The Adventure if Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 11)

          “I’ve never seen that level of control, Igdryll,” the Elder said. “It was remarkable.”
          “I don’t know. Something about using the creatures that way didn’t feel quite right.”
          “You may want to work on your speech, Igdryll. If the townsfolk hear you speaking in such a cultured fashion, it’s going to rouse suspicion. Anyway, I think you really scared them off this time.”
          “Maybe.”
          “What is it?”
          “I don’t know. All of my years, I’ve heard nothing but talk of how much of a threat the Talls are, how they destroyed our old home and forced us to leave the sacred grounds.”
          “Do you doubt the old stories?” The Elder paused. “Look, Igdryll, I know the going under changes you. It certainly changed me when I was your age. We now share a frightful burden. One that we of our calling always carry and, with good fortune, always shall. A part of your soul that was dormant has been activated but you mustn’t lose focus, particularly when victory is close.”
          Igdryll continued walking without saying anything.
          “Give it time,” the Elder continued, “you’ll see. When we return, we shall meet with the Council. They will put your mind at ease.”
          The two of them came to the river bank. Igdryll raised his arms and whispered. He and the Elder floated across, let down and walked back home through the forest in silence.

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 10)

          “I still had the sparkplug in my hand,” Roger said.
          “What?” Dave asked.
          Roger was driving down the highway towards the entrance to the construction site. They just got the truck out of the shop after having the rotor and the windows fixed. It still smelled like burnt leather in the cab.
          “The other day, before the track broke, when the dozer just quit running. When I turned the motor over, I still had the plug in my hand.”
          The truck rumbled down the two-lane blacktop. Dave reached down and pushed the cigarette lighter in while he reached for a Marlboro pack in his shirt pocket.
          “Ya mind?” Dave asked.
          “Nah. Truck still smells like shit anyway.”
          The lighter popped out and Dave held it to his cigarette. He inhaled deeply. He returned the lighter with a metallic chucking sound.
          “Well,” Roger said, “I had a VW Bug once. It ran on three cylinders with a plug out. Just a fluke. Engine was still hot on the dozer, it just turned over is all.”
          “This ain’t no VW. It just isn’t possible. On a motor that size?”
          “Okay. Are you tryin’ to say it was goblins or somethin’? Maybe the freakin’ Easter bunny slapped the motor around a bit to get it runnin’?”
          “Shut up. I’m just sayin’ it don’t make any sense, is all. That dozer ran for the rest of the afternoon just fine.” Roger stared ahead at the road for a moment. “Anyway. You talk to, Mike?”
          “Yeah. He’ll meet us there with another dozer in ’bout an hour or so.”
          Dave took a drag from his cigarette and exhaled sideways out of the window. He flicked the butt out, sparks shattered behind them on the pavement. Roger slowed and turned into the dirt road that led to the work site. The truck fishtailed a bit in the wet clay. Rounding a curve, Roger slowed.
          “Look at that,” Dave said. In the clearing near the excavation spot, a gathering of deer stood. “There must be fifty of ’em. Maybe more.”
          A large buck, its head crowned with a snarl of antlers, looked up at them. It snorted, its breath a cloud of fog in the cool morning air. The rest of the herd looked up and turned towards the truck.
          “What are they doing?” Roger asked.
          “Never seen such a thing. Huh, I think they’re comin’ this way.”
          The buck walked towards the truck, the herd following. The buck snorted and let out a loud bleat. It echoed through the damp air. The herd charged.
          “Uh, Roger…”
          Roger ground the truck into reverse and smashed the gas pedal. The tires spun, throwing mud, but found solid ground. It slowly moved backwards. Roger rocked the wheel back and forth and managed to get the truck sideways on the narrow clay road. The buck lowered its head and smashed into the passenger door, shattering the side window.
          “You all right?” Roger shouted.
          “Yeah, yeah. Fine. Get us out of here, god dammit!”
          The buck twisted its antlers loose and reared up to ram again. The smaller bucks and does surrounded the truck, butting and kicking the truck. Roger got the truck facing back out towards the highway and he stomped on the gas just as the large buck managed to send half of his rack through the right front quarter panel. Air hissed from a punctured tire. The truck lurched forward and they sped off back down the driveway. Dave turned around to look. The herd was watching as they drove off. Roger nursed the truck onto the blacktop and pulled over onto the shoulder. Neither of them spoke for several minutes.
          “Gimme a cigarette, Dave.”

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 9)

          Igdryll had woken up at some point in time after drinking the elixir from the stone basin. He looked down to see his body lying in the brown, crispy cedar boughs. It was still. A corpse. The sight of this normally would have struck him in the heart except that he had no body now. He looked down at where he felt his hands should have been and there was nothing. He knelt down to touch his old body but felt nothing and nothing responded to his touch.
          “Where be you, Bornless Ones?” Igdryll waited. “Nameless Ones, you come to me now!”
          He collapsed on the ground. Nothing stirred. He cried. Howled. He resigned himself to the fact that he was dead and no longer had a place in the world. He waited some more. The Nameless Ones did not come back.
          Dawn broke. The sun slowly arced across the sky, set, and the moon returned. The cycle continued. Many times Igdryll tried to walk away from his body but it was as if he was attached to it by an invisible cord. The body began to rot. The eyes collapsed and sang into the sockets. The tongue became swollen. The body, likewise. White skin became grayish green, then dark and black. Bugs and worms came to call his body home. He attempted to shoo them away from time to time with no effect. It didn’t matter. He kept trying as there was nothing else to do with his time. The skin became oily and putrid, eventually sliding completely off the bones. A day came when nothing was left but a white, sinewy skeleton. Eventually, this disappeared into the roots and undergrowth.
          Igdryll lost track of how long he had wandered about the cluster of cedars. He had no way to make marks or keep track of anything so he gave up. From time to time, he would call out to the Nameless Ones but they never answered. Deer and other animals would pass by him but they didn’t see him.
          A day came when Igdryll sat, took a deep breath and tried to push out all of the disparate thoughts wandering within his head. He remembered that he had seen the Elder do this once, how long ago? Igdryll had asked him what he was doing but thought the answer ridiculous. He dismissed it until now when the chain of days threatened to drive him into madness. Now, Igdryll was willing to try anything to take his mind off of existing. He breathed and listened. The sun and moon crossed overhead several times, but Igdryll continued to sit and breath. Ages passed.
          “Igdryll,” a woman’s voice said.
          “Bornless One.”
          “It’s time.”
          “Yes. It is.”
          Idgryll opened his eyes. The sun hung hot and still overhead. The cedars swayed, their boughs whispering in the breeze. Igdryll looked at the spot where his body melted into the ground. A circle of red-capped toadstools marked the spot where his body once was. Igdryll closed his eyes again and the next thing he knew, he was waking up in his own bed.

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 8)

          Igdryll opened the door to his house and let his hammer drop on the floor beside the entryway. Whatever magic it once held was spent. Hanging his hat on a peg by the entrance, he closed the round, oaken door and sat on his unmade bed. Puffs of dust skittered into the pale light of the room. Evening approached. His walk back with the Elder was silent and he thought about the implications of what was said, or rather, what wasn’t said. Igdryll never gave much thought to notions beyond the day-to-day events that primarily occupied his time. A job done half-well and a mug twice filled had been contentment enough.
          Igdryll looked out the window. A few folks meandered about but as the glow of evening dwindled, the street was largely absent of the usual bustle. He took his boots off, letting them clunk to the floor and rolled into bed. He stared at the ceiling, counting the cracks and the cobwebs over and over until sleep finally came.

          “Igdryll,” an unfamiliar voice said, “Igdryll.”
          Igdryll was awake now but couldn’t open his eyes. He tried to get up but his body was paralyzed.
          “Igdryll,” the voice repeated.
          “What?”
          “Open your eyes now.”
          “Can’t open…” Igdryll’s eyes flew open and he looked around. He was in a lush garden. It was dark and a sliver of moon hung in the indigo colored sky. Stars were strewn above like flecks of glittery powder. The Milky Way, brighter than Igdryll remembered, arched above him. A heavy perfume from what he guessed was a flower clung to the warm night air, it’s cloying scent broken only by an occasional light breeze.
          “Where this,” Igdryll asked.
          “You’ve been here before. This is the chamber inside the council.”
          “Who speaking to me?”
          “We are the Nameless Ones, the Bornless Ones. We have been with your people since the beginning. We help ensure your legacy remains unbroken.”
          Igdryll touched a leaf on a low hanging limb. It felt real enough but it shimmered in a strange manner. Birds chattered back and forth in the distance but he couldn’t see them. Their calls sounded shrill and ethereal.
          “Walk with us, Igdryll.”
          Igdryll couldn’t see anyone but felt compelled by something to move forward. An invisible but tangible presence guided him down a cobble path into a copse of hoary cedar trees, their ancient trunks twisted and braided. Within the center of the stand of cedars stood a large stone with a water filled hollow. Tendrils of moonlight danced across the surface of the basin.
          “Drink of this,” a woman’s voice said.
          Igdryll was not generally keen on drinking water from old stones but felt compelled by some unnamed sense of responsibility to do as he was told. Cupping his hand, he scooped the cool water and brought it to his lips. As he drank, he felt the cool moisture crawl throughout his body seeking out every hidden recess of his veins. He felt a crushing feeling in his chest and he fell to the ground, the scent of rotten cedar filling his nostrils. ‘What’s happening,.’ he thought. The icy feeling slithered from his chest to his neck and up into his head. His eyesight went dim then danced with sparkly dots of light. His blood flowed feverishly, thumping and occluding his hearing. Paralysis slowly crept from his toes to his legs and then to his arms.
          “I’m dying,” he whispered. There was no response.
          He tried to cry out but his voice was nothing but a hoarse rasp. His body stopped responding. The whooshing of blood hammered his skull, slowed, then stopped entirely. A still, velvet blackness encompassed his being and Igdryll remembered nothing else.

          The next morning, Igdryll woke up, took his hat off the peg and placed it on his head as he had done innumerable mornings before. He went to Dallver’s to drink his breakfast as per his custom. The streets were empty. The door to the pub creaked and chattered as he opened it.
          “Mornin’, Igdryll,” Mr. Dallver said.
          “G’morning, Mr. Dallver.” Igdryll took the pint Mr. Dallver extended to him and sat down at a corner table. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary and anyone who would have taken notice of Igdryll would not have suspected that he had lain dead last night for nearly two hundred years.

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 7)

          “What the hell happened?” Dave asked.
          The two of them stared at the pickup truck, a few whorls of smoke escaped from underneath the raised hood. The truck wasn’t a total loss. It looked like just the distributor caught fire. The two of them had managed to quickly extinguish it but whatever had caused the explosion had also blown out all of the windows in the cab.
          “I dunno,” Roger said, “lemme call Donna.” Roger walked up to the top of a nearby dirt mound to get a better signal. “Hey, honey. All right, I guess. Yeah sure. Hey listen, can you give me and Dave a ride back to town? It won’t start. Uh huh. Not sure. Yeah, an hour’s fine. Kay. Love you, too. Bye.”
          Roger walked back to the truck. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and banged one out. Lighting it, he inhaled deeply and exhaled.
          “Thought you quit,” Dave said.
          “Eh.”
          “Gimme one, would ya?”
          Dave pulled a cigarette from the pack that Roger extended. He lit it off of the other lit cigarette. They stood for a moment in the crisp air, their fogged breath mingling with the smoke.
          “You know, I’m beginning to think this place is cursed or haunted or somethin’,” Dave said. “That thing yesterday and now this. My luck ain’t great but it’s never been this bad.”
          “Donna be here in about an hour. Let’s see if we can get the dozer started again and finish that back cut. The ground’s s’posed to freeze later this week.”
          “All right.”
          They walked across the clearing to the bulldozer. Dave climbed up into the cab, turned the key and it started. The machine rumbled and as he put it into gear and tried to move the machine forward, the sound of twisting metal shrieked through the valley. The bulldozer lurched and stalled.
          “Shit,” Roger exclaimed. He walked around to the other side of the bulldozer. “The track’s completely off.”
          “It’s not a complete showstopper,” Dave said as he climbed down, “but it will take us some time to get another one out here. I’ll call and see about gettin’ some parts. Take at least a week, I figure.”
          “Eleven, twelve hundred.”
          “Yeah. At least.”
          Dave sucked on his cigarette and threw it into the dirt. Exhaling, he shook his head and squatted down next to the track. He ran his fingers across the broken metal, clean and bright against the other muddy parts. He noticed something. Among the tangled metal shavings, he noticed what appeared to be small footprints. His eyes followed the trail of steps to the field. ‘Rabbit or squirrel,’ he thought. But part of him wasn’t entirely convinced.

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 4)

          The Elder stood on a podium at the base of the steps in front of Town Hall. Word spread quickly in the town, particularly after Igdryll mentioned what happened to Tragdyll. A crowd gathered and they were eager to hear more. War was big news, the only news really to have occurred in many months. The last event of any interest was Oyroll’s mushroom barn burning down.
           “Quiet now,” the Elder shouted. “I know war is an unhappy business but it is a business we must do.” The crowd pressed closer. “Now, I have gone to the Vale and seen for myself of what Igdryll and Evelya spoke. I have ill news,” the Elder paused. “It’s Tall Men.”
          The crowd gasped. Adralla, the town’s oldest woman, fainted.
          “No one likes to send anyone, not even Tall Men, to the spirit,” the Elder continued. “But, I fear it may necessary.” He waved his staff to silence the crowd. “Now, the Council commands me to go back tomorrow and for this they say I need volunteers to come with me.”
          Everyone fell silent as the Elder scanned the crowd but he only encountered averted gazes.
          “Very well,” he said. “I will consult the bones.” He removed a small pouch from his belt and shook several small bones into his gnarled hand. “Behold,” he said while lifting up his hand.
          He closed his eyes, mumbled something and threw the bones onto the dirt before the crowd. He opened his eyes and stared at the jumble. The bones trembled, then spun before settling to a stop. The Elder smiled.
          “The bones have chosen,” the Elder paused. “Igdryll Tradagast.”
           “Fark me, oldish!” Igdryll shouted from the back of the crowd. He pushed his way to the front and glared at the Elder. “Them bones didn’t ask me, so it don’t count none. I’m not cut for warish activities.”
          “Now, Igdryll,” the Elder said. “The bones have spoken and, as always, spoken true.”
          “How says? Only you can read them anyhows. Coulda said we need to eat more acorn stew or hurl our poos at each other.”
          “The matter is settled. We leave in the morning.” The Elder descended from the podium and walked up the Town Hall’s steps.
          “Wait, now. You said volunteers. Who more?”
          The Elder turned. “The bones said just you, Igdryll. They seem to fancy you a great deal.” The Elder opened the door, went inside and the door slowly closed behind him.
          “Great,” Igdryll said.

Harold’s Hats and Murder Emporium

          “Well, Harold, people just aren’t buying hats like they used to,” Mitch said.
          “Hell, I know…but what do you suggest?”

          At that moment, a rail of a man in a tweed suit walked by leading a small child by the hand. The man tugged firmly, too firmly, at the boy’s hand as the child winced in pain.

          “C’mon, you lousy humgruffin!” the finely dressed man shouted to his bespectacled child whose tears threatened to overwhelm the little one’s rosy cheeked face.

          Harold and Mitch looked at one another and thus was born, ‘Harold’s Hats and Murder Emporium.’

The End

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 3)

           Few have seen the inside of Town Hall. Just beyond the front doors leading to the inner chamber is a larger oak door that is covered in carvings of ancient heroes and verses from scripture in the Old Tongue. Beyond these doors is the council chamber, unseen by most. The council itself consists of the Elder, who serves as the mouthpiece for the group, and six others whose identities are unknown. This arrangement isn’t questioned by anyone in the village because, by consensus of popular opinion, the council is never wrong. Also, the town has remained prosperous for as long as anyone can recall. The only murmurings against the Council occurred many years ago when some spoke out saying the council wasn’t real. In response, every year on the Spring equinox, six cloaked and hooded figures appear on the roof of Town Hall. It has become quite a festival.
           “Igdryll, leave the drink,” the Elder said.
           “The mug I leave but the drink, I take.”
           Downing the remaining cider, he set the mug down on a nearby table. The Elder rolled his eyes.
           “Now listen, Igdryll. Be truthful with the council. They will see into your heart,” the Elder paused. “And, they know of your doubt.”
           “If they see my heart, why they need to talk to me, eh?”
           “It’s complicated. But they need to see that your words and your heart match.”
           The Elder knocked on the door with his gnarled staff and the doors shuddered slightly before slowly swinging open. Stairs led down into darkness. The Elder took a torch from a basket, whispered something and blew on it. The pitch smoldered briefly then ignited.
           “Come now,” the Elder said. “You may not believe but you must respect.”
           Igdryll followed the Elder down. As they descended, the steps went from being carefully hewn treads to careworn stones and then pure, living rock. Igdryll stumbled. ‘Cider’s takin’ hold,’ he thought.
           They descended several hundred feet before they reached another door, this one carved from rock. It matched the scale of the doors at the top of the stairs but lacked the adornment. Still, they possessed a simple beauty.
           The Elder walked up to the door and turned back to Igdryll. “It’s important that you understand that beyond these doors is not a place in the usual sense of the word. Time and space do not, well, work in quite the same way. It will be a bit disorienting.”
           Igdryll nodded. “All right, then.”
           The Elder turned back to the door and spoke, softly at first, then the speech became chanting. The timbre drilled into Igdryll’s head. He tried to shut it out but it seemed to pervade his entire being. Igdryll remembered something. When he was twelve summers old, he had a strange dream. He felt asleep but awake at the same time somehow. His body felt as if some energy was sliding through it. As much as he tried, he could not move and it felt like he was being watched by some entity. As the Elder continued the chant, Igdryll’s sense of horror grew and he felt exactly the same now as he did those many summers ago during that dream, or whatever it was.
           “Nay. Stop,” Igdryll said. The Elder did not respond. Everything went black.

“Igdryll,” the Elder said. To Igdryll, he sounded very far away. “Igg, come on now. Wake.”
           “What the hork happened?” Igdryll sat up staring absently at the stone entryway to the council chambers.
           “You did fine,” the Elder said.
           “Did what fine?” Igdryll stood, swayed but regained his balance. “What you talkin’ about now?”
           “The Council found your truth. We must prepare now.” The Elder ascended the pathway, his torch fading as he rounded a large boulder. Igdryll stood in place, still dazed. “Come now.”
           “Prepare? For what?”
           “War.”

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 2)

          “What talk is this?” The Elder asked, eyeing Igdryll suspiciously.
           “I say it twice times now. A third won’t change it.”
           “You say you were on your way to Mr. Dallver’s?”
           “Aye. To, nay from. “We,” he motioned to Evellya, “see yellow moving house that lifts dirt. More dirt than our town size, it seemed.”
           “Consult the others, I must.”
           The Elder ascended the steps of the town hall and opened the large, carved door. The door closed behind him with a labored creak. A few bystanders had gathered near the steps and discussed the event. Igdryll sat down and Evellya sat beside him.
           “What you think it is?” she asked.
           “Dunno. Know it’s not good though. Know it by my bones, Eva.” Igdryll removed his peaked cap and smoothed his hair back. “Goin’ to Dallver’s now.”
           “But the Elder comin’ back in short.”
           “The Elder use his magic to find me if he need me.”

           The pub was nearly empty. Mr. Dallver was wiping down the bar and Tragdryll was sitting in a corner drinking a cider.
           “Hey, Igg,” Tragdryll said. His speech was slurred.
           “Hey, Trag. Hey, Mr. Dallver,” Igdryll raised a hand. “Cider pint, please you.”
           Mr. Dallver filled a mug. The foam spilled over and he handed it across the bar to Igdryll.
           “Thank ye,” he said, taking the pint jug. Igdryll sat down by Tragdryll. No one knows exactly just how old Tragdryll is but he is easily the oldest gnome in town. He lost his wife almost two years ago. Literally lost his wife. They were walking in the Old Wood which is on the other side of town opposite the Vale and she simply vanished. The town spent a halfmoon looking for her but she was never found. Ever since then, Tragdryll spent most of his time in Dallver’s. A few whispered that maybe he helped his wife get lost but he was cleared after the Elder cast the bones. The bones said that he was telling the truth and they never lie.
           “You be pale, Igg.”
           “Aye. Strange day.”
           They both took sips of their ciders. Igdryll had a passing thought that he was looking at his future self.
           “Eva and me see something beyond the Vale. Something I don’t like.”
           “The Vale, eh? Why you kids always be messin’ with it.” He sipped his cider. “When I was youngish, no one went there. We respected it. Respected it because we respected the Elder.”
           “Eh. I heard stories’bout your youngish years and nay one of ’em included the words ‘respect’ and ‘elder’ in em.”
           “What you see, anyways?”
           “Dirt moving house.”
           “A dirt moving house? ‘Kay.”
           “Nay. For real.”
           “I be drunk twice over and I still know your story be shat.” Tragdryll took another sip. “Ain’t nothin’ beyond the Vale but…well, not sure. But it sure as shat ain’t a dirt movin’ house, I can tell ya.”
           “Well, I seen it,” Igdryll sipped his cider. “Smokin’, movin’, yellow house.”
           “How’s, Eva?”
           “I dunno. She does her things. I do my things.”
           “She fancies you, ya know.”
           “Eh,” Igdryll grunted. “I’m out. You want another?”
           “Aye.”
           Mr. Dallver poured two more ciders. Igdryll took them back over to the table and sat down. The door behind them opened suddenly. The Elder walked in.
           “Fark,” Igdryll muttered.
           “You know I can hear you, Igdryll,” the Elder said. “Come now, the Council needs to talk with ya.”
           “The Council?” Igdryll said. “The Council can talk fine with me right here.”
           “Nay. Come now. Let’s go.”
           “Fine then.” Igdryll stood up. “I’m takin’ me cider though.”
           Igdryll dropped three silver coins on the bar, looked at Tragdryll and dropped one more.
           “Take care of Trag, too.” Mr. Dallver nodded. “See ya,” he said as he waved at Tragdryll and walked out the door.

The Adventure of Idgryll the Drunken Gnome (part one)

I finally dusted off this story which has been lying around my office under various piles of radio gear, other piles of half-finished stories and lord knows what else. I intend to post it here in bite size pieces from time to time.

          It was early Autumn and although Igdryll wasn’t entirely finished with what he was doing, he decided to stop anyway. You see, Igdryll is a gnome and a carpenter. The best one in town–carpenter, that is. That he is the only carpenter did little to dampen his impression of his own abilities. He dusted his hands off on his pants and left the cricket barn to make his way back to the village.
          In the distance, a white tendril of smoke drifted and the faint fragrance of burning leaves filled the air. This was Igdryll’s favorite time of year. The crops are coming in, the orchards are heavy with apples and figs, the combs are thick and dripping with clover honey. And, most importantly, Mr. Dallver rolls up last year’s cider from the cellar and uncorks it.
          Igdryll fully intended to head straight to Mr. Dallver’s at this very moment because it wouldn’t be very crowded since everyone else was working. Lost in this thought, he didn’t notice as Evellya approached from behind.
          “Afta noon, Igg!”
          He dropped his toolbox scattering an assortment of chisels and hammers into the tall grass by the path.
          “Bullfachs, Evey! Ya shorn’t do that.” He stooped down to collect his tools. “Might ya help?”
          “Ya shorn’t curse like that now. I help ya. Here.” She picked up a hammer from under a bush and handed it to him. “Ya know I be in the woods a lot.”
          “Yah,” he said.
          “I see somethin’ peculiar might, I did.”
          “Yah.”
          “Now I serious, Igg. I seen something beyond the Vale there.”
          “Now you shain’t go beyond that Vale,” Igdryll said. “Nothin’ there for us. You know me Uncle Olltort, he went beyon’ the Vale and came back actin’ all funnyish.” Igdryll picked up his toolbox and walked towards town. “Still all mumble mumbles.”
          “Yer uncle drinks too much,” Evelya said.
          “True told. But the drinkin’ came after the Vale, nay before.”
          “Come see it with me.”
          Igdryll stopped and looked at her. “Nar.”
          “Please.”
          “Twice nar.”
          “Two drinks?”
          “Let me drop my tools off firstish.”

          After stopping by the cricket shed to drop off the toolbox, they entered the nearby woods. Idgryll never liked the woods much. When he was four summers old, his cousin, Myrdrigg, took him deep into the forest to play hide and seek. Well, actually just hide. After burrowing deep into the hollow of a willow tree by the Old Grey Stream, Igdryll promptly got his foot caught. Myrdrigg was more than halfway home by this time and figured that his little cousin would soon figure things out and come home on his own. When the first stars appeared, Myrdrigg got worried and told his mom who, after whipping his backside with a hazel rod, organized the town to search the woods. They found Igdryll pretty quickly. The town’s tanner, Ogdlot, heard him screaming. Although, Idgryll was only stuck in the willow for a few hours, it felt like an eternity to him. Always after that, he swore to anyone who would listen that the willow whispered to him, “Iya eats you now!” Igdryll figured that if the willow felt that way, all the trees harbored similar dispositions so he avoided the woods when possible.
          They ventured deeper into the woods and Idgryll turned around. Noticing that the field was occluded by the cedars, he began to seriously reconsider.
          “Three times,” he said.
          “Aye now,” Evelya asked. “Three times what?”
          “Cider drinks, fowl face.”
          “Two were promised and agreed upon now. Two it stands.”
          “Fine,” he mumbled.
          The cedars gave way to oak and hickory. The ancient canopy of golden and red leaves blocked the afternoon sun, giving the light a cheery but diminished hue. Just ahead was the Old Gray Stream.
          “This a way,” Evelya said, motioning downstream. “We can ford there now.”
          They walked to the edge of the stream. A slow but steady column of water swirled amongst several boulders. A hickory, its bark flaked and ragged, had fallen across the stream. They crossed with little difficulty and continued along the moldy forest floor. Occasional mushroom balls puffed, scattering dark earthy smelling powder into the still, damp air.
          They continued and the hardwood trees slowly gave way to towering sycamores. The Vale was close now.
          “We made it,” Evelya said as she stepped through a cluster of elderberry bushes. Before them a wide river churned and chortled.
          “The Vale,” Evelya whispered.
          “Aye, the Vale,” Igdryll said. “So where be it?”
          “Yonder. Look you.”
          “I be lookin’ but seein’ nothin’.”
          “Through there,” she said pointing between two mammoth sycamores.
          “Fark,” he said. Through the trees he could just discern the top of what appeared to be a yellow house.
          “What is it?” Igdryll asked.
          “Dunno.”
          A puff of black smoke came from the top of the yellow house and it began to move, slowly at first and then more quickly. A giant yellow scooper rose up carrying a pile of dirt and rock.
          “Go back now,” Igdryll said as he turned back to the woods.
          “Stay and see it.”
          “Nay. We tell the Elder. Come now.”
          Igdryll retreated into the woods. He didn’t know what he had just seen but he knew that it wasn’t good. He raced to get away as Evelya struggled to keep up.
          “Slow now, Igg!” Evelya shouted.
          “Nay.”
          Igdryll stopped running but still continued at a brisk pace not caring if Evelya kept up or not. He crossed the fallen tree and made his way out of the woods. He was in such a hurry that he forgot his toolbox that was still at the barn.
********