Thicker Than Sap
In which Globular Van der Graff, (Glob), Makepeace Terranova (Make), Byzantine Du Lac (Byz), Eponymous Tringthicky (Mous), curmudgeonly old Neopol Stranglethigh (Neo), and Bejuss the lisping one eyed raven with the twisted beak, hide a fugitive.
Glob was having a wonderful dream. He was laying on a bed of freshly picked oak leaves beneath the ancient branches of the ancestor oak, being fed honeycomb by her magnificence, Hermione Fingletook, mother of all, lying beside him naked as the day is long, while she gently kissed his forehead and stroked his leathery old ears, making him squirm in ecstasy. His nose however was definitely not dreaming. It twitched violently. The next moment he woke barely able to breath, choking on the pungent fumes that filled the entire household. Bejuss felt sick, so sick in fact that he fell from his customary perch in the rafters to the floor. His eye watered as he did the best he could to cover his nostrils with the thick flight feathers of one wing. Make felt distinctly queasy. Half awake, he filled his bestest briar pipe with a plug of his honeysuckle flavoured tobacco, lit it, and inhaled deeply before filling the room with smoke to drive off the stench. The combination of the pungent smell and thick tobacco smoke woke Mous who immediately threw up on their still sleeping younger brother, simpleminded Byz. Neo could not stand the overpowering smell either. In sheer desperation he covered his face with his cobweb blankets in an attempt to get away from it. His stomach heaved violently. Leaping out of bed with one hand clamped firmly across his mouth, he rushed to the window. Quickly flinging it open, he began breathing in sweet lungfuls of fresh air through his long pointed goblin nose. But it was too late. His stomach had simply had enough. It decided to revolt by emptying its contents, spraying them through his fingers, down the gnarled bark of the old oak. “Rarrk – wot jutht died?” Bejuss cried as he flew rapidly through the opened window, glad to be outside in the fresh air.
Make and Mous both ran for the door to escape the foul odour. But it was strongest there. Something was blocking it from the outside, preventing them from flinging it wide open. Byz crawled inside one of the kitchen cupboards in a desperate attempt to get away from the smell, but to no avail. The poor soul threw up in the nearest thing at hand, Neo’s favourite mead mug. Glob staggered across to the window from his own bed, far greener in the face than was natural for a southern woods goblin, and stuck his head outside beside his cross-eyed curmudgeonly brother who was slowly recuperating.
From the twig he perched on among the sweet smelling leaves of their oak tree home, Bejuss eventually spied the problem. Huddled against their door was a pathetic figure. He was practically naked, clad only in a filthy flax loincloth, and shivering uncontrollably despite sweating profusely from fever, which added to the overpowering stench from his body. On his head he wore a faded red batwing parchment convict skull cap, with tattered flaps that barely covered his ears. Grey hair flowed in tangles across his shoulders. His long pointed nose stuck out above a white bedraggled moustache and a long filthy beard which grew down to his chest. The only other item of clothing he wore was a pair of tattered willow bark boots, from which the blackened nails of his toes protruded. Great clouds of flies surrounded him, while maggots feasted on the dead flesh of his many wounds. “Rarrk – there’th thomeone laying againtht our door Glob; he don’t look well. Maybe he’th dead,” Bejuss reported, making sure not to get too close to the cause of the gut-wrenching smell.
Glob nodded, sighed, and began climbing out through the window to investigate. When his bare feet finally felt the rough bark of the great bough beneath them, Glob studied the bag of bones for a few moments. “It can’t be – I’s wos sure yer wos dead! What happened lad, where’ve yer been all these summers?” he exclaimed as he finally recognised the source of the foul disgusting odour.
The pathetic creature struggled to open its glued up eyes. “I’s is already dead in Brag’s eyes Glob, yer mus help me, I’s begs yer. I’s bein hunted by Grizweavil Bragsbill. He wants ter flay me hide orf me body cos I’s escaped his punishment gang. Make no mistake; he’ll do it whether I’s is dead or alive.”
Glob took a deep breath before gently picking up the pathetic stinking creature, shifting him away from the door. After it was finally flung wide by Make, and the entire household were at last able to breath fresh air, Glob introduced their smelly visitor. “Brothers, this is Limberespan Van der Graff, me long lost twig cousin. Lim these is me brothers, Neopol Stranglethigh, Makepeace Terranova, Eponymous Tringthicky n Byzantine Du Lac. This here raven is me good friend Bejuss,” he said finally, as the old bird perched on his shoulder, quickly covering his nostrils with one wing. After Glob and Make had tended to his festering wounds using honeycomb and fresh sphagnum moss, before bathing, feeding and clothing him, Lim began his story.
He and Glob were born from adjacent acorns, harvested from the Van der Graff twig which grows out of the fourth largest limb of the ancestor oak. As we already know from her magnificence’s previous explanation to Glob, when the acorns are carefully selected by her, they are taken to the birthing room to maintain the finite number of goblins living within Goblindom. For the first six summers of their lives the twig cousins were extremely close. They often found themselves defending one another, whenever the other young goblins ganged up on either of them. To emphasise how close they were back then, Lim informed Glob’s brothers, “blood is thicker than sap yer knows. After all, me n Glob is froms the same twig.” Glob nodded his old head, remembering those innocent days so long ago. When they were finally released into Goblindom, Glob took the path south to the southern oak woods, while Lim headed east towards the jagged range of mountains, known as the Widow Spires. Magical Goblindom always allows each new goblin younger one moon to find its true place within its boundaries, before it finally transforms them into one of three goblin types, plains, wood, or mountain. Many times over the intervening summers Glob heard what he thought were far-fetched tales of Lim’s escapades. And so when Lim said he had just escaped from penal servitude, Glob finally realized the tales were true after all.
Curmudgeonly old Neo grew more angry by the second, sitting by the fireplace staring at the flickering flames through his constantly crossing eyes. The cause of this, his latest bout of displeasure, was the fact that Glob and the rest had temporarily placed Lim in in his bed to recover. “So, wots did yer do ter gets yerself in truble this time thens?” he growled, while his crossed eyes danced violently back and forth as his anger grew.
Lim ignored the angry outburst and gratefully accepted Make’s freshly filled spare pipe, lit it with a taper proffered by Mous, lay back for a moment enjoying the comfort of Neo’s bed and the sweet taste of the honeysuckle flavoured tobacco. “I’s wos always in truble wiv our chief, Monkwig Gribblehang,” he slowly began. “I’s can’t help meself yer sees. I’s just steals things wot take me fancy. Each times I’s wos caught, Monk sent me ter one work gang or other. But this last time, I’s really cooked me goose so ter say, when I’s stole Monk’s bestest briar pipe n his supply on mountain dew flavoured tobacco. He sent me orf in elf chains ter Grizweavil Bragsbill’s punishment gang. Anyone wot gets sent there, never comes back alive. Brag is the most dangerous n murderous on us mountain goblins n an excellent shot wiv the huntin bow. When Monk declares war on another goblin chief, Brag is his first choice to lead his army. If he sets his mind ter killin, yer is nought but walkin dead! One night a moon back, I’s tooks me chance n hid as we wos bein taken back ter our camp. For nearly half the moon I’s has been headin west n south, hidin by day n movin by night. Brag took it personal when I’s escaped n started huntin me wiv his pack on hungry timber wolves, wot he uses ter controls his prisoners. Five nights back I’s thought he had finally caught me. I’s wos makin me way through Athol’s Pass, just east on here. Takin a rest, I’s wos caught by one on his wolves wot suddenly appeared n grabbed me leg. It began shakin me sumink fierce as it tried ter drags me back up the pass ter Brag. I’s cud hears him yellin orders ter his other wolves not far off. I’s managed ter gets free by sticking me fingers in its eyes. It’d ripped me leg ter shreds as yer can plainly see. I’s crawled inside an old fallen log, but it reached in n grabbed me arm. I’s thought it were goin ter bites it orf. But’s I’s managed ter clench me fist n shove it down its throat, choking it ter death. Thens last night I’s finally found meself here in yer valley, n made me way here. The rest yer know.”
Mica and his portly friend Cantor were returning to the village from the south, where they had been trading with the next humin village. They had stopped to visit Neo’s mentor and great friend Grimefleet Binglenook, the last of the elder goblins. They both sat with him outside the door of his home on the largest bough of his oak tree. With his ornately carved snail shell ear-trumpet stuck in his relatively good ear, Bingle listened to Mica’s news. Because of the ancient goblin’s increasing deafness Mica found he had to speak directly into the ear-trumpet. Cantor took advantage of the moment, quietly eating the last of the food his wife had packed for the trip, while Mica and Bingle talked in the warmth of the morning sun.
From somewhere close by, a chilling howl made their hair stand on end. Mica motioned to Cantor to climb higher while he scooped up the tiny goblin in his arms and quickly followed. As they watched, hidden from view by the old oak’s thick coat of leaves, they saw first one, then a second timber wolf cautiously circle the oak’s great trunk, sniffing all the while. Soon a well-muscled and unusually tall mountain goblin archer and three more wolves hove into view below. “Wot dids yer finds me lovelies?” Brag quietly asked as he surveyed the oak. He loved his wolf pack more than life itself. Each was like a son to him. His cruel black eyes spied Bingle’s front door. He quickly climbed up onto the bough and unshipped his powerful bow from across his broad back. Nocking an arrow, he entered the ancient goblin’s home before soon reappearing, scowling with disappointment. He quickly climbed down and re-joined his faithful wolves. “Nothing, he aint here me lovelies, don’t worry we’s will finds him soon enuff. Thens yer can tears him apart n fill yer bellies, after I’s has killed him slowly for murdering yer brother that is.” The five wolves all bared their fangs at the thought of sharing in Brag’s revenge for their dead sibling. The fearsome mountain goblin had not forgiven what Lim had done. When he found the lifeless body of the youngest wolf, he slashed the palm of his hand with his sword, swearing a blood oath of revenge over the corpse. Now he was more determined than ever to find his missing prisoner. His wolves warily sniffed the air. They could smell goblin on the wind. But they could also smell humins too, which made them nervous. Brag began to walk in the direction of the humin village with his faithful wolves ranging all around him, searching for Lim’s scent amongst the rest.
“Who’s he after?” Cantor whispered as they slowly descended with one eye on the departing goblin and wolves.
“Not sure, but you can be certain he’s not here on a friendly visit. Circle round him and head for Glob’s place. My guess is he’s hunting one or other of our goblin friends. I’ll follow him to see where he goes,” Mica whispered. The two humins left only after making sure old Bingle was well and truly hidden, deep inside his oak tree’s hollow trunk. When Cantor reported the news to Glob and his brothers, the defence of Lim began in deadly earnest.
Brag carefully bypassed the humin village via the heavily wooded western slopes of the valley. He temporarily camped in Cazophen’s cave, sending out three of his wolves to scout out the area around the humin village.
Bejuss watched the unfolding scene below him from on high. After Cantor had reported Brag’s presence in the valley, he had been on his way to recruit his griffin friends Slyth and Garr for what would inevitably occur, when the old bird spied a lone timber wolf descending from Cazophen’s cave, heading towards the goblin brother’s home. He watched it deliberately circle through the woods, following Lim’s scent on the northern side of the humin village. The wolf briefly stopped beneath their oak, before heading off in search of the two other wolves that were sniffing the ground behind Miranda’s stable. They had been temporarily distracted from their hunt for Lim by the thought of a mouth-watering four legged meal, after they came across the scent of the old mare and her foal. Curious to see where they had come from, Bejuss descended silently. He perched in the branches of a tree, hidden from view, above the cave. Peering intently through the foliage at the entrance, his one eye focused on Brag who was seated on a large stone, with two timber wolves sitting on their haunches at his feet.
A little further down the track Brag had taken to reach the cave, Bejuss spied Mica crouching behind a tree. He landed silently behind him, unseen. The old bird gently tapped Mica’s heel with his twisted beak before suddenly re-appearing, making the normally unflappable humin warrior jump. “Thorry,” he whispered as he hopped on to Mica’s shoulder. “Brag’th in there n he’th got two wolveth wiv him. The other three are behind Miranda’th houthe. One on them thniffed our houthe, then went ter fetch the other two, it mutht have thmelt Lim!”
“Brag, Lim – who are they? What are you talking about Bejuss?” Mica whispered his enquiry, clearly puzzled, as he kept an eye on the cave entrance.
Bejuss quickly realized Mica knew nothing of the unfolding events. “Begth pardonth Mica, me woth forgettin yer don’t know; me had better explain. Brag ith after Glob’th twig couthin Lim, coth he ethcaped from hith punithment gang n came here for help. They’re both mountain goblinth. Lim killed one on Brag’th wolf guardth on the way here. Accordin ter wot Lim told uth, Brag ith a murderin monthter. No one wot ith thent ter his work gang ever thurviveth!”
The look on Mica’s handsome face changed from curiosity to one of grim determination as the reason for Brag’s presence here so far away from his mountain home, finally became clear, thanks to Bejuss’ explanation. “Go and let Glob know what is going on old friend. Seek out Cantor and get him to gather our warriors together. Tell him from me to set a guard at your home and send some of our warriors to kill the three other wolves, before they can return to Brag with their news.” The old bird nodded his head. Quickly vanishing from view, he flew off. Once he had passed on Mica’s commands, he continued on his journey to fetch Slyth and Garr.
The agonised howls of the three dying timber wolves when they were slain by some of Mica’s humin warriors, close to the goblin brother’s home, brought Brag’s malevolent mind back to reality. While he awaited his wolves return, he had been day dreaming about how he was going to torture, then skin Lim alive. His two remaining wolf sons ran beside him, eager for revenge, as he sprinted down the wooded slope of the western side of the valley. Abandoning his normally cautious ways, Brag ran through the humin village in a blind rage, bow at the ready. Mica’s friends, Verig, Jasper and Manx lay in wait, hidden behind the northernmost roundhouse, spears at the ready. Should Brag or either of his two remaining wolves get past them, Neo, Glob and Make were hiding behind an old tree stump in the northern meadow, between the village and their oak tree home. They were fully armed with their war clubs and razor sharp blue metal goblin blades.
Inside the house, Mous and Byz had barricaded the door with all of their furniture. Lim hid in a secret compartment in the largest cupboard the goblin brother’s possessed. Cantor placed himself in front of the cupboard as the last line of defence, bitterly regretting his impetuous decision, and feeling decidedly uncomfortable inside the cramped confines of the tiny goblin home. He could neither stand nor crouch, so he had to kneel with his head bent sideways. He was armed with his spear and his razor sharp flint bladed knife. Close at hand should he need it, was Neo’s second best war club. On the spur of the moment he had decided to squeeze himself inside. Glob, Neo and Make assisted by pushing him from behind, while Mous, Byz and Lim pulled on his arms from inside their home after he had temporarily got stuck in the tiny doorway, due to his fat belly. Neo had suggested that they leave him wedged in the door. To the old curmudgeon’s way of thinking, what better way was there to stop Brag entering? Then all they had to do was defend the window. Cantor took immediate angry exception to the suggestion. Though his head and shoulders were inside the goblin brother’s home, he somehow detected where Neo was and lashed out with one foot, kicking the cross-eyed old curmudgeon where no goblin, or humin male for that matter, should ever be kicked. Neo bent double in extreme agony. The unbelievable pain emanating from his groin temporarily straightened his naturally crossed eyes. Intense white spots danced across his eyesight, temporarily blinding him. Struggling for breath, the old curmudgeon quickly grunted his apology through gritted teeth. After Cantor had finally got inside the goblin brother’s home, Neo tottered off and sat at the other end of the bough among the leaves, rocking back and forth and crying like a younger, while tenderly cradling the painfully bruised part of his anatomy for a considerable length of time.
Brag’s sharp eyesight detected movement on either side of him. The villagers were fast closing with him and his wolves. As he ran blindly forward, well aimed spears quickly found their targets. Soon Brag stood alone. He readied himself, arrow nocked. The taught string of his bow sang in the breeze as he fired wildly. If he was going to die, he would make sure he took as many as he could with him. Large shadows appeared on the ground where he stood as Slyth and Garr dived towards the mountain goblin archer. In a few moments Brag’s life ended when Garr ripped his head off his shoulders with one swift bite. As the mountain goblin’s headless body relaxed, his last arrow flew free, passing harmlessly through Slyth’s flight feathers.
Once the brief fight was over, his body and those of his wolves were unceremoniously dumped in the middle of Athol’s pass as a warning to anyone else who thought of entering the peaceful valley with murder on their minds. After Bingle had been retrieved from his hiding place and reinstalled on his rocking chair outside his door, Glob, his brothers, and Bejuss, had a pressing problem. The old goblin posed a question to Mica and his warriors. “Wots we’s goin ter do bout Cantor? He can’t get outs on our home. His fat belly won’t let him.” The extreme nervous tension the humin warrior endured while waiting for Brag’s assault had made him hungry. He had helped himself to their entire store of honeycomb, dried fish and mead.
Verig smirked and winked as he replied, “looks like he’ll just have to be your guest for a while longer Glob; at least til he slims down that is. Meantime you and your brothers are welcome to stay with us.” As Glob and Mica led the party of humin warriors, goblins and griffins back to the village where Agnitha, her daughter Ylesse, and the women were preparing a victory feast, the sound of raucous laughter echoed throughout the valley. Still nursing his painful groin, Neo smiled to himself at the thought of Cantor being trapped. Bejuss briefly perched on the windowsill of their home, peering inside at the unfortunate Cantor, wondering how long the humin would be there. Then, smelling the feast he flew off to the village. A bowl of juicy slugs, worms and snails awaited his attention.
From deep inside the cupboard behind the decidedly overstuffed Cantor, a pathetic voice cried out, “Glob, anyone? Cans yer hear me? Cans I’s comes out now? Is it all over?” In the heat of the moment, Glob’s twig cousin Lim had been completely forgotten about…
PS – Neo learnt a painful lesson, don’t you think? 🙂
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