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.
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