eight extremities named octopus, able to change its skin color and texture at will. There were beautiful and small fish that were as yellow as the sun or as silvery as the moon, and giant creatures like the blue whale that were as large as the prince’s castle.
Travis turned around to look at the shrinking Llyn Llydaw Lake from the place where he stood next to the silent crowd. Llyn Llydaw Lake had nothing living in it and it was hard to believe that John’s stories were true since no one in the entire kingdom had ever seen such creatures, not even John himself.
“Is that really true?” asked Travis with the sweet and kind voice he was known for.
“Of course it’s true, Travis,” exclaimed John as he carefully stood up to greet the young and curious boy. “That and much more.”
Travis wished he lived in the past. He wished to have a family like all the other kids in town and he wished to do something to take care of the dying land all around him.
“Is there something we have now that the people from the past didn’t have?” asked Travis as he looked up to see the old man’s wise eyes.
Everyone around him started laughing, everyone except John who was looking at him with a kind smile as he prepared to answer Travis’s question.
“Of course, there is,” said the old man while the kids suddenly went silent following his unexpected reply.
“What is it?” asked Travis curiously.
John’s smile became brighter and putting his hand on Travis’s shoulder he turned around to face mount Snowdon and exclaimed proudly and solemnly: “Dragons.”
“Dragons?” said Travis unimpressed.
“Yes, Travis. Dragons,” repeated the old man.
Everyone around John started looking at each other wondering if he had finally gone mad. They all knew that there was a dragon living in the summit of the mountain and John’s mention of dragons caused in them as much excitement as the word cow did in ancient times. If he had said cow instead, everyone would be really interested as nobody knew what a cow was because they had gone extinct shortly after Lucifer’s fall.
“You might not believe it, but dragons only reappeared one hundred years after Lucifer,” said John as he started to share with the kids the story of dragons in the world. “Dragons were just fantasy back then and it was common knowledge that they didn’t exist. But, as you can see now, dragons are pretty real although only a few might be left. We are really lucky that we had been blessed with one as our guardian.”
Travis was really disappointed. He was expecting to hear something more interesting than John’s tales of dragons. Every year, on the summer solstice, all the people in the kingdom would climb up the mountain to offer tribute to Golau, the dragon of Snowdon. Travis didn’t think it was fair because they all had to give up a portion of their food and give it to the dragon. He wasn’t sure why.
“We owe our existence to him,” said John as he continued his story. “Dragons are protectors of the planet and its people. They were awoken by the chaos that the fallen angels caused and, knowing that resources were going to lack, they used their powers to provide humans with as much water as possible.”
“Powers?” interrupted Travis in wonder. He didn’t know dragons had powers.
“Yes, powers. Dragons have powers,” informed John as the kids around approached him to not miss a thing he said. “Dragons can control water. They make rain fall from the heavens and allow us to have plenty of it so we can cultivate food and survive these hard times. It’s thanks to Golau that the people of Dwr have enjoyed this oasis in the middle of the desert all these centuries. He gathered all the fresh water he could and continued doing so until no more was left.”
Travis thought that was an amazing thing. He suddenly wished he had the power to materialize water out of nowhere or being able to turn contaminated water into fresh with a single touch of his hands.
There was a short silence as John watched the mountain thoughtfully. Travis knew what he was thinking, in fact, the whole village knew what was more likely to happen. The two lakes in the kingdom had a pretty slim chance to survive until the next year. They were going to be very lucky if water lasted for at least five more months and they had no idea what they would do if water ceased to exist in the Kingdom of Dwr.
“Look at the sun,” exclaimed John turning around with his usual lively but old face. “It’s time you go back with your parents. I don’t want anyone in the streets once the stars come up. Hurry, you all have to go.”
The kids scattered around the street and headed to their houses eager to have dinner with their families. Travis was less excited. He lived alone in small wooden shack farthest away from the castle.
“Travis, do you have your tribute ready?” asked John as they both walked along the main street. “I can give you something in case you don’t have enough for yourself this year.”
“I have plenty of rice,” responded Travis. “That’s going to be my tribute to Golau.”
“Good,” said the old man and they parted ways to their respective houses while the sky slowly turned darker and darker.
Once in his claustrophobic shack, Travis made sure he had put the tribute’s rice in a separate baggie. Summer solstice was the next morning and the whole village was ready to make the scenic climb up the mountain to meet with Golau once again.
Travis slept on the floor because he had preferred to save trees, make his shack a little stronger and have extra wood to burn when winter came. So there he was alone in the world, Travis, the only boy without parents that had been discovered by the villagers one morning eight years ago stealing a potato plant so he could take care of it and feed from it.
All he wished there, under a couple of thin blankets made from the wool of an extinct animal known as sheep, was that Golau could let him keep the few rice he had been able to produce in the past few months so he could add some weight to his thin body and not starve to death.