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Plumtuggle
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 8


Toast kept looking up at Xander and giggling. Xander, in turn, glared back.

“Say, Xander, where are you taking us? Do you know of any other sugarapple orchards?” Elmot swung his fat, pudgy legs back and forth. His wife and three children sat next to him.

“No. I told you I didn’t know where any were.” Xander was tired of being asked the same question over and over again.

“Where are you headed?”

“I’ve told you this a dozen times too. Toast and I are headed for the Hills of Jeshar. We’re looking for the most precious thing in the Land of Waterberry. How many times am I going to have to tell you?”

“Just asking. I hope we find a sugarapple tree before we get there. Jarp, Morth and Tili don’t do well in the cold. Pindy’s not that fond of it herself, are you dear?” Elmot looked over at his wife and smiled.

“Well, Jarp, Morth and Tili are just going to have to make do.” Xander shook his head back and forth in annoyance.

“Whoa there, boy,” Bonzu said. “Watch the head. You nearly knocked us off.”

Toast giggled again.

They walked through the Meadows of Framlin for several hours. The Hills of Jeshar grew larger with each step. Tili and Morth got into a fight and shouted at each other. Ickpo slipped off the left shoulder and landed in Xander’s shirt pockets. After an hour of lecturing from Ranji, Xander was at his wits end. “That’s enough! We’re going to stop and rest and find something to eat.” He reached up and picked Bonzu’s family off and put them on top of a flat stone. Elmot’s family was more than ready for a break too. He set them down on top of a fallen log. “You stay here, all of you. Toast and I are going to look for something to eat.”

“Bring us back a sugarapple,” Jarp said.

“If I found a sugarapple, then I’d have found a sugarapple tree and I would take you to it to live in. What else do you eat, anything?” Xander’s voice raged in pitch with his level of frustration.

Elmot scratched his head. “Pindy is partial to zzux bugs. They’re rather small and can only be found at twilight under the roots of a tinglepop tree.”

“Oh, that sounds wonderful. You want me to go into the woods, find a tinglepop tree and sit there until twilight so I can dig under the roots and find a zzux bug? Sure. No problem! Why not!” Xander folded his arms across his chest.

“Why thank you, my boy, and here I thought you might object!” Elmot smiled.

“I do object! I was being sarcastic. I’m not going to get you any zzux bugs. Is there anything else?” He heard Toast giggling again. “Do you have a problem, Toast?”

She shook her head back and forth.

“I’ll tell you what. Toast and I will go and see what we can find. You will eat what ever we bring back or starve!” Xander’s patience wore thin. He marched toward the woods. Toast ran after him.

“Forget the worms. What are we going to find for us to eat?” Xander looked at the woods. “If we’re lucky we might find a mushroom or a lizard.”

They entered the woods. The afternoon sun was lowering in the sky. Its rays shot through the trees at a horizontal angle, creating an eerie light. “I see some mushrooms,” Toast said.

“Where?”

She pointed to a cluster of them. “Over there, under that really old asti tree.”

“I see it. Wow! That is an ancient tree. Its trunk must be twenty feet in diameter. Some of the roots are almost as tall as me. Hey, that’s odd. The mushrooms are in a circle.”

“It’s a fairy ring, Xander. Haven’t you ever heard of that before?” Toast ran into the center of the ring. “There’s moss, acorns, grass and even tiny flowers, like primroses, growing in here.”

“What exactly is a fairy ring, or do I even want to know.”

“At night, when the moon is full, the fairies come out to dance around the circle. If you dance with them, you are taken to a magic fairy kingdom,” Toast explained.

“Can you come back, or do you have to stay there forever?”

“You can come back, but they say life is never the same once you’ve been.” Toast wiped her forehead.

“Are the fairies good fairies or bad fairies?”

“I think they’re good fairies.”

“There’s a full moon tonight. Maybe if we bring Elmot and his family and Borzu and his family and leave them here in the fairy ring, they’ll disappear to the fairy kingdom and then we won’t have to bother with them any longer,” Xander said.

“Hey! That’s not very nice.”

“As long as the fairies are nice, then what’s the problem with it? I’m sure they’d all love it there.”

“Well, you’re probably right. Okay, let’s do it, but first we need to find something to eat.”

“Can’t we pick some of these mushrooms?”

Toast tapped her foot in the grass. “No, Xander. It won’t work if you pick some of them.”

Xander found a plef and threw a stone at it, knocking it out. “We can take this back and roast it.” When they spotted a tree full of black qugnuts, Xander said, “If we mash these, we can use it to baste the plef. It will be nice and juicy and sweet.”

“What about the worms? They don’t eat plef.”

“There’s a glumvo tree. I heard that womp ants live under the bark.” They peeled a huge piece of bark off and scooped up the ants. “See! There are hundreds of them. We’ll take this back for them.”

After dumping the womp ants on the ground near the worm families, Toast started a fire using the piece of bark. Xander had to make sure the plef was dead and then he had to take the leathery skin off. “These things are disgusting creatures. They’re like lizards, but their skin is tough.” When he had it skinned and cleaned, he shoved a stick through the middle of the plef. He used two other sticks with forked ends to rest it on while it roasted. Toast mashed the qugnuts and Xander used his fingers to brush it all over the plef. “This is going to be so delicious.”

After they’d finished off the perfectly cooked plef and the worms had eaten the womp ants, Xander said, “Toast and I found a fairy ring in the woods. We thought you’d all like to go and dance with the fairies tonight under the full moon.”

Pindy and Ranji clapped their tiny hands together. “Dancing? I love dancing and so does Pindy.” Ranji chuckled. “That sounds like a lot of fun. It’s a good thing tonight’s a full moon.”

“Yes, that is lucky. Why don’t we head over there now? The sun’s going down and it’ll be dark soon,” Xander said.

After seeing that they agreed, he put the two families of worms on his shoulders and walked to the woods. The worms were delighted with the fairy ring. The moon rose high in the evening sky, full and bright. Xander and Toast went and sat down, leaning their backs against the asti tree. “Now all we have to do is sit and wait.” Xander put his arms behind his head and looked at the moon.

“They’re having fun. I think the little worms like playing with the mushrooms,” Toast said.

“Look at that!” Xander sat straight. A pale lime-green haze seeped from the tops of the mushrooms, filling the air above and around them with a misty light. “It’s the fairies.”

Xander and Toast watched as dozens of tiny winged fairies, not much bigger than the worms appeared from the mist. Some were blue; others were green, pink, yellow, orange, and purple. Tiny bubbagons appeared, their gossamer wings glowing in the moonlight. Fairies and bubbagons joined hands. The worms were invited in and they danced around the mushroom ring. Xander heard soft voices singing,

“Under the light of the brilliant moon

  We dance, we laugh, we sing.

  Join with us, hold our hands,

  And magic we will bring.

  Tra la la la, Tra la la

  And magic we will bring.”

            “That’s a pretty song,” Toast said, straining to hear it. “Look, Xander. Something’s happening.”

            They watched as a beam of green light shot down from the moon onto the fairy ring. The fairies and bubbagons fluttered inside of it, heading upward. “There go the worms,” Xander said. The worms followed the fairies. Up, up, up they went until the light disappeared. “Wow!”

            “You can say that again. I hope the worms will be happy with the fairies,” Toast said. “In a way, I wish I had gone with them. The fairy kingdom sounds nice.”

            “Toast! Don’t be silly. I need you here.” Xander stood and stretched. “We need to find somewhere to sleep tonight and this time, we need to be more careful where we choose.”

            Toast sniffed. “Do you smell something burning?”

            Xander smelled it. “Yes, it’s a campfire and if I’m not mistaken, it smells like fried giffi fish.”

            “Giffi fish? You’re right. That’s what it smells like.”

            “That means only one thing. Wilpo and Vem are nearby. I wonder if they’ve found anything precious.”

            “I suppose we’re going to go and find out?” Toast knew the answer.

            “Yes, but first, can you make a little fire here. I want to write in my journal,” Xander said.

            Toast stacked the wood and lit a fire and then while Xander wrote she ran into the fairy ring. She danced around the outside of it, singing the fairy song. Looking up at the moon, she wondered what the fairy kingdom was like and if she’d like it there.

                                                * * *

            “There they are. I was right. They are eating giffi fish and hammelo berries.” Xander parted the bushes so he and Toast could watch.

            “The fire looks warm. Which one is Vem?”

            “You’ll find out soon enough. After supper he’ll take off his shoes.”

            Toast gagged. “I remember that smell. How could I ever forget that stench! So the one that is burping loud is Wilpo. Ew! He’s got horrible smelling breath.” She plugged her nose.

            They watched the men eat their supper and clean up. As expected, Vem removed his shoes.

Xander’s eyes watered and Toast had to plug her nose up with a ball of fluffy pink clover.

 Wilpo opened his pack and pulled out a cloth.

 “Something’s wrapped inside that,” Xander whispered.

Toast leaned closer to see. “I think they’ve found something precious.”

            Wilpo unwrapped the cloth and held a huge golden brown gem in the palm of his hand.

 “Wow!” Toast’s eyes bugged out. “That’s a topaz, isn’t it?”

            “I think so. Do you think that is more precious than our diamond and our amethyst? What if the topaz is more precious? See. This is why I want to have a lot of different ones, just in case.” He felt the jewels in his pocket. “Tomorrow, we’re going to hurry on and we’re not stopping until we reach the Hills of Jeshar. I want to find some more precious things. We can sleep right here under this bush tonight. Vem and Wilpo’s fire will keep the wild bandiffs away and we’ll stay warm.”

            “Don’t worry about the topaz, Xander. The diamond is much more precious and so is the amethyst. Let’s get to sleep. It sounds like tomorrow will be a busy day for us both.”

            Xander fell asleep near the orange flames of the campfire, dreaming of finding more precious things and how proud Grazan, the wizard, would be of him. Maybe finally the villagers would accept him.

 

Glossary:

Asti tree – ancient tree with huge roots that poke out of ground, long slender leaves, grayish green in color, thick bark and many branches.

Glumvo tree – womp ants live under its bark and clabber rats live in decaying old trees

Hammelo Berries - pinkish-purple, grow on bushes, sweet and juicy.

Plef – a wild animal with leathery skin, much like a lizards. It’s got six legs and lives in burrows underground. Comes out to feed on bugs. Often caught by campers and roasted over open fire, but not usually eaten by villagers. Tastes best when basted with qugnut sauce.

Qugnuts – black nuts, the size of a plumtuggle’s fist, thick shells, meaty fleshy nut inside.

When mashed, it makes a great sauce for basting plefs.

Tinglepop tree – zzux bugs live in its roots

Womp ants – live in glumvo trees under bark. They are bright pink and their bite is harmless.

Zzux bugs – small, found at twilight under roots of tinglepop tree. Favorite food of worms.


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