Note: Sequel to Danger in the South Woods.
I sat on my bed, turning my dagger around in my hands, studying the green gems. The green gems that were now embedded in the hilt glinted in the sunlight, just starting to peek through my bedroom window. It was hard to believe everything that happened yesterday. Monsters, benevolent spirits, and other dangers. What could the forest spirit mean that if I could learn how to use these jewels, I could use them to protect Barrie?
"Lexie!" My mother's voice interrupted my musing. "Will you please get a move on? You have to deliver breakfast to the Elder's cottage before it gets cold. You promised you could help me today."
I shoved the knife into my knapsack at her shout. I couldn't risk it being found. I didn't know what my parent's reaction to seeing a jeweled dagger in my room would be, and I don't want to know. Weapons were only for the king's guard. The common folk are not allowed to have weapons. We would get in massive trouble if someone found out I had this. I had to keep it safe.
"I'm coming, mother!" I called, grabbing my knapsack and headed to the kitchen. Mother was at the cooking fire, her back to me, her long graying blonde hair pulled up in a bun.
"The breakfast basket is by the front door, Lexie." She said without turning around. "Please, don't forget that before you deliver the elders' breakfast, you promised to get the twins to school. They are waiting outside."
"I know, Mother, I remember." I fought the urge to roll my eyes and picked up the basket by its handles. It was tied tight with white rope. "I will be home late. I told Tarryn I would help her gather some of the crops from her family's fields. Her dad is ill, you know."
Mother nodded then grabbed something off the table. "Oh, Lex, I forget to put the sugar in the basket." Mother handed me the jar, and I tossed into my bag, "Now hurry up!"
I headed outside, Barrie and Meki were sitting on our garden bench, and they were whispering and jumped at my approach. Meki had her arms crossed and was glaring at Barrie.
"C'mon you two." As we headed towards the village center, I could hear the twins still murmuring back and forth.
"There is no way that happened!" Maki stopped and glared at Barrie, her blonde braids swinging around. "You did not go into the South Woods!"
"I did so!" Barrie gestured at me, "Ask 'Lex. She was there."
"Be quiet!" I glanced about, grateful it was so early, so there was no one around. "Barrie, you know you can't tell anyone about what happened yesterday."
Barrie's blue eyes met my gray ones. "I had to tell Maki. She is my twin. Twins never keep secrets from each other."
I sighed. "Well, we can't change that now. But do not tell anyone else, and you have to make sure Burton keeps his mouth shut too."
Maki was staring at us, her mouth hanging open. "You really went into the South Woods?"
"And there was a monster!" Barrie grinned wildly. "And a-"
"Now is not the time." I shushed them. "Maki, we will tell you everything after school."
Before she could respond or more likely start to argue with me, the school bells began to ring.
"Now, you don't want to be late. Hurry up!" I watched the twins as they ran to get to the schoolhouse before the last bell.
I could only hope they would keep their mouths shut. I was still thinking about the woods when I knocked on the Elders' cottage door.
The door creaked open, showing the tall figure of Elder Darren. He was the youngest of the four elders, and his bushy beard was still as black as night. No signs of graying that would show the age that gave him the title of Elder. He was also by far the kindest of the Elders. Just the thought of having to talk to Elder Kazik made me shutter. He was a mean old man. I didn't really know the other two elders, except their names, Cantu and Jaccard.
"Ah, young Lexie." He smiled down at me. "You are bringing our breakfast today?"
"Yes, sir." I handed him the basket. "Mother was busy today, so she asked me to deliver it."
"You are always such a helpful girl." He reached out and patted my shoulder. "Your parents must be proud of you."
"I must go, Sir," I squirmed out from under his hand, as always he had left his hand lingering just long enough to make my skin crawl. "I promised a friend I would help reap her families' crop."
He waved me off with a smile, opening the basket to see what yummy foods my mother had sent.
I headed off towards Tarryn's farm, I was over halfway there when I realized I had forgotten to give the elders' their sugar. Well, I'm not about to turn around. They will just have to deal, maybe they liked unsweet coffee.
As I drew nearer to Tarryn's family farm, I could see her waving at me from one of the fields. Her red hair shining in the midmorning sun.
"Thanks again for helping 'Lex. With father sick and Janath away at training, Mother and I didn't know how we were going to get everything harvested."
"Your welcome. I don't mind helping at all," I grinned at my friend. "Let's get to work!"
The work passed quickly, and the sun was high above when Tarryn's mom came out with our mid-day meal.
"Tarryn, I need you to run to the village and pick up our order from the butcher." Her mother, Kies told her, once we were done eating.
"Lexie, you have done more than we could ask, head on home, I'm sure your mom could use some help too. Here is some water for your walk home."
Before she went back inside, she handed me a small jug of water for my trip. Making sure the cork was secure, I set it in my knapsack to drink later.
Tarryn was grumbling under her breath as she headed to the village, I got back to work picking the corn I had been working on before the break. I wanted to finish this row before I left. It would also help with my friends' lousy mood if more work was done when she returned from her errand.
"Miss?" A small voice interrupted my thoughts. I looked up from my work and didn't see anyone.
"Down here, Miss." I looked down at the ground, there by my foot was a hedgehog. It was looking up at me, nose twitching. He also had what looked like a small empty blue basket on his back, nestled into his brown spines.
"Did…did you speak?" It must be the heat getting to me. Maybe I should have stopped when told.
"Yes, Miss," The hedgehog nodded. "Please, I need your help."
"A talking hedgehog needs my help?" Now I knew that I had been in the sun too long. That has to be it.
"Yes I do. My name is Thaddeus. Miss Lightfoot, the forest spirit, said you would be able to help me."
Well, I should at least humor the sun delusion. "Help with what."
"Help me get my eggs back!"
I just stared at the spiky creature. "Uhh, Hedgehogs don't lay eggs. "
Thaddeus' nose twitched in irritation. "I found them in the Magic Forest ruins to the north after your King Grisbane ordered it destroyed. I swore to protect them, but now they have been stolen."
"Stolen by who?" The king is destroying magical forests? Why would he do that?
"Gnomes. They were also displaced by the destruction of the Northern Magic Forest. I didn't know they were in the fields here until they took my eggs while I tried to rest. They refuse to give them back. Please help me. Before something happens to my eggs!"
This was obviously not a sun hallucination. "Why would you need my help with that? It's not like I know anything about….gnomes."
"Miss Lightfoot said that you can help me get some honey to trade for my eggs. Honey is all Leedwip will trade for. You must ask the bees to give us some."
"Ask the bees. How am I supposed to do that? It's not like I speak bee."
The little hedgehog's mouth dropped open. "Did Miss Lightfoot not explain? Those gems she gifted you. They allow you to speak to the creatures of the forest. How else could you understand me?"
"How was I supposed to know? Until yesterday I would have never imagined anything being magical. But then I met a glowing forest spirit, so a talking hedgehog could be possible."
"I will explain all the magical things you need to know if you help me get my eggs back." Thaddeus' spines were trembling. "Please, before the gnomes break them."
"I guess I can try to help." I knelt down and lowered my hand, "Traveling will be faster if I carry you." The little hedgehog climbed into my hand, thanking me over and over.
"Thank me after we get your eggs back," I told him as he settled onto my shoulder, his little claws stinging my skin as he tightened his grip. "Now, any idea where we can find a beehive?"
Thaddeus nodded, "There is a hive in the trees at the end of this field."
Of course. The South Woods again. I reached into my knapsack and pulled out my dagger, tucking it into my belt. I didn't know if I would need it, but I felt better with its weight on my hip. Thaddeus said that the gems are why I can understand him, so who knows what else I might need it for.
"The forest spirit told me that I had to learn to use these gems, but I can already understand you."
"The ability to speak to the creatures of the forest is not the only gift those stones give. I promise I will tell you all about that later. After we save my eggs."
That was all I was going to get out of my little pal. So I started towards the edge of the field, stopping right before the woods.
"Why are we stopping?" Thaddeus looked at me as I hesitated to go forward. "The hive is not far from here."
"I was just thinking, don't we need to offer the bees something for their honey?"
Thaddeus' beady little eyes widened "I hadn't thought of that."
"There is a field of wildflowers not far from here."
The little hedgehog groaned. "That is the field where the gnomes are living. If we go there, we risk some more of the gnomes' games."
"It's why they took my eggs. They think it's a game. Pranking people and playing games is just how gnomes are."
Ok, so the field was out. We didn't need to invite any more trouble. What are our other options? No other flowers grew as plentiful around here as that field. We would need something sweet to trade with the bees.
"Sugar. Sugar water." Thaddeus gave me a puzzled look as I dug into my bag and pulled out both the little jar of sugar and the jug of water. "This should work."
Thaddeus's quills vibrated, and he gave me what I assumed to be a smile. "Miss. Lightfoot was right in sending me to you. You are not only brave, but you are also smart and kind."
I quickly mixed the sugar water together and taking a deep breath, headed back into the forbidden South Woods. I never would have imagined that I would enter these woods, never mind twice in two days.
I followed my little passenger's directions and soon found myself at the base of a tree, I could see a giant beehive tucked into the tree's trunk.
"Do I shout for the bees or what?" I asked, looking down at Thaddeus.
He looked up at me, and his quills drooped. "I don't know. I've never tried to speak with a bee."
Great. I sighed and stared up at the hive. How exactly do you get the attention of bees?
"Halt, intruders" There was a tiny bee perched on Thaddeus basket, "Come any closer, and we will be forced to defend our home."
"Uh…Hello, Mr. Bee." First, I'm talking to a hedgehog and now a bee.
Maybe I had just gone crazy. "We would like to propose a trade."
At least the bee seemed to be as startled to hear me as I was to be talking to him. For a long moment, he just sat there staring at me.
The bee buzzed up and landed in my hair. "What do you wish to trade?" I had to stop the instinct to swat at the bee in my hair.
I held up my bottle of sugar water and the container that had held the sugar. "We would like to give your hive this sugar water, in exchange for this container to be filled with honey."
The bee again stood still for a long moment, I could hear faint buzzes and hums coming from him as he communicated with his hive.
"The queen has accepted your trade. Your approach will not be hindered. Leave the sugar water at the base of the tree. Place the requested container by the hive. My brothers and sisters will fill it"
I opened the bottle and placed the items that were requested. I could hear buzzing from deep within the hive, and within a few minutes, there was a steady stream of bees bringing out honey. The container was rapidly filled and placed back into my bag. The bees were gone before I could thank them.
"Well, we have the honey now."
"Now we just need to get my eggs back." Thaddeus's quills were vibrating. "Come on, let's get moving!"
I was more than happy to get out of this place. At least that creature from yesterday seemed not to be around. Maybe it knew I wasn't terrified of it anymore. Or maybe it was dormant during the day. I'll add that to the list of things I need to ask Thaddeus.
"What is the plan when we get to the wildflower field?" I asked my little passenger. "Present the gnomes with the honey, and they just hand over your eggs?"
"That's the hope."
"Hope? I thought you had this all planned?"
Thaddeus's spines lowered, "Gnomes are not easy to negotiate with. I needed the honey before I could even think of trying."
Great. Just great. But I promised to help the little fellow, so I would, no matter how aggravating this got. The smell of wildflowers soon wafted over the hill, and we were at the edge of the field.
I set Thaddeus down, and he paced back around.
"Leedwip!" He called out as loud as he could, "Please, I want to trade!"
He called over and over until his voice broke, and I could hear him start to sob.
"He isn't coming. I will never get my eggs back." The despair in his voice broke my heart.
"Ah, what's the matter, little spiney?" There perched on one of the flowers was what I assumed was a gnome. He looked like a tiny man with a huge bushy beard, he had a yellow hat and cloak on. "Sing a song with me, and be merry!"
"Leedwip!" The relief was plain on Thaddeus's face. "I want to trade for my eggs. I want them back."
"Eggs? Eggs? They make a good snack." The little man hopped down and was eye to eye with my little hedgehog friend.
"You…you ate my eggs!" Thaddeus's eyes bugged out of his face.
"What these?" From what seemed like nowhere, the little gnome pulled out six tiny glittering eggs and started to juggle them.
"Don't do that!" Thaddeus's eyes were locked onto the flying shining eggs. "You will break them."
"You want to trade for these, hmm? What do you have to trade?" he kept the eggs flying.
I pulled the honey container from my bag and showed it to him. It was massive compared to him, almost reaching his waist.
"Ah yes, Leedwip can make some wonderful mead from that. Set it on the ground."
I hesitated. "Give Thaddeus his eggs first." I blinked, and the flying eggs were nestled safely in the basket on Thaddeus's back again. I set the honey down and from out of nowhere, a crowd of giggling gnomes appeared and scampered off with the honey.
"Let's get out of here!" Thaddeus was trying to see behind him to check on the eggs. I picked him back up, and he settled about into his spot on my shoulder.
"Where are you going to go?" I glanced down at my passenger.
"I don't know." His spines lowered again, "I need to find somewhere safe. Somewhere the eggs can hatch in peace."
"What's in the eggs anyway?"
He looked up at me, the little smile on his face again, "I don't know. But I promised to protect them until they hatch. They are all I have of my forest. They are Hope."
"You can stay with me. You promised to teach me about my gems and the magical things of this world." I hope I don't regret this. I hadn't really thought it through, but it seemed like the best solution. I hope. Hopefully, I could convince my parents I need a pet.
His spines were vibrating again. "That sounds great. A safe place for my eggs, and I can uphold my end of our bargain. You have a lot to learn. Miss Lightfoot says that you are going to be very important."