Dun-duh-duh-dun! I present the second (and last part) of the second CWWC challenge! (Since I posted the beginning of this a while ago, you might want to refresh your memory by reading the first part here. Just scroll down the page until you get to “Challenge #2.”) *I got all of the photos from Pinterest. Click on the “via” links to go to the actual website (not Pinterest.)*
Immense, flat plains surrounded me on all sides. The ground was hard and cracked; the sky was dim and gray; and there was no sign of life anywhere near me but a few mournful blades of grass and my mournful self. But at the horizon I could faintly see an uneven line of trees – a forest. I thought the forest held much more promise than this desolate plain, so to it I set my course.
I looked down at poor Rantillo. I couldn’t just leave him here, not when he had saved my life! I decided to carry him with me. Perhaps I could bury him under a grand oak tree in the woods or something; at least I could find a more fitting place than these wild plains. Thankfully, since Rantillo was now made of light wood, I could carry him without too much effort.
For hours I trudged through the dusty land, dragging Rantillo behind me. By the time I reached the forest I was hot, sweaty, and looked nothing like the proper princess I once had been. Finally I halted at the front of the forest, in the cool shade of a row of majestic trees. They were ancient and towering; their bark was dripping with brilliant green moss; and their rustling leaves formed crowns of majestic beauty. They are kings and queens, just as much as I am a princess, I whispered under my breath. I pushed back my caramel-colored hair – it felt almost as sticky as real caramel – and stepped out onto a path richly carpeted in spring moss.
Only ten minutes later, the forest floor suddenly gave way beneath me, and Rantillo and I tumbled down a large hole! But this was no ordinary hole – this was more of a shallow pit, camouflaged by a network of vines. The vines clutched and grabbed at my legs as if they would never let me go. But using Rantillo as a firm ladder, I managed to climb out. Once again Rantillo had saved me. How I wish I could have saved him.
But all sad thoughts were chased out of my head by panic, for no more than three or four paces later, I fell into yet another pit! It seemed like the land around here was a veritable minefield of pits. I climbed onto Rantillo’s sturdy wooden back and looked over the edge of the hole. Sure enough, all the land around me was dotted with vines and slight depressions in the ground, which I knew were more depressed than they looked. (Well, deeper than they looked anyway, I don’t know about depressed – I don’t think they ever felt sad or glad.) I groaned. Maybe I should just find a place to sleep and look for a way around the pits tomorrow. I was just ready to climb on Rantillo again when a strong grasp pulled us downward.
The vines and the pit left with a rush of air as I felt myself falling down… down… down. In a short moment I landed with a thud for the second time that day. Thankfully, the fall was short, but it still hurt. I moaned as I picked myself off of the ground and tried to dust off my dress. It had changed from a delicate pink to a dingy gray, the same color as my mind felt right then. I looked around fearfully. What (or who) had pulled me down here?
The strange thing about this pit was that it was not dark, even though I could see no visible source of light. In fact, it was almost lighter down here than it was above ground in the gathering twilight. Questions swirled through my head and mixed with fear to make a not-so-lovely concoction.
Thankfully, I was spared any further wondering because just then, I felt the rough tug again.
“Come with me,” a gruff voice hissed. Frightened, I had no choice but to obey, clinging to Rantillo’s light wooden frame and dragging him with me. We seemed to be traveling through a network of underground tunnels – very low ones at that. I had to stoop to walk through them at all. The path sloped lower and lower. I felt like we were descending to the center of the earth!
I began to hear voices. They were rough, and none too friendly. The invisible force dragged me forward, until the low tunnel opened into a larger, well-lit room. Actually, it wasn’t large, it was HUGE! It was also breath–taking. I had never seen anything like it! The ceiling was probably fifty feet high, and it dripped with crystal-like stalactites. There were beautiful waterfalls and bubbling streams everywhere, making a lovely sound that echoed throughout the cavern. And most amazing of all, a gargantuan tree grew from the center of the cavern. At its roots sat an intricately carved wooden throne. High on the ceiling, swinging high over my head, were dozens of luminescent lanterns. And now I saw why the tunnel had been lit also – the very rock of this cavern was glowing!
I took in all of this with a delighted gasp, but then I noticed something not so delightful. *Gulp* an army of fierce looking men were glaring at me. As I nervously glanced from face to face, I realized something else – the men were dwarves! I looked at my “guide,” and sure enough, he was a dwarf all the way through: coarse black hair and beard, stocky body, beady eyes, and piercing glare.
My “guide dwarf” pushed me onto my knees, and himself bowed respectfully before an extra-tiny dwarf sitting grandly on the throne in front of the tree.
“O mighty King, O fearful one, may your majesty reign forever,” the dwarf began humbly. “I have brought you this captive, and her…” he looked doubtfully at Rantillo. “What is that thing?”
“This is my horse, Rantillo,” I mumbled.
“And her… horse, Rantillo. I bring her as prey from one of our snares – the one I was watching, to be exact. Blumbrug, on the other hand, let her escape completely from his trap, which he always watches over so carefully.” The dwarf said this last part with a sneer, and turned towards a rather indignant dwarf with a red face, red hair, and red beard.
“But it was only…” began Blumbrug, then flushed and bowed to the king dwarf. “O mighty one, it was only because she climbed out of the snare by herself before I had time to drag her under. She used her horse, or whatever that thing is. She is just too tall for our snares,” he said, looking me up and down with disgust. “I have never understood why some creatures grow to such hideous heights.”
The tiny dwarf king cut him off. He had been eyeing me suspiciously ever since I arrived in his meeting hall, and now he stood up, and commanded his army of dwarf servants to imprison me.
“Wait! What – why – why are you doing this! I’m innocent! What have I done?” I cried.
The tiny king looked at me darkly. “You have done nothing. It is your people who have endangered us – the whole race of gnomes. And you shall pay for it.”
“Wait! What? This doesn’t seem fair! Is it too much to ask for you to tell me why you’re imprisoning me?”
The dwarf king sighed. “Very well. I will tell you the story.” At the word “story,” all of the dwarves promptly plunked down on the ground, seemingly under a spell. (I found out later that no dwarf is able to resist a story.)
“Long, long ago, the dwarves were a mighty race. Our kingdom was safe from all invaders, our armies were strong, and our women and children were tall and beautiful.” I couldn’t help but titter at this last statement. Who had ever seen a tall dwarf, I wondered? Or even a beautiful one, for that matter.
The king glared at me and then continued. “Well, our women and children were beautiful, if not tall. But the point is, we were prospering. And all of that was ruined by one of your kind.” The king pointed accusingly at me, and the dwarves around him murmured angrily in agreement. “One day, while we were going about our own business, building our own houses and tending our own livestock, a – a human entered our land. We knew not how, but he did not give us the chance to ask. Before we could detain him, he had departed from us and come back with an army of human men, enough to overtake all of our strongest forces. They drove us out of our land, and now we are forced to live in hiding under the ground, like worms. In vain we had set pitfalls and traps, thinking to capture any human that came our way, and so take vengeance for our wrongs. Until you fell into the snare, we had caught nothing in our traps but deer and rabbits. But at last! We shall take our revenge out on you for the wrongs done to us by your people.”
That was it. The king sat back down on his throne, satisfied with his story-telling abilities.
I stood there, stunned for a few seconds, then I said, “But that’s just it! Surely it wasn’t my people that did such a cruel thing. We have always been a peace-loving people. Now, the Hachians on the other hand…”
As soon as I mentioned “Hachians,” all the dwarves perked up their heads and an angry spark leapt into their eyes.
“Go on,” the dwarf king growled.
“I was only saying that the – the Hachians are not a peace-loving people, and perhaps it was they who invaded your land.”
The dwarf king walked slowly up to me, plodding step by step, until he came right up to my feet. He solemnly raised his face to look at me, but almost fell over backwards doing so, because he had to bend back so far to see me. He muttered something angrily under his breath about my tallness, and then commanded me, “Kneel down so that I can look at you. Better. Now, it was indeed the Hachians who invaded us – that I remember now. So you are saying that you come from a world where there are actually humans who love peace and hate war?”
I nodded. “My father, the king of our land, has always strove for peace and safety. But the Hachians are always trying to conquer new kingdoms.” I looked down sadly. “That’s why I’m here in the first place. I had to flee from my home because the Hachians were fighting us, and my parents wanted me to be safe. Our kingdom is probably under the reign of Hachians, now…” I gulped, and tried to hold back my tears. I showed the dwarves Rantillo again, and said, “Rantillo saved my life, but the Hachians’ arrow turned him into wood.” After that, it was no use. I let my tears spill over.
The dwarf king’s face softened. “There there, human girl, please don’t cry. I can’t stand to see such a big creature as you crying. Here, Blumbrug!” The king beckoned the red-faced gnome. “Take this human’s horse, here, and see if you can find an herb-recipe to bring it back to life. Don’t worry, girl human, we will fix your horse. Please don’t cry!” The dwarf king had totally changed, from gruff and fierce to almost crying himself. He couldn’t stand to see tears from any being, dwarf or otherwise.
I sat up straighter, and wiped my eyes on a corner of my already-filthy dress. “Could you really bring Rantillo back to life? Oh, that would – I would – oh could you?! If I had Rantillo back, I would gladly go to your prison.”
The dwarf king frowned. “And about that… If it really was the Hachians that ruined us instead of your people, it would make no sense to imprison you for crimes that neither you nor your fathers had committed.”
I gave a sigh of relief. Finally they were talking reasonably! The king was pleased to have such a novel audience to listen to his stories, and he was just in the thick of one when he was interrupted by a snort and a whinny coming from down the hall. My heart skipped a beat, and I started up.
“Rantillo! RANTILLO!” I stumbled over my long dress, and ran, laughing, flinging my arms around Rantillo’s neck.
“Oh how I missed you, boy!” I whispered as I combed my fingers through his mane – a mane that was no longer stiff and wooden, but real.
“Oh. Oh! Thank you ever so much!” I exclaimed happily to Blumbrug. I almost felt like giving him a hug, dirty red face and all. Blumbrug’s face turned an even brighter shade of red (if that was possible) and he looked down shyly at his wooden clogs.
“It was nothing, ma’am. Really, it was nothing. All I did was rub him over with some fizzle-pot herbs. That’s all I did. It was nothing, really.”
“Oh, but it isn’t just “nothing” to me. Thank you so much, Blumbrug!” I gave him a little kiss on the cheek, then merrily led Rantillo back to the dwarf king’s room.
“Look everyone!” I exclaimed with childish excitement, “Rantillo’s alive again!” The dwarves took one look at Rantillo’s towering form, now thirty times more majestic than when he was wooden, and cowered behind their king’s throne.
“It’s all right, Rantillo won’t hurt you – now that you’re my friends.” I beckoned the dwarves toward me. A few of the dwarves cautiously tip-toed up to Rantillo and some of the braver ones even ventured to touch him. The moment their fingers touched horsehair though, they drew them back as quickly as if he had singed them.
After the dwarves were done admiring Rantillo, the dwarf king called a grand meeting of all the dwarves living in his underground cavern.
“Fellow dwarves and dwarvessess, we have gathered here together today to help this girl-human and her people. Their land has been invaded by…” the dwarf king paused dramatically, “the terrible Hachians!” His people gave a collective gasp. “It was the Hachians who ruined our beautiful kingdom many years ago, when I was only a dwarfling, and it is the Hachians against whom we will now fight against with every ounce of our dwarvish blood. I need volunteers to escort this human-girl back to her kingdom, and to destroy every Hachian residing there. Destroy them, I say! Who’s with me?”
Once again I gazed up at the shiny teacup cliffs where, just a few days before, I had fallen to the ground, in sorrow and in pain. But now I was happy – deliriously happy!
“This is it, Rantillo. We’re going home!”
All around me swarmed fierce dwarves, literally armed to the teeth with swords, spikes, and heavy clubs. The chief dwarf was even now rigging up some rope-like contraption which we allow us to reach the top of those slippery cliffs.
“Let’s go home, Rantillo!” A whinny was all the answer I needed.
And now, as I write this, weeks after I spoke those words, I am home. When we arrived in my kingdom, the Hachians had already conquered it, as I feared, but my father and mother were still alive, although they were harshly treated, and being used as slaves to the Hachian king. But the dwarves soon put an end to that. As soon as they saw the Hachian warriors, rage kindled a blazing fire in their blood, and with a mighty roar the whole dwarvish army lunged forward, destroying any Hachians in their paths. Of course, the dwarves did not leave unscathed. Hundreds of dwarves were killed and wounded in the battle, but they all deemed it an honor to die in such a way.Quite a few Hachians escaped, it is true, but the ones who did were sought out and forced to sign a peace treaty with our kingdom and with the dwarves.
As soon as the dwarves had taken the castle back, I galloped over the drawbridge and into the courtyard. My home! It was battered from the Hachians’ rams and catapults, but it was still standing. It was still home. I quickly led Rantillo to the stables and rubbed him down, then ran full power into the castle. I searched everywhere for my parents, not knowing where the dwarves had left them after they had freed them from the Hachians. Finally I found them in one of the tower rooms, looking anxiously out of the window at the ongoing battle.
“Mother! Father! “ I shrieked, flinging myself onto them in ecstasy. They were too shocked to speak for a moment, and when the initial shock was over, all they could do was weep with joy. Finally we wiped our joyous tears and took a good look at each other.
“Oh, Anya! You’ve grown even more beautiful!” my mother told me fondly.
“How we’ve missed you, Anya!” my father exclaimed.
“I’ve missed you too, Mother and Father. Oh, so very much!” But at last were together again. At last, once more, we were a happy, happy family.
The dwarves now have their old kingdom back, and are thriving. Our kingdom and theirs do a brisk trading business – we trade them fine cloth and metals, and they trade us their services as carpenters, builders, warriors, and more. I would not say their women and children are “tall and beautiful” quite yet, but the dwarves are once more a mighty race. And so I am living happily ever after, as becomes a true princess. For I am a princess.
I hope you enjoyed it!