Chapter 13 Paying the Toll
“I would have expected this kind of behavior out of a troll, not a griffin!” Princess Nallah declared when the griffin was quite gone.
“You have trolls here, too?” Gina asked.
“I think she’s talking about big, ogre-like troglodytes,” Mr. Anderson suggested. “I don’t think they participate in cyber bullying.”
“I know what a troll is,” Gina declared. “I watch fantasy movies.”
“They are notorious for demanding toll,” Mowbry said.
“Feed me to the griffin,” Jen volunteered.
“No! Categorically, unequivocally no!” her father snapped.
“But I can’t be hurt,” Jen reassured him.
“I’m afraid, Dame Jennifer,” Budrick paused, “you can. Maybe. It is uncertain.”
“What are you talking about, Budrick?”
“Griffins are renowned for their talent dampening qualities. That is why we needed a little boost from your father to be able to construct this camp,” Princess Nallah explained.
“So, Daddy and I face him together,” Jen replied.
“I don’t know if that would work,” Mowbry said. “He was able to boost our talents here because the griffin was not present, only a lingering essence of him.”
“Lingering essence,” Julie pondered, “Do you mean his poo?”
“Droppings, yes, he has probably left his essence all over this part of the forest, and definitely into the pass. We will be hard challenged. A griffin can be quite devastating.”
“This is unacceptable,” Mowbry stated firmly. “We must find another way.”
“There is the pass to the south,” Budrick suggested.
“The one with the dragon?” Princess Nallah asked.
“Well, it is a sleeping dragon,” Budrick said defensively.
“Let sleeping dragons lie, as the old saying goes,” Mowbry grunted.
Julie shook her head. “I’ve always heard it, ‘let sleeping dogs lie.’”
“What’s a dog?” Mowbry asked.
“Like a wolf, but friendlier,” Gina explained.
“Wolves are nothing but people with that moon fetish. They are generally quite lovely most of the time,” Budrick said, confused.
“I guess you don’t have the same type of wolves as we do,” Gina sighed.
“Tunnel, tunnel, tunnel,” said a small voice somewhere near the ground. They looked down until Jen finally located the source of the voice. It was a tiny mole wearing a poorly patched mole-sized top hat.
“Why do you say that?” she bent down and asked him. He looked around to see where the voice was coming from, squinting severely and not seeming to see anybody.
“Are you talking to me?” he asked a nearby weed.
“You said tunnel, tunnel, tunnel,” Jen explained.
“That’s all I ever say,” he told the weed. “That’s all I ever do.”
She shrugged and turned to Princess Nallah. “I thought he was trying to be helpful.”
“He wasn’t trying, but maybe he was helpful,” the princess responded. She turned to her trusted aid. “General Mowbry, do you recall the legend of the ancient dust mines?”
“Dust mines? Oh, yes. I heard about them when I was a boy. What about them?”
“I thought they were somewhere in the black mountains. I think they followed the vein of dust all the way through the mountains.”
“Until the vein was played out,” he responded. “You want to use dust?”
“No,” she answered, “We might be able to go right through the mountains without having to deal with dragons or griffins.”
“There’s one catch to the otherwise flawless plan,” he frowned.
She frowned in answer. “I know,” she said. “We don’t know where they are.”
Mowbry whistled down a robin looking bird, that perched on his finger and cocked his head. Mowbry whistled at it, but with Gina right there, everybody heard what he meant. “Do you have any intelligence where the ancient mines are? They would look like a hole through the mountains.”
“You are way off,” the blue breasted bird whistled back. “You have to fly back over ten trees.”
“Ten trees?” Budrick cried. “We walked right past it!”
“When you say dust mine,” Mr. Anderson inquired, “Are you talking about gold?”
Nallah shook her head. “No, it is a special talent dust. A sprinkle on the head would give anyone the talent of flight. Not really flight, I suppose. More like levitation.”
“You mean, with some of that dust, I might be able to fly into the air like you guys did in our realm using your wings?” Jen asked, a smile of joy spread so wide she gained dimples that nobody had every seen before.
“Well, you wouldn’t exactly soar, but yes, you could move about in the air.”
They started retracing their footsteps, and the near-sighted mole called out a warning. “Not that way!”
They were too busy moving to hear him, and within a few steps Gina was no longer in range for anyone to understand him as he tried to explain, “That way leads to the old mine.”
They found the entrance to the mine along a cliff wall, behind an old tree, which bent and blocked their way. They could see the opening in the rocks, but they could not access it. “Bucspat, can you do anything?” Mowbry asked the old farmer as he ambled.
“Aye, sir. I could grow it some more.”
“That’s no good,” Mowbry muttered. “We need somebody to shrink it. Do we have a shrink, here?”
There was a great discussion throughout the army about somebody talented with shrinking, and nobody claimed any such ability. “Why don’t you just shape it into a door?” Julie asked.
“Of course,” Mowbry sighed. Something about the forest he claimed kept him from thinking clearly. The matter shapers were on the spot and a few moments later, the tree had become a fantastic door on the bottom, which with a pull of the knob, allowed them entrance into the old mine.
As they started to file into the entrance of the dark mine, Julie stepped on a rock just wrong and wrenched her ankle. “Ow!” she squealed.
Jen and Gina and Mr. Anderson all stopped. “Are you alright?” Gina asked.
“I don’t know,” Julie said, leaning against a boulder. She tried to take a step, but as soon as she put weight on it, she hopped off again. “Ow! It’s not alright. I think I’ve got to sit for awhile.”
“It’s okay,” Budrick said. “I’ll stay with her. You go ahead.”
They filed into the tunnel of the mine, leaving Budrick with Julie, and they sat on the boulder together for a short while, watching as the army followed Mowbry and Princess Nallah in single file. “Don’t worry, Miss Julie” Budrick told her. “We will go when you are ready.”
“Thank you, Mr. Budrick.”
“You know what my friends call me?” he asked.
“Buddy? What kind of name is that?”
“It’s what we call our friends, sometimes. And it really makes sense with your name.”
“Actually, they call me Stink Butt,” he said, and Julie laughed. “I think I like Buddy better.”
“Okay, I’ll call you Buddy, and you can call me...” her voice trailed off.
“What do your friends call you?”
Julie looked into his eyes, hesitant to admit what her friends called her. She was not a terribly popular child, and she read a lot of books. She always got high marks in school, so her friends called her “Dweeb.” She didn’t tell Budrick, so she smiled and said, “Julie. Just Julie. Not Miss Julie. If you call me Julie, then we’ll be friends.”
“Okay, Julie,” Budrick smiled.
“Thank you Mister – uh – sorry, Buddy,” she smiled back.
His hand was slowly inching over toward hers, their fingers almost touching, when a strong wind came up. Suddenly an oppression came over Budrick, and a feeling of dread, as it did with all the exposed soldiers. The griffin landed in the clearing just in front of the boulder that Julie and Budrick were leaning against. Those not yet into the tunnel fled into the woods to cower behind tree trunks and boulders. Others pressed against the short cliff face, while yet others tried to hide behind the dry, withered tangles of old bramble. Budrick took off like a rocket into the tunnel knocking aside two who were just about to step inside. Julie found herself on the boulder alone, with no way to run, and nowhere to hide. Her vision of Budrick as her knight in shining armor disintegrated when he left her there to die alone on the rock. He should have been protecting her, but he fled like the most cowardly coward she had ever seen. The griffin roared its terrifying trumpeting squawk, and the ground shook, small rocks dislodging from the mountain and falling here and there.
The leadership was deep into the tunnel, and only the rank and file were threatened. One fairy was brave enough to face the threat. “Now see here, you big bully,” Duchess Landreth said. “We are not crossing your pass, so you have no claim on us.”
Without Gina around, the communication was one way, if it worked at all. The griffin squawked again and a nearby tree toppled over, leaving the three soldiers hiding behind it fully exposed. They again ran for cover.
The Duchess pointed her wand at the angry bird, and it roared a third time right in her face, drenching her with spittle. Secretly she hoped it would be afraid of the wand, since she knew that she had no talent in the griffin’s presence, but it did not phase him at all. Julie knew that the Duchess would be eaten, and she was next.