*September*, thought Yen as he leaned on his pitchfork and watched the bright, white clouds float by like sail boats on a sea of blue. The hardwoods were just starting to turn, making the scene look as if it were fresh from the painter’s palate.
“A prettier fall morning I couldn’t find,” said his father, Corpenny Stonesmith, as he worked with a horse in the front of the barn.
The sixteen-year-old just nodded and sighed. *There’s got to be more to life that cleaning out stables and
shoeing somebody else’s horses*, he thought.
But, he would never say that to his father. He knew Corpenny had worked hard to gain the trust and good standing they all were now enjoying. Gnomes were very proud of their work and the Cutoff was very proud of his father. With a lineage reaching back to Scandinavia, and being only thirty-eight, Corpenny was indeed fortunate. Englanders didn’t usually take to outsiders quickly, but Tom had a way with the people of Windamere, and the other villages of men. Yen was just like him. War with the Saracens had left most of England strapped in 1250, but the Oxbow had all but eluded most of the hard times.
The snap of a stall latch behind him broke Yen’s concentration. He turned to see his father lead yet another horse to the front where better light and the hitching post made his work easier.
“Let’s go, Yen,” he said without looking back. “You only have three more stalls to go and you’ll be through for the day.”
“Yes sir,” Yen sighed, brushed back his long brown hair, and then glanced back one more time at the beautiful meadow.
Then, something caught his eye. It was just a flash of yellow at first, but that color had never been there before. The young lad looked closely at where he thought he had noticed it, but it was no longer there.
“Strange,” muttered Yen as he eased from the shadows of the barn.
Then, there it was again, but on the east side of the meadow this time and only about twenty paces from the forest’s edge.
“Father!” he said loudly as he watched the beautiful, golden-haired young girl dance happily toward the woods. “Father, come see this!” he added, as he turned toward Tom to make sure he was heard.
Corpenny wiped the sweat from his brown eyes, laid his towel over the chestnut’s back, and then walked toward his son. “What has your attention now, Yen?” he added impatiently.
“Have you seen...” Yen’s statement was put on hold, for as he turned back toward the meadow, he could no longer see the girl. “She was right there,” said Yen as he stretched a hand out toward the lower meadow. “She was dancing, and there were butterflies all around her...as if following her every step.”
His father eased to his son’s right side as if to study his expression. “Do you feel all right?” he added. “There are no young girls with or without butterflies who live near here except Marie. Besides, there are very few butterflies this time of year.”
“Yen shook his head slowly, still searching the meadow. “This girl was blond and had on a bright yellow dress,” the lad insisted.
“Uh huh,” said Tom as he walked back into the barn. “Get you’re mind back in the real world, Yenwolk. Come and help me.”
As Corpenny worked, he watched Yen work diligently on the stalls. *A gnome couldn’t be any prouder of his son*, he thought as he finished wiping the stallion down. He then walked back and paused just outside of the stall Yen was cleaning.
“I have to have this chestnut shoed before noon, Yen. Mr. Garner will be by to pick him up then.”
“Yes sir,” was all the lad said as he kept raking the old hay from the dingy stall.
Corpenny then stepped toward the boy and placed a hand upon his shoulder. “Working Saturdays is no fun for me
either,” he said almost apologetically. “I’ll have this little job finished before eleven or so. I could also use the rest of the weekend off. How about you?
Yen looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Can I go when I finish these two?”
“Sure,” answered Corpenny, “but where do you go? For the last three weeks, you’ve been spending time with someone and it hasn’t been Marie. I’m afraid she’s been wondering the same thing.”
“Ohhhh...I know,” said Yen as he leaned his fork on the gatepost. “I’ve been seeing Mr. Benjamin Alvis as much as he’ll let me.”
Corpenny stepped back, rubbing his chin. “Do you mean that Alvis family who lives in the white castle above the bend of Whitestone Creek?”
Yen smiled. “Yes I do, father. The Aldermen have supplied a cottage not far east of here so as to encourage him to visit us more often. Actually, he visits us more than people think. It’s his father, Old Basil, who doesn’t travel much. His son, Ben, knows all kinds of stuff like remedies, cures, medicines, and every plant in the forest. He’s a healer,” added Yen proudly.
“Yes,” agreed Corpenny as he pulled up a wooden barrel and sat upon it, “but old Basil is a wizard, and one whose reputation flies quickly before him.”
Yen frowned. “Just idle talk, father. You know how people like to talk about what and who they don’t understand, especially about that old castle.” Yen moved closer to his father. “Ben cured Marie’s mother, and she had a boil on her leg the size of a hen’s egg. You know I love the animals you work with, and I also like to work the leather and metal but...”
Yen’s voice trailed off as he looked into his father’s eyes, searching for the right words.
Tom smiled as he got up and pushed the keg to the gate’s edge. He knew what his son had been doing, and it was making him a bit anxious. “Do you think Old Ben will teach you his secrets?” he asked. “Folks like him are unusually slow to give up the things they have learned.”
Yen’s face lit up with a new enthusiasm. “That’s just it!” he exclaimed. “I believe he knows I’ve been watching him for the last several weeks, and just lately he’s allowed me inside where he works. Besides, I believe
Mrs. Margaret likes me also. You see, if Ben’s father
allows it, I can become Benjamin’s apprentice.”
Tom then looked straight at Yen. “And Mrs. Margaret is...”
“His wife of course. She said I could go almost anywhere in the cabin...that is except for the room where he works. Its doors are locked most of the time, except when Mr. Ben is in there. Every time I ask about it, she changes the subject. But that’s OK. I know a man like him is allowed secrets and probably a lot of them.”
“Very well,” said Corpenny. He started to walk from the gate, but then paused to look back. “If there’s anything out of the ordinary, I want to know about it.”
“Yes, father, and thank you.”
“Corpenny returned to the chestnut waiting patiently at the hitching post as Yen worked diligently on the two stalls he had left. As he scattered hay in the last one, he heard a muffled giggle from the darkened rafters above him. Yen froze at the gate with an armful of straw and looked up, but there was nothing to see.
“Up here, silly boy,” spoke someone exactly where he
Startled, Yen quickly looked up as he stepped back.
The pitchfork he had previously leaned against the stall gatepost caught his left foot, sending the straw into
the rafters above him as he fell to the dirt floor below. Coughing and waving the dust from the air, the young gnome struggled to his feet.
“What’s got hold of you now?” said Corpenny as he left the chestnut once more and walked briskly toward his son, who seemed to be hypnotized by something in the rafters of the old barn. “What are you looking at?” he added as he searched for what had his son’s attention.
Yen could say nothing. He just stared up into the top of the barn above the two.
“Yen!” snapped his father as he shook the lad’s shoulder.
“Yes sir,” replied Yenwolk, nervously brushing the hay and dirt from his clothes.
“What did you see?”
“I thought I...” Yen looked from the rafters to his father. “Nothing father. Just my overactive imagination, I guess.”
“Yen. Oh Yen!” called someone from outside the barn
near the chestnut.
Yen looked to the opened doors and smiled.
“Go to her,” said his father through a sigh. “There’s
nothing save Mr. Garner’s horse that can’t wait until Monday, and I’m almost through with him.”
“Thanks, father,” said Yen happily as he ran from the barn. “Marie,” he called as he neared the doors, but she was nowhere in sight.
Then, at the lower edge of one of the old oaks, he caught a glimpse of the hem of a blue dress.
“Gotcha,” he said softly as he eased up to the old tree.
He then stood as still as he could, knowing full well that her curiosity would soon get the best of her. Sure enough, after a minute or two of not hearing her name, she peaked around the right side of the tree. When she did, Yen eased up by her left side.
“Marie!” he shouted.
“Whooah!” she exclaimed as she jumped back. “Oh you...” she said with a half-hearted slap to the lad’s
“Don’t hurt him,” said Corpenny. “I need him to work
“All right,” she answered coyly, picking up a wicker basket next to the tree, “I’ll just starve him a little.”
“Uncle,” said the lad quickly as he reached for the basket.
She then moved the basket behind her and smiled. “You’re forgiven if...”
Yen raised his eyebrows as she hesitated.
“Carry me someplace special and unusual and I’ll share what I’ve got.”
“Deal,” said Yen as he smiled at her.
“Take the buggy, son,” said his father loudly, “and watch that ‘share’ stuff.”
Marie looked back and laughed. “I’ll make him behave, Mr. Stonesmith,” she replied through giggles.
“Come,” said Yen as he took the basket and her hand.
The two ran back toward the rear of the barn where his father kept the little two-wheeled buggy.
“Take the bay,” said Corpenny as they passed. “She’s not as spirited as the black.”
Yen went to the rear of the buggy and put the basket in the carrier behind the spring seat.
“Tie it in,” suggested Marie as she handed him a small piece of rope.
They then pulled it from its stall and out of the rear of the barn and then walked a short ways into the pasture.
Merry, as she was called, didn’t even need a rope. She followed closely, sniffing the gnome’s back pockets for that elusive piece of carrot or apple he often kept there just for her. Marie watched in amazement as the mare all but backed herself between the draft poles of the buggy.
Marie’s smile broadened. “It’s just like she knows what you want,” she said as she helped hitch up the horse.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked, buckling the last strap.
“To Benjamin’s cabin.” Yen grinned at her as he paused at the buggy’s seat.
“Benjamin?” she echoed with a hint of disbelief. “I’ve heard stories about him. Is he here now?”
“Yes.” As Yen extended his hand to help her to the seat, he added, “I’ve been there off and on for the last few days. I have hopes he would teach me to be a healer.”
“This should be interesting,” she quipped. “I’ve never seen him up close. I’ve never really seen any member of the old wizard’s family up close.”
“Benjamin’s more of a healer, Marie,” said Yen. “Gnomes around here are easily impressed, but I’ve never heard anyone call him a wizard, just his father.”
Marie stepped on the single step and then into the wagon. “How far is it?” she added.
“It’s across the Wolf River just east of here and past where a good friend of mine lives. You’ll love it.”
“Will it take long?”
“Less than half an hour I guess,” replied Yen as he stepped into the wagon and took up the reins. “Come up, Merry. Let’s see some countryside,” he said loudly with a gentle snap of the reins to accent his command.
Merry took off at a slow trot, and in less than five minutes the two were leaving the outskirts of the Cutoff and approaching the River.
“Look,” said Marie excitedly, “the ferryman’s on our side.”
“So he is,” noted Yen. “I hope we have as much luck with those clouds.
Marie looked to the northeast where Yen was pointing and frowned. “May be they’re going the other way.”
Yen smiled. “If not, they’ll probably meet us at
“Hurry up,” prompted the ferryman as he gestured with his right hand at the thunderheads in the distance.
“You’ve got an hour at best. Hope you don’t have a long way to go.”
“Good,” exclaimed Marie, “we can make it.”
In little time, the two were across the river and encouraging Merry on up the road and away from the ferry. As they drew near an old wooden cabin close to the road, they noticed someone in the front yard cutting the grass with a scythe.
“Johnathan Williams!” called Yen as he waved to the tall young man.
Johnathan leaned on his sickle and brushed his long black hair from his eyes. “Where are you two trouble makers off to?” he added with a grin.
“Yen’s taking me to Mr. Benjamin’s cabin for a
picnic,” answered Marie. “He knows the people there.”
Johnathan looked at Yen curiously. “You know Benjamin Alvis?” he asked curiously.
“Yes, kind of.” Yen smiled at Johnathan’s expression, “I know his wife, Margaret as well.”
“Do you know his father, Basil?” asked Johnathan.
Yen shook his head and replied, “I don’t know the old wizard at all. What is he like?”
“In his earlier days, he was very powerful, especially when he built Whitestone. Some things that happened at that time he dealt with a heavy hand.” Johnathan leaned a bit closer and added, “But mind you, he did what he thought he had to do to aid those who needed his help desperately.
“That sounds a bit better for me,” said Yen. “He wants to see me before I can become Benjamin’s apprentice.” Yen shook his head and added, “I’ve never even seen him.”
Johnathan smiled at the gnome. It was one of those ‘rather you than me’ smiles.
“Well,” he continued, “when you first meet him, don’t be put off by his looks. You’ll notice a rather nice scar on the left side of his face. It was given him some time ago by what people back then called a ‘worm’ dragon, and a real mean one.”
“How did that happen?” asked Marie.
“He tried to shoo it away from Pekenney’s stock pond. You see, that spring it planted its nest right at his pond. They’re not very big you know. This one was about the size of Welsh pony—about half as tall and three times as long. They can also fly like the big, great wings of the forest, but it only has two fore hands and no back legs.
“You mean it slithers around like a snake?” asked
“Well, from the way Pekenney described it, that’s exactly what it did. Anyway, noting the size of the beast, Old Basil tried to scare it off with a little smoke and fire.” Johnathan paused as he laughed and then continued, “That thing came right through the smoke and almost got him.” Johnathan then looked straight at Yen and added, “What ever you do, don’t get him mad. He’s got an awful temper.”
“What do you mean?” asked Marie as she noticed Yen was getting a bit anxious about the approaching storm.
“Pekenney said when the smoke cleared, the old elf was
seen leaving with a good size piece of the creature’s tail in his wagon.” He smiled as he added, “They ate them back then, you know.” Johnathan looked back at Yen and said, “I’d be careful around that place if I were you. The
woods around there are probably the strangest I’ve ever
seen—just like those around that old Whitestone Castle north of here.”
“How so?” asked Marie as she leaned forward in her seat.
Tom scratched his head, looked down at the scythe
blade, and then back up at Yen. “You two know how I make my living. I have mushroom and truffle patches from here to Brackenmore on the Green River. Old Basil doesn’t mind if I work the woods around the Old Castle either. Sometimes I try to give him some of what I grow for his kindness, but he always insists on paying me.”
“So? What are you trying to say?” asked Marie.
Johnathan stepped closer to the buggy. “I’ve seen things,” he whispered.
“What things?” prompted Yen.
“Signs, and more than just one or two.”
Yen squinted his eyes at the young man. “Droppings,
markings, or tracks? What are you talking about?”
“Do you know of ‘The Watcher’?”
“Here we go,” said Yen with a smile as he leaned back in the buggy seat. “You’re talking about that old dragon
who’s suppose to be watching me for the wizard aren’t you?”
“Don’t even start that again,” said Johnathan as he shook his head slowly. “First of all, I saw tracks of children where there should be none, and not just two or three. Their shoes were not made like ours; they didn’t have soles or heels. On another occasion, I chanced upon another track near a cave just south of the cabin where you
two are going. I harvest mushrooms from there. The track I found was a handprint, but definitely not human. It was also three times the size of my own hand and had only three fingers. Also, I found where this thing had relieved itself. It was most definitely a meat-eater. The pile of droppings was at least two feet tall.”
“Dragon?” guessed Marie.
Jonathan smiled. “You said it, not me.”
“This is getting better by the minute,” said Yen as he
slapped the armrest. Yen looked at Johnathan and grinned
again. “Children where there are none and dragons that are
too old to be alive. Are you sure you haven’t been to the Boars Head one too many times?”
Johnathan rolled his eyes and nodded toward the thunderheads. “If you two are going to make that cabin, you had better leave or you can ride it out right here.”
Yen glanced up and then looked back at Marie. “We can still make it. Get up, Merry!” he added, snapping his reins lightly.
“Just watch what you say around old Basil,” added Johnathan as they slowly pulled away. “He has no patience with men and he considers us to be too much like them.”
Marie turned and looked back at Johnathan. “It was nice seeing you again.” she said as she waved.
“Good luck,” he replied throwing a glance to the darkened clouds just north and ahead of them now.
With Merry’s quick gate and Corpenny’s light buggy, they zipped down the dusty road toward the cabin. As they neared the stretch of woods that bordered the east side of it, big drops began to announce the coming doom of their picnic.
“We’re not going to make it, Yen,” said Marie as she looked at the angry-looking clouds. They were almost directly above them.
“It’s just starting to sprinkle, Marie, and...”
Yen’s words froze in his throat as Marie screamed. But before he could get a grip on what was bothering her, Merry whinnied and then bolted to the left, sending the
buggy dangerously close to the bank where the road neared a little creek.
“Get up, Merry!” he shouted as the left wheel began to slide down the steep bank.
The young mare struggled with the wagon as Yen coached her to the right. Finally, the horse prevailed against the loose edge and pulled the buggy back onto the road.
“Whoa,” said Yen. “Ease up, girl.” As Merry slowed, Yen turned to Marie. She was gripping the armrest with both hands. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“No, not really,” she replied weakly.
“Why did you scream?”
“I saw something, and so did Merry.” Marie then looked to the woods on her right. “Something made the tops of those trees swirl. I think it wanted to come over us, but we scared it away.”
“It? What it?” quipped Yen with a bit of a smile.
Marie glared at him. “I don’t see things that aren’t
there Mr. Stonesmith,” she said angrily and then added, “It was Yellow and red, and as big as my father’s wagon.”
Yen looked at her and then glanced toward the woods in question. “Well, we’re almost there and it’s about to
pour. We had best hurry on.”
As the two neared a long stretch of straight road, the storm released its fury.
“Slow down, Yen,” Marie pleaded, “you’re going to hurt Merry.”
The lad eased up on the reins only when Merry trotted them up to the cabin.
“My word,” shivered Marie, “I’m soaked.”
“Welcome to our home,” spoke a figure that was just stepping onto the spacious front porch, which stretched to almost the entire length of the huge cabin. The lady, about forty and slander, had long sandy-colored hair. Seeing their condition, she quickly signaled to Marie. “Come quickly. We’ll let Pawl put the wagon inside the barn and take care of your horse.”
No sooner had she said that, than a tall, blond-haired elf stepped from behind her and helped Marie from the wagon.
Marie took his hand as Yen jumped from the far side of the wagon and ran to the cover of the porch.
“I’m Margaret Alvis, but you two must call me Margaret,” said the lady as she nodded and then took
Marie’s hand. “I suppose Yenwolk has told you all about us.”
Marie smiled at the lady and nodded. “I’m Yen’s good friend, Marie Kerdwyn. He said that he had made a friend in you and Mr. Benjamin.”
“Indeed,” she replied as she glanced at Yen. “We’ll get you two out of those wet things before you catch your death of a cold. Come in out of the damp,” she added, opening the front door for her.
Marie eased into the cabin, looking all about the place. She slowed, pondering the eight-foot paintings on the walls, and the brass lamps swinging from the ceilings.
As she let her hand slide across one of the huge padded chairs she noticed the fireplace on the right wall and the dining area just beyond it. They were contained in one, huge ‘L’ shaped room.
“I could stand in there,” said Marie as she edged closer to the fireplace.
“It’s just a small one, dear,” replied Margaret as she
motioned for them to continue. “You should see the one at
Whitestone. I’m so sorry about the weather,” she added. “If you follow me, I’ll show you where you can change, and
then, perhaps if you’re hungry, I’ll get you something.”
“Oh my!” exclaimed Marie. “My basket is still on the buggy. We were to have a picnic on the grounds and now I’ll bet everything in it is sopped.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Margaret as she led them down the short hall to the spare bedrooms. “When you get freshened up, we’ll have a picnic right in here. You take the first room on the left and I’ll put Yen in the one across from it. There are towels, washcloths, soap, and a bowl in each room.” She then looked at Yen as if studying
him and said, “You are about Benjamin’s size, and you,” she added looking at Marie, “are about my size.”
“Where is Mr. Benjamin?” asked Marie as she looked
back toward the family room.
Margaret hesitated, and then said, “His Nibs is behind the door you passed in the family room doing what I’m sure I wouldn’t understand. If he makes a mistake you’ll hear it. She then added, “While you two change, I’ll see what Elenoir is working on for dinner.
“Who is Elenoir, Martha?” asked Marie.
“Oh, she and Pawl are always with us when we’re away from Whitestone.”
Just then, thunder sounded quite loud making Marie
Margaret smiled at her antics. “I believe we’ll have our little picnic in the library. It has a wonderful view through its wall overlooking a little flower garden. They both were built by Johnathan, one of Yen’s friends.”
“Wall?” mouthed Marie.
Johnathan just shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows.
In just a few minutes, Yen was in his room, finishing up and listening to Margaret explaining the various things on walls in the hall.
Yen eased his door open and stepped into the hall.
“Aw, Marie,” he added as stepped into the hallway. “You’ve seen oil lamps before.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “but this one looks like the head of some fearsome animal.”
“It’s a dragon’s head,” explained Margaret, as she hid her smile with her right hand and added, “It took me a good while to get used to this place also.” She then opened a pair of doors to a room where the hallway ended. “Come, and I’ll show you something that will beat even that.”
Marie slipped by Yen and quickly joined her. “My word,” she exclaimed as she entered the spacious room.
“I’ve never seen so many books and...” Her voice trailed off to a whisper as she looked to her left. “How
beautiful,” she added weakly as she approached its southern wall. “I’ve never new Johnathan could do things like this.”
The window made up almost the entire south wall of the huge room. From each corner it spanned a good thirty feet, and from the floor it reached ten feet to the ceiling.
“Yes,” agreed Margaret, “but that’s not what I meant.” The young lady then pointed toward a huge statue standing on the other side of the window.
As Marie turned, her eyes widened as words failed her. There, stood a seven-foot statue of a being she had never seen before. It had the body of a trim, muscular man
dressed in deerskin pants and brown tunic trimmed in forest green and gold. But what really had her attention was the
being’s head. It was the head of a goat with long, curving horns and gray-green eyes.”
“That’s no man,” noted Yen as he stepped between the girls for a better look at the statue. “Look,” he said,
kneeling before its base. “It has a name—Toland.” He then looked up at Margaret.
The lady smiled and slowly shook her head. “If you’re asking me to explain that thing, you’re out of luck.
Ben calls them Phookas. I would have a better chance at
explaining him.” She then pointed to the corner on the far side of the window.
“These are real people?” asked Marie just above a whisper as they looked at the little, red-bearded man crouched by the window.
It was carved out of a single piece of wood and hand died to a fine detail. With its right knee on the floor and its forearms resting on its left, it seemed to be studying them.
“Surely not,” quipped Yen as he moved closer to the statue. “He’s not more than three and a half feet tall.” As the lad got closer to the carving, he noticed a similarity to the other statue; it had a name carved in its base also.
“It’s Broderick,” said Margaret before Yen could kneel. “If you’ve ever heard of the ‘forest people’, now you know what one of them looks like.”
Yen turned and squinted at her. “He’s a dwarf?”
“My goodness,” said Marie as she brushed by Yen.
“Look at his shoes.”
Yen looked, but didn’t understand her point.
“No heels, no soles,” Marie tapped on the bottom of
the statue’s left shoe. “These are the ‘children’ Johnathan was speaking of.”
Yen looked at Margaret again.
“I don’t know much about Mr. Horns over there,” she quipped, but these people are real enough all right.” She then looked at Marie and added, “I’ve seen them a number of
times working with Old Ben, but they usually don’t associate with anyone else around Whitestone or Windamere.”
“Do they come here?” asked Marie.
Margaret nodded. “Mostly His Nibs meets them in the woods, but at times, I’ve heard them in the room where he works. They’re very shy around people like you and me.” Margaret then looked at Yen. “By the way,” she added,
“I’m pleased your buggy didn’t drop off into the creek below the hill leading up to the lower grounds.”
“How did you know that?” responded Yen quickly. “We didn’t tell anyone.” Yen glanced at Marie. She was slowly
shaking her head.
“His Nibs spoke of it when I brought him some fresh water. That was just before I joined you. He said a
friend had noticed the mishap from the woods.”
“We’re ready,” spoke someone from the doorway.
As Yen turned, he saw Elenoir enter the library. She was carrying two baskets; one of them was Marie’s from the wagon. She also had a lavender blanket, which she laid down in front of the huge window.
“Thank you,” said Margaret as she took the two baskets and set them down near the blanket. “We’ll eat right here,” she added.
Elenoir curtsied and left the room.
“This will do nicely,” said Margaret as she spread the blanket in front of the window. She then looked at Marie and added, “I’m afraid your meal was mostly ruined by the storm. We did save the cheese though, and exchanged the water for a nice, hot, peach tea.”
“Wonderful,” exclaimed Marie as she sat upon the blanket and patted it for Yen to join her.
The storm raged outside as torrents of rain rolled
across the huge window. Lightning played in the woods to the west as the trees danced with the wind.
Margaret joined them and opened the baskets. “We have boiled potatoes, roast chicken, steamed mushrooms, cheese,
and a most wonderful rye bread and butter.”
“Outstanding,” said Marie as she picked up one of the small capons.”
“This will help,” added Margaret as she pulled silverware, plates, and cups from one of the baskets.
“Oh, this is too good,” said Yen as he reached for the linen napkins.
Thirty minutes later found Yen still picking at one of the capons as Margaret stood and opted for a nearby chair
instead of the floor. “I haven’t shared a picnic with friends in quite a while,” she said warmly.
“It’s the best one I ever had,” said Marie. “We watched the rain, the lightning, heard the thunder, and never felt one drop.”
Margaret looked at Marie and smiled. “I’m so glad you enjoyed yourselves. “Do you like to read?” she added.
“Well...” Marie smiled sheepishly, “I do, but I’m afraid I don’t have many books to choose from—certainly not as many as I see here.”
Margaret hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Why don’t you look around here? Perhaps you’ll find a few
to your liking. I have a little something that Yen must do while you two are busy here. I’ll be back to help you in a moment or two. Come Yen,” she added, motioning for him to join her as she turned to leave.
He quickly wiped his mouth and hands and hastened after her down the hallway.
When they neared the family room, she stopped and turned to face him. “He is glad you came you know,” she said softly. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come, but His Nibs expected you anyway.”
“I...didn’t know,” admitted Yen. “I’ve been watching from a distance for quite a while, but I couldn’t figure out if I was intruding or not.”
Margaret placed her hands upon his shoulders. “You must make that decision. Neither of the wizards will encourage you in that respect. But, His Nibs has told me you are very special. This morning, one of his
friends confirmed that for him.”
Yen looked at her suspiciously. “Was she wearing a yellow—”
“No time for that,” interrupted Margaret as she escorted him into the family room.
Yen quickly noticed one of the heavy, padded chairs was placed in front of the fireplace, but it was turned toward the two doors of Ben’s workroom.
Margaret then put her hand on his shoulder and asked, “Are you interested in learning the things Ben knows, or are you merely curious?”
“I want to know and understand, if Ben would teach me.” he answered.
“Then this is the time to get Basil behind you. Take a seat in that chair.”
“What?” said Yen weakly as he heard the very name his mind had been trying to ignore.
Margaret placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and added, “I’m afraid I lied to you, Yen, but I didn’t want to scare you. My Ben has yet to return from Whitestone. When I referred to His Nibs, I was speaking of his father.”
“Fa...father?” he asked.
As he looked from Marie to the two closed doors of the laboratory, his breath nearly left him. He thought of all of the stories his grandmother had told him of the Wizard Basil and the great dragon of fire that went before him. He always loved to hear them from his Grandmother Norbi. They were his favorite because they were so scary. But now, they all came spinning off the shelves of his mind so fast he could hardly remember any of them straight.
“Yen, Yen,” said Margaret as she shook the gnome’s
shoulder. “This is no time for cold feet. Ease in through one of the doors. You’ll make less noise that way.
Do not get in his way. Do not talk unless you’re spoken to, and above all, watch and remember.”
“No buts,” said Margaret sharply. “If you are meant to be Ben’s apprentice, you will know before the sun sets.”
She then pushed him gently toward the door.
With butterflies in his stomach, he stopped short and stared at it. *Just on the other side of this one-inch piece of oak is the one father had warned me about the most*, he thought.
“Go on,” Margaret whispered, nodding toward the door.
Yen pulled the handle down and eased open the right door. It was as bright as daylight inside. He could see four oil lamps burning, in various places as he eased through the door and quietly closed it. He could also see
the old elf on the left side, straightening and fussing with articles on their many shelves. He seemed to be looking for something and never acknowledged his presence. The old fellow was stooped, and thin to the point of looking almost frail. As the world of men would judge age, he looked to be at least eighty years old. But as Yen watched him move, he appeared to be quite spry. His thinning hair was as white as sheets on his mother’s line, and his beard reached halfway down his chest.
“It’s a wonder he can find anything,” snapped the old wizard as he flung a jar of something to a nearby barrel.
Yen took a deep breath. He already sounds irritated, thought the gnome.
Basil then he spoke again without even looking around. “Can you remember what you see, young son of Stonesmith?”
“Yes sir,” answered the lad—a bit surprised the old elf even knew he was there.
Brushing the hair from his eyes, the old wizard turned his attention to working with a two-foot wide wicker basket he had found on one of the shelves. Yen’s heart began to beat faster. The old fellow seemed to be frustrated with something as he struggled to keep his hair from his face.
Yen eased away from the doorway and around a long table to a corner where a tall cabinet stood against the wall. The old wizard then turned and started clearing off the very table he had just stepped around.
“Can you recall it after a month or so?” grumbled the old wizard without looking up.
“Yes sir,” said Yen quickly.
For the first time, Yen could now get a good look at
the old one’s face. The scar on its left side started up in his hair somewhere and came straight down his forehead, skipped across his left eye, and then plowed a furrow down his cheek to just under his chin. His clear, blue eyes didn’t appear to be the eyes of an old elf, but rather the eyes of someone who wouldn’t give in to death without a fight.
Yen’s hands turned sweaty as he could now hear his own heart beating. Throwing a cold stare to the gnome, the old wizard retrieved the basket and placed it on the shelf directly across from Yen. He then moved about the room as if looking for something else. Upon finding a fourteen-inch abalone shell-of-a-bowl, he placed it and the basket upon the table directly in front the lad, eying the young gnome as he did so. Yen quickly broke eye contact to look at the things on the two open shelves beneath the table. There were jars of different colored powders, spices, and what appeared to be crushed crystals. On the bottom shelf, were glass containers full of seeds and things that moved among what looked like glowing embers and smoke. Then, he noticed a particularly large glass container with a heavy metal lid. It contained what looked like chewed up paper and sawdust.
Yen checked the wizard once more. He was once again on the other side of the room looking for something.
With slightly more than a good step, the gnome was kneeling in front of the mysterious container. Yen took hold of the round, red ball in the middle of its lid and was just about to open it when something jarred the floor
beneath him. Startled, the young novice dropped the lid back to the jar, fell away from the table, and ended up sitting on the floor right back where he started.
“Away from that jar with the red ball,” exclaimed Basil without turning around.
Yen scrambled to his feet, watching the old elf return to the table in front of him.
Shooting another icy stare at Yen he added, “It will take you the better part of a week to get over the sting that lava will gift you with if you put your hand in that jar.”
Yen then looked at the jar a bit closer. “Helldrovite,” he said as he finally read the label.
“Troll killer,” said Basil as he paused and for the first time, he almost smiled. “There are many serious tests in life,” continued the old elf as he turned up one of the lamps and placed it close to the left side of the bowl. “This is but the first of mine for you. They will, perhaps, change the way you look at life. How far you go will depend on your faith in those you are about to meet.”
“Marie did see something,” said Yen weakly.
“Indeed,” replied Ben just above a whisper as he
pulled a crystal jar from the basket and placed it close to the lamp. Its contents sparkled like a thousand crushed pearls as he turned the label of the jar toward the lad.
“Levastadt,” read Yen just above a whisper.
“The wings of faeries,” replied Basil. As he watched the lad’s expression he added, “To trust someone you know
and love is very easy, but to trust in those you have just
met usually proves to be much more difficult.”
Ben then opened the jar of Levastadt. Holding it over the makeshift bowl, he tilted the jar slightly, letting some of its contents float, as if in a dream, down to the shell.
He then held out his hands as if toward the gnome, but when the wizard spoke, it wasn’t to Yen. “Come, ye wizard’s wind,” he said softly. “Stir and move about the leaves. Break the ties that hold us to this world and dispel our disbeliefs.”
*He’s working a spell*, thought the gnome as he backed into the corner by the cabinet. *If father knew what was happening, he’d have a cow*.
“Holliock!” exclaimed Basil so loud that Yen jumped.
The levastadt began to sparkle, hiss, and swirl in the makeshift bowl—growing to a height of two feet above it.
He then looked back to the basket, placed his right hand to his chin, and said, “Yellow, I believe.”
Yellow rose petals drifted up from the basket and floated into the miniature devil’s wind.
“Oak,” he said next, and the word brought bark, and
seed, and leaf in the same manner.
Now the vortex began to twist, glow and sparkle in such a way that the abalone bowl began to shake and wobble.
Yen, with eyes widened, backed even deeper into the corner. Every bone in his body was screaming for him to leave, but his mind was captivated by what he was now seeing. What I have heard was right, he thought. He is a powerful wizard, but what of Ben?
The old elf then backed from the swirling vision before him, stopped, and then smiled at what only he was apparently seeing. “Come to me,” he added softly, as a father would call his own child.
Upon his last syllable, the twisting and spinning apparition burst into a flash of blinding light.
Yen quickly shielded his eyes for a moment, and then looked back at the abalone shell. “My word,” he said softly as he beheld a young faerie standing where the
vortex once existed. Yellow hair, yellow dress, thought Yen as his eyes widened even more. I saw her dance below the barn this morning. “You made her?” he asked weakly.
“Silly boy,” spoke the faerie as she looked back over her right shoulder.
“Called her,” corrected old wizard as he gently picked
her up and sat her into the basket. “Conceal her with this and take her to the woods,” he said to Yen as he placed a white linen cloth alongside the basket. “Be gentle now. Her name is Trillia. You’ll need a guide if you are to be my son’s apprentice. You are green as the summer’s grass and the things you do not know greatly outnumber those you do. But the world of men has not shaded you yet. Your parents are honest and loving, and the craft has once again surfaced in the Cutoff’s midst.”
Craft? thought Yen as he stepped toward the basket, but before he could voice the obvious question, the old wizard turned and left the room without another word.
Then, all at once, a feeling washed over his entire body—a feeling that he had never experienced before. Worry had left him and took wanting with it. He became unusually calm about what had just happened. The prospect of his own
future no longer troubled him. He then looked down at the basket and saw the faerie. She was smiling up at him and touching his hand.
“Careful now,” said the lad as he spread the linen cloth over the basket.
Yen then turned and opened one of the doors to peep
into the family room. Margaret was sitting in the chair he had just left and Marie was by her side.
As soon as Marie saw him enter the room, she started for him, but Margaret stopped her. “Not now, child,” she said softly. “This is something he must do on his own.”
Yen smiled and continued to the front door. As he opened it and stepped onto the front porch, he stopped cold with the latch still in his hand.
“Greetings, young Stonesmith,” said a man just in front of him.
Yen froze in place. He had never laid eyes upon him now. He looked to be a hunter, all dressed in deerskin, but he was carrying an elfin sword and a bow of the white wood also.
“I was told to expect you. Welcome to Whitestone.” added the guard.
“Whi...Whitestone?” asked Yen as he closed the door
The resounding ‘boom’ of its closing was nothing close to what the cabin door should have made. He paused for a moment, almost afraid to look back, when his noticed the grounds behind the young hunter. The Cutoff Road was gone and before him now was a huge lawn. He was now also under a huge, covered front porch with a fieldstone floor.
Yen looked up at the guard and finally said, “I’m to take this to the woods.”
The man pointed to Yen’s right and replied, “Go to the far corner of the castle. There you will see a little bridge. Once you cross it, you’ll almost be in them.”
Yen then turned and looked at the two heavy doors and the sides of the castle. The stones were blinding white, as if they had just been washed by the storm that had just visited the cabin.
“Go on now, and clear your head,” prompted the guard. “If you are on a wizard’s chore, you wouldn’t want to disappoint him.”
“Yes sir,” said Yen as he turned and walked along the north side of the castle. When he reached the corner, he stopped dead in his tracks. The bridge was there all right, but so was a most unusual dragon the guard had
failed to mention. Its back, the top half of its tail, and
the leading edge of its wings were of a reddish-orange color. The rest of him was a most brilliant yellow. What’s more, he was lying directly across the path just before it crossed the bridge.
“Valkyrie take me now,” said Yen weakly as he dropped the basket to the ground. Thoughts of Norbi’s stories of the great, red dragon that went before the Wizard Basil filled his head once again, making his legs like jelly.
“Snap out of it!” said Trillia sharply. “Show a little backbone! At least walk up and speak to the lizard,” she snapped.
Yen looked back up at the apparition Basil had set before him. It seemed to be picking its short fangs with its long, white claws.
This is just too much, thought the gnome. I know trust has something to do with this, but I trusted to do the right thing with the crystal and got the poo beat out of me. “Ouch!” responded Yen as he jumped and looked down at the basket. “Don’t pinch me!” he added sternly.
Trillia peeped at him from under the cloth and snapped, “I’ll do more that that if you don’t go on, and
don’t drop this basket again.”
She then ducked back down and jerked the linen cloth back over the basket. Glancing at the dragon, Yen reluctantly picked up the basket. Here lies Yenwolk Stonesmith, he thought, and there, and there and—”
“That way!” came a muffled voice from the basket as a little hand came from under the cloth and pointed toward the bridge, and the dragon.
“Right,” replied the gnome as he slowly walked toward what most other gnomes would have already hidden from.
Stopping just beyond the beast’s reach, Yen sized him up. He was a great-winged, no doubt, and every bit as big as Norbi had described. His ivory-like claws on his forehands were digging furrows in the path before him.
“I have to cross the creek,” said Yen as strongly as he was able. Getting no response, Yen asked, “Will you yield the bridge?”
“And if I don’t?” asked the dragon. “You have neither sword nor lance, and I haven’t eaten in a week.”
Yen cleared his throat and swallowed hard. “I regret I have nothing for you,” he replied. “I have to take this
basket to the woods for the Wizard Basil.”
“Only to the woods, young novice?” asked the dragon. “Some wizard’s chores are hidden in a lie. Some have a
terrible price. When you cross that wizard’s bridge, the toll could be time, service, labor, gold, blood...or worse.”
“I know your name,” added the gnome loudly, ignoring what was just said.
The great beast then raised his head as though looking even more down his nose and the gnome and replied, “Then give it quietly.”
“Llosgwr, (Loss gwer)” whispered Yen.
Then, as if it were a great imposition, the dragon stood, took one step back from the path, and then laid back down. “Still coming?” he asked as though in a dare.
“Great,” mumbled Yen as he looked at the huge forehands on the creature still only inches from the edge of the path.
Shifting the basket away from the dragon, Yen walked calmly toward the bridge. “I trust you will not harm either of us, Llosgwr,” he said, watching the beast’s huge, yellow eyes.
The dragon then raised his head toward the clouds and roared so loud it almost made the gnome drop the basket again. Yen froze in place with his eyes shut; every hair on his body was standing up and awaiting the dragon’s
touch. Then, he could feel the beast’s breath so close to his face it made the hairs in his right ear move as it spoke.
“There’s far too many words in this world, young prentice,” he said softly. “But . . . I think of all the words the world of men had dreamed up, I like the one you just used the best.”
“Trust?” asked Yen as he cracked one eye and looked at the dragon.
Even though his voice was clear and strong, his eyes looked tired and old. Although his fangs were small, and his mulish ears were kept low along side of his neck, he still looked anything but comical. The short, fur-like hair under his eyes extended back to and well upon his ears. At one time, it must have been a brilliant red, but now it was more gray than any other color.
“You may continue,” spoke Llosgwr as he nodded toward the bridge.
Yen eased across the swinging bridge, holding on to
the hand rope with every step. As he came to the far side, he stepped back onto the path and paused.
Don’t feel a thing, thought the gnome as he tried to smile and look back at the dragon, but he had already left.
The first tree was just steps away. When he got to it he stopped and placed the basket near its base.
As good a place as any, he thought as he knelt and uncovered the basket--an empty basket.
“Gone again!” exclaimed Yen as quiet as his amazement would allow.
“Silly boy,” spoke a familiar voice in front of him.
Slowly, Yen looked up from the basket to the same little Sprite dressed in yellow standing right in front of him. But now, she was almost as tall as Marie. He could do nothing but stare. She had a loveliness he had never seen in anyone else. Her skin was creamy and flawless like her long yellow hair, which seemed to float on the slightest breeze. Her eyes were the lightest blue and sparkled with a happiness most gnomes could only yearn for.
She smiled at his effort to speak, but Yen couldn’t find the right words.
“If you are to serve, young apprentice,” she spoke softly, “you must first believe in me.”
“I...do,” replied Yen weakly as he stood.
“Then, you must also be aware of your self, but first of dragon, and of dwarf, and of elf. You must embrace the
good, loath the dark, and seek the wisdom to tell which is
which. Your power, young magus, lies in the past of the Oxbow—the home of the Gnomes.”
Trillia then smiled as she leaned to one side to look around the gnome.
“Yen. Oh, Yen.” called a familiar voice from behind him.
How did Marie get to the castle? thought Yen as he wheeled around.
“What are you doing out there all by yourself?” she asked.
The young prentice could do nothing but stare. He was no longer at the castle, or even across the bridge. He was standing at the edge of the woods just east of Benjamin’s cabin. Yen quickly turned but it was of no use. The woods he now beheld was quite different, and Trillia, once again, was gone.
“Yen! I’m talking to you!” exclaimed Marie as she walked up behind the gnome.
“I’m sorry, Marie,” said Yen softly as he turned to face her. “For a minute, I completely forgot where I was.”
“Basil said I could go to you. He even knew where
you were.” Marie took his hands, looked into his eyes, and then added, “Are you all right?”
Yen smiled as he nodded. “I now know what direction my life is taking. Basil has made the path clear. I have just crossed my last bridge of doubt and made it without a tooth mark.”
Marie looked at him through squinted eyes. “There you go again,” she finally said softly. “I don’t have the slightest idea of what you’re talking about.”
“No doubt,” replied the gnome through a grin as he took her hand and started back toward the cabin. “I’ll explain everything crystal clear as we go back home.” He then stopped, turned toward her, and then looked into her eyes. “I would like to know one thing.” he asked softly.
“Just ask it Yen. You know I’ll try to help you.”
The gnome dropped his gaze to the grass at his feet and then looked back up at her, “I would like you to be with me,” he asked just above a whisper.
Marie’s opened mouth slowly formed a smile. “That’s the first positive thing I have ever heard you say, Yenwolk
Stonesmith.” She then squeezed his hand and as they turned back toward Benjamin’s cabin, she added, “Every step of the way, Yen. Every step of the way.”