Secrets for Surviving in Fairyland:
Don’t ever relax. Even if you think you have defeated every bad guy that could possibly jump out at you, there is always another one, even worse than the last, just waiting to ruin your life.
When I opened my eyes, sunlight streamed through the leaves above. Out of the corner of my eye I peeked toward where Mara had been the night before. Good. She was still there. And still sound asleep. What a relief. My first goal of the morning was to get her off my shoulder so she wouldn’t be mad when she woke up. It didn’t work so well. She just mumbled in her sleep and grabbed one of the tattered strips of cloth hanging from my shirt. She couldn’t accuse me of not trying.
I really felt sore though. Sleeping in trees is not so good. Especially if your last few days were like mine. My body protested when I blinked. I looked cautiously down to the bottom of the trees. No wolves. At least, not that I could see. Hopefully they got bored and left during the night. Maybe they all went to the Roy Buffet. That was my secret hope anyway.
Carefully, without moving too many muscles, I reached over and gently shook Mara’s shoulder. She stirred and groaned. “Mara,” I whispered. I didn’t have a lot of experience in waking up sleeping maidens. “Mara!” I said again, a little louder.
This time, it worked. “Huh?” she asked, and looked up at me blinking. She still clung to my shirt.
“Rise and shine, princess,” I said with a grin.
She sat up a little bit and looked around in confusion. Then she woke up. “We’re still in the tree?”
“Yup. You tried to fall out, but I stopped you.”
She suddenly realized she was clinging to me, let go, and promptly almost fell again. I caught her and held her until she regained her balance. She looked at me sheepishly. “Did you have to hold me in the tree all night?”
“More or less. You helped some,” I added, glancing at my shoulder, which she grabbed again when she fell.
Her gaze followed mine and she let go suddenly. “Sorry,” she muttered, glancing down.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve never slept in a tree before. Everyone tries to die the first time.”
“Oh, and you have lots of experience with that, do you?”
“You’d be surprised.”
She looked at me incredulously. “I bet I would.” She glanced around the tree. “Do you think the wolves are still down there?”
“I can check,” I said, though I was skeptical that my body would function well enough to swing around the tree. I didn’t feel the need to share that particular factoid.
The girl had no idea what she asked. I gingerly stretched my shoulders. So far, so good. She looked at me expectantly.
Here goes nothing.
I hadn’t tried to move my legs yet, but I somehow managed to get them on the tree branch under me. Then I stood up. That is, I attempted to. It was more like me trying to die this time, and Mara caught me. Well, now we were even.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Mara asked with concern.
“Great,” I managed to get out.
Mara started to laugh. “You look ridiculous!”
“Wish I could watch,” I muttered.
“Do you want me to do it?” she asked uncertainly.
“Nope. I’m great. Just give me a second to get my heart restarted.” I have some pride. I couldn’t let the distressed damsel do my job.
The next time I tried to stand up I was more careful. It worked a little better. I didn’t fall on Mara’s lap, at least. I worked my way around the tree carefully and took a good long look at the ground. After convincing myself I couldn’t see any wolves from the tree, I started to climb down.
“Where are you going?” Mara asked.
“Do you want me to make sure the wolves are gone before we have another mad scramble to get away from them?”
“Then that’s where I’m going.”
She watched tensely while I slid to the ground and walked around the tree.
“Any sign of them?”
“Nothing yet. I’m going to make a big circle in the forest to make sure. Don’t run off.”
After two loops around the tree, I was certain the wolves had given up. “They’re gone,” I called to Mara back at the tree. “Come on down.”
“Are you sure they won’t attack as soon as we are both on the ground?”
“I’m sure,” I said with a laugh that sounded a little like a choke.
She timidly climbed out of the tree, with a little help from me at the bottom. “So now what?” she asked, brushing herself off and fixing her short hair.
“Well,” I said, glancing around the forest. “I suppose we need to find Prince Charming.”
“That would probably be a good start,” she agreed. “How do you propose we do that?”
“We can follow our trail back to the camp, for starters.”
She looked around incredulously. “I don’t even know how to begin. It all looks the same.”
“That’s what you have me for.” I had already found our trail during my circles, and it took us only a couple minutes to get back to our little excuse for a campsite. We hadn’t run nearly as far as I thought in our terror.
The camp was fine, although the horses apparently fled. Their ropes were broken, but there was no sign of blood or horse limbs. I guess the wolves felt too excited about their tasty human-type dinner to spend much time worrying about the gear that could have made a great alternate meal for them. We spent a few minutes checking everything carefully for damage, before I decided it was about time to go find my dearest prince.
I didn’t expect Roy to get very far, especially when I saw how little distance Mara and I managed to cover. Although, we did run into a little trouble with her hair, which would not have been a problem with Roy. He did get farther than us, I must admit. But his trail was very windy and twisted. Who runs like that? I don’t know. Anyway, we finally found him: sitting in a tree sound asleep. Surprise, surprise.
It really isn’t any coincidence that we all spent the night in trees. It truly is the only practical way to escape from a pack of wolves and Roy gets a happy ending so something had to happen for him to survive.
Neither Mara, nor I, particularly wanted to climb another tree to wake him up, so I threw sticks until one hit him on the noggin and jostled him from his sleep. That was a bad idea because the first thing he did was try to die. He did manage to catch himself, however, and get to the ground in a more reasonable fashion.
His hair hung all over the place, his royal tunic was torn, and his face was dirty. Somehow, he still managed to come across as a fop. He swooshed his hair, flinging dirt and several leaves into air and struck a particularly interesting pose. “My lady, you have no idea how I spent the night, in fear for your good life!”
“I’m fine, milord,” she said with a curtsy. She was obviously nervous, waiting for him to see her hair, or rather, lack of it.
He didn’t even notice. “Now we must set off again for the castle, where we will wed!”
That guy really does have a one-track mind. “I have our horses back at the camp. They survived the attack,” I inserted into the conversation.
“Hm, what? Good,” said Roy. “Come, my lady,” he said, and began to lead the way. In the wrong direction.
“Roy,” I said.
He turned around.
“This way.” I began to walk in the correct direction.
Back at the camp, we got together what we could carry and set out on foot. It was beginning to look like we were never going to get back to the castle. Not that I would have had much of a problem with that, but some other people might. I felt my gloomy mood descending again as we trudged. To make up for it, I walked just slightly faster than Roy could do comfortably so he had to trot along to keep up. Which meant Mara also had to trot, but I decided not to feel to guilty about it. I saved her life twice, she could walk fast.
I had decided to take a different, more direct route home to avoid giants and elves and other distractions. I knew we were headed in approximately the correct direction. The hope was that at some point I would see something familiar and everything would be just fine and dandy. Roy didn’t even realize we weren’t going the same way as before. Or maybe he just appreciated the lack of thorns in the road.
There is a thing about my plans though: they tend to get changed.
That day was very uneventful. By nightfall, I was sore, tired, and very, very grumpy. I didn’t have much to say to anybody. It probably didn’t help anything that since we returned to the prince, he had talked constantly to Mara, and therefore I’d had nothing to do all day but stew on how unfair life was.
Nothing happened that night either.
The next morning at breakfast, Roy went out of camp at my bidding to go fetch some water. After a little bit, I realized he hadn’t returned yet and started to get worried. With my luck he was probably long gone getting chased by a bullfrog. The princess was still sleeping, so I walked into the woods the direction he had disappeared to try and track him down.
It was early and a light mist stretched through the low spots in the woods. I followed the prince’s tracks for about a hundred feet. And they were gone. Poof. Vanished. Like Roy sprouted wings, turned into a butterfly and flew off.
I had a bad feeling about this. I glanced around, but there was no sign of Prince Helpless anywhere. I turned on my heel and sprinted back to the camp for the princess. I arrived too late. Where the princess had been sleeping only moments before, there was now only an empty bedroll and no tracks or any sign of her leaving.
This was not good. In fact, this was the epitome of the opposite of good. There was only one thing to do. I certainly couldn’t go home without prince or princess, and whatever had taken them was dangerous, silent, sneaky, and deadly. Anything that can whip two royals out from under my nose without leaving anything to track them by is something I don’t want to take any chances with.
I had one thing to go on. Somehow the princess got out of the camp. There had to be something, some sign of her somewhere. If she woke up, she certainly would have tried to leave something for me. Anything.
Silently and carefully I began to make rings around our camp, each one spiraling further out. After a couple circles I saw something I thought must be from the princess. But it was actually Roy’s trail that I had followed earlier.
Steady man. Don’t lose it now.
It occurred to me that that the forest was dead silent. Now, understand, forests are usually pretty quiet. I assumed this was supposed to be a haunted forest, so it should be a little quiet, but even a haunted forest has the occasional bird call. Or at least a vulture squawking or something. It’s a forest, for the godmother’s sake, there are animals. This one, for some reason, felt a little bit low on wildlife today. Only a couple days before I’d been chased by some wildlife, so I was pretty certain that wasn’t the normal state of things.
I didn’t have to wonder about it for very long, because out of nowhere a tree branch jumped at me, and everything went black.
The sky was moving. Pretty lights glowed in the trees. I was floating. How lovely.
I opened my eyes for real this time. At least, I thought my eyes were open. I tried opening and closing them a couple time and got confused about which was which, because nothing changed. Now I knew I was losing it. I tried to remember how I got wherever I was, but it hurt to think. Either that or my head just hurt anyway, which is more likely because the only thing I could remember was that the jumping tree branch had knocked me out.
I couldn’t move my arm or legs either, and I gradually determined that they were tightly bound. There didn’t seem to be anyone close by and all I could think about was what sort of formidable monster had managed all this.
My hands had fallen asleep. I wondered how long I’d been unconscious, and where in the world were Mara and Roy? Painfully, with every injured, wounded, bruised, and sore muscle in my body (which was most of them) groaning and screaming in pain, I tried to sit up. I lay back down again. Maybe instead I should just take this opportunity to get some rest. Almost immediately, I fell back asleep.
I woke up to a light shining in my eyes and an annoying clicky noise chattering about something. I blinked, trying to get my bearings and see what kind of creature it was that was bothering me without getting my pupils burned out in the process.
It took a minute, but I finally saw what it was that felt the need to shine bright lights in a sleeping man’s eyes. The thing that captured a prince-hero, a princess-D.I.D., and yours truly, the dragon slayer. I couldn’t believe it.
In front of me stood a creature about 6 or 7 inches tall. He had a puffy white beard, a tall red hat, a little turned up red nose, and bright eyes that gleamed at me maliciously. It was a gnome.
I closed my eyes again. This was almost too much to bear.
The thing was trying to talk to me. That was the clicking noises I heard. He clicked disapprovingly and shined the light in my eyes some more.
“What, ok, I’m awake. What do you want?” I glared at the annoying thing.
“Click tick tring ling tick.”
“Why did you capture us?”
“Clickity click tring clicker clack.”
“What are you going to do with us?”
“Gling clack cling clackity click.”
This conversation would be so much more helpful if I spoke gnomish.
A dozen more gnomes appeared. They proceeded to unashamedly pick me up and carry me down a long dark tunnel.
Gnomes aren’t the most well-documented creatures in fairyland. Even Phil doesn’t know anything about them. All I could tell you was that there are thought to be two types: friendly garden gnomes who bless peoples’ flowers and hide under toadstools, and angry forest/mountain/any other kind of gnome that are mildly malicious, insanely fast, seven times stronger than the average human, and like to live in dark caves underground with no contact to the outside world. Those are your basic ho-hum any-hobo-could-tell-you gnome factoids.
The vile little beasties carried me at a rather uncomfortable speed through the dark tunnels about six inches off the ground. All I could see was their pointy red hats bobbing next to me.
After a little bit I could see lights up ahead. The glow on the sides of the cave looked a little bit ominous. It woke me up some. I had a feeling this was about to get interesting.
The tunnel opened up to a huge cave. We were on a ledge looking down on what appeared to be a city. Every inch of it was packed with gnomes. How curious. I wondered what awful deed I had committed, because if anything was certain it was that these gnomes were quite angry. At me, of all things
We stepped on a platform, and it moved down with a grinding sound. The gnomes were deathly silent. Two of them went to my legs and untied them, while two others untied my hands. Apparently I was at least allowed the dignity of facing my death not being carried six inches off the ground.
From my now towering height, I had a pretty good view of the place. There were more gnomes in there than I knew existed in the universe. The gnomes led the way down a neat row spaced exactly wide enough for me to walk in comfort, but not wide enough to give me any room to think about running away. Not that I would have. Remember, each one of these beasties was five times stronger than me.
I walked down the gnome-way feeling a little bit doomed. It was nerve-wracking, but kind of ironic at the same time. To think, after everything I faced and killed and defeated, I would be decimated by gnomes. How humiliating.
The walkway ended at a raised platform that sort of looked like a birdbath, if birds needed stairs. On top of it sat a chair, and in the chair an extra old and wrinkled gnome. His hat was especially tall and especially red, and he wore a long purple coat with stars on it. The chair looked like it was made out of a tree, a miniature sized tree that got leafy and flowery up over his head. It was one of the queerest setups I ever laid eyes on.
The platform the gnome-chief sat on was high enough that he sat about at my shoulders. When I got before him the whole place fell silent. I mean, I thought it was silent before, but that was nothing compared to this. You could have heard a mouse burp.
I waited impatiently for something to happen. The king glared at me, very serious and very angry looking. Imagine an angry gnome glaring at you from a birdbath with a tree in it, and you might understand my situation. Then imagine five trillion more angry gnomes on the ground not moving a hair, and welcome to the dollhouse of horror. This was not a gnome you wanted in your garden, I promise.
I waited for a moment, not wanting to be the one who broke the awful silence. Mister Greater-Gnome finally spoke. At least, I assumed he was speaking. Here is what I heard:
“Clicka clack clack gling linka dong clang clacker click gligingling tong tuga clack’s click cling long ting wonga lack clicka clack clinkg clack click clickity ting clacker ting ticker tack clangaclack click clackity lingding lack ticka tock.”
How enlightening. “Um, what was that?” I asked politely. “I’m afraid I don’t speak gnome.” This could be really, really sad. They were going to kill me, and I would never even know why.
Another gnome appeared in the birdbath, with an important looking gnome-guard carrying a sword on each side. He looked younger; his beard was reddish and very short. His hat looked more like a cap than the witch-hats the rest wore. He had bright red cheeks and his face looked a little less angry.
With great ceremony, and a push from his guard friends, the gnome bowed down to the senior-gnome. Then he looked up at me and surprised me with a wink and a grin. I straightened.
The little gnome started to talk, but it wasn’t in gnomish. In fact, I recognized it as a form of giantish. My giantish is really poor, however. I only know one dialect and I have a terrible accent. I tried the one I knew, and his whole face lit up. He started to talk quickly and lost me instantly. I shook my head.
“Very little,” I said in giantish. The gnome’s face fell.
“What else do you speak?” he asked, very slowly and carefully.
“What do you speak?” I asked cautiously.
He cocked his head to the side. “Animal languages?”
“No!” he made a face.
I forgot. Gnomes hate trolls. “Um,” I tried to think. I was running out of languages. “Elvish or dwarvish?”
That got him excited. “Yes! I’m better at dwarvish, though.”
I immediately switched to dwarvish. “That should work for me!”
“Perfect!” said the gnome, grinning widely. The gnome-guards and the big-lord-gnome scowled and he straightened up. “His Royal Highness, Klikarakatarak Glingcongacongatrik, king of all the high-gnome Ericana people of Katagakkingakka forest commands that you tell us why you have invaded our forest and ruined our most sacred and royal lands.”
That was shocking and unexpected. “I never touched your lands!”
The gnome translated and a collective stir traveled through the crowd. The king clacked something out and the translator turned back to me.
“How can you say such a thing? It was witnessed by several of our goodly Ericana gnomes. You and your malicious companions deliberately sabotaged our most royal and sacred clover crop!”
I stopped and thought for a minute, trying to remember if I’d seen any clover fields in the forest. Nothing came to mind. I started to get angry.
“Your majesty,” I said, looking the king in the face and trying to appear penitent. “We are strangers here. I don’t believe we went near any clover field, but if we did, then I can assure you it was completely unintentional!”
Again, I had to wait for the gnome-translator. The king appeared to be infuriated by my answer. “His royal highness says that you have desecrated our fields, and ruined our crop. You will suffer for this. Leave now. Tomorrow, His majesty will have decided on a suitable punishment for you and your abominable companions.”
This was a serious problem. I was not allowed to answer, instead my captors marched me off, back down the gnome-way, onto the moving platform, and through the tunnels. This time, they let me crawl all on my own instead of carrying me.
They shut me up in a room with a heavy curtain between me and the rest of their little underground universe. They’re smart little chaps. They knew there was no way I would try to escape just to starve to death wandering around in the tunnels. My chances were better with His Grim-ness up there than they were trying to get out of this mess. For once, every plan, every idea, every everything had failed me completely. I had no experience, no knowledge to draw upon. I wondered, with a shiver, if Mara was ok, or if they had dragged her into that mock-court also. I hoped not, no one should have to go through that. With a pang, it came to me that I might not ever see her again.
Life hadn’t completely abandoned me yet, fortunately. I heard a noise outside in the hallway, the curtain moved and I saw a light through the crack. They were coming back for me. That was quick.
To my surprise, when the curtain moved it revealed my little translator gnome, carrying a gnome-sized torch. His face lit up when he saw me and he tucked the curtain back down, with a last peek down from wherever he came. He turned to look at me. “Hello!” he greeted me in dwarvish.
“Hello,” I replied suspiciously.
“I’m Blythe. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Robbie.” He stuck out a doll-sized hand to me, and I took and shook it between two of my fingers.
“How can I help you?” I asked carefully. This encounter befuddled me completely.
He sighed. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
“It’s kind of complicated.”
“I can’t do anything for anyone at the moment, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“See, that’s just it. Neither can I, and I think if we work together we might be able to come up with something.”
“Why don’t you tell me what in the world you are talking about?”
“Thing is, I’m kind of in trouble with the other gnomes. I did,” he paused and thought for a minute. “Let’s just say I did something bad. They are very mad about it. I’ve been under lock and key for weeks. They only let me out because they had no other way to talk to you. But I’m still in trouble. They have been contemplating what to do with me for over a month now, and the only reason they haven’t decided yet is because they can’t come up with anything horrible enough. I’d love to escape, but face it, I’m a gnome. I’d have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and I’d probably get killed or eaten by a troll within a week. None of those are good options either.”
“What in the universe does that have to do with me?”
He grinned. “I was hoping you would ask.”
His face became very serious. “They are outraged with you. The clover fields are incredibly important. Whatever they do to you is going to hurt. Bad. I don’t know who you are, or where you’re going, or anything. But I’m pretty certain you don’t want to die.”
“What is your point exactly?”
“I can get out of the caves. But I have nothing outside of this,” he waved his hand around to the dark walls, “I have no friends, and no protection. I can get you out, if you will take me with you wherever you are going and help me find a place to live. What do you say?”
I looked at him carefully. I’m not big on believing every random creature with a sob story but there was no real reason that I could come up for him to lie. Which meant simply that we had a way out.