The foul smelling goblin is leering down on the two of us. But I just feel a sort of numbness after the pronouncement it had made. He said a red-headed kid had come to them and threatened them with the god Bargrivyek if they tried to harm Minky and me. Then they said they'd shot arrows into him – killed him! Who else could that have been but Number 3? And how could they possibly kill a warlock? Was the little guy just careless, thinking he was in no danger? Oh gawd... I feel myself just shutting down. Poor little Number 3, such a sweet kid.
The head goblin claps his hands together and two more of his ugly followers step out from the surrounding bushes. They're carrying something between them... it's a body. It's the small body of a child with its torso riddled with arrows. They toss him onto the ground near the path and he rolls a couple of times, ending face up and staring at me with lifeless eyes. It's Number 3!
Minky sets up a howl that would make make my skin crawl if it weren't already. It's a mournful cry that I would expect from a coyote or a wolf. It's one loud, long, lamenting cry of sorrow and despair. And then I feel my own head tilt back as I answer with my own pain and heartbreak. Two voices crying to the heavens, filling the wilderness with pain. Oh my gawd... how can this be?
Two, small, furry creatures stand side by side and pour their grief into the surrounding forest. I feel as though my heart has been ripped from my chest.
The response from the goblins is laughter. They are having great fun and are probably looking for a way to make it last, to stretch it out. I don't think this is going to end very quickly for Minky and me.
"I told you they weally were'nt vewy nice cweatues."
My head, pointed skyward to unleash my sorrow, snaps back to stare at the path by my feet, at the small body lying there. The dull lifeless eyes are now sparkling with mischief! The deathly pallor is gone, replaced with that familiar grin.
"Yaaaay... I love playing cowboys and indians" he shouts, sitting up. He gets to his feet and turns to face the head goblin.
"Now it is you guys' turn to be the cowboys," he pronounces, grabbing the arrows by their feathered shafts and pulling them from his body. He pulls that little crooked stick out of his garment and shakes it a couple of times. The stick shapes itself into a bow and Number 3 nocks an arrow.
He'd have to be a remarkable shot to hit one of these guys though, they are just little specks vanishing into the distance. They had all shot straight up into the air the instant that our little warlock sat up. Their feet were pumping before they even landed back onto terra firma. And I'll tell you what, goblins don't have a very good odor to begin with, but when they're pooping they have a gawd awful smell!
Then Minky does something that absolutely astonishes me. He strides over to Number 3 and bites him on the ass! And I don't mean a playful nip either, but a good, solid snap of those mink jaws. And Number 3's arrow shoots straight up into the air as he gives out a yelp of pain and surprise. He jumps at least as high as those goblins did, turning as he lands. He's looking at Minky with all the astonishment on his face that I can feel on my own.
"What the.... owww!" he says, rubbing his backside.
"Don't you ever, ever, ever, EVER do that to me again, you little devil! You made me think you were DEAD, and I wanted to die with you!"
Minky is quivering. I can't tell if it's from anger, fear, nerves or a combination. But he is whining at the same time, his tail tucked between his legs.
"Oh, Minky," Number 3 says, "I am so sowwy. I thought you would know I was play-acting. I thought you would know that awwows could not huwt me."
Number 3 crouches down and pulls my quivering little buddy tightly against him. He rocks him and strokes him until Minky starts to calm down. I know I should be over there in that huddle with them, but I'm still in shock myself. I don't seem capable of budging from this spot. So I lie down where I'm at, place my head on my forepaws and let the tears flow.
Not much time elapses before I feel a tongue bathing my ear and a snout pressing into me. A small boy's hand is stroking me as well.
"I am sowwy to you, especially, Nicholas. If Minky did not know my powuhs then you would not know them as well. Take a west now, both of you, and I will keep you safe."
So, a small, red-headed boy sits aside a pathway in a forest. Two small, furry creatures rest their heads, one on each of his thighs. The boy is gently stroking their fur and all three draw comfort from one another's contact. The two mink are feeling gratitude and relief that the boy is alive and well, while the boy is feeling pangs of regret that he'd frightened them so. It seems that lessons were learned here this day.
I don't think I've napped all that long. I just know that I'm awakening feeling refreshed. I'm feeling calm and composed and, perhaps, there was a bit of magic involved in that, I dunno. But I sit up on my haunches and yawn. Number 3 has stretched himself onto his back, his arms folded behind his head as a cushion. Minky still sleeps with his head resting on the boy's thigh.
I set myself to licking the sleeping boy's face earnestly and he responds with giggles. I'm quickly joined by another snout applying a cold nose to the boy's neck. We soon discover that by judicious application of cold noses to armpits and sides, we can get this boy to laugh uproariously.
"I suwwenduh, I suwwenduh... ha, ha, haaaa!"
We allow him to sit up cross-legged and calm himself a bit. Then Minky asks...
"Did you not tell us back at the cottage that you could have no direct involvement with the other creatures we were to learn from? How is it that you were able to protect us from the goblins?"
"We told you that we cannot help you in getting the wight cweatures to guide you and give you infomation that you need to defeat the Bawon. These goblins though, they have nothing to give you. But, this seeking of the god Bawgwivyek is a good choice. My sending a few pesky goblins down the woad does not change the pwime diwectives. Do not think we can act so diwectly evewy time though. Most of the time you must pwotect youselves without owa help."
The warlock stands to his feet, patting us both on the heads as he does so.
"Some cweatues can give you new powahs to pwotect you, not just fwom the Bawon, but fwom otha cweatues too. Learn well and quickly fo' those times that we can not help you."
A shaft of sunlight descends on this boy I've come to love and respect so deeply. Then, in an instant, he has transformed into an eagle once again. As he rises, he tells us...
"Ohhh... the spidews do not bite people. They only bite amphibians and goblins," he laughs.
Changing to a smaller songbird, he wends his way through the thick foliage above us until he is lost from sight.
Minky and I, looking at one another, seem to share the same thought. We both transform at the same time into human form. Then we wrap our arms around one another in a tight embrace. Oddly enough, this skin to skin contact doesn't excite me, it lends me comfort instead. I realize there will be time in the future to hold one another and allow other feelings to predominate, but, for now, this is all that I need. We both draw strength and comfort from the other and send the empathic message that we are there for one another.
I cup his face in my hands and give him a sweet and lingering kiss. His eyes shine back at me with a love and tenderness that draws my breath away. It is only a noise in the surrounding forest that draws our attention from one another. Looking around, there is nothing to be seen, although I'm sure there are eyes watching us.
We transform once again and Minky leads down the path where the goblins disappeared. Somehow I don't think we will be seeing them again in the near future. They may be watching from their hiding places, but only to stay safely out of our way.
It is but a short run through the forest before we find ourselves emerging into a broad valley. The valley faces a huge mountain, one that ascends through the high cloud cover. There is brush on its base but none of the trees from the surrounding forest. Here and there though stand what appear to be the bare trunks of ancient trees. Their age is apparent by the fact that they are fossilized limestone, no longer the pithy wood they once were. A few are standing but most are on their sides. More than a few have tumbled down the face of the mountain to rest at its base.
It isn't all that difficult for sure-footed minks to wend their way through and over the tangled mass of petrified trees at the base of the mountain. Interspersed in the fossilized remains of this ancient forest are the newer bones of goblins – whole skeletons and a few ripe corpses. Dashing through this as quickly as possible, we are soon ascending a zig-zagging trail made by other small creatures.
"Ewww... Nicky! Did you notice that dead goblins do not smell much different from live ones? They do not look one bit uglier, either."
"Amen to that," I laugh. "I'm just glad our bones aren't being added to their collection."
We climb and climb until we both start feeling the effects of our near vertical ascent. We are both panting from our exertion when we come across a small rivulet of water cascading down the mountain. We stop and lap up our fill. The water is ice cold and an indicator to me that it must be snow fed from the higher elevations. This tells me we have considerable climbing yet to do if we are to go as high as the snow line.
"Have you ever been in snow before?" I ask him.
"No, I have only seen it on the mountain tops. I know it is supposed to be very cold and you must not walk in it as a human or the cold will burn your feet."
"Yep, now you see the reason why I was wearing shoes. They hold in the warmth and allow you to walk in the stuff. I wish I still had them with me and my clothes as well. I guess we will need to stay in our mink forms the whole time we are in the cold. I hope that won't make it difficult to talk to the goblin's god."
"I am sure he will understand our reluctance to change into human form, Nicky. Although why any god would choose to live in perpetual cold is a mystery to me."
There are none of the fruit-bearing trees on this mountain. It would seem that the warlocks largess in spreading the trees did not extend to Bargrivyek's mountain. I suppose it was some sort of 'hands off' policy. I have no idea what the warlocks' relationship is to the gods they banished here to this world.
I do manage to spy some ground-hugging berry bushes, though. I lead Minky over to them and we begin nipping the berries from the thorny branch ends. It probably takes us a good half hour to fill our tummies. But if we don't do it now there is no telling if we will find anything else to eat while we are up here.
We wander back to the small stream and lap up a bit more water. I've been thinking about our climb and our mission, what little I know of it.
"It's already past noon, Minky. I think we have a very long climb ahead of us yet to reach the snow line and then however far it is to the top. I think we should stop well short of the snow and find some shelter for the night. We don't want to try to sleep in snow."
My mink boy gives me an affectionate nuzzle and says...
"You see, Nicky. The Warlocks knew what they were doing when they selected you. Already you are planning ahead to keep us safe. And I do feel safe while I am with you. You are my hero."
If I were in boy form I'd be blushing like crazy after hearing that. I haven't done anything to earn hero status. Unless he thinks my willingness just to stay here and help him warrants it. But I've already told him I'm willing to die for him or with him.
I give his muzzle a few licks to hide my embarrassment and then I head off, leading us up the trail. This is my first time to be in the lead and so I'm paying a little closer attention to the trail than I normally would when just following.
There are still plenty of upright and fallen fossilized tree trunks. Some of them are of gargantuan girth which tells me this was a huge forest before some catastrophe struck it. There are many small branches and bits of branches as well. The trail continues to zig-zag back and forth because a vertical ascent would be difficult in the loose shale. It also meanders above and below blockages caused by the old trees.
The trail is about to make one of its innumerable switchbacks and then disappear behind a particularly large old tree that is lying partly buried under shale and other detritus. Rounding the switchback and stepping behind the old trunk I'm dealt a huge surprise. There, lying nearly supine and leaning against the tree is a person!
I pull up short and stop in my astonishment. Then I feel what Minky's occasionally felt from me – I'm goosed with a mink's nose. But Minky quickly sees what's stopped our progress and he steps to my side to get a better look at the stranger.
The man appears to be asleep. And it appears to be a rather old fella with a bald pate and a long flowing beard. The beard has to go about halfway down his chest I'd judge. And he's wearing a robe that has the appearance of wool, dyed a light blue color. It's the first bit of clothing I've seen here that wasn't made from the material of the clothes trees.
But his appearance of being asleep was deceptive. With his eyes still closed and not bothering to look up he says...
"Just resting my eyes, young fellers. It took you long enough just to get this far up the mountain. I sure wasn't going to wait at the top for you: Beelzebub knows how long it would take you to get up there."
Then he opens his eyes and gives us a gentle smile. He gives a small wave of his hand and suddenly we find ourselves standing before him in human form. Evidently this is a person of no small powers. And his reference to waiting at the top of the mountain tells me who we are facing. This has to be Bargrivyek, the goblins' god of co-operation and territory.
Minky steps next to me and pulls me in close to him, seeking the comfort of nearness. He has no more idea of what to expect from this old fella than I have.
The old guy looks us up and down and I feel the discomfort of my upbringing, standing here in the nude with a nude boy cuddled up to me. The old guy just chuckles though and says...
"Boyfriends, eh?" And he gives Minky a wink.
This draws a nervous twitter and grin from my boy as he gives a nod of assent.
"Yes, mighty Bargrivyek. I am Minky and this is Nicholas from the other world. We are here on a mission from the Warlocks to rid this world of the Baron. We were hoping you could help us in our quest."
"Mighty Bargrivyek? Har, har, har! That's a good one, lad. There was a time when my powers were mighty indeed. But those powers are diminished considerably due to your Warlocks and their infernal meddling. Now you tell me why I should cooperate with those creatures? Perhaps I find it a good thing that the Baron is here to upset their cozy little plans, eh?"
"Humph... at any rate, my old bones aren't all that comfortable sitting here on the ground. I suppose I should take you two home with me to continue this discussion over a nice hot cup of tea."
Bargrivyek gives a slight, backwards swoosh of his hand and we suddenly find ourselves standing on marble steps before a grand looking building. It is something right out of the pages of a Greek history book... fluted columns, porticos and all. We are standing before a set of double doors that must be all of twelve feet high.
I glance around me, instinctively wondering why I'm not shivering in my naked human form atop this snow clad mountain. But I'm totally surprised to see green grass and an orchard of fruit trees. A warm wind caresses me as well.
I don't get the opportunity to look around much because the god says...
"Here, young fellas. Wrap these around yourselves."
He's holding two bolts of cloth that have obviously come from a clothes tree. It's the same type of cloth Minky and the Warlocks have had fashioned into garments.
"The missus is a bit modest and has never gotten used to people traipsing around in the altogether."
He hands the cloth to Minky and tells him...
"Why don't you show your young friend how this works?"
Minky accepts the bolts of cloth and drops one at his feet. The other he wraps once around my waist, doubling around a bit and then brings the cloth up and over my right shoulder. He tucks the remaining bit of cloth into my waist once again. I feel, and probably look like, a roman senator. Then, smiling up at our host, he dresses himself similarly.
"Much better," we are told. "As for myself, I find the human form to be aesthetically pleasing. But I'd likely have to face flying crockery if I brought you in un-attired. He, he, he... the gal IS a bit old fashioned."
"Right, then," he says. "Let's head for the kitchen. She's put the tea water to boil and set out a plate of cookies for company. She's all a-twitter, I think. We don't get that many visitors up here."
Bargrivyek grabs hold of a huge brass door pull and swings one of the gigantic doors open. We step in to... to... oh my gawd! We walk into a cottage no larger than the Warlocks'! I look behind me, at the door I'd entered, and see that it is now just a normal sized, humbly constructed door. How the hell did he do that?
"I've brought our company along, my dear." And he shoos us towards an obvious food preparation area. There is a fireplace hearth with a set of double oven doors inset on both sides of it. A long counter occupies one wall with cupboards above it filled with assorted crockery and bags of foodstuff. And standing in the middle of it, all a-bustle, is the perfect caricature of everyone's grandma; a diminutive lady in an old fashioned, floor-length dress. An equally old fashioned and frilly kitchen apron adorns her as well. Her grey hair is done up in a bun and she's using the bottom of her apron to dry her hands.
"Oh, welcome, young gentlemen. Welcome to our home." This is her smiling response to our presence. "Introduce us please, Otis."
OTIS? The god's name is Otis? I can't help it, I find myself cracking a smile.
My grin doesn't seem to go unnoticed. Otis gives an "hurumph," clearing his throat.
"Yes, quite, my dear. May I present masters Minky and Nicholas," pointing to each of us in turn. "Nicholas is from the other world."
"And gentlemen, I present the Lady Bargrivyek."
"Oh, you pretentious old fart," she says, giving her husband an agitated wave of her hand. "Emily, just call me Emily. Now, sit down at the table while I grab the tea things and a plate of cookies."
Minky and I sit down side by side at a bench on one side of the table. Our host seats himself in a chair at the head end.
"You have a very comfortable home, Master Bargrivyek," Minky intones.
"Oh, you stop that!" comes a matronly voice from the kitchen. "Call the old fool Otis. None of this 'master' business. We don't stand on formality here."
I can't help it. I've slapped the palm of my hand up against my face, attempting to hide the fit of giggles I think I'm about to burst into. 'Old fart', 'old fool', 'Otis'... he, he, he.
Otis looks at me sternly under a set of raised eyebrows. And then he suddenly bursts into deep-throated laughter. This is all I needed to tip me over the edge and I'm guffawing right along with him.
"All right boys," he says, when he's controlled his laughter somewhat. "I do have to play the part of a fearsome and rather pretentious god for the sake of the goblins, but a man should be able to put his damn feet up in his own home."
"Where's my tea, old woman?" he asks, leaning back and looking over his shoulder. "I've missed my tea time by an hour waiting for these scallywags to make their way up the hill."
"Oh, it's right here, Otis. Quit your bellyaching." And Emily walks up and sets down a tray with tea stuff and cookies. She is filling china cups and passing them around as she speaks.
"This is herb tea, boys. It doesn't get you all wired up like the regular stuff. I don't think I could handle Otis if he were all wired up. Thank goodness I broke him of the coffee habit years ago."
"Ohh... coffee," Otis mutters, a wistful expression on his face. "I would kill for a good cup of coffee."
"Like as not you'd have another goblin war on your hands, you mean. I declare, you get agitated and then that just agitates the goblins. I've never understood why you haven't just used your power to knock that mean streak right out of them."
Emily sits in a chair opposite the table from her husband. Otis sighs. This is a topic they've probably been over a million times.
"Because, my dear, a goblin is simply not a goblin without a nasty disposition. There is protocol at stake, you know: a few millenniums of history and all that."
"I swear, Otis. People call me old fashioned, but you're just a stick in the mud. You could make changes if you really wanted to. What's the use of being a god if you can't use your godlike powers? You could turn them all kissy and sweet."
"Ewww..." and Otis quivers. "And maybe I could have them knit doilies and take dancing lessons... har, har, har!"
"You don't need to be facetious, dear. I simply mean you could knock their aggression down a few steps."
Minky and I are busy dipping our cookies in our hot cups of tea and looking back and forth as the bantering continues. I figure this has probably been a topic of conversation at this table for a millennium or two.
"You keep forgetting, love, that Maglubiyet is their supreme ruler. I can hardly hope to compete with the God of War. He isn't someone to mess about with, although I'm certain YOU could kick his ass, my dear," he laughs.
Emily looks towards us with a small shake of her head. "Don't you two grow up to be stubborn old fools, you hear me?"
Minky smiles at her and asks...
"Does the god Maglubiyet have a wife, Emily?"
"Why yes, I believe he does, dear." She frowns slightly in her husband's direction. "Only Otis has never been one for socializing, and so I've never had the opportunity to meet her."
"I can see and smell some wonderful home-baked apple pies on your window ledge. What if you were to make a social call on Mrs. Maglubiyet bearing one of those pies? Perhaps you could tell her that you thought it was high time the two of you became acquainted?"
The goddess leans back in her chair with a contemplative look and a little smile on her face.
"You know, young man, I think that's a grand idea. And I've heard that she is nothing like her cantankerous husband." She glances towards Otis when she says this.
"Maybe, between the two of us, we can get these two old fools straightened out."
"Ohhh... now, boys! You see what you have done?" The old god, hands pressed against his temples, slowly shakes his head. "If these two old biddies get together, we are going to have the goblin nations wearing tutus and shooting marbles to settle disputes."
Otis groans and gets to his feet. "I think you two younguns should come out to the orchard and pick a few apples with me."
He had no sooner said that when the three of us were outside, standing under an apple tree. Well, Otis was standing, and since Minky and I were sitting down at the time we were whisked out here, we promptly fell on our butts.
"Now see here! Arghh!"
I think Otis is not in a good frame of mind.
"Hank and I have managed to keep those two women apart for thousands of years now. You guys aren't here more than ten minutes and you've sabotaged many millenniums' worth of work."
"Hank?" I ask.
"Yes, Maglubiyet, the God of War. Only he isn't really such a bad sort. He and I both know that war is an absolute necessity for the goblin nations."
In a lower tone of voice he says, "Do you know those critters breed like... like..."
"Rabbits?" I ask.
"Yes, only Minky here doesn't know anything about real rabbits and their breeding propensity. Those smart-aleck Warlocks upset the balance of nature here."
"Well, sir," I butt in, before he gets carried away berating our little Warlock buddies, "the people here are about to know about real rabbits very soon. The warlocks have reintroduced real animals back into the world. They say it's a couple hundred years too early but it might help to confuse and slow up the Baron some."
Otis's eyebrows rise in surprise. "You don't say? Well, it's about danged time! Then maybe I don't have to evade the little rug-rats anymore. After all, that was my only bone of contention with them."
Otis is walking around in a small circle, his hands clasped behind him, eyes cast to the ground, doing some serious thinking. I'm loathe to interrupt him, but it seems like every time someone says things on this world it just brings more questions to my mind.
"Do you mean," I ask him, "that you aren't upset with them for banishing you from my world and lessening your powers?"
"The Warlocks banish me from your world? Wherever did you hear such tripe?" he asks. "The same powers that brought those three, and their predecessors, to this world are what banished us from your world, young fella."
Minky and I never bothered getting up once we were unceremoniously dumped on our butts. We are still sitting in the orchard. Otis stands there, looking down at us from under those bushy eyebrows of his.
"It was the creator force itself that banished the minor gods from your world, Nicholas. It was our presence that enabled magic to work on your world, you know. When we were gone, magic was gone as well. Our strength grew there only because mankind worshiped us. That same creator force brought the warlocks into being here to keep us lesser gods in check."
"Otis," Minky asks, "why have you not limited the goblins breeding the way the Warlocks limited it for people here?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, our ladies have taken on the same menstrual cycle as the animals of their alternate selves. If you'll pardon the expression, they only come into 'heat' once a year. The rest of the time they just aren't interested in that kind of stuff."
"The devil you say, boy! Why wasn't I aware of this?"
"Probably because you were busy snubbing the Warlocks, I suppose." I add, chuckling.
"Ha, ha, ha! Yes, you're probably right, lad. I'd sort of given up on humanity the last couple of millennia or so. I am able to maintain a snit for quite some time... just ask Emily."
"Then I suppose you males have no sexual interest then until the ladies are ready, correct?"
"Ummm... not exactly." Minky begins to blush. "We've simply found that we can turn to other alternatives in that department." And he gives me a wink. "And that sort of lessens our aggression, too."
"Hmm... what a marvelous concept! Females with an annual breeding cycle. A bi-sexual male population. Yes... yes! I believe that would work admirably. Perhaps constant warfare isn't necessary after all."
"Hot damn, you boys have got me all excited. I think I need to pop down and visit the warlocks. They may have some other ideas, too. I guess I better take Hank with me. It'll give us an excuse to get away from the wives when they get together and start yakking.
"Come on, boys, let's get back up to the house." And poof, here we are, sitting on the same bench we'd been whisked away from. But something has obviously transpired since we've been gone, the result of which is a flying tea cup that catches Otis on his bald dome.
"I popped over for a visit with missus Maglubiyet while you were gone. And she tells me that you and Hank informed her that I was an old dragon and hated company. Otherwise, she says, she would have been over here to visit me ages ago. She's busy setting Hank straight right now, and now it's your turn."
"Oh oh," Otis says. And "Poof"... he's gone.
"Oh, it's just like that man to disappear when we have a disagreement. Sigh... I guess it's just as well... I do tend to run short of crockery when we argue."
Emily fluffs up her hair and makes a visible effort to settle her nerves. She sits at the table with us.
"So tell me, did you get the opportunity to tell Otis your reason for making this visit up here?"
Minky and I look at one another and shrug our shoulders. "No," he answers. "We learned some things but not what we came here to learn."
Emily reaches over and pats Minky's hand, then she gives it a squeeze.
"Well, why don't you discuss it with me. Maybe it's something I can help you with."
"Well," he begins, "it all has to do with Nicholas here. The Warlocks brought him to this world to help us deliver ourselves from the Baron. And they sent us on a quest to find knowledge or powers that will help him overcome the Midas stare and defeat him."
Emily looks at Minky for a minute, without speaking. Then she says, "his stare doesn't effect you, does it, Minky? I can sense this."
"No ma'am, neither me nor my Mother. That's why the Baron is afraid of us, I guess. He's afraid of anyone he can't control. But that can't help us, I'm afraid. I just don't have the ability to do what has to be done to stop him. Only Nicholas can do that."
"And what is that?" she asks.
"Nicholas is going to have to kill him! They say he has the capacity to do this, but Nicholas is not so sure that he can."
As soon as he says this, I feel my throat tightening up. I try not to dwell on this too much as it just causes the hair on the back of my neck to rise up. I hope to gosh that Number One is correct, that I have the ability to carry through with such an act.
"Hmmm..." she says, thinking out loud. "They may not necessarily have been referring to literal death for the man. There are different types of death, you know. But then again, you probably don't: that's something the Elven King will have to teach you.
"Alright," she says, standing up. "I can at least help you on part of your quest, Nicholas. I can make you immune to the Baron's Midas stare!"
"You can?!" we both shout excitedly. "Oh, that'd be great," I tell her.
She walks over to a small table-stand situated next to an overstuffed chair. There's a small basket or sewing kit sitting on it that she brings back to the table.
"Hold out your hand, Minky dear." And she pulls a sewing needle from a pin-cushion.
"You'll feel a small prick," she says, poking Minky's index finger with the needle.
"Ouch," he says, instinctively pulling his hand back. But she holds her open hand out to him and he places his hand back into hers once again. Emily squeezes the tip of his finger until she brings forth a good sized drop of blood.
"There, my dear. Now swirl that finger in your tea cup."
Minky, with a frown on his face, for he seems uncomfortable at the sight of blood, places his hand over his now cold cup of tea. He dips the offending finger into it and swirls it around a bit.
Emily, meanwhile, has walked over to a cupboard and pulled out two small jars and a little crooked stick. She walks back to us and sets the jars next to the tea cup. Lifting the lid from one jar at a time she grabs a pinch of some herbal looking ingredient and drops it into the cup. Next she picks up the little crooked stick and begins to stir the contents of the cup while mumbling something under her breath.
The two of us are watching, fascinated. But I still can't help thinking that what passes for magic wands on this world would have Harry Potter sticking his nose up into the air.
"All right, Nicholas. Drink this entire cup," and she hands it to me.
I drain the thing just as quickly as I can because I want to get it down before I can taste anything. But once I've consumed it the after taste is just that of cold herbal tea. I look up towards the goddess expectantly.
"Well, boys. That's all there is to that. The Baron can stare at Nicholas now until his eyes pop out. Nothing will happen."
My mink boy and I wrap our arms around one another in a giant, congratulatory hug. And then we both stand and draw Emily into our hug as well.
"Thank you so much, Emily. You have saved my Nicky's life."
"Well," she says, returning the hug, "I have made his stare impotent. But I'm afraid I've done nothing to protect you from the monstrous claws of that bear. Nor have I given you the conviction you need that you can carry through with your deed. But one of these things, at least, the Elven King can provide you with."
"And now, my dears, I'm going to set you back down in the forest. I have a husband to find. Ohhh... and when I find him... look out."
No sooner has the last word left her lips when Minky and I find ourselves standing, once again, at the foot of the mountain. A couple of goblins who'd watched us appear are hightailing it for the bush, their bowed little legs pumping like mad.
The wall of fallen petrified trees and bones are at our back, and there, in front of us, is a sign. It says "This way to the Elven King," and has an arrow pointing towards the path following the base of the mountain. Printed at the bottom of the sign is... "Emily".
Well, I really like looking at my Minky boy in his human form. So, before he gets a chance to transform himself, I grab his hand and pull him in the direction of the arrow. He takes the hint and, smiling at me, begins walking hand in hand with me. We are wearing togas now, so I don't find it embarrassing staying a boy for a while longer. Besides, it's a pretty sweet hand I'm clasping. A stab of disappointment hits me when I feel his hand slip out of mine, but then he puts it around my waist instead. I slip my own arm over his shoulder and we walk, sides pressed together, down the path. Oh yeah, life is pretty grand.
"What do you know about this Elven King?" I ask.
"Not much. I know that elves are quiet and reclusive. They tend to be rather shy. I would suppose an Elf King would have to a little less shy though. Also, they live in harmony with the forest and very dedicated to nature."
"Well, all in all, he sounds a little less frightening than a goblin god... and he turned out to be okay."
"I wonder," I'm half thinking aloud, "what Emily meant by there being different kinds of death? She said the Warlocks may not have been talking about a literal death for the Baron."
We pause in our walking and Minky turns to me. He seems to reflect for a minute and then he says...
"I am not sure I understand that either, Nicky. How do you kill someone without killing them? That makes as much sense to me as you wearing clothes under your clothes" he chuckles.
I grin back at him and tell him "well, there isn't anything under this wrap I'm wearing right now. And it will slip off rather easily."
I get raised eyebrows over this comment. My boy turns red and starts giggling.
"Why, Nicky! You know, I got to cuddle you while you were a mink, but I have yet to cuddle you as a boy. I am sure there is a soft patch of grass somewhere in this forest, tucked behind some bushes. Perhaps we can pretend we are back in your hidey spot in the park."
HOLY CRAP! That gets my attention! My head is swiveling every which way, checking out the forest.
"This way, Minky" I say, nearly jerking him off balance in my exuberance. I pull him off the path in search of the perfect hidey spot. We are both giggling now. HOLY CRAP!
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]
* Some browsers may require a right click instead