The Riddling Tree
The forest floor was almost completely covered in bluebells, with the strong sunlight making them appear to glow like the wings of fairies. The birds sang a symphony in the treetops, while rabbits scampered through the carpet of bluebells. Genevieve the Mage led Dakin the Warrior and Scrub the Dwarf through a narrow dirt path that cut through the forest, examining an old parchment map as she went. ‘Be careful not to step on any of the bluebells!’ she said.
‘Why? Will it anger some woodland guardian spirit?’ Dakin asked sarcastically.
‘No, I like bluebells. They’re a beautiful flower, although they should really be called purple-bells.’
Eventually, Genevieve stopped by a tree that was shorter than all the others in the forest. Its two main branches were leafless and looked like clawed hands, and the only leaves sprouted from branches on the very top of the tree, below a thick and lumpy part of the trunk.
‘Here we are, the Riddling Tree,’ Genevieve said, rolling up her map and tucking it into her bag.
‘The Forest Gem of Mebitrus is up that tree?’ Dakin asked.
‘You know nothing of the legends my friend?’ she answered, facing the tree and stretching out both her arms.
‘Riddling Tree oh Riddling Tree, we come in search of your greatest treasure, that which you were planted to guard!’
‘This is the last time I take advice from a dwarf,’ Dakin said, shaking his head.
‘Why, what did I do?’ Scrub asked.
‘I'm trying to make a name for myself as a great warrior, and we’re supposed to be looking for the Forest Gem, one of the most important magical items in the known world, and you take me to a mad woman who talks to trees.’
‘You’ll get nowhere with a tongue sharper than your sword,’ a low, grumbling voice said. The tree creaked as pieces of the bark fell to the ground and the branches began to move. Dakin drew his sword and Scrub clambered back, nearly falling over. A pair of glowing green eyes appeared through the bark, and a gaping mouth opened below them. The tree bowed and said, ‘Genevieve, lovely to see you again my dear. Are you well?’
'Indeed I am,’ she replied, ‘but I have a favour to ask you. These two gentlemen need to have all the Gems of the Gods, so will you be fine parting with the Forest Gem?’
The tree laughed heartily and answered, ‘Only if they answer my riddle.’
‘Bloody hell!’ Dakin shouted, ‘this is a matter of great importance, I am a great warrior, we don’t have time to mess about with riddles!’
‘Ooh I like riddles,’ Scrub said excitedly.
‘Be quiet Scrub!’
The tree leaned forward and stared at Dakin and Scrub, bark falling from his lips as his mouth curled into a smile. ‘No riddle, no Gem I’m afraid. That is the rule of the Gem’s guardian.’
Dakin’s fists clenched and he huffed, ‘Ugh! Fine whatever, but be warned Riddling Tree, if it’s that stupid four legs in the morning riddle I’m burning you down, and if at any point you rhyme I’ll burn the entire forest down.’
‘Beg your pardon?’ Genevieve shrieked. The tree laughed again, ‘Bold words for someone so small,’ he said, ‘very well, here’s one of my favourite riddles, listen carefully: A farmer is travelling with a sheep, a fox and a sack of hay. He comes to a river with a small boat on the bank. The boat is only big enough to carry himself and one of his three possessions at a time. However, if the farmer leaves the two animals together unattended, the fox will kill and eat the sheep, and if he leaves the sheep alone with the sack of hay, it will eat the hay. What can the farmer do to get all three as well as himself safely across the river?’
‘I think I know it,’ Scrub piped up.
‘Be quiet Scrub,’ Dakin interrupted, 'what kind of farmer is stupid enough to own a fox? Shouldn’t he know that the fox is going to eat the sheep? Plus, what kind of fox is big or strong enough to kill a sheep? Unless it’s a small breed. That riddle is stupid, give us an easier one.’
‘But Dakin, I want to answer.’ Scrub said, jumping up and down and putting his stumpy arm up.
‘I said be quiet!’
‘Everyone will have an opportunity to answer,’ the tree said, ‘and the dwarf’s claim has me interested.’
‘What, you’re going to let him make a fool of himself by saying something ridiculous and uncharacteristic of a great warrior like myself?’
‘Dwarf, what is your answer?’
Scrub clapped his hands and stepped forward. ‘Well first, the farmer takes the sheep to the other side,’ he began, ‘and then he goes back and gets the sack of hay. Once the hay is on the other side he puts the sheep back in the boat, goes back to where the fox is, takes the sheep out of the boat and replaces it with the fox. Once he’s took the fox to the other side, he goes back for the sheep, takes it over and then they’re all across.’‘
Scrub, that makes no sense. At all,’ Dakin said.
‘Perhaps not to you,’ the Riddling Tree smiled, ‘but that is the correct answer.’
The tree put a branch claw in his mouth and pulled out a shining green gem, presenting it to Scrub.
‘Well done, I present you with the Forest Gem of Mebitrus for your quick thinking,’ he smiled. Scrub took the Gem in both hands and admired it, giggling ecstatically. ‘We got it we got it we got it we got it!’ he cheered, ‘Thank you sir, thank you very much!’
‘Alright Scrub no one likes a boaster,’ Dakin grumbled.
‘Perhaps you should take your own advice Dakin,’ Genevieve said, but Dakin had already begun to stomp off through the bluebells, Scrub toddling behind him saying ‘Wait for me! Wait for me!’