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A long time ago, there was a valley surrounded by grey mountains. In the heart of the wild forest was a deep lake, its silent waters reflecting the green vegetation around it. But the waters were not always quiet. Sometimes the surface was broken and a fish’s tail appeared, its scales shimmering green and silver. It was no fish but the tail of a lakemaid, for in these waters stood a palace that belonged to the lakefolk.

Thousands of years ago, they travelled from the ocean up the river and found this quiet place surrounded by high mountains. In time, the river dried up and the connection to the sea was broken. It did not matter, though, as they had everything they needed. Soon, they forgot all about the endless spaces of the sea because here they had nothing to fear, as the lake was quiet and far away from all the troubles of the world. There were no sharks or other creatures of the deep that might harm them. Sea plants and freshwater corals grew aplenty. Fish, sea snakes, frogs, and newts became their new friends instead of dolphins, whales, and sea turtles.

Above all, they were enchanted by the deep underwater caves they found in the darkest places of the lake. It was a maze of stone structures, and it took them a long time to discover all of them. Every single cave and every tunnel were different. Some of them were filled with water, whereas others were not. The ones that were only half filled with water had shores but no sky or clouds above them.

Complete blackness engulfed the trapped water underneath the earth. However, this was no obstacle for the lakemaids, as they were well versed in the weaving of magic and called upon the moonlight to illuminate the dark places beneath the lake and the mountains. And when the celestial light revealed what was inside the caves, the lakemaids never wanted to leave again.

The walls held frozen rivers of colours petrified in the stone. They have never seen anything like it. There were rivers of pure sunlight, gleaming golden. They were entangled with streams of silver, as if the moon’s light had liquified and poured down into the mountains and found its resting place here.

The lakemaids were most astounded by the drops of colour. They glimmered like light breaking through waves. Some were bright green, like fresh sea grass growing in shallow waters. Others were red and purple, like the sunset, just before the sun kissed the sea. Many more appeared to hold the essence of the sea inside of them. They reflected the magical light of the lakefolk in shades of blue. There were even a few that shone as pure as the moon herself. They were white and sparkled with a translucent radiance the lakefolk had never encountered before. When they touched these petrified colours, they realised that they were similar to the rough surface of the caves but smoother, like shells hiding in sand.

They wondered if they could free them from the brown and grey stone. So, they began to sing. It was a melody of freedom, a song of bright days underneath the sun where the wind could be heard in the branches of the trees standing by the lake, birds, and the flapping of their wings, flying above. They sang about the white peaks of the mountains and how the sun’s light dipped them in golden and rose colours as she descended from the heavens in the evenings.

And they sang about the starlight, glittering far away in the darkness, just as the stones here sparkled inside the hidden kingdom of the mountains. They asked the stones if they were related to the stars, but they did not answer. The lakemaids’ song, however, appeared to make them shine even brighter, so they continued singing.

They decided to sing about their favourite celestial light, the moonlight, the purest and most potent force in the night sky. They praised her clarity and described how her light guided the lakemaids through the darkness at night. During daylight their home shimmered green and blue but at night it transformed into an enchanting space of silver and purple when everything and everyone came to rest and the moon watched over everyone asleep. Then, their palace appeared like an enchanted pearl just beneath the surface.

This image must have ignited something inside the colourful stones. It seemed as if the walls began to weep. The silver and golden streams were not static anymore. They began to flow and came pouring down the walls, touching the surface of the water and turning into droplets of glowing gold and shining silver. The colourful stones began to drop like tears into the water. The moment they broke through the surface, their colours lit up as if they were overjoyed to join the element where the lakemaids lived.

The lakemaids’ songs turned to laughter as they greeted their new friends, caught them as they fell or dove into the blue, and picked them up from the bottom of the cave. They thought that this was strange and concluded that they had to be related to stones rather than shells or anything alive. They would not float on the surface of the water, and some of them, especially the golden and silver ones, were heavier than they thought they would be.

One by one, they carried them outside the cave, swimming with them in circles around the lake, holding them up into the sunlight, feeling them get warmer as the sunrays made them shine even brighter. Now they truly appeared like shards of starlight coming to earth. The lakemaids understood that they were not alive like animals or made of something grander like celestial light, as they had no light of their own. Nevertheless, they responded to magic and light in a way the lakemaids had never seen before. They were singular. They were special.

This made the lakemaids wonder even more about their discovery. All the little stones from the mountain caves were like beautiful riddles to them. Maybe they were the seeds of the mountains themselves, and they needed the music of the lakemaids for them to thrive?

Now, the lakemaids thought about what to do with them. As they seemed to shine brightest in the sun’s light, they decided to place them on the roofs of their underwater homes. They decorated the outside walls and towers of their grand palace with the treasures of the cave.

When the sun disappeared behind the mountains and long shadows crawled over the forest and the lake, the underwater world turned grey and dark, but the stones of the cave continued to shine with unparalleled beauty.

Night came, and so did the moon. The lakemaids could not wait to show their new friends their favourite celestial light, the white orb in the black sky. The moon climbed over the mountains, it wasn’t a full one, but she shone brightly. Something incredible happened. When the silver light touched the stones of the cave, they radiated magic that the lakemaids did not think was possible. Their colours did not shine but began to dance in the dark waters of the lake. They illuminated the palace with a spectrum of colours that transformed and changed with every moment. As if the stones were happy that the moon’s light shone upon them.

Filled with joy, the lakemaids began to dance gracefully among the moon’s light and the colours, with streams of rainbows joining their dancing. Now the lakemaids could truly feel the presence of the stones’ magic. The moon’s light energised them as she always did, however, the magic of the stones flowed through them, ripples, and sparkles of magic the lakemaids have never felt before.

While they danced, in the distance, above the surface, they could hear the wolves howling. The lakemaids have only ever seen them from afar, but never up close. They knew they were creatures of the forest with big yellow eyes, and just like them, they celebrated the moon and her light with singing. They were happy that they celebrated the moon’s light here beneath the surface, unriddling the magic of the stones, and that above the surface, the moonlight was celebrated by the wolves as well.

Weeks passed, the excitement receded, and the lakemaids continued their life underwater as they always have. There was now only one new task. Every now and then they had to clean the stones, as algae, sand, and dirt liked to cover them.

One lakemaid, called Barameya, was very curious, very observant, and always restless. Her fin was gold with a shade of bright green on her shimmering scales. Her eyes gleamed green, as if the thick forest surrounding the lake had gifted her with the colours of trees. Barameya’s skin was light brown like the walls of the underwater caves, and her hair was silver like the moon herself.

While most lakemaids enjoyed the quiet life of the lake, she always wished to explore more. She knew the underwater caves inside and out. If any lakemaid ventured into the caves, they came to her, asking for advice or even wanting her to guide or accompany them through the endless maze of tunnels.

Barameya enjoyed helping her friends and all lakemaids that came to her. But it was always the same, and it was now moons ago that they had discovered the stones in the caves. The only other thing she had explored was that some of the colourful stones preferred deeper and darker waters, whereas others preferred to be closer to the surface. The silver stones shone brighter in the deeper parts of the lake, whereas the golden ones wanted to be as high and as close to the surface, as possible.

After Barameya had experimented and found out about the stones’ preferences, there wasn’t much else to discover. She visited friends and family or gossiped with the fish. She especially enjoyed talking to the newts and frogs in the shallow waters, or, when she felt a little reckless, sitting by the shore of the lake.

She was fascinated by newts and frogs. They were creatures of two worlds. While they were perfectly adapted to life underwater, their limbs were so different from those of mermaids and fish. They did not have tails or fins, except for the newts, but they had both legs and a long tail, which they used to move through the water. Sometimes Barameya was jealous of the frogs and newts. If they wished, they could easily explore the world beyond the lake.  

Watching the green frogs move through the water was something Barameya enjoyed very much. She loved watching their very different swimming skills. She liked to ask them all sorts of questions about life beyond the shores of the lake. The most exciting tales, however, came from the newts, whose cousins, the fire salamanders, visited them on the shores of the lake from time to time. While newts and frogs were usually limited in moving around because their skin must always be wet, the fire salamanders lived far away, inside the forest, beyond the lake and its shores. The fire salamanders preferred cool and moist places too, but lived deep inside the forest.

Some of them even lived close to the mountains, always seeing their giant shadows. They told the most exciting stories about birds in the sky, flying wherever they wanted to, wolves and stags in the forest battling each other, telling tales of the lives of hedgehogs, squirrels, and mice among the roots of the trees or the mysterious cats who never came close to the lake for they hated water above all else.

Barameya listened to every single one of the stories, and afterwards she always asked questions. Most of all, she enjoyed the stories about the wolves. She had seen birds in the sky, flying above the lake’s surface. She had seen squirrels and hedgehogs by the edge of the forest, but she had only ever seen the yellow eyes of the wolves at night and their shadows moving among deeper shadows in the thickness of the vegetation.

It was especially their singing that fascinated her the most. It was so different from the songs of the lakemaids. She was certain they spoke another language, yet it had to be about the same things, as they undoubtedly sang to the moon. Their tunes and melodies were unknown to her. She and some other lakemaids had tried to decipher them when they sang at night, but they could not unriddle their voices. The most peculiar thing Barameya had noticed about them was when they were singing.

The moon’s light and her shape were different every night. Sometimes she was thin and C-shaped like a corroded mussel. But over time, the moon’s shape grew thicker. It was then that the wolves’ songs became louder and more beautiful every night.

Barameya had expected the wolves to sing loudest when the moon had reached her full and complete rounded shape. During the full moon’s night, however, the wolves of the forest remained silent, as if they had disappeared.

One day, Barameya waved at the birds in the sky, signalling them to join her. Some of them responded and landed by the shore. She asked them if they knew of wolves in other parts of the world who did the same thing. The birds told her something that made even less sense. They reported that wolves in all other places sang loudest during a full moon. When the birds first came here, they expected the wolves to sing loud and clear at a full moon as well. But when they remained quiet, they were as surprised as the lakemaid. Besides, they told her, that during the night of the full moon they didn’t even see any wolves in the forest. As if they were gone. Barameya realised that she had found another riddle for her to solve. And this time it wasn’t one she had discovered with the other lakemaids. This one belonged to her, and she decided to solve it by herself.

To be continued…

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