Sticklewood Huts

Ogle was leant over the edge of the boat, puking his guts out into the dark waters below. He emerged back onto deck a few moments later, pale faced, his legs wobbling dangerously underneath him. Barkle grabbed hold of his arm but Ogle shrugged him off and leant over the bow once more, attacked by another wave of nausea. Gargol stood behind the small vessel’s wheel, sneering snidely at Ogle’s sorry state. Elves weren’t good at dealing with traveling on water. It was all to do with their connection to the earth. From a young age they were taught to listen and use the ground beneath their feet to navigate their environments. As the elves grew older and learnt more about the landscape around them they became more in tune with it. This resulted in a symbiotic relationship between the two. One where both parties were able to benefit. By age seven Grumpty was able to jump between trees with his eyes closed, his feet tracing the groves and contours of the branches. His ears picking up the sway and flutter of the leaves in the breeze. The only downside to this amazing ability was that it meant that any other surface such as water, posed a serious problem for the pointed eared creatures. Grumpty wasn’t as bad as the other elves as his time spent in the company of the owls, learning to traverse the currents of the air had helped him get use to different environments. Still it wasn’t plain sailing by any means and it was a struggle to keep his breakfast down. They had been sailing for half a day so far through a series of narrow rivers and streams that twisted and snaked their way through the deep woods. Gargol had spent the majority of their journey so far, laughing at the sick elves and picking his nose. This hadn’t particularity bothered the elves as this was expected from a hobgoblin. It was commonly known that they were vile and rude creatures. The only issue was that Grumpty had an uneasy feeling brewing in the pit of his stomach. What was to say that once the elves arrived Gargol wouldn’t run off and inform the wolves of their arrival? They had paid a fair price for the journey downstream but according to Azral it was well known that wolves paid a high price for information on possible prey. So Grumpty wasn’t unfounded in his concerns and bearing this in mind he had taken the other elves aside inside their cabin, away from Gargol’s prying ears. He was pleased to discover that he was not alone in his thoughts. Azral, Nut and Barkle were also skeptical about Gargol’s allegiance. Ogle would have probably been too if he hadn’t been focusing all his thoughts on not throwing up. Mugleaf on the other hand seemed unconcerned by the topic of discussion and seem more interested in a large bark bound journal which he scribbled in fastidiously. Together they formed a plan, in the eventuality that Gargol might attempt to betray them.   

 

Just when Ogle thought he could endure no more of the rocky journey, the first mud hut came into view. This marked the elves arrival at Sticklewood and as the boat passed the hut and rounded a curve in the river, more huts and shacks appeared on the river banks either side of them. As the boat slowed and pulled up to a deserted, rotting jetty, rain began to fall from the sky. Mugleaf who had remained all of silent during the voyage glanced up at the overcast sky and commented on how it was a bad omen. The other elves laughed at this remark, putting it down to Mugleaf’s tendencies to be overdramatic. For once Grumpty didn’t join in and as he stepped off the boat onto the rickety jetty a tight knot of anxiety began to grow in his gut. 

 

Once the provisions had been offloaded and Gargol had been paid the remaining half of his money, he hopped back onto his boat and continued downstream, leaving the small group of elves at the end of the jetty. The rain was beginning to fall harder now and Nut and Barkle were keen to get inside, away from the cold. The elves navigated their way along the jetty, being careful to avoid the missing and broken slats. At the end of the jetty Mugleaf froze and refused to go any further. Azral tried to lead him away by the hand but Mugleaf shook him off. His eyes were full of fear and he stuttered through chattering teeth that the place was cursed. The other elves didn’t laugh this time. This wasn’t one of Mugleaf’s usual overdramatic speeches. He truly believed in what he had said. Eventually through careful coaxing Nut managed to guide Mugleaf off the jetty and the elves were able to continue towards the abandoned huts. It was eerily silent as they trudged their way between the run down dwellings. Azral had mentioned that Sticklewood had been deserted for many years but this was different. It wasn’t just the lack of activity in and around the huts. There seemed to be a stillness that hung heavy in the air. No birds sang in the trees. No critters stirred on the ground. It was as if the wildlife chose to avoid the area entirely. As if the place held bad omens. Even the flowers and grass were withered and dying. The elves explored some of the huts and were surprised to find some of the tables laden with dinnerware and rotting food. It was as if the settlers had upped and disappeared in a frenzied rush. Mugleaf refused to enter any of the dwellings until the elves were able to find a hut without a set table and even then it took a great deal of gentle guidance to even get him over the threshold. By the time the elves were finally settled and had scraped together a basic, rather bland supper they made a small fire to help dry them out. They were all in low spirits. Azral was in a particularly foul mood and kept shooting daggers at Mugleaf who he felt was the cause for his water soaked garments. Grumpty sat silently in one corner, entranced by the flicker and crackle of the fire.

 

The large, snowy white Wolf King stood on the grassy verge of the river, his piercingly sharp eyes fixated on the Sticklewood huts that stood on the far side of the water. Behind him a company of young, lean looking, grey wolves waited patiently. A haggard looking wolf with a jet black coat and a large scar running through one eye stood to the Wolf King’s right, his jaw dripping with frothy saliva. The Wolf King arched his neck back and let out a loud howl. The accompanying wolves joined in, their harrowing howls slicing through the night air. 

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

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