A Meeting Of Friends
October 26, 2013 § 4 Comments
A Story For Children
The ancient forest and its creatures made no sound before dawn. The night sky coloured in readiness for the sun, and Felim-dor watched the sharp purple shadows filter through the treetops as they spread in a watery pool on the forest floor.
Ruby the redbreast dozed on Felim-dor’s shoulder as he wove through the forest – silent as the other creatures who knew how to be invisible – in his moss-lined boots. His night’s work done caring for the sick animals at Silberhof Farm, his stomach began to rumble like distant thunder. It was time for a second breakfast before he went home to bed.
His mouth watered as he arrived at the clearing of his birthday tree – the tree where he had been born over a hundred years before – for he knew there would be blackberries for him alone to eat; such were the rules of the forest.
‘Wake up, Ruby. Time for grub.’ The robin poked her head out from under her wing, flew in circles round his head and chattered with alarm. The berries were gone – stripped from the branches by a large and hungry mouth. Ruby flitted to the other side of the clearing and landed heavily on the ancient oak, hopping crossly on one leg and fluttering her wings. Something was cracking twigs behind the oak; something was rubbing against it and making a strange grunting sound. Whatever it was was getting very cross and didn’t care who knew about it.
Gnomes were braver than men, and they were nosier too. Who or what had eaten his blackberries? Felim-dor crept along the edge of the clearing – over the undergrowth and under the overgrowth – until he arrived at the source of the commotion. It was a huge animal with four legs and great furry ears, and it was trying to shake something off its back and getting rather cross. Then it spotted Felim-dor hiding in the thicket. ‘Who and what are you?’ it demanded.
At this greeting, Felim-dor came out of his hiding place bowing long and low until his beard touched the ground. ‘Good morning, sir. But forgive me, perhaps it is madam. I am a wanderer in the forest.’
‘That’s good. So am I. And it is sir,’ said the creature.
‘What kind of animal are you? ‘
‘I am a donkey and they call me Maximillian. Those whom I regard as friends call me Max. And what are you?’
‘I am a gnome, and I go by the name of Felim-dor.’ He bowed again. ‘Sir. I am at your service.’
‘Then please be kind enough to relieve me of my heavy load.’
‘With pleasure, Maximillian.’ And with no more ado he began to remove the logs from the panniers on the donkey’s back.
Maximillian was eager to tell the gnome of his predicament, so Felim-dor stopped what he was doing, settled himself on a log and prepared to listen.
Early that same morning, the donkey had accompanied his owner to the place in the woods where men gathered twigs and fallen branches for their fires – indeed the pannier on his back bore witness to the truth of his words, as well as to the success of the enterprise.
‘But how is it,’ asked Felim-dor, ‘that you come to be here by yourself?’ The donkey explained what had happened. His master, hungry and thirsty after his labours, had stopped by the wayside for his breakfast, but before he had eaten, had taken a long drink. No sooner had he emptied the flask of amber liquid, than he had lain down and fallen into a deep slumber. Maximillian, fearing his master had fallen ill, decided to take a short cut through the forest to get help.
This, as it turned out, had not been very wise; for donkeys, as this one had just discovered, had no sense of direction. ‘A good job you met me then.’ said the gnome. Ruby, not wanting to be left out, twittered in agreement. Maximillian, who was by nature a polite animal when not mistreated, agreed that he had enjoyed remarkably good fortune, but could not help asking quite why this was so. ’Because,’ said Felim-dor, ‘I can climb this oak and find your way home.’
No sooner had he said it than he did it. Up and down in a flash, he told Maximillian he could see the road he and his master had been travelling upon.
‘But can you see my home?’ inquired the donkey.
‘What does it look like?’
‘It has sails.’
‘What. You live on a ship!’
‘No. No, you don’t understand, it’s a windmill. That sort of sail,’ replied Maximillian, beginning to wonder whether he had not fallen in with a rather dim sort of gnome.
A quick repetition of his up and down trick, and Felim-dor was able to supply the donkey with directions home. The problem was, he explained, he had no idea which way was left and which way was right. Ruby spread out her wings in frustration and puffed out her chest.
Felim-dor, like all gnomes, liked to be helpful; but he liked the idea of a second breakfast even more. Nevertheless, it was part of the code of the gnome to offer assistance to those who were lost; and being that sort of fellow, he put the needs of his stomach aside and guided the donkey back to the road.
When they reached the place where the master had fallen asleep, he was nowhere to be seen. Maximillian, who was, truth to be told, still hungry after having eaten Felim-dor’s blackberries, suggested that they should eat the master’s breakfast which was still in the pannier on his back. ‘It will lighten my load considerably,’ he brayed.
The two sat down and devoured the contents of the basket. There were cheeses, grapes and crusty brown bread. It all slipped down very nicely, except the sausages which they both politely ignored. The sun was hot, their stomachs full, and soon they too were fast asleep.
It was the noise of complaining which woke him. Since gnomes blend into the background if they stay still, the person making the noise had not seen Felim-dor, who was able to listen from close quarters.
‘You are one useless donkey!’ screamed the ugly man wearing leather trousers. ‘Get up you useless lump or I’ll have you turned into bratwurst!’
Ruby fluffed herself up in readiness to give him a good pecking, and Felim-dor told him to stop at once.
The man looked very surprised to see Felim-dor. ‘Who and what are you?’
Recounting the story to Maximillian later, he commented on how the man had first fallen silent before swearing he would never drink again. After that he had run off deep into the forest.
Maximillian seemed anxious on hearing what had passed. ‘I don’t want to be turned into sausages,’ he complained.
‘Do not fear,’ replied Felim-dor. My own clan is spread far and wide across this pleasant land. We will protect you from harm.’
‘Thank you, my dear friend. And by the way, please call me Max.’
Felim-dor bowed long and so low that his nose touched his toes, and Ruby flew into the air and glided onto the soft furry spot between Max’s enormous ears.