The Feast

Grumpty’s eyes slowly flickered open. Thin strands of sunlight filtered through a canopy of leaves high above him. He lay still, drinking in the warm oranges, browns and greens that swamped his vision. The powerful glare of the sun backlit the ceiling of leaves, allowing Grumpty to observe the wispy, exoskeletons running through the leaves. A slight breeze ruffled the canopy and one of the auburn leaves came loose, slowly spiraling and drifting its way towards the half awake Grumpty. It landed gently on his cheek, tickling his skin. Usually such a thing would have irritated Grumpty but in his current, drowsy state, he couldn’t have cared less. A small, dark shadow flitted past the leaf canopy and Grumpty blinked, trying to dispel his bleariness. A moment later the dark, shadow reappeared and hovered behind the screen of leaves. Grumpty narrowed his eyes and could discern a long, thin beak extending from the shadow’s head. He also could just make out a blurred movement from either side of the shadow and realized with the slightest of smiles that it was a pair of beating wings. Something creaked to the right of Grumpty, breaking the serene silence and glancing round he was surprised to see the sleeping form of Ogle beside him. He was curled up in Grumpty’s wicker chair, dozing quietly. The chair rocked back and forth gently on the spot. Grumpty stared at Ogle curiously, recalling his first encounter with the young elf.

Grumpty had snuck into Father Mugleaf’s orchard, a knapsack slung over one shoulder, in search of top quality acorns. To his surprise he discovered Ogle and a few other accomplices, gathered around one of the large trees, picking and collecting as many acorns as they could find. Ogle had spotted Grumpty hiding unsuccessfully in a small bush and had dragged him out by his feet. He then preceded to pull Grumpty’s trousers down and hang him upside down from one of the tree branches. Father Mugleaf discovered him a while later, a pile of acorns gathered underneath him. Deeply angered, Mugleaf had marched the red faced Grumpty over to his parents, who gravely embarrassed and disappointed, had grounded him for two solid weeks.

He returned his attention to the asleep elf before him and considered how much had changed since that day. Ogle had showed a side to him that Grumpty had never seen. Courage, love, commitment, dependency, fear. Traits that Grumpty would have never associated with Ogle. For the first time in years, Grumpty felt that he could begin to forgive the elf and his history of bullying. Not enough to become friends. Not yet by any means. There was still a lot of damage to be repaired.

A sudden thirst consumed Grumpty. His throat dry and coarse felt like a cement mixer filled with gravel. His eyes darted around the room, looking for a source of water to quench his parched throat. In the corner of the room, sat an oak dressing table. Balanced on its edge, there lay a large tankard. Hoping above all other hopes that the tankard contained some form of hydration, Grumpty went to lift his head from the pillow and winced loudly, as a sharp stab of pain coursed through his right leg. He looked down at it and frowned. A large piece of bark had been strapped around the front of his leg, bound up with long strands of vine. Grumpty felt a hand on his shoulder and looking round, came face to face with a concerned looking Ogle. In his hand he held the large tankard. To Grumpty’s relief it was filled with water and laying back, he allowed Ogle to carefully tip it between his lips. Grumpty eagerly gulped down the water and when the tankard was nearly drained, he let out a huge burp. Feeling a little more rehydrated and relieved, Ogle helped him up into a seated position. Grumpty’s leg throbbed and ached and no matter what position he sat in, it still hurt a lot. With no memory of how he came by his injury, Grumpty asked Ogle to illuminate the situation. As Ogle began to recount the events of the battle at the clearing, the images started to slowly fade back into Grumpty’s mind.

The canopy door was pulled back and Grumpty hobbled out into the early evening sun. Two large T shaped sticks were thrust under each armpit, to serve as makeshift crutches. There was a tremendous cheer as Grumpty emerged from the leaf covered house. The bright sunlight blinded him for a second and all he could see were dark shadows. When his eyes slowly readjusted to his surroundings, he was astounded to see a enormous crowd gathered before him. All manner of creature converged in this area. Elves, Forest Trolls, Tree Pixies, even a few owls were perched in the surrounding trees. Astounded and slightly overwhelmed Grumpty raised his hand and waved at the massive congregation.

Grumpty sat at the end of a incredibly long and ornate oak table in the centre of the glade. Elves, pixies and trolls sat and hovered on the surrounding tree stumps, chatting merrily to one another. An eye watering feast had been prepared in celebration for the heroes return and the table was heavily laden with sumptuous piles of food. Grumpty watched the celebrating creatures all around him, his leg resting on a dandelion pillow atop the dinner table. Never had these three races interacted with one another in such a sharing and communal way. The unification of these creatures under the same cause had not only brought about the defeat and exile of the wolf tribe but also helped form strong alliances and bonds between the races. Grumpty spotted Ogle and his mother halfway down the table and rose his cup of acorn wine to them. They returned the gesture, rosy cheeked and happy. The pain in Grumpty’s leg put a slight dampener on his own celebrating but he had to admit that the acorn wine was doing a fine job of dulling the pain. His mood was suddenly improved a little when he spotted Mugleaf sitting at the far end of the table, watching the festivities around him with a disapproving eye. Nut sat next to him, trying to push a cup of acorn wine into his hand. Arms crossed, Mugleaf shook his head adamantly. Grumpty chuckled and popped a gooseberry into his mouth. Barkle stood under one of the nearby trees, trying his best to woo a rather unimpressed female elf. Azral was nowhere to be seen and Grumpty scratched his head, puzzled by his friend’s disappearance. A hoot from above made him look up and Grumpty spotted Mother Owl perched on one of the tree branches. The younger owls were dotted about in the accompanying trees. Owls are very reserved creatures. Although friendly in nature and willing to help in a crisis, they generally keep themselves to themselves. Grumpty was slightly depressed that they weren’t more involved in the celebrations but respected their decision and was grateful that they had chosen to make an appearance at all. Glancing at Mother Owl, he was surprised to see her beak moving and squinting up at the branch, he noticed that an elf sat beside her. It was Azral. Since the two had worked together to provide air support for the battle in the clearing, they had become close friends. Grumpty put it down to their shared knowledge and appreciation of Finhorn Forest. Still, it was surprising to see Mother Owl being so talkative with another elf then himself. Grumpty felt a tug on his tunic and looked down to see one of the elflings, peering up at him with large, saucer sized eyes. In his hand he held a piece of bark and a sharpened twig. Grumpty took the bark and using the twig, etched his name into the surface of the bark. He handed it back to the elfling, who eagerly took hold of it and ran off excitedly.

The next day the village of the elves woke late and having slept in to well past lunchtime, collectively shared in a hangover to end all hangovers. A few Forest Trolls that were too tired to return home had collapsed onto the forest floor and still remained there, snoring loudly. As the elves slowly emerged from their dwellings and begun the arduous task of clearing up, Grumpty was nowhere to be seen. No one was particularly concerned, presuming that Grumpty was still suffering from the previous night. By early evening however, Grumpty was still nowhere to be seen and the elves gathered around the mossy stone to discuss the situation. Only a handful knew where Grumpty was and they had been sworn to secrecy. Before the celebrations the previous night, Grumpty had pulled the five elves whom he had journeyed with to one side and told them of his plan to leave with the owls at dawn. Life had changed a lot for Grumpty in the village and since his return, he felt appreciated and respected by his fellow elves. However, the village had never felt like a home to him. He belonged with the owls. His first glide above the treetops, had been the most exhilarating and breathtaking experience of his life and ever since that day he had gotten the taste for it. This was not the only reason. His adventure with the other elves through foreign regions and lands, had opened his eyes to new and alien ways of life. He was desperately eager to explore more and by following the owls he would be able to do just that.

Mother Owl soared across Lughorn Lake, accompanied by her young owlings. It was a foggy morning and the mist curled and twisted around and beneath her wings, as she flew through the air. Grumpty lay atop her feathered back on his front, his small arms gripping tightly on to her neck. He closed his eyed and smiled as the fresh spray from the lake flecked his stubbly face. Opening his mouth, he yelled at the top of his lungs and felt the cool morning breeze ruffle his chestnut hair.

The company of defeated wolves stood silently in front of their fallen master. The great Wolf King lay still on the grassy ground, his eyes glassy and vacant. The haggard wolf sat back on his hind legs, arched his neck back and omitted a large, wounded howl. The surrounding wolves joined in and soon the forest was full with the sound of howling. The haggard wolf lowered his head and slowly the howls began to peter out. He turned to face the company of wolves, a deep, fierce, fire, aflame in his eyes. He let out a low, menacing growl, vowing to seek revenge upon the cursed elves.

© [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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The Element of Surprise

Ogle’s legs trembled nervously in his ankle high, moleskin boots as the Wolf King began to pad slowly towards them. Grumpty glanced around anxiously at the still, sleeping bodes of the surrounding wolves. There was no escape. If they turn and ran, the entire gang of wolves would be alerted and they would be torn to pieces, acorn hats and all. So the three elves remained glued to the spot as the great, white wolf approached the outer ring of dozing wolves. Ogle swallowed loudly, his eyes darting towards Grumpty inquiringly. Grumpty looked to the ground, a downcast flutter in his eyes. Why did everyone expect him to know what to do? The Wolf King paused in front of the first sleeping wolf and gazed down at the resting creature. He shifted his gaze to the stationery elves and slowly raised a paw above the snoring wolf. Grumpty felt the air trap in his throat as the Wolf King arched back his leg, preparing to strike. Ogle hugged his mother in a tight embrace, readying himself for the attack to come. The haggard wolf stood a few yards behind his master, tensing himself excitedly. Grumpty’s heart raced beneath his ribcage and unable to bear to watch, he closed his eyes. He could feel the blood pumping in his ears and the tips of his fingers quivering, coated in a thin layer of sweat. Grumpty inhaled deeply, waiting, listening for the yelp of the sleeping wolf. The yelp never came. Instead, a slight tremor rumbled beneath Grumpty’s feet and opening his eyes, he looked around puzzled. The vibrations began to increase in volume and the Wolf King paused, sniffing the air inquisitively. Lowering his paw, he turned and scanned the line of trees behind the haggard wolf. Shouts and cries could be heard in the distance, accompanying the low rumble. The trees and bushes trembled and shook violently. The Wolf King’s eyes widened and for the first time in the cruel animal’s life, fear flooded his being. A moment later there was a tremendous crash and several enormous Forest Trolls charged into the clearing, their loud roars, shaking the ground. As they thundered their way towards the centre of the clearing, the Wolf King darted swiftly to the left, narrowly avoiding being crushed by one of the Forest Troll’s gargantuan feet. The haggard wolf was not so lucky and suffered a harsh blow from one of the troll’s clubs, sending him flying through the air. The sleeping wolves woke suddenly and caught off guard, scattered frantically to and fro, disorientated and disorganized. Many of the young, grey wolves escorting the Wolf King, lay in crumpled heaps on the ground, whimpering feebly. Grumpty, Ogle and Ogle’s mother watched on amazed, as the Huge Trolls stormed after the panicked wolves. Seeing his company disbanded and fearing defeat close at hand, the Wolf King advanced upon one of the smaller trolls. He let out a menacing snarl and leapt through the air, his teeth sinking into the tough bark of the troll’s leg. The troll roared in both surprise and pain and hopped around the clearing, trying to shake the Wolf King free. Noticing their leader’s fearless behaviour, a few wolves joined in, latching themselves onto the troll’s other leg and back. Great tufts of moss were ripped from the giant troll’s back and eventually after much protest, the towering creature was dragged to the ground. Enamored by the Wolf King’s success the remaining wolves, broke into small packs of threes and fours and began attacking the invading trolls. The three petrified elves made a dash for the edge of the clearing, ducking and weaving their way between troll’s legs and fallen wolves. Although a fairly large percentage of the wolves had been defeated (due to the troll’s gaining of the upper hand), their tactic of forming small groups of attackers was paying of and more and more trolls were overrun by the aggressive packs. All of a sudden, the haggard wolf appeared in front of Grumpty, blocking his path. The jet black creature was limping, his back leg mangled from the previous attack. Instinctively, Grumpty stood in front of Ogle and his mother, despite the tight knot of fear in his stomach. The haggard wolf growled and sprang towards the elves. Grumpty turned his back to the approaching wolf, protecting Ogle and his mother from the oncoming attack. He let out a high pitched squeal as the haggard wolf’s jaw clamped onto Grumpty’s leg and started to pull him along the ground. Grumpty clawed and scrambled in the dirt, desperately trying to cling on for dear life. Ogle darted forward and grabbed hold of Grumpty’s arms, yanking him in the other direction. Grumpty shrieked in pain as the the haggard wolf dug his paws into the ground and wrenched him free from Ogle’s grip. Suddenly without warning, a large vine net landed over the haggard wolf and Grumpty. Ogle shouted in triumph as he spotted two pixies high above, grinning devilishly. Glancing round he noticed more of the winged, magical creatures zipping to and fro. Some of them carried other large nets between them, crafted from vines and roots. Others fired tranquilizer darts from tiny wooden tubes. The wolves hit, slowed, tripped and remained still. Shocked by his current predicament, the haggard wolf released his hold of Grumpty, allowing the small elf to crawl out of one of the gaps in the net. Ogle raced over to the injured form of Grumpty and dragged him away from the furious haggard wolf, thrashing about wildly in the tangled net. Aided by the arrival of the mischievous pixies, the Forest Trolls fought back against the wolves with renewed strength. The Wolf King snarled at the flying pixies and jumped up and down, snapping at them irritably. Distracted, the Wolf King didn’t register the approaching troll and howled in astonishment and pain as he was booted hard in the chest by the large, creature’s foot. He soared through the air and smacked into a nearby tree. The wolves looked round dumbfounded at the crumpled form of their master, lying at the bottom of the tree. Seeing them off guard ,the trolls and pixies rushed forwards at the wolves in a combined effort. Leaderless and outnumbered the remaining wolves retreated, carrying away their fallen leader with their tails between their legs. Grumpty lay on the hard ground, staring up at the large blue sky above him, dotted with pixies. He could hear muffled voices nearby but they were too distorted to understand. His leg felt hot and stingy and try as he might he did not have the energy to sit up and have a look. The world around him became hazy and his eyelids grew heavy. High above, several, shadowy shapes soared over the tall treetops. Grumpty’s lip curved into a smile and then everything turned black.

© [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.

The Clearing

The Wolf King glanced at his second in command and motioned towards the dilapidated huts across the river. The haggard looking wolf snarled, barked viciously and set off towards the edge of the bank. As he got closer to the water, the haggard wolf began to pick up more speed, his muscled legs pounding the grassy turf. The agile beast let out a deep growl and sprung from the bank’s lip, propelling himself through the air. The Wolf King watched pleased, as his second in command cleared the water and landed in a half slide on the other side of the bank, spraying up dirt and grass about him. Inspired by the haggard wolf’s success, the remaining grey wolves soon followed, leaping over the wide river in single file succession. One of the youngest wolves in the pack had the unlucky misfortune of misjudging the gap and plunged into the icy waters with a loud yelp. The Wolf King watched, his face devoid of emotion, as the young greyback kicked and fought against the rushing current. Eventually it was too much for the poor creature and he was pulled under by the fast flow of water. A few of the grey wolves howled, pain stricken by the loss of their younger brother. The Wolf King raised his nose into the air and sniffed. The smell of elves lay heavy on the air and inhaling the aromas deep into his nostrils, the Wolf King darted forwards with alarming speed and soared across the water.

Angered at the death of one of their own, the wolves tore through the small dwelling, wreaking havoc inside the huts. As the grey backs systematically searched each hut, the Wolf King and the haggard second in command paced between the dwellings, tracking the scent of the elusive elves. Eventually the scent led them to one of the huts at the far end of the village. The haggard wolf appealed to his leader to go scout it out and the Wolf King nodded, approving the demand. The haggard wolf rushed forwards and dived head first through the hut window. He landed heavily, destroying the small, weakly built dinner table. Wood flew into the air around him as he looked around for the company of elves. They were no where to be seen. One of the small creature’s moleskin coats was draped over a chair, pushed up against the wall. The haggard wolf moved over to it, his blood boiling as he began to realize that it was the source of the scent. There was a slight snap as his paw brushed the rug. He looked down puzzled and a moment later there was a loud crunch and the ornate rug gave way under his feet.

Upon hearing the haggard’s wolf cry, the Wolf King moved cautiously towards the open hut door. Splintered bits of wood lay scattered around the dwelling and a large hole sat in one corner of the room. The Wolf King moved over to it and peered inside. The haggard wolf lay at the bottom of the deep pit, tangled up in the living room rug. The Wolf King glanced up and caught sight of the moleskin coat. He snarled and swiped at a nearby chair, sending it flying across the room.

Mother Owl and Azral sat on the end of a long branch, high up in a tall Birch. From their position they had a clear view of Sticklewood and watched intrigued, as the company of wolves darted frantically in and out of the huts.

Grumpty glided over the tall treetops, the air currents propelling him through the sky. Several owls accompanied him, each clutching a small elf in their large talons. Grumpty dipped and felt the high, tree top leaves brush his legs. He started to grow worried at his closeness to the trees and glanced to one of the owls for assistance. However, as the owl swooped down to aid him, the trees petered out and large meadows and fields came into view. Grumpty directed his wings at the ground below and slowly began to descend towards one of the overgrown meadows. Seeing Grumpty’s change in direction, the party of owls copied his example and gradually flew downwards. Grumpty landed in the meadow in a run, which turned into a jog and then eventually he was able to come to a stop. The owls landed more gracefully, gently resting the queasy elves amongst the flowers. Once the elves had regained their sense of balance, the owls bid them farewell and departed. Being the oldest of the two, Nut and Mugleaf looked the palest. Grumpty was the only elf that seemed to be unaffected by the journey and he used the opportunity to gain his bearings. It was late evening and the sun was just a thin sliver of orange above the horizon. Noticing the darkening sky, Grumpty roused the seated elves, much to their displeasure and set off for the line of trees at the far end of the meadow.

Half an hour later the elves came to a halt just outside a wide clearing, deep in the heart of the woods. Peering through the thin screen of bushes, Grumpty could make out the form of several sleeping wolves, arranged in a circle. In the centre of the circle, sat Ogle’s mother, looking absolutely petrified. Seeing a window of opportunity Ogle went to move forward but Grumpty placed a hand on his chest. Ogle questioned his action and Grumpty nodded back to the clearing. Another wolf appeared from between the trees on the other side of the clearing and strode towards the circle. The elves’s hearts sank as the wolf casually began to stroll around the sleeping wolves. They were going to have to come up with a plan if they wanted any chance of getting to Ogle’s mother without being seen.

The wolf guard paced back and forth around the encampment, carrying out her standard route of the day. A movement in the trees ahead made her stop and her eyes narrowed, trying to discern the mysterious presence. A branch snapped somewhere behind the bushes and the wolf guard snarled. She pondered whether to investigate or not. Her job as wolf guard was to stick to her route and guard the prisoner but a part of her wanted to scout out the threat and eliminate it. As she was considering her predicament, a red blur materialized amongst the green and throwing caution to the wind the wolf guard darted into the trees after it. A few moments later Grumpty and Ogle tiptoed carefully into the clearing. Ogle’s mother spotted the two elves and was about to emit a cry of surprise before Ogle raised a finger to his lips, willing her into silence. Trying to be as quiet as possible, Grumpty and Ogle stepped carefully over the snoring wolves and crept at a painstakingly slow rate towards Ogle’s mother.

The wolf guard crashed through the trees, ignoring the leaves and branches that whipped against her face. The red blur was drawing ever closer and she pushed on harder, eager to unearth its mystery. A fallen log lay ahead and she jumped over it gracefully. The red blur was close now, just behind the next screen of bushes. The wolf guard smashed through it and slid to a halt, her claws digging into the soft soil beneath her. Hanging from a tree branch in front of her was a small, red elven hat. Nut’s hat to be precise. The wolf guard gnashed her teeth together menacingly, leaped up to the branch, wrenched the hat to the ground and began tearing it to pieces. When the hat lay it tatters and the wolf guard had gotten rid of her frustration she sniffed its remnants for Nut’s scent. She grinned devilishly. The elf was still nearby.

Grumpty and Ogle were making good progress and the pair sped up, desperate to reach the centre before any of the sleeping beasts stirred from their slumber. There was a moment of panic when a wolf stirred beneath Grumpty as he was in the middle of stepping over him. Luckily, the wolf rolled over and fell back asleep. Grumpty let out a sigh of relief and pressed on cautiously. Eventually they made it to the centre and Ogle embraced his mother in a tight hug. The three elves were just about to make their way back when they heard footsteps approaching. Grumpty felt a deep fear rise within him as the Wolf King and the company of grey wolves emerged from behind the trees. Ogle’s mother let out a little squeak and clung on to her son’s arm. The Wolf King paused at the edge of the clearing and glared at the three tiny elves, his eyes burning with a fiery intensity.

© [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.

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.

 

 

HoneyGlade Town

Grumpty woke early and tiptoed over the sleeping bodies of his fellow travelers in the half light filtering between the large tree roots. He made his way silently up the steep incline of damp soil rising to one of the gaps in the gnarled cluster of roots. It was an immensely bright day and Grumpty had to grip on to one of the gargantuan roots to stop himself from toppling backwards from the glare. Once his eyes had adjusted to the light he clambered over the tangle of roots and jumped down onto the grassy verge. Below him a small beach of pebbles stretched out until they dissolved into a wide, sweeping river. As Grumpty slid down the grassy verge on his behind, he felt guilty for not appreciating the glorious morning about him. He staggered across the floor of pebbles, the hardened soles of his feet used to rough terrain. At the water’s edge he paused and let out a loud yawn. His eyes were heavily bloodshot and encircled by dark bags. Grumpty was Grumpy. Deep wrinkles were etched across his forehead, pulled together in a moody frown. Three days had passed since their adventure had begun and Grumpty hadn’t had a single decent night’s sleep. The first night he had had to endure the sobs and wails of Ogle caught in the throes of reoccurring nightmares about his stolen mother. The second night he had been awoken by an owl’s hoot and had stumbled outside to find Mother Owl and two of the older younglings. They had tracked Grumpty and his companions’s progress, worried that things had turned sour and Grumpty had been kidnapped by the other elves. She was about to send in one of the younglings to retrieve him when Grumpty had stumbled out into the moonlight. After much discussion Grumpty managed to explain the real reason he was traveling with a group of elves from the village. Mother Owl wasn’t impressed and found it difficult to digest the fact that Grumpty was working alongside those that had cast him away. However Grumpty was determined to see the task through and Mother Owl accepted the fact that there was no changing his mind. They left soon after, telling Grumpty to take care and offering assistance by scouting out the forest ahead for signs of the wolf clan. Last night hadn’t been any better. Grumpty had tossed and turned all night, plagued with troubled thoughts. He had returned to the village a new elf and despite the bad memories that frequented the dwelling, as more time had passed he had discovered how much he enjoyed the company of other elves. This worried Grumpty because he felt a responsibility to the Owls. They were his true family, who had treated him with respect and compassion. Who had taught him a great many wise and insightful things. Thus Grumpty felt torn. His head was a foggy blur, unable to make a clear decision. Not helped by the lack of sleep. He sighed and rubbed his tired eyes. It was going to be a long day.

The others rose a few hours later and found Grumpty asleep at the foot of the grassy verge, snoring loudly. They began packing up their provisions and equipment whilst Ogle who was unlucky enough to pull the short straw was tasked with the challenge of awakening the beast. Azral and Nut were in the middle of a heated argument about which way to go next when a loud yelp interrupted their bickering. Much to their amusement they spotted a terrified Ogle tearing across the pebbled beach pursued by an irate Grumpty, brandishing a large stick. The reason for this sudden turn of events was down to the fact that Ogle had rather stupidly poured cold river water over the sleeping form Grumpty after failing several times to wake him gently. Both Azral and Nut burst into laughter at the peculiar display and the disagreement between the pair was soon forgotten about. Barkle who was sitting on a log and pondering over a sketch he had made of Grumpty’s wings joined in too and soon the forest was filled with elvish laughter. Mugleaf on the other hand did not look impressed and watched the chaos from the shadow of the tree with an air of distaste, his arms folded across his chest.

A few hours later and the small company of elves were making their way down river, headed for HoneyGlade Town. According to Azral it was the last place to suffer a wolf attack and so the plan was to enquire with one of Azral’s many known contacts in the local tavern. Grumpty, Ogle and Barkle were keen to pursue this avenue of inquiry as they had walked many miles already with only the occasional paw print to keep them on track. Nut on the other hand bitterly opposed the idea. Despite the friendly name, HoneyGlade Town was a dodgy place. One had to keep an eye out around the many backstreets and side roads as muggings and violence were a common occurrence. Nut had experienced this first hand when he had visited the town in his early teens. A gang of street trolls had cornered him in a alley, roughed him up and taken his vacation money. With no funds to return home Nut had been forced to work in the town tavern and deal with the brutes and bruisers wanting refreshment. Azral explained that no harm would befall them for two good reasons. Azral was well known around town and reliant upon for his wares and services. And secondly a lot had changed since Nut’s youth. Nut was still not convinced but was left with no choice as the five elves decided they were going there anyway, whether Nut liked it or not.

HoneyGlade was a shock to the system for Grumpty, Ogle and Mugleaf as they made their way down the heaving, cobbled high street. All manner of creature fought for space in the bustling throng of bodies. From Mountain Trolls to Cave Dwarves. Even a few Tree Pixies whizzed overhead. Azral, Barkle and Nut who were more experienced with dealing with crowds tucked in their heads and stuck out their elbows. Grumpty didn’t understand why at first but soon it dawned on him when a lumbering River Ogre barged past him, nearly sending Grumpty spinning into a a nearby stall. Azral, Barkle and Nut were making speedy progress and Grumpty took hold of his senses and grabbing hold of a horrified Mugleaf and a dazed Ogle, ducked and weaved his way after Azral and Nut.

The dark, near empty tavern was a welcome relief for the six elves and they collapsed round the nearest table. Grumpty was still reeling from the intensity of the outside world. He had never seen such a variety of creatures in one place. Mugleaf was positively pale from the ordeal and clutched onto the edge of the table in tight fingers. Grumpty glanced around the dim interior of the tavern. A few tables were occupied with an assortment of mean looking individuals. One of them, a large rock goblin gnashed his granite teeth together upon catching sight of Grumpty’s curious expression. At the back of the tavern, hidden in the semi darkness of one of booths sat a shadowy figure, his hand clasped around a tall tankard of ale. Grumpty couldn’t make out the figure’s face but had the uneasy feeling that it was watching him. Azral plonked down six tankards of the cloudly looking ale on the table in front of them and without a word moved over to the mysterious figure.

Grumpty was halfway through his never seemingly ending beverage when Azral returned. As they finished their round , Azral informed the group that there was a wolf camp not three days walk from HoneyGlade. Azral’s contact had advised that if they wanted any chance of finding Ogle’s mother then this place would be there best bet. The news delighted the group as it was the first bit of solid evidence they had come across in days. Ogle’s only concern was that another three days walk might not be quick enough as he was already growing increasingly worried about his mother’s safety. It the end it was agreed that Barkle and Azral would search the town for someone willing to take them down stream in a boat. By river they would reach the wolf dwelling in a day and a half at the most. In the meantime the rest of the group would gather supplies and sort out accommodation for the evening.

The next morning the group rose early and made their way down to the docks. Azral and Barkle had managed to persuade a local fisherman by the name of Gargol to ferry them as far as Sticklewood, a cluster of mud huts and dwellings a few hours walk from the wolf camp. Gargol was a narrow eyed, skittish looking hobgoblin and Grumpty wasn’t too keen on sharing a boat with him. There was something untrustworthy about the creature’s furtive glances. But they had no choice. Gargol was their only ticket out of HoneyGlade and the company of elves were eager to leave the hostile town behind them. After they had lugged all their luggage on board, the rope connecting the boat to the jetty was cast aside and they began to drift slowly away from the HoneyGlade docks.

© [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.

Grumpty’s Welcome Home

The news of Grumpty’s return had spread like wildfire throughout the village. As more elves learnt of the alarming news a crowd had begun to gather around the large mossy stone which Grumpty proudly stood upon. Chores and jobs were suddenly forgotten about and the young elves were even allowed out of afternoon school lessons for the special occasion. For the first time in Grumpty’s life he felt a sense of awe and respect from the elven community. Whispers and hushed voices rippled around the converging group as they gazed up at him with excited and startled expressions. The only elf not in attendance was Father Mugleaf who was cowering behind the oak alter in the village church. Mugleaf had been tending to his acorn trees in the churchyard when he had glimpsed the flying form of Grumpty. Due to the bright midday sun all he had managed to make out was a large, black shadow with giant wings. Fearing it to be a demon sent from the underworld to punish the elves for their sinful ways he had dropped his watering can and scuttled hurriedly inside. Unfortunately no one had been able to reach Mugleaf to inform him of the creature’s identity as he had bolted the church doors shut, hoping that the holy place of worship might protect him from the winged terror. When silence had descended, Mugleaf ventured a peek over the alter but hurriedly ducked down when he heard what he believed to be the sound of elves screaming in terror. But he was mistaken. The elves were not crying out in fear but instead cheering in delight as Grumpty proudly displayed his impressive wings. No one more so then Barkle The Inventor who upon seeing the majestic form of Grumpty atop the stone had shouldered and barged his way to the front, eager to understand the mechanics of the custom made wings. As Grumpty twirled on the spot, allowing the cool breeze to ruffle his feathers, he grinned from ear to ear at his captivated audience. They were taking him seriously now. Not just a pint sized elf that they could make fun of and use as a football anymore. Grumpty now felt a tremendous amount of power and influence over the small assembly and he was going to exploit it as much as possible. Barkle jumped up and down like an excited puppy as he scrutinized the elaborate wings.

Later that night there was much rejoicing at Grumpty’s return and a great feast was put on to mark the occasion. Grumpty couldn’t seem to get a moment’s rest. If it wasn’t Barkle pestering him about the design of his wings then it was the younglings asking him to tell them stories of his grand adventures beyond the forest wall. Grumpty was growing tired of Barkle and his continual stream of questions but he took great delight in recalling his adventures to the little ones. As the night of festivities carried on and the acorn wine began to flow more steadily, Grumpty felt a fuzzy warm feeling flow through his body. The other elves adored him and since his arrival he had been plied with heaps of gifts and mountain sized plates of food. He had lapped it all up, filling his gut to the point of bursting and drinking his body weight in wine. The only dampener on the evening had been when Ogle had arrived at the party. This hiccup was soon remedied however when Ogle had tried and failed miserably to embarrass and upstage Grumpty. Ogle had been heckled and booed until eventually he relented and retreated to a corner of the party tent to sulk in the shadows. Grumpty glanced over at where Ogle sat and was delighted to see how miserable he was looking. Ogle caught his eye and Grumpty raised his cup of acorn wine to him. Furious and red faced, Ogle had stormed out of the party, leaving Grumpty to giggle with the younglings.

The next day Grumpty was roughly awoken by a series of loud bangs on his treehouse door. Feeling a little worse for wear, he cradled his head in his small hands and staggered to the door. The early morning sunlight blinded him momentarily and caused a searing pain to shoot through his head. When he had recovered from the shock of the outside world he was surprised to find Ogle waiting outside.

A small cluster of elves stood huddled around the mossy stone, their expressions grim. Grumpty sat on top of the stone, deep in thought. During the night Ogle’s mother had gone missing. Ogle had presumed she had gone to the lake to get fish but after three hours there was still no sign of her. Nut, the village elder and continual bearer of bad news believed that a teen wolf might have kidnapped her as part of their initiation into wolf adulthood. As much as no one in the village wanted to face that grim prospect the truth was that it was a regular occurrence. Azral The Trader had learnt from his travels to the neighbouring villages that there had been a spree of kidnapping related incidents in the last couple of months. Grumpty sighed and glared at Ogle. Here in front of him stood the boy who used to torment him on a daily basis. Who single handedly ruined his childhood years. And yet Grumpty couldn’t help but feel sorry for the distraught elf. Menace or not, no one should be separated from their mother. So, bearing this in mind Grumpty climbed slowly to his feet and announced that he, Grumpty, would go with Ogle in search for his mother. Ogle was so grateful for the kind gesture that he threw himself on the ground and begged for forgiveness for his past sins.

After much discussion and deliberation it was decided that a small team from the village would accompany Grumpty and Ogle on their journey into the forest. Azral and Nut would provide navigation as they were the two elves with the most extensive knowledge of the forest itself. Barkle would also tag along as his skills as an inventor might come in useful when setting up a camp. Lastly Father Mugleaf had joined up as he felt guilty at his action of barricading himself in his church and leaving the village to it’s fate when Grumpty had arrived.

So the six elves set off from the village and Grumpty found himself traveling alongside his arch nemesis.

© [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.

 

 

Grumpty The Pygmy Elf

Deep in the hidden depths of Finhorn Forest there lived a small village of tree elves. As their name suggests, the small creatures occupied many of the trees dotted about the tiny settlement. A few of the older inhabitants dwelled in cabins built around and into the surrounding landscape. In one of the tree houses lived Grumpty the pygmy elf. He had all the appearances you would associate with a regular elf. Pointed ears, narrow eyes, an irregular shaped face. However Grumpty lacked one thing that all other elves possessed. Height. He was more in keeping with the size of a short dwarf then a tall elf. This caused many problems for Grumpty, as he never felt truly accepted by his family and friends. Many of the older elves found great pleasure in teasing Grumpty and he recalled one night in particular when he had overheard his parents arguing about him. His father had made a comment about how disappointed he was with Grumpty. His mother had defended him adamantly but it was too late. The damage was already done. Grumpty felt like an outcast, living in a community where he didn’t belong.

One day Grumpty was playing with some of the teenage elves by the village waterfall. Unusually, the other elves were relatively nice. They hadn’t played any pranks or teased him about his height. Grumpty was happy for once and wished that it could happen more often. Unfortunately, this momentary period of bliss was suddenly shattered, when Ogle dared Grumpty to go outside the village, into the forest alone. Young elves weren’t allowed out of the village by themselves. There were too many dangers such as wolves and humans. Being the ringleader of the elven gang, Ogle always had the final say. The other elves weren’t so bad when he wasn’t around, fearing authority too much to push things too far. But when Ogle was present he brought out the worst in them. Not to mention none of them would dare to challenge his decision for fear of receiving a beating. Grumpty considered arguing even if it meant getting beaten. Ogle and his gang were scary but Grumpty feared the forest insurmountably more. But then again why shouldn’t he go outside the village? It wasn’t like he felt any attachment to the village. His own father resented his existence. Plus, it would be brilliant to wipe the cocky smile from Ogle’s face. Eventually Ogle grew impatient and shoved Grumpty hard in the chest. Grumpty stumbled back, tripping over a hidden branch and landed in the pool at the foot of the waterfall with a loud splash. Ogle’s cronies sniggered as Grumpty emerged a few seconds later, spluttering and coughing. Ogle led them away, leaving Grumpty to flop back onto land. He was in a foul mood, not helped by the fact that his tunic and shorts were soaked right through. Grumpty fished his acorn hat out of the pond and marched stubbornly through the village. He received many puzzled and curious glances as he stormed past. At the edge of the village Ogle and gang were loitering, probably hatching another evil scheme. They turned upon seeing Grumpty approaching and burst into laughter, pointing and clapping. Much to their astonishment Grumpty ignored them and strode past, heading for the path leading away from the village.

A short while later Grumpty found himself wandering between the tall trees of Finhorn Forest, his moleskin boots squelching through the undergrowth. Grumpty glanced over his shoulder and felt frightened all of a sudden. The village was no longer in sight. The realization that he was now on his own began to slowly dawn on him. Grumpty suddenly took stock of how dark it was becoming and shivered, his damp clothes making his nose run. A fallen log on the path ahead forced him to stop and he took the opportunity to rest for a minute. The log was high but he managed to scramble up it and perch on the edge. His short legs hung over the lip, shaking slightly from a combined lack of warmth and nerves. An owl hooted in the trees above, causing him to glance around nervously. The tall, dark trees were imposing and Grumpty couldn’t shake the feeling that the towering forest had crept closer when he wasn’t looking. A flapping noise floated to Grumpty’s ears and turning he let out a loud yelp, as an airborne owl scooped him up in its large talons.

Ogle sat in his bedroom, throwing a large pinecone against the wall. Ogle was not having a good day. All his mates had gone down to Lughorn Lake, as part of their school trip. Ogle wasn’t allowed, due to being grounded on account of stealing acorns from Father Mugleaf’s churchyard. Ogle let loose some of his aggression on the pinecone and groaned, as it missed the wall and sailed out the window. Reluctantly, he pushed himself off the bed and moved to the window. Peering over the ledge, he scanned the forest floor for the fallen pinecone. A large shadow emerged over the patch of grass. Ogle recognized the outline of two great wings and shrank back inside, terror stricken. But instead of a mighty winged predator, Ogle was astounded to discover the small form of Grumpty soar past. Two massive white, feathery wings were fixed to his shoulders. Ogle watched on amazed, as Grumpty slowly descended and came to alight on a large, mossy rock. What Ogle didn’t know and continued to not know for some time, was that it was all an illusion.

The night Grumpty had been taken by the owl he was taken back to the creature’s nest. The mother owl’s plan was to feed her young owlings with the lost elf. However upon hearing the short elf’s heart wrenching story, she took pity on Grumpty. She literally took the young elf under her wing and spent the next two years raising him as one of her own. The mother owl even helped Grumpty fashion a pair of makeshift wings. They were constructed on a skeleton of branches. It wasn’t advanced enough to manipulate the feathers to allow flapping. However if taken high enough, Grumpty would be able to glide above the trees for a while. And this is exactly what happened. With the aid of mother owl and some of the younger owls, Grumpty was escorted high into the air. There he was let free by the owls and glided back to the village where he had grown up. Ogle wasn’t aware of this plan and genuinely believed that Grumpty had died and returned as an angel, in order to punish Ogle for his nefarious deed.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2016]. 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.