Every Sunday I will drop the businessman in me and put down a piece of fiction… This could be something you enjoy yourself for a bit of escapism, or just read the kids before bed…
Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)
The Witch of the Gate
Bindlebob skimmed quickly round the outskirts of the forest edge. He could see the two boys being carried into the vast wall through a crooked wooden door next to the smaller goblins guard hut and knew that despite his power of invisibility, he would never be able to just walk out across the clearing in broad daylight without being spotted. There were more goblins here than he had ever seen before and they would most definitely notice his footprints in the dusty earth beneath him.
Despite looking terribly stupid, goblins were actually quite bright creatures and expertly cunning when they wanted to be. Bindlebob decided that the best course of action was to try and create some sort of diversion so that he could slip past un-noticed and get closer to the door where the boys had been taken. He had no idea what he could possibly do that would draw their attention for long enough; but he knew that if they were all focussed on one thing then he’d easily be able to get across the courtyard un-seen.
He quickly started rummaging around in the array of coloured leaves that lay before him, until he stumbled across a sharp rock between his feet. Very subtly Bindlebob stooped to pick up the rock, trying to remain as casual as possible, completely forgetting that no one could see him anyway so his covert actions were completely un-necessary. In his mind he was a spy, a shadow dweller who was on a mission of espionage to save his friends and he wasn’t going to be seen by anyone or anything. Then, before he had time to carefully consider a course of action, his impatient nature got the better of him and he clumsily hurled the rock through the air at one of the goblins on the far side of the main gate. The goblin in question was cackling to himself while quaffing away at spider grog, a poisonous, putrid liquid to all but the goblins.
Spider grog was made up of the bodies of dead spiders and birds that had been puréed together into a foul smelling paste, the one thing that all goblins found hard to resist.
Though, despite a moment of merriment on his part, he was swiftly interrupted as the stone from Bindlebob’s tiny hand hit him square in the temple, causing him to squawk in agony as a greenish clotted blood pulsed from the wound. Without hesitation he whirled around and immediately accused the first goblin that he saw. The accused was a sort of rough looking hulk, with huge dark blue skin wrapped around tightly formed muscles, rippling beneath his partial armour chest plate. He stared almost completely without emotion at his accuser as he began to draw his giant sword from its scabbard.
Goblins were notorious for bickering and fighting amongst themselves; after all, this was how they made decisions about things like leadership and who would get the most food, or even treasure, when that was being divided amongst the horde after sacking a village or pillaging a band of travellers. “What do you fink yer doin’ scrag ‘ed?” said the first goblin Fangscuttle, while nursing his temple. “What do ya mean by that stinkpot!?” said the bigger goblin, totally unaware of why he was being targeted. “You it me! And yer gunna pay fer that!” said Fangscuttle, quickly whipping out his blade before his victim had time to draw and driving the cold jagged steel deep into the stomach of the accused, which was followed by a gurgling, spluttering, thud, as the now lifeless figure hit the floor. Bindlebob stood there in a stunned silence, barely able to contain himself following such luck and he watched on as an immense riot began to ensue.
Goblins everywhere were screaming at one another, many of the smaller ones were cut down by their larger allies as they scrabbled about the courtyard trying to defend themselves; the clattering of their weapons and clashing of armour was raw in the air around them. As the chaos erupted before him, Bindlebob was able to gather his senses, realizing that he might not have much time and he picked up a hefty looking stick for protection as he scuttled quickly across the left flank of the courtyard and up to the door, a little surprised that despite the distraction, none of the goblins noticed the stick bobbing up and down in mid air before them.
When he reached the door he tugged hard on the warped brass handle, pushing and pulling with all the might he could muster, but to no avail, the door wouldn’t budge. “I must need a key” he thought as he turned slowly and began to creep towards the guard hut. As he craned his neck around the entrance, Bindlebob could see the small purple goblin dozing away, while seated on a clumsy wooden stool with a large set of keys strapped to his belt, oblivious to what was going on outside. Ever so slowly, Bindlebob crept closer to the goblin, gently raising the hefty stick above his head ready to strike. But before he could attack, the goblins eyes snapped awake and stared eerily at Bindlebob; the stick flew down with a force! Still sitting up straight he lingered briefly in silence almost as if he was unscathed following the incident, this went on to the point that Bindlebob thought he should give him another bash, but there was no need, as after a few long seconds he wobbled slightly and fell off his stool and onto the hard stone floor of his hut, unconscious. The hobgoblin quickly grabbed the keys and ran outside again to the door where his friends had been taken. After failing with several of the oddly shaped keys, he eventually managed to unlock the door and cautiously began to open it. Bindlebob wasn’t sure where the goblins had taken the boys, but he knew he must find them and rescue them. He closed the door behind him and locked it tight so that no one was able to follow him in; he then proceeded along the dark, dank corridor that stood before him.
Almost cavern like in its shape, the corridor was grim, with stalactites encroaching from the ceiling above, lit only by tiny candles hidden in crevices in the walls. The tiny figure continued onward for a while before coming to a corner that led him to his right, revealing a long, winding staircase. “This must be where they went” he thought, as there were seemingly no other doors or hallways that he could make out in the miserable light. He began to move ever so quietly up the stairs; they too were made of stone, just like the walls, but they felt cold and sticky like the slimy skin of the goblins as he almost had to peel his feet from the floor with every step. Bindlebob was still with fear. He knew that while he was invisible no goblins could see him, but something inside him was making him fearful and danger felt too close to remain at ease. As he crept closer to the top of the winding staircase he heard voices growing louder as their owners moved further along the hall towards him. Despite his invisibility, Bindlebob became so nervous that he darted quickly behind a rotting wall hanging so as to be quite sure he wasn’t seen. Then, as the voices were almost upon him, he sneakily poked his head out to see the goblins from the wood strolling leisurely past him and back down the staircase he’d ascended. “What do ya fink she’ll do wiv em?” said Grelbog. “Dunno mate, don’t fancy their chances though” growled Bolrag in response, as they passed down the stairs and out of Bindlebob’s earshot.
Once he was sure that the coast was clear, the hobgoblin gently began to move along the hallway once more. He knew he must be going the right way now, but there was an urgency about his pace as he drove forward, knowing that the boys were likely to be in trouble. He swung fast around another corner, this way to his left and before him stood another staircase. This one was much, much wider than the last one had been and a tattered blue carpet made it look almost grand in the glimmer from the candles against the damp glistening walls. As well as the addition of the carpet, another difference between this as the dingy surroundings he’d passed through on the stairs before hand, was that the steps themselves were much steeper and each very high; it took Bindlebob quite some time to clamber up from step to step with such little legs. Also on the walls around him as he pushed on ascending the stairs, there were hundreds of tiny paintings. Some were of goblins, some were of men, but there were also a number of paintings that represented oddly misshapen animals, far too numerous and grotesque to describe, none the less sending a shiver down Bindlebob’s back. It was a very strange feeling to the tiny traveller, but as he climbed on, they all seemed to be staring in his direction as if they were watching him from their frames. This was somewhat un-nerving to Bindlebob, as he swallowed hard while his stomach bubbled with nervous energy but made a conscious decision to try not to pay attention, as their ghoulish dead eyes followed him up the steps. When he eventually did reach the top he could see a leathery looking door, studded with metallic spikes that jutted out sporadically at awkward angles. Bindlebob pushed himself as close up against the door as he could, craning up on tip toes to push his eye against the keyhole on the left of the doors dramatic Gothic handle. As he did so he discovered that what lay beyond the door was a large room, lightly furnished with a range of tables and chairs, armour statues, wall mounted weapons and to his surprise he could even see the boys. Samuel and William were both hanging from a thick ‘hemp like’ rope that had been bound tight around their wrists; they hung from the far wall of the room.
Bindlebob wondered how he was to help them, but after another quick glance around he realized that he couldn’t see anyone else in there, so drew his small blade from it’s sheathe and decided to try the door. To his amazement it opened with ease and the hobgoblin wondered cautiously through the centre of the room, towards where the boys hung. What Bindlebob hadn’t seen through the keyhole, was that the room was covered from wall to wall with bookshelves; they were brimming with old and tattered books and seemed too far off the ground for any human or goblin to reach. Before him stood a large wooden table with a host of assorted archaic chairs scattered clumsily around it and as his eyes roved around the room he also noticed that one of the walls hosted a thin window, through which he could see out onto a sliver forest and the rocky plains of the Darklands in the distance. As he whirled about in awe he noticed that on the wall behind him, above the entrance was a large antique portrait.
The portrait was of a beautiful young woman wearing a green silken dress and her face looked almost as if it was filled with the deepest of sorrow while he watched on, mesmerised. As Bindlebob stood before him gazing at the portrait, Samuel’s eyes opened slowly to see a host of muddy footprints dotted around the room. “Bindlebob!” he cried. “Thank goodness you’re here; we thought that you’d left us!” “Not to worry smello’s, it takes more than a goblin or two to stop old Bindlebob!” he jeered as he scrambled up Samuels leg and swiftly cut the boys loose allowing them to drop to the floor rubbing their wrists.
Suddenly a voice rose from across the room, filling the air around them with an almost unbearable echo. “Do you think that I can’t see you master gnome?” sneered the voice, from behind Bindlebob. “Do you think that your foolish pixie magic will work on me?” As the three friends looked up at where the portrait was hung, they saw woman, floating before them above the doorway. There was no longer a figure in the portrait, but the woman they saw was not what they remembered from the painting. This woman was not beautiful at all. She was haggard; her face was difficult to gaze upon as it was creased and shadowed with age, almost like her soul was lost and had taken the colour of her life with it. She did indeed wear a green silken dress as the girl in the frame had, but this dress was not as it had been, it was tattered and worn, grubby and gnarled with the ill-keeping of years; tormented as its wearer. The woman had long grey wispy hair and her eyes glowed golden, like the crimson fire of their village as it skipped about and drifted to ash. Samuel and William stared at her, their thoughts beginning to grow black as they saw their father, he was fighting wildly with passion as he was struck in the chest by an arrow and run through with a darkened blade; they saw their mother screaming as she was beaten by a man clad in black armour and loaded into a caged wagon.
The brothers felt weak, recalling how far they’d come, hearts racing against their will, sweat beading across their brows as they felt like they were choking, swallowing their own tongues as they suffered for air, it felt as if death was slowly taking the boys forth into his world of fire and anguish, snatching their lives from about them as a reaper in his corn field. The room had become hazy and distorted as the pair fell to their knees; a scream broke the silence, dragging the brothers from their trance. “Don’t do it smello’s! Don’t look at the eyes; she’s a witch with spells to cast! Don’t look at the eyes!” cried Bindlebob as he thrust the boys to the floor, breaking their gaze. As the last words left his lips, the witch raised a long skeletal finger and the hobgoblin flew immediately across the room and into the far wall by the window with a crunch, falling to the floor into a silent, motionless heap, bruised and bloodied after the attack. “Silence you pathetic little imp! You think you can stop me having my way?” she whirled back around to face the brothers. “You think you’re safe, you think you can escape? No one escapes me! You will go to your death just like all the others!” she cackled. As she grimaced away still cursing them, Samuel and William began to sink into the floor.
What once was stone was now more like a thick concrete and the deeper the boys got, the more their bodies felt as if they were being crushed, as they were slowly enveloped against their will. “William, your sling!” gasped Samuel. “You have to strike her!” William didn’t wait to ask any questions, he quickly removed the sling from his belt and fitted a stone from his pocket into the pouch at its centre. Then, before the Witch could comprehend what was happening, William loosed the stone hard at her face, striking her just above the right eye, leaving her screeching wildly as she fell to the floor. Still reeling from the wound she too began to sink into the floor as it bubbled and slurped away, thick as the quick sands of the northern plains, always eager to feed upon their prey. Samuel had managed to reach out and grasp one of the chairs next to the table and drag himself from the engulfing mass, skipping expertly onto the vast table and reaching out for his brother still struggling before him. William took hold of Samuel’s hand and between the two of them they managed to mount the table.
Without wishing to linger too long as it slowly disappeared into the floor the brothers gingerly jumped off the table and from one piece of sinking furniture to the other until they reached the stone window ledge; then sweeping down to scoop up Bindlebob Samuel realized what awaited them as he looked down from the window at the drop below. It was a very long way down and they were clearly out of options until the faint voice of their injured friend whispered at them, not making much sense but trying to hand something to the boys from one of his pockets. “What is it Bindlebob?” asked William, but the response was garbled, though they thought they heard the word magical before he fell out of consciousness once more.
William opened his hand to show Samuel what he’d received and it appeared to be a small reel of golden cotton. Samuel looked visibly worried “and what exactly are we supposed to do with that?” he exclaimed with a hint of cynicism. “Didn’t you hear him brother, it’s magical” said William as he began to tie one end of the cotton to a suit of armour, the body of which had almost entirely disappeared into the floor. Then he took the reel and threw it from the window, letting it fall further and further until it was out of view. “What are you doing?” cried Samuel. “Trust me” replied William and he started to shimmy down the cotton as if it was the toughest of ropes. Samuel began to follow his brother carefully, with Bindlebob under one arm, navigating his way down the tower and the following wall. The brothers zipped quickly down the golden cotton, surprised at its strength and the soft feeling while clutched in their hands. They could hear the squeal of the Witch as they descended and good natured as the two were, they couldn’t help feeling lifted as she sunk to her death in the chamber above.
When they reached the bottom they saw the most beautiful silvery forest, all of the trees seemed to be made of the purest crystal, twinkling in the light of the afternoon sun as they would sway in the gentle wind from the East. No sooner had their feet hit the ground, the boys ran as fast as they could into the thickets and while a growing feeling of relief began to take over their bodies, the brothers knew that their adventure was once again on the move.