Chapter the Seventeenth: Pestiferous Drengs
For all its gracious opening, the mystic hedge did not simply open on to broad vistas. The flowered arch gave way to a green tunnel with a continual change in blossoms and leaf forms, light filtering through from above to form a dappled passage. The passage itself twisted and turned, causing our valiants to lose all sense of direction in no time. The occasional call of birds reminded them there was a world outside this tunnel but what kept them in suspense was that the tunnel only opened as they moved forward and it continually closed behind them, cutting off all escape.
Were it not for the beauty of this living passageway, and its variety, the enclosure with a will of its own might have pierced their hearts with dread. As it was, they pondered whether the Gardens wished them well or ill, for they were its captives and there was no way out except by desire of the Gardens themselves. It was not long, as the shift of sunlight measures time, but to this strange trio it seemed a very long time indeed spent in this labyrinth of vegetation. Between the unforeseeable and constantly shifting path and the heady scent of the flowers, compounded by the faint drone of bees still active even this late in the year, the three not only lost their sense of time and space but also any clear idea of who they were and why they were there. All they knew was the need to follow where the Gardens led them, to yield to something ancient, earthy, and irresistible. At length they emerged to find the day much as it was before they entered. Freed of their leafy confines they breathed the open air and came to their ordinary senses. Well, as much as anything in this magical place could be ordinary.
Having entered the Gardens of Isapher at last, our travelers now gained their bearings at the sight of tower above the treetops. They set out at once for the Timnel in the midst of the Gardens but they had not taken ten steps when Scramble shouted, “Look!” They turned and saw the vines reclose and regain their fierce thorns. The passage was gone, nor did it appear likely to reopen. Something about the suddenness of the change made them suspect they would leave the Gardens by the front gates. Or not leave at all, but they did not speak of this.
On they strode past graceful thickets, stately trees, marble fountains, banks of bright flowers in every shape and color. Soon they found the Zymel Stream joining them on their right and they followed it for a ways until they came to a moss-covered wooden bridge. This they purposed to cross, but something lay in their way.
Or rather, many somethings. Or someones. Actually, it was a host of drengs, small rust-colored beasties with large ears like a bat’s and the fangs of vipers. There were hundreds of them on the opposite side of the Zymel, advancing toward the bridge.
“PREPARE TO RETREAT!” Fulsome ordered. But when Jonathan and Scramble turned about they were faced with at least forty drengs closing in behind them. Suddenly the largest dreng across the stream let out a sharp squeal and the hideous creatures all began to charge our hapless heroes.
“RandallSChipmunkawaitsyou,filthyvermin!!!!” Jonathan was surprised to hear Scramble sound so fierce. The little chipmunk bared his own teeth and his eyes seemed to shoot fire. The nearest drengs drew back.
“A Grubbley stands fast!” Jonathan chimed in.
“FEAR THE FULSOME FETCHIT, SPAWN OF SCUM!”
With these fierce recitals the band of three steeled their nerves and invoked their inner berserker. For a moment the drengs hesitated. In that moment, Fulsome wrested a post from the old wooden bridge, which had weakened over the years. Jonathan remembered his pocket knife, which he always carried with him on adventures. (This was against his father’s express command as the knife was an heirloom from his grandfather, but Jonathan always found it comforting and occasionally useful. This was one of those occasions of usefulness.) Jonathan drew his weapon as the drengs charged again, and this time they did not hold back.
Fulsome took eleven of the drooling beasts in the first swing of his post. Jonathan neatly stabbed three our four before one of them bit his leg. “Ruddy bastard!” Jonathan muttered, disobeying another of his father’s dicta, then squashed the filthy creature with his foot.
Scramble’s fangs had already dispatched a number of drengs before any could get their fangs into him, so nimble a warrior he turned out to be. His fury seemed to increase his strength still further. The chipmunk was even observed ushering a few drengs into eternity with a deft karate chop of his hind paw.
It was a magnificent battle, as battles go, the stuff of epics when a century or two has passed and the numbers of the fallen multiplies beyond reason. By then several gods would be invoked as lending their aid to heroic warriors and every weapon would be named and given its own legend. In our case, however, it is awkward to sing of a wooden post, though Fulsome swung it quite forcefully and with mortal effect.
The fetchit bashed skulls like ripe melons. Jonathan exercised a vocabulary unseemly in one of such tender years, but he proved a valiant warrior. As the drengs climbed upon his young person, he cast them off into the stream (it is well known that drengs cannot swim). Once he saw a battle line of them approaching and slew eight of them in one smooth sweep of his pocket knife. All our warriors were now losing blood, but they fought on in a frenzy.
“Help us, Gardens, if you can!” Jonathan cried, remembering where he was. Suddenly the earth burst forth with stickers and burrs. Fulsome’s rubbery feet could withstand them and Jonathan’s feet were shod. The Gardens kindly kept the earth grassy beneath Scramble, no matter how swiftly he darted about. The drengs’ tender feet could not endure this and they began to hop about in pain. Their demise swiftly followed. As the last dreng fell, the travelers crossed the ancient bridge wordlessly.
Upon reaching the other side, Jonathan knelt and apologized to the soil as he wiped his blade clean, like a disciplined warrior. The earth seemed to understand for the grass sprung back still green where he had wiped the blood and fur of drengs. Then the ground rumbled and the soil behind them opened in multiple clefts that swallowed the bodies of the vile little creatures, closing over them again. Where they had lain there sprang thousands of small red star-shaped flowers. The power of evil was weakening.