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Main > Ecuador folktales > Fairy tale "In Search of the Magic Lake"

In Search of the Magic Lake

FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO near Cuzco, capital of the Incas, there lived a girl named Ampata with her parents and two older brothers. Her family was poor and farmed the land as best they could to serve their emperor, the Sun King.

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.

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