When Rudwin met Hobbleweed…
Over the hills, down in the valleys, there where the River runs; that’s where the Trolvers live. And where the River turns about a crook, there is a place where trees have been cleared away, and for about half a mile there is a meadow, and the land is covered with rich green grass. Here, in the middle of a field of wild flowers you will see what seems to be the trunk of a huge tree. The enormous trunk has been worn very weary with age and weather, and now, unfortunately, it has become slightly stooped. No branches grow on it instead a strange great umbrella formed by a red canvas flecked with white marks, spread over the top.
It is clear for anyone to see, that this was a giant mushroom.
Once it had been like the mushrooms that might be seen beside a country path; the familiar toadstools that grow in the woods - but old magic had made it grow huge.
What made the mushroom even stranger was that it had a door, a window and a chimney. There was a garden outside, as well, a little wall with a gate around it, and a lane that led through to the front door.
A Trolver lived in this mushroom. His name was Rudwin Milgun.
Rudwin lived in one of the villages outside the Wood, and far away from the Town on the other side of the River. The Trolvers are a small people, when compared to us. In nature they are round and squat, their hands are small and podgy, their legs short and stumpy, their feet are splayed out, and they move slowly. Their heads are triangular, in shape, and ringed by a circle of spiky fur. Their eyes are large, and curious. They wore outfits woven from some green material, and sometimes wore caps or hoods; they lived in the Mushroom Houses, which are known to Trolvers as Stornks. And in their mushroom villages the Trolver communities lived their secretive lives.
They didn’t know about the strange old man called Hobbleweed. He was half tree, a six foot giant with skin made of bark, and he lived alone in the Woods. No Trolver had ever seen him before.
But it came on a singular day in April, the weather being notably fine for that time of the year, when a certain Rudwin Milgun happened, by chance it must be said, upon a sleeping Hobbleweed. Having spent the morning filling his coat pockets with mushrooms for an afternoon supper, Hobbleweed had fallen asleep on a grassy knoll and with his back to a tree he had dozed slowly to sleep.
Yet he still heard little footsteps approaching. It was probably another curious animal, he thought, having a peep at him out of the trees and wondering what he was. But when he opened his eyes to look he saw the three foot Trolver, looking at him with its large curious look out from under the brushwood coverage. Hobbleweed chuckled, to begin with, because the Trolver was without doubt the funniest, and smallest little creature he had ever seen on two legs; and slowly, so not to startle the little man, Hobbleweed stood up. ‘Good to meet you, sir,’ he said, and then he bowed, but in an awkward rusty fashion - before almost falling over again. ‘What a fine day it is, don’t you think?’
So there he was, Hobbleweed; looking thin and stick-like, and almost resembling a scarecrow. From a distance you could have mistaken him for one! He wore this long dark blue coat which went from the chin to the feet; and it was buckled down the middle with golden buttons. There were long heavy boots on his feet as well, and on his head a tatty old hat with a feather sticking out of it. His hair, which was tatty; stuck out from under the brim of his hat like straw.
Most interesting, though, was his skin, for it was gnarled and lined, and looked like the bark of a tree. His nose was like a long twig, with a couple of leaves growing on the end. His fingers, and he had only three of these, were long, like roots. His eyes were green, and had a sparkly and kindly look to them.
‘And who are you then?’ said Rudwin, looking him up, and down and unsure what to make of him.
‘I’m Hobbleweed I am,’ he replied. ‘Good to know you, indeed!’
‘I beg your pardon?’ said Rudwin, with a jump. ‘What sort of a name is that when its around?’
‘Hobbleweed!’ he said, again. ‘And who are you, my small one?’
‘Rudwin. I live not far from here. Tell me, for the sake of interest; are you a traveller, by chance? From where do you hail?’
‘Well now, that’s a difficult one,’ and Hobbleweed tapped his knobbly chin. ‘I suppose I am a traveller, as you put it, yes I am,’ he said. ‘But I don’t really live anywhere. I live nowhere except where I am - I don‘t know if that makes any sense. You see, I go from one place to the other; you won’t ever catch me in the same place for too long. I likes to be on the move! It’s always been my way. Going about place to place! Ha! Would have it no other way!’
‘Well! let me be the first to offer you welcome! What was your name again, HobbleGad was it…?’
‘Weed, that is, Hobbleweed. I find your welcome, very welcome indeed. By gum, I am lost, though. I’ve walked a bit too far out than normal and now I don’t know where I am. I daresay you’re a busy type of fellow, like, too busy to be able to help the likes of me, and I don’t blame you if you were; but you couldn’t show me around, could you? Be awful kind if you could, and maybe wouldn’t be so lost.’
‘Let me introduce you to our village,’ said Rudwin. ‘In fact,’ he said, ‘you can stay for lunch - for tea, even.’
‘Well that sounds a mighty fine idea!’ said he.
‘Then let’s go!’
And so Hobbleweed saw a Trolver village for the first time. If he was honest he didn’t know that it was a village at first. There was nothing in this place that resembled other villages he had seen before; no shops, none at all that he could see, and no houses or normal looking buildings.
But then, the more he began to look, the more he began to see...
‘My word! Look at that!’ he said, for his eye had fallen upon the mushrooms; many of them - a dozen or so here, a dozen or so there, one on its own - rows in their tens, in their twenties; some knotted up like the brambles in old woods - or grown into great clumps. And it must be said as well they were all of abnormally large proportion. Some, as Hobbleweed observed, had grown to be as large as fully-fledged trees.
Strange slate coloured mushrooms - most of them had been covered by bricks and stones. Hobbleweed also noticed that they had windows and doors as well - and sometimes chimney pots.
‘There’re big ain’t they, mind?’ said Hobbleweed, standing back apace to get a proper look at them, and he was almost speechless then. But Rudwin looked at him strangely, and said, ‘What? What are big?’ Having lived here all his life, everything looked perfectly normal to him. He didn’t have the eyes of an outsider, like old Hobbleweed, who of course had never before ever seen mushrooms like these giant things.
‘I mean those mushrooms of yours? Get a lot of them growing around your village do you? I suppose they must get in the way of things?’
‘Ha! My friend! They are the village! Indeed they are!’
In the middle of the village there was a huge tree that immediately grasped Hobbleweeds attention, though Rudwin was ready to just walk right past it; mainly because he saw it everyday after his walks. The huge tree was growing on an island in the middle of a small pond. Little fountains gushed out of the rocks underneath the tree roots. Ducks swam between the lilies and the reeds. Around the pond was a garden, full of flowers, and there were chairs, so you could sit and look at the tree, if you wanted to.
‘That is the Stoomp Tree which you now seem to notice,’ said Rudwin to Hobbleweed. ‘The village grows all around this tree. People say the tree is what gives the village its life, but well, who can say, hey?’
‘Indeed, who can say!’ said Hobbleweed, buoyantly, and then he laughed.
After going only another mile, down a low lane, and over a hill, they saw it finally - A truly admirable country which sprawled wonderfully in front of them with its hills and trees and streams; and Rudwin’s house was there, stood in the middle of it - the largest mushroom you have ever seen! It grew straight out of the ground, and the land around it seemed to grow into it. ‘My Mushroom Mansion,’ said Rudwin, proudly, ‘and I welcome you inside, Hobbleweed.’
Now here they had a very unexpected problem! Hobbleweed was too tall to fit through the door!
‘Here now,’ said Hobbleweed. ‘I’ll try the window!’ and he did, and like the door, he couldn’t get through. In fact, at one stage, he got stuck, and it was some while before he was able push himself back out.
With the day ending, and they having spent most of it trying to get into a house, Hobbleweed was exasperated and finally he said, ‘Looks like I’ve got no choice. I’ll just have to go down the chimney!’
‘You climb chimneys often?’ Rudwin asked him, and he sounded very curious, and also, very serious. ‘Just, by the way you put it, you sounded like you climb chimneys regularly.’
‘Well, there was this time, not long back, when I locked meself in my own house, and I had to…you know, get out somehow, so I climbed up the chimney.’
‘A fine idea,’ said Rudwin. ‘Let’s hope it works now, eh!’
‘If it don’t work then I’m in a bit of trouble my friend! Ha!’ and he laughed.
Hobbleweed was able to fit into the chimney, though it was a narrow fit, but everyone was relieved that it worked. It was quite sometime before Hobbleweed was able to squeeze all the way down and in the end Rudwin had to pull him out of the fireplace by his legs. The proceedings took many hours… When Hobbleweed was finally in the house he couldn’t stand upright, not at any time, and had to sit with his legs pulled against his chest. It was all very uncomfortable and inconvenient, but Hobbleweed didn’t seem to mind. He was jolly to just finally get inside!
Mainly because of the size of the Mushroom, Rudwin’s house was fortunate to have more than just two rooms (this was a different thing from the other Mushrooms, that either had one room, or one room and a half of another).
When you think of the innards of the Mushroom House, try to imagine the inside of a tree that has been hollowed and left to dry for many years. Imagine it afterwards to then be varnished, furnished with a wooden floor, a chimney place, an actual chimney, some chairs - a table as well; shelves with beer barrels, and a set of steps, chiselled in the wood, going up to another room. This was, more or less, how the mushroom house looked from within.
It must also be mentioned that there was a hole in the middle of the main room, and there was a ladder going down to a cave under the ground. There was a reason for this. The cave was used as a storage area, more often than not, they were converted into a pantry for the keeping of food. Everything inside the house was purposely built in a circle going around that hole. The hole in Rudwin’s house could be closed up with a lid - the poorer houses in the village did not have these, so the lid was seen as a type of special edition (the envy of everyone in the village).
Inside, the rooms of the house had a very brown and wooden look. Some parts of the house were a deep brown in colour, and lighted by candles put in little notches in the wall. Other parts of the building were brighter, but this was because there was a window nearby. Moss grew in some places, pungent and green, and in the kitchen there was a fungus ring that made a good stool. The shelves were also pieces of fungus. There was also a little tiny room, called a Cubby Hole, a quiet place to retire to, and watch the rain from the slanted window that had been built above.
But it was to the ceiling that Hobbleweed’s eyes turned, the first thing he looked at when he finally entered the house. Wonderfully carved; years of craftsmanship, no doubt, had formed the curves and grooves, the joining pillars and arches. There was a wonderful, warm, almost moist feeling in the mushroom, and a fine pungent smell of the old wood!
‘Now, I won’t warm a fire up - because no doubt you’ll need the chimney to get out of the house again sometime,’ said Rudwin.
‘Now that is good thinking my friend,’ said Hobbleweed. ‘Good thinking indeed! I wouldn’t have thought of it!’
‘I’ll go and put some lights on, as it will be dark soon, and I’ll bring some food and drink up. If we can’t warm ourselves with a fire we’ll warm ourselves with good beer instead!’
‘You have the day planned very well, my friend!’ said Hobbleweed.
‘Now this is a good beer,’ said Rudwin as he re-emerged from the cellar. ‘They call it Tuxely! Got a bit of old moss in it mind, just above the rim, but then moss has its own taste, as they say. It also helps to form a nice head, as well; as you’ll no doubt take note.’
Hobbleweed and Rudwin clashed drinks. ‘To Hobbleweed!’ said Rudwin, ‘To the expert chimney climber!’
‘Aye! To that indeed!’ said Hobbleweed. ‘Nought wrong with using a chimney you know; comes in handy when you’re too tall to use the door and the window.’
‘Yes, that is true,’ said Rudwin. He took the matter seriously. ‘Too true, in fact,’ he said, supping his beer with grim glint in his eye.
‘I like to add a bit of mud to my beer,’ said Hobbleweed then. ‘I could eat mud just as it is. But I like chalk the most!’
‘Chalk? Really? Who’d a thought, hey?’
‘Ah yes!’ and then Hobbleweed seemed to fall into a dizzy reverie. ‘There’s chalk, and then there’s chalk, you see.’
‘I hear you,’ said Rudwin. ‘I must admit though, Hobbleweed, the thought of eating chalk myself doesn’t sound too good a thing. I’d much rather a bit of plain bread and butter. Can you eat everything, or can you only handle mud and chalk?’
‘Oh, I can eat anything my friend! I just prefer chalk, that’s all. I do like cheese, as well. Yes! There’s nothing better than having a bit of chalk and cheese for supper. Chalk and cheese go together rather well, you know, especially with my mad palate.’
‘And what about music? Do you know any great songs?’
‘I don’t really mind about that sort of thing,’ said Hobbleweed, truthfully.
‘That is the certain one thing you will learn from us Trolvers, Hobbleweed! As you might agree we are not very good at singing songs, but we do like to make music, with our pipes and flutes. Every morning, as you will hear, the little Sips go up into the trees and they play their pipes, and they fill the valleys with their sound. It makes for a wonderful awakening, I tell you. I can say that confidently, even after listening all my life!’
‘I can imagine it must be rather grand.’
‘The winter is the only time they do not go out,’ Rudwin continued. ‘But as spring is here they will be up at the first sight of the sun. I’ll tell you now, our most favourite piece of music is the Song of the Rose.’ There was a pipe in his upper pocket and he took it out and began playing. It had the most wonderful melody; Hobbleweed later wanted to describe it, but he could bring together no words to adequately do so. “It was a sort of eerie, sad tune,” was what he would say, later, when people asked him about it. “It filled your mind with fine dreams. It would move in and out of sound, and then as it seemed to be reaching something, it ended, and it left you with this feeling that there should be more; but you understood that it was over, and you wanted to hear it again.”
‘I don’t play the pipe often these days,’ said Rudwin, when he had finished. ‘Perhaps I should? I don’t know, maybe its about time I started putting my mind towards these things again.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Hobbleweed. ‘There’s plenty of time for all of that.’
‘And I agree,’ said Rudwin, and then the little fellow seemed to cheer up again. Suddenly he said, ‘I like this one as well,’ and he whipped out a flute, and began whistling away at this new tune. It didn’t seem to have as much meaning as the last song, but it was jolly, and reminded Hobbleweed of birds singing in a valley at sunrise. It also reminded him of a busy market - and Trolvers going about their work.
‘There’s one thing, Hobbleweed, that I should like to know.’
‘Aye?’ he said.
‘Where do you come from?’
‘Well, I think I might have mentioned before now that I once used to live in a tree? Well, it’s true. I lived in a most wonderful tree-house. I found it one day while on a walk. Yes! A fine little place it were. It had a door, and a window, and from the inside it was hollowed out, and it had two rooms, one above, and one below. As no one seemed to be living there, I made it my home. Yes, I had a pleasant time there. I did have some troubles to deal with, though, but then that was only so often.’
‘What sort of troubles?’
‘Well, there was this time when I left my room, I decided I wanted to have a stroll, and get some fresh air, but on the way I fell over, and lost my senses. It was some while before I got them back, but then I suddenly realised that I was lost. Completely lost! I was lost for quite a few days before I realised I was still in my own house! Actually, I had locked myself in the cupboard.’
Rudwin laughed - even though Hobbleweed, on the other hand, seemed to take the matter seriously.
‘Then there was this other time I got drunk,’ said Hobbleweed.
‘Oh yes,’ said Rudwin. ‘I’ve heard this one before.’
‘I was paying the Old Swan (that was my local inn back in those days) a visit. I wasn’t going to stay long, but then there was this lovely smell, and I followed it and saw then the most wonderful, and beautiful thing ever. It changed my life!’
‘What was it?’
‘Oh Rudwin! There are no words to describe it, really!’
‘Go on. Try.’
‘Well - I saw a pint of malted Tuxely Ale!’
‘My word! You lucky fellow! I don’t think I have seen such a thing’
‘Not only that, but two of them as well; the second was referred to as the special brew - it apparently having been brewed in apple and moss juice.’
‘I can tell you, my friend, when I saw those two drinks before me it was like love at first sight!’
‘I would say it was more like love at second sight, seeing as there were two drinks! What happened?’
‘Well, I was about to drink my brew, as you do, but I fell out with the local wood cutter. We had a bit of tiddle, and tuffle - that is, we fought each other. I was later banned from the village for it.’
‘What did you do, to upset the wood cutter so much?’
‘Why, I spilt his pint of course. An accident, I assure you!’
‘I got so drunk after that I couldn’t get home again, and I fell in a pond eventually, and then floated down a river, then when I awoke I found that I had been unintentionally adopted by a family of otters, then I was captured by a farmer, put in his field as a scarecrow to help scare the crows; then I was luckily rescued by woodpeckers, and this happened on the day before my own beloved tree-house burned down!’
‘It sounds like you have had a tough old life there, Hobbleweed! Have another drink, my friend! Let us drink in praise instead - To Hobblewed the Chimney Climber! The Beer drinker! The Pint spiller! The friend of woodpeckers!’
‘Aye!’ and Hobbleweed raised his pint. ‘There’s nought stranger than woodpeckers, and I know much of their crafty ways. You see, I was raised by a family of them when I was young.’
‘Good grief!’ Rudwin cried. ‘I do feel sorry for you, Hobbleweed! But you have a good home here. And as much Tuxely Ale as you can think of!’
‘I wouldn’t say that, Squire. You see, if I had all the ale I could think of, we wouldn’t have the sea anymore… we wouldn’t have any land either… You don’t mind me calling you Squire, do you?’
‘Not at all,’ said Rudwin. ‘Here, I’ll tell you what. As you seem intent on staying around, I’ll give you a tour of the land! Tomorrow we will head to the House of Biggen, a nice little house I own someway off from here. I’ll show you some of the sights as we go along. What do you think about that? You can see more of the life in our village, and I get to stretch my legs a little!’
‘Sounds mighty good to me, Squire,’ said Hobbleweed, and they clashed drinks and sang the rest of the day away!
On the Road…
When the time arrived Rudwin put on his coat and hat, and set out.
Hobbleweed was waiting at the bottom of the garden, leaning against a tree and listening to the birds. ‘So, Squire,’ he said, ‘where is it we are headed again? Only, I’ve forgotten!’
‘The House of Biggen, Hobbleweed,’ Rudwin explained, for the second time. ‘It is a fine place, as you will see when we get there.’
‘Very good, Squire!’ said Hobbleweed, who didn’t seem to have really listened to him. ‘You’d better lead on now. I’ll just get us lost if you follow me!’
‘Very well,’ said Rudwin. ‘On we go then.’
By the evening Hobbleweed and Rudwin had gone far in. When they looked back they could still see, far away, the glimmer of a stream, winding through the grass and around the hills; and tucked away in the Leddon Valley, the tiled fields of Banofs Farm, with the old mill standing merrily by itself in the great green sward.
Finally they crossed an old bridge, then took another shortcut through a thicket of hazel.
Once through this they followed the little Butterfly Stream, up to the Cherry Buckle Wood, the evergreen trees here stood calm and peaceful. The floor was covered in bluebells. The day was growing old and the sky was turning a dull green-blue.
Here they decided to have a rest. ‘There might be time for a kip now,’ said Rudwin, rubbing his eyes - and then yawning. ‘Keep watch will you Hobbleweed? I need to have a rest!’
‘I shall do my best Squire, though I shall probably go to sleep myself in a minute,’ and then he stretched, and afterwards actually yawned himself.
There was obviously no point in going any further that day, and so they started a little campfire. Hobbleweed took a large stone with moss on it, and used it as a pillow.
‘Well,’ Rudwin said to Hobbleweed. ‘My first night out in the wild!’ He threw a stick into the fire. ‘We’ve done quite well, I think.’ And he looked up at the skies. ‘Best get this fire going; I reckon it’s going to be a cold one, what say you?’
‘Cold is cold, as they say,’ said Hobbleweed. ‘I don’t feel it.’
Rudwin, who was wrapped up in his cloak, looked at him and said, ‘Yes well, you are very lucky my friend!’
‘Indeed,’ said Hobbleweed. ‘I suppose I am.’
When Rudwin woke the next morning, an hour after the sunlight had begun to shine, he saw Hobbleweed already up, and standing at the edge of the clearing, looking about quite perplexed. He looked a humorous sight, stood there, hands thrust in the pockets of his scruffy old coat, and his straw-like hair sticking out of his hat.
‘Something wrong?’ said Rudwin, rubbing his eyes.
‘Well not really, but there’s something strange here you ought to look at.’
There was a huge tree in the forest that none of them had seen before. Great in size it was. Greater than all the other trees they could see. Its branches were high and they were enormous in their breadth; lamps hung down from them. A mighty trunk the tree also had, with great roots as well. And at the front a red door, which slowly crept open by itself as soon as they had looked upon it.
‘I wonder if there is anyone inside?’ said Rudwin, scratching his chin.
‘I think it would be for the best if we didn’t find out,’ said Hobbleweed. ‘We don’t know much about this tree and I think we would do better to keep away form it.’
‘Really? I never saw you as the cautious sort, Hobbleweed!’ said Rudwin with surprise. ‘I’m going in to have a look, though. Not often that trees magic themselves out of nowhere, is it? I mean, when have you ever seen this before?’
‘Not ever,’ he replied.
‘Then all the more reason to go in, I say!’
The tree was completely hollow on the inside. There was only one room, as well, but there were some steps going down to a cellar; but the door there leading into it was locked.
‘A strange little place,’ said Rudwin, as he looked about in deep thought. ‘I mean - there is nothing and no-one about at all, is there?’
‘Unless we are missing something, I must agree with you Squire,’ said Hobbleweed.
It happened in the moment after he had said that - a fire snapped up in an old hearthstone, and then there was suddenly a table with chairs set around it; and by the door, a person was standing. He must have drifted in while they were not looking. He walked forward, and that was when they saw an old hooded crow, with one claw, perched quite firmly on his one shoulder - and on his other shoulder, curled up and fast asleep, a little green frog.
Rudwin had never seen Bolderdof before, but this didn’t matter, he knew it was him. The Man of the Wood! The green ghost, some liked to call him.
‘This is my home,’ he said. ‘I would like to have invited you in, but you seem to have already invited yourselves.’
Rudwin fell stupid with amazement, and as the door was now securely closed before him, he quickly ran and hid under the table - as there was no space for Hobbleweed the old fool just fell down and buried his head under a rug. ‘If we keep quiet Squire he might not see us!’ he said, in the loudest whisper you could imagine.
‘Please!’ said Bolderdof, calmly, and almost as if he was amused. He took a great chair and chuckled. ‘Take a seat, both of you,’ he said.
Seeing that they had no choice they sat down to the table, and were quiet.
‘What is it that you plan to do to us, now that we are in your power?’ said Rudwin, grimly.
Bolderdof, calmly, moved over and sat down with them. ‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘I just thought it would be a nice idea for us to share breakfast this fine morning.’
So there he was, Bolderdof. The crow on his shoulder, who Rudwin now discovered was called Road’s, flapped down and rapped its beak on the table several times, then flapped somewhere into some shadowy place high up in the ceiling. Bolderdof was dressed up and down in green; wearing a long green robe with leaves growing on it, and on his shoulders living moss, where his frogs (he had another six somewhere, so he said) - liked to sit. And he looked very travel worn. Many of the leaves on his robe were bright and green and still growing, so it seemed; there were others that were brown and old - the fallen leaves of the autumns gone by in lost years. A little under his left shoulder some little flowers were growing; some little mice were peeping up out of his top pocket.
His hair was white, long and straight, but curled above the shoulders. The face was a friendly one; it was clean - had the look of a gentlemen to it. Here, without doubt, was a man who had known long years, and in his time had grown to know patience, and understanding. Here was a man that had been moulded by weather and by poetry. But what was he? It was most likely that he was some offshoot of the gnome race - he had a natural sort of leafy green look about him, attributes all very similar to the gnome people of the East. But still, nothing was certain.
‘Bolderdof?’ said Rudwin, now sitting opposite him. ‘If I recall, Bolderdof could turn up out of nowhere like a ghost! He would appear anywhere in the village, sometimes in the wood! Once even inside someone’s house, and to their great alarm I well remember!
‘They used to say that it was Bolderdof who changed the colours of trees, made clouds move and made the sun shine when moments before it was raining. He used to do tricks, they said, pull dragons out of hats - baby dragons that is, little hatchlings. He’d put them back and then they would vanish again!
‘Of course, I didn’t pay much attention to these old stories. I found them a little far-fetched; too hard to believe, even.’
‘Indeed, and very wise of you,’ he said.
‘What are you?’ said Rudwin, finally, and losing all patience for this elusive man that now held him and his good friend prisoners. ‘I mean, you can easily understand my being curious about all this? You come and go. How is this? What is this place? And how did it appear? And how did you appear as well?’
‘I am a Velunee, Rudwin. There. You know now. I have lived here, in this tree, secretly for many years. I just wanted to wish you luck, that’s all.’
‘Really?’ said Rudwin, doubtfully. ‘That’s very good of you. I don’t really know what this luck is for, but well, I will thank you for it all the same.’
‘Now, I think it’s time for breakfast.’ Bolderdof clapped his hands, and in scuttled several sprightly imps. These imps set about in a lively fashion to array the table with an assortment of spoons, cups, saucers, and then a breakfast, finally, came last of all. A huge hot cauldron, filled completely with custard. They were each filled a bowl, and over it dribbled a rich golden honey from a fresh comb that still had bees buzzing around it.
Bolderdof put the honeycomb by the fireplace and he gave a whistle. Then, to everyone’s bewilderment and fear as well, a huge brown bear walked in. It took the honeycomb for itself, eating it whole, and then curled itself up by the fireplace and slept.
‘Don’t worry about the old bear,’ said Bolderdof, casually.
‘Don’t worry about it?’ cried Rudwin - who stared at the wild creature in terror. ‘How can we not be?’
‘The bear is my pet.’
‘Really? Really! Good grief. A bit of a dangerous pet though, surely?’
‘No, not at all,’ said Bolderdof. Then he looked up and began anew. ‘Now friends,’ he said, in a very vigorous fashion, ‘eat up!’
So they had their breakfast of custard and honey, and afterwards, Bolderdof told them of his plan to lead them to the Main Road, and to the Shelm Wood. ‘A secret and little known path that will cut a day out of your long journey,’ he said.
‘Well that’s awfully decent of you,’ said Rudwin. ‘I suppose you want payment for this?’
‘Yes! I do! Your trust.’
‘You have it, finally, my friend,’ said Rudwin. ‘If only you hadn’t been so secret I would have invited you home before now, and you could have had breakfast with me, instead of the other way round. And I don’t have any dangerous pets, like you.’
Bolderdof laughed. ‘We will have other meetings, my friend,’ he replied.
‘Bolderdof! Before you vanish off somewhere, tell me; are the stories of you, all those strange, but wonderful stories, are they all true?’
‘In a way, I suppose that they are. Maybe one day you shall see! Perhaps I shall give this to you now, a little sign of the things to come. Are you ready for it…?’
‘Well… I suppose…sort of…’
Where he got it from, Rudwin didn’t see as it seemed to just appear, but Bolderdof brought up a yew wand, about four-foot long, wavy and strange looking, and it shone bright at one instant, and it was like it was on fire, and then all light in the tree faded away, and it was dark for a moment. But only a moment, and then the hearthstone sparked alight with a new blue flame, that, before it returned to a normal colour, spat out a great billow with wings and it turned into a bat and flapped up to the rafters and disappeared.
During the wild flurry of excitement Hobbleweed fell completely over and knocked his head - and Rudwin once more dived under the table for cover. Now it was all over he started to crawl back up, and when he was firmly planted on his stool again he looked at the wand and cried, ‘What is that thing - that stick you wield?’
‘This, my friend, is all that remains of the Staff of Tisly!’
The famous Staff of Tisly! Even Rudwin had heard of this legendary stick. ‘I see, well, no I don’t - but my word!’ he exclaimed, too full of surprise to say anything intelligent. ‘How did you manage to do all that? What power is in that wand? I have not seen anything like it.’
‘No power at all, Rudwin. The wand has no power whatsoever. But there was a power at work, indeed, you are right - a great power! But the power that looked to be in the wand, the power that you saw, was really in me… And now I am a few seconds older… a shame!’
He showed them out of the tree house, and journeyed with them by a secret way. They walked for several hours, the sun was shining, and it was late afternoon when they came to the Main Road that led south.
‘Luck to you, Rudwin,’ said the Velunee, finally. ‘You have friends in places you don’t realise, yet. Always remember vigilance my friend.’
‘Vigilance? Why? What’s important about it?’
‘There is a saying in Sullunmoon, the land where I came from “Vigilance is the key to success - without Vigilance, there is only failure.”’ He left them, ominously, in that way. The whole meeting seemed like a dream now, and Bolderdof disappeared, like he had never been there. ‘Did all that happen back then?’ Rudwin asked his tall woody companion, but Hobbleweed only looked at him in a confused way, and said, ‘If I speak the truth about my own thoughts, Squire,’ he said, ‘I really would not know what to say!’