The World of Stories and Fables Chapter 16

Katy Abbe, Columnist

Without a moment to lose, I sprinted into the hat shop. The strong, dizzying smell of mercury overwhelmed me and I stumbled forward. Jason grabbed onto my hand, preventing me from slamming into the carpeted floor, and helped me steady myself. I wiped my forehead, quickly taking in my surroundings, looking for Max or any sign of Arthur.

Long, elegant tables filled the room, creating rows of multicolored hats. At the end of the room sat a dining table similar to Kouneli’s. On that table, a full fledge tea party was spread out, with cookies and sandwiches of all types lining the middle. Every place was set with teacups and saucers. Behind the table stood Max, who was holding a teapot in his hands.

“Arthur? Is Arthur here?” I cried, rushing to Max.

“Oh, yes, the flilous young knight ate something he shouldn’t have!” Max cried with laughter dancing in his voice.

“Arthur? Is he ok?” I asked, keeping my eyes on the teapot, my heart pounding as I reached him.

“The lad is well, but I’m afraid some of him is missing.” Max smiled brightly as he reached into the teapot.

“What!?” I yelped, feeling my heart drop to my chest. Max pulled his hand out of the teapot, pinching between his fingers the neck of a miniature tunic, which Arthur was dangling from. He was small, but Arthur seemed to be in one piece. He was obviously frustrated, but at least he was safe. My heart fluttered as I let out a sigh of relief.

“Arthur, are you alright?” I held out my cupped hands for him to stand on. Max dropped him, and he slammed into my skin. I felt a flutter of fear rise in my chest as I tried to keep my hand steady. Arthur felt so fragile, so small, I was so scared I would drop him or squish him if I wasn’t careful.

“I’m fine.” Arthur grumbled as he pushed himself up, brushing his tunic. His little feet tickled against my hand and I couldn’t hold back a relieved laugh.

“What is so funny?!” Arthur called, his normally bass voice a pitch higher.

“Nothing, nothing! I’m sorry!” I laughed, shaking my head as I struggled to keep my hands steady. Tears formed in my eyes and I believe a few may have trickled down. “I’m sorry, Arthur, I was just so worried and you’re ok, but small, and you’re so little and cute, and gosh,” I trailed off, crying and laughing uncontrollably. I was so glad he was okay, I couldn’t stop.

Finally, I managed to calm down, holding my hands to my chest in an attempt to keep them steady. I looked down at Arthur, who was waiting patiently, sitting on my hand with his head cupped in his hands. When he was sure I had calmed down, he stood up and asked me if I was going to be alright.

“I’m fine, but I’m sorry we didn’t get here sooner,” I brought my hands up so that we were eye-level. His eyes looked like sapphires, little blue gems of sapphire.  “How did you shrink?”

“I was told I would find you guys here, and while I was waiting I drank something I shouldn’t have.” Arthur explained sheepishly.

“Then, I am afraid that Lady Scarlet Hearts’ rabbit began chasing the tiny lad.” Max chimed in. “The rabbit was only playing, so I saw no need to interfere!”

“The damn thing trapped me in a kettle!” Arthur exclaimed.

“Yes, it was tea time, after all, and the bloke does hate to be late.” Max laughed, “I’m afraid that I mistook your teapot for one filled with tea, but what fun it was, serving a person instead of tea. I gave Lady Hearts quite the fraglight.”

“So, is he going to be stuck like that?” Jason cut in before Arthur could respond, leaning against the table as he looked back at Max. Arthur and I looked up, watching Max eagerly.

“Well that’s his choice! What a question! A riddle I cannot answer!” Max laughed gleefully as he placed the teapot down. He glanced at Arthur and beamed. “Do you know the answer? Oh please tell me you do, I’m so tired of riddles with no answers!”

“If there’s a way to return to my normal size, I would do anything.” Arthur cried from my hands, sounding exasperated.

“Wonderful! Then I have just the thing for that answer!” Max reached over to a plate of small cakes covered in pastel frosting. He held them out to Arthur, but each rectangular cake was longer than him. I shifted my hands gently, nudging him over to my left hand and grabbed a yellow cake with my right.

“This will make him grow?” I asked, inspecting the cake curiously.

“It will!” Max nodded excitedly, “though just a mouthful, or he may get too garlaquin!” I looked down at Arthur, who gave a shrug. I moved the cake to his lips and he steadied the cake before taking a bite. As he chewed, I took the cake away and handed it back to Max, who tossed it over his shoulder. I chuckled at Max before returning my gaze to the steadily increasing weight in my hand.

“Ah!” I cried out as Arthur began growing rapidly. My hand dropped and I tumbled to the floor under his weight. I landed against something firm and soft, and let out a disoriented oof!

“We didn’t think that through.” Arthur’s normal, low voice commented softly. I looked up, inches from his face.

“Arthur!” I exclaimed, wrapping my arms around his waist, rubbing my head against his chest. I could hear his heart drumming rapidly. Thinking he was uncomfortable, I jumped back, blushing a bit as I apologized.

“Sorry, sorry about that, are you alright?” I held out my hand to help him up. He accepted the offer, and together we got to our feet. Our hands lingered a bit, and I wondered why his hands were so cold, when he suddenly broke away, letting his hand fall to his side.

“I’m fine, just a bit dizzy.” He answered, running his hand through his hair. He paused, looking from Jason to me. “I guess we all fell for that man’s tricks. The one with the pomegranates.”

“No, luckily Diane and I had enough sense to not eat food from strangers.” Jason sneered confidently. “She just didn’t want you to leave you like that, so she ate some too, a foolish choice, really.”

“Jason-” I began but Arthur cut me off.

“Wait, Artemis,” He turned to me, his blue eyes glowing fiercely. “You came after me on purpose? You put yourself in danger just to make sure I was alright?”

“Well, yeah, you were the one who put yourself in danger to save me from the wolves,” I frowned, crossing my arms.

“That’s my job!” Arthur exclaimed, “I’m a knight, I have to protect you!”

“Oh? Well I never asked for your help!” I shouted.

“It doesn’t matter! I still have to! It’s my duty as a knight!” He cried angrily. I took a step back, feeling my heart pound furiously in my chest.

“I-!” I began to argue back, but the words caught in my throat and I was unable to continue. Before anything else could be said, I clenched my teeth and stormed out of the hat shop, slamming the door behind me.

“Stupid knight.” I mumbled under my breath as I sprinted down the colorful street. Characters and strangers of all kinds were passing me, chattering and chirping about a festival coming up, or what they had for breakfast, or other random topics that I couldn’t care less about. As I walked, I kept my head low and my focus on the ground.

“Unbelievable.” I continued, hugging myself as I slowed to an amble. It was horrible, I hated feeling like a bother, I hated thinking that Arthur was doing this because he had to, not because he wanted to. I just didn’t want to cause any trouble. If I could take care of myself, I would, but to force others to take care of me was unacceptable.

As I walked into a market area, the smell of roasted vegetables and freshly baked pastries filled my nose. I glanced up, meeting the eyes of a young, beautiful girl with long, silky hair the color of an orange sunset. She caught my gaze and waved with a bright smile.

“Hello there, would you like to sample something? You seem a bit down my dear.” She twittered, her voice sounding as musical as a bird’s. I glanced behind me, thinking it might be best if I stopped moping, but, thinking back to how angry Arthur was, I decided against it.

“I suppose, I don’t have any money though.” I ambled over, scanning her display of pastries, stuffing, and pies.

“That is quite alright, love, here, I have just thing to cheer you up.” She held up a slender finger, signalling for me to wait, and ran over to her display. She took a stick from the corner of the display and dipped it into a jar of sticky, golden liquid. Then, she grabbed a handful of vegetable stuffing, which seemed to contain peas, meat, carrots, and mashed potatoes, and formed a ball on the end of the stick. She turned around and placed the stick of food onto a rack hanging over a fire. I tilted my head.

“Don’t you worry, love, shepherd’s pie on a stick is only cure for a glum face.” She turned back around, beaming gently.

“Shepherd’s pie on a stick?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, It’s a delicacy here.” She smiled. “My husband loves it.” Her smile faltered for a moment, but when the fire crackled and snapped and she quickly whirled around, turning over the stick to roast the other side. She returned her attention to me with her lips curled kindly.

“Tell me love, what’s on your mind?”

“I… nothing really, just frustrated.” I sighed, leaning against her counter, feeling tired and frustrated. “A friend was helping me, and I thought he wanted to help, but it turns out it’s just his job… That makes no sense, huh?”

“Ah, no, my dear, I hear you. Men can be selfish, anyone can. It hurts when you’re in the middle of it.” She cupped her head in her hands, leaning forward. “But you can’t let it stop you. You know-” she paused, sizing me up. “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

“No, my friend ate a pomegranate seed and was pulled here. I came after him, but hopefully we can figure out how to get out of here soon. Not that Trelos isn’t lovely-” I added quickly, “but I have something I need to do.”

“Well, love, I suggest you see my husband- his name is Pluto- and he sells pomegranates and strawberries. Tell him I sent you and he’ll give you and your friend strawberries, which will take you home.” She smiled gently. The scent of roasted vegetables grew stronger and her eyes widened. Quickly, she turned, plucking the stick of shepherd’s pie from the rack and then handing it to me.

“You’re being awfully sweet,” I frowned, taking the stick politely. Cautiously, I nibbled into the ball of shepherd’s pie. Despite being in ball form, it was juicy and warm, with tender meat and vegetables that complimented the smooth potatoes.

“It’s good, right?” She grinned, watching me take another bite. “But as for being sweet, there’s no reason not to be. If someone is down, it’s best to give them something to smile about.

“Now, my husband’s stall is just further past mine,” she continued, pointing down the street. “Grab your friends when you’re ready, and just pop by whenever.”

“Thank you,” I offered a smile, stepping away from the stall.

“Don’t mention it,” she waved before running her hand through her hair. “Stay safe, love.” I nodded before ambling away.

When I made my way back to the hat shop, the sun was just starting to set, casting a pink and orange glow throughout the sky. I nibbled my pie as I watched the sky slowly transition to night and day. There were no stars to be found in the oncoming black, which I attributed to the onslaught of the colorful streetlights that were flickering on.

As I neared the hat shop, I wondered what I would say to Arthur. I felt horrible, everything that had happened to him was my fault. He wouldn’t have that wolf bite if it wasn’t for me, and he wouldn’t have gotten stuck in this upside down town. I should have just dropped the trip and given him a chance to deal with Gilgamesh himself… But… truthfully, I was glad he had come along with me. I was glad to have someone with me, and it upset me that I was a burden.

The sky turned black, and a few specks of red and blue light flickered in the blanket of darkness. I had finished my stick of pie, and looked around for a place to toss the stick. As I walked by a garbage can I threw it in without pausing my sluggish pace. The scent of mercury filled my nose and I knew with a rapid heart beat that I was close to the hat shop. A pair of footsteps running down stone echoed through the street and I began to look up, but before I could, something strong enveloped me.

“Artemis.” Arthur growled, pressing my head into his chest. “What made you think it was okay to run off like that? Idiot.” I raised my eyebrows in surprised, unsure of what to do as he held me tightly, refusing to release me. He smelled of pine, and tea, and then there was something softer, a hint of something musty, almost like a wet dog, but sweeter.

“Diane, what the hell was that? I was looking everywhere for you.” Jason’s voice snarled a foot away.

“We.” Arthur corrected as he pulled away, kneeling a bit to look me over. “We were looking everywhere. Don’t do that, ever again.” He bent to meet my gaze, his crystal blue eyes wide and serious. “We were so worried.” Worried? I bristled, pulling back and crossing my arms defensively,

“I know, I know.” I avoided both of their gazes. “It’s your job to protect people and when they make it hard for you, they make your job harder.” I bit my lip, looking down at the street. The cobblestone walkways really were pretty. Colorful too.

“Artemis,” Arthur began tiredly.

“No, it’s fine, I understand.” I looked up and forced a smile, though I still avoided their eyes. “But I did figure out how to get out of here, we need to find a man who-”

“Sells strawberries.” Jason finished, nodding. “Yes, and we should find him soon, we really shouldn’t leave our bodies in the wilderness.”

“If someone stayed behind we wouldn’t have to worry.” Arthur grumbled under his breath.

“Like I was going to let you both fumble around down here, you obviously needed me.” Jason snapped back. I only shook my head, still feeling a bit upset. Without giving them more time to argue, I started down the street back the way I came. Arthur and Jason followed, both remaining silent, though I could feel both of their eyes on me.

“So, Jason, how do you know so much about this place?” I asked, my voice flat. I didn’t really care at the moment, I just wanted them to stop staring at me.

“Well, when you become the leader of a group of thieves you get around.” Jason responded coolly, “I learned a lot, pretty quickly too. Unlike a knight who stays cooped up in a castle all his life, learning skills that don’t work outside of planned battles.”

“I’d be careful about what you say around a knight, mr. King-of-thieves.” Arthur growled.

“Now, now, don’t you go getting all upset,” Jason said lightheartedly, though I could feel the bite in his voice. He gave Arthur a nudge on his bandaged arm and Arthur let out a startled groan. I winced.

“Can you guys please stop?” I sighed, keeping my arms crossed as I led them down the street. The smell of pastries and roasted items wafted toward me and I felt eager to grab the strawberries and get out of there. The boys quieted again and their footsteps quickened. They tried to match my pace, but I only walked faster. Soon, we made it to a stall with strawberries and pomegranates, all lined up neatly. I was looking around when Arthur and Jason caught up to me.

“Pluto?” I called out curiously, glancing toward the back. A figure emerged from the shadows with a kind old face. Jason and I both let out a gasp; it was the man who enticed Arthur into eating a seed.

“How can I help you, young ones? Not many know my name.” He commented gently, his voice rough and scratchy.

“No, no, no!” Jason grabbed my arm and pulled me back, giving me a hard look. “We can’t trust him.”

“What is wrong with you guys?” Arthur tilted his head, watching us blankly. I guess he didn’t remember Pluto.”

“Nothing.” I shrugged Jason away and moving toward the man. I trusted the girl who gave me the pie, and if he was her husband, Pluto couldn’t be that bad.

“Mr. Pluto? You’re wife sent me, she wants you to give us all a strawberry so that we can go home.”

“Oh?” The old man smiled, his eyes twinkling. “I suppose I could manage, but are you quite sure you’d like to leave?”

“Yes!” Jason spat, glaring at Pluto.

“Shush,” I gave him a nudge before turning back to Pluto. “We had a marvelous stay, but we all have things to do. We may come back later though, to visit again.”

“Of course, of course.” He nodded sagely as he handed us each a strawberry. “They all come back, this isn’t a place one can forget.” He grinned, his smile laced with mischief. I smiled nervously, backing away with strawberry in hand.

“Yes, thank you,” I motioned for the others to follow. “I’ll keep that in mind.” I nodded as I moved further and further away. The old man smiled and waved good-bye, while we quickly slide down the street. Once we were a good distance away, I let out a sigh, looking down at the scarlet strawberry in my hand.

“Ready?” I asked, lifting the berry to my lips. Arthur and Jason nodded, doing the same, and together, we all took a bite.