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Moonamina's Antidote

Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6



Chapter One

A pile of rich, golden autumn leaves stirred almost noiselessly on a windless night of long ago. Suddenly, a small gaping hole appeared at the base of an ancient, gnarled willow tree, and a tiny figure, clad in long silken robes, emerged from the dwelling within. She was no larger than ten centimetres tall and the moonlight, shimmering through the branches of the trees, shone on her flowing golden hair and sparkled in her large hazel eyes. Her angelic face was now clouded by an anxious, tearful expression. Clutched to her chest, wrapped in the finest hand woven silk, was a dangerously ill infant, so tiny, she would have been quite comfortable in a thimble. The elf, for that was what she was, hurried across the leaf-strewn ground, until she came to a cluster of willow trees. She stopped before a weather-stained, but sturdy door set in a willow identical to the one in her own tree, and rapped urgently. There was no response. The elf, whose name was Aloe Chamomilia, repeated the procedure, this time adding, "Hello, is there anybody home? It's an emergency!" "Yes, yes. I'm coming," came the somewhat disgruntled reply from the far side of the door. "There's no need to break the tree down." The door was suddenly thrown open, and, if the situation had not been so grave, Aloe would have had trouble repressing a smile. The elfin wizard standing before her, whose attire consisted of blue and white striped leggings and a T-shirt advertising the fact that he had attended the sixth annual universal wizard convention at eighty nine Hawkwood Plaza in the summer of the eleventh lunar eclipse, was fingering his chest-length beard. It was covered in a substance suspiciously resembling crumbs and marmalade. As it was, Aloe had no time for such trivialities. "It's Thistline!" she instantly exclaimed. "She's been bitten by the rare and fatal Goldenrod bug!" The wizard, Pompador Picklepoppy, frowned anxiously. "Are you sure it was a Goldenrod?" he asked, ushering Aloe and her child inside. His home, carved out of a willow tree, like all other elfin dwellings, was cluttered with thick leather-bound volumes about magic, mysterious bubbling cauldrons, bunches of strange herbs and roots, and the usual equipment one finds in a wizard's possession. "Yes, I'm positive it was a Goldenrod that bit my baby," Aloe told the wizard who was also her uncle. "I found the sting in Thistline, who is already showing some of the Goldenrod fever symptoms." She unwrapped her bundle, displaying the feverish child. On the baby's forehead, where Aloe had earlier removed the dangerous insect's sting, was a large red mark. After examining his niece's child, Pompador sighed, "There is but one thing for it!" he said decisively. "Thistline must have the antidote!" "So hurry and give it to her immediately," urged Aloe. "There lies our problem, I'm afraid," said Pompador regretfully. "This is an extremely uncommon illness, with a very rare cure, which, even a wizard as skilled as myself does not possess." Aloe stared at the wailing child in her uncle's arms and collapsed in tears. She was alone in the world, apart from her beloved child, and she was terribly afraid of losing what she loved more than life itself. The events of the past year came flooding back to her now. Her husband, an elfin prince, had been killed, when Siberian Trolls (renowned for their cruel and conquering ways) had attacked the village during the last winter, and she was frightened that she might now lose another loved one. "Don't fret, dear," advised Pompador kindly, patting his niece on the back, reassuringly. "But... but you said there was no hope..." wailed the distressed mother. "There is always hope," replied her uncle wisely. "Always." "The antidote," whispered Aloe. "We must find the antidote." "There is but one in the land who has knowledge of it." "Who?" demanded Aloe eagerly. "Moonamina, the kindest and most powerful sorceress of all." "I shall travel to her at once," decided Aloe, gathering her child and heading for the door. "It shall be a long and difficult journey," warned the wizard. "That does not daunt me," replied the lovely elf determinedly. Indecision flickered on the wizard's face but for a moment, before he declared, "Wait Aloe. You can't accomplish this on your own. I shall journey with you." He smiled at her kindly. "You?" Aloe had trouble disguising her astonishment. "But... but..." "Aye, I know," sighed Pompador. "I am not young in years, though at two hundred and forty seven, I'm not exactly over the hill. I'm in the prime of my existence. My magic might come in useful along the way. Besides, Thistline is my only great-niece, I can't let anything happen to such a lovely young elf. Who knows? One day she may even follow in her great uncle's footsteps." Aloe gratefully accepted Pompador's proposition and the two set about planning their journey. "How long do you think Thistline can ward off the sickness without the antidote?" asked the young mother tentatively. The wizard considered the matter thoughtfully. "Seven or eight rises of the sun, at best," he replied slowly. "That is why it is essential to reach the sorceress's castle without delay." "It's such a long way. However shall we get there?" asked Aloe, now more composed that positive action had been taken in finding a cure for her dangerously ill daughter. "No time for questions now," said Pompador dismissively. "We must gather provisions for the long journey ahead." The old wizard began stowing food and other essentials into a rucksack, while his niece hurried home to gather a few necessities and change into rather more suitable attire for the quest ahead.



Chapter Two


Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6
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And so it was that in the darkest hours before dawn two figures met under the gently swaying branches of an ancient willow. One, an elderly elf, clad in grey breeches, tunic and matching cape, carried a bulging rucksack and leant heavily on a stout oaken staff. The other, dressed in burgundy breeches, tunic and cloak was burdened with a leather satchel, crammed with provisions, and a wailing infant, strapped to her back. Pompador glanced at the moon, then at the surrounding woodland. "It shall be a long and dangerous journey," he predicted. "Are you sure..." "Yes, of course," snapped Aloe impatiently. "It's our only hope of saving Thistline. Now you still haven't revealed our means of transportation." In answer to Aloe's query, Pompador whistled and two squirrels appeared, chattering noisily. "I would like to present Nutkin Hazelnut and Twitkin Chestnut," introduced the wizard. "They have kindly agreed to transport us to our destination. You won't find swifter and wiser squirrels in all the land. They know the surrounding woodland like the back of a walnut, and they are quite experienced in understanding our language. I, through my magic of course, can interpret their chattering quite easily." Aloe nodded her approval. As Pompador mounted Nutkin, who wore a leather harness, resembling a saddle, she followed suit on Twitkin. The young mother heaved a sigh of relief as the expedition galloped into the night. There might still be a long journey ahead of them, but at least there was a chance of survival for her precious Thistline. The child's condition had not improved. She was feverish, and her normally healthy, pink and glowing face was an unsightly and blotchy scarlet. Her soft, but persistent wails of distress anguished her mother greatly. The party made steady progress over the next two rises of the sun, travelling over rugged woodland and resting only for short periods during the dark hours. At dusk, on the eve of the third day, a sudden downpour hindered the expedition's progress."Where shall we shelter tonight, Uncle Pompador?" Aloe enquired. The wizard consulted the squirrels who chattered loudly. "They suggest," the wizard translated for Aloe's benefit, "that we take cover in a tree hollow until Mother Nature has finished watering her garden." The squirrels spirited the three elves up a majestic fir tree and found them a dry but rather dark hollow in which to pass the night. Aloe, curled up in her cloak on a bed of rustling autumn leaves, her sickly child nestled by her side, drifted off into a deep sleep and the world of dreamland. Here she found herself surrounded by a group of menacing enormous bees. They seized her roughly, and, covering her mouth to muffle her cries of protest, spirited her out of the hollow and to the entrance of a large and impressive beehive castle in the higher branches of the tree... Aloe awoke to find herself lying on a hard and sticky beeswax bed in a small room made up of honey-filled cells - her strange experience had not been a dream. She gasped in fright and astonishment, as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Where on earth am I?" wondered the frightened elf. She glanced about her and saw a small door set in one of the honey lined walls. Finding it locked and realising she was a prisoner, Aloe pounded her fists against it. "Let me out! I demand to be freed!" she shrieked. Events had become so bizarre, that Aloe was not surprised when the door was flung open and a severe and disapproving bee was standing before her. "What is happening?" demanded the elf, curiosity and anger at being abducted and held captive in this manner overpowering her feelings of fear. "Where am I? What are you... " The giant bee ignored Aloe's questions and announced as if she had not spoken, "The queen will see you now." He motioned to two equally large bees standing behind him, who each firmly seized one of Aloe's slender arms and forcefully led her along a honey lined passage after the severe looking bee. "The queen?" repeated Aloe, more perplexed than ever, as she was dragged along. "Whatever is going on?" Presently, the procession arrived at a set of intricately carved double doors decorated with images of the mysterious insect world. The severe-looking bee announced his arrival and the doors were thrown open by page bees. Despite the circumstances, Aloe gasped in awe at the magnificent sight revealed before her. The walls were adorned in black and gold tapestries. Chandeliers, bright enough to light a forest fire, dangled from the mirrored ceiling, and thick, plush golden rugs lined the floors. The most breathtaking sight of all was what gave this throne room - for that was what it was - its regal aspect. For, at the far end of the chamber, in a silk lined throne sat the most enormous bee Aloe had ever seen. Her rich black and gold embroidered robes flowed about her, and her charcoal hair, neatly arranged under an exquisitely crafted crown, framed a cruel and aging face. She glanced upwards as the severe looking bee entered. "Have you brought what we have been seeking, General Waxenthorp?" she snapped. "Oh yes, your majesty," replied the general eagerly. "She is right here, Queen Stingadora." He gestured to the two bees restraining Aloe in the doorway. They, in turn brought the slightly trembling elf before the queen. "Then leave us," commanded Stingadora, indicating the unobtrusively placed bee servants around the room as well as Waxenthorp. Aloe found it rather unnerving to be alone in the presence of this regal and frightening creature. The queen squinted at the elf, who was fighting to control her fear and appear confident. "Come closer, my child," whispered Stingadora, wearily beckoning towards the elf with an elegant, beringed finger that ended with a long black and gold finger-nail reminding Aloe uncomfortably of a dagger. As Aloe obeyed, she saw how frail and wrinkled the old queen really was. "What are you going to do to me?" demanded the elf boldly. "Your name?" enquired the queen as if Aloe hadn't spoken. "Aloe Chamomilia," replied the owner of this name, somewhat impatient at continually having her enquiries dismissed. "Now, I demand..." "Aloe Chamomilia," repeated Stingadora thoughtfully. "Ah, an elfin princess. Waxenthorp has done well. Very well indeed." She spoke softly, to herself, almost as if she had forgotten the elf standing before her. Suddenly, the Queen's eyes met Aloe's and held them in her powerful gaze. "I imagine you are wondering why you have been brought here," said Stingadora calmly. "The thought had crossed my mind," muttered Aloe under her breath. "There will be a ceremony," explained the bee, "where your beauty will be extracted from your youthful body to rejuvenate my aged, withering shell. It shall..." "A ceremony!" exploded Aloe, outraged. "To extract my youth!" She flew at the queen in a frenzy of anger. "Guards." The queen spoke calmly, and as soon as she had uttered the command, two well built bees appeared and seized the struggling elfin princess. Behind them stood the menacing General Waxenthorp. "That wasn't a very wise outburst," Queen Stingadora advised Aloe reproachfully. To Waxenthorp she said, "The ceremony will take place on the eve of the new moon." "Your Majesty," said Waxenthorp incredulously. "That's in three rises of the sun. Do you have that much time left to..." "I shall have to, General," snapped Stingadora coldly. "The new moon is the only time the ceremony can be performed successfully. Now leave me to my meditations." "Yes, yes of course, your Majesty," replied the General hastily, bowing respectfully on his way out. The bee guards, still firmly in control of a wildly thrashing elfin princess, followed as the General marched regally along the honey-lined passage. The procession halted before a large studded oaken door, different from the one behind which Aloe remembered being imprisoned earlier. It was unlocked by a sombre-looking guard, and the elfin princess was unceremoniously shoved inside the panelled chamber within. She heard the grating sounds of the door being securely locked and bolted behind her. She gasped and shrank back against the door upon seeing a bee crouched in a corner of the chamber. It was smaller than the ones she had encountered until now. Aloe overcame her fear when she realised the bee was weeping bitterly as uncontrollable sobs raked her thin body. The elf ventured forward cautiously, and the bee, who until the present moment had been unaware of Aloe's presence, spun around and backed against the wall in terror. "Who are you?" demanded the young insect suspiciously, her eyes wide with fear. "I'm... I'm an elf," replied this creature hastily. "Aloe Chamomilia. I mean you no harm." "What business has an elf in Honeycomb Castle?" persisted the bee, somewhat more calmly. Aloe briefly related the tale of her quest for Thistline's antidote, her abduction and imprisonment, and her fiery encounter with the callous queen. The bee's face was like a window into her innermost thoughts and feelings. As Aloe spoke of Thistline, compassion and sympathy shone in her eyes, quickly transforming to anger at the mention of the heartless Queen's actions. This convinced Aloe that the creature before her was not in league with the merciless youth-seeking monarch. Aloe's curiosity was aroused. "Now that you practically know my life story," said Aloe. "Who are you?" "My name is Princess Honamina, rightful ruler of Honeycomb Castle." Why was this grief-stricken bee princess imprisoned by a colony of her own kind? The elf voiced her thoughts. "It all began when our peaceful and prosperous colony, justly ruled by my parents, King Combclover and Queen Pollenmina, was attacked by Huge Hibiscus Hornets. My parents and hundreds of other bees were mercilessly slain. Although I was spared, the Hornets have kept me imprisoned in this cell ever since. Queen Stingadora isn't a true bee. She is a result of the crossbreeding of our species with the royal clan of the Hornets. She has but a small group of followers, who are all that remain of the original Hornet invasion, but they are large and powerful creatures and rule this colony with a campaign of fear. Although revolutions have been attempted in the past, Stingadora, despite her age, has too strong a hold on the throne. Due to her discovery of an amazing rejuvenating spell she has managed to increase her life span by an unprecedented number of years." Aloe was sympathetic to the young bee's plight. She nodded thoughtfully. "The rejuvenating ceremony must be halted," she announced. "For your sake - and mine." The two young prisoners heard the sounds of the bolts being slid back, and what Aloe now knew to be a hornet, entered, burdened with two wooden trays. As he set them down on a small table, Aloe pondered her chances of dashing to the door in a daring escape attempt, but, considering the size of the creature before her, decided against this reckless plan of action. When the hornet retreated, firmly securing the door once again, Aloe glanced around the panelled chamber which she had not had a chance to examine earlier, due to her enlightening conversation with her new ally. There was but a small, barred window through which the dim light of a not yet fully formed moon streamed. It offered no chance of escape. Two twin beds occupied the centre of the room, along with a small writing table, laden with sheets of waxen scroll paper, covered in small spidery writing, a bottle of honey coloured ink and a large quill. "My journals and stories," explained Honamina, a budding young author, ruefully. "One does need to do something to pass the time - and I have plenty of it on my hands." Aloe tentatively inspected the trays of food from which the bee was already satisfying her appetite. The elf raised an eyebrow enquiringly. "Royal Beeswax Jelly and Honey Juice," explained Honamina helpfully. "At least they feed their royal prisoners well." The insect smiled feebly for a fleeting moment, and Aloe, who had only seen her fellow royal in a cloud of depression until then, marvelled at the transformation that the flicker of a smile brought about Honamina's beautiful features. All of a sudden, the sounds of a commotion outside in the passage reached the imprisoned princesses' ears. "...the queen..." "...desperately ill..." "...rejuvenation ceremony..." "... must take place immediately..." Honamina and Aloe gasped in horror as they overheard snatches of this urgently shouted conversation taking place just outside their prison door. The latter burst into tears - she knew her fate had been decided; she would perish that night for the benefit or a dictating and unreasonable monarch. What would become of her already fatherless, precious Thistline? She prayed Pompador would continue on the quest for her daughter's antidote, and if luck was on his side, and he was successful, maybe the kind wizard would be generous enough to care for his great niece, the only surviving member of his clan. After all, hadn't he spoken so fondly and protectively of the little one before embarking on the journey? Aloe had no further time for such thoughts; the door was unlocked to reveal General Waxenthorp, accompanied by his loyal guards. For the second time that night, they forcefully seized the elf's arms and purposefully followed the preoccupied general down the now familiar honey - lined passages. The deserted Honamina collapsed on her bed and dissolved into a flood of tears. She wept not only for her doomed friend, but for her people, resigned to a reign of terror under a more powerful and heartless ruler than ever before. For a moment the young bee thought she felt a slight draught. With a twinge of hope she glanced upwards, and found to her delight, that in their haste to save their dying queen, the hornets had carelessly left the door unlocked and unguarded. Cautiously, Honamina stole out of the room which had been her prison for so long and stealthily crept down the honey lined corridors. She followed the sounds of a large commotion taking place further down the hall and paused before an open pair of heavily studded oaken doors. Honamina's presence went undetected in a crowd of curious bees who had gathered to find out what the disturbance was all about in the middle of the night. The princess determinedly pushed her way through the crowd of her people and saw a very curious sight indeed, within the Queen's private chamber. The ailing monarch, her face ashen, was lying limp, but regal, on an extravagant four-poster, surrounded by frantic hornets, tending desperately to Her Majesty's wishes. In a corner of the room, Honamina caught a glimpse of her elfin friend, lying in a surprisingly calm state on a hard wooden plank. Honamina saw a single glistening tear trickle slowly down her sombre face, and it took all the bee's powers of self control to keep from bursting into a torrent of tears. Suddenly there was a wail of anguish from the four-poster. The Hornet Healer, attending to Stingadora, dashed to her side. His face was grave as he turned, a few moments later, to the assembled group of loyal hornet servants crowded around their beloved queen. "She is gone," he said simply. The Hornets fell to their knees in a last show of respect for their deceased leader. Meanwhile, excited murmurs were passing through the gathering of bees outside the chamber, which over the past few minutes, had grown to include almost the entire colony. "... the hornet queen..." "... dead..." "... we are free at last..." Aloe, unobtrusively observing this flow of events, struggled into a sitting position, hesitated but for a moment, then literally sprang into action! She climbed onto a table in the centre of the room, and, in a voice that Honamina was surprised to hear from such a gentle, reserved elf, demanded silence from the disorganised gathering. "Residents of the Honeycomb Colony," she addressed the bees in an official tone, "as you know, Queen Stingadora is no longer with us; Your days of fear and dictatorship are over!" There was a jubilant shout from the crow. "Who shall lead us now?" demanded a sceptical elderly bee in the crowd. "More hornets to make our lives a misery?" "Under no circumstances shall this colony be ruled with fear," declared Princess Honamina firmly, as she took her place beside her elfin friend. "Honamina!" exclaimed the crowd in astonishment. "Stingadora assured us you had perished among the rest of your clan!" "Stingadora, I am sure, assured you of many untruths," replied the royal bee confidently. "I am alive and well, and have returned to lead my people in peace and fairness." There was a joyous shout of approval from the oppressed bees. As Aloe removed the bejewelled crown from the deceased hornet queen, and placed it on her successor's head, a party of hornets, who had observed proceedings in angry silence, made a dash for Honamina, intending to crush the revolution. They hadn't counted on the strong will of the newly liberated bees, who were determined to lead free and peaceful lives. A band of hornets, led by General Waxenthorp, and still loyal to the dead queen, were exiled and threatened with execution if they dared to return. At dawn, Aloe and the newly crowned Queen Honamina stood on the threshold of the latter's castle. "Goodbye, Aloe," said the bee. "And may good fortune accompany you on your quest for your daughter's antidote." "Thank you," replied the elf graciously. "I am glad that even under these circumstances I have been able to find such a wonderful friendship." After briefly embracing the queen and promising to visit in the future, Aloe was ceremoniously lifted by two royal bee guards and spirited away by these insects who took such pride in their royal post awarded to them after the liberation of Honeycomb Castle. They delivered their royal charge to the tree hollow, separated from the scene of her ordeal by only a few branches.



Chapter Three


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6
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Pompador, his face wrinkled into a frown of deep concern, was frantically pacing the hollow, cradling a persistently wailing Thistline and muttering fervently to the two twittering squirrels. Seeing Aloe outlined at the entrance to the hollow by the slowly climbing sun, he gave an exclamation of relief. As Aloe carefully collected her child from the wizard, he rushed forward and threw his arms around his niece in a rare display of emotion. Pompador bombarded Aloe with questions, to which she gave brief but informative answers. The young elf was impatient to continue on their quest; she feared they had already lost valuable time in searching for her daughter's cure. Aloe was convinced that Thistline's incessant wailing indicated that her condition had deteriorated, despite Pompador's assurances that the young elf was no worse off than when her mother had last seen her. As Twitkin and Nutkin swiftly carried the companions across the countryside, Aloe gave her fascinated and somewhat horrified uncle a detailed description of the bizarre events which had befallen her. The wizard sympathised with her fear and outrage at being imprisoned and proudly commended her on her actions after the hornet queen's death. "Mmm," murmured the wizard thoughtfully upon the conclusion of Aloe's tale. "I have heard of the trouble those Hibiscus Hornets have been causing - most well informed wizards have - but I had no idea that they controlled Honeycomb Castle with such a relentless campaign of fear. I'm relieved that the bees - friendly and hard-working creatures, I've found - are finally liberated." As the sun climbed higher into the clear blue sky, the expedition's progress increased at an unprecedented speed, and to Aloe's relief, quickly made up for the time they had lost. During the afternoon of the following sun's rise, the company arrived on the shores of a large, and picturesque lake, the water shimmering magnificently as the sun's rays beat down upon it. "Ah, Lily Pad Lake," announced Pompador, recognising the landmark immediately. "Somewhat treacherous to cross, but a necessity in our case. There is no time for us to make the long and unnecessary journey around it." "Treacherous?" echoed Aloe, somewhat cautiously. "Due to the undesirable inhabitants that patrol the lake's bottom," explained Pompador calmly. "They..." "It's not important," interrupted his niece firmly. "Our main concern is the speed of our journey." "Yes, I agree, Aloe," replied Pompador sensibly "But what of safety?" "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said the young elf irrationally. "I only wish we had a bridge to cross..." murmured the wizard under his breath. "As you wish, Aloe," he conceded in a louder tone and, carefully lifting his cloak, waded into the icy water. With surprising agility for a wizard of his years, he scrambled aboard the nearest lily pad. Aloe joined her uncle and settled herself comfortably, with her baby in her lap, as the incessantly chattering squirrels clambered aboard a slightly larger lily pad. Using his oaken staff, Pompador propelled the make-shift but seaworthy craft across the surface of the lake. The squirrels, using a twig as a paddle, followed close behind. "That's not funny, Aloe," reprimanded Pompador suddenly. "Whatever are you..." began the young elf from her position on the other side of the lily pad. She stopped, and gasped in horror as she whirled about to discover her uncle entangled in writhing vines. Pompador, obviously convinced that his niece was foolishly tickling him, was unaware that he had been captured by sinister Spiderflower Seaweed Shoots! Aloe glanced down in terror to find the menacing vines enveloping her, and the baby clutched protectively to her chest. Pompador exclaimed in astonishment upon discovering the cause of his discomfort, and vainly tried to beat off the attack with his staff. "Don't... let... them... drag... you... under... water," he gasped "... roots... extremely... poisonous..." Aloe acknowledged her uncle's warning with a nod, but she didn't see how she, her baby, the wizard and the squirrels, who, by this, time were also entangled by the shoots, could avoid this fate. As the persistent vines tore at her cloak and hair, the elf was convinced their fates had been decided, when suddenly the dying sun cast fluttering shadows across the gleaming water. Fearful another enemy was about to attack the party, Aloe made a last determined effort to free herself from the choking weeds, which had manoeuvred the elf dangerously close to the edge of the perilously rocking lily pad. Aloe felt a rush of air as the fluttering shadow swooped downwards and proceeded to tear the weeds from her body with razor sharp teeth. What the elf had thought was an enemy, and now mistook to be a powerful bird, was in fact a friendly fire-breathing dragonfly! Another of these helpful creatures was heroically rescuing the wizard, while two more courageously attempted the liberation of the extremely frightened squirrels. When the menacing seaweed shoots discovered they had been defeated (could they think? wondered Aloe briefly, or were they elemental, instinctive: mindless?) and slowly retreated below the surface of the lake, the winged dragons swooped under the party of adventurers, and carrying an astonished elf or squirrel, each rose majestically heavenwards. The winged creatures circled the lily pads once more, expelling a blast of flames upon some of the still persistently writhing seaweed, which withered to ashes instantly, upon contact with the dragons' scorching breath. Although slightly dazed from her perilous encounter with the sinister seaweed, Aloe felt exhilarated. The wind playfully ruffled her golden hair and the dragonfly, whose scaly back she gripped firmly, capably carried her towards safety. Aloe couldn't suppress a giggle as she stole a glance over her shoulder and saw the expression of absolute terror on her uncle's face as he clung to his dragonfly for dear life. The wizard, his already tangled beard whipped into a frenzy by the wind, was obviously unaccustomed to being airborne. Aloe had difficulty in judging the squirrels' reaction to this unorthodox means of transportation but was convinced their uncharacteristic silence and blank, unseeing expressions were of significance. Soon, to the wizard's and the squirrels' undisguised relief, the steady beat of the dragonflies' short but powerful wings slowed, and the welcoming sights of the far banks of Lily Pad Lake came into view. The winged creatures made a surprisingly graceful landing alongside a clump of heather, and the party of travellers, with the exception of Aloe who had enjoyed the new experience and climbed down rather regretfully from the dragon's back, hastily disembarked after their journey's end. Aloe, who under normal circumstances would never dream of talking to dragons, fire-breathing or otherwise, extended a slender hand to the winged creature who had rescued her from an extremely painful and undesirable end. "We - my uncle and I - are most grateful for your assistance..." she began rather inadequately. You could have knocked the young elf over with a feather - which isn't so difficult to do under normal circumstances, considering their size - when the dragon smiled, took her outstretched hand in his own scaly paw, and interrupted in an eloquent, but deep and throaty voice, "That's quite all right, my dear. We happened to be in the neighbourhood, out hunting" - Aloe didn't dare enquire what - "when we spotted your party in a rather unsavoury situation. We couldn't just leave such a lovely young elf, her child, a wizard of such great importance - yes, Pompador's talents are known to our race - and their woodland companions to such an undesirable fate as poisonous Spiderflower Seaweed Shoots." "Winged dragons with such a good command of our tongue!" thought Aloe incredulously. "Vicious seaweed with a mind of its own! Whatever wonderful and terrifying creatures shall we encounter next?" Pompador, having somewhat recovered from the ordeal, heartily thanked the helpful creatures in their own tongue, a strange and fascinating mix of grunts, groans and snorts. The friendly dragon who had spirited Aloe across the lake was peering at the tiny baby enveloped in the folds of her mother's cloak. He was enraptured. He made gurgling noises and playfully tickled the dangerously ill infant's tummy. Aloe, who had feared that the unusual and unsettling journey across the lake had contributed to a deterioration in her daughter's condition, was delighted when the child responded to the dragon's actions with a tiny smile wrinkling her dimpled cheeks. "I hate to interrupt," Pompador apologised to the dragon who appeared to be enjoying himself immensely, "but we are on an urgent quest of great importance." He hastened to enlighten the sympathetic creature of Thistline's condition. "I have three of my own little ones back home at the cave," the kindly dragon revealed to Aloe. "You must be dreadfully worried about your little Thistline." "We would gladly accompany you to your journey's end, providing you with protection and a swift means of transportation," generously offered the dragon who had rescued Pompador, "but unfortunately our powers of flight and expelling fire cease to work outside the marshland surrounding Lily Pad Lake, and as we are more suited to air travel, our speed over land is rather slow, and we would only hamper your progress." "Thank you for your kind thoughts," said Pompador graciously, mounting Nutkin. "Now we really must be off if we aren't to lose any more valuable time." The company of travellers rode away from the rather unusual sight of waving dragon-flies, and Aloe expressed her thanks once again. "We are indebted to your kindness," she assured them. As the trustworthy squirrels, now their twittering selves once more, carried the elves cross country, the wizard reflected, "We were most fortunate that the dragon-flies passed by when they did; those merciless weeds are infamous for never releasing their prey once they have their tentacles around it. They've been known to capture fully grown giants! And once they drag you below the water level, they inject you with a poison from their roots, deadly to all living organisms in the land." "It was very benevolent and honourable of the dragon flies," remarked Aloe, "to rescue us - complete strangers - from that malevolent seaweed." "Oh yes," agreed the wizard enthusiastically, "but I'm not a stranger to the dragon flies; I'm quite well acquainted with their king, a generous and friendly chap. I cured a rather nasty case of persistent indigestion for the poor fellow. It seems he was eating rather too many chilli peppers, even for a fire breathing dragon fly!"




Chapter Four


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6
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Aloe dozed fitfully, as darkness enveloped the land. The moon was but a useless sliver in the almost impenetrable darkness. She tossed restlessly, then awoke with a start, thoughtfully gazing at the reassuring glow of the faintly flickering flames in the cosy campfire before her. She listened distractedly to the peaceful snoring and sighing coming from the two loyal squirrels sleeping soundly by her side. She was more concerned with the wheezing and gasping for breath that indicated that Thistline, snuggled by her side, slept restlessly, painfully fighting the determinedly climbing fever which raked her tiny body. Lovingly wiping her suffering daughter's blotchy, sweat-drenched face, Aloe called faintly, "Uncle Pompador! Are you awake?" "Aye, my dear," came the croaking reply from the far side of the glowing embers. "I have not been carried off to the land of dreams as yet. What troubles ye?" "Oh, it's Thistline," whimpered Aloe, dissolving into tears, "I'm convinced we have no time to find the antidote; she appears to be in such misery." "It is only the effects of the fever," reassured Pompador comfortingly. "She is fighting it with every reserve of strength in her tiny body and we shall help her!" Aloe sniffed, trying to collect herself. "Be honest with me, Uncle Pompador. Do we really have enough time?" "I have informed you of all the risks and dangers from the very beginning of our quest, and I have no intentions of ceasing to do so," the wizard assured his somewhat calmer niece. "Our progress has been rather inadequate. Even though the squirrels were remarkably helpful, and we couldn't have come this far without them, it was foolish of me to imagine that such tiny creatures, swift as they may be, could transport us such a long distance in the time required." "Whatever shall we do?" enquired Aloe. "How shall we complete our journey in time?" "I have given careful thought to the matter," began Pompador slowly, "and have come to the conclusion that it is worth the risk." "What? What's worth the risk?" demanded Aloe eagerly. "I shall attempt a transformation spell," proclaimed the wizard, reaching over to stoke the dying embers of the fire with a twig. He rose from the position he had taken alongside Aloe, and proceeded to boil some herbs over the flames. "Transformation spell?" echoed Aloe in bewilderment. "Whatever shall you transform?" "Myself," revealed the wizard. "I shall become the size of a human being. Our progress will increase dramatically once my size is altered." The elfin princess made no attempt to conceal her astonishment at the wizard's proposal. "Are there...are there any risks involved with this particular spell?" she probed carefully. "There are always risks in magic," muttered the wizard noncommittally. He handed his niece a walnut shell filled with the steaming mixture of herbs he had prepared over the fire and absently sipped at a steaming walnut shell himself. Aloe gratefully gulped down huge mouthfuls of the delicious preparation, letting the therapeutically calming properties of the formula wash over her, draining away her feelings of hopelessness and despair. "Uncle Pompador," pursued his niece, setting down her empty woodland crockery, "you assured me you'd keep none of the perils hidden from me." "Aye," admitted the wizard reluctantly, "there are hazards involved with this enchantment. The most serious being, that this increase in size incantation is dangerously similar to its own counter spell - the decrease in size enchantment. Confusing the two wouldn't be particularly harmful for a giant, human being, or even a dwarf or a gnome, but since I am an elf, and not a very large one at that, unwittingly using the wrong incantation would cause me to disappear into infinity - forever!" The wizard snapped his fingers to demonstrate the point. Aloe studied her uncle's face intently. What were his feelings on the matter? Would he courageously - or foolishly - risk the life-threatening consequences of this extremely unpredictable enchantment? "...but I shall attempt the spell, nonetheless," Pompador interrupted his niece's thoughts, uncannily answering her unvoiced questions. "Are you certain you... you realise what you're up against?" enquired Aloe, careful to phrase her query tactfully, so as not to insult the wizard's professional pride. "Have you no faith in your wonderful uncle?" demanded Pompador incredulously, the hint of a smile flickering in his wise, grey eyes. "I am an extremely knowledgable wizard, who has an unequalled understanding of even the most complicated incantations in the land. With a great deal of careful study, I shall be able to master this spell quite easily. Besides, it is essential that we reach the sorceress, Moonamina, without delay. I don't want to jeopardise Thistline's condition any longer than necessary We've come this far, overcoming frightening and perilous obstacles. We shan't fail now!" On that note, Pompador produced a small paperback book from the innumerable folds of his cloak that held an unimaginable number of odds and ends. As he snapped his fingers, the book was transformed into a large leather-bound volume; the intricate gold lettering on its cover, advertised it to be the Seventeenth Edition of the Modern Day Wizard's Universal Guide to Spells, Incantations, Enchantments and Other Necessities Of Life. Upon the advice of her uncle, who assured her that the following day would be trying and difficult, a somewhat troubled Aloe retired once more. Despite Pompador's reassurances, she was hesitant about letting the wizard attempt the dangerous task before him. As she curled up in her cape, watching her uncle settle himself comfortably before the fire with his source of reference, Aloe thought about her dangerously ill daughter. Her confidence in Pompador grew, and she became convinced he would deliver them to the sorceress in time. As the sun reluctantly spread its rays of golden warmth across the sleepy countryside, Aloe awoke to the cheerful chirping of birds and the other sounds that accompany the beginnings of the day. The elfin princess gingerly tested the events of the previous day with the tip of her memory, before taking the plunge into cold, bright consciousness. Pompador! The transformation spell! She sat bolt upright to find her uncle conscientiously hunched over his leather-bound volume, drinking in its information with soft mutterings and murmurings, occasionally punctuated with an "aah" or similar indication of understanding. Seeing that his niece had rejoined the world of the wide awake, the wizard noiselessly snapped his book shut so as not to disturb the peacefully resting squirrels and the fitfully dozing Thistline. "I have mastered the spell!" he informed Aloe in an excited whisper. "It is quite elementary really. You see all I have to remember to do is..." At this point, Pompador enthusiastically launched into a lengthy explanation of the properties and complexities of various magical enchantments. Aloe, who was not expertly informed on the world of sorcery, nodded politely, thankful that her uncle was so knowledgable about his profession. She knew this fact would be the deciding element in whether or not the company of travellers would reach the sorceress's castle in time to save Thistline. As Pompador raved about the paradoxes and paranormal laws of magical science, Aloe cut in urgently, "So when are you prepared to attempt the enchantment?" "Immediately!" exclaimed the wizard, enthusiastically springing upwards. "There's no time to lose!" Aloe wasn't sure what to expect when her uncle ceremoniously raised his arms above his head, closed his eyes meditatively, and began chanting in an ancient and almost forgotten tongue. She was totally unprepared for the thunderous clap that echoed through the surrounding woodland, or the enormous cloud of smoke that enveloped the wizard, obscuring his niece's vision of him as he performed his strange and mysterious task. Enraptured, the elfin princess held her breath, hoping fervently that all would go well. Twitkin and Nutkin, contentedly breakfasting on a mixture of wild nuts and berries nearby, gave an exclamation of fright and hastily scampered up the nearest elm tree. As the haze surrounding Pompador subsided, Aloe became aware of an enormous shadow towering before her. She sank to her knees, slowly letting out her breath in a sigh of relief. Thank goodness Pompador had successfully performed the enchantment! Aloe couldn't help marvelling at his size - he was enormous! She glanced upwards - shading her eyes from the rays of the steadily rising sun - and hurriedly jumped aside as she was almost crushed by one of Pompador's leather slippers. Aloe cried out in alarm, and the wizard painfully stooped down on rheumatic knees to search for his tiny niece, now no larger than his knobbly thumb. "Aloe?" he enquired, short-sightedly peering towards the ground. "Aloe, is that you?" He fumbled in the folds of his cloak for a rather tarnished pair of gold-framed spectacles and precariously balanced them on the tip of his nose. "Down here, Uncle Pompador!" called the young elf loudly as the wizard carefully felt along the rough, uneven ground for some sign of his tiny niece. "There you are!" he pronounced upon locating her. He carefully scooped Aloe and her child up in a gnarled and arthritic hand. "Why ever didn't you say so?" Without waiting for a reply, he raised his flattened palm so that the young elf, who was balancing with difficulty on it could look her uncle in the eye while he spoke. "We really must be off," he announced. "We - I - have a long trek ahead of me today." The wizard crammed the company's belongings into one of his already bulging pockets, deposited the now recovered and happily twittering squirrels in another and carefully arranged a position for Aloe and her child in a third. Only the elfin princess's golden head and large hazel eyes protruded from the grey cloth of the wizard's garments. Pompador kept up an unbelievably steady pace for an elderly wizard, as he determinedly trekked across the harsh and demanding countryside. "How does it feel to be so enormous?" Aloe asked her uncle wonderingly. He carefully considered the matter before replying excitedly, "I feel... capable of reaching out and touching the stars!" Aloe laughed at this ridiculous notion, and the wizard was greatly relieved to see the improvement in his niece's spirits. When the wizard halted beneath the branches of a majestic fir tree, exhaustedly leaning against the gnarled and ancient trunk, Aloe enquired after her uncle's health with concern. "Are you sure you're up to this?" she persisted after being impatiently assured by the wizard that he was just catching his breath. "I am a member of the wizards' and witches' senior citizens fitness club, you know," he revealed proudly.




Chapter Five


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 6
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As the sun made its way towards the western sky, and the mysterious shadows of late afternoon began to appear, the company of travellers approached a cluster of large and magnificent trees that indicated they had arrived at an enormous and ancient forest; a masterpiece of Mother Nature's stretching as far as the eye could see. The red and gold autumn leaves that carpeted the countryside rustled as Pompador picked his way across them. The wizard was proudly relating to Aloe a tale from his youth, where he had single-handedly thwarted the efforts of an evil magician's plans to destroy an entire elfin community. Just then he was suddenly and unceremoniously swept off his feet! As his niece, her daughter and their two woodland companions tumbled to the ground, the wizard was left suspended in mid-air by his feet! "Gotcha!" came the gleefully triumphant cry from some nearby bushes, and a little man, dressed in green, sprang into view, jumping up and down ecstatically. From his rather inconvenient upside down position, Pompador craned his neck to get a better look at the odd little figure dancing before him. From the creature's buckled hat and matching shoes, Pompador deduced that he had been captured by a leprechaun! "Oh, you treasure-seeking humans are all alike!" the green clad little man was now raving. "All after our pots of gold! If it hadn't been for my ingenious trap..." "Excuse me," cut in the wizard firmly but politely. He realised that the only way to free himself from this predicament was to treat his unreasonable captor with the utmost patience. "I am not a treasure-seeking human, as you so quaintly put it." "You're not?" asked the leprechaun, surprised at being challenged. He turned his head to get a better look at his prisoner, suspended by a rope from a large birch tree. "Most definitely," the wizard assured him indignantly. "I am a wizard, and a highly reputable and respected one at that!" "Oh dear!" muttered the leprechaun despairingly. "I have done it again!" He hastily proceeded to untie his prisoner, and, after completing an acrobatic somersault, the wizard landed with an undignified flop in a convenient pile of soft, cushioning autumn leaves. As he scrambled to his feet dusting himself down exaggeratedly, the leprechaun clapped his hands to his face and gave a wail of despair. "Pompador Picklepoppy!" he exclaimed, recognising the well-known wizard, and clasped the old elf's hand in his own stubby fingers. The wizard, rather taken aback at the sudden change in this strange creature's attitude, allowed his arm to be pumped up and down in a manner of friendly greeting. The leprechaun began to rave and babble. "You really must forgive my method of welcoming visitors," he insisted, grinning shamefacedly. "My name is Spindleberry Pasquelflower, by the way, guard for the western side of the leprechaun realm. So you see, it's my duty to keep out trespassers and blundering, gold-seeking humans. You wouldn't believe how many turn up searching for treasure. Unfortunately, sometimes innocent and friendly creatures are caught in my trap. It's rather ingenious though, wouldn't you say? I had no idea such a famous and knowledgable wizard would be passing through these parts. Please accept my humble apologies." "That's quite all right," conceded Pompador generously. "I understand your position. No harm done. Probably rather good exercise for an elderly wizard to be suspended upside down for a while, a good way to get the old heart pumping!" Spindleberry gave a slightly forced and embarrassed laugh at the wizard's attempt at breaking the tense atmosphere between them. "Now, I really must search for some important items that tumbled out of my pockets when I was unexpectedly pulled into that unusual position," the wizard declared. "Take your time," advised the leprechaun. "I must reset my trap before a real foe enters the realm." While Spindleberry was otherwise engaged, Pompador hastily disappeared behind the nearest fir tree, lowered himself on his knobbly, rheumatic knees and frantically began searching among the innumerable autumn leaves, stretched out over the land as far as the eye could see. The wizard had become convinced that the task of locating his tiny niece in this myriad of fallen leaves was impossible, when he heard a soft cry from under a nearby elm. "Uncle Pompador! I'm over here!" The wizard heaved a sigh of relief as he scooped the elfin princess and her daughter up in his large and capable hands. The leaves had cushioned Aloe and Thistline's fall, and the pair, apart from being slightly winded, were otherwise unhurt. "I have encountered a rather temperamental leprechaun," Pompador told Aloe and briefly related his meeting and conversation with the little man. "I shall transform you and Thistline to human size as well," he declared unexpectedly. "Whatever for?" demanded Aloe in surprise. "Leprechauns aren't very fond of elves," the wizard explained, hurriedly glancing over his shoulder to check on Spindleberry's progress. The little man, conscientiously setting his trap, was unaware that Pompador was having this conversation with his tiny niece. "Apparently," continued Pompador, "many moons ago, a mischievous, trouble-causing elfin ancestor of ours, cast a spell on a peaceful leprechaun community, destroying their entire potato crop for the year. Although this unfortunate incident occurred many seasons ago and peace has been made between our two races, leprechauns, quite understandably, continue to be slightly suspicious of elves." "Aren't they even more distrustful of humans?" enquired Aloe. "You said yourself that's why this Spindleberry Pasquelflower captured you." "Yes, yes," Pompador said, nodding dismissively, "but once that little misunderstanding was cleared up, we got along famously." "Are you positive you have mastered the increase in size enchantment?" persisted Aloe. "Thistline and I won't disappear into infinity?" "It's all quite safe, my dear," the wizard assured her confidently. "Before I attempted the spell on myself, I studied it with the utmost attention to every detail. I could perform it quite safely in my sleep!" "I'd prefer you to be wide awake," murmured a slightly hesitant Aloe under her breath. "All right," she finally conceded more loudly. "You have my consent to perform the enchantment." The elf braced herself expectantly, and held her breath in anticipation. Pompador raised his arms above his grey head, closed his eyes in deep concentration and began to chant a seemingly endless stream of strange and wonderful words. Aloe, clutching Thistline, felt an odd, but not unpleasant tingle stir in the tips of her toes, slowly spreading itself through her body, until it reached every nerve ending in her body, and she felt aglow with positive energy. The elf coughed and spluttered as the choking smoke which accompanied the ritual materialised, and, hissing rather menacingly, enveloped her. The haze cleared, and Aloe sighed with relief, realising the spell had been safely and successfully accomplished. She glanced down at herself and her surroundings in perspective. This was quite a new experience for Aloe, who until this moment had viewed the world from her minute elfin stature. She suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to burst into laughter. "What do you find so amusing?" enquired the wizard, busily sweeping aside the lingering remnants of the spell. "I feel so large and clumsy," giggled his niece, rolling on the ground in an undignified manner, and clutching her heaving sides. Pompador smiled to himself. He had refrained from informing the unexpecting Aloe that the smoke which had accompanied the enchantment had contained a perfectly harmless additive - a mixture of laughing roots, guaranteed to brighten even the day of even the most grief stricken creature. He had decided that his understandably stressed and worried niece needed some form of escape from her seemingly bleak and sombre world, for she was clouded with miserable and depressing thoughts about the fate of her injured daughter. Aloe, having collected herself by this time, sprang to her feet. "The spell!" she exclaimed worriedly. "It...it is safely reversible, isn't it?" "Why, of course, my dear," the wizard calmly assured her. "Now we really must get back to our friend the leprechaun before he begins wondering where I disappeared to..." "Wait!" said Aloe suddenly. "The squirrels! Whatever happened to them when you were captured? They've done so much for us, we can't just leave them injured, or maybe worse..." There was no cause for Aloe's concern. After a hasty search for their woodland friends, the elves discovered them almost immediately. They were comfortably nestled among the roots of a silver birch tree, contentedly munching on walnuts and twittering happily. They informed the wizard and his niece that since they were no longer needed for the elves' transportation, they would prefer to remain in this charming woodland environment. The wizard nodded thoughtfully. "I understand your position," he said graciously. Aloe thanked Twitkin and Nutkin from the bottom of her elfin heart. "Your help has been invaluable," she said gratefully and fondly patted her woodland friends on the head. They twittered happily as Pompador translated, "They wish to inform you, Aloe, that it was a pleasure to be of service, and they sincerely hope that we can find Thistline's antidote in time." Twitkin mischievously, but lovingly, tickled Aloe's daughter under the chin before he and his companion disappeared up a large, majestic pine tree. The sounds of their chattering echoed through the forest as Pompador and Aloe made their way back to the leprechaun. The little green-clad man was standing back to admire his piece of handiwork - a long thick rope, hanging from a gnarled oak, waiting to trap an unsuspecting passer-by in a cleverly concealed loop in the autumn leaves below. The leprechaun was so caught up in his task that he hadn't even noticed the wizard's prolonged and suspicious absence. "Ah, there you are!" he exclaimed upon becoming aware of Pompador's presence. "And who might you be?" He turned to stare at Aloe enquiringly. "Oh, this is my niece," the wizard her introduced casually. "Aloe Camomilia. She's been...er...travelling with me. Aloe, I'd like you to meet Spindleberry Pasquelflower." "Delighted to meet you, I'm sure," Spindleberry responded jovially, politely sweeping his buckled hat of his ginger head, and bowing in a manner of friendly greeting. "I really am most dreadfully sorry about what happened to your uncle..." the leprechaun continued. "I thought we'd already cleared up that matter," Pompador interposed. "No, no," Spindleberry insisted. "I feel extremely responsible for the matter, and, as a way of convincing you of how truly sorry I am, I would be deeply honoured if you and your lovely niece would agree to dine with my family this evening and pass the night in our rather small but cosy and comfortable cottage." "It is most kind of you to offer, but we really must continue on our journey..." Pompador began. "Oh, please!" exclaimed the leprechaun pleadingly, his voice rising to a wail, as he jumped up and down excitedly. The elves cold not repress their smiles at this comical and unusual sight. Pompador cleared his throat, and explained importantly in a confidential whisper, "We are on an important quest, you see..." The leprechaun leant forward attentively as the wizard briefly related the purpose of the elves' journey. "Oh dearie my," muttered Spindleberry sympathetically, when Pompador had finished, his brow wrinkling with concern. "The poor little 'un." "...so you see," the wizard concluded, "it really is crucial that we be on our way as soon as..." "Most certainly not!" explained the leprechaun with feeling. "If the child is as ill as you say she is, wouldn't it be beneficial to her recovery to pass the night in a soft comfortable bed rather than lying among damp leaves, chilled to the bone by the mercilessly howling wind?" "Well..." the wizard hesitated uncertainly. "That settles it!" declared the leprechaun decisively. "Follow me!" Meekly, the elves set off after the little marching figure, still puzzling over the little creature's strange logic, and means of convincing them to accept his generous offer. The small company pressed forward, setting to flight with every step a blaze of autumn leaves that rustled and crackled in protest. "I do hope we're not imposing..." began Aloe politely. "Nonsense, my dear," the leprechaun assured her kindly. "My wife, Cloverina, is accustomed to catering for unannounced visitors, and cooks up an excellent feast every time." The party arrived on the outskirts of the leprechaun settlement. When Spindleberry turned in at the gate of a rather tumbledown, ivy-covered, thatched cottage, Aloe realised why the little man's wife was used to cooking for large groups. The elves and the leprechaun were instantly surrounded by a throng of incessantly babbling leprechaun children. They were all clamouring for a closer look at the visitors that their father had unexpectedly brought home. "Who's this, Papa?" enquired a little girl with golden curls. "Ooh, he looks like a wizard," exclaimed a little boy in hushed tones, excitedly pointing at Pompador in wonderment. "Do you really think so?" demanded another girl disbelievingly. A plump, friendly looking female version of Spindleberry appeared in the doorway and ushered the chattering horde of little leprechauns inside. Spindleberry hastily explained the situation to his wife and introduced his new found friends. Cloverina Pasquelflower scolded her husband for causing Pompador such discomfort and showed motherly concern for the quietly whimpering Thistline. "There, there dear," she soothed, cradling the infant against her cushioning body. The two human-sized elves enjoyed their evening immensely. As promised by Spindleberry, Cloverina seemingly effortlessly cooked up a delicious feast, consisting of succulently grilled trout, ("I caught it myself," Spindleberry proudly informed them) accompanied by jacket potatoes and crisp vegetables (fresh from Cloverina's own garden). To satisfy even the sweetest tooth, Cloverina presented the assembled group with a mouthwateringly light and fluffy rhubarb custard pudding, served with freshly whipped cream. Pompador imaginatively, but accurately, described the taste sensation as, "It feels like angels dancing on my tongue!" The contentedly full company washed down their delicious dinner with steaming mugs of boiled caramel. While Spindleberry and Pompador debated the problems that human settlement was causing the leprechaun realm, a shy leprechaun girl with red curls timidly approached Aloe. "May...may I hold your baby," she bashfully enquired. "I do so love little ones." "Of course," Aloe consented, smiling encouragingly as she handed her daughter to the eager little leprechaun. "Do be careful, Cherrylina," warned her mother, anxiously hovering nearby. "Yes, Mama," the little girl said, and began singing softly to Thistline in a sweet, clear voice. The baby gurgled happily, and the leprechaun girl glowed with pleasure as her mother looked on with pride. Two other leprechaun offspring were bickering loudly in a corner, while the remainder of the little folk also grew restless as the evening wore on. "Behave yourselves, Strawberrina and Appledore," scolded their mother helplessly. "Quiet down Plumberry and Blueberrina. Stop that bickering immediately, Bananaberry and Manderina." "Why don't you tell them some of the fascinating tales of your youth, Uncle Pompador?" Aloe suggested hastily. "What a splendid idea!" exclaimed the wizard, immediately springing up from his position at the table. His discussion with Spindleberry was becoming slightly dull and drawn out, and the wizard was having difficulty keeping his mind from wandering: he was trying politely to stifle his yawns. The wizard settled himself comfortably in a superbly carved oaken rocking chair ("leprechauns have a long history of craftsman expertise," Spindleberry explained knowledgably upon Pompador's admiration of the piece of furniture) by the cosily flickering flames in the hearth, and motioned for the little troop of leprechaun children to surround him. Pompador cleared his throat and began in a crisp, clear and mesmerising voice, "Once, long ago when I was a youngster, not much older than you, Master Bananberry." He pointed a knobbly finger at the oldest leprechaun lad, and continued, "I discovered a large mysterious leather-bound book. It was enchanted..." "...and that's how you became a wizard, Mr. Pompador?" asked Blueberrina, her eyes shining in wonderment, when the master storyteller had concluded his tale. "Yes," replied Pompador. "That's how I became the master of magic that I am today. A considerable amount of dedicated study and hard work was needed as well, I might add." "Please," requested the youngest leprechaun lass, clambering onto the old wizard's lap and tugging fondly on his tangled grey beard, "tell us another story." The other children noisily voiced their agreement to this proposal and Pompador gladly obliged them. When he had related a seemingly endless collection of fascinating incidents from his past, he continued to entertain the young Pasquelflowers. He conjured as if by magic (for that was what it was) from the air, or behind an amused little leprechaun's ear, the fruit which every little Pasquelflower was named after. "There you are," he said, distributing the last fruit to its correct recipient, Mandarina. The wizard even found time to advise Banaberry on his school assignment for social sorcery and science class, before declaring his exhaustion. "Oh my!" exclaimed Cloverina, glancing concernedly at the clock on the mantelpiece. "Is it really that late? Time does pass so quickly when one is enjoying oneself. It really is past my little troops' bedtimes. Off you all go." There were muttered protests of indignation and disappointment from the older leprechaun children, while the younger ones yawned and rubbed their eyes sleepily. "I shall come to tuck all into bed in a minute," promised their mother. "I do hope they didn't tire you out too much," she said apologetically to Pompador, as the little horde marched obediently out of the room. "They did so enjoy your wonderful entertainment." She smiled warmly at the elderly wizard. "Oh, not at all," Pompador assured his hostess. "I had a simply marvellous time." "I believe Uncle Pompador enjoyed himself more than the children," declared Aloe, grinning cheekily, as her uncle threw her a look of mock disdain. Later, Aloe gratefully curled up in her soft comfortable bed. "Tomorrow," she thought sleepily, as the folds of the dreamworld struggled to envelope her. Tomorrow they would reach the sorceress's castle, Pompador had assured her before retiring. Tomorrow, they would find Thistline's cure. With that contented and peaceful thought, the elfin princess fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.




Chapter Six


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
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The following morning, after a hastily devoured breakfast of steaming porridge, freshly baked home-made muffins with blueberry jam (much to little Blueberrina's delight) and fluffy, golden pancakes generously smothered in Cloverina's secret recipe of syrup, the elves bid their host and his family fond farewells. "Your little 'un is in our prayers," Cloverina assured Aloe kindly. "It was a pleasure to encounter such a knowledgable and forgiving wizard," Spindleberry assured Pompador. "I do hope future meetings will be under more pleasant and less troublesome circumstances." As he and Aloe took their leave, Pompador puzzled whether the leprechaun meant Thistline's illness or the rather unfortunate first encounter he had with the wizard. After silently pondering the matter at length, he came to the conclusion that the meaning of Spindleberry's words included both these matters. As the forest thinned out ahead of them, Pompador attempted to break the silence that had been building between himself and Aloe. "Rather excitable little folk," he remarked. "Leprechauns, I mean." He observed that the merry events of the previous evening and the lingering effects of the laughing herbs were wearing off.His niece was once again understandably sinking into a pit of depression and gloom. "Yes, they were very warm and sincere," she now responded, trying to be more cheerful. "So friendly and welcoming. Weren't those little Pasquelflower children adorable?" Pompador nodded in agreement. He had immensely enjoyed the attention bestowed upon him by the little leprechauns. "It felt odd," reflected the elfin princess, "to tower above a leprechaun, when all my life, I could have rested quite comfortably in one of the children's stubby little hands." Her uncle grinned at this observation, and the little group pressed on. As the familiar elms, birches, oaks and willows faded into meadows of lush, green pasture land, Aloe became aware of a magnificent white stone building set on a distant hilltop. "Is...is that the sorceress's castle?" Aloe hesitantly enquired. "Aye," confirmed her uncle, "that is Armondine, residence of the great Moonamina." Dusk descended on the peaceful countryside and the elves approached the lowered drawbridge. As she and her uncle crossed the sturdy structure, Aloe shrank back in fear at the gurglings that echoed underneath it, indicating the presence of moat monsters. What hidden dangers lurked in the murky water's depths? Intuitively reading his niece's terrified expression, Pompador said, "Don't fret. Those creatures shan't harm us. They're there to protect the castle from unwelcome and undesirable visitors. We don't fall into that category, do we?" The wizard firmly and confidently rapped the heavy lion's head iron knocker against one of the two impressive studded oaken doors that formed the entrance to this castle, renowned for its majestic splendour throughout the land. After the elfin companions were inspected through a peephole, set at a curiously low level in the door, it was flung open enthusiastically by a friendly dwarf. He was about three feet tall and dressed in the usual dwarf attire. "Pompador Picklepoppy!" he exclaimed upon immediately recognising the wizard and pumped his arm up and down in a welcoming gesture. "What can we do for you?" Aloe's uncle, who introduced the dwarf to her as Bundaberry Proudfoot, hastily described Thistline's condition. The efficient servant and loyal companion of Lady Moonamina took immediate action. "I shall fetch the sorceress at once," he declared, urgently scuttling off in the direction of the great hall. The elves were left standing in the entrance hall of the Castle of Armondine, where many interesting and beautiful artefacts were displayed. As it was, Aloe and Pompador had no eyes for intricately woven tapestries, ancient vases or spectacular portraits - they were much too relieved at having safely arrived at their destination at last. The sorceress appeared in the doorway, and Aloe, preoccupied though she was, had never seen a person of such breathtaking beauty. It wasn't just Moonamina's long golden hair that glimmered in the rays of the sun shining through the glassless windows, or her crystal blue eyes that shimmered like pools of water on a summer's day - there was an aura of love, happiness and peace about the enchantress that hung in the air and spread itself to those around her. She wasted no time on introductions; she was obviously well acquainted with Pompador, and seemed to know about Aloe and her ailing child. "Bundaberry has informed me of your daughter's condition," she told the elfin princess. "Do...do you have the antidote?" enquired the young mother tentatively, almost fearing the answer. "I have knowledge of almost all the spells in the land," Moonamina revealed, indicating with a graceful sweep of her slender arm the bookshelves that lined three of the four walls of the castle's great hall from floor to ceiling. "If there is a spell for the antidote, I shall find it." Aloe was greatly reassured by the confidence in the sorceress's voice. Moonamina set to work immediately, flicking through the dusty, ancient volumes from her well-stocked and comprehensive library. The strain and tension of waiting took its toll on the usually polite and well-mannered elfin princess, who persistently badgered the sorceress with enquiries and demands of, "Have you found it yet?" and "Can you cure my little Thistline?" Although she understood the mother's impatience, Moonamina was finally forced to tactfully and kindly, but firmly banish Aloe from the great hall while she worked. "It will enable me to concentrate more intently," she explained to Aloe, who was slightly hesitant about leaving her daughter alone in the sorceress's care in these strange surroundings. "Don't fret, Aloe," Moonamina kindly assured her. "no harm will come to Thistline." After restlessly pacing the innumerable corridors and cobbled courtyards of the castle, Aloe came upon an excited Bundaberry, who had been urgently seeking her. "Miss Aloe! Miss Aloe!" he exclaimed, jumping up and down in his enthusiasm. "She's found the antidote spell! Lady Moonamina can cure little Miss Thistline!" Aloe gave an exclamation of joy and relief. Treading lighter than she had for many a day, Aloe followed the excited dwarf as he burst into the castle's great hall. Moonamina was busily combining herbs and roots in a ferociously bubbling and spluttering cauldron. "Have you really found the antidote?" Aloe asked in wonderment and disbelief. "Can you cure my precious little one?" As the sorceress distractedly nodded in the affirmative, the young mother collapsed in tears of relief and joy. Bundaberry fetched Pompador, who upon being enlightened of the happy turn of events, uttered a shout of elation, and with new found strength, swept his niece up in his arms. "Oh Lady Moonamina," sobbed Aloe. "Can Thistline really be cured?" "Of course it shall take some time for the antidote to have its effect," the sorceress admitted, "but once it does, this little elf will be as right as rain." "It was quite a complicated spell to perform," she informed Pompador. "I had to combine Honeydew syrup, Achillea Millfolium, a rare and potent healing herb, the powerful, but difficult to find dried cocoa bean root, Mayapple juice and the seeds of the Buttercupberry, while uttering a powerful incantation." As Moonamina carefully stirred the cauldron's life saving contents and gently forced a spoonful of the mixture between the swollen lips of the quietly whimpering Thistline, Aloe closed her eyes and let all the tension and worry that had been accumulating in her over the past seven rises of the sun drain away from her. "You were extremely fortunate to have reached my castle when you did," Moonamina told her magical colleague quietly. "The little one was running out of time." Pompador nodded gravely. Aloe, happily cradling her precious bundle of joy, suddenly realised how indebted she was to Moonamina and sprang up from the stool she had been resting on. "How can I ever repay you?" she asked the sorceress. "Seeing your gratitude, and unselfish love for your daughter is all the payment that I require," Moonamina assured Aloe, her kindly face breaking into a warm, radiant smile.  
 

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