Chapter the Seventh
“You’re a very nice lady, Auntie Woezzl, and I should really like to see you get your parasol back, but I cannot see why I should risk my life in mortal combat with a fearful gnord in order to restore it to you.”
“Good point, Grubbley. I daresay you get to the heart of things. But don’t you realize that you are the only one who can help me? Another outsider will not be due in Wolmsley for another seventeen months, and I fear that all the Wood shall be subject to the gnord by then if you do not help me.”
“Then again, Auntie Woezzl, I fear that I shall not be alive seventeen months hence if I should undertake this task.”
“But all the creatures of the Wood are endangered, dear Grubbley. Some have already fallen under the gnord’s evil sway. Fear and jealousy and cruelty are spreading throughout the land. Falsehood and servility have replaced the virtues of the free and honest beasts which once roamed the meadows and thickets of Wolmsley. Help them, Grubbley. You must.”
“If you are telling the truth, Lady Dyrnmantle,” Jonathan began, assuming his most formal and businesslike manner, which had always served him in moments of important decisions and grave peril, “the I most certainly lament the plight of all the Wood’s creatures. Even so, I fear that I lack the necessary build and stamina required of the average conquering hero. Furthermore, I have never possessed the requisite accoutrements for chivalric endeavors such as a fearless charger, a lance, sword, hauberk, and all that.” Jonathan was obviously pulling out all the stops, repeating phrases he had heard of read in stories about knights of old. Then he leveled the final cruel blow to the old woman. “And besides, I have no warrant that what you tell me is true, begging your pardon. Why should I trust you, follow your orders, or fetch you an enchanted orange parasol?”
At that, Auntie Woezzl wrinkled more than usual and began to cry.
“Frightfully sorry to have offended you, Mum, but I must know. And my father taught me to ignore the tears of ladies inasmuch as their value as indicators of either reality or their true feelings is questionable.”
Auntie Woezzl immediately dried her tears with a lacy handkerchief which she had tucked away in a sleeve and assumed a more controlled appearance.
“Perhaps, then, it is time I pointed out that the only way in which you can possibly leave the confines of Wolmsley Wood is to break the enchantment yourself. I suspect you are the kind of young man who prefers not to worry his family over his whereabouts.”
This was pure blackmail but Jonathan had to admit the validity of this final argument. We have hinted before that he was not utterly devoid of wisdom or prudence.
“Very well, then, I’ll go. Please review the map for me.” Which very thing Auntie Woezzl immediately did, also wrapping some biscuits for him in case he should become hungry on his way to the Gardens of Isapher. She also chattered on about Sundry Facts Every Gnord-Fighter Should Know and gave him final bits and pieces of advice, including the strangest observations and instructions on weaponry that Jonathan had ever heard.
When all was in readiness, Auntie Woezzl gave him a gentle shove out the door of her woody home. “Now remember, Grubbley, you cross the stream to your right and follow the path I marked on the map. Good luck, and keep your biscuits dry.”
“Good bye,” the lad replied.
“If only she hadn’t added that last,” thought Jonathan to himself, “this whole affair might have been tolerable. As if I didn’t know to keep my biscuits dry. Does she take me for a child?”
And so, with a mind crowded with many thoughts, Jonathan trudged off into the Wood, turning to the right and crossing the small stream which was marked on the intriguing map of purple ink. Then he climbed a small knoll and began marching bravely through the dark and dreary Wood.
“At least the rain has stopped. Perhaps things aren’t as bad as they seem,” Jonathan reassured himself. Then he thought of the fearful gnord and revised his opinion. Still, he kept on walking.
[So, the river in the chapter heading was only a small stream. “Over the Small Stream and through the Wood” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?]