Saturday, February 04, 2006

And so we have come to end of our tale

That, my poppets, concludes the Adventures of Jonathan Grubbley. I hope you have enjoyed the retelling of this bedtime story. Oh yes, when all was said and done, this became Gwyn and Stefan's favorite story by Banpa Grubbley and they demanded it often, no matter how many times their mother rolled her eyes and wished her father would not fill their heads with such nonsense.

Perhaps, if I locate the manuscript of the sequel, it will find its way here. For now, that's all, folks!

Addendum: Hermann of Bjupaž

Hermann of Bjupaž came from a rather prestigious line of gnords who inhabited the Bjupaž Mountains that rose above the northwestern coast of the Mithermere. His father’s father, Tredgel the Farflung, had been a famous wanderer, traveling as far as the Northern Wastes and all the coastlands of the Mere. Hermann’s father shared Tredgel’s wanderlust, and thus determined to explore the Easternmost lands, including Wolmsley Wood. It was there that Šriblat Tredgelsson, chief gnord of Bjupaž, met his tragic end at the hands of the men of Isenwild. It seems that Šriblat had decided he preferred ruling Wolmsley to dwelling, even as chief gnord, in Bjupaž, and had thus set out to conquer the Wood. After his defeat, he was to have been ritually eaten but, like all gnords, he proved uncommonly incompatible with the digestive system.

Hermann, a true descendent of these adventurers, made the study of Isen history his specialty as a youth and determined to visit the fabled lands of his ancestors’ journeys. At the tender age of 339 he set out across the Mithermere. As luck would have it, the current ruler of the Isenwild, Lady Isapheria of Chlougheign, was journeying through her tributary lands at the time of his arrival. Hermann launched a one-gnord invasion of the Gardens of Isapher and captured the Great Parasol of the Chlougheigns which had been housed in Timnel Tower. This same parasol was an heirloom of the Chlougheign women, often described as more powerful than the swords wielded and troops led by their husbands, the thanes of Isenwild. Without it, Lady Isapheria was helpless before Hermann’s schemes. By the power of the Great Parasol he quickly subdued the Gardens to his personal command and installed himself as Castellan of the Timnel and Guardian of the Gardens of Isapher. From there his desire for personal control began to spread and infect Wolmsley Wood.

Taken as he was with Isen history, Hermann soon convinced himself that he was the rightful castellan and that the true Lady Isapheria must have perished in the plague ere he rescued the Timnel from neglect. The more he recounted his preferred version of things, the more he believed it, until his embroidered history was recited with complete sincerity. Unfortunately, his delusion was shattered when three strangers from the east managed to enter the enchanted Gardens and recapture the Great Parasol.

The Gardens themselves were ultimately responsible for Hermann’s end, as an enchanted branch wielded somewhat clumsily by a small boy named Jonathan Grubbley transformed itself into a choking vine that brought Hermann’s ambitions to an end. The Gardens did not, however, entirely forget the great love (for it was great, no matter how twisted) that Hermann had borne for their beauty. Around Hermann’s great body there sprang a new species of flower, Gnordica hermannica, with small blossoms the same indigo blue as that of Hermann’s eyes. The delicate blossom was commonly known as “Hermann’s peace.” These memorial blooms continued forever to flourish on the grassy mound that grew over his resting remains, and there only could they be found, until the fall of the Timnel and the wasting of the Gardens fourteen centuries later.

Perhaps the finest tribute paid to the adventurer’s memory was the fixing of his dazzling iridescent wings to the gates of the Gardens of Isapher by the three warriors who had encountered him in his last battle. In years to come they were eventually included with the Great Parasol in the Chlougheign coat of arms, and as memories dimmed the usurper came to be known as a sometime rightful castellan of the Timnel and faithful servant of the Thanes of Isenwild.

Chapter the 27th: The Way Home

After a hearty tea, not quite so homely as the first one Jonathan had experienced with Auntie Woezzl, there were indeed journeys to be made. Scramble had to return to the woods where the Ulban Hills met Zymel Meadow, although he could make his return homeward in the company of Lady Isapheria and Fulsome. These had to continue westward to the Gardens, where, as the travelers informed her Ladyship, the Timnel and its staff awaited her.

Jonathan, of course, had to return home. He was just realizing how long he had been away.

“My parents must be ill with worry over my whereabouts,” he fretted.

“Just leave everything to your Auntie,” the noble lady replied.

“But it’s been days since I left home,” Jonathan countered.

“In Wolmsley and the Isenwild, it has, Grubbley, but not in your land. See, even now the clouds regather to escort you home on the very day you left.”

“I don’t understand, Auntie Woezzl.”

“You needn’t understand, Grubbley. If you had understood, I’m sure you would not have gone to face the enemy on my behalf.”

Before any of the three could protest her use of the term “enemy,” she responded quickly, “Yes, I know Hermann was a likable gnord as ever there was. And he was not all bad. The Timnel had never had a better castellan, and I suppose I could not face him myself because I knew he was such a love. Nevertheless, his designs were ultimately evil, and he would have destroyed all the beauty of which he was so proud had he continued unchecked. It is both a relief and a great sadness that it was the Gardens themselves who had to end his days. I am sure he is please to know that his glorious wings now grace the gates of Isapher.”

“Excuse me, your Ladyship,” Fulsome began. “There is one thing I still do not understand. Why did my family tell me Cluggin would carry me away if I were good?”

“Don’t you see, Sir Fulsome, that you have been good, and I am carrying you away?”


“Quickly now, we must see my champion, Sir Jonathan, off towards his home.”

And so they rose and went outside, where it was beginning to sprinkle.

“I regret that I cannot offer you my yellow bumbershoot to ward off the droplet, Grubbley, but you could never explain it to your parents. Besides, I suspect it will clear soon. Now proceed due south toward the Isa River. The spell is broken, and I am afraid you will soon be out of Wolmsley Wood forever. But it has been good, and we shall always remember you dearly. And don’t forget your rubbers and overcoat.”

Fulsome proffered them and Jonathan dutifully donned them. He then shook Scramble’s paw, hugged the grey, leathery fetchit, kissed his Auntie’s cheek, straightened himself manfully, and set out.

The weather did clear as he walked among the trees and they gradually became more familiar. There was soon no doubt that he was strolling among the trees of the Grubbley orchard. When he came to the soggy back lawn, which just once in his life may have been the Isa River, he ran across the squishy gravel path to the door and entered the house through the kitchen.

“Where have you been, Jonathan,” his nanny inquires as he hurried up the stairs.

“Strolling through the orchard,” he tried to reply casually.

“You really oughtn’t on a day like this,” she reprimanded tersely, but Jonathan was already in his room now. As he looked out the window, he tried to catch a glimpse of Wolmsley Wood, but only saw the same old trees he had always seen.

As for the others: Scramble, Watcher of Wishwood, returned to find a much more receptive Miranda, Fulsome became almost as gracious a castellan as Hermann as he watched over the great castle that became his home, and the wrinkled old lady of Wolmsley Wood ruled wisely and kindly over the Isenwild for many years and was remembered for many more as the loveliest Chlougheign (or is it Cluggin?) of them all.


(“What is that: a Norman ending?” Fulsome protested.)

Chapter the 26th: Back to Wolmsley

This time the travelers followed the Old Road straight through Wishwood. With the Great Parasol they had nothing to fear. There were no lurking phantasms to lure them astray, no illusions of easy answers to keep them from their destiny. The Road also seemed clearer, more plainly marked, and wherever they wandered it seemed to be springtime, much as it had in the Gardens of Isapher. As they journeyed they discussed all that had happened.

“How did you decide Auntie Woezzl was not an imposter?” Scramble asked Jonathan.

“Do you remember how Hermann told us that the Gardens would not allow spies in?”

“Yes, something like that.”

“Well, the Gardens did allow us in, so we could not have been spies for an imposter. If the Gardens trusted us, then our quest could not have been wrong. At least I hoped that was what it meant.”

“Well reasoned, Grubbley,” responded Fulsome.

They soon came to Zymel Meadow, where they paused for brunch. Although they had no provisions this time, they simply stood expectantly while Jonathan held the parasol aloft and Fulsome intoned, “If we have served you worthily, O Woods and Glens, grant that we but have enough to pass in joy and depart with grateful hearts.” It was after this brief invocation that they noticed an apple tree further along the road, and Scramble espied several nut trees. Jonathan gathered wild blackberries down by the stream and Fulsome identified miner’s lettuce and other edible greens. They were soon refreshed and continued their journey.

It was late afternoon when they came to Gwaeron Stream on the other side of the Ulban Hills. Scramble had continued on the journey beyond his home on the edge of Zymel Meadow in order to meet Auntie Woezzl and reassure himself that Jonathan would safely return to his home, although neither he nor Fulsome really wanted to lose their companion.

When they had crossed the stream and ascended the slope which led to Auntie Woezzl’s tree, they were surprised to find no tree at all. Instead there rose “Old Lady Dyrnmantle’s Castle,” hardly like the great Timnel but still a stately chateau with graceful lines an dozens of small towers crowning its heights. At the door stood a strikingly handsome woman in her mid-thirties in a light grey gown with an ample hooded robe of deep blue velvet cast about her shoulders. Her warm smile greeted the threesome as they approached.

“I beg your pardon, Mum,” Jonathan began, but was cut short.

“Is that any way to greet your old Auntie, Grubbley?” the woman demanded.

Jonathan stared at her kindly face in puzzlement.

“My Lady Isapheria,” Fulsome said as he kneeled before the woman.

“Your Ladyship,” followed Scramble.

“Please don’t gape, Grubbley, you’ll catch flies.”

Jonathan finally recognized his Auntie Woezzl behind the reprimand, but he did not kneel. He merely exclaimed, “Oh, Auntie, it is you!”

“Of course it is, Grubbley. Now if you’re done with being surprised, will you kindly finish your mission?”

Jonathan handed her the shocking orange Great Parasol with its golden handle studded with gems.

“Kneel, Grubbley, please. Only this time not for Auntie. Lady Dyrnmantle wishes it.”

Jonathan knelt alongside his companions.

“I dub thee Jonathan of Wolmsley (or Woezzl, as the peasants pronounce it), Champion of the Lady Isapheria, forty-first rightful ruler of the Isenwild; and thee I dub Randall, Knight of Zymelglen and Watcher of Wishwood; and thee, friend fetchit, I dub Fulsome the Faithful, Castellan of the Timnel and Lord Chancellor of the Isenwild. Arise, Sir Knights.”

The three arose solemnly, but Jonathan then rushed forward to hug his Auntie Woezzl (for such would she ever be to her nephew Grubbley).

“Come inside,” she continued. “We must prepare for even more journeys.”

Chapter the 25th: Breaking the Spell

Fulsome and Scramble entered the clearing in time to see Jonathan arise, wipe his cheeks dry, and softly say, “I’m dreadfully sorry, Hermann. I never wanted to see you hurt. Do be at peace.” His companions advanced in silent awe, supposing Jonathan to have dispatched the gnord himself. As they drew closer and could see the vines, now receding from the pallid green hulk, they suspected the truth. Scramble gently stroked the still-shimmering iridescent feathers of Hermann’s wings, a wrinkled look upon his furry brow. Words were unnecessary.

It was then that the Great Parasol in Jonathan’s left hand started to ring, softly, like a distant bell. As its music spread, the fountain began to dance a little higher, the ground felt a little softer, and thousands of deep blue flowers sprung up among the grass. Hermann’s odor vanished and was forgotten, as were the fear and fatigue that had clung to the travelers throughout the long day and night.

“It is time to leave,” Fulsome urged quietly.

“Don’t you think we should honor the noble dead?” Jonathan inquired, using a phrase he had read somewhere and that felt appropriate just then.

Fulsome nodded grimly, motioned for Jonathan to remain still, then took the sword which the gnord had wielded and severed his wings. Jonathan was shocked at this, and Scramble began to protest. Fulsome laid the wings gently and reverently on the grass, then asked Jonathan for the parasol.

Jonathan had not always understood the tall fetchit but he had come to trust him. He handed over the parasol and Fulsome lightly touched Hermann’s bleeding shoulders. As the fetchit had suspected, the wounds healed instantly, leaving the green scales intact. In a final gesture of honor he also touched Hermann’s resting head and said softly, “Peace.” Perhaps they only imagined it, but Hermann’s features did seem to reflect a deep and inexpressible peace. The trio briefly bowed their heads, then turned and left the moonlit clearing.

Jonathan again bore the enchanted parasol, Fulsome the shining pinions of their erstwhile foe, and Scramble clutched a bunch of the blue flowers in his paw, occasionally wiping his nose with the other.

Rather than untangle the winding ways of the maze, Jonathan merely raised the Great Parasol before them and the hedges parted. Slowly they proceeded through the Gardens, somehow knowing which direction they should take. As they neared the bridge of Drengford, a footman from the Timnel came running toward them.

“Tell our Lady that the Timnel will await her,” he panted.

The three nodded gravely and the servant bowed, then returned to the castle. The moonlit procession continued silently toward the gate of the Gardens. As it passed, blossoms usually closed by night now opened and cast their perfumes into the warm breeze that began to stir. The song of a nightingale threaded its way among the trees of the Gardens, mingling with the music of the waters that splashed in fountains and tumbled in the brooks.

The moon was setting and the air grew still as the adventurers reached the gate. At their approach the fierce rosebush that had once resisted them now receded until only the neatly trimmed bushes they had first seen now flanked the ironwork gate. Jonathan stepped forward, opened the gate, and waited for his companions to pass through. He reclosed it and stepped aside, having guessed Fulsome’s intent. The fetchit approached one of the gilded parasols that blazoned either half of the gate, raised one of the gnordic wings to its place, then nodded to Jonathan. The boy raised the Great Parasol to touch the wing and said, “With permission of the Great Parasol of the Chlougheigns and of the Gardens, we honor the fallen castellan.”

Indeed, the Great Parasol and Gardens did permit, for the wing was forever affixed to the gate. Its partner was likewise positioned and the trio stepped back to behold the new symbol at the gates of Isapher. It was then that the sun rose behind the three, bringing the dazzling feathers to life. They glowed in a myriad subtle hues and somehow Fulsome no longer cared that the gates were labeled in French. Scramble laid the small flowers he had been carrying, and now proved to be of the same indigo hue as Hermann’s eyes, before the gates. With that, the pilgrims began their journey homeward.

Chapter the 24th: The Great Battle


Jonathan grabbed the parasol and felt his body tingle when he held it. But there was nowhere to flee.

Scramble not only retained his supper this time, he ran forward and bit the gnord’s second right foot.

“Flames of Phera!” the gnord swore, then moved his other feet before the chipmunk could attack them.

“THE WINDOW!” Fulsome cried as he prepared to swing the candelabrum in such a manner as to alter the features of Hermann’s countenance. But when the gnord saw Jonathan open the parasol and leap out the window, he swiftly withdrew from the room and headed down the stairs, leaving Fulsome to wrench his arm during the follow through of this heroic onslaught.

Jonathan, meanwhile, was pleasantly surprised to notice that the parasol not only allowed him to float gently to the second-story battlements but also seemed to pulsate with some barely perceptible rhythm that made him feel very good even in the midst of mortal danger. Having descended safely thus far, Jonathan decided to continue on this airy lift to the ground floor, so he leapt off the battlements and drifted toward the main entrance of the Timnel, leaving the Tower heights far above him.

Hermann, seeking to cut Jonathan off while he was still on the battlements, rushed out, a torch in one paw and a glistening sword in the other. The torch was really superfluous, since the almost full moon was shining brightly that night. But Jonathan did not like the look of the moonlight flashing off the sword blade as the gnord roared from above, “How dare you touch the Great Parasol! To think, a guest at my own table would be in league with the Witch of the Wood!! Traitor! Villain! Bloody fool, prepare to meet your doom!”

Jonathan prepared nothing of the sort, but began running as fast as his young legs could carry him. Unfortunately, the winding paths of the Gardens soon had him confused. He could hear the gnord gaining behind him, using the foulest language Jonathan had ever heard and smelling even worse than usual. There was, however, no time for losing one’s supper. Jonathan began to wonder whether Fulsome and Scramble, whom he had left behind in his great leap, were all right or had met some terrible fate, but he soon heard their voices behind Hermann’s, shouting encouragement.

It was then that Jonathan made a wrong turn. He had entered the living maze of hedges. He has seen it earlier that day from the top of the Tower, but he knew only that if you took the right path it led to a small central court with a fountain. Jonathan hesitated when he considered his recent experience with living hedges. Then again, he had little choice, though he did not know the right path and Hermann probably did. So the boy plunged into the leafy puzzle and dashed about aimlessly as the gnord pursued him in the night. Before long, Jonathan made a sharp left turn only to face a dead end. Clutching the parasol in his hands, he waved it in a gesture of despair. At that moment the hedge opened before the parasol. Jonathan dashed through and the hedge reclosed. Even with the assistance of enchantments, he could not keep up this desperate flight. When he finally made it through the maze to the central court, he saw Hermann enter on the opposite side, his indigo eyes flashing with crimson fire.

“Give me the parasol and I will spare your worthless the life,” the beast commanded, sword raised in the air.

“I shall not betray my Auntie Woezzl!” Jonathan replied staunchly.

“Your Auntie, is she? Well, tell the Witch to wear black, for she is about to mourn her favorite nephew.” With that, Hermann advanced around the fountain.

Jonathan kept moving so the fountain would always like between him and the gnord. Hermann soon tired of this game, flapped his great dazzling wings, and leapt across the fountain toward the boy. Jonathan was face to face with the monster now, his back against the hedge. He waved the parasol but nothing happened and Hermann snatched for it as he did so but did not succeed. Jonathan racked his brain for some desperate strategy which might enable him to escape.

It was then that he recalled one of the many nonsensical pieces of miscellaneous advice Auntie Woezzl had given him about this quest. “First at hand to make a stand,” she had said. It never made the slightest sense, but Jonathan knew the time had come to make a stand. But what was “first at hand?” There were only the hedge, the fountain, the moonlight, himself, the gnord, the torch, sword, parasol, and lawn. And a broken branch lay on the ground. Jonathan was afraid to use the parasol as a weapon and he had no time to fumble in his pocket for his small pocket knife. He quickly stooped and grabbed the branch, swinging it as the gnord’s belly as he came back up. To Jonathan’s astonishment and the gnord’s dismay, the branch came alive and grew into a stout cudgel with a fierce motion of its own. As it struck the scaly green belly of the beast, Hermann became aware of a dull pain interrupting the warm fuzzy feeling the wine had given him earlier.

“OW!” the gnord yelped, “that hurt!”

It was then that Jonathan remembered that Auntie Woezzl had also said that gnords are great cowards.

Not cowardly enough, however. Hermann raised his sword and prepared to deliver a most-probably-lethal blow to Jonathan’s young frame. Jonathan summoned all his might and countered with his cudgel, fearing that it would split under the blow. Indeed, it might have done had it remained a mere cudgel. It was already changing again, this time into a great vine, inserting itself into the earth on one end and reaching toward Hermann with the other. The vine not only absorbed the sword blow, it continued to grow in several directions until it surrounded the gnord’s great body. Tendrils tightened about him, as if to hold him fast, but as the plant rooted itself more firmly into the soil its vines closed tighter until the gnord ceased his struggles. “No!” cried Jonathan, as the light in Hermann’s eyes and the sheen of his scales both dulled. Jonathan doused the fallen torch in the fountain lest a fire damage the Gardens then returned to look aghast at the huge mass lying still in the moonlight.

The boy looked into Hermann’s face and remembered the hours they had spent together in the Timnel, the look of delight which graced his features when ushering them into another room, the pride he showed when recounting the history of the many thanes of Isenwild. Tears trickled down Jonathan’s cheeks as he leaned forward and respectfully closed Hermann’s eyes. “Be at peace,” he mumbled, then sat on the ground beside the corpse silently mourning the first creature he had even seen die.

Chapter the 23rd: Soup, Stealth, and Surprises

The large dining hall was hardly appropriate for serving four, so Hermann and the trio dined in one of the salons. The gold plate, reserved for state occasions and holidays, was deemed by Hermann as too flashy for a quiet meal, even if these were his first true guests in heaven knows how long, so they used the Chlougheign silver, the goldenrod pattern china, and crystal engraved with the Chlougheign crest. Vases and candelabra, in this case, were very simple. The serving men and maids wore smart uniforms with starched jackets and dresses of a very pale yellow, matching the table linen, trimmed in silver. Fresh flowers from the Gardens brightened the room and, by their masking scent, enabled our travelers to eat.

Supper began with a balanced Vichyssoise, followed by trout amandine accompanied by a delightful white wine from the Pelješac Peninsula. As the table was cleared for the main course, the four discussed the planning of the Gardens, expressing unanimous admiration for the designs of Hymon, landscape gardener to Raunchpot the Sensitive.

All three of the adventurers gasped when the serving men brought in, on large silver platters, a stunning rack of lamb en couronne, beef Wellington, eels in aspic, jellied pork, and veal stuffed with pâté. The serving maids followed swiftly with pommes de terre dauphiné, glazed carrots, haricots verts smothered in buttered chanterelles, and courgettes Olinda. Even Fulsome forgot all his judgments on ostentation and marveled when the sommelier brought in the Chateau Lafitte Rothschild ’59. “I don’t care if I get gout from one meal,” he thought to himself, “this is the way to go.” Hermann tasted the wine, nodded his obviously proud approval, and all glasses were filled. And refilled. And refilled. Or at least Hermann’s was. Our threesome encouraged him in his story-telling and he loved nothing better than to recount the lives of all the thanes of Isenwild. He also appreciated a good wine and the Timnel seemed to have no shortage in its cellars. so they sipped slowly but appreciatively while encouraging Hermann to have more.

By the time they got to the pears, berries, dates, filberts, and cheeses, Hermann was already confusing Aljighad the Sickly, thirty-second thane, with Athlat the Swift, cousin of Mirkesl VI (the Leprous) and ultimately twenty-ninth thane of Isenwild. Jonathan almost laughed, though he could not keep track of any of them, but a sharp frown from Fulsome stifled all frivolity. Scramble offered yet another toast to Thumnet the Ambitious, whose memory Hermann was ever ready to honor with yet another drained glass, and when the rum cakes and coffee finally arrived, the gnord could barely keep his head erect. It was the second sip of home-distilled Isapherian brandy, however, that finally did the trick. By now the servants had cleared the table, lit a fire in the fireplace, and left the four diners alone to chat. Our trio grinned silently as Hermann’s head gently settled on the table.

When they were certain he was irrevocably lost to the realms of consciousness, Jonathan arose from his seat, advanced stealthily, and carefully, ever so carefully, unclasped the silver chain about the gnord’s neck and lifted it and the key from his body. Scramble and Fulsome sighed softly in unison as the key was safely and successfully removed. The chipmunk then darted out into the hallway to ascertain whether any guards or servants awaited them. Seeing none, he motioned for Jonathan and the fetchit to follow him toward the Tower.

Fulsome brought with him a triple candelabrum so they could see their way and everything seemed somehow altered by the candlelight as shadows flickered on the walls and floor. Quietly and cautiously the trio made their way up the stairs until they found themselves before the bolted door. Jonathan’s heart skipped a beat as he reached up to fit the key into the lock. To no one’s surprise and everyone’s relief, the key slowly turned in the lock, and in a trice they had the door unbolted. The door swung open without the usual squeak that makes moments such as these so tense, and Fulsome, with the candelabrum, entered first.

He quickly lit the tall candles in the iron wall sconces as the other two entered. As the candlelight in the small room grew brighter, all three focused their vision on one object. There, in the center of the room, supported by a rough stone pedestal and resting on a white velvet cushion, was the shocking orange parasol. It almost glowed in the pale light, and emeralds set in its golden handle sparkled. How such an object could break spells, Jonathan did not know, though it seemed to cast one on them all. They all knew it was important, since it was kept under lock and key, the sole object in the dusty tower room. The dust was thick enough, in fact, that Scramble almost sneezed, much to the alarm of both Fulsome and Jonathan, but he finally controlled the frustrating tensions at war in his nose.

“God bless you, nonetheless,” Hermann said as he stood in the doorway.

Chapter the Twenty-second: The Decision

At the second mention of Lady Isapheria, Jonathan suddenly remembered it as one of Auntie Woezzl’s names. Could she be the same Lady Isapheria of whom Hermann spoke? He cast a puzzled look toward Fulsome and Scramble. It was Fulsome who summoned the courage to inquire.

“That is most unfortunate. Died of the plague, you say? Pity. Yet I seem to recall having met a blue jay in the Ulban Hills who made mention of an Isapheria who dwelt in Wolmsley Wood on the other side of Gwaeron Stream. There is surely no relation between the two…?”

Fulsome’s cautious suggestion brought a sudden and frightening change to the gnord’s countenance. Indeed, one could fairly consider him a fearsome gnord in spite of his hospitality.

“The Pretender!” he raged. “Yes, there is a relationship. Some woman from the Southlands, probably descended from the Figshevels, no less, has taken residence in the Wood, where she claims to be the late Lady Isapheria. She wins the confidence of the woodland creatures and prepares for the day when she can take over the Timnel and the Gardens for herself. I alone stand against her evil plots, preserving the Tower and keeping watch over the Gardens until a true thane of Isenwild should return. If the enchantments of the Gardens did not guard us against her spies, we should have been overrun long ago.

“But oh, my friends, the cruelest part is this, that she should dare to imitate my Lady.” At that, the gnord shed a large tear. Even Fulsome was moved by Hermann this time.

“Now, you must be weary of your travels and I have taken advantage of your kind attention on our tour. Come, let us nap before supper.” Hermann led them back down the stairs of the Tower to the second floor. As they passed the locked door, Jonathan noticed that the gnord stole a quick, nervous glance at it. The four finally approached a double door flanked by matching suits of armor. Hermann opened it, then bowed the trio into the room, saying, “These shall be your quarters during your visit with us. If you need anything further, I will be in the room at the end of the hall. Supper will be at eight o’clock.” With that the gnord retired and left the three to settle in to their lodgings.

They found themselves in a connecting suite of four rooms, with Persian rugs scattered about to cut the chill of the stone floors. The curtains and bedspreads were of an olive green brocade, as were the seats and backs of the chairs. The Gorcester arms, a pig rampant surrounded by five sets of crossed cudgels, was embroidered in gold threat in the center of the bedspreads and the back cushions of the chairs. In the corner or each bedroom was a table with porcelain basin and pitcher for ablutions and neatly laid pale green towels. Large mirrors provided not only utility but the illusion that the rooms were larger than they were. Long wooden chests at either end of the central room were covered with sheepskins, dyed a muted yellow, and these invited lounging. Such lodgings were fit for aristocrats and our heroes, grateful as they were for a place to rest, found themselves a bit intimidated by it all.

“Do you suppose he’s telling the truth?” Scramble asked, launching the topic on each one’s mind.

“I just don’t know,” Jonathan sighed wearily. “Everything seems so confused right now.”

“Do you think the parasol is in that room?” Fulsome queried.

“Something is. I’m certain of that. Something Hermann wants kept there.”

“Then maybe we should find out.”

“But I don’t want to hurt him. He’s really such a decent chap.”

“If we can take the parasol without an encounter, so much the better. But if not, I’m afraid we may have to.” Fulsome’s realism did not make Jonathan feel any better.

“Before he hurts us,” Scramble added.

“Provided we have agreed to take the world of your Auntie Woezzl, Grubbley.”

There was a long silence as all three adventurers stared down at the carpet, seemingly lost in its intricate patterns.

“I suppose we must,” Jonathan said at last. “Else, I do not know how I shall ever break the enchantment of the Wood and return home.”

The others nodded slowly.

And so they planned and plotted much and rested little until suppertime.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Chapter the Twenty-first: The Locked Door

Their first stop on the next floor was the Great Hall. Hermann opened the heavy oaken doors, brushed aside the red velvet curtains, and bowed our touring trio into the Hall.

“Thumnet’s chef d’oeuvre, Gentlemen, the Great Hall. You will notice the careful balance between the windows, the pillars, and the movable pieces. See how the rich blues in the window borders are picked up by the blue-veined marble of the free-standing pedestals which support the great candelabra.”

For all his practice in sums, Jonathan could not begin to count the candles which surmounted the gold candelabra that lined the entire room.

“The red of the throne canopy also helps unite the ensemble as it is repeated in the curtains at each entrance and in the seals of Gorcester and Chlougheign which alternate in the lancets of the forty-two upper windows. The throne itself dates back to the coronation of Mirksel the Unconquerable, second thane of the Isenwild. You can see the primitive geometric patterns in its carving which reflect the early periods of Isen artistry. Thumnet the Ambitious had it moved from the old homestead three miles north of the Gardens when he had the Timnel built. But you’re probably waiting for the Timnel Tower itself.”

“Oh yes,” Scramble enthused. Hermann did not notice the chipmunk’s sarcastic edge.

“Right this way, please.”

They only stopped to see the first two residences on that floor. “The rest,” Hermann explained, “are similar, although done in other colors and motifs inspired by the Gardens themselves.” Upon reaching the end of the long hallway, they came to another set of stairs which spiraled up to the great Timnel which loaned its name to the entire structure. As they passed one of the narrow windows in the staircase, Hermann pointed out the foundation stones of the eighth-century pigshed which lay behind the main buildings and was preserved in honor of Bokbashi the Pigkeeper, legendary founder of the ruling house of Isenwild, who defended the shed from the Figshevels of the South, then avenged their unwarranted attack by gathering a small band of woodsmen and herders, then conquering all twenty Figshevel villages, thus establishing the realm of the Isenwild.

After the third seemingly endless flight of winding steps, the foursome paused to rest upon a landing opposite a heavy wooden door, reinforced with iron bands, bolted and secured with an impressive lock. This was the first room they had seen in the entire castle that was locked and bolted. Jonathan decided that a touring visitor had every reason to ask questions about a building, so he assumed his curious-little-boy voice and addressed the gnord.

“What’s in that room, pray?”

Hermann raised one of his impressive green brows, stopped fingering the key about his neck (as he had been doing mindlessly until Jonathan’s question), and replied evenly, “Oh, nothing really. It’s just an old storage room full of dusty artifacts which we haven’t gotten around to sorting.” No matter how casually Hermann put this, his tour guide’s voice had briefly vanished and Jonathan decided this might be the place he would have to visit before the day was over.

They resumed their ascent, finally gaining access to the viewing balcony which surrounded the spire of the Timnel. The sight was breathtaking. From this vantage point they could see the Gardens of Isapher in every direction, the vast Wolmsley Wood to the east, with mountains rising behind it, and the shining Mithermere to the west. The enchanted flowers, it seemed, were always in bloom and autumn seemed not to have blighted the vernal freshness of the Gardens. Even Hermann was finally silent, knowing that words could not add to the beauty and magic of the moment.

(“Thank goodness,” thought Fulsome. “If I have to hear one more word about Thumnet Thingummy, I may leap to my death just for the peace and quiet.”)

“And there you have it, Gentlemen. Timnel Tower, pride of all the thanes of Isenwild. If you lean on the parapets and look up, you can just see the golden needle of the tower roof above you. Careful, friends, you don’t want to lean too far. Stunning, isn’t it? Of course, there is so much more to see and talk about. Plans had been made for expanding the north wing and renovating the chapel. Alas, they were cut short when the plague struck two years ago, and Lady Isapheria met her sudden and tragic end, leaving no heir.”

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Chapter the Twentieth: Touring the Timnel

With Hermann out of the room, the three travelers began to discuss their plight.

“What if the tea is poisoned?” Scramble asked.

“I don’t think the gnord would try anything so gauche. He obviously has too much class to attempt a simple poisoning,” Jonathan ventured.

“A Norman would try anything,” Fulsome countered, “and I wouldn’t put too much trust in fancy airs if I were you.”

“But gnords aren’t Norman, Fulsome. They’re just gnords.”

“You never know, Grubbley. He certainly looks like the product of intermarriage of some sort.” Fulsome seemed unable to let go of his xenophobia, so they dropped that line of discourse.

“Well, if he isn’t going to kill us right away, do you think he will at all?” Scramble wondered. “I mean, he does reek something awful but beyond that he does seem a decent sort.”

“Now that you mention it,” Jonathan added, “he doesn’t seem fearsome at all. Do you suppose Auntie Woezzl may have exaggerated a bit?”

“Well,” the fetchit began, “she didn’t have a very good reputation among my people. And if she has anything to do with this place, she might not only be a witch but even a Norman herself.”

Well, the tapestries certainly lend a cozy air to the room,” Scramble interjected a bit too loudly. Jonathan quickly agreed as the gnord entered the room with a finely wrought silver tea service between his forepaws. Each piece was freshly polished and the edge of the tray was done in an oak-leaf pattern. The four tea cups and saucers were of the palest blue China with a delicate silver border. Hermann had arranged a plate of hot scones and provided lots of yellow butter and bilberry preserves. “Baked the scones myself,” he began with an air of satisfaction. “Oh dear,” he continued, “we gnords are often not the best company for certain, uh, reasons. I hope this will help.” He then snapped his scaly fingers and two serving maids hurried in, each with a large arrangement of rust, yellow, and cream-colored flowers in matching silver bowls, again trimmed in oak leaves. The blossoms filled the room with a pleasant, but not too heady, fragrance that nearly masked the gnord’s foul odor. The thought of refreshment quickly became not only palatable but much to be desired.

Tea proceeded delightfully. The scones were very well done and the tea was not poisoned after all. All thoughts of murder, theft, and flight receded into the background. Hermann next offered to show the guests around the Timnel and its Tower, an offer they could not politely refuse. Scramble discreetly asked Fulsome to take some of the flowers with them, which he did. Thus began the grand tour.

They started with the nearby salons and sitting rooms, each of them done in a different style or period, some with themes and all with gracefully integrated décor. A few seemed overwrought for Jonathan’s taste, evocative of heavy Victorian ornamentation, and many appeared too Norman for Fulsome, but at least he kept his peace. Scramble’s steps were far smaller than anyone else’s but he did not lag behind, darting hither and thither to check out everything he possibly could.

Hermann ushered them into the dining hall, a vast room with oversize fireplaces in each corner, long wooden tables and straight-backed chairs upholstered in carved leather. The tile floors were worn with age, the walls paneled in wood, and the ceiling vaulted. Clerestory windows brightened the room, admitting light through pale golden glass in leaded panes. Paintings adorned the walls: hunting scenes, feasting scenes, landscapes in all four seasons, each in a large gilt frame. Between the paintings hung floral tapestries. High on the walls stood decorative iron brackets, some for torches and others displaying banners from battles mostly forgotten. Hermann recited the names and dates of the painters of each painting, elaborating on symbolism and various features in the scenes depicted. He seemed more taken with the integrated decorative motifs—acanthus and laurel in the carved frames and on the iron brackets and the gold candelabra on the tables, for instance—than any guests could possibly be, but the three were unfailingly polite about the whole thing. Indeed, who would not strive to be polite when the guest of a fearsome gnord, even one as cultured as Hermann?

From there they went through the kitchens, glanced briefly toward the servants’ quarters, then regained the entrance hall. Hermann led them up the great staircase, following its elegant marble curves to the next floor, commenting the while that all the marble for the main hall had been imported from across the Mithermere and that Thumnet the Ambitious had overseen its carving and installation himself, carefully blending the various shades of stone into a harmonious ensemble. Scramble accepted Fulsome’s offer of a ride upon his shoulder, which made climbing of the stairs much less troublesome. From this vantage point he could also see much better, as well as overhear Fulsome’s occasional mutterings about “Norman ostentation.” Jonathan was awed by the whole thing, yet mindful of the task that lay ahead.

Chapter the Nineteenth: Tea with Hermann?

As the great green gnord turned and led the way toward the Timnel, Jonathan silently mouthed the following to his companions: (“Now what do we do?”)

(“We may as well follow,”) Fulsome mouthed back with added gestures.

As much by his expression as by the silent words, Scramble added, (“I think I shall be ill.”)

Fulsome suppressed a snort but failed to mask a smirk, eloquently expressing his opinion that the poor chipmunk had already been ill, thank you very much.

“And how is it that you were expecting us?” Jonathan ventured.

“The roots of the Gardens run deep in the earth,” Hermann began to explain. “They intertwine and communicate at a level below words, though perhaps more effective. Whatever happens in one part of the Gardens of Isapher is immediately known to all of the Gardens. We animals have no idea how this is done, only that it appears to be true. Mere observation told me the Gardens were a bit agitated today, then that someone had entered. Of course, one hardly enters the Gardens without their consent, so you must be good chaps. And how could one resist visiting this historical treasure?” As he said this, the Gnord’s sweeping forepaw indicated the castle before them. “All I had to was await you.”

At that, Hermann launched into the mode of a tour guide. “Isn’t the Timnel magnificent? It was constructed by Thumnet the Ambitious, twelfth thane of Isenwild, some six centuries ago. It was his father, Raunchpot the Sensitive, eleventh thane, who did most of the basic work on the Gardens. He was very fond of flowers and trees. The façade, however, is a later addition completed under Zymel the Retoucher, fourteenth thane of Isenwild and last of the royal house of Gorcester. They were replaced, you know, by the bastard line of the Chlougheigns, who then reigned gloriously for many years from the Timnel.”

Jonathan heard nary a word of the gnord’s incessant historical trivia. Mindful of his appointed task, he kept looking for the gnord’s weak spots in anticipation of the inevitable conflict. It was difficult to notice any beneath the shining wings which lay folded over his back, a dancing rainbow like shimmering mother-of-pearl. The green scales which covered his body looked not unlike the famous and impervious scales of dragons, about which Jonathan had read in chivalric romances. “Then again,” he mused to himself, “they may just look hard as adamant when in reality they are as insubstantial as gelatin desserts,” but this thought did not convince him in the least. Hermann’s armpits, however, definitely looked soft and most admirably penetrable. So did his neck. Ah yes! Decapitations are unutterably heroic and undoubtedly final. Look at what Judith did to Holofernes. What a splendid solution this might be. In addition to which, pendant from the gnord’s neck swung a silver key studded with blue stones, retained by a finely wrought silver chain. Jonathan knew how to recognize the key to Timnel Tower when he saw it, being a clever sort of chap, and he surmised this would be the key to unlock the door of the chamber containing the shocking orange parasol—supreme object of his quest. Decapitation was just the thing to serve his purpose. It would not only eliminate the threat of the gnord, whose stench was rapidly becoming worse, but would also liberate the key.

“…and this lovely door with its intricate carvings of the Norman Conquest and its soundless hinges was added in the reign of the Late Lady Isapheria, God rest her soul, the last ruler of the Timnel and the Isenwild, who had the doors imported from Crumbly-on-the-Mither to replace those lost in the Great Fire.”

(“I knew they were Normans,” Fulsome thought darkly.)

So there the thoughtful three were, in the Timnel at last, as guests—or was it prisoners?—of Hermann, the Gnordic Guardian of the Gardens. Hermann graciously ushered them from the high and narrow entry hall with its exquisite marble and gold appointments into a smaller room with walls adorned with warm-colored tapestries. Here they sat on silken cushions in hand-carved walnut chairs—Scramble chose a footstool—and waited while Hermann excuses himself to prepare tea.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chapter the Eighteenth: Timnel Tower

The battle-weary trio paused to rest on a small hillock just beyond the bridge (later immortalized as “Drengford”). Here a small fountain sprung from a heap of natural rocks, then splashed down into a basin carved to resemble a scallop shell. Miniature ivy grew at its base and Fulsome, weary as he was, noticed a few violets in its shade. Each of the warriors took long draughts of the sweet water, then bathed their wounds. Scramble and Fulsome, taking their cue from Jonathan’s wise and loving demeanor, joined in thanking the Earth and her plants who had helped them in their recent trial.

As they concluded, several sprouts appeared before them, grew and withered even as they watched, drying in moments to leave brittle golden leaves. Fulsome, who had learned much woodcraft during his years of exile, recognized the pale yellowish leaves as those of a healing herb. He took the dried leaves, crumbled them to dust in his hands, mixed them with some of the fountain’s fresh spring water, and applied the rude salve to their wounds. Scramble, following Fulsome’s instructions, found and retrieved some spider webs to hold this primitive poultice in place, though it took Jonathan a while to extricate the chipmunk from the sticky strands he had fetched. When all these medical tasks were completed, more plants miraculously flourished before the adventurers’ eyes: this time a bank of snow-white poppies and wild blackberry vines, fruiting and ripening even as they emerged from the soil. Careful doses of the juice from the first allayed the pains of battle while generous helpings of the second eased their hunger, along with some carrots Fulsome had pulled up to be certain they were not poison hemlock. The Gardens seemed most generous toward them and they remembered to express their gratitude. Restored, the triumphant trio resumed their journey toward the Timnel.

Small birds accompanied them, flitting from bush to bush and tree to tree as though to reassure them they were on the right path. At one point Jonathan proposed a right turn and the birds became agitated. The adventurers quickly took the hint and headed left instead. The Timnel and its Tower were now quite near. After one turn in a white pebble path they had been following they confronted a large, scaly green sphere, to which were attached six wiry legs, a long tapering tail, two magnificent iridescent wings, and a quaint face. This latter was composed primarily of two floppy ears, great furrowed brows, eloquent indigo eyes, and an immense and appealing grin. Not far behind the great creature stood the thick walls and shimmering peaks of the Timnel, the whole surmounted by the great Timnel Tower which rose in finely sculpted lines and focused in a graceful spire, poised like a golden dart to pierce the very heavens. The intrepid trio gasped in wonder at the beauty of the Tower in the midst of these enchanted Gardens. It was then that the wind shifted and Jonathan knew precisely what stood between them and the Timnel.

“Welcome, friends. Would you care to join me for tea?” the gnord inquired.

Jonathan looked meaningfully toward Fulsome, who knitted his brows and wrinkled his nose. Scramble was busy losing his lunch at the smell of the gnord. The chipmunk looked meekly back at Fulsome, who turned again to Jonathan. The lad realized the quest was his and he was the one to reply. Jonathan swallowed, a difficult thing to do within sniffing range of a gnord, and made answer.

“I’m afraid we haven’t had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, Sir,” he began, fearing to offend the beast while not wishing to be the first to reveal either his identity or his purpose in coming hither.

“Frightfully sorry,” the gnord replied. “I am Hermann, Castellan of Timnel Tower and Steward of these Gardens.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the boy responded, minding his manners. “I am Jonathan Grubbley, a wandering stranger in these parts.” (Everybody knows one doesn’t tell everything to a newly-met gnord.)

“And I am Fulsome Fetchit, an exile sent forth to survive or perish on his own, who have joined good Pilgrim Grubbley in his journeys.”

“I am Randall S. Chipmunk, Esq., of the Ulban Hills, who have traveled with these that I might behold the beauties of the these fabled Gardens.”

“Indeed, I have been expecting you. Well met, pilgrims. And now for tea.”

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.


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.

Chapter the Sixteenth: A More Excellent Way

Having exhausted Alternate Plans A through F, the weary trio decided to examine the hedge further north of the gates, searching for a breach, a weakness, or perhaps an inspiration. Alas, they found none. At last they sat down in the shade of an oak just outside the obdurate hedge and rested, and thought, and rested, and pondered, and promptly fell asleep.

There is no question that they needed the sleep and, though it was but a short nap, they awoke feeling much refreshed. They immediately began to plot once more against the hedge. Then Jonathan recalled something.

“Auntie Woezzl said there were all kinds of enchantments in the Gardens of Isapher.”

“That is now more than obvious,” snorted Fulsome.

“But she said something else. She wasn’t sure if the enchantments were still good…”

“They aren’t,” Scramble interrupted.

“Or all bad…”

“They are,” added Fulsome.

“Or, more probably, a mixture of both.”

“You mean…?” they both questioned, neither of them at all sure what he meant.

“Precisely. All we need to do is invoke the good powers which still exist in the Gardens. We have been trying to attack the Gardens, but they are not the enemy. The gnord is our enemy, and the Gardens themselves are only his unfortunate victims. Perhaps if we approach them as friends and liberators they will assist us.”

“The sun has touched your head, lad,” Fulsome said, afraid at this point to hope.

“But he’s right,” countered Scramble.

“Of course he is,” Fulsome agreed. “I’m just afraid to believe it. We’ve had so many disappointments already.”

“But you have to,” said Jonathan. “All we have are faith, hope, and love, and they outlast everything, including spells. I’m sure we can do it.”

The chipmunk and the fetchit sighed, but they did not roll their eyes or cast meaningful glances at one another. Instead they replied, “All right then. Let’s do it.”

So the three approached the hedge once more. This time the pink and purple blossoms seemed even prettier and their fragrance more enticing, though at this stage of the game the trio could not be sure is this were an auspicious sign or a dangerous enticement to even greater peril. In any case, they stood their ground.

But how does one address a garden? Jonathan had no idea, though he had heard of people who talk to their house plants. Squaring his shoulders, he began.

“Good day, O flowers, vines, hedges, trees, mosses, bushes, grasses, and all growing things.”

The hedge rustled.

“We come to you in peace. We wish you well and long to set you free. We beseech your permission to enter.”

To Jonathan’s amazement, even the grass beneath his feet seemed to ripple. Then the hedge began to waiver, almost as if in the tension of making up its mind. Its thorns bristled, its vines tightened, and then relaxed. Blue and gold blossoms suddenly sprouted amid the lavender spectrum, releasing a yet more delightful fragrance on the breeze that began to stir. Thorns appeared to shorten, blunt, and in some cases vanish altogether. Vines which only moments before had formed a nearly solid wall now untangled and retracted before them until the stupefied adventurers beheld a perfect arch of living tendrils lined with hundreds, nay, thousands of miniature flowers.

And thus it came to pass that Jonathan, Fulsome, and Scramble entered the Gardens of Isapher with wonder on their faces and growing faith and hope in their hearts.

Chapter the Fifteenth: On the Storming of Hedges and

The adventurers were stunned. They knew this was not ordinary garden, but still they were not prepared for this. Before them stood an immense Romanesque arch of smooth white stone flanked by, well, kinky wall sections. These were covered with ivy and suggested some ancestor of Antoni Gaudí designing in a distant past. Set in the walls were occasional niches wherein profusions of shiny leaves and yellow flowers grew. Below these were tiered basins over which water splashed gaily. Not far from the entrance the walls were swallowed by the high and thorny hedge, though here the flowers grew more thickly. The gate itself was an intricate lacework of wrought iron with the gilded figures of parasols in the center of each half. Also in gilt were the carven letters above the keystone, which read: “Les Jardins D’Isaphère.”

“I think it’s French,” Scramble commented.

“The Normans never tire of lording it over us,” added Fulsome, who was undoubtedly a thoroughly Saxon fetchit.

“It’s really very lovely,” Jonathan said in an awestruck voice.

“No doubt,” rejoined Scramble, “but magic things can be as deadly as they are beautiful.” He was remembering the recent vision of Miranda.

“I suppose we ought either to knock or try to enter unnoticed, but we shan’t accomplish anything standing here.” Fulsome could often be very practical when he wasn’t smelling flowers.

“Very well. The quest is mine, I shall attempt to enter,” Jonathan asserted, using his very grown-up voice supposed to impress others but mostly meant to reassure himself. His companions were struck by the dignity with which he spoke and Jonathan was reassured by their reaction.

He approached the gate and reached for the graceful, leaf-shaped handle on the elegant black iron-woven barrier. Everything seemed suddenly still. Even the wall fountains sounded quieter. Slowly he turned the handle and they all held their breath. It opened.

Jonathan gently spread the gate wide, constantly glancing in all directions for potential hazards. Nothing seemed amiss. All three pilgrims remembered to breath and sucked in a lungful of fresh air before taking a step. Then, as they all approached to enter, the neatly trimmed roses just inside the gate suddenly grew, extending their thorn-studded vines toward and across the path, frenetically intertwining and spouting blood-red blossoms everywhere. Within the space of four seconds the iron gate had been replaced by a wall of tangled roses twelve feet high and thirty feet wide. The way forward was effectively blocked.

“Perhaps,” Jonathan offered, mustering as much nonchalance as he could, “we had better try Alternate Plan B.”

“I suspect we were expected,” the fetchit added dryly.

“I don’t suppose we could package this and sell it to frustrated rose growers,” Scramble attempted feebly, trying to meet this latest setback with gallows humor. No one laughed, though Fulsome and Jonathan appreciated the chipmunk’s effort.

Alternate Plan B was scaling of the wall by means of a primitive siege ladder made from a tree. This took a fair amount of time and required the cooperation of a nearby beaver who had relatives on Gwaeron Stream that were acquainted with Fulsome, but the device was finally ready. Scramble, being the smallest and quickest, mounted the ladder as soon as it was in place. Upon reaching the top and looking over the wall, he noticed a runner spreading along the top of the white stonework. It was another of the Gardens’ fast-growing plants but of a most unusual variety. It seemed to have all the properties of concertina wire, spiraling with its barbs along the wall, strong as metal and sharp as razors, yet green and alive. Scramble quickly regretted testing the plant with his paw; the effect was a most unpleasant combination of the sudden slicing of flesh with a nasty sting thereafter. Plan B was not working well at all.

Plan C was a siege tower, but they soon realized they didn’t have the prerequisite tools.

Plan D, the ballista, was rejected on the same basis as Plan B.

Plan E, though it showed considerable flair, being none other than the effective employ of that Byzantine standby, Greek fire, was also discarded due to the shortage of saltpeter. It seems, according to the woodland grapevine, to have all been purchased by a seminary fifteen miles of north of our heroes.

“ I don’t understand, Banpa,” Gwyn interrupted.

“You’re not meant to understand that, my dear,” her grandfather replied.

“Well then what happens?” asked Stefan.

At last they resorted to Alternate Plan F, the mole. One must admire the perseverance demonstrated in all this, if not the forethought. Still and all, the roots of the plants that surrounded the Gardens were too thick and tough, so this approach also failed.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Chapter the Fourteenth: Admission Fees

Our intrepid trio reached the top of the river bank and R. S. Chipmunk, Esq., even fulfilled his name in scrambling up a willow tree which grew aslant the brook, to compensate for the fact that he was by far the shortest of our travelers (albeit the swiftest of paw and mouth). Still the Isa rose, its waters boiling in a mystic rage. Fulsome hung his pack on a nearby branch and took Jonathan in his arms. Jonathan protested vehemently, but Fulsome reproached him: “MIND YOUR ELDER, GRUBBLEY!”

Jonathan was soon glad that the fetchit had insisted. The river overflowed it banks and swirled as far as the fetchit’s waist for a full fifteen minutes. As Jonathan clung to Fulsome’s neck, Fulsome clung to the tree whereon Scramble clung for dear life. And so the three were still together when the river began to subside and slowly settle back into its bed. In another fifteen minutes the Isa River flowed as it had when our heroes first arrived at the edge of the Gardens. Only the muddy banks, the debris it had left strewn her and there, and the travelers’ shaken expressions recorded its sudden madness.

It was then that they knew they were facing great and unknown powers.

Jonathan had little taste left for parasol-hunting. On the other hand, he was more determined than ever to capture it for sheer spit of whoever had sent the Isenflood swirling about them.

It was time for a strategy meeting.

Fulsome fetched, as well as a fetchit might, the only blanket which had not been washed away in the flood and hung it out on branches to dry. The three then stretched themselves out on a small hill somewhat further away from the Gardens and still dry, there to lie in the sun hoping to drip dry before lunchtime (whenever that might come).

“We are obviously not entering where the river enters,” Jonathan began.

“We could climb over,” Scramble suggested. But neither Jonathan nor Fulsome were climbers.

“Perhaps there’s a gate,” said Fulsome. “Then again, it is probably guarded or enchanted or both.”

“Or none of the above,” protested Jonathan. “We could give it a try.”

“I suppose we might,” the chipmunk agreed, “but we ought to have an alternative plan or two, just in case.”

So they plotted and schemed a dozen means of entry, rejected several, refined a few, arranged them in order of preference, and then set out to find the main entrance.

As they walked along the great hedge, they noticed that it was very thick indeed and full of vicious looking thorns, although there were occasionally interspersed with very pleasant-smelling purple and pink flowers. “Be careful how you sniff, they might be poison,” Scramble warned Fulsome.

“I somehow doubt it,” Jonathan responded, but they were all more cautious at the thought of even beautiful things bearing mortal danger.

Just then a dreadful odor floated toward them on a breeze filtering over the cypress tops and through the hedge. It was a strange combination of the stench of rustic privies, rotting corpses, Camembert beyond its proper ripeness, and the perfume of rich old ladies. It could only be…the fearsome gnord! Jonathan remembered Auntie Woezzl’s comment that gnords smelled and tasted awful and this was the foulest stench Jonathan had ever encountered. All three adventurers shuddered and Scramble even lost his breakfast on the grass. “That’s all right,” he muttered bravely, “I can travel lighter without it.” (Even so, his fur did have a slight green tinge to it.)

As they recovered from the shock of the fetid smell the trio refocused their eyes and beheld, just before them, the entrance to the Gardens of Isapher.

Chapter the Thirteenth: Isenflood

As early morning sunlight peeked over the Ulban Hills and illumined Zymel Meadow, our heroes awoke and unwillingly dragged their bodies out of Auntie Woezzl’s blankets. Fulsome gathered some dry sticks and rubbed two of them together until he had a fire going. Scramble fetched nuts for their breakfast and some wild berries. Jonathan divided what they had left of the cake from the night before. All this was washed down with fresh stream water and they all agreed it was the nicest meal they had eaten that day, not to mention one of the best consumed in any meadow. They repacked their meager belongings and Fulsome carried them tied to his back with the original package twine. It felt good to have provisions of some sort for the journey. And so they set out feeling much better about their prospects of reaching the Timnel than they had the evening before when they were fleeing Wishwood.

The trio now traveled south instead of going due west toward the Gardens of Isapher. Carefully keeping to the east of Wishwood they headed toward the Isa River. With Jonathan as navigator and Keeper of the Map leading the way, Scramble in the middle (when not darting off into the bushes to check on any strange sounds), and Fulsome packing supplies in the rearguard, they followed the gentle rise of the land from Zymel Meadow to the thicketed crest overlooking Isenflood, the only river in that area.

It was odd how the faint golden line that sometimes appeared on the map had changed course, adjusting for their adventure in Wishwood. This led to some discussion and the general opinion that though this might be reassuring, they were not altogether sure this golden thread could be altogether trusted. After all, it led to Wishwood in the first place. Still and all, they only had one map to work with and needed to make the best of it.

When at last Jonathan looked down at the Isa, it was slightly swollen and muddy from the rains of the morning before. He recalled that Old Lady Dyrnmantle’s map showed the eastern portion of the river flowing right through the area he would have to cross should he attempt returning from her tree to his home. In other words, his home was cut off from him, or no longer existed, until the spell of the Wood be broken. Amid this wistful reverie he congratulated himself on thinking in the subjunctive, then heaved a deep sigh. There was nowhere to go but forward.

The three made a quick descent to the river and began to follow the river’s flow toward the Mithermere. As they rounded a curve toward the right, all three caught their breath. On a hill, not far before them, stood a high, close hedge, surmounted by the tips of even cypresses. This was no random wild growth. In an instant they knew they were looking at the border of the Gardens of Isapher, where the Isa River and the Stream of Phera both flow into the Mere. They were nearing the end of their quest. And drawing nigh to the fearsome gnord. The hour of truth was at hand.

Gathering their courage, the daring trio resumed their march toward Timnel Tower and the magical treasure within that could break the spell that held Jonathan in this strange world. Jonathan even composed a short song to pluck up their courage, but which he could not later recall.

As they reached the point where the Isa entered the bounds of the Gardens through a vaulted arch of willows and were about to jump into the river’s cold waters and thus enter the enchanted enclosure, Scramble let out a squeak of warning. Then, in a tumble of words as breathless as anything he had ever uttered, he cried, “Lookout! Behindus! HerecomestheRiver!” This time he did not need to repeat his words slowly. The other two turned to see what the chipmunk was talking about and froze for a moment in horror.

From upstream the Isa was coming towards them in a massive wall of churning brown water, rushing up its banks and sweeping dead branches and smooth river stones with it. Indeed, they could spot entire tree trunks in the roiling mass headed their way. Just as it was all about to crash down upon our three stalwarts and drag them into its furious depths, they hustled their bodies up the slope which had bound the river, the ever growing water licking at their heels.

Chapter the Twelfth: Wishwood

Actually, Wishwood seemed quite pleasant. Not all like Wolmsley Wood proper, where the trees tended to grow so thick and dark. Here the sky shone above and the trees were nicely spaced. The air smelled fresh and wholesome and Jonathan felt very relaxed. The dangers of facing a fearsome gnord seemed to flow from his mind. Wishwood was a very nice place.

Fulsome began to comment on the pleasant atmosphere of Wishwood when Scramble interrupted, as he was wont to do. It seems that Wishwood was not any ordinary congregation of trees, thickets, and streams. It was an enchanted forest wherein one’s fondest dreams came from among the alders and ashes and occasional azaleas. indeed, the spell was already beginning to work. From behind the nearest pedunculate oak an image of Jonathan’s nanny came, bearing before her a steaming plum pudding. Jonathan was reminded how hungry and tired he was, and how very much he was beginning to miss the comforts of home.

Fulsome, on the other hand, was distracted by the sight of his parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and former neighbors, all approaching him with friendly faces and outstretched arms, declaring how glad they were to have him back among them. The fetchit had long ago adjusted to living on his own and would never admit it to another, but the thought of returning, welcomed, to his tribe had haunted his dreams ever since he had been exiled. How he longed for their booming voices!

Unaware of the others’ longings and fantasies, Scramble heard a familiar voice. It was Miranda, the loveliest chipmunk of the wide, wild Wood, calling for him. He turned, and then he saw her as he had dreamed of her so many times. Before, however, his dreams were always shattered by the harsh realities of her many refusals to have anything to do with someone as young and impetuous as he. But this time her furry charms were all for him. And that was what alerted him. It was too good to be true. in fact, it couldn’t be true. Miranda would never give herself so willingly to Randal. It was a fantasy! The spell of Wishwood was working. He had to resist, to fight the illusion. But it was so real, so wonderful.

No! He couldn’t give in . They all had to concentrate, to withstand the enchantment.

“Fight!” Scramble cried. “Fight with all you have! It’s only an illusion. They’re not real! Whatever you are seeing or feeling, it’s only the spell of Wishwood. Jonathan! Fulsome! We must get out of here, quickly!”

It took a while, but the chipmunk’s voice finally pierced the veil of their spectral fantasies. It was not easy, however. They did not want to yield what seemed so welcome. As they gradually became aware of the danger, they strained their minds in an intense effort to resist, to reject the lure of the false pleasures that tempted them to stay. At last they found their feet and began to walk back out of Wishwood. As the spell weakened, and the pleading voices of their separate illusions faded, they began to run until they were clear of Wishwood’s wicked spell.

Now, however, it was getting dark and they knew they would have to make a long detour around Wishwood. The valiant trio decided to sleep on the edge of Zymel Meadow and continue their journey in the morning. Just as they found a thicket where they would be sheltered somewhat from the evening cold they stumbled across a large bundle. It was wrapped in brown paper and had a label which read simply:

From Auntie

Fulsome tore it open and there in the bundle they found six heavy blankets: two very large, two of medium size, and two rather small ones. Also in the package were a nice rich cake, a tin of biscuits, a wedge of cheese, and some dried fruit. Auntie Woezzl hadn’t forgotten them.

After a quick snack, the weary adventurers snuggled into their respective blankets for the night. The blankets felt so cozy the three had no trouble sleeping soundly until dawn.

Chapter the Eleventh: Randall S. Chipmunk, Esq.

“The nuts were nicely and conveniently gathered,” Fulsome attempted meekly, “but there was no one about and no way for me to know they were yours. I am so sorry.”

“Indeed, Sir,” the chipmunk uttered indignantly, “would you follow me, please.”

Fulsome and Jonathan obediently followed the furry little fellow to the locale of his somewhat depleted nut hoard.

“And what do you call that, pray?” the chipmunk asked indignantly, gesturing toward the tree in a crevice of which the nuts lay. The travelers’ gaze followed upward until it rested on a neatly lettered sign.

Randall S. Chipmunk, Esq.

“I see what you mean,” Fulsome said. “And I am very sorry. Please forgive me.”

“Much better. Apology accepted. Now what about those biscuits, young man?”

The chipmunk was obviously appeased and Jonathan proceeded to share what remained of their meal with him. After introductions all around, conversation flowed. Jonathan and Fulsome shared the object of their quest with the chipmunk who, by now, insisted on being called Scramble (his middle name) rather than R. Chipmunk, Esq., which he considered inappropriate among friends.

“In fact,” he suggested, “why not help me store these last few nuts and I will join you.”

“Splendid,” Jonathan agreed.

“HOW VERY, I mean, how very nice of you,” added Fulsome.

“You see, I’m so very small and frightfully quick, not to mention clever and, ahem, literate, that I’m sure I should be of great assistance to you in the hour of peril.”

At the mention of peril both Jonathan and Fulsome gave a slight shudder. But then again, if a small chipmunk was not afraid of the fearsome gnord, why should they be? And if two heads are better than one, three should be better yet. And so the three travelers were soon on the road again.

Jonathan could not help thinking that this had been the longest day of his life. The sun was still not about to set. Perhaps time was somehow different in Wolmsley Wood. Everything else seemed to be. But with two companions to lighten the burden of his journey and support him in his quest, Jonathan was feeling much better about the whole thing.

The going was very pleasant now inasmuch as they were passing through Zymel meadow. The flowers and grasses brightened the journey considerably and sunlight was refreshing after his previous traveling in downpours and in the shadow of thick trees. In fact, Jonathan once had to reprimand Fulsome for stopping too often to look at wildflowers and intriguing bushes. Scramble was always running ahead then dashing back to describe, in his usual breathless manner, whatever lay in their path.

“Ithinkwe’regettingclosetoWishwood!” he announced as they came near the end of the meadow.

“Beg pardon?” inquired Jonathan.

“I said, ‘I think we’re getting close to Wishwood’,” Scramble repeated carefully.

“And what, pray, is Wishwood?” the lad inquired. “I see it on the map, just before the Gardens of Isapher, but Auntie Woezzl told me nothing about it.”

“Nothing about Wishwood?” Fulsome intoned, somewhat surprised. “Indeed, it may constitute on of our gravest dangers.”

Tobesure, I mean, to be sure,” added Scramble.

Chapter the Tenth: Trucking through the Ulban Hills

Fulsome shortened his stride to match that of Jonathan, whose legs were considerably shorter than those of the fetchit. Together they walked through the Glen of Gwaer and began climbing up the near side of the Ulban Hills. With miscellaneous snatches of conversation and intermittent thoughty silences they whiled away the minutes of their trek.

The path led to a stream which the fetchit crossed quite easily. Jonathan couldn’t make it without risking a thorough wetting of his person and he had quite enough of wetting for one day. So Fulsome recrossed the stream and carried Jonathan across piggy back. They then continued their ascent toward a pass in the hills.

The Ulban Hills were quite ancient and thus, indeed, rather low: mere hills and nothing like mountains. Our travelers soon reached the gentle descent toward Zymel Meadow. As they reached the edge of the vast clearing which flanked the Zymel Stream, both Jonathan and Fulsome decided it would be a good time to pause and refresh themselves. They sat down on a log which seemed meant for a bench and Jonathan took out the biscuits Auntie Woezzl had provided. The fetchit, who was used to living in the woods, gathered some nuts and edible greens and they both indulged in the wholesome, if meager, repast.


Fulsome had forgotten to lower his voice when he interrupted their meal with this loud shout, nearly causing Jonathan to fall off the log.

“Remember what, Fulsome?”

“I’m sorry, I forgot.”

“But you just said you remembered.”

“Oh, I do, Jonathan. I meant that I forgot about being loud. We fetchits are always that way. It many weeks of practice for me to learn to talk the way other creatures do and I keep slipping into the natural pattern.”

“Of course. But what did you suddenly remember?”

“Old Lady Dyrnmantle, your Auntie Woezzl. I have heard her name before. My parents sometimes mentioned her. But she didn’t sound at all like the nice old lady you met.”

“What did they say about her, Fulsome?”
“Well, I’m not certain it’s for me to say, you being so close and all that. But they called her a witch and ascribed all manner of wickedness to her. And whenever I was nice or friendly, they would say, ‘If you keep that up, Cluggin will come and carry you away.’ Cluggin was one of her other names, you know.”

“She did say Cluggin was one of her names. But I don’t think she would carry anyone away. At least, I hope she wouldn’t.”

“Then again, she did take you away from your intended course and involve you in heaven knows what sort of intrigue and peril.”

“Hmm. I suppose it would be best not to dwell on this, Fulsome. Takes the edge off the adventure, don’t you know, and leads to unwholesome and discouraging thoughts. Isn’t it time we resume our journey?”

As Jonathan said this, an endless stream of chatter began not far from them and drew nearer. This flurry of noise was emitted from a rather furious looking chipmunk who approached the adventurers.

“What_do_you_mean_breaking_into_my_nuthoard_and_taking_my_winter_food?!!!” the angry creature demanded. [The reader must imagine no pause between words. Typography fails here.]

“Oh dear,” Fulsome responded, “were those your nuts I picked up?”

“They_most_certainly_were. Now_what_do_you_propose_to_do_about_it?”

“We’re awfully sorry,” Jonathan said. “Would you care for some biscuits? I have a couple left.”

“I really had no idea they were yours,” added Fulsome.

“Had you troubled yourself in the slightest to look about you,” the chipmunk said carefully and slowly this time, “you would have known whose they were.”

Chapter the Ninth: On the Nature of Fetchits

OH, I DO HOPE…that is, I do hope I didn’t frighten you.” The creature seemed to make a great effort in order to lower its voice. Jonathan appreciated the effort. Anyone who has been trapped on a train with someone whose voice goes around corners, through walls, and drills into the brains of all around will sympathize with him. Still, Jonathan was mindful of the one clue Auntie Woezzl had given him about gnords and began to sniff the air. Since gnords are known for their awful odor and flavor, God help us, the presence of no scent besides the smell of damp trees, wet leaves, and general woodsiness was most reassuring. The creature’s anxious expression prompted Jonathan to return some reassurance.

“Of course not. It’s just that I had not anticipated our encounter.”

“NOR I. But what a lovely surprise. I had been looking for some company, for a voice besides my own, for a journeying companion. Do you mind awfully if I join you, Jonathan Grubbley?”

“Frightfully sorry, I seem to have forgotten your name already. Perhaps I was more startled than I wished to admit.”

“Think nothing of it. Fulsome Fetchit’s the name.”

“Ah, that would not be the name of a gnord, I take it.”

“Good heavens, no! Whatever gave you such a peculiar notion?”

“It seems I am currently on my way to the Gardens of Isapher, there to wrest a precious object from the fearsome gnord. For a moment I feared you might be he, come to resist me. You see, I have never seen one.”

“How very exciting. But, of course, I am only a fetchit myself, though a disgrace to the name, I daresay. You will, however, permit me to journey with you and join in this singular adventure, young Grubbley?”

“I should be terribly glad of your company, Mr. Fetchit. But why should you consider yourself a disgrace to the name of fetchit? You seem so very decent.”

“That’s just it, my dear fellow. Fetchits are not supposed to be decent. they are quarrelsome, loud, brash creatures. Alas, through some flaw of breeding or traumatic childhood experience or other unfortunate cause, I turned out friendly. I wanted to like the other fetchits, and all the creatures of the Great Wood. But this marked me as a misfit and troublemaker. So I was exiled, mind you, exiled from the society of all self-respecting fetchits and sent to live as best I could among other creatures or by myself. My own parents supervised the expulsion.” At that, the great rubbery fetchit began to cry.

“Please don’t cry, Mr. Fetchit, please. I think you’re a very good creature indeed and I should be proud to claim you as my fellow.”

“You’re very kind. And do call me Fulsome.”

“Very well, Fulsome. And please call me Jonathan.”

“Oh thank you, Jonathan. You are the first friend I have had since a jolly caterpillar left me to metamorphose last spring,” the fetchit said, drying his eyes.

“Shall we be on our way , then?”

“Oh yes. Do you know your way through Wolmsley Wood?”

“No, my dear Fulsome. I am a stranger here. But I do have a lovely chart here in my pocket.” Jonathan withdrew the twice-used paper with its purple markings and unfolded it.

“What a charming map,” Fulsome observed. “Who did it for you?”

“Auntie Woezzl drew it. She is the lady who sent me on this adventure.”

“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure to meet the lady.”

Based on what he had just heard, Jonathan doubted Fulsome had been able to meet many ladies at all, but kept his counsel and replied, as though recounting the most ordinary information, “She lives in a great tree. See, it’s marked ‘Old Lady Dyrnmantle’s Castle.’ That’s a joke of some sort, since it’s only a tree, although a very snug one, and nicely furnished if a bit unkempt.”

“Old Lady Dyrnmantle, you say? It seems I have heard of her somewhere.”

Chapter the Eighth

Having crossed the stream and walked a ways among the trees, Jonathan eventually entered a pleasant section Auntie Woezzl told him he would find. This was encouraging, and it must be the Glen of Gwaer she had mentioned. Jonathan was, as we have noted, no mean navigator, but even the best of them keeps a sharp eye on their charts. So he looked once more at the map he had been given.

The strange thing—well, everything that day had been rather odd to tell the truth—was that when Jonathan thought about Auntie Woezzl while looking at the map he could see a faint golden line from the tree “castle” to Timnel Tower, threading its way among the various landmarks. But when he did not concentrate on his newfound “Auntie,” the line was gone. He quickly learned to focus on her when reading the map as this evanescent golden filigree seemed to be the way he should go. Oddly enough, or predictably enough, it seemed to mark what once must have been a well-traveled path through the great Wood. Now it was only a path where trees were fewer and bushes somewhat thinner, but Jonathan was grateful for even that much reassurance that he was on the right track. That the path was usually recognizable seemed a good thing inasmuch as Auntie Woezzl, in Jonathan’s humble opinion, would win no prizes as a cartographer.

Gwaeron Stream had been much closer to the old woman’s tree/home than the stained map would seem to indicate, whereas the Ulban Hills were not so close to the Stream. Ah well, if it got him there and back (especially back) and home again (most especially home again), that was all Jonathan could ask of any map. So, with one more look at it, he put it back in his pocked and resumed his journey.

Now that the rain had stopped everything seemed so much brighter. The sun was going all motley through the slender trees of the glen and Jonathan noticed an occasional autumn flower or two. he also heard a bid singing in the distance, but its song was a sad one with droopy, shadowy melody. This was later replaced by another bird with a strong cheery lyric and Jonathan’s heart was lifted. “I must not be so flighty in my moods,” the young adventurer remonstrated with himself. “Valor: that’s what’s called for now.” And with that he straightened his spine and continued his way westward.


Jonathan’s heart promptly fell back into his shoes. The voice that boomed from nowhere and everywhere reminded him that the gnord’s spell was working its way into the wood and good creatures were falling under its sway. Was this a good creature or an evil one invisibly confronting him? Still, with no visible assault either this was not a time to forget one’s manners.

“Jonathan Grubbley, Sir.”


With that, there stepped into the pathway in front of Jonathan the tall, thin, grey body behind the booming voice. It was not one of your everyday woodland creatures, and it certainly wasn’t human. But it was impressive. Its homely grey features adorned a small round head atop a long thin neck which, in turn, crowned a body that would have towered a good two feet above Jonathan’s father. The arms hung to its knees and the fingers were frightfully long and flexible. All in all it looked like a human caricature executed in some grey rubbery substance. But it smiled.

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?]