Monday, November 23, 2009

Old Biddy Mable

"She really isn't all so bad as she seems... she's just a bit lonely, that's all. And a bit of a prankster, I should add."

- Lady Penelope's assessment of Old Biddy Mable

Friday, November 20, 2009

When Pigs Fly

Having slain the wolves, and taken their pelts home for old man Bellowick to tan and turn into warm winter clothes, the two young adventurers sat in the barn. They were looking at the small leather pouch with the red ribbon tie laying on the rough wooden table. Storm Wizard and his sister Juliette debated about what to do with the mysterious Black Seeds inside the pouch that the little furry man in the red cap had given them. They recalled his instructions never to tell where the seeds came from, to plant the seeds on the 1st day of Spring *only*, and lastly, and most urgently, never to return to McFearson Hill again. In exchange they would get crops that would never fail, and make them the wealthiest farmers in the neighborhood.

"Should we hide them in the cubby stash, or carry them with us?" asked Juliette

"Maybe we should plant them now," suggested Storm Wizard, ever impetuous.

"No, we promised not to plant them until the Spring, remember?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Okay, well we can hide them in the floorboards. Or we can hide them in your secret stash in the house."

Just then Juliette felt the bag wiggle in her hand, just ever so slightly, but enough to make her drop the bag on the table, and reel back. Curious, she opened the bag carefully and looked inside. One seed, a small black thing that looked almost like a tiny acorn, wiggled and then jumped up onto the rim of the bag. Before she could do anything it slid over the side and fell on the floorboards. This was alarming. Juliette carefully bent down and grabbed the seed between her fingers and looked at it carefully. It was a very strange and tiny little thing, black as coal, smooth and round, with a little cap on top, like an acorn.

They decided it would be a bad idea to put it back in the bag with the other seeds, and so she put it in her Earth Bag. It went into the soft warm earth inside that bag and began to hum. This was even more alarming. She took it out of that bag, very carefully, and placed it into a towel, but it jumped again and landed on the floor boards. This time Storm Wizard carefully picked up the seed and looked at it. They decided to plant it in a pot, to see what would grow from it. As Juliette put the seed into the pot of soil it wiggled and vanished into the dirt with a hum. And then she felt a tremor in the earth, and she was afraid. Storm Wizard, his head in the clouds, did not feel the tremor. Their minds were filled with foreboding. Why were the seeds black, they wondered. Would they grow into black plants? What would their parents say? How big would they grow? What kinds of plants were they? These were the kinds of questions that haunted their thoughts.

Just then Morgana entered the barn, letting a blast of frigid air in from the outside, and slammed the door shut behind her. "Wow, did you feel that tremor?" And so the two young acolytes of The Golden Sheaf Monastery confirmed on the vibration, and agreed that it was very unusual, and that perhaps the Abbess at the Monastery might care to hear about it. Morgana was very excited, however, about something else she brought with her. It was the map she made of the Rock on McFearson Hill. When they were attacked by the boar, she'd seen it, though neither Juliette nor Storm Wizard had noticed it. So Morgana drew a map, and made a careful image of the stone which she intended to bring to the Guild Hall in Hamfest. The Guild is in the habit of collecting maps and information from its adventuring groups, and even pays out a fair price for the service.

And so the three of them hurried to finish up some of their chores and headed off to Hamfest, on that blustery late autumn morning. When they got to the walled town they went straight to the Guild Hall. On the outside it looks like a small stone building. On the inside is a reception room, and then a few rooms with a library. It isn't until you go downstairs that you get a sense of the true size of the place, for most of it is built underground. After paying their respects to the guard in the reception room, they went first to the library, and in conference with the kindly librarian, found that several maps contained similar rock designs to the one Morgana had found on McFearson Hill. One was on a map that showed the far side of the Hogsworth farm where there is an large bolder with such a spiral on it, and the other map was of a place north of Giles Farm which has a circle of stones, each of which has a similar image. No one knows who made these images, and the librarian thought by the lichen covering them that they must be very old indeed. But who could have made them no one knew.

They then decided to see if they could find anyone else from the Monastery there, but they only found Ben, a brand new acolyte who knew nothing more than they did about anything. Less, actually. But he had also felt the tremor out by the Hogsworth Farm, and said he was planning to go to the Monastery the next morning to tell the Abbess about it. They all decided to go together.

So the next morning everyone woke up early and met in town. Juliette convinced her two older brothers Daniel and Brian to come with them, as they always escorted her when she journey'd the day and a half or so it would take to get to to the Golden Sheaf Monastery.

Having decided on account of the strange tremor that they should take the quickest possible route to the Monastery, at a savings of half a day, they wandered through territory none of them had seen before, to the east of Hamfest, far past the last of the North Commons Swinesteads along a foot path that wound through the snow touched hills. Eventually, at about half past 10 in the morning, they came upon a strange sight. There, beneath a large old oak tree, there were three men trying their hardest to lift a pig up into a tree. The small band stopped and watched the three idiots for a while. Up into the tree they would lift the pig, only to fall down on themselves slipping on the frosty roots, or tripping over one another, and down to the ground would fall the poor pig with a thud. They did this over and over again. Finally, Storm Wizard and Juliette stepped forward and tried to introduce themselves and offer advice. But the three idiots knew not who they were, nor could they understand any helpful advice. All they could do is repeat that they were trying to feed the pig, whom they had named Betsy, acorns which were in the tree. That there were acorns on the ground that could be gathered, ones that Betsy in fact tried her dear hardest to get her snout on whenever she regained her feet, seemed to make no difference to the men. They just looked at Juliette and Storm Wizard and said "Whuuuuuhhh?" when offered this helpful tidbit of advice. And so after trying in various ways to either help the men, or ascertain who they were, and failing at both, the party departed. They hadn't gotten terribly far when Morgana mentioned that she thought the three men must be cursed, for no one could possible be that stupid, and certainly not three men at once.

This made Juliette stop in her tracks and think about that. Indeed, it suddenly seemed to her that this was actually quite likely the case after all, and so they went back to the tree, found the three idiots, and commanded them to follow her.

"Oh boy, she's puuurty!", they cried oafishly and with a great show of joy they set off following Juliette, carrying poor Betsy with them.

After some time they turned a bend in the path around the edge of a hill and came upon a little grotto on one side of which was a small poor shack with a thatch roof and a little garden in front of it. Suddenly everyone caught the smell of the most delicious herb soup floating on the breeze coming from the feeble shack. Juliette and Storm Wizard had thought to simply take a small track that lead around the hill on the other side, and thus avoid the shack, but to no avail. As soon as they smelled the soup the three idiots were carrying Betsy there with loud exclamations of joy. And as everyone upon smelling the soup suddenly realised how hungry they all were, it was decided to follow along.

Out from a window peered a little old lady with gray hair and an an orange shawl around her bony shoulders. With a little gleam of surprise she vanished from the window. A moment later the old wooden front door opened and she stepped out onto the porch.

"Oh my, after all, here are some guests at last!" she cried. "Oh my, well, well, I haven't much to offer anyone, I'm so sorry, but I do have a little soup if you are hungry," she suggested politely. Before she was finished speaking the three idiots had barged past her into the hut and sat down at the table, picking up the wooden spoons in their right hands, saying, "Oh boy! Soup! Soup! Soup! Soup!". Betsy, they placed next to them on the floor, but even she seemed excited for the soup, and squealed as she made little stamps with her hoof. And so it was that Ben, Brian, Daniel, Morgana, Juliette, Storm Wizard and the three Idiots were seated around the small table, some on chairs, some on logs, and Juliette seated on a small chest that was pulled out from a corner for her. And the soup, ladled lovingly by the old lady, was devoured by one and all, even Betsy who had her own bowl on the floor... except for Juliette, who very luckily noticed a slight aroma that made her stop just before she put the first spoonful in her mouth. What was it, she wondered? She looked at the little bits of herbs, and then she spotted it. There was a particularly odd little leaf in the soup that she couldn't quite recognize. While she was thinking, the little old lady was pouring water from an old black jug into wooden cups, and everyone was delighted because it was so clear and cold and fresh. Juliette however was still trying hard to remember what she'd learned from Lady Penelope, the Abbess at the Golden Sheaf Monastery about the herbs they'd studied last spring, when she began to sense that something was wrong with her friends. They all seemed to be behaving a little oddly, and so she put her spoon down and stared at them. Everyone, she realised, was suddenly as stupid as the three idiots. And so before they'd drunk any water, Juliette kicked Morgana in the shin under the table, and then Storm Wizard, the two she could reach. It was only because of this that Morgana and Storm Wizard didn't drink the water, though they'd already eaten the soup. And thus they found that they remembered who they were, but they were dumb as dirt just the same. It was only sheer luck that they didn't drink up the water as well, because in their state of mind they could hardly think a full thought between the two of them.

"My dear," said the old lady, "why don't you have some soup? You'll feel much better. It's very good tasting, and everyone else is almost finished with theirs already."

And so Juliette pretended to eat the soup by holding up the bowl to her lips, but the old lady was hardly gulled by this. It didn't matter much, though, as Juliette suddenly stood up and apologized profusely, and herded everyone out the door, except for poor Ben and Betsy who were too stupefied to move from the table. The three idiots, poor fellows, bellowed and cried to leave Betsy behind, but Juliette, with her sternest possible little voice demanded that they follow along. "She's so puuurty!" they said, and followed her like three puppy dogs, looking back at the hut and crying because they missed Betsy.

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry, but we must be on our way. We're very late as it is," Juliette was saying to the old lady as she ushered everyone she could away.

"But I'll be so lonely! Oh I can't stand to be lonely! It's so awful to be by oneself with no one to talk to! No one at all," sobbed the old lady, though to no avail. Juliette had firmly made her mind up, and wasn't going to stay one more minute. And so down the road she trundled everyone along, looking back once toward the shack and promising herself that she'd come back for Ben as soon as she could. Poor Ben.

They made it about three miles down the path when a slight whiff of the soup's aroma came floating in on the breeze, and all of a sudden everyone except Juliette felt starved for the wonderful soup, and the entire troop started back toward the old lady's hut. It was only because she was clear headed, and a very determined little girl, that Juliette was able to keep everyone from going back, and in the end she had her way and everyone followed her, groaning miserably about the wonderful soup and how hungry they all felt.

It was an hour or so later they came around a bend and saw ahead the tall flat crown of Perdo Hill, where the criminals are hung. The gallows stood silhouetted like crooked black fingers against the looming grey clouds, three empty nooses blowing in the chill wind.

"Oh look," said Storm Wizard as they came into view, "there's swings on the hill."

It was a fateful, and stupid comment. One that all of the idiots took as a happy indication that fun was to be had on Perdo Hill. Before she knew it, all the happy-go-lucky idiots were clamoring up the hill in a noisy crowd, heading for the gallows to go play swings.

"Oh boy! Swings! Oh Boy!!" said one of the idiots jubilantly. There wasn't much for Juliette to do but to climb the hill with them and hope that nothing ill came of it. But seeing her "children" playing at swings on the gallows of Perdo Hill gave the girl a dreadful chill, as if she was watching people dancing on their own graves. Storm Wizard, despite his stupidity had enough of himself remaining to see that this was a game best not played, and so he selected a rope that one of the idiots, Daniel, was swinging from, and taking careful aim, chanting under his breath, snapped it with a a brilliant blue lightning arrow. Down onto the ground fell Daniel with a loud thump. This event made everyone stop playing and stare at the smoldering rope. And so Juliette seized the opportunity to hustle everyone down the far side of Perdo Hill, toward the Monastery which could be seen across the white fields in the cold distance. The bell of from the tower could be heard as it toned the five o'clock hour. It would be dark soon.

At the bottom of Perdo Hill is a graveyard through which the thin trail winds its snow-dusted way amid the tombstones and mausoleums. Being the Cemetery for Wheatsdale, many of the people from the town were buried there, as well as the criminals who died on the gallows. The party wound their way through the cold gray stones, but now no one spoke. When they came to a certain mausoleum over which crouched a gnarled leafless crab-apple tree, the party ran into the old mortician Mr. Ebor, who happened to be about his grim business that evening in the graveyard.

"What are YOU doing here?!" he demanded gruffly.

"Well sir, we're on our way to the Monastery, if you don't mind," replied Juliette politely.

"Well you don't belong here, young lady. This is the land of the Dead, you know," he said with a fierce glare in his bloodshot eyes.

"I'm sorry sir, but I couldn't help that. My friends are under a curse of sorts, and they've all lost their wits. I've been trying to herd them to the Monastery, but they went up on Perdo Hill, and it was the best I could do to get them to come down this way," said she.

"What? A curse you say? Well that's a bird of another feather all together, then. I might just be able to help you with that, my dear," said Mr. Ebor with a crooked smile that showed off his crooked yellow teeth.

"Thank you very kindly I'm sure, but I think we'd rather like to carry on to the Abbess Penelope at the Monastery, if you don't mind, sir."

"Oh her! Well, she'd not know more about curses than I do! But no matter! You don't belong in the land of the dead, so be off with you!" he pronounced as if in a big huff about it.

"You'll be back..." he muttered with a sinister tone under his breath as they herded out through the main gateway of the Cemetery. "...One day...," he said, finishing the thought, and then turned back into the cemetery and disappeared among the tombstones as an old black crow cawed from the top of a withered old crab-apple tree behind them.

And so they continued on their way across the snowy fields to the Golden Sheaf Monastery and upon arrival at the main entrance they knocked on the great arched door and waited. A man whom Juliette recognized from her previous visits opened the door and let the shivering people inside. His name was Bartholemy, the monk. Once inside the warm air, the sounds of orisons being chanted from the cloister and rays of dust-speckled light shining down from the high windows across the great hallway gave them a sense of peace and safety.

"We've come a long way, sir, to see the Abbess Penelope if she's here," said Juliette, and everyone with her nodded their heads to emphasize the point.

"I see. Come with me," said Bartholomew, not one to waste words, and after a moment's reflection took them up the tall winding stairway to the third balcony overlooking the great hall, and then down a winding corridor with many turns and many doors, until they came at last to a small arched doorway, upon which the monk knocked lightly.

"Lady Penelope, there are guests here to see you," he said through the ornately carved wooden door.

"Please come in," a musical voice on the other side said. And so Bartholomew opened the door and the little troop entered Abbess Penelope's Study Room. The Abbess was sitting at a large wooden table, her golden hair falling in a cascade of curls around her pretty face and down her sholders. She beckoned them all to sit down and tell her their story.

It was a while before all of the details of the adventure could be told, as Lady Penelope listened intently to the jumbled retelling, several times interrupted by oafish guffaws, or near hysterical weeping. The curiosity regarding the tremor would have to wait, as there were more pressing matters that they needed to attend to. In particular, to bring Juliette's friends and family back to their senses. And so Lady Penelope offered them all a bowl of stew, and cups of water. The stew tasted even better than they'd all hoped as they sat around the large wooden table with their bowls and spoons. And within a few moments they all began to revive their wits and remember who they were, and stop being idiots.

While everyone was eating the soup, and drinking the water, and recovering their wits, Juliette asked Lady Penelope if she knew anything at all about the dreadful old lady in the shack.

"I suspect you met up with the Hedge Witch," Lady Penelope replied.

"Hedge Witch? Oh she was utterly frightful!" Juliette said with conviction.

"Oh I'm not surprised you should think so," replied Penelope calmly, "but honestly, she's not really all so bad as she may seem, and certainly far less bad than some others. Her name is old Biddy Mable. She's just lonely, I suppose, and inclined to trick people into staying with her. She's always been a bit of a prankster, actually, but she's mostly harmless, unless you treat her badly, or are a genuinely bad person. She's very knowledgeable too. In fact she's taught me quite a lot about herb lore over the years. She's really rather brilliant, in her own scattered way."

It was at this juncture that the three Idiots, the original three, looked around with great bewilderment, and with great anxiety asked, "Where is our sister, Betsy?!"

"Your sister?!" exclaimed Juliette. "Well she is still back with the old woman in the shack, along with our friend Ben!" she said despairingly.

"I understand I've been stupefied until just now, but I'm rather curious... do you mean your sister is a ... *ahem* ... a pig?" asked Storm Wizard.

"What is THAT supposed to mean!?" demanded one of the brothers. "Are you trying to insult us by that?"

"Why no, no," interjected Juliette. "It's just that the Betsy we met, the one you were with all along was a pig."

"Well our sister is no pig! We can tell you that!" said one.

"She's a very nice young lady!" declared another with a harumph.

"Well, now, that's very interesting," said Storm Wizard. "I suppose it's possible she was turned into a pig, then."

"Stop giving us that nonsense!" said the other brother. "We don't believe in that kind of superstitious claptrap! Our sister is a young lady, about five foot four, with blue eyes and brown hair, and if I don't mind flattering our family overly, she's very pretty, and quite bright, too!"

The others agreed whole heartedly. There wasn't much good in arguing about it, so Juliette just mentioned that they should try not to be too surprised if when they meet her next she's somewhat different than she was formerly. And at that there was some grumbling on the part of the brothers, but they sat down and brooded to themselves.

"We need to return as soon as possible to rescue our friend, Ben," Juliette went on, speaking to Lady Penelope.

"Yes, that's a good idea. But you'll not break the witch's spell so easily unless you bring along some stew and a jug of water. That ought to bring him back to his senses. I'd say you should head out as soon as it's dawn, though, because travelling around these parts at night is a dangerous thing to do. There are wolves roaming about, among other things. In the meantime, why don't we talk more about the tremor we felt."

As it happenned, Lady Penelope had also felt the tremor, though at such a great distance it was a very vague sense of it indeed, and too much so to be of much use.

"What we can do, now that you've arrived from the area, is try to set up a triangulation of sorts, though it would have helped trememdously if Ben were here too, as he could have made the Third. My own impression was just a bit too slight for me to be of much use. But at the least, between us we might be able to settle on the direction from the North Commons the event took place. Now you girls sit down in the positions you were in relative to one another when it happenned, and meditate on the moment you felt it. Try to remember everything you felt at the time as best you can and clear your mind of anything else completely. Why don't we do that now, and see what we can make of it?"

And so the girls sat down on the floor, and Lady Pelelope intoned a sacred chant that blended well with the Orisons being sung in a chamber not far off, and it wasn't terribly long before they all were in the proper state to get a sense of the tremor.

"Very interesting," said Lady Penelope at last. "If I'm not mistaken the direction was somewhat north of Hamfest, but I've not a good sense of how far. Minvar, the Elkron of the Golden Grain, in her wisdom, has given us a clue, but not the answer. Perhaps with Ben we could get a more accurate reading."

It was a long restless night for most of them, anxious as they were about their friends who were still in the clutches of old Biddy Mable. But in the morning they gathered their things together, put clay pot of stew and the jug of water into a basket, and trundled out into the gray snowy morning.

Looking up at the gallows of Perdo Hill as they passed, Juliette again got a chill remembering her friends swinging like children from the nooses the day before. A new sunrise did not limit the foreboding she felt at having seen it, but there was nothing to do but trudge onward through the snow. About midday they arrived at Biddy Mable's shack.

"Oh, oh, you've returned with all our friends!" cried Biddy Mable as she came out onto the porch in her orange shawl, stirring spoon in hand. "I'm so happy now, that you've returned! It's so lovely to see-"

At that moment Storm Wizard, rather fed up with old Biddy Mable, let loose a mystic Spell of Stunning. However, Biddy Mable was an old witch, tough as an old oak, and not very susecptible to magical spells by novices of the Second Rank. She brushed off the spell with her wooden spoon as if it were but a gnat. However, that isn't to say she shrugged off the fact that the spell was cast.

"That was VERY NAUGHTY!" she shreaked shrilly as she pointed her spoon at Storm Wizard. He went numb. He fell to the ground on his hands and knees. His hair fell out, and his muscles all cramped up, and he groaned audibly as his body compressed, and twisted, and turned pink, and sprouted lumps, and a snout, and then he was squealing like a pig with wings. In fact, that's exactly what he'd become. And so there he stood in the snow, his clothing laying about him on the ground, a funny little pig with two little wings on his back. They flapped. He squealed. Juliette nearly fainted.

"Biddy Mable! Please turn my brother back!" cried Juliette.

"Well, my dear, he was Very Rude, you know!" answered Biddy Mable, somewhat apologetically.

"Please, turn him back!" implored Juliette as Storm Pig began to gnaw on the hem of Biddy Mable's skirt.

There was a squeal from within old Biddy Mable's shack in reply. It was, of course Betsy, whom to Storm Wizard's pig-eyes, all of a sudden seemed like a rather attractive young lady-pig, and so he without much thought (he hadn't much thought left in his pig-brain) made his way into the shack. It was a match made not quite in heaven. The two pigs wandered together out the back door into the yard behind old Biddy Mable's shack to get to know one another better. It was a happy time for Storm Pig and Betsy.

"Well, you see, I really just can't turn around a spell of that sort just like that! It takes time my dear."

"How much time?" asked Juliette rapidly regaining her composure.

"Well it requires a full moon, and there is one coming around in three weeks or so. It's rather complicated, my dear. It takes a lot of magic to reverse a spell like this one. And besides, I have to protest, it was really rather rude for him to try to stun me with that little incantation! I don't see why I *should* turn him back, quite frankly," she said with a sideways look at Juliette.

"I've heard," said Juliette changing her tone, "that you know a good deal about magic. That you even taught Lady Penelope herb lore."

"Oh yes, indeed, that is quite right. I did upon occassion. Nice girl, that Penelope. I remember her fondly. She doesn't come to visit nearly often enough."

"Well, I was wondering... I don't suppose you'd be willing to teach me something of herbs too? I've studied some under Lady Penelope already so I do know a little bit to start with," she asked hopefully.

"Well, my dear, that's an interesting question. I don't see why in heaven's name I should teach you anything. First you wouldn't even taste my lovely soup."

"But it made everyone idiots!" protested Juliette.

"May I point out that they were all very happy before YOU spoiled things for them?"

"But you can't just force people to be stupid and call that happiness!" protested Juliette again.

"I didn't FORCE anyone to do anything!" Biddy Mable pointed out. "They liked the soup, and they ate it because it smells so wonderful! I can't just deprive hungry people you know! And at any rate, learning Herb Lore required *dedication*. And I'm afraid I just don't see quite enough dedication coming from you to teach you! And besides, you deprived me of my friends! How can I forgive that?"

"Well, I'll tell you what. I'll bring you a cat," offered Juliette.

"A cat?"

"Yes. A cat."

"Well, there aren't many cats in the area. It should be nice to have a cat, I think. Hmmm... I'll tell you what. If you find cat and bring it to me then I'll teach you one Herb-Spell. A magical potion. It's quite an interesting one. But you must bring me a cat."

"Ok. But in the meantime please turn my brother into a person again! And I'll bring you a cat, and you can teach me an Herb-Spell," announced Juliette.

"Well, dear that's quite a bargain. I accept. It will only take a month or so to turn your brother back. You can leave him here with me in the meantime. He'll be such good company!"

"But that's too long! He's my protector, and I need him to come with us. There are all kinds of wolves about, and other nasty things... he can't protect me as a pig, can he?", she asked in her most persuasive tone of voice as she watched to the two pigs exit out the back of the hut.

Meanwhile the three brothers had entered the cabin calling for Betsy, but when Betsy came up and nuzzled their legs, they pushed her off, and looked under the bed, and in the cabinets and in the closets, but all to no avail. Eventually, they came out of the hut dismayed, and said "We can't find Betsy anywhere in there."

"Oh she's there," said Biddy Mable with a sly grin.

"Betsy, I tried to tell you before, *is* the pig," said Juliette exasperated.

"That's impossible!" cried the three. But then they stopped. They thought. They'd just seen Storm Wizard turned into a pig. They thought. They looked toward the shack. They then looked at Biddy Mable, and without further ado grabbed her by the throat and lifted her clean off the ground. With this Biddy Mable's spoon-wand dropped out of her hand and fell to the ground.

"You're going to turn our sister Betsy back into herself right now, aren't you?!" they demanded. At that old Biddy Mable began to cry.

"But I caaaan't do it. It's not possible," she sobbed, and with that Betsy's brothers threw old Biddy Mable to the ground, and twisted her ankle.

"Please please!" shouted Juliette in a sudden panic. "Don't hurt her!" It was a very reasonable suggestion, because without Biddy Mable's help, who knows how long it might take for Storm Wizard and Betsy to return to normal. And so she shooed the brothers away as she bent down to apply her healing dirt from her pouch to the swollen ankle. Minvar, the Golden Grain Elkron healed the woman's ankle, and she was genuinely appreciative.

"You're really too kind to me," she said to Juliette with a wimper. One might have thought she was in agreement with that, but she kept her opinion (wisely) to herself, and continued to attempt a negotiation. Things had turned in Juliette's favor as old Biddy Mable was not in much position to fight the three angry brothers, but she really couldn't turn Storm Wizard back to himself, she said, without her spoon-wand.

"I can't do anything at all without my wand!" she sobbed. And so, Juliette, trusting child, retrieved Biddy Mable's spoon from where it had fallen and with some trepidation, gave it to her. As soon has she had it in her old crones fingers she cackled madly holding the wand up in the air and staring at it with her great bulging eyes. Juliette readied herself to fight if she must. On the tip of her tounge sat the latest invocation she had learned at the Monastary of the Golden Sheaf... one to be used only in dire emergencies... the Smiting Fist of Minvar. Eventually, however, the cackling died down, and she then began to protest once more that she can't just change Storm Pig back into a person without the full moon. Juliette looked over to where the three brothers were standing. Biddy Mable thought about things once more. It was, she reasoned, in her best interests after all to try to do something to help Storm Wizard after all. And so she offered the only other advice she could.

"I can't do it. However, there's someone who can. You say that you met with the good Abbess Penelope, and if I don't miss my guess, she offered you all some of her fine stew, and goblets of water from her spring. I'm guessing that because I can't imagine any other way that you all would have come to your senses. Am I right dear?"

This brought Juliette's mind back to the stew and the jug of water in the basket, and back to Ben, who all this time had been sitting in the kitchen with a spoon in his hand waiting patiently for another bowl of Biddy Mable's wonderful soup. Intead he got a bowl of stew, which he liked just as well, and within a few minutes returned to his normal mind. They gave another portion to Betsy, who rolled around on the ground and turned into a pretty young girl with brown hair and blue eyes. At this the three brothers were over joyed, and thanking Juliette for saving their family, and promising never to forget it (unless they ever happened to drink Biddy Mable's water again, which they firmly determined would Never happen again).

"Our names are Fred, Harry and Tod Peppercorn, and this, as you know, is Betsy," they said with a bow, as they departed.

"Thank you so much again. We can never repay you, but if you ever are in our neighborhood, please do drop in and visit! We'd be ever so happy if you would. But we must go quickly now, our parents must be frightfully worried! We left to fetch Betsy from old Biddy Mable's at the end of the Summer, and we've been gone far far too long!" they said, and taking Betsy by the hand they headed off back home toward Hamfest North Commons.

"There'll be no more herb-lore lessons for you at old Biddy Mable's!" Juliette heard Harry telling Betsy as they walked off. Betsy was nodding in emphatic agreement.

There remained only to cure Storm Wizard. But things didn't quite go as well with him, perhaps because there wasn't quite enough stew left over for him, or perhaps because he was unlucky, or perhaps because Biddy Mable muttered something under her breath when he ate it. But whatever the cause, the only change that occured for him was that he grew a bit of his old hair back on his head. Biddy Mable looked at him with a faint smile.

"It may take some time," she said hopefully. Juliette was dismayed, but at least it showed that he would turn back to himself eventually, and hopefully within a few days.

"A week maybe," offered Biddy Mable as Daniel, Brian, Ben, Morgana, Juliette and Storm Pig headed away in a hurry from the little grotto in which Biddy Mable had her shack and herb garden. Behind them they heard Biddy Mable complaining to herself with sighs and sobs...

"All alone again, Mable. You've gone and done it again, haven't you? ... all alone with no one in the world to talk to..."

It was not long before Storm Pig thought to try out his little wings and see if by some chance they would actually let him fly about. And so it was that for the first time ever in the world of Elthos, a pig flew. And no one was happier about that than Storm Pig.

"Come down here right now!" cried Juliette in dismay as she watched her brother disappear into the grey clouds over hanging Gileston that cold autumn afternoon. But there was nothing she could do about that, and so they trudged along the trail, Brian, Daniel, Morgana, Ben and Juliette, with Storm Pig flying about above them watching out for wolves and other nasties along the way home.

Last Episode: Enter the Other Mystics
Next Episode: Introducing Coalfire

Monday, November 09, 2009

Enter, The Other Mystics

The McFearson House Before the FireMeanwhile, not far from McFearson Hill, down in the swine-commons east of Hamfest village, and at some time not long after the events recently told of the Fire and Water Wizards, there was another contest of wills between two siblings. This time we find ourselves in the company of Storm Wizard, whose real name was John Bellowick and his dear sister Juliette. These two young people happened to be the siblings of the Fire and Water Wizards, of whom we recently heard so much about. Together the four siblings formed an alchemical set, and Juliette was by far the sweetest among them, a young girl who loved the earth and healing, and so had devoted herself to the worship of the Golden Sheaf Elkron, the Celestial Lady, Minvar.

It was after sunrise on that blustery autumn morning in the yard of Mr. and Mrs. Bellowick as the swine were grousing for grubs among the roots of the old elm trees, rutting around snorting while being cajoled by the two siblings out toward the better pasture. Out of the corner of his eye, a momentary glint of polished metal drew Storm Wizard's attention. It seemed to him that a speck of a figure was moving along the distant ridge-path high up on McFearson Hill. The black clad figure was heading toward the old burned out McFearson house. And that was a something of a surprise to him.

It's odd, he thought to himself, for anyone to be heading up there as it had been quite some time since old man McFearson has fled southward to Wheatsdale. It was the night that the fire in which his daughter Pamela died (though some rumors to the contrary persisted, while other rumors claimed her ghost was seen in the window of her room in the old burned out house), and Mr McFearson took his wife and son southward that very night on a wagon filled with the remnants of their belongings and was never heard of again in Hamfest village.

And so, dropping his chores like a hot potato, Storm Wizard insisted that Juliette remain behind to watch the swine and make sure that none of them wandered out into the open pasture beyond the commons.

Well, this was really not going to pan out quite that way, as Juliette was a feisty little thing, and refused to remain behind. And so the two of them, grumbling for different reasons, headed up toward McFearson Hill to see who it might be that was walking the lonely path on that dreary hill. It was probably no one of interest, Storm Wizard conjectured, just a peasant, or a wandering monk, but there was something about the figure that struck them both as ... strange. Perhaps it was the black cloak, or the gait by which the figure moved. At any rate, they rushed along as fast as they could, and made their way past the Hogsworth homestead cutting across their fields, and over the Fox Brook Bridge.

Before they made it that far, however, they were hailed by a young brown haired waif of a girl named Morgana Feyton, a friend from the Monastery of the Golden Sheaf, who also insisted on coming along. And so the three of them marched their way along the ragged path, edging the cliffs and finally made their way to the barn, into which they had seen the unusual figure enter. By that time they were a lot closer, as the black cloaked person had stopped along the trail long enough for the little troop to catch up. What they saw struck them as exceedingly strange. The figure was a beautiful woman wearing a jet black skull cap with a widow's peak, her bright red hair flowing in a luxurious wave down her back, and a long flowing black cloak, black chain-mail, and high black boots. She ware a bright silver buckle on her belt, and carried a long thin sword at her side in a polished black scabbard. Into the barn she vanished.

And so the young adventurer's made their way to the barn very carefully, sidling along the bushes and hedges that marked the old garden that once was the envy of the neighborhood, but now sat a limpid warren of rabbit holes and brown weeds. They slunk past the old burned out McFearson house, noting the second story window where the Hogsworth children recently swore they'd seen Pamela McFearson's ghost in the moonlight. It was dreadfully creepy, and so they crept past as quietly as three field mice. And into the barn went Storm Wizard while Juliette and Morgana remained on vigil outside, only to find that the strange woman had indeed vanished completely.

And so the siblings went inside the barn and searched it carefully, leaving Morgana to keep watch at the door least the mystery woman return unexpectedly. And so it was that they too found the old Dragon Chest, and so it was that they too discovered that it was as immobile as if it had roots deep into the ground. And so it was that they discovered that indeed it very well might have, as someone, they could see, had not long before tried to dig beneath the chest only to stop three feet down. To this Juliette proposed that the chest was not a chest at all, but a coffin, perhaps. Storm Wizard roundly scoffed at this notion, but had no better suggestion either, and even so, he was suddenly brushed by an eerie feeling that he could not explain away very easily.

Quite out of the blue they heard a gruff, low, gravelly voice tell them in no uncertain terms that they'd best not trifle with that old Dragon Chest, and spinning around, in the far corner of the barn, sitting on the floor as though he had not a care in the world, was a furry little man in a red cap, wearing a green vest, and smoking a long stemmed pipe, gazing at them with small beady little eyes and a crooked little smile. It came as a great shock to the two of them, and they recalled that not that long ago, just such a furry fellow and his furry friends were responsible for a great number of thefts at last season's Spring Fair in Hamfest.

Storm Wizard accused the fellow, and there were harsh words spoken on both sides, and in the end the little man managed to work out a bargain with the feisty and argumentative Bellowick children. If they agreed to leave McFearson Hill and never return, he would explain to them about the chest. And so, having made that bargain he told them that inside the chest were magical seeds which would never fail to grow a bumper crop and make whomever planted them wealthier than anyone else in the town. And so the two agreed, after another verbal tussle, to take some of the seeds and plant them in the on the first day of spring (and only on the First Day of Spring!), on the condition that they never come back to McFearson Barn again, and that they never tell a living soul where they got the seeds. Then the little man took out a small triangular key and fit it into the strange triangular lock in the Dragon Mouth of the mysterious chest and opened it up to reveal a pile of small black seeds. Good to his word, the little furry man grabbed a handful, filled his little pouch, and gave it to the earnestly amazed children. Slamming the chest closed with a loud thunderous crack, a flash of sparks, the little fellow had vanished in a puff of smoke. When the children rubbed the smoke out of their eyes and looked around he was no where to be seen at all.

It wasn't long before they quarrelled about whether or not to leave the barn, or keep exploring it, since their agreement, technically, with the little man, was to never return, said Storm Wizard, but they didn't agree on how long they would take to depart... when they heard rustling in the loft above. Climbing the ladder, Storm Wizard was suddenly shocked to find himself the recipient of a blinding flash of light and fell backwards to the ground with a hard thud. Juliette then tried to climb the ladder herself, but she too was suddenly rendered unconscious by a flash of light. It was not for some time until Morgana managed to awaken the two, outside the barn, at the end of the day, laying in the old garden among the rabbit holes and dried weeds. They decided it would be a good idea to head home after all. With the small pouch of seeds in Storm Wizard's pocket they departed into the darkening night.

A cold wind blew down the hill side, as they trundled along blearily. They hadn't gone terribly far when they heard a loud rustling in the heavy undergrowth of the forest through which the foot path lead them. It was getting dark. The wind was howling, and Storm Wizard, being that sort of fellow, marched off in the direction of the noise. Picking his way through the undergrowth he came upon a wild boar that had been rooting in the bushes, and turning on him with an angry snort, it charged him with it's sharp tusks, bloodshot eyes, and yellow saliva dripping from it's mouth. Now, it must be said that there are few in Hamfest who are quite as thin and gangly, under nourished and sickly as poor Storm Wizard, generally speaking, and so when the beast charged him his life was very much in jeopardy. Yet without hesitation, and with a steady hand and eye that belied his diminutive form, he barked out a thunderous chant and there was a sudden flash of lightening that flickered off his finger like some monstrous static charge, and hitting the boar in the head, blasted a black smoldering hole right through it's left eye, dropping it like a sack of rocks as it came skidding through the dirt up to Storm Wizard's little feet. Proud and defiant was Storm Wizard that evening, as they headed back to the their home across the fields.

And so they made it safely home after all, and found themselves warm and cozy by the fire, puzzling over the strange black seeds, and all they'd heard and seen since leaving the swine-stead for McFearson Hill. A few days went by and they thought it might be ok for them to just take a quick peek at the hill and if possible, Juliette thought it was her sacred duty to find out of Pamela McFearson's ghost was indeed in that old house, and if so to help her to find her rest in the after life. And so they head back toward McFearson Hill one chilly morning not long afterwards. But this time they took two of their other brothers, Daniel and Brian, fighters both, and together they took a chance that others might have thought quite foolish.

It was a dangerous time of year, though, and before they could make their way over Fox Brook Bridge beyond the safety of their pastures and the swine-commons, they heard the howling of wolves approaching fast through the forest. They found a refuge in some rocks and took a stand. Four wolves came from the woods and assailed them viciously. It was a battle that none of them would soon forget, and by great luck and daring they slew the wolves and took their pelts as a reward and proof of their prowess. And so they stopped at that spot for a time and rested, making a small fire, and sat in the glowering forest. After much conjecture, they decided it would be wiser than not for them to take their hard won earnings, four fine wolf pelts, home for their father to sell in town, least their parents begin to worry, or worse, grow wroth at their insubordination. After all, there were chores that had to be done!

Last Episode: Water And Fire Wizards Join Forces
Next Episode: When Pigs Fly