Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you have all survived the daily grind and are looking forward to a nice weekend. As promised, here follows part two of Keepers of the Stones, my very poor attempt at rewriting a short story I wrote when I was only seventeen. If you haven’t already read part one, I suggest that you go back and read that first.
Olwen was alone and frightened. The sapphire she wore about her neck still glowed, but now it was a clear blue. She had wept just once for the loss of her parents, but now she had no use for tears. Olwen was lost, and knew she could not find her way home from the mysterious forest into which she had escaped. She did not know if the dwarves still pursued her, but she didn’t want to wait around and find out. Instead she kept moving, her eyes taking in the scene around her.
The trees in this strange place appeared older than those of her homelands, and her horse’s hoof falls were muffled upon the soft, moss-covered ground. The air was rich with the scent of cypress and damp soil. A mist hung in the air, giving the forest a magical feel. Olwen clutched the reins tightly in her hands. Her lower lip trembled. She was cold and tired and hungry, but had lost her provisions, which were carried by the single pack horse when she and her family were attacked. Though she could not see the sun through the canopy of trees overhead, she sensed it was mid afternoon when she stopped to drink from a clear stream.
Olwen was kneeling by the water’s edge, scooping water into her cupped hands, when she heard a twig snap loudly in the forest. She jolted upright and looked around. Instinctively, her hand went to her sapphire, but it was cool to the touch. There was a sound like the rustling of leaves, and she looked about, expecting something to burst from some hiding place, but she could see nothing.
Slowly, Olwen approached her horse. She was just reaching for the reins when a small figure scrambled out of a patch of brambles, it’s hair disheveled and clad in the furs of small animals. The creature, which she suddenly recognized to be a gnome, had a ruddy complexion and dark, beady eyes.
“Do not be afraid,” the small gnome squeaked. It couldn’t have been taller than two feet.
Olwen was backing away, uncertain of this new creature. Though she had often heard that gnomes were known for their mischievousness, she was, nonetheless, skeptical. “Who are you and what do you want?” Olwen demanded.
The tiny gnome nervously fidgeted and stared down at its booted feet. “Pardon me, Miss, but I was just passing through when I heard a sound and I was curious,” the gnome explained sheepishly, avoiding Olwen’s gaze. “I am called Deri, Miss.”
“Deri,” Olwen repeated, absentmindedly.
“It means oak,” said the gnome.
“I see,” she replied. “My name is–” Olwen faltered, then thinking quickly, gave a false name. “Enfys. My name is Enfys.”
“Nice to make your acquaintance, Enfys,” said Deri.
“Deri, I wonder if you could help me–” Olwen said, coming to a decision.
The little gnome nodded eagerly.
“I’m in a bit of trouble,” she explained. “I need someplace safe to go until I figure out how to get home.”
“You could stay with my family in our village,” suggested Deri, a broad smile lighting up his youthful face.
Olwen thanked the gnome and he led the way to his village in the heard of the woodland. After a while, Deri stopped before a thicket. Olwen looked around, but could see no way through.
The gnome chuckled. “The entrance is here, Enfys,” he supplied, gesturing to a patch of ivy.
Olwen scrutinized the tangled vines doubtfully. Then Deri stepped forward and pushed the ivy aside. Hidden behind was a wooden door, knot designs skillfully carved upon the surface. Deri rapped on the door and almost immediately, it swung open. He grinned at Olwen, who shook her head and followed him through the open door, but no sooner had they entered, when they were confronted by a gnome wearing a fox skull on his head for a helmet and carrying a spear topped with an obsidian spear head, and for armour, he wore armadillo hide. The gnome was only a few inches taller than Olwen’s guide, and clearly much older.
“Deri, you and the elf are wanted in the Willow Hall. Chief Terrwyn awaits your presence,” the gnome stated, his tone commanding. Deri shuffled nervously and cast a sidelong glance at Olwen, who immediately turned on him.
“You tricked me!” Olwen accused, anger flashing in her blue-green eyes.
Deri’s face blanched. “No, Miss!” he insisted. “It was just as I said– I merely chanced upon you in the woods. I have no idea what the Chief could want from us or how he knows of you.”
Before Olwen could retort, the spear-wielding gnome nudged her in the small of the back. “Let’S go, elf,” he barked. “Don’t want to keep the Chief waiting.”
Reluctantly, she allowed the guard to usher her and Deri along the narrow, cobbled lane, passing tiny houses that clustered together. There were even tree houses, some with their front doors built right into the trunk. It occurred to Olwen that she would not fit inside most of the houses she passed.
The guard held up a hand to stop them when they reached the village center, where an enormous willow tree stood sentinel. As they approached, arched double doors swung open to admit Olwen and Deri. She raised an eyebrow at him as they stepped over the threshold to enter the tree.
The interior was much larger than Olwen had expected– a vast open space that served as the Chief’s hall. Small steps protruded out of the walls to ascend in a clockwise spiral up the inside of the tree. The hall glittered with tiny, twinkling lights, strategically placed throughout the tree. On the far side of the circular hall, the Chief sat patiently on his throne, but when he Olwen met his gaze, he gestured for her to approach.
She hesitated, and Deri whispered encouragement. He took her hand and led her forwards. Following his lead, she inclined her head before the Chief.
“Lady Olwen, I have been waiting for you,” said the wizened, old Chief.
…to be continued.