The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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Little Creatures (Part II)

The trees grew taller and denser as they went closer to the Moon Castle. It loomed over them covering the sun above, making the forest a bit dark and shady. Unlike the lively forest in the canyon where the animals dwell, there seems to be no life among the trees. It was simply too quiet except for the rustling of leaves and the occasional crunch of breaking twigs. There was no one around except for their company.

“Say Prince, are there no elf villages near the Moon Castle?” Rebecca asked.

“There are plenty of elf villages around Valhalla. And there is but one great city that is at the foot of the castle. You’ll soon see where it lies,” the Prince said.

As they were passing by conifers like junipers and cedars. Ink noticed that there were strange marks etched on each trunk. His attention was captured by the unique symbols that he didn’t notice Catherine amble beside him. She kicked his boots.

“Aaww, what was that for?” he asked, looking at her.

She whispered, “That was for not listening to what I told you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, let’s see. “She is nice, smart and pretty. What is there not to like?” Does that ring a bell?” Catherine quoted the exact words Ink said using her mocking voice.

Ink didn’t say anything and stared straight ahead, pretending not to hear what Catherine had said. He hoped that she would just let his slip go away.

“So you’re just going to pretend like I’m an invisible wind howling in your ears? Come on, I knew that day at the quarry when you didn’t let go of her hand that there was something. That’s why I warned you not to get involved with Rebecca,” Catherine ranted.

“I am not involved with her,” he whispered back, gritting his teeth.

Catherine glanced at the four guys in front of them. “Oh, please. You can’t even take you eyes off her. Don’t think I didn’t notice.”

“I don’t look at her all the time,” Ink denied.

She scoffed. “Yeah right. And I’m in love with Demelov.”

Ink turned his head at her. “See how ridiculous that sounded? Cause that’s exactly how I just heard you. Admit it Ink, you like Rebecca.”

Ink was silent. He knew somewhere deep in his subconscious mind that he did. He knew when he picked up that damn shoe and managed to return it to her. He knew when he climbed up the tower every waking day, after Nathaheim. He knew when he saw her once again at the quarry. He knew when it bothered him seeing Rebecca with her friends all this time in their journey. He knew but he didn’t want to acknowledge it.

He tried to convinced himself otherwise because just like what Catherine had helpfully reminded him, she didn’t belong in their world.

But he couldn’t stop himself from reaching out to her. One minute he’s keeping himself in check, the next he finds himself looking for her: wanting to tease her, wanting to talk to her, wanting to be near her. He liked to think that he had done a good job of keeping it under the wraps. However, Catherine had seen through his facade. Still, he didn’t want to admit it out loud because saying it, would only make it more real.

“Fine. If you’re not going to acknowledge it, fine by me. But I know you Ink. You have never paid any attention to any woman before. So, I know this is different. And I’m telling you this because I am your friend. You and her, it’s not gonna happen. At the end of the day, we will return to Maskerville and she will return to the North where she belongs. She doesn't like you that way Ink and, I don’t want to see you getting hurt,” Catherine clasped his arm for a brief moment, before sauntering beside Marty.

Ink knew Catherine said those words with his best interest in mind. He was grateful that she worried about him. Still, her discouraging words only confused him all the more. He wished it was so easy to turn his feelings off.

He gazed up to the Heavens as if the answer he was looking for would come raining down from the sky, a cure to stop himself from falling down this pit. As much as possible, he wants to put a stop to his feelings. But as he looked above, he was surprised to see that there were elaborate huts atop each tree. He was thankful for the distraction. It allowed him to change the train of his thoughts.

“Are those houses you think?” Ink asked Marty.

He looked up at where Ink was pointing. He nodded, only this time, it wasn’t just huts he saw. There were tiny little creatures with beards and pointy red hats descending the trees like swarms carrying rakes, trowels, pitchforks, spades and other gardening tools. His eyes bulged out.

“We are under attack!!! Run!” he shouted spurring the horse into a gallop. He grabbed Catherine by the hand inciting her horse to run along.

They went ahead of the guys closing in on Rebecca and Prince Hanariel. When the guys turned their backs, there was nothing that was chasing them. They were perplexed and they shrugged their shoulders. However, when Ink pointed upwards they saw the midgets running towards them wildly.

Sebastian was the first one to bolt after seeing their crazed faces. Marty and Catherine by now had already passed by the Prince and Rebecca. She stared at their backs wondering what got them so worked up.

She looked behind her to see Sebastian approaching and asked him what was going on.

“We must run, Becca. Don’t worry. I’ll protect you,” Sebastian promised.

“Protect me from what?” the little creatures are now on ground. They were gaining speed on them. But instead of running away, Rebecca laughed.

Prince Hanariel looked at her and asked. “What’s so funny?”

“He’s scared of gnomes,” she said, wiping the edges of her eyes from tears of laughter.

“Of what?” Sebastian echoed.

“Gnomes,” Claus said slowing down his horse to trot along them.

Gnomes are small humanoid creatures, only two feet in size made from elvish magic. They are bearded, both male and female, with men having longer beards than that of their female counter parts. They have a lean build despite of their extremely small size and were intended to care for the vast forested lands of the elves and to farm for vegetables and other crops.

“Laugh if you must, but they were actually wise to run for their lives not that they could get away from them. There’s a lot of them in these trees. Gnomes can be pretty brutal to those who trespass their territory. These woodland gnomes even more so than their other kind,” Prince Hanariel said.

As these words left the mouth of the prince, a battalion of gnomes surrounded Rebecca and the group, halting them in place. The little people wore angry faces, not a suitable expression for their comfortable work clothes that of a farmer. They were bare feet and had pointy red hats.

“Who are ye people that dare enter the land of the elves. Away. All of ye. Before I stick this pitchfork all the way down yer throat,” an older gnome threatened. He has wrinkled skin, and he wore spectacles to better his vision.

A chorus of cheers erupted from the crowd of gnomes.

“Gluni, head of the woodland gnomes. I very much admire your courage to protect our land but these people are my guests,” Prince Hanariel said stepping forward.

A female gnome whispered something to Mister Gluni. Then, he adjusted the spectacles on his eyes, edging forward a little. His eyebrows creased as he focused. The crowd was silent waiting for the older gnome to say something. Then, the female gnome whispered something again.

“I don’t think his eyesight is the only problem,” Demelov joked.

“And who might this man be accompanying the masked men?” Gluni asked.

Hanariel was quite annoyed that his subject was not able to recognize him at first sight. “Oh, dear Gluni. It’s been so long since you visited the Castle.”

“Oh, Goodness Heavens, is that ye High Prince?” the old gnome said surprised.

“It is I, indeed.”

A collective gasp was heard from the crowd. Then each gnome whispered amongst each other. The Prince was actually a very famous figure even among their kind.

“Greetings, High Prince Hanariel, Son of His Highness King Vienuriel, Creator of the First Gnomes and King of Valhalla,” Gluni kneeled with one knee and bowed, putting the pitchfork aside.

“Greetings, to the High Prince,” the rest of the gnomes echoed, kneeling as well.

“My sincerest apologies for not recognizing ye sooner, High Prince,” he said, standing up together with the gnomes. “Since, yer creation of klosus, ye had hardly been around the area. In fact, none of the elves have frequented much. We see them all the time though, atop the canopy, in our huts, busy flying in the skies.”

“Oh, I think it’s the age that had gotten you Gluni,” Hanariel said.

The old gnome laughed. “Indeed, ye are right, High Prince. We do not have immortal lives like our masters who created us,” he said. “Who are these people, might I ask?”

“These men are to be presented before the High King,” Hanariel answered.

“Very well, they may safely pass through as per yer command,” Gluni said. “But be warned young mortals, should ye return through these woods unaccompanied I wouldn’t be able to guarantee yer safety,” he said darkly. “Clear the way now, the Prince will be passing.”

A mass of “aaws” were heard from a group of female gnomes who are standing, trying to get a better look at the prince.

“Run along you bearded females. Don’t you have some gardening to tend to?” Gluni prompted.

The path cleared for them swiftly. Despite of the gnomes small stature, they can still move pretty fast. Then out of the blue, a piercing sound was heard all the way out front.

“That’s Catherine!” Ink said, galloping towards the fading sound.

“Oops, I think that could be Dunli,” Gluni said. “He ran after those who went ahead of ye, High Prince.”

“Don’t worry. I got this,” Prince Hanariel said flying into the sky looking for the source of the scream.

“We should run after Ink,” Rebecca said.

“Why should we? Let’s leave the peasants alone,” Demelov grumbled.

“You know, we can’t,” Rebecca chastised.

“Oh, come on. What harm could these little creatures do to them really? I don’t even understand why they are afraid of them. I mean, they’re so tiny. I could just kick them away,” Demelov said.

“Oh, ye shouldn’t underestimate gnomes, boy. We are far too many for ye to handle,” Gluni said still ushering some of the gnomes left.

“I thought he had bad hearing,” Demelov whispered to Sebastian. “How did he hear that?”

Sebastian just shrugged. “Say, Mister Gluni. If our friends we’re indeed captured, what do you think would happen to them?” he asked.

“Our friends? Are you friends with those freaks?” Demelov asked.

“Well, I suppose. We have been through a lot together,” Sebastian replied.

Demelov was just about to argue but he was interrupted by Gluni.

“This is Dunli we are talking about. He’s crazier than most gnomes. Hates plickerbirds. They always drill holes through his corns with their beaks,” Gunli rambled.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Frank asked.

“Nothing,” Gunli said, clamping his mouth.

They looked down on him for a few seconds. Then he said looking up, “Oh, yes. Yes. I remember. Yer friends, if they do get captured, they’ll be used to attract the plickerbirds away. Well, I hope ye have fun watching them get drilled on,” he hops, slapping the butt of the last gnome lagging behind the group.

“Then what are we waiting for? We need to hurry and help them,” Rebecca said prodding her horse to go faster.

Just then, another scream echoed in the forest.

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