Once upon a time, there was a very tiny Elf. His name was Snockipants Molar and he lived with his Granny Molar in a very comfortable silver birch.
He’d lived with his grandmother since he was a baby Elf. His mother and father had left home on a very important adventure when he was eight months old and hadn’t been seen since that day. Snockipants had always dreamt that one day he’d take off on his very own adventure and somehow bring them home. Granny Molar and the Elfchief, though, had always told him he was too young for such things; he could think about it again when he was older but as long as he was only an Elfchild, he should do what Elfchildren do: play and learn and grow up. But Snockipants thought about finding his parents every day, rain or shine, until the day came that he was pronounced a fully-fledged Elf. It was a simple ceremony, but very moving. At the end, he was given an instruction by the Elfchief:
“Now is your time. You must choose a quest which will take you away from all you have known and fulfil it. Once you achieve this, you may return and take your rightful place in the silver birch once more. This may help you on your road.”
This was a small golden medallion on a chain. Snockipants thanked the Elfchief and put it round his neck straight away.
Snockipants never had any doubt what his quest would be. He’d been waiting all his life for this. He packed up some food and a spare tunic, pocketed a blade (always carry a blade, the Elfchief said), some clean handkerchiefs and a few other essentials and said goodbye to his grandmother.
“I’ll be back soon, you’ll see.” he said. “And I shall bring mother and father with me.”
Granny Molar gave him the biggest hug ever and watched him leave with tears in her eyes.
“Come home soon.” she said softly as her only grandson walked away from the comfortable silver birch and into the unknown.
Snockipants walked for three days, following the stream eastward. Everything was just as it should be: the sky was blue, the trees were green, the birds were singing, the sun was just right from dawn til dusk and the nights were pleasantly mild. He ate sparingly from his provisions (but didn’t go hungry as Elf travelling food is, famously, extremely satisfying) and he drank his fill from the stream whenever he was thirsty. Finally, he came to a bend in the stream and wondered whether to follow it South or leave its banks to stay on an easterly course.
Just as he was pondering this tricky question, he heard a hiccoughing sound coming from some bushes nearby. At first he thought he should steer clear of it but then he remembered this was a quest and really, if he didn’t investigate strange noises in the woods, he might as well go straight home.
Snockipants cautiously approached the noisy bushes. They were now rustling and moaning as well as hiccoughing and he could swear it sounded like someone crying. He got closer, almost close enough to reach out and push a branch aside, when something small and damp came hurtling out of the undergrowth and landed squarely in his middle, knocking him to the ground! He let out a startled squeal which frightened the small damp thing and they turned into a confused tangle of arms and legs as they each tried to get away from the other.
Finally, they fell apart and landed on their bottoms, breathing hard and eyeing each other up warily.
“Who are you?” asked Snockipants.
“I’m G’noum.” answered the small damp thing.
It was obvious now that it was damp because it had been crying for some time. It looked really miserable.
“Why are you crying?” asked Snockipants. He felt rather sorry for the poor thing.
G’noum stared a moment then said:
“I’m crying because the sun is going down.”
Snockipants looked puzzled.
“Why would that make you cry?” he asked.
“I miss it all night.” replied G’noum.
“Do you cry every night, then?”
“Yes. It’s just so sad.”
Snockipants hadn’t ever met a Sunnerling before but he wasn’t a stupid Elf and realised fairly quickly what was going on. Sunnerlings were well-known for their devotion to the Golden Orb and a natural tendency to clinical depression at night.
“I tell you what,” he said quickly, “I’ve got just the thing.”
“Really?” asked G’noum.
“Oh yes.” he answered. “Look here.”
Snockipants pulled out a tiny firefly torch and lit it.
“See,” he said, holding it out, “a little bit of the sun to keep you company all night.”
G’noum took the torch gingerly and brightened (both physically and metaphorically) as the light hit him.
“It’s beauuuuutiful!” he exclaimed, all thoughts of crying forgotten.
“It’s yours to keep, if you like.” said Snockipants.
“Ooooh,” said G’noum, “thank you so much! Is there anything at all I can do for you in return?”
“Well…” said Snockipants, thoughtfully, “I’d really like to know whether ten years ago you saw two Elves come this way, a woman with a birch-patterned shawl and a man so tall he could touch the sky. They were my mother and father and I’m on a quest to find them.”
G’noum thought for a moment then said:
“I didn’t see them myself but I once heard Lepri Chaun say, about ten years ago, that he’d seen two Elves pass this way. They sounded a lot like the ones you described. I can’t be sure but the ones Lepri saw went East, looking for the edge of the world.”
“The edge of the world?” Snockipants asked. “Thank you so much. I must be on my way. I know I’ll find them soon, so look out for me on the way back!”
And away he went, with G’noum merrily waving his firefly torch goodbye.
Snockipants kept walking East for another three days. It made travelling in the morning hard work because the sun made him squint until midday, so he fashioned a cap using a hawthorn leaf and some sticky sap from a kindly oak. The going was much easier after that and he started to whistle a jaunty little tune to go with his jaunty little stride. He felt really good about his quest: he had a Clue and was travelling in the right direction; surely he would find his parents soon.
It would seem, though, that nothing is ever that easy. Coming up to lunchtime on the fourth day since he’d met G’noum, he was feeling pretty peckish and had just spotted the perfect place to sit down and eat. In a quiet glade, there was a mossy stone in the shade of some lovely wood sorrel and he walked towards it, still whistling his jaunty tune. As he stepped into a small patch of clover right in front of the stone, he heard a whistling sound then something grabbed his leg. He was suddenly flying through the air with a startled squeal (he’d had no idea questing would involve so much startled squealing!) and swinging wildly on the end of a piece of spidersilk rope which was firmly noosed around his ankle.
Snockipants flailed and tried to reach the rope but all his efforts were in vain: he couldn’t bend far enough to reach the knot and, even if he could have, he knew he’d fall straight to the floor once free. Looking down, he realised he was really quite a long way up. Even for an Elf born and bred in a silver birch, finding a way down safely without anything nearby to break his fall was going to be a challenge.
His crazy swinging slowed down until eventually he was just dangling, perfectly still, from his tether. Nothing moved.
“Hello?” he called out. “Is anyone there? I’m stuck in the air. I think there’s been a mistake…”
Surely no-one could have meant to capture an Elf?
“Helloooo?” he called again. “Please can someone help me, I really need to get down! I’m on a quest and I can’t possibly fulfil it from here!”
Some minutes later, which felt like hours to poor Snockipants, he heard a noise from across the glade. Out of the undergrowth came a creature with the head of a cat, the body of a lizard and the hands and feet of a librarian. It tilted its head to one side as it considered its catch. It’s not usual for lizards to shrug but this one apparently had been practicing as it gave a very expressive shake of its shoulders.
“Hello?” Snockipants said tentatively. “Can you please help me?”
“Not likely.” replied the catlizardlibrarian. “It’s lunchtime. Where am I going to get anything as tasty as you before lunch?”
That was a good point. Snockipants didn’t know. He’d heard Elves were pretty tasty and he really didn’t have anything with him which could compete. He didn’t think Elf travelling food was going to cut it, somehow. Then he had an idea.
“Excuse me.” he said.
The catlizardlibrarian had started to make arrangements for Snockipants Soup but looked up politely when he called.
“May I ask your name?” Snockipants continued.
The catlizardlibrarian raised an eyebrow but replied: “Hotta Falonga. Mrs. Pleased to eat you.”
“Pleased to … er … meet you.” Snockipants said. “Mrs Falonga, I know you think I’d make a very good lunch but if you let me down, I can show you where you can get an even better one; and you can keep going back for more! If you wouldn’t mind sharing my lunch – just for today – I promise I’ll take you there!”
Snockipants smiled hopefully at Mrs Falonga as she thought about what he’d said.
“I suppose it’s worth a look.” she allowed eventually. “I can always eat you later if you’re lying.”
Hotta Falonga lowered Snockipants to the ground and untied him. She wasn’t afraid he would run because she knew she was much faster than him. Snockipants took a moment to straighten his tunic then said:
“Right, follow me please.” and headed East.
“How far is it?” asked Mrs Falonga.
“Oh not very far. Not very far at all.” replied Snockipants. “We should be there within the hour.”
He hoped very much that he’d be able to find a good place to put his idea into practice in less than an hour. It seemed likely but he kept his eyes open extra wide just to make sure he didn’t miss the right spot. Mrs Falonga was very friendly when she wasn’t trying to eat him and they chatted good-naturedly as they walked. Even so, it made him nervous to be travelling with her and besides, he didn’t want to delay his quest any longer than he had to. Finally, with the hour almost up, he saw the perfect setting for his idea.
They’d reached a split in the path. One way was clearly the more used one and the other was overgrown and rocky. A little way down the neglected path there was a small, flattish rock and beyond it the land to the left started to slope upwards, forming a bank. Within the bank, there were patches of naked stone at irregular intervals.
“Here we are!” he exclaimed in a jolly sort of tone.
“Here where?” asked Mrs Falonga, suspiciously.
Although Snockipants had never been this far from home in his life, he explained confidently:
“Down that path,” he pointed at the overgrown trail, “there’s a secret cave full of Elves. The only way an outsider can find it is to follow the guiding lights which appear at certain times of the day. The next lot should be there in about five minutes and the only place you can see them from is the Flat Rock.”
Snockipants was very pleased with himself for telling his story so convincingly. Mrs Falonga appeared not to find it in the least odd that he was apparently willing to sacrifice a whole community of his kind but then she didn’t know him at all and couldn’t possibly be aware he’d never do anything of the sort.
“There’s only enough room for one on the Flat Rock,” he continued, “so I’d better wait for you here.”
Hotta Falonga wasn’t about to let this chance pass her by so she eagerly scrambled onto the rock and stared down the overgrown path. Snockipants stood a little way off and made sure he was behind her. She seemed to have completely forgotten he was there, so intent was she on finding this secret cave, and was no longer worried about whether he’d been lying to her.
Snockipants let her wait for a few moments, just to make things look less suspicious, then carefully took out the medallion which had been given to him by the Elfchief. He moved it so that it caught the light and reflected a small round patch of light onto the first naked patch of stone in the slopey bank.
“Look! There it is! I can see it!” cried Hotta Falonga, jumping up and down and pointing excitedly at the trembling disc of light. Not only was she happily thinking of all the Elf Soup she could make but the cat part of her just really liked chasing after anything that moved.
She was so desperate not to lose sight of it that it never occurred to her to look back at Snockipants. With a smile, he moved the medallion again so the disc of light disappeared off of the first patch of stone and suddenly appeared on the next one along.
“Look! There’s another one! They’re going that way!” cried Hotta Falonga again, pointing down the overgrown path.
“You’d better start following them.” suggested Snockipants. “Some of them may take longer to appear than others, you know.”
Still not looking at him, Hotta Falonga hopped down off the rock and started off down the path.
Snockipants let the disc of light hover for while then moved it on. He did this two or three more times and each time, Hotta Falonga moved right along with it, touching it wonderingly. It was getting fainter as it got further away from him and he knew he couldn’t keep it up much longer. He thought, though, that he’d tempted her far enough away that he might have a chance. Suddenly, he covered the medallion and put it back in his pocket. Hotta Falonga didn’t even look back; she was completely absorbed in looking for the next disc of light. She was completely still, absolutely focussed, and Snockipants started to inch away, breath held, watching where he placed his feet very carefully so he wouldn’t tread on any twigs and attract Hotta Falonga’s attention again.
When he thought he was just about out of range, he closed his eyes briefly to hope then opened them again and ran away as fast as he could.
Although he couldn’t have known it, he needn’t have worried. Hotta Falonga was still standing where he’d left her, waiting for the next disc of light. It would be another five hours before she finally gave up and raged in disgust when she realised how she’d been tricked.
In the meantime, Snockipants had put a comfortable distance between them and was well on the way to the next part of his adventure.
The night passed quietly and Snockipants made an early start to make up for the delay Hotta Falonga had caused to his quest. He really hoped he didn’t meet anyone else who wanted to eat him. He found the whole idea very uncomfortable. On the other hand, he had bigger problems than that now. He’d noticed when he sat down to have breakfast that he’d lost a lot of supplies. When he’d run away from the catlizardlibrarian, his bag must not have been quite closed and he knew what was left wouldn’t last him very much longer so he’d have to find more food from somewhere.
The trouble was, there weren’t a lot of markets on the road, which meant he’d have to find a place with people, preferably Elves. Since he’d never been this far from home before and didn’t have a map, deliberately finding anybody at all was going to be tricky – after all, that was why finding his parents was a quest and not a quick trip to the Fairy Pine Fair.
Snockipants decided that the best thing to do was to keep his ears open and hope he caught even a whisper of someone who might be able to help him. He could certainly find a lot of food in the forest but he didn’t want to rely completely on provisions which could spoil quite rapidly. Who could tell where his quest would take him? There might not always be such abundance for the picking.
Even so, he still felt very good about his quest; he continued to whistle his jaunty little tune to match his jaunty little stride, he just whistled it a bit more quietly in case it stopped him from hearing something important.
Before long, Snockipants realised that he could hear something other than his own whistling and the rustle of his footsteps. Every few paces, he heard something which sounded like a tiny bell jangling and sometimes there was another noise very like a person muffling an exclamation of annoyance.
The noises didn’t sound very dangerous but Snockipants felt his heart beat a little faster all the same. If he was very lucky, there was someone nearby who might have food he could buy or know where food could be found. If he was very unlucky, he himself was on the menu again. Surely, though, the God of Quests couldn’t be that cruel? Or, come to that, so unimaginative?
Snockipants decided the best thing would be to lure his unseen follower out into the open. He thought that if they wanted something from him, it only could be one of two things: his person or his bag.
It was nearly midday, so Snockipants found a likely spot to sit down: not too exposed but not too well-hidden, either. He didn’t want his plan to be foiled by too much foliage. He settled into some inviting ground-moss and started to take out his lunch: spratberries he’d collected from a bush he’d found that morning, fresh dew water from an obliging celandine’s leaves and some of the Elfbake he still had left. He’d barely begun when he started to wriggle as though suddenly needing the toilet very badly. He made a show of reluctantly putting down the berry he’d been about to eat and hopped urgently off into the undergrowth, out of sight.
As soon as he was sure he couldn’t be observed, he peered through the leaves until he could see the place where he’d left his things. After a few moments, the bushes to one side of his bag started to move. Snockipants held his breath. Then he remembered to breathe again as it wouldn’t help him in the slightest if he passed out from lack of oxygen.
As he watched, a delicate head pushed cautiously out of a bush and looked warily around. Slowly, a body followed until a whole Fairy was standing in the clearing, looking suspiciously at his belongings and darting quick glances around in case he came back.
Snockipants thought the Fairy was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. She had long, wavy hair the colour of bluebells, pearly-fair skin and her wings shimmered with iridescent colours as they quivered in the sunlight. She was wearing a cleverly-cut dress made from clover leaves and adorned with teeny tiny bells and she was fidgeting nervously with her skirt.
Snockipants, as I may have said, wasn’t a stupid Elf. He worked out straight away that if he wanted to get anywhere near the Fairy, let alone have a conversation with her, he was going to have to be quite stealthy. Judging by how jumpy she already looked, if he made the slightest noise before he was ready he’d lose her for good – and aside from needing to ask her about supplies and whether she’d ever seen two Elves, a woman with a birch-patterned shawl and a man so tall he could touch the sky, he really just wanted to talk to her. He was quite sure that would be enough to make him feel all shiny and if she knew anything useful on top of that, so much the better.
So Snockipants crept through the undergrowth round the edge of the little clearing, hardly daring to breathe (but still remembering to do so as nothing had changed since the last time he stopped) and paying special attention to all of his limbs in case they let him down by doing something stupid, like smacking into a branch or stubbing into a rock. Luck appeared to be with him, though, as he reached the place where the Fairy had emerged without incident. He peered out again and saw that she was now carefully investigating the contents of his bag and had a little frown of concentration which made her even more adorable.
Taking a deep (but quiet) breath, he ran full tilt out of the bush and flung his arms around the Fairy before she could so much as squeak. He had to hold on tight as she squealed and started wriggling like an eel. Also, her wings were tickling his nostrils so he had to make a special effort not to sneeze violently as there’s nothing quite so firmly guaranteed to put paid to a blossoming romance as one party showering the other with the gooey contents of their nostrils.
Once he had his nose under control, he felt it was safe to talk, so he did:
“Please… don’t be frightened… I’m not going to hurt you, I promise! I just want to talk to you! And you can have some of my spratberries if you like!” he got out as quickly as he could.
The Fairy seemed quite struck by his offer of spratberries. Not so much because she found them irresistible but it did seem an odd thing for someone to say if they had evil intentions. Snockipants’ lack of experience actually worked to his advantage for once as it made him sound so terribly innocent the Fairy immediately felt she could trust him quite a lot.
I said she was nervous and beautiful, not a genius.
In any case, she stopped struggling and allowed herself to be placed gently back on the ground. Snockipants still wasn’t quite letting go but at least he no longer had to do his best impression of a boa constrictor.
“Who are you?” the Fairy asked him.
Snockipants cleared his throat and said:
“My name is Snockipants Molar, of the Silver Birch Molars. What’s yours?”
“They call me Amenaloricoldipurnoriddie. I don’t know why. My name’s Cathy.”
Snockipants, whose eyebrows had shot into his hairline halfway through Amenaloricoldipurnoriddie, breathed a small sigh of relief and replied:
“That’s a lovely name. Ever so pleased to meet you, Cathy. I would shake hands but…” he trailed off as he realised the awkwardness of trying to shake hands with someone when you’re already using both arms to hold them captive. Quickly, he changed the subject.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why were you following me?” he asked.
“Well,” replied Cathy, craning her neck to try to talk to his face, “we don’t get a lot of Elves this side of Hotta Falonga and I wanted to know what you were like. You must be very brave and clever not to have ended up as Snockipants Soup! Hotta really likes Elves for lunch!”
Snockipants didn’t know about being brave or clever but he didn’t mind Cathy thinking he was either, so he let the comment pass and said:
“It was really important for me to keep going. I’m on a quest you see and I have to find two Elves: a woman with a birch-patterned shawl and a man so tall he could touch the sky. I really have to find them; I don’t suppose you’ve seen them, have you? They might have passed by here any time in the last fifteen years.”
Cathy managed to wriggle around in his arms until she was facing him. It didn’t occur to him to let her go and besides, she felt very nice where she was. Since she hadn’t raised the matter, he merely waited politely for her to speak.
“That’s odd,” she said, “I don’t know about two Elves, but they sound a lot like Melamei and Scrumblewidge. I’ve never seen anyone as tall as Scrumblewidge and Melamei always wears a shawl with a birch pattern on it. Do you think it could be them?”
Snockipants’ eyes were shining with excitement.
“I really think it could!” he exclaimed. “Where can I find them?”
“They live in the Old Grape Tree by Moongrass Field.”
“Grape tree?” Snockipants questioned. “Grapes don’t grow on trees.”
“I know that.” Cathy replied. “It’s really a vine but it’s so old and grew so big that it looks like a tree.”
“Oh.” Snockipants said. “Is it far?”
“Not really. It’s a bit twisty-turny, though.”
“Do you think,” Snockipants asked tentatively, “that you might show me how to get there? You can have as many spratberries as you like along the way…”
Cathy thought for a moment. Spratberries were, after all, spratberries and not to be sneezed at. Ew.
“Alright then. I’ll take you there, if you like. You might get lost otherwise.”
“Oh, would you?” Snockipants said. “That would be lovely, thank you.”
In fact, the Old Grape Tree really wasn’t that far and, with a sensible set of instructions, it would have been suspiciously easy for him to find it. Cathy, though, wasn’t about to let him out of her sight. Even without spratberries, his quest was far too interesting and besides, he had very nice arms.
Snockipants finally let go of her and she straightened out her slightly crumpled wings while he gathered up his belongings. He decided he could probably find some more food where they were going, too. So, even more determined than before, Snockipants set off once again, sure he was near the end of his quest and happily watching Cathy lead the way.
Snockipants and Cathy walked together along the path which led to Moongrass Field and, shortly thereafter, the Grape Tree. They finished off the spratberries as they went since the excitement had made them both very hungry and besides, it’s very difficult not to finish spratberries.
Snockipants was deep in thought the closer they came to the Grape Tree; this could very well be the end of his quest. He’d never really thought beyond finding his parents but now all sorts of questions were tumbling around in his head. Why did they go looking for the edge of the world? Why did they stop at the Grape Tree? He assumed that wasn’t the edge of the world because surely Cathy would have mentioned something like that. And, most importantly, why did they never come back to him? Or even send a postcard? He’d always rather assumed that his quest would involve not just finding but saving his parents – but what if they didn’t need saving? What if they were perfectly happy where they were and just weren’t interested in him? What would he do then? He could hardly force them to come back to the Silver Birch.
These sorts of unhappy thoughts had never entered Snockipants’ mind before and it made him very quiet. He couldn’t quite muster a jaunty little stride or a jaunty little tune but he kept going determinedly all the same. Cathy walked next to him, equally quiet, and a bit worried that he seemed to be more and more depressed with every step he took. She even gave her bells an extra shake or two to try and snap him out of it but he didn’t even notice.
“Snockipants?” she ventured, eventually.
“Mmm?” he responded absently.
“Is everything alright?” she asked.
“Mmm.” he said.
Cathy didn’t believe him. For one thing, it looked as though Snockipants’ chin was well on its way to a first class row with the floor and for another, his feet were now dragging so much he was leaving dirty great ruts in his wake.
“I don’t believe you.” she said, not unreasonably. Then, “You’re a lying pile of mosquito poo.”
She clapped her hands over her mouth the moment the words were out. For the life of her, she had no idea why she’d said them at all, although they’d sounded right at the time! Luckily, Snockipants appeared to be blissfully unaware, occupied as he was with dragging his knuckles evenly across the forest floor.
Cathy felt around her teeth and lips for an explanation but nothing was out of place. She couldn’t understand it: Cathy was normally the gentlest, nicest fairy you could wish to meet and she certainly didn’t go around calling people lying piles of mosquito poo, whether true or not.
“Well,” she said, “we’re nearly there now so I won’t have to…to…look at your ugly mug for much longer!”
She punctuated this second insult with a smack to the back of Snockipants’ head. Luckily, it only had the effect of speeding him up for a few steps before he returned to his previous knuckle-and-feet-dragging pace. He did grunt but that could have been either acknowledgement of what she’d said or the effort of keeping his chin off the ground – it was impossible to tell which.
Cathy’s face was frozen into a shocked expression at her own uncharacteristic nastiness. It also seemed to her, although she’d only known him a short time, that Snockipants was not the sort of Elf to be miserable for no reason, least of all when he was, very probably, nearing the end of the most important quest of his life.
She thought, and thought hard, for the next ten minutes, every now and then jogging her thoughts along with a poke to Snockipants’ side or a tug on his ear. She could feel herself becoming nastier and nastier and watched Snockipants getting lower and lower the further they walked. When the Grape Tree was only a few steps around the corner, she actually saw tears rolling down Snockipants’ face.
“Don’t cry.” she pleaded, grinning evilly. It was hard work to plead with an evil grin plastered across her lips but she did her best. “It makes your face all splotchy.”
As a matter of fact, it did no such thing but it seemed an appropriately spiteful thing to say.
Just then, she remembered something which would have been, quite frankly, much more useful if she had remembered it earlier and much further away from the Grape Tree (nervous, beautiful, not a genius. I did say.) She remembered that she’d only ever met Melamei and Scrumblewidge at places like the Market or in a tea shop because all the fairies were taught from fairlings never to go near the Grape Tree. The curlier a plant becomes, the greater its power and vines are well-known for their mirroring qualities. That is to say that the nearer one gets to them, the more they bring out the opposite of one’s normal self. So, where Snockipants was normally a cheerful, happy-go-lucky, upbeat sort of Elf, he’d become a miserable, grumpy, pathetic lump; and Cathy’s usual kindness, generosity and compassion were being turned into the meanest, most hurtful and malicious urges.
Luckily, Cathy’s normal self was so inoffensive that the vine hadn’t been able to tempt her to lead Snockipants astray so at least they were still heading in the right direction. She did wonder, though, how the drooling idiot was going to fulfil his quest while in possession of all the gumption of the last dregs of jellied eel in a puking contest.
Just as she was pondering this unflattering – if accurate – idea, they rounded the last corner and the Grape Tree was before them in all its glory. It was enormous, absolutely deserving of its Tree title (of which it was justifiably proud) and the curliest piece of nature to be found anywhere this side of the Argle Nargle. At the bottom, carved into the impressive main stem, was a small door, intricately patterned. There wasn’t just one pattern cleverly made: it was as though the artist had started one pattern, lost interest in it and started another, over and over again. No two sections were alike and it made both Snockipants’ and Cathy’s eyes hurt to look at it for too long.
On the other hand, it seemed likely that this was Melamei and Scrumblewidge’s front door so, if they were to find out whether Melamei was the right woman with a birch-patterned shawl and Scrumblewidge the right man so tall he could touch the sky, they were going to have to get closer and knock.
With an enormous effort, Snockipants turned his head to look at Cathy who was glaring at him as unkindly as she knew how. The glaring made him sad but he was still a determined Elf deep down so he kept looking at her until he felt able to say:
“I think we should knock. Can you please push me over?”
That was the wrong question. Cathy promptly gave him a shove which landed him on his bottom in the dust.
“Sorry.” she smirked.
“S’alright.” Snockipants mumbled. “Drag?” he continued, apathetically.
Cathy obligingly grasped large handfuls of Snockipants’ hair and listened with horrified satisfaction to the low moan which drifted out of his face as she pulled his unresisting body toward the door. It was quite hard work so once they’d arrived, she gave him a quick kick for her trouble before taking his hand in hers, carefully clenching it into something vaguely resembling a fist and beating it quite hard against the sculpted wood. That earned her another moan. She felt that made them even for the time being.
After waiting a moment or three, Cathy decided no-one had heard the knock. It seemed unlikely, given that she’d beaten Snockipants’ hand quite hard against the door, but no-one had answered. It didn’t occur to her that they may not be in. she really wasn’t that bright and besides, it gave her an excuse to be mean again. She used Snockipants’ hand to knock on the door once more, even harder this time, and yelled out at the same time for good measure.
“Oi, sheepbrains, there’s someone at the door! Get your woolly backsides out here!”
That seemed to do the trick as, moments later, the door opened. In the doorway stood a dreamy-looking fairy wearing a birch-patterned shawl. She had a kind face framed by curly hair the colour of purple star thistles and was holding a knife with butter stuck to it.
“I’m sorry, I thought I heard the door but then the pictures in the wood were so lovely, I forgot all about it.”
“Well, that’s stupid.” said Cathy. Which it was, in fairness.
“I suppose it is.” agreed the other fairy.
“Melamei?” grunted Snockipants from his resting place at their feet.
“Yes, dear?” said the fairy at the door.
Snockipants had been lying on the floor all this time, doing his very best to care what was going on. He’d done quite well, he thought, having remembered a special twinkle he’d seen in the Elfchief’s eye when he’d received the golden medallion. He had the feeling the twinkle meant the help the medallion could give him was a bit more special than just reflecting sunlight onto stone so he did the only thing he could still be bothered to do which was thrust it at the fairy who was holding a butter knife in her hand.
Though he wasn’t to know it, one of Melamei’s most deeply ingrained habits, which even the Grape Tree had been unable to dislodge, was that if someone handed her something, she automatically took it, whether she needed it or not. So when he stretched out his hand with the golden medallion, she straight away took it from him. If she’d remembered to either use the other hand or put down the butter knife first, he’d have been a lot less slippery afterwards but a Quest wouldn’t be a Quest without a few drawbacks so the less said about that the better.
The moment her fingers (on the other hand) closed about the golden medallion, it was as though a tiny explosion took place in her middle and her forehead and horizontal rings of dazzling blue light shot out of her. They rippled ticklishly through Snockipants and Cathy before fading into the air.
Nobody had expected that but the moment the last ring disappeared they all felt very much more themselves. Snockipants bounced to his feet with an expectant sparkle in his eyes, Cathy brushed him down softly, murmuring encouragement and Melamei stood in her doorway with an expression of wonder on her face as she gazed at the medallion she was still clutching.
“Snockipants?” she asked, wonderingly, looking up at him. She now had more wonder than she really knew what to do with so she was trying to use it up.
Snockipants was so excited he could barely stand still.
“Yes,” he answered, “I’m Snockipants. I’m looking for my mother and father – do you know them, by any chance?”
“Know them?” she replied, “Well, that’s a good question if ever I heard one. I don’t know about knowing them but Snockipants, I am your mother.” And she enveloped him in a great big hug which felt like birthdays and surprises and love all woven into a snuggly blanket.
“But…but…you’re a fairy! Not an Elf! Not an Elf at all! How can you be my mother?”
Snockipants was starting to benefit from some of the overflow from Melamei’s wonder and was feeling a little light-headed. Not that he minded if his mother was a fairy, he just hadn’t expected it at all. No-one had ever mentioned it while he was growing up.
“My darling boy,” she smiled, “mixed marriages between Elves and Fairies are unusual but not entirely unheard-of; I met your father when he was on his first Quest and it was love at first sight. Speaking of which, we must see if we can find him. We ought to get away from here as quickly as we can before the Grape Tree ensnares us again!”
With that, Melamei gathered her birch-patterned shawl and headed for the other side of the Grape Tree, where Scrumblewidge was frequently to be found.
Melamei led Snockipants and Cathy right round to the other side of the Grape Tree and sure enough, there was an Elf who looked so tall he could touch the sky. At least, he would if he were standing up. Currently, he was lying full length on his belly, concentrating extremely hard on a patch of clover in front of him.
“Scrummy!” called out Melamei. “Whatever are you doing?”
“Looking.” came the answer.
“What for?” she asked.
After a brief pause the answer came from somewhere among the clover leaves: “I forget.”
“Well stop looking for the thing you’ve forgotten and take a look at this, instead.”
Scrumblewidge obediently stood up and seemed to go on forever, dusting his hands off on his trousers as he straightened.
“What’s that, my dear?” he asked.
“Never mind what it is,” she said, not unkindly, “just take it.”
Scrumblewidge held out his hand and, the same as before, the moment his fingers closed around the medallion it was as though a tiny explosion took place in his middle and his forehead pushing horizontal rings of dazzling blue light out of him which rippled ticklishly through the other three. They were more or less expecting it this time, though, so they quite enjoyed it.
“Well cover me in honey and call me sweetie!” exclaimed Scrumblewidge. “That was marvellous! Can I do it again?”
It should be noted that both Melamei and Scrumblewidge had always been remarkably sharp and the influence of the Grape Tree had rendered them unfocussed and forgetful. Scrumblewidge, however, had always been a bit eccentric which would explain his peculiar request. Needless to say, everyone ignored it.
Melamei gestured enthusiastically toward Snockipants and said, “Scrummy, look who’s here! It’s Snockipants, our boy, he’s come to save us!”
A great welling of pride and warmth filled Snockipants when he heard this. It was what he’d always wanted and finally it was here.
“By all the leaves in the forest, I do believe you’re right! He had the medallion I take it? Nothing like a healthy dose of love to save the day! Come here my boy, let me see you!”
And he enveloped Snockipants in a great big bear hug which made him feel as though nothing could ever be wrong again and which emphatically prevented Scrumblewidge from seeing anything whatsoever of his son.
“Right,” said Scrumblewidge, finally letting go and taking a quick look at the young Elf before him, “we’d better get out of here before the medallion wears off. Just a few provisions first.”
As they turned to go back inside for some food to take on their journey, Scrumblewidge noticed Cathy standing quietly off to one side.
“And who’s this?” he asked genially.
“That’s Cathy,” answered Snockipants, “and we’re going to be married.”
He looked at her when he said this, just in case, but she merely smiled shyly at him. She was fairly easily influenced, not easily offended and not at all averse to marrying Snockipants in due course, even if he hadn’t remembered to actually ask her.
Melamei and Scrumblewidge just looked at each other knowingly, remembering the day they met and not at all surprised their son had gone the same way. They welcomed Cathy warmly to the family and went into the Grape Tree.
As soon as they’d gathered enough for the journey home, which didn’t take long, they set off in good spirits but something was bothering Snockipants and eventually he had to ask.
“Mum, Dad…why did you want to find the edge of the world? And did you find it? You don’t need to go searching for it again, do you?”
“Good gracious, son, what gave you the idea that we went searching for the edge of the world?” asked Scrumblewidge, looking quite astonished.
So Snockipants told them how he’d met G’noum the Sunnerling who’d told him what he’d heard Lepri Chaun say ten years before.
“No, no, my dear!” exclaimed Melamei through something which sounded suspiciously like laughter, “We weren’t looking for the edge of the world. We wanted to find a hedge that is curled.”
“Whatever for?” asked Cathy, who was just as curious as Snockipants by this time.
Scrumblewidge harrumphed then said:
“You may have realised that my beautiful wife comes from around these parts. Visiting family is a dangerous pastime, though, when you have to sneak past a catlizardlibrarian in both directions. I assume you met Mrs Hotta Falonga on the way here?”
Snockipants nodded vigorously.
“Exactly. And well done for making it through in one piece, by the way. She does like her Elf Soup – later you must tell me how you did it. Now, you’ve seen what a truly powerful curling plant can do. We hoped to find one powerful enough that if we made it into a gift of some sort it might make her less keen on Potage d’Elfe and therefore make it easier for us to visit the Fairy folk. After all, we thought your grandparents at least might like to meet you.”
“But wait!” cried Snockipants, “We didn’t bring any of the Grape Tree with us! Do you mean to tell me that after everything we’ve been through it was a waste of time?”
He couldn’t believe it. Cathy held on to his arm comfortingly and tinkled her bells but it wasn’t doing much good.
“Of course not,” Melamei reassured him, “how do you think we were caught in the first place? We stayed too long to fashion the gift. By the time it was ready we’d forgotten what it was for, where we’d come from and what day it was. Your father collected it when he picked up the dandelion leaves from the pantry. It’s safely wrapped in five layers of Fairy cloth to make sure we don’t feel its effects and packed in with the boingnuts.”
“Phew!” Snockipants let out a great sigh of relief. “Let’s hope it works, then, because I don’t think she’ll fall for the same trick twice.”
It just showed that he didn’t know that much about catlizardlibrarians as it’s very probable that Hotta Falonga would have fallen for the same trick two, or even three times, however it was a lot riskier than getting her to go off Elf Soup permanently so perhaps it’s just as well.
The days that followed passed in pleasant, uneventful walking, filled with getting to know each other and stories both old and new. Eventually, though, Snockipants recognised the place where he’d tricked Hotta Falonga into going down the curving path and they all paid a bit more attention.
Not that long after, Scrumblewidge, who’d been walking a little ahead, suddenly stopped. The other three stopped behind him and peered down the path to see what they were waiting for.
“See that?” he said.
He was pointing at some leaves in front of them. Snockipants looked a bit closer and decided they definitely looked arranged.
“A trap?” he asked.
“I should think so.” agreed Melamei.
“It does looks quite trap-py.” said Cathy.
Scrumblewidge slid his pack off his back and rummaged around in it for the Grape Tree gift. It was beautifully wrapped in the five layers of Fairy cloth and looked just like a present ought.
“We’re going to have to bait the trap.” he said. “I shall step in with the gift while the rest of you hide over there.”
He pointed to a collection of undergrowth which would make a particularly decent hiding place. Melamei frowned, clearly not thinking much of this idea.
“Dad,” Snockipants interrupted, “why don’t we all hide over there and just throw the gift in by itself?”
“Well,” Scrumblewidge considered for a moment, “it might not be heavy enough to set the trap off on its own but perhaps if we tie it to a rock with a piece of string…? Yes, that might just work. Good thinking, Snockipants.”
Snockipants felt the welling of pride and warmth again and helped his father tie the gift to a rock with some of the string from his pocket.
Once it was secure, all four made themselves comfortable in the particularly decent hiding place and Cathy, who it turned out was a very good shot, was given the task of placing the gift in the trap. She threw it just right and it landed perfectly in the middle of the trap. Instantly, an Elf-sized net closed around the gift and hoisted it into the air where it swung gently to and fro.
There was now nothing else to do except wait but, as it happened, not for long. Hotta Falonga must have been very hungry and keeping a close eye on her traps, as less than ten minutes later she came trotting along the path. She quickly noticed that nothing seemed to be wriggling in the net, which was generally not a good sign, but as it has been seen before the cat part of her was extremely curious and she couldn’t not have looked inside unless her life depended on it – and maybe not even then.
Snockipants, Cathy, Melamei and Scrumblewidge all held their breath as they watched her cut down the net with her extremely sharp claws then cut off the string securing the gift to the rock. She seemed very pleased with the soft Fairy cloth and rubbed it over her nose a few times before carefully peeling back the layers. What she found inside was beautiful: a pendant had been carved from a knot in the main stem of Grape Tree with such tightly curling filigree patterns it almost seemed to ripple with movement and it dangled from a necklet created by weaving together the curliest fragile strands of the Tree’s new growth. The effect was stunning and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. What was stranger still was that she suddenly had an odd craving for dandelion leaves and boingnuts but didn’t really mind. She put on the necklet and immediately felt calmer. She smiled, which wasn’t a pretty sight but better than the alternative.
In the undergrowth, Snockipants, Cathy, Melamei and Scrumblewidge wondered whether it was enough; had the necklet done the trick? Was it now going to be safe for Elves and Fairies to travel across the forest?
“There’s only one way to find out.” said Snockipants out loud.
Before anyone could stop him, he strolled out on to the path and coughed loudly.
“Erm…hello Mrs Falonga. Do you remember me?”
Hotta Falonga did remember him, very well as it happened. Normally, she would have pounced first and gloated after but she was vaguely surprised to notice that she hadn’t even flexed her muscles. Neither could she muster the feeling of wanting vengeance swiftly followed by supper which she’d normally expect after having been made to look such a fool and lose her soup into the bargain.
In point of fact, the thought of Elf Soup made her feel slightly queasy and she wondered what had ever been the attraction.
She suddenly looked very unwell but just to make sure, given that Snockipants wasn’t privy to the sensations churning in Hotta Falonga’s stomach, he thought he’d ask the question which was uppermost in his mind.
“I’m ever so sorry to disturb you; I just wanted to apologise for the mean trick I played on you before. And to ask you if you wouldn’t mind awfully not eating me this time either, please. I plan to be married and it will be much harder to have a wedding if the groom has to be picked out of your teeth.”
“I…urgh…hmpfl…oh, I never want to eat Elf again as long as I live!” Hotta Falonga cried as she dove off heaving into the bushes to share the contents of her belly with the forest floor.
Snockipants, Cathy, Melamei and Scrumblewidge all jumped up and cheered loudly. They’d done it! Hotta Falonga was never going to eat another Elf!
After they’d finished hugging and congratulating each other, they spent a merry few days travelling back to the Silver Birch where everyone was extremely pleased to see them all safely home, especially with such exciting news about Hotta Falonga’s new diet. Snockipants and his parents spent a solid half hour hugging Granny Molar before they could get on with anything else, including introducing Cathy, which activity prompted another round of hugging.
Snockipants had never been happier. He was in love, he’d fulfilled his quest to bring his family back together, he’d proved his Elfhood and even helped his parents to ensure Elves and Fairies could visit each other without fear. The massive party the Elves had thrown to welcome everyone home and celebrate their success was still going on as Snockipants slipped away with Cathy for some spratberries…
…life was good and it was only going to get better.