The thirteenth unicorn, p.16
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.16

           W. D. Newman


  The dwarves lived in a cozy three room house, built into the side of a hill. The house was constructed of stone and timbers and each one of the rooms was warm and inviting. The door leading from the round chamber was hidden inside of a closet that opened up into the center room of the house. The center room was the largest room in the house and appeared to be the den. There, three rocking chairs sat in front of a beautiful fireplace made of field and river rocks. The jagged field rocks, with their glittering surfaces, provided a striking contrast with the smooth and multi-colored surfaces of the river rocks. On each side of the fireplace, thick columns of driftwood supported a great mantle made from a large log that had been split in half. The room to their left was the sleeping quarters. There, three iron beds were lined up side by side, along the far wall. Beside each bed, stood a small wardrobe of cedar, and at the foot of each bed, a trunk of cedar as well. The remaining room, to their right, was the kitchen. On the far wall of this room, a baker cabinet with multiple shelves and racks was filled with jars, jugs, pots, and pans. A table, with benches on either side, sat in the middle of the room.

  “Have a seat, Ben, while we get breakfast started,” said Hob pointing to the rocking chairs. Ben sat down in one of the chairs and began rocking, while the dwarves set about preparing breakfast. Nob raked some coals out of the fireplace, onto the hearth and sat a skillet full of meat down on top of the hot coals. Then he placed another pan, one with a lid on it, on top of the glowing embers and used a small shovel to scoop up more coals to put on top of the lid.

  “What’s in that pan?” Ben asked.

  “Biscuits,” said Nob.

  Half an hour later, they were seated at the table. The breakfast fare consisted of meat that looked like fried steak patties to Ben, hot biscuits, cheese, and some baked apples. Ben took a biscuit, pulled it apart and placed the meat, with a thick slice of cheese, inside it. The dwarves watched in fascination as he prepared his biscuit.

  “What are you doing?” Gob asked.

  “What do you mean?” Ben replied.

  “Why did you put your meat and cheese inside of your biscuit?”

  “That is the way we eat them where I come from. Try it.”

  The dwarves pulled their biscuits apart and inserted the meat and cheese.

  “Not bad!” said Gob. “Not bad at all. Why didn’t we ever think of this?”

  “You know,” said Nob, “the next time we bake a loaf of bread, we could slice it and use the slices to hold meats and cheeses for other meals too. I think ham and cheese would be quite delicious prepared that way.”

  Ben laughed. “That would be called a sandwich, guys, and you’re right Nob. A ham and cheese sandwich is delicious.”

  “Sandwich,” the dwarves repeated, nodding in satisfaction.

  After breakfast, Ben helped the dwarves clean up and then they retired to the center room. Hob brought in another chair, from the front porch, for Ben to sit in and the dwarves arranged their rocking chairs in front of him.

  “Now,” said Hob, “this business with the snakers troubles me greatly. They haven’t been in these parts for many, many years and I fear their presence is an ill omen of worse things to come. So, tell us your tale, Ben, from Atlanta Georgia. Start at the beginning, please, and tell us everything you remember.”

  Ben did not know if he could explain where he was really from or how he got here. He decided to start his tale with their trip to the fairy glen. When he got to the part about squirting his inhaler into the eyes of one of the snakers, the dwarves were very interested and wanted to see his inhaler. He spent the next half hour trying to explain to them what an inhaler was, how it was made, how it worked, what was asthma, how do you get it, and is it contagious.

  “Why didn’t you just stick him with your knife?” Hob asked.

  “What knife?”

  “That is a knife on your belt, is it not?” said Hob, pointing to Ben’s side.

  Ben felt along his belt. The knife his Dad gave him. He had forgotten all about it. “I forgot I had it with me,” he said. He could feel the heat rising in his neck and he knew that his ears were turning a fiery red.

  “Don’t give it a second thought,” said Nob, leaning over and patting him on the knee. “It was quite a brave thing you did, squirting him in the eyes with your inhaler. Do go on with your story.”

  Ben told them about his capture, his escape, his attempt to sneak past the dwarves as they were sleeping on the ledge, and finally about his need to get back to his sister and Grandma so they could all go home.

  Hob rose from his chair and began pacing back and forth across the room, while Nob and Gob continued to rock. Finally, he came back to his chair and pulled it right up to Ben’s chair, before sitting back down. “I don’t think that’s the best thing to do just yet. When snakers are on the move, they travel about in many small groups that make up one large group called a hive. The Queen stays with the main thrust of the hive which is called the nest. The snakers in the nest are larger and more powerful than the kind you encountered and their only purpose is to protect the Queen. The smaller groups, that move ahead of the nest, are hunters. Their sole purpose is to provide food to the nest. They are smaller than the nesters, but faster and still very strong. It was a group of hunters that captured you.”

  Hob got up and began pacing again, while Gob took over. “We don’t know how large this hive is. It could be as few as fifty snakers, or as many as five hundred. It’s just not safe to go back the way we came. If we did, we’d probably all be captured.”

  “But what about my Grandma and sister?” Ben pleaded. “And Amos and Joey and Jenny?”

  “If they are captured what could we do? We are only three dwarves and one man-child. The best thing we can do is go to our home in the mountains as quickly as possible and return with help. A full regiment of battle-hardened warriors should be sufficient to exterminate this hive. Besides, now that your family and friends know about the snakers, they may avoid capture altogether. Look, if they are out searching for you, and if they do avoid capture, and if they do manage to track you here to our dwelling, then we shall leave a letter with instructions for them to wait here for our return.”

  “That’s a lot of ifs,” said Ben.

  “Well, I’m sorry to say I have but one more. If they are captured, then the sooner we return with reinforcements, the more likely we are to find them alive. But, we need to leave soon.”

  Ben pushed his glasses up on his nose and tried to find fault with Gob’s logic. He knew everything that Gob said made sense. What could they do? Three dwarves and a kid? Unable to think of any better plan and unable to find fault with Gob’s, he sighed wearily and conceded. “How soon do we need to leave?”

  Hob came back to his rocker and plopped down. “We need to leave now. If it is a large hive, then the longer we wait, the more dangerous it will be for us to get out. Also, if your friends are captured, the longer we wait, the less likely they are to survive.”

  Ben jumped up from his chair. “Do you have something I can write a letter on?”

  Nob hopped up and went into the small bedroom and returned a moment later with parchment, a feather quill, and a small jar of ink. He went into the kitchen and called over his shoulder to Ben, “Come in here and sit at the table to write your letter.”

  Ben followed Nob into the kitchen and sat down at the table with the parchment before him. He had used a calligraphy pen before and had no trouble using the feather quill. When the letter was finished, he blew on the ink until it dried and then folded the parchment in half. Across the back of the letter, he wrote:

  TO: Grandma, Casey, Joey, Jenny, and Amos

  FROM: Ben

  Satisfied with the completed message, he positioned the parchment in the center of the table and placed a small jar from the baker’s cabinet on top of it. The dwarves were busy packing in the bedroom, so he decided to s
ee if he could help them pack.

  “There’s your sack,” said Gob, pointing to a dark blue sack on the end of the bed. From the looks of the bulging sack, they had already packed it for him.

  “What’s in there?” Ben asked.

  “Blankets, an oil skin to keep you dry if it rains, a heavy fur cloak for the mountains, flint and steel, tinder, a bit of rope, and a few odds and ends we may need on our journey,” Gob replied as he rummaged through his wardrobe. “Here, try this on. You will need a light traveling cloak to help you blend in with the surroundings.” Gob tossed a dark brown hooded cloak to Ben. Although Ben was about the same height as the dwarves, if not taller, the dwarves were stocky and broader in the shoulders and Ben had to roll the sleeves up to get his hands out.

  “Not bad,” said Gob. “Not bad at all. If you only had a beard, you would make a fine looking dwarf.”

  Ben smiled. In spite of the dangers that lay before him, he felt like Bilbo Baggins getting ready to leave the Shire in search of dragon gold. “Do you think we’ll see any elves?”

  “Not if we’re lucky,” said Hob, as he slung his sack over his shoulder. “Let’s get moving. I want to get some miles behind us before nightfall.”

  On the front porch, the group paused for just a moment to admire the morning. The sun was shining brightly and glimmered on the surface of a lake, visible through the pines in the valley below. Hob was the first one off the porch and he led the way down the hillside toward the lake.

  “That stream you followed yesterday, flows to the lake below,” said Hob in a whisper. “There are many small streams, such as that one, that feed this lake, but there is one great river that empties it. We will take a boat across the lake and down the river as far as the Twilight. From there, we will have to walk.”

  “Tell me about the Twilight,” Ben asked. “Grandma told me it’s a magical forest where all of the elves live.”

  “Yes, the Twilight is a magical elfin forest. You can walk around the perimeter of it in one day, but everyone claims it would take you a couple of months to walk through the center of it. The funny thing is, I don’t know of anyone who has actually been in the Twilight. Anyone living that is. You see, whoever enters the Twilight without permission, is never heard from again.”

  Ben chewed on that bit of information for a little while and then dismissed it. Elves could not be evil. There must be more to the story. “Why do the elves not come out anymore?”

  “The way I understand it, Ben, is the Twilight is a place of healing for them. It is their refuge and their fortress. After the last battle with the witch, the elves retreated to the Twilight and have been there ever since.”

  “How long has that been?”

  “I don’t know. No one really remembers.”

  “Does the river go through the Twilight?”

  “Straight through the middle. There is a town a few miles north of the Twilight. We will try to make it there by nightfall. It may be our last chance to eat a hot meal, and sleep in a soft bed, for several days.”

  “I also heard my Grandma talking to Amos about the witch. Something about her leaving her castle and being on the move again.”

  Hob stopped and turned to Ben. Gob and Nob gathered around him too. “Really?” Hob asked. “What else do you remember?”

  Ben scratched his neck and tried to think. This cloak was hot and it was making him itch too. “Not much,” he replied, slapping at a mosquito buzzing around his ear. “There was something about a unicorn and a big oak forest.”

  “A unicorn?” Gob asked.

  “Yes,” Ben answered. “I think the witch means to kill it.”

  “We will have to worry about the witch later,” said Nob. “Right now, snakers are our only concern.”

  “Yes, and I’ll bet my last gold nugget the witch is behind these blasted snakers being here too,” said Gob.

  “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now, so hush up with all the talk and be on your guard.”

  A couple of hours later, they emerged from the forest onto the rocky banks of a vast blue lake. A canoe, partially out of the water, rested on a crescent shaped sandy beach between the rocks. Ben and the dwarves carefully made their way over the rocks to the canoe; a long and narrow craft made from birch bark with an oil skin stretched tightly across the top, to keep the rain out. Nob pulled the oil skin off, rolled it up and packed it away in the rear, along with everyone’s gear. Once everyone was aboard and seated, Hob pushed the canoe out into the water and hopped in. Gob and Nob took the oars and began paddling to the center of the lake.

  “Once we get to the middle,” said Nob, “the current will pick us up and take us to the river. There are a few rapids, but if we hug the shoreline our ride should be smooth.”

  “Look!” cried Ben, pointing to the other side of the lake.

  Slithering in and out among the shadows of the pines were fifteen, maybe twenty snakers. They had spotted the boat and were running up and down the banks, pointing and waving their arms. More snakers poured out of the forest and soon there were hundreds of them running about on the shore.

  “Oh no,” Hob whispered. “Faster guys. Paddle faster!”


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