In the early days of mid-southern England, when Alfred the Great ruled, there sprang up a little village called Cutoff.It was just six days south of the castle Whitestone.The settlers, being gnomish, built their stone and wooden cabins on the Whitestone River just south of the great Oxbow Lake.Not having much to do with the villages of men, they came to love the little place because that area was protected by a great dragon that soon came by the same name as the lake.Several men visited the Oxbow area in search of the creature, but the brave hearts seldom returned.Those that survived, however, were permanently marked and told others of a creature that both flew and swam with a speed deemed unnatural.But, the little gnomish village prospered, as did England under the Saxon King. On the outskirts of that village, in the year of our Lord 899, there lived a pregnant, gnomish woman named Yandi Stonesmith.In late spring, while gathering mushrooms and berries, she suffered a fall from a nearby cliff on the Whitestone River leaving her with a gaping wound under her left arm.It was soon feared that she was in great danger of losing the babe who was already better than eight months in her womb.Basil, the great wizard of Whitestone, was called to aid in her recovery, but being up in his years and of ill health, his son, Benjamin was sent instead. Aided by the speed of the great-winged dragon, Pandahar, the younger wizard lost little time in his journey to Cutoff.Upon his arrival, he found Yandi to be in a most desperate way.Being with great fever, coupled with the loss of blood, Yandi had fallen into a deep sleep.As the wizard pondered the situation, Corpenny, Yandi’s husband, begged Benjamin to save his wife, and if possible, the life of the babe also. Benjamin then ordered some of the men waiting outside to gather the leaves of the yarrow for a tea to calm the fever.The rest were told to fetch as much soapwort root as they could so that the wound under her arm could be properly cleaned.The wizard told those left in the little cabin to stay while he went to his dragon.Just minutes later, he returned with a bowl of thick liquid of such a dark burgundy that it was almost black.He then instructed the mid-wife to rub half of it directly upon the wound under her arm.The old wizard then made an incision in the mother’s lower abdomen and brought the babe into the world of the gnomes.After the incision was sewn closed, it and the male child were washed with a mixture of the remaining burgundy liquid and boiled spring water. Benjamin stayed a full week tending to the two until Yandi recovered and was able to take solid food.The babe, however, recovered remarkably quick, taking almost a quart of goat’s milk a day.The story, which follows, is of that child called Yenwolk.He will soon come to be known as one of the greatest teachers of wizards in Southern England.
As you have guessed, I, Gnome is not a continuing part of the Pragamore Chronicles. It is a novel that tells of the early part of Yenwolk Stonesmith's life in his hometown of Cutoff. Starting as the lad was first born, it endeavors to address the things in the Gnomish wizard's life that molded his character in the Pragamore Chronicles. To give you a better understanding of what's coming, check out the Sneek Peek below...
The day began early Saturday morning in the Oxbow forest about the last days of winter.The sun was up, but just barely so, and was obscured by an approaching cloudbank.The moist air was pungent with the smells of the forest and the rain from the night before.The Gnome, Corpenny, crouched with his friend Billybo, awaiting the first deer to take the baited field.Corpenny’s light brown hair was gathered at the back of his head and held together by two braids of temple hair woven from both sides of his head.It was so long, it lay down his back and almost reached the belt that held up his deerskin pants.
“Get your bow ready,” said Billybo.
If it were not for his pointed ears, Billybo’s six-foot frame and black, but graying hair would confuse him with being from the world of men.The tall gnome was still spryer than most eighty-year-old men, and his mind was as sharp as a great hawk while on the hunt.They eased forward toward a ravine up ahead of them.The brown fur collar of Bo’s coat glistened in the sunlight.
Corpenny rubbed the feeling back into his cold hands and then slid his bow from its sheath.
Billybo looked back and grinned, rubbing his short, black beard as he studied his friend.“If you’d put a little of this winter growth on your face would stay a little warmer.For a gnome over thirty, you should already have at least a start.”
“No thanks,” whispered Corpenny.“The wife likes my smooth face.Besides, the
darn thing would itch too much.”
Billybo chuckled.His black eyes sparkled in the morning’s light.“I thought so,” he added as they crouched in the tall grass.Nodding to the left, he spoke again.“He’ll come out that way and he’s a big one.I heard him snort twice before.If he gets to the wheat, don’t shoot him in the field.”
“I know, I know,” whispered Corpenny.“The smell of blood will ruin our field.”
“It will later spook the others,” agreed Billybo.“Get him at the mouth of the gully.”
Corpenny slowly turned toward Billybo.“How big?”
“Well,” the older gnome smiled, “at least as big as the last one.”
“Ohhh great,” grumbled Corpenny.“He was so old and tough we had to jerk most of him . . . and I’ve still got most of my share.”
Corpenny watched the tall canes on either side of the little creek that flowed from the ravine.The ravine was over forty yards wide, but the shallow creek was clear of stubble and seemed the logical place for the deer to use.
“Get ready, Cor.Here he comes,” whispered Billybo excitedly.
Corpenny stood with the bow drawn as the stag bounded out of the ravine.
“Take him!” shouted Billybo.
The gnome sighted over his arrow at the fleeing set of antlers.They looked even larger than the last rack they took.
“Shoooot!” pleaded Billybo as the buck bounded into the wheat field.
The golden grain swirled about as the stag streaked through it to the woods on the far side.
Billybo jerked his hat off and slapped it across his right thigh.“Why didn’t you
shoot?Did you see that pair of antlers?”
“Yes,” Corpenny removed his arrow from the bowstring and returned it to the quiver.
“He was older than my grandmother.”
Billybo frowned.“But did you see his antlers?” he exclaimed as he moved his hands wide apart.“They were at least five hands.”
Corpenny looked straight at his friend.“What I saw was another huge pile of
jerky that no one will eat.”The gnome brushed the grass from his pants.“Yandi will need fresh meat to make good milk for the child.”
“True, but I hope to bag at least something she can eat.”
Billybo started to leave, but was stopped when the younger gnome quickly grabbed his arm.
“There’s another,” whispered Corpenny.“I just heard it stomp.”
Billybo looked toward the ravine.“He’s aware of us.Stay here and I’ll flush it,” he whispered as Corpenny returned the arrow to the bow.
Corpenny turned back to the gully and watched the older gnome disappear up the west bank on his right.
Please don’t let it be another old one, thought Corpenny as he eased through the tall grass and closer to the mouth of the little creek.
The sun was now warming up the air enough to stir the ground fog, which was now moving slowly toward and disappearing into the wheat field only a stone’s throw away.Then, there it was again--a sharp stomp accompanied with one quick snort.Cor slowly raised his bow, but did not draw the string.He could see two distinct images up in the
creek a ways, but they were but shadows in the fog.
Suddenly, a loud roar broke the silence.
A bear, or worse, thought Corpenny, remembering that Billybo was still somewhere back there.
The deer wasted no time evading the new and more obvious threat as they immediately bolted from the ravine and passed within a few paces of Corpenny’s waiting arrow.Wasting no time, the younger gnome placed a single shot just behind the left shoulder of the larger of the two animals.Bleating, the young buck crumpled as the younger spike continued into the wheat field and out of sight.Pulling another arrow, Corpenny quickly turned and faced his other problem--the sound that drove the deer his way.
Backing into the opening of the wheat field, the younger gnome began to make out the animal, or at least his back.
A bearcat, thought Corpenny, but . . . where was Billybo.He raised his bow.The shot would be a long one, but perhaps he could discourage the animal before the scent of blood made him even more dangerous.Slowly judging the distance, the gnome started to draw the string when he heard a familiar laugh.
Lowering the bow, he watched as the furry animal began to bounce up and down.“Don’t shoot!” it shouted.
“Billybo?” called Corpenny weakly.The gnome slowly lowered his bow in thoughts of what had almost come to pass.“Are you crazy!” he finally shouted, holding up his bow with the arrow still at its string.“I could have shot you as easily as I did this young buck.”
“Ahhh, but you didn’t,” replied Billybo as he silently chuckled.
“Didn’t?” shouted the younger gnome as he let fly his arrow, which imbedded its head in a pine not more than three feet from his friend.“What I didn’t do is ever notice the lining of your coat.Just how many gnomes do you know who have a coat lined with a
bearcat’s fur?And you of all people know how I feel about bearcats.”
“Point taken,” replied Billybo as the chuckles faded.“That wizard, Glain Cerrig, courts the same fear of those creatures.Ha!Every time you two run across one, you’ve just got to get a closer look, even though they scare the devil out of you.”
Billybo walked passed Corpenny and then stopped by the lifeless deer.“No need for a
knife for this one.”He then turned to Cor who still had a displeased look on his face.“Well placed shot,” he added.
“Could’ve been you,” snapped the younger gnome as he started field dressing his kill.“Cut the carry pole, I’ll have him dressed before you get it here.”
In short time, the deer was swinging beneath the pole as the two gnomes carried it around the Oxbow Lake and on toward the gnome village called Cutoff.The sun’s rays danced on the ripples of the water as they walked along the west and outer edge of the banks of the crescent-shaped lake.With the excitement of the hunt passed, Corpenny began to feel the cool of the morning.Rubbing the chill from his arms, he watched the gnome in front of him fill his pipe.He could smell the apple-scented tobacco and it tempted him.
“Named that youngster yet?” asked Billybo, still fidgeting with his pipe.
“Yes, Yandi wants to name him Yenwolk.”
Corpenny turned and pulled the unlit pipe from his mouth.“It’s the husband’s place
to name the children, Cor.You would have the child jinxed with itchy feet?”
“Not at all,” answered Corpenny sharply.“Yenwolk means urge to wonder, but also implies strive to do good.The latter is what she was thinking about.Besides, if it brings her happiness, she can name them all.”
“Well said.”Billybo looked back over his shoulder and smiled.“You’ll make a fine father, Cor.Just mark my words.”
The two hiked through the woods until they came to the Whitestone Road leading south from Leachenwood, the village of the dwarfs.With the lines of smoke from gnomish chimneys rising to the heavy clouds above, Billybo quickened his step.
“What’s your hurry, Bo?” asked Corpenny.“You’ve seen rain clouds before.”
“Thinking of Yandi’s hot spice tea and a dry place in front of your fire.”Billybo looked back again.“Do you think you can talk her into cooking me a roast from our kill?
This is a young one and it surely will be tender.If she will, I’ll skin and dress this one for you.I’ll even cut it up if you like.”
“It’s a deal,” answered Corpenny quickly.“By the time she gets the roast and potatoes done, you should be through.Perhaps she’ll make some rolls to go with the gravy.”
Corpenny was now smiling also.
“Onions?” added Billybo.
“Yes, and carrots also.”
“Wonderful!”Billybo quickened his step even more.
“Slow down,” said Corpenny between chuckles, “I’m almost at a trot.Look,” he
added as they neared the village, “there’s Mr. Puttnam watching from the store.”
The old gnome was standing on the edge of the store’s front porch, rubbing his hands together and smiling at the two as they came up.His gray hair looked frizzed and stood in every direction, but his mustache was freshly waxed and curled about his chin.
Billybo looked back at Corpenny.“He looks a bit too happy.You didn’t promise him anything did you?”
“No,” replied Corpenny, “but I’ve been selling and trading with him on a regular basis.We had best stop and get some flour.Rolls would taste great with Yandi’s gravy.”
Mr. Puttnam’s store, or the Crossroads as the gnomes called it, was a big stone and log building on the southeast side of a little street that crossed the Whitestone Trail.Old looking, but well maintained, it was the first dwelling built in the Cutoff.Other houses lined the Cutoff Road on each side where it crossed the Trail and Whitestone Creek.They were mostly homes constructed of field and creek stones collected from the area.The huge creek, a river at times, had its beginning well north of the gnomish village at a place called Snow Lake.It meandered on south past the Cutoff where it circled around Old Basil’s castle and then ran on to the sea at White Faire Isle.It was especially wide and flat, with an abundance of light-colored river stones lining its way.
As they neared the old store, Billybo slowed and rested the deer in the grass next to the building.Corpenny wasted no time getting out from under the pole and onto the porch where Mr. Puttnam was waiting eagerly.
“How are you fixed for flour?” asked the young gnome as he reached for the storekeeper’s hand.
“Got a barrel and a half,” quipped the keeper as he took Corpenny’s hand.“What’ll
you take for that one?”The old fellow nodded toward the young buck in the grass.
“Better keep him.We need the meat,” replied Corpenny.“Besides I’ve still got credit on the last delivery.”
Puttnam frowned a little.“Still got a wad of that jerky, Corpenny, but it’s still selling.I’ll let you have a big sack of flour on the rest of it if you’ll promise to bring me a young one like that in the next week or so.”
Billybo watched the creek as he listened to the two haggle on their way into the building.He then eased up on the front porch and hesitated at the door.He knew full well that old Puttnam could get that deer if he tried hard enough.Cor made his living hunting and harvesting what the forests had to offer and Mr. Puttnam was his main customer.He then watched Corpenny pick up the sack of flour and walk past Mr. Puttnam, grinning as he did so.
“I’ll dress that deer when we get it to the barn and cut Yandi a nice, big roast for this evening,” said Billybo, trying to hurry Corpenny along and out of Mr. Puttnam sight.
Mr. Puttnam sighed heavily as he followed Corpenny to the edge of the front porch.“By this week did you say?” he added.
Cor turned and smiled as he picked up his end of the pole.“And a young one … hopefully.”
Meanwhile, as Cor and Bo made their way toward the warm fire of the Stonesmith cabin, Yandi had her hands full with a surprise for the two.
Yandi opened the woodbin on the front porch and wrestled up a healthy looking log to the front edge.She then reached for a smaller one, but lost her grip on the one she had.
“Mercy!” she exclaimed as it rumbled out and onto the wood floor of the porch and
her right foot.She immediately dropped to the porch and sat there rubbing her toes.“What’s this?” she said weakly as she noticed two figures walking up the road in the distance.
The cold rain had now turned to more of a fine mist and tiny flakes of ice could be seen now and then.
“A deer!” she exclaimed.Forgetting about her sore toes, she jumped up and turned
back to the woodbin.Her reddish-auburn hair spilled over her shoulders as she gathered the logs from the floor and into her arms.Being only five feet tall or so and barely ninety pounds, the four logs she was attempting to carry soon became a bit too much.“Drat!” she said just under her breath as she let two of them roll from her arms and into the cabin,
rumbling like thunder clouds as they tumbled across the wood floor.
“Child,” said a little old lady barely five feet tall as she quickly pulled a bedroom door closed behind her, “you’ll wake the dead and Yen if you keep making noise like that.”
“Sorry, mother,” replied Yandi as she placed the logs she still had in her arms under the big black iron pot she had swung into the fireplace.
Her hazel eyes sparkled in the fire’s light, reflecting the happiness in her smile as she hurried to the door to take one more look.
The old lady looked outside and quickly shut the door.“There’s still time,” she said as Yandi ran back to the fire to stir the contents of the big pot.
The aroma of sweet brown beans and yams filled the cabin as she placed the lid back in its place.The coals under the pot hissed as she nestled the wood well into them.
“Do you see that?” said Billybo as he pointed to the swirling smoke pouring from the stone chimney.“She’s already got something going.Just look at that smoke.I’ll bet it’s toasty warm in there.”
“That’ll be a change,” added Corpenny as he watched the steam from his breath rise into the air.“Lord,” he added, “she’s still here.”
Billybo laughed, noticing Yandi’s mother as she closed the door.“Don’t let a little old gray-haired lady spook you, Cor.Old Norbi’s about the kindest woman I know and the best mid-wife in the Cutoff.”Billybo looked back at him.“You should be thankful.”
“Ohhh,” sighed Corpenny as he shifted the pole to his other shoulder, “I mean no
disrespect, and you’re completely right.It’s just that she’s got Yandi so fearful she will hardly leave the cabin.She’s so full of superstitions she’s got me looking.She’s got a yarn for every afternoon.Just last night it was sprites and faes.It’s gotten so that Yandi will hardly let the babe out of her sight.The trouble is, I think I’ve seen them too.”
Billybo slowed to almost a stop and looked back at the younger gnome.“You’ve what?”
“Well,” Corpenny smiled, “almost.”
Billybo squinted his eyes.“Define ‘almost’.”
Corpenny eased along the pole as close to his friend as the deer would allow.“The very hour Yenwolk was born, Norbi carried it from our bed to the lean-to next to it to clean it up.When she had done so, she left it on the bed and went to the washroom to clean herself and take care of the linens.”Corpenny looked Billybo straight into his eyes.“Bo, before she could get back, I heard the door of the lean-to shut with a snap, and there
was no one else in there but the babe.”
Billybo raised his eyebrows.“Maybe the window was ajar and the wind sucked it closed.”
“Nope,” quipped Cor.“I left tending to Yandi and took a look.The door was shut fast.I couldn’t budge it.It was as if it had become a solid piece of oak from frame to frame.I tried the latch and could trip it too, but the door wouldn’t give an inch.That’s when I heard the sounds.”
Billybo shifted his pole also.“What kind of sounds?”
“Faint noises of movement in the room--dry buzzing sounds like fall leaves blowing across the grass.Then I heard the voice of a woman.I could barely hear her, but it was there nonetheless, and it wasn’t Norbi.”
“Woman?” Billybo pushed his hat back from his forehead and looked up at the fine snow that was beginning to fall.“Yandi was in her room.Norbi was in the washroom, and there was no one else in the cabin save you and the babe?”
“Not a soul,” replied Corpenny.
“Well,” quipped Billybo as he scratched his head vigorously through his hat, “you just didn’t remain in the hall with a stupid smile on your face did you?”
“Not exactly.Old Norbi brushed me aside and grabbed the latch handle as if her life depended on it, but she had no better luck with it than I did.She then pounded upon the door for who or whatever was in there to leave us in peace.”
“Then, did you get in?”
Cor slowly shook his head.“Not at first, but eventually the door popped and stood ajar.Norbi pushed it open and rushed to Yenwolk.I noticed the little fireplace had been freshly stoked and was burning much brighter than Norbi had left it.It also had a strange orange glow--one that I have never seen before or since.The window was also slightly open, and I know Norbi didn’t leave the room like that with the weather outside like it has been.What was also strange was the sparkling like crushed mother-of-pearl that was all over Yenwolk and around on the linen as well.Norbi also found it upon the window’s sill when she closed it.I’ve never seen her so unnerved.She raced from the window and quickly unwrapped the babe and checked his left heel.”Corpenny smiled.“I found out later she had placed a wild cherry stain on his heel to guard against the fae folk taking him.”
Billybo laughed haughtily.“You’re not talking about that changeling stuff are you?I haven’t heard that stuff since I was in short pants.She hasn’t got you believing in the little people with wings has she?”
Corpenny pulled his hat off, shook the dampness from it, and ran his fingers through his damp hair, pushing it back from his forehead.“Bo, I’ve seen a wizard, met several elves, and even ran from a dragon, but I’ve never, ever, seen a fae person.Have you?”
Billybo slowly looked down at the deer.“Yes . . . kind of.”
“Kind of?How does one manage that?”
Billybo smiled.“I think that type of moment selects you, Cor.”He then slipped his hat back on his head and looked up at the coming weather.The sky had darkened to a solid, gray overcast and the small flakes had now turned to the size of jack balls.“Come,” added Billybo, “I’ll tell you as we go.This weather’s not getting any better.
I was in the forest on the inside turn of the Oxbow Lake hunting anything I could trade, eat, or sell when I saw a glimmer of sunlight reflect off of something in the hole of an old oak tree.Upon checking, I noticed the silvery opal-like wings of the most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen.To my surprise, I soon discovered it was no insect at all, but a little person of some sort . . . and most dead.”
“Dead?” echoed Corpenny with a hint of doubt.“They die too?”
Billybo nodded.“I guess so.At least this little girl certainly did.I was afraid to touch her.”Billybo looked back at Corpenny.“They watch you know.I’ve heard Old Norbi say the only dangerous faerie is the one you anger.So I’m afraid I just let her be.”
“Hurry!” shouted Norbi from the front porch.“You’re going to freeze solid if you don’t get out of this weather.”
By then, there was no sign of rain, or drizzle, or even mist.The flakes were as big as a great owl’s eyes and coming down so slow they looked dreamy.
“Peaceful snow,” said Norbi as the two stepped under the shelter of the porch to lay
their burden down. “The spirits of the forest are at rest.”
Billybo raised his eyebrows as he glanced at Corpenny.
Norbi also looked at him.“I hate to say this, but you two had best cut up that deer right now.If you wait much longer, you’ll have to use an axe.”
“My word,” sighed Corpenny as he looked up at Billybo.“She’s right.I’m bushed, but she’s absolutely right.”
“Help me get it to the barn, Cor, and I’ll cut that roast first and then finish it as quick as I can.”
Corpenny did just that and also helped cut up the meat for the smokehouse.A fine roast was held out as per Billybo’s request, and the two then pulled their hat brims down, collars up, and walked briskly through the snow-covered ground back to the cabin.
Yandi opened the door for them and reached for the roast Cor had wrapped in a cloth.
“Uhhh,” started Billybo, but Yandi shook a finger at him.
“I know what you want, Bo, but it’s not going to happen today.This will have to cook in the pot all night.”
As the two hunters stepped into the warm cabin, Billybo pulled his hat off, raised his head, and then took a slow, deep breath.“Beans, and ham, and sweet potatoes” he said as his smile widened.
“You missed the carrots and fresh rolls,” added Norbi.“Yandi’s been working on this
meal off and on for most of the night.Besides,” she added as she patted him on the arm, “you’re not going anywhere.Your cabin is on the other side of the creek and as cold as the side meat in the smokehouse.Yandi will fix you a nice warm place by the fire.Unless I miss my guess, tomorrow we’ll be snowed in unless things change.”
“Sounds wonderful,” agreed Billybo as he struggled with his coat.
Yandi helped her husband with his coat and then took Billybo’s.“I hope you don’t
mind a couch by the fire,” she added.“Yen’s with us, and Norbi has the lean-to.”
Billybo’s face lit up as he looked toward the open door where Norbi was.“We could share,” he quipped.
“Huh!” came an immediate reply from the lean-to.“You always were an old fool.”She glanced at him as she walked by the doorway.
“Well then,” he glanced at the large padded sofa, “that looks like a nice warm place to me.”
He and Corpenny then sat on the sofa and began pulling off their boots and socks in front of the warm fire.
Corpenny nudged Billybo.“Something else about that story I shared with you a
moment ago,” he added as he rubbed his cold feet.“The very next day, just before dusk, there was a loud knock at the door.Norbi opened it and stood back in surprise.I was
watching from here.She looked like she had seen a ghost when she looked back at me.As I stood up, she opened the door a little wider and stepped back.In stepped the Old One.”
“Old One?Older than Norbi?Who would that be?”
“I don’t know how old Krypendorf is.I’ve only seen him from afar, but two weeks ago he was standing right here in my own house.I got up, and walked over to him as he bowed slightly.”Cor then smiled at Billybo.“Imagine him bowing to me.When Yandi entered the room from our bedroom, he bowed to her also.That’s when I checked the window.There was nothing to be seen--no sleigh, no wagon, no nothing.”
Billybo squinted his eyes and sat up.“Nothing?What do you mean?”
Corpenny, still rubbing his feet, shook his head slowly.“There wasn’t anything out there.”
“And you checked?”
“Yes.After he left, I walked out into the yard.There was a light dusting of snow on the grass and I could see his tracks plainly.They led to a spot on the right side of the barn, but that spot was so disturbed I couldn’t tell what had happened, but I’m quite sure Krypendorf didn’t just walk in.”
“My word,” said Billybo weakly, “and he came to see you.”
“Not exactly,” corrected Norbi as she and Yandi joined the two by the fire.She
handed them each a large mug of spiced apple juice freshly heated.“This will warm you
Billybo nodded as he took his mug.“Not to see Corpenny?” he added.
Yandi smiled.“He came to see our child, Bo.”
“How can that be?” said Billybo as he sat up quickly, spilling some of the hop cider onto his trousers.
“Be still,” scolded Norbi, “you’ll burn yourself.”She wiped the damp spot on his knee with her apron and then looked up at him.“Your godchild is evidently marked in more ways than I could imagine.”
“But Maidenhead is a good ways north of here.” replied Billybo as he squinted at Norbi, “how could this be?”
“I don’t know, but I took him into where the babe lay and stayed there so I could be sure of what was going on.The Old One looked every bit wizard.His robe was beige colored as was his cape and hood.They were all trimmed in crimson.Spooky, I’d say,” she added, looking at Billybo, “and he’s no man.”
“Ha!” laughed Yandi as she patted Norbi’s hand.“He knew you marked the babe.”
Billybo and Corpenny then looked at Norbi.
“She’s right,” added the old gnome.“He lifted Yen’s left foot, noted the stain, and then looked straight at me.He then asked me if I was scared of the faes in this area.”
“What did you say?” asked Billybo.
“I nodded and he scolded me.He said balderdash.Can you imagine that?”
Yandi gently touched Corpenny’s knee.“He also said we shouldn’t fear for Yen’s safety for he would be watched.”
“Watched?” asked Billybo as he pulled on a dry pair of socks.
“Yes,” replied Norbi, “and more to the point, he told us that if the course of events proceed as he has foreseen from now to thence and nothing happens to change them, the babe will be called upon.”
“Called upon?” echoed Billybo weakly.“Watched by who?”
“Or what,” added Norbi skeptically.
“Yandi slowly shook her head as she got up, picked up the pot hook from the hearth
and uncovered the kettle over the fire.The smell of beans and pork quickly filled the little family room as she stirred the iron kettle.“I’m afraid he didn’t say much after that.He soon left, and just like a wizard would--mysteriously.We watched.”
“We all did,” added Norbi as she raised her eyebrows.
The two women then got up and started toward the kitchen.
“Oh no you don’t,” snapped Billybo, as he sat up and tugged at Norbi’s apron.“Just how did he leave?”
Norbi snatched her apron from him and never lost a step.“Ask Cor.He saw it also.”
Billybo sat back again and looked at Corpenny.
“Very well,” agreed Corpenny, shaking his head slowly.“Bo . . . you know I’m not much given to stretching the truth even for a good yarn, but what I’m going to relate to you will sound just like that.”
“Duly noted.”Bo crossed his arms and waited for his story.
“As Yandi has already said, he was dressed in very light-colored clothing.His hair was as white as the snow as was his long beard.He didn’t stay long, but when he left it was dark.We watched him from that window, to the right of the door, as he walked back toward the barn.He stopped at the same spot where the snow had been disturbed.Just as
soon as he did so, a great shadow engulfed him as if from the gathering of a dark mist.When it was all around him to the point we could no longer see, it took him over the barn and on to the north.”
“Shadow my foot,” added Norbi as she set the plates down hard on the table.“I saw it in the moonlight as it flew away and couldn’t even speak its name.”
Billybo’s chin dropped as he looked at her.“What did you see?”
“You’ll think I’m addled.”
“No, we won’t,” added Billybo.
“It was a dragon, and a big one to boot.”
A smile began to curl on the left side of Billybo’s mouth.“Is this the stretching part?” he quipped.
Norbi quickly stepped forward and threw a dishtowel at him.That did little else but bring his laughter bubbling to the surface.
“Hush!” scolded Yandi as she stepped around Norbi.“You’ll wake Yen and I’ll never get him to sleep again.”
“This is an exceptional day,” added Norbi as she retrieved her towel.“The Cutoff is fated for something and it’s not just run-of-the-mill but extraordinary.That babe sleeping back there is right in the middle of it.”
Word soon spread throughout the area of the infant marked by the White Wizard.It even made its way swiftly south to the dwarves of Leachenwood and on to the elfin village of Dragon’s Oak.The Stonesmith child rapidly gained so much notoriety that people from the surrounding villages visited the Stonesmith cabin regularly in search of the one called Yenwolk.Gifts were brought and offerings made to insure the child’s welfare until such a time came as was chosen by Krypendorf.The possibility that he might not ever be called upon never entered their minds.
Days passed, then years.Eight falls bared their fruits, but not a word more came from Maidenhead, and the ‘watcher’ was never seen.Then, early one summer day, Yandi got an invitation from Belinda Pragen, a neighbor and good friend, to join her on a picnic at a hot spring in the wood just southwest of the Crossroads store.The term ‘watcher’ would soon have a face, but one that would not bring discomfort to the gnomes.
Yandi, being left alone by Corpenny to go work in the forest, sat upon the front porch of their little cabin and watched Yen play with his wooden horse.He ran back and forth in the grass with his mind, no doubt, somewhere other than her front yard.
“Yandi,” called a familiar voice to her left.
With a smile instantly gracing her face, the gnomish girl looked to the little field to the east and waved at the young girl now crossing it.She carried a basket in her hands and a her child walked beside her.
“Belinda,” she exclaimed, hopping from the porch as she waved.
The sound of the name immediately jerked young Yen back into the real world and he
stopped to gaze across the toward the two approaching figures.
“Go to him, Ohdull,” said the sandy-haired gnome and the little cotton-top boy at her side raced from her and through the tall grass toward Yenwolk.
From a distance, you couldn’t tell the two boys apart, save for Ohdull’s light colored hair.Both were eight years old, four and a half feet tall, and trimly built.Each had the imagination of a master storyteller.Being of the same age, Belinda and Yandi were not just like best friends, they were like sisters.So, it was no surprise that Yen and Ohdull acted like brothers rather than just friends.
“I’m so tickled you came over,” exclaimed Yandi as Belinda stepped into the yard.“There’s no telling when Cor will get back and I was just wondering what would become of the day.”
Yandi met Belinda in the middle of the yard and hugged her friend.
“Where’s he?” asked Belinda as the two walked back to the front porch.
Yandi shrugged her shoulders.“Gathering mushrooms, hunting, tending snares, or working his ginseng and soap root patches.He’s trying to set up some mandrake beds also.He’s found a little valley on the inside turn of the Oxbow that is really shady and rich.”
“Well,” said Belinda as she looked up and smiled, “If anyone can make it happen, he can.He’s just like my Braum was.He’s got a heart as big as the Oxbow dragon himself.”
Yandi looked up at her, sorrowfully, “Wish that troll had missed him.”
“So do I,” agreed Belinda, “but he didn’t and the infection took him before I
could get help.”Belinda looked up and smiled.“Let’s not dwell on such sad things today.I have a hot pot in this basket full of chicken, herbs and potatoes.The bread is still warm and wrapped in a linen cloth.”Belinda raised the linen cloth and the smell of the chicken filled the air.She then looked up at Yandi and grinned.“Let’s have a picnic at Sugar Creek Springs.It’s not far from here, the day’s beautiful, and the walk will do us all bunches of good.”
“Smells wonderful,” said Yandi.
“The butter is in a crock and by now is probably very soft,” added Belinda as she replaced the cloth snugly over their meal.
“Great,” exclaimed Yandi.“The boys can play in the pool.They’ll love that.”
Yandi turned to her friend.“What do I need to bring?”
“Have you got a blanket for a pallet on the leaves, and perhaps some towels for the boys?”
Yandi smiled and nodded.
In little time at all the four were strolling down a path that led from the back of Yandi’s cabin, across the field, and into the woods south of their homes.The youngsters played tag about the trees and bushes ahead of the two women.
“That’s far enough,” said Yandi loudly as she waved at the two lads.“Don’t get out of sight.”
“Let us catch up,” added Belinda.
As if ordered to quit having fun, the two stopped immediately and waited patiently at the edge of the path ahead of the two women.
“Wonderful day,” noted Belinda as she looked up through the oaks and pines.“The sky couldn’t be any bluer and the clouds are as white as sheets.”
As Yandi looked up also she stumbled, causing something to fall from the blanket she was carrying.A silver dagger fell to the path in front of the two.Yandi immediately laughed at her friend’s expression.
“Bread knife,” explained Yandi as she picked up the weapon and put it back into the blanket. “Cor gave it to me some time ago for my protection if need be.The only thing it has ever cut is me and my bread.”
Belinda smiled and nodded.“I guess it’s a wise thing to carry in the woods.You never know.”
In less than half an hour, they arrived at a twenty-foot wide pool at the side of a small but steep hill.A cedar trough had been placed at the spring’s opening about twelve feet above the pool.The sound of the splashing water quickly proved too much for the two lads and they jumped in--short pants and all.Yandi and Belinda spread the blanket near a huge pine just west of the pool and watched the boy’s antics.
Belinda looked at Yandi with a mixture of happiness laced with sadness.“They act just like brothers, don’t they?”
“I think so.”
“Ever since Braum was killed, Yenwolk was all Ohdull ever talked about.Cor checks every day to see we have what we need.”Belinda looked out into the forest away from Yandi to hide the wiping of silent tears.“If it wasn’t for all of you, I don’t know where Ohdull and I would be now.”
“You forget.Braum and Cor were like brothers also.”Yandi handed her a small linen cloth.“Besides, we are not going to think on such sad things today, remember?”Yandi took her hand and squeezed it gently.“Cor will make sure your name is always before the Elders of the Cutoff.We all will have plenty.Cor will see to that.”
Belinda turned back to Yandi.“How many Elders are like Cor?”
“If you mean care givers, Cor handles the south-east area of the Cutoff.He helps
Billybo.No gnome will do without because of misfortune, age, or undue sickness or ailment.”
Belinda then looked at her and smiled.“Norbi got you worried about the fae people?”
“Not so much since the Old One came for a visit.She’s even stopped staining his heel.”
“Still in all,” added Belinda as she leaned forward to check the boys in the pool, “she’s very smart.She’s even been called to Dragon’s Oak twice in the past year or so.”
Yandi nodded and looked at the basket.“That chicken really smells good.”
Belinda pulled back the cloth and removed the lid.The aroma of the chicken and herbs filled the air as steam rose from the little iron pot.
“I’m starving,” said Belinda as she took the wooden plates from the basket and placed them on the blanket.She then handed the linen cloth that held the bread to Yandi.“Don’t cut yourself,” she added with a smile.
As Yandi sliced the bread, Belinda began to spoon the simmered chicken and potatoes onto the plates.When it looked as if Belinda was about to completely miss the third plate, Yandi quickly moved it under the spoon and looked up at her.She was holding the half-empty spoon above the plate, looking at the hill west of the pool, and shaking like a leaf.Yandi turned to see what had her so upset and immediately noticed two half-grown forest dragons stalking the two boys still in the shallow pool.
“Noooo!” shouted Yandi as she quickly scrambled to her feet with the dagger.
Being only eight feet long, the young dragons wouldn’t present much of a danger to a well-armed woodman, But two small boys would be easy picking.
Belinda grabbed the iron pot and slung the chicken and potatoes into the grass.Holding the pot like a club, she raced to keep up with Yandi as the two rushed toward the
In the time it took for the two to make six very quick steps, another more dangerous problem quickly presented itself.A full-grown female dragon slid from the steep hill between them and the spring.It quickly became quite evident to Yandi what her intent was; she was teaching her siblings to hunt and wanted no interference.
“Cor, where are you!” shouted Yandi as she stared at a now more formidable foe.
Yen and Ohdull quickly stood and backed up in the three-foot water until they wereunder the cedar chute.
“Don’t run, boys!” screamed Yandi as she stopped just a few paces short of the older dragon. With both hands, she held the fourteen-inch dagger in front of her.Belinda, crying and screaming, flung the black iron pot at the female dragon.It simply snapped at it as it bounced past her in the grass.
“Go away!” screamed Yandi but could find no way around the larger dragon.
Belinda struggled with a dead limb, but it wouldn’t break and quickly proved too
much to handle.She then began throwing whatever she could find at the female.With the siblings getting closer to the two boys, the two women were almost in a panic when
the air around them became full of green pine needles, limbs, and cones.The force of the
falling tree was great enough to knock the two women back toward the blanket.
While trying to regain her feet, Yandi quickly realized she had lost the dagger.
“Look there!” cried Belinda as she pointed past the fallen pine to a hill beyond the spring.The three reptiles were retreating as fast as they could.
Yandi tried, but her vision was blurred by something wet upon her face.
“You’re bleeding!” exclaimed Belinda as she picked up a towel to blot her friend’s face.
“The dragons!” shouted Yandi loudly as she spotted the dagger only an arm’s length from them.
“No, no,” said Belinda.“They’re running away from us as fast as they can.I’ve seen them.”
Yandi wiped her face once more and slowly looked up at her friend.“They’re gone?”
Belinda nodded weakly as they both stood and then noticed the treetop that had all but fallen on them both.It looked to be the top forty feet of the tree they had placed the pallet under.It was cleaved off as clean as if a woodsman had sawed it.
“What did that?” said Belinda as she pointed to the butt of the fallen top.
“Shhh,” hissed Yandi quietly.“Hear that?”
Someone was on the other side of the treetop.His voice was deep and rattled at times, but seemed friendly enough.
“Are you two all right?” it asked.
Belinda and Yandi looked at each other knowing that voice didn’t belong to either of their sons.
“Dragon got your tongue?” the voice spoke again.
Yandi eased around the top of the fallen tree with Belinda in tow.“Come on,” she said to Belinda as her friend gripped her arm tightly.
As the two crept around the treetop, Yandi froze.“Oh my,” she said weakly, lowering the dagger somewhat.
“What is it?” asked Belinda.
“Stay back!” scolded Yandi as quiet as her excitement would allow.“Maybe he won’t see you.”
“He?What?”Belinda tried to push past her friend and in doing so, the two stumbled from behind the fallen pine top.
Sitting there, on the far side of the pool’s edge was the largest creature they had ever seen.Its massive head was a good eight feet above the ground.Emerald green in color with a bright yellow chest, its iridescent hue sparkled in what light was allowed through the canopy above them.Its huge yellow eyes glared at the two as it shuffled its bat-like wings for a more comfortable position.
Yandi, shaking like a leaf, held her dagger in front of her and slowly led Belinda toward the pool and the boys.They were cowering against the bank of the opposite side of the pool, away from the creature.
“Impressive,” spoke the dragon as he looked back at the boys.Yen had a small stick in his hand, which he was holding up in defense.“Your son also shares your courage.”
The dragon slowly turned his head toward Yandi.“You would challenge me with that
Yandi quickly stepped a bit closer to the boys.“I would fight you with my bare hands
for my son’s life.”
“Take mine!” screamed Belinda as she rushed forward and crumpled to the ground at arm’s length from the massive left forehand of the dragon.“Please,” she pleaded without the courage to look up, “let the others go.”
Yandi, seeing her friend at the dragon’s feet, let the dagger fall from her hands.With tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks she pleaded, “Please sir, do not harm her.”
The great beast slowly lowered his head and shut his eyes.“This just keeps getting worse and worse,” he mumbled.“The wizard will have my skin for a tapestry on his wall.”
Yandi’s chin dropped as she noted what he said and saw he seemed earnestly troubled.It then opened his eyes and looked down at Belinda’s crumpled and sobbing figure.She was still too frightened to look up.
“Please, my lady,” he said softly, “lift your head from the ground and forgive me.I have handled this situation very poorly.”He then noticed Yandi’s bleeding forehead.“The White Wizard will never trust me again.”
“Wizard?” asked Yandi as she rushed forward to help Belinda to her feet.Yandi then looked into the dragon’s huge, yellow eyes.There was sincerity there and with a certain sorrow that could only be matched by those of a more gnomish persuasion.
The dragon backed up a bit and then motioned for the boys to join their mothers.They lost no time in doing so.
“What wizard are you speaking of?” asked Yandi, still making eye contact.
“Where is your home, sir,” asked Yen, peeping from under Yandi’s arm.
The great beast seemed to manage a smile as he looked at the young gnome.“My
home?It’s been these woods for the past nine years or so . . . wherever you have been.”
“He’s the watcher!” exclaimed Yenwolk as he shook an excited finger at the dragon.
“Well spoken, Master Yenwolk,” said the great dragon as he bowed slowly to the four.
“You saved our lives,” added Belinda; her voice was still quivering from the experience.
The great dragon looked upon the four.“If I had been more observant, I would have been able to discourage those forest dragons before they got to you, and you would not have had to see me.For that, I am truly sorry.”
Yen released his mother’s hand and stepped forward.
“Yen,” whispered Yandi, “not too close.”
“Do not fret, Lady Stonesmith.”The dragon held out his massive forehand and turned it palm up before the child.
Yenwolk placed his right hand on the dragon’s forefinger, looked up into his face, and then smiled.
“Well done, Master Yenwolk,” spoke the dragon again as he lowered his head to look into the lad’s eyes.“I can’t see it as well as the faes, but they say you have an aura to which there is no equal in the Oxbow area.”The dragon then looked at Yandi. “That is a sign that the powers of a great individual have finally made their way into the world once more.”The great beast then cocked his head sideways.“Do you know of whom I am speaking?”
Yandi shook her head slowly, but uttered not a word.
“Well, it matters not,” said the dragon as he backed up, stretched, and slowly shook his wings.“The proof stands here before me.”
“Wait, please,” begged Yenwolk as he rushed forward.
The great beast paused and lifted his left wing so as to not harm the lad.
“Please, sir,” continued Yen, “you seem to know our names, but we know not yours.”
The great, green reptile sighed heavily as he looked out into the forest.Slowly, his gaze found its way back to Yen’s eyes.“Very well I guess: in for a pence, in for a pound.My name is Pandahar.”
Yandi stepped up behind her son.“What has happened here can still stay here,” she said softly.“No one is really hurt, and because of you, we’re all still alive and well.”
Pandahar lowered his wings to his back and sat down once more.“You would do that for me?”
The four nodded their heads.
“Wonderful,” responded the dragon as he backed up once more and stretched his wings.“Before I go, allow me this one question.”
“Certainly,” answered Yandi.
“Are all the gnomes in the village like you four?”
Yandi smiled.“They certainly are, at least for the greater part anyway.”
“Then,” spoke the dragon proudly, “you may tell them there is a watcher for them also as long as I am allowed to stay here, Lady Stonesmith.”
“I would be happy to tell them, Pan.”
At the sound of the word, Pan, the great dragon seemed to almost smile.“Pan?” he echoed softly.“That will do nicely.”
The four watched as the great winged dragon flew through the canopy above them without even moving a limb.They then stood there as statues, looking up and wondering about what just happened.Then Yenwolk noticed something glimmering at his feet.As he looked down, he nudged his mother.
She smiled and picked up the saucer size disk and handed it to her son.“If your father doubts our story, you can show him what the Pan has left.”She looked back up at the small opening in the trees above them.“I’m sure he left it for you.”
Ohdull’s eyes widened as he looked at his best friend.“You are special.You even shook his hand.”
“No,” responded Yen quickly, “I’m still just Yenwolk.”
“Well,” said Belinda, looking back at the chicken and potatoes in the grass, “I guess I really fixed the picnic for us.”
“Come,” said Yandi, “I’ll help you find your kettle.I’m sure we’ll find something back at the cabin that will do just fine.Besides, I really don’t feel comfortable here anymore.”
The little group kept watchful eyes as they strolled back down the path toward the field at the rear of their homes.The woods of home were now graced with a strange new feeling, one of wonder edged with a touch of fear.Now, once familiar sounds made them
jump and look into the shadows.
Belinda moved closer to Yandi and Yen.“You must tell Cor about this as soon as you can.”
Yandi looked back and nodded.
Belinda held onto Ohdull’s hand tightly as they followed Yandi and Yen through the forest.She could tell her friend was uncomfortable.The children were almost taking two steps to her one, but with the forest dragons still fresh in their minds, they weren’t complaining.
“But what must I tell him?” Yandi finally said without looking back.“If I tell him exactly what happened, the Pan might get in trouble with the old wizard.”
“But Cor must go to the Council of Elders.If we are ever threatened again, they should know about Pandahar.You heard what he said.He will watch for the Cutoff also. Besides, those forest dragons are too dangerous to let go unnoticed.”
“Yes,” agreed Yandi, “but we must be careful how we word it.”
After they were well away from the spring, Yandi slowed and looked across a little valley north of them.She then pointed to a little cottage on a hill overlooking the valley.“There is Simeon Phrotulcuff’s home.He holds the first chair on the council.”
Belinda grabbed the back of Yandi’s shirt and they both stopped in the path.“You can put this burden on him right now.Surely, he will know what to do.”
“Very well,” agreed Yandi as she looked at her friend, “but you are coming with me.Your life was at risk also.Besides, he will never believe anything about this story unless some one backs me up.”
Belinda’s eyebrows rose.“Isn’t it the man’s responsibility to address the Council?”
“There’s no time,” said Yandi as she stepped from the path with the three trailing close behind her.“Besides, Cor isn’t home and I don’t know when he will be.”
Holding their sons close, the two women stepped lively down the gentle terrain and into the little valley.Trees quickly give way to lush, green grass, which was almost waist high at places.Yandi kept a constant watch on the woods behind them.Yen watched
also, but he was more interested in what might be above him.
“Yandi!” called a familiar voice from the ridge where the Cutoff Road ran close to its edge.
“There he is,” shouted Belinda as she waved excitedly at a black-bearded fellow doing the same.“It’s Billybo.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Yandi as she quickened her pace.“Where Bo is, Cor has just got to be close.”
As they neared Simeon’s house, Cor could be seen, along with Billybo, walking up the road toward them.Yandi turned loose of Yen’s hand for the first time since they left the spring and ran toward her husband.Belinda and the boys followed as close as they could.
“What’s the matter?” asked Corpenny.“Why are you four in the woods?You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
Yandi said nothing, but when she got close, she grabbed him, hugged tightly, and buried her face in his chest.
“There, there,” said Cor softly as he lifted her chin.
“Dragons, Pappa!” exclaimed Yenwolk, pointing a shaking finger out across the valley toward the woods on the other side.
“Dragon?” echoed Bo as he looked to the woods also.“What kind, and how many?”
“Three!” answered Yen before anyone else could respond.
“Four,” corrected Ohdull as his mother quickly drew him close, shaking her head
Bo looked confusedly at Corpenny, and then back to Yenwolk.“Forest dragons?”
“Yes,” answered Yen.
“No,” answered Ohdull.
Belinda placed her hand firmly on Ohdull’s neck and drew him even closer.“They almost got us, but Pandahar saved us,” he added as he pulled away from his mother and ran to join Yen.
“Ohdull!” scorned Belinda, “let Yandi tell what has happened.Little mouths should be quiet right now.”
Corpenny, noting his Yandi was clearly shaken, gently pushed her back at arm’s length.“Who is this Pandahar fellow?”
“Yen’s dragon,” answered Ohdull before anyone could say a word.
“Dragons again,” said Corpenny as he looked to old Simeon’s front porch.“Well, we’re at the right place for this little story.Come with me.Let’s tell this to the First Chair.He’ll need to hear it first hand and not from me.”
Upon hearing their story, Simeon dispatched five hunters to the Sugar Creek area.He also sent word for the other Elders to meet him in the Great Hall.Cor, Bo, and Yandi with her group were sent home to freshen up and return within three hours to the meeting.
Most everyone was quiet as they approached the Stonesmith cabin.Belinda watched Yandi closely as the latter constantly looked back at her for any sign of affirmation in doing the right thing.
Finally, Yandi tugged at Cor’s shirtsleeve.“Should we be bothering the elders about this?” she asked timidly.“We’re going to cause such a stir.”
Cor smiled and patted her hand.“You can rest assured that the wrong thing would be
to say nothing.Those dragons are much too close to the village to be ignored.”
Billybo, now leading the group, stepped from the road and paused under a cottonwood tree in front of the Stonesmith cabin.He then looked back at Cor and the others.
“Well, go on, Bo,” encouraged Cor.“You know our door is never locked.”
“Uh huh,” replied the gnome as he pointed to something lying in the grass in front of the porch steps.
“Geese,” said Cor as he stepped around the older gnome for a better look.
All six of them approached the lifeless birds as if they might jump up and fly away at any moment.Cor knelt in the grass before the birds and lifted one of them.It was a heavy, fat drake with no visible mark on him.
“Fresh kill,” he said softly to Bo.It’s still warm.”
“Who would do such a kindness?” added Bo.“There are three of them.”
Cor slowly shook his head.“No one owes me a thing.I haven’t a clue.”
Belinda stepped up and looked down at the birds.“I don’t believe it was anyone.I believe it was a what and not a who.”
Billybo looked around at her.“What in thunder is that suppose to mean?” he asked through squinting eyes.
“Pandahar,” answered Ohdull, earning a solid nudge from his mother.
“You’ve said too much already,” snapped Belinda as she glared at her son.“Remember our promise.”
“Promise?” asked Cor as he looked at Belinda confusedly.“You speak as if you were talking about a man, but you would have us believe this thing is a dragon . . . Look,” he added, holding up one of the birds.“There’s not a feather out of place.”
Ohdull suddenly became quiet and backed up next to his mother.
Belinda put her arms around him and patted his chest softly.“I think he saw that I threw our dinner in the grass when we first saw the forest dragons.I threw the heavy iron pot at one of them.”
Cor’s shoulders began to shake in sort of a silent laughter.“This is slowly becoming the most unusual tale I’ve ever heard.”
“Maybe not,” added Billybo.“I believe them.”
“What?”Cor stood with a bird in each hand.
“No sense raking it back and forth across the fire now,” said Billybo, laughing at Yandi’s funny expression.“This will all boil down at the hall.I’ll dress and cook these birds.”He then looked at Cor.“You and the others get presentable.You’ll be expected at the hall in a couple of hours.They won’t need me, but you go and stand by Yandi and Belinda.There’s some hard heads in those twelve if they’re all there so don’t let them make light of the situation and of what the women and kids saw.
Cor hesitated, looking at Yandi as if for something more to go on.
“Go on now,” prompted Bo.“I’ve never known Yandi to stretch the truth let alone out right lie.You should know that.”
“All right,” replied Cor weakly.“I’ll certainly do my best.”
Yandi and Belinda followed Cor with their sons into the cabin as Billybo headed toward the barn with the geese.
Billybo looked back just as Belinda stepped onto the porch.“I want to hear that story
when everyone gets back,” he shouted.
Belinda smiled and nodded as she entered the cabin.
Consider the Elders
Yandi stood in front of the open wardrobe with her hand on her chin as if pondering what to wear.Her mind, however, wasn’t on clothes at all.It was on the twelve Elders who were to hear her testimony.Gnomes and outlanders alike were sentenced there and she knew lies were dealt with harshly.Wars were waged at that table, battles planned, and people banished.Some were even indentured into the service of others if the Elders saw fit.
“Yandi,” said Cor as he peeped around the door of the washroom.“Wear your new dress.Looking well to do will help with giving weight to your part in the story.I’ll do the same.”
Yandi took the dress from the wardrobe and spread it upon the bed.Yellow did become her, and it was full of lace and mother-of-pearl buttons.
Belinda looked down at her son, and then up at Yandi.“Maybe Ohdull and I had best stay here.We don’t have anything nicer than what we have on.”
“Nonsense,” replied Yandi as she turned to the wardrobe.“I’ve got five other dresses in there.You’re my size.Come and pick out two of them.We’ll help Ohdull do the same in Yen’s shift-a-robe.”
Belinda put her hands to her mouth and backed up a bit.“Oh . . . I just couldn’t do that, Yandi.”
“Nonsense,” Yandi smiled as she pulled out a pretty reddish-brown dress.“This will
go good with your hair.Besides, if the archers report back to the hall, Long Bob is sure
to be one of them, and he’s been asking Cor about you quite a bit.”
This thought brought a smile to Belinda’s face and she laughed silently.“His name is Robert Pierce.”
“I know that.”Yandi laughed also.“I’ve seen him bring you things on that black mare of his.Cor said they call him Long Bob because he can hit things farther than most gnomes can see.”She noticed she had embarrassed Belinda a bit.“You like him don’t you?”
“Of course, but I don’t think he’s eager for a ready-made family.”
Yandi took a beige dress from the wardrobe and laid it next to the brown.“I believe you’re selling him short.”She gestured to the dresses with her right hand.“When Cor finishes in the washroom, you can clean up and put one of these on.I think they’ll do nicely.”
“Very well,” said Belinda just as Cor stepped from the washroom, “but we must hurry.Simeon will be angry if we make them wait.”
“Ohhh,” added Corpenny, “he’ll be fine.It’s Brown Thum we’ll have to worry about.He’s worrisome, hard-nosed, rude, and impatient.”Cor then turned to Yandi.“Just remember; you’re doing them a favor by reporting this.”
Mid afternoon was upon them as the five gnomes walked briskly up the Cutoff Road toward the Crossroads.Others, who noticed how they were dressed, waved and inquired about the coming event.Cor only admitted that Simeon wanted to see them about something and indicated it was a mystery to him.That seemed to end any further discussion.As they walked past Puttnam’s store, Yandi stopped and stared at the huge,
white building on the far, southwest corner.
“Don’t be frightened,” said Cor as he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.He then
looked at the boys.“This is a time for little mouths to be very quiet.Don’t speak unless you are addressed personally.Your mothers will do most of the talking.”Cor then knelt in front of the boys.“Is that understood?”
The two nodded, but said not a word.
“Let’s go then,” said Cor as he stood and led them across the Whitestone Road and then to the steps of the Great Hall.
Yandi’s eyes became fixed upon the huge brass handles gracing the two double doors of the meeting room.The doors themselves were almost as tall as their own cabin, and the building was at least ten times as big.
Yandi held tight to Cor’s hand as he swung open one of the doors.Belinda followed reluctantly with the boys holding to each of her hands.
“What’s all this excitement about?” came a booming voice from just behind Belinda.
The old white-haired gnome was so close it made Belinda and the boys jump.Yandi glanced back quickly and then looked to her husband.
“Yopp!” snapped Cor as a smile curled its way through the old one’s bushy mustache.
“You shouldn’t scare them right now.It’s all I can do to keep them from running back to
“No harm intended, young woodman,” said the old gnome as he brushed his long white hair back under his hat.He appeared to be about seventy, as years are judged by men, but there was a light in his eyes that hinted a much younger age.He then looked down at Yenwolk as he continued.“Don’t be so alarmed over such a little matter as
Yen watched the old gnome stroke his beard and mustache.His long, bushy sideburns completely obscured his old pointed ears.He looked like the St. Nicholas Yen had heard about in the various tales of the villages of men.
Yopp stepped closer to Yen and looked down on the lad.Being over six feet tall,
the old gnome made Yen feel a bit intimidated, but there was something about his bright blue eyes that brushed that fear away.They seemed to smile at him, even though his lips could scarcely be seen.
The old gnome pulled a long pipe from the inside of his vest and proceeded to stoke it with an aromatic tobacco he produced from one of his pockets.
“Apples,” said Yen with a smile.
“Dragons like ‘em,” replied the old gnome.“What’s this I hear about your encounter with dragons?Most have shunned our forest for almost one hundred years.”
“Don’t speak, child,” prompted Cor as he placed his hand upon his son’s head.Cor then glanced at the women and then nodded toward the rotund gnome.“Alec Yopp, this is my son, Yenwolk, and his friend, Ohdull.They are with my wife, Yandi and Ohdull’s mother, Belinda.They are here to relate the encounter they have just witnessed.”
Cor then led the group through the open doorway.White columns supported the huge
front porch of the Hall, but once in the building, the smell of the cedar walls was quite evident.The red and yellow streaked panels reflected the beauty of the wood on all four walls as well as the ceiling.
“This way,” spoke Yopp quietly as he then led the little group past rows of chairs on either side to four tables in the middle of the room.
Yen watched carefully as they neared the tables.All chairs and tables were situated so as to face a huge, crescent-shaped table in front of them.Behind it was a wall with five doors.One on the far right was marked Military.One left of it was marked Mayor.The center door was marked Kitchen.But the remaining two on the left caught and held the young gnome’s attention.They had heavy black armored doors and were marked Holding.The room was also as dark as it was spacious.The two front windows, being the only hope of light from the outside, were heavily draped.There were ornate brass
lamps on the walls, but the only ones that were lit were behind the great crescent table of blond oak where the elders were now gathering.
Yen looked down at the floor and stared at the reflection of the lamps that danced upon it.
“Take your seats here and get comfortable,” said Yopp as he pointed to the two tables on the right of the isle.“Your table is the one directly in front of the big curved one.”A frown then clouded his face.“The attendants are slow.I’ll see you have a pitcher of cool water, some glasses, and perhaps linen napkins also.Some of the Elders are gathering now, perhaps the others will be here shortly.”
Yopp then left them and entered the room marked Kitchen.In a matter of seconds a young gnome emerged from that door and hurried around the curved table.He was
carrying the things Yopp mentioned, plus a small oil lamp.
“Begging your pardon, Sir,” apologized the gnome to Cor, “These things should have already been in place.”
Simeon Phrotulcuff entered the room from the Mayor’s office and took the center seat behind the great oak table.Eight others quickly joined him as he did so.Yandi watched nervously as they whispered among themselves.She could see them glancing up at her as though she was the topic of their discussion.
Belinda then jumped as someone tugged at the back of her hair.“Long Bob,” she whispered as his brown eyes showed their approval of finding her there.
He stood there smiling with his bow in hand.“I hear you had quite an adventure at the spring today,” he whispered as his smile broadened.
Simeon stood as Long Bob took a seat at the oak table with Simeon.
“We have nine chairs with us.I’m Simeon Phrotulcuff.I hold the first chair.The others will introduce themselves if they wish to speak or if they are spoken to.”Simeon then sat down and stretched his back as if very tired.He then looked at Yandi.She sat back deep into her chair as if trying to disappear.“Suppose you enlighten us all on what you say happened to you and your party at Sugar Creek Springs.”
Yandi slowly stood and gestured to Belinda with her right hand.We went to the springs for a picnic earlier today about two hours before noon.It had always been safe in the past and we walked the distance in no time.We had just settled down when the children started playing in the pool beneath the spring.It was such a warm day that ---”
“Yes, yes,” interrupted an old, shaggy-haired old gnome.A halo of smoke had already encircled him as he puffed on his huge pipe.“I’m Brown Thum,” he added as though already bored.“Get to the point if you will.”
“Yes sir,” replied Yandi, glancing at Cor nervously.“There were three forest dragons there.We saw the two smaller ones at first, and when we tried to scare them off from stalking our children, the larger one stopped us.With her now in front of us, we could do very little to protect our children.”
Long Bob then held up his hand for her to stop for a moment.“We found evidence of the smaller dragons and the larger female, but could not locate the animals themselves.What concerns me is what seems to have driven them off.”The tall hunter then stood and walked around the huge table to sit on its corner and look back at Simeon.“You see, he was clever, this one,” he added, pulling his pipe from his vest, “Kept his tracks hidden very well.”Long Bob slowly packed his pipe near one of the lamps provided for the table.
“Merciful Zeus,” exclaimed Brown Thum.“Will you please stop stalling?”
Long Bob smiled at the shaggy-haired old grouch as he lit his own pipe.His six-foot, four-inch frame supported upwards of two hundred and eighty pounds and was a match for any man in the Cutoff.
“Yes,” he continued, “covered all of them but one.“We found that under the water at the south edge of the little pool the boys played in.”He then looked back at Brown Thum.“It was the forehand of a dragon large enough to be a great-winged.”
“I’m Guroch Holgadah,” spoke a gnome loudly from the third chair as he raised his hand.“That certainly is no forest dragon.The one you speak of is certainly not just a
visitor, and not one native to our home.”
“He certainly isn’t,” added Long Bob, “and if his hunting proves good, he will stay.If he is a great-winged, he will have an impact on everything in this area.”
Belinda, somewhat surprised at what was just said, looked at Long Bob and shook her head to dissuade any further comments of that nature.
“Well,” sighed Simeon, noting Belinda’s interest, “I wasn’t aware that any dragon of that size still existed.Tell us your name, young lady.”
“Belinda,” she said weakly as she stood.“Belinda Pragen, sir.”
“Then, Belinda, can you tell us how all of you managed to escape three forest dragons and this creature?”
Belinda glanced at Yandi, “The winged dragon chased them from us.”
“What?” quipped Long Bob as he tried to hide his amusement.“Then he just let the four of you walk away?”
“He was from Krypendorf!” added Yenwolk loudly noting Belinda was being made fun of.“And . . . he’s my friend.”
Struggling to remain calm, Long Bob lifted a glass of water to his lips and watched Yandi pull her son closer to her.
“Friend?” Bob sputtered.“Very few, other than the occasional wizard, would make a friend of such a creature.”
“Well said, Yenwolk Stonesmith,” spoke a voice from the shadows in the far left corner of the room.
Yandi turned to see the gentleman who would befriend her son.The shadowy figure was every bit as tall as Long Bob, but at least ninety pounds lighter.
“Step forward, sir,” said Simeon.“Your voice doesn’t sound familiar.”
The darkened figure stepped to the middle of the room but no farther.
“Take a lamp out to him,” snapped Brown Thum as he gestured to one of the orderlies.“I would see his face.”
The orderly took a lamp from the oak table and brought it near the mysterious figure.
He had pitch-black hair, long and tied in a mare’s tail behind his head.A dark brown cape was draped across his left forearm.
“To whom am I speaking, sir?” asked Simeon.“This is not an open meeting.”
“I assure you it was not my intention to butt in.If things had progressed the way I had wished, you would have never known I was here.I am Glain Cerrig of the Black Forest, first wizard under Basil of Whitestone.”
“And just what is your purpose here,” grumbled Brown Thum.
“To assure that the course of events are not needlessly interrupted until young Yenwolk’s twelfth birthday.
“Here, Here,” interrupted Simeon as the Elders started talking excitedly among themselves.“The larger dragon is the subject here.We’re drifting away from our purpose.We must find this creature and---”
“That will not be necessary,” interrupted the young wizard loudly.“He has already been contacted by this child.”
At that instant, a heavy-set gnome stood quickly from the seventh chair.His long salt and pepper hair was tied back with a silver ribbon.With black eyes flashing at the young intruder from the Black Forest, he pushed his chair back from behind him.“I am Duelin Grimm.I know many people both here and far away.Your name rings no bells with me.
How are we to know you are one of Krypendorf’s order?”
“I am not directly under Krypendorf’s order, but rather in Basil’s watch.He is my mentor.Try me.”
Duelin smiled and paused, studying the tall young man.“Cheap tricks will prove
nothing here,” he finally said.“Would you care to give me the name of Krypendorf’s
“Good.”Duelin smiled again.“Since Basil is your mentor, you should know where he lives.But, can you tell me where he works?”
“His home is the Castle Whitestone.It is located just south of the Elwyn Forests and somewhat north of Leachenwood.He works within a cavern directly beneath it.”
“Interesting,” mumbled Duelin as he slowly sat back down.
“Just one more,” added Simeon.“What dragon resides there?”
“The one we are discussing here.”
Long Bob pulled his pipe from his mouth and sat up quickly.“What is his name?”
“I will not give it,” answered the young wizard as he looked straight at Long Bob.“Recall your hunters if they are still out.To hunt near the Watcher would only distract him from his purpose.That would surely vex Basil, let alone the White Wizard.”
“I see,” said Simeon, drumming his fingertips idly on the table.“You are telling us that this dragon is the ‘Watcher’ who has protected young Stonesmith from birth?”
Glain slowly nodded and stepped forward a bit.“Rest assured, the lesser dragons will no longer be a threat.”
Simeon looked at the others who said not a word.He then looked at Long Bob.“Are
your hunters still out?”
“They are awaiting what this council decides.”
“Let them go back to their families,” added Simeon.“Our work here is done.We have accomplished our purpose.”The old gnome then turned to Corpenny and his group.“Cor, you and your people can go about your business.I would like a word with this
young wizard,” he added, looking to where Glain Cerrig was once standing.
“He left, sir,” said the attendant still nervously holding the lamp.
Noting the confused look on the attendant’s face, Simeon looked quickly about the room.“How could he leave?I didn’t hear doors opening, nor did I see any light from the outside.”
The young attendant then pointed a shaking finger to the far corner and the darkest part of the room.“He walked back into the darkness where he was originally, and I could see him no more,” added the young fellow.
“Bring a lamp!” snapped Brown Thum as he stood quickly and rounded the table at a trot.“There’s more to this young Cerrig than meets the eye.”Thum snatched the lamp from the young gnome and walked briskly to the corner where he proceeded to examine the paneling.
Yenwolk turned to his father and whispered, “Is this all about me?I’m just Yenwolk.I don’t know anything.”
Phrotulcuff looked around at the young gnome and smiled as he walked to their table.“My little friend, do not bother yourself with worry.”He then sat down upon the corner of the table and drew the lad to him.“You see, we can only guess about the ways of wizards such as Cerrig.It’s quite evident that Krypendorf knew of you shortly after you were born.Something that has yet come to pass troubles him.He will need your help somehow and you should be proud.”
“Why would he choose a gnome?” asked Duelin as he paused close to the group now around Simeon.“After all, he could choose an elf if he so desired.”
Simeon looked up at the old bald-headed gnome as though surprised at the question.
“We are no longer the ancient dwarfs of the forests of our ancestors, Duelin.We are ourselves like the elves and live above the ground as they do.How can we see the strength of this child when he comes to his prime?If Krypendorf had wanted a mushroom, he would have risen one up the night before he needed it.”Simeon then looked down at Yen.“I believe he’s growing an oak strong enough to weather whatever storm is coming.”
“An oak tree?” laughed Long Bob as he stepped around Simeon to tickle Yen’s ribs.
Yen drew back quickly to his mother as Simeon frowned at the young hunter.
“Cor,” continued Long Bob, “you had better plant a whole field of potatoes for this one.He’ll need his strength to match this task.”Long Bob then knelt in front of Yen to look into his eyes.“Wizards mingle with dragons young Stonesmith.Just wait until you get close enough to smell the pine and moss embedded in its scales.So close that you can hear his teeth click together when he talks to you.”
“That’s enough,” snapped a young man now standing just behind Long Bob.
Simeon smiled at the quick scolding directed at Long Bob by the tall, trim hunter.His hair was thinned with age and grayish-black.His dark brown eyes fixed on Bob as he
slowly stood.“Haven’t you already heard what was said?The wizard said the child before you has already made contact with the ‘Watcher’.I take that to mean the two had
“I don’t believe ---”
“Took him by the hand he did,” interrupted Ohdull as he stepped toward Yen.
“Now that’s a good one,” smirked Long Bob.
The tall hunter stepped around Long Bob and looked down at Ohdull.“I’m Leif
Oaksmith.I hold the eleventh chair in the Council of Elders.Did he talk to him also?” he added, looking at Ohdull.
“As did we all,” said Belinda as she stepped to her son’s side.
Long Bob grew silent and attentive as he sat down upon the table close to Yen.
Leif turned and offered Yenwolk his hand.“Let me shake your hand,” he added with a smile.“It’s good luck that visits a person who shakes the hand that was last touched by a dragon.”
Yen extended his hand as he smiled at the hunter.“He was my first, sir,”
“Well done!” exclaimed Leif loudly as he took the lad’s hand.
This was a much different laugh noticed Yen as he looked up into the brown eyes of the hunter now before him.It was one of joy and respect.Not at all like Long Bob’s.
Leif leaned closer to Yen.“I’ll tell you this little secret.The first time Long Bob saw a dragon he couldn’t tell what he said.He was too busy running and screaming.”
Although Leif whispered, everyone near the table heard the rib and started laughing.
“Shut up, you old elm tree,” said Bob as he doffed his hat to slap Leif’s shoulder.He
then looked at Yen and nodded in Leif’s direction.“He stayed hid in the bushes.At least