A Story From: Ecuador
Read Time: ["16 to 20mins"]
For Ages: 5 to 7yrs., 8 to 10yrs.
Alarmed, they learned that the health of the prince, who had been not well since birth, had worsened. The Sun King feared for the very life of his only son.
“Our only hope, sire,” said the court magician, “is for your son to drink the water from the Magic Lake at the end of the earth. That is where the sky dips so low that it touches the lake’s water and charges it with a magical healing power.”
The Sun King announced that whoever could bring him water from the Magic Lake at the end of the earth would be richly rewarded. To the Incan people, gold and jewels were so abundant they had no more value than a barrel of corn; it was land, and the honor of joining the royal Inca family, that was a far greater treasure.
But to Ampata’s two older brothers, it was the opportunity to serve their Sun King that inspired them to beg their parents to allow them to go. “We know we can find the Magic Lake,” they insisted.
“The end of the earth is too far,” said the father, crossing his arms. The mother agreed, adding, “Panthers, boa constrictors, falls from rocky ledges – who knows the dangers that could befall you!”
“But our prince will die without the water from the Magic Lake!” they cried. “We must try!”
Eventually the parents relented, and Ampata’s brothers embarked on the journey. They traveled for months, trekking through endless mountain ranges, each time thinking the mountain they were climbing on must be the very last one on earth and beyond it they would reach the Magic Lake. But this did not happen.
One day, after climbing yet another mountain they had hoped was the last one on earth, only to discover at its summit dozens more peaks in the distance, one of the brothers said, discouraged, “We’re not going to find the Magic Lake.”
“I know,” said the other, panting with exhaustion. “This is hopeless.”
“What should we do?”
“Look, the harvest is coming and our parents need us back at the farm. Let’s take some water from this mountain lake back to the prince. Who knows? We’re far from Cuzco. Maybe the water will help cure him.”
They had their doubts, but scooped the jar full of the mountain lake water, sealed it, and presented it to the Sun King at the castle.
But when the court magician poured their water into his flask, it sizzled and evaporated in a flash. The court magician frowned.
“My magic flask holds only water from the Magic Lake,” said he. “This water is fake. The men are imposters!”
“How dare you try to trick the royal family!” bellowed the Sun King. “Throw them in prison!”
News of the young men’s fate spread throughout the land. Though her brothers languished in jail, Ampata held out hope since at least they were still alive.
“Absolutely not!” said Ampata’s parents, when she pleaded with them to allow her to go in search of the Magic Lake, too. “We’ll have no children left at home,” they said.
But Ampata implored them, saying it was the only way to win her brother’s release from prison. Besides, the Sun King’s poor son was worse than ever and had slipped into a coma. His situation was desperate.
At last her mother gave her a bag of toasted corn and nuts, and a llama to keep her company. Sighing, her parents bid their youngest child farewell.
On Ampata’s first night, she snuggled into the warmth of her llama. But on the second night her sleep was shattered by the cry of a panther. She couldn’t endanger her llama, and so she pointed the way back home for her pet and urged her to go, and quickly. That night, Ampata climbed the trees to spend the night safely out of harm’s way.
The crook of a tree trunk is hardly a comfortable bed, but sleeping in the trees can bring unexpected benefits. The next morning Ampata watched, bemused, a pair of scarlet macaws circling overhead, those noisy, gorgeous deep red parrots with white patches on their faces and splotches of blue and yellow on their wings. While she watched, she chewed some toasted corn and nuts, and when the macaws alighted on the next branch, she spread some treats for them, too.
“Kwahh! Kwahh!” The macaws helped themselves to the treats. “What is a human girl doing in the trees?” Said the other bird, “Kwahh!”
These bright and engaging birds, more intelligent than most people realize, enjoy talking and interacting with others. Ampata told them her story – of the prince’s mysterious sickness, her brothers’ failed attempt to save him, and her determination to find the Magic Lake.
“You will never get there on your own!” said one of the macaws. “Kwahh!” The two birds bobbed their beaks and flew to the edge of the limb.
After a few moments one of them turned to her and said, “We enjoyed your tasty treats! And we know how to help you.”
The macaws rubbed their backs against one another in a kind of dance. After three feathers fell, they picked them up and flew to Ampata.
Said one macaw, setting the feathers in her lap, “These three feathers have magic. Hold them together as a fan. They will take you wherever you want to go, and they will protect you from danger.”
She spread the three feathers and tied the bottom of the fan with a ribbon of wool from her hair. “I can never thank you enough,” she said to the two macaws. Holding the fan before her, she said, “If you please, will you take me to the Magic Lake at the end of the earth?”
As if she were a feather herself, Ampata was lifted far above the trees and whisked to the mountains. Thousands of feet below her, the snow-topped peaks of the Andes Mountains – the world’s longest mountain range – raced by and Ampata nervously clutched her fan. At last, she was lowered ever so gently onto the very last peak, and her feet alighted. There before her sparkled the Magic Lake. Indeed, where the sky touched the water, the water in the Magic Lake fizzed and sparkled. Ampata knew she had reached the end of the earth. She tucked the fan into her braided waistband.
Suddenly from the woods slithered a giant rattlesnake, many times larger than she! Shaking its rattle and flicking its long red tongue, it seemed to fly toward her. Horrified, Ampata snatched the fan up before her face and closed her eyes, knowing that if it did not protect her, she was doomed. A loud clump. She lowered the fan to just above her nose and was amazed to see the giant rattlesnake had collapsed on the ground. The rattle at the end of its tail, teetering, pitched over.
The next moment a huge red scorpion, snapping its sharp front claws, surprised her from behind. It scampered toward her on its many legs so quickly that she barely had time to raise the fan. Though as soon as she did, the sound of its rushing along the ground toward her stopped. The scorpion lay on its back as if asleep; its many legs waved in the air and then settled down to rest.
Carefully stepping around the scorpion and the rattlesnake, Ampata headed to the shore of the Magic Lake. Suddenly a low humming started behind her. Spinning around, she saw what looked like a low, dark cloud. Soon the humming became louder and the dark cloud became bigger and darker. She realized with horror that a swarm of ferocious army ants was about to surround her. Quickly she shot the fan in front of her face, not knowing if the feathers would protect her from so many ants coming from so many different directions. Yet in the next few seconds no ants bit her feet and climbed her legs. Trembling, she peaked through the feathers. The swarm of deadly army ants silently lay around her, dead.
Ampata kept the fan in front of her face while she hurried to the Magic Lake and, with her other hand, dipped the jar into the magic waters. As soon as the jar was filled and sealed shut, she gripped the fan and said, “Right away please, take me to the castle of the Sun King.”
The next moment, she was facing the Sun King’s castle and its walls of huge interlocking cut stone.
When she announced she had brought water from the Magic Lake, the girl was ushered upstairs to the sick prince’s room. Ampata gave her jar to the court magician, a looming man who regarded her suspiciously. But when he poured the water from her jar into his magic flask and it did not sizzle or disappear, he smiled and glanced at her with excitement. He dipped his finger into the flask and let a few droplets fall onto the lips of the pale-faced young prince. The sick man’s lips parted, his tongue flicked out for a moment to taste the water, and then his eyes opened. Everyone in the royal bedroom cheered, and the prince smiled.
“Drink this, Your Highness,” said the court magician, handing him the flask with Ampata’s water from the Magic Lake. The prince took one long gulp and sat up. “I feel better,” he said, and color rushed back to his cheeks.
The Sun King was overjoyed. “You did it!” he exclaimed to Ampata. “You brought back water from the Magic Lake.” She relayed her adventures and the Sun King was impressed. “You may live here and join the royal family,” said he.
“If you please, sir,” said Ampata, “may I ask three favors instead?”
“Of course – whatever you want.”
“First, would you release my two brothers from prison? I’m sure they are sorry for their mistake and would like nothing better than a second chance to serve you again.”
“Consider it done,” said the Sun King. “What else?”
“I’d like to return these three magic feathers to my friends, the scarlet macaws.” Instantly, the fan pried itself free of her waistband, shot upward in the air, quickly spun around and flew out an empty window.
“It looks like that’s taken care of, too,” smiled the Sun King. “What is your third wish?”
“Would you grant my parents large flocks of llama, alpacas and vicunas, and enough land to herd them so they will not be poor in their old age, and so my brothers and I can take care of them?”
“My dear girl, I’ll gladly grant this on one condition – that you promise to visit us often at the castle as our treasured friend, since you choose not to join the Incan royal family at this time.”
As it turns out, years later Ampata joined the royal family after all; from many visits with the prince a close friendship deepened to love. And none were prouder and happier at their royal wedding than Ampata’s parents and two older brothers.
If You Like This Story You Will Love:
Retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.
The Incan empire swept to prominence in a little over a hundred years and controlled 2500 miles of land along the Andes Mountains from Ecuador to Chile. Their wealthy and complex civilization ruled between 5 million and 11 million people. As rapid and widespread as was their rise, the empire collapsed nearly as quickly when Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro swept through their capital city in 1532, kidnapping and killing their leader, sparking a civil war, and introducing smallpox, a killer that decimated much of the population. Though the Incas had no written language and hadn't developed the concept of the wheel, they are known for their remarkable accomplishments in architecture, suspension bridges, an extensive and largely peaceful administration over a vast empire, and a sometimes mysterious coded system of record keeping using complex patterns of knots.
The story describes three siblings of mixed gender - two male and one female. This composition of siblings is rare indeed and worthy of note. In folk literature worldwide and throughout the ages, a story featuring three siblings almost invariably describes three brothers or three sisters.