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  • Chris Morris

Petri's Plight (Fairy Tale)



Once upon a time, in the days when magic seemed nought but a distant whisper of a memory blowing off with the wind to some forgotten land beyond the stars, a strange little man came to the village of Whippleton.

He rode in a small cart pulled by an ageing grey donkey, which puffed in moody protest as it reached the summit of the hill before the bridge which would take them over the river and into the village. He wore a peculiar blue hat atop his head with a hole that seemed to have been made by the pierce of an arrow. Despite the fair weather, he had a green and yellow scarf wrapped around his neck which trailed all the way down the cart and almost tangled in its wheels below. His face could barely be seen through his thick orange beard and moustache, which sat beneath two eyes which looked barely open. He puffed gently on a pipe as he drove.

‘Hile there, Stranger!’ called a voice to the cart. ‘What business have ye in our fair village?’

The man halted the donkey, which stopped so suddenly he jolted and was nearly thrown from his seat. Adjusting his hat back into position, he looked down at the owner of the voice that had called to him. A tall elderly man with a great white beard which fell down past his knees. He leaned infirmly on a jagged wooden stick and gazed up at the little fellow in the cart.

‘Why, hello!’ replied the man, enthusiastically. ‘My name is Petrorious Penumbulous Perknuckleberry Parthoulous, from the populous city of Pree. But if it pleases you, you may call me Petri.’

The old man chuckled gently. ‘Petri? It does please me so, for I do not think that, given a month of practise (perhaps even two!) that I may be able to remember such a fascinatingly elegant and decorated name such as the one given to thee. And even then, my tongue might be twisted in directions I wish it not to go in the effort of pronouncing it.’

‘And what name do you go by, kind Sir?’ asked Petri.

‘One more modest,’ replied the old man. ‘I am known in this village as Jcvxuwzjk.’

Petri once more nearly fell from the cart at the sound of this old man’s name, which he knew he would never be able to repeat given an entire year of practice.

Excuse me!?’ exclaimed Petri. ‘Are you known as such indeed? By all who dwell here?’

‘If it is easier,’ replied the old man. ‘You may call me Jeckar.’

‘My thanks to thee,’ said Petri, dabbing at his glistening forehead with a small handkerchief.

‘Now on to your business here in Whippleton,’ said Jeckar. ‘For I would hear all of what brings you here today.’

‘Yes, yes…’ said Petri. ‘I come on official business from the Society of Antiquaries of Pree. I am interested in procuring ancient items of historical or cultural significance, for which I am willing to pay the owner a fair fee.’

Jeckar’s head raised up slightly at this. He stroked his long beard thoughtfully and gazed at the little man curiously, but he said nothing.

‘My good Sir,’ said Petri. ‘Thou hast the look about thee which suggests knowledge of where one might find such an object?’

‘I may,’ confirmed Jeckar. ‘But I think you may already have known something of this. Tell me, why did your search bring you here, to the village of Whippleton?’

Petri turned his head once hither then thither, and seeing nobody else close by, lowered his voice upon speaking his next words to the old man. ‘I have heard it told that one of the last great wizards came to settle here. And that he may have in his possession an item or two which clings still to the old magic of days far gone. Have I heard true?’

Now Jeckar leaned close on his walking stick and lowered his own voice to match Petri’s. ‘Yea, and yet nay. A being of great magical might indeed lives in this village, but it is not a wizard; she is a terrible witch who has been condemned to live within the walls of her cottage and to ne’er set foot outside of it as long as the spell which keeps her there holds. T’would take a brave soul indeed to enter there, and to seek any ancient magical items within. Would ye do so?’

‘I would,’ replied Petri upon the instant.

‘Why?’ asked Jeckar.

‘For the glory,’ said Petri. ‘For if I were to return to my Society with an item of such magnificence, my days of bragging would see no end. Tell me, what price would you ask for knowledge of this witch’s whereabouts?’

‘None,’ said Jeckar. ‘If you would but promise me one thing.’

‘Name it!’ said Petri, whose spirit was filled with intrigue and exhilaration.

Jeckar kept his eyes fixed now on Petri’s. ‘I ask only that you remove the witch’s staff. You will know it when you see it, for it is a thing of rare beauty, etched with intricate markings and decorated with old runes from the days of magic. It is the prized possession of the witch, and without it she can ne’er return to her the magical power which was taken from her all those many years ago when she was confined to her dark dwelling. Take this from her and you will have the gratitude and thanks from all within this village and far beyond. No better reward shall we have than this, and no richer the brag you wish for will you find.’

‘Brag?’ said Petri. ‘I shall gloat upon bringing this rare item back to Pree! Tell me only where I might find this witch’s residence, and I shall be in and out as swiftly and stealthily as a fox!’

***

The witch’s house was a small and rickety old thing near the western border of Whippleton. Standing at the top of a small hill, it was circular and made of grey bricks which seemed hastily put together, for they jutted outwards at awkward angles. The roof of the house was shaped just like a witch’s hat but for a small chimney poking out to one side of it. A single window stood half-open, through which Petri could see only darkness.

My goodness! thought Petri. These premises are fitting of one who strikes such fear into folks’ hearts.

But onwards he drove himself on legs as steady as he could command, and very soon he found himself at the open window. He cautiously peered in and could see nothing but a dusty old room with a table and chairs, a barren fireplace and three rats which Petri had frightened and scuttled away into the blackness.

‘Well, Petri my fellow,’ he said to himself. ‘You told the old man you could retrieve the staff and so you must do as you have said, else show yourself as a liar. Or worse, a coward.’

He stepped inside.

The house had a rank odour, as though some old black magic had been brewing of late; the kind that none should speak of aloud for fear that the naming of such dark terrors would perhaps be enough to stir them and bring them to life. Each careful step he took seemed to shake the whole house and strike his ears as though someone was there beside him boxing at them. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see nothing of interest inside this room and knew that he must explore another area.

O, how I hope yonder door veils no hidden evil! he thought. And makes no noise upon its swinging open.

His hope was squashed on at least one account, as the door creaked loudly when he opened it. But he found no evil on the other side; instead his small eyes opened widely as he beheld a sight of great magnificence.

This room was not empty, but filled to the brim with treasures of unimaginable wealth. Perti was almost blinded by the gleam coming from the various ornaments of splendid grandeur. He saw magnificent lamps made from silver, goblets made from gold, and in the middle of it all… the staff.

It was exactly as Jeckar had described it. Tall, intricately patterned, and etched with the magical runes of yore. It leaned against the far wall and shone dimly but warmly in the darkness. Petri did not ponder for long before darting forwards, grabbing the staff and jumping back through the same window he had earlier entered from.

There had been no sign of the witch.

***

Petri found the old man before long, who, upon seeing the staff that the little man carried, wore a smile so broad upon his face that it could be seen easily through his great white beard.

‘Remarkable, my fellow! Remarkable!’ exclaimed Jeckar upon hearing Petri’s tale. ‘What a brave man you are to have entered the witch’s abode!’

‘And how I shall brag upon my return to Pree!’ said Petri, smugly, admiring the beauty of the staff now alighted by the clear sunlight.

‘Pray,’ said Jeckar. ‘Would thee grant me one request before you fly back to your city?’

‘Name it!’ said Petri with a smile. ‘For without you, my friend, I should likely have left Whippleton with nought but a pleasant journey through lands I had yet to venture.’

‘May I hold the staff with my own weathered hands, just once?’ asked Jeckar. ‘For long has the witch terrorised my lands, and it would make my heart soar and sing to just feel the wretched thing once with my fingers.’

Petri felt no inclination to deny the old man, for hadn’t he spoken true of the witch’s staff and where to find it? Hadn’t he given him such a gift to take back to Pree that would see his name spoken on the lips of all who dwelt there?

He handed the witch’s staff to the old man, and upon the instant, was filled with deep regret.

The first thing to happen was that the village around him – save for the witch’s house – vanished. Suddenly he was standing in the wilderness, his own donkey looking around startled, as though it was searching for the source of a horrid and startling sound.

And then the old man was old no longer. He had no sooner grasped the staff when his long beard shrunk to a short black one, his wrinkled face smoothed, and his eyes became not only younger, but wilder and more wicked too. He cackled loudly and pointed the staff towards Petri, who managed the smallest of squeals before he felt himself transformed into a creature of some sort.

‘There you are, my friend!’ exclaimed Jeckar. ‘Now your travelling companion should like you a little better! Two donkeys to keep each other company!’

Petri attempted to protest, but the only sound that escaped his mouth was a shrill and sharp heeeeee-haaaawwwww!!

Jeckar continued to cackle. ‘Thank you, o Petrorious Penumbulous Perknuckleberry Parthoulous from the city of Pree! You have done me a great service. For I am the great wizard, Jeckar the Jubilant! And long have I sought a foolish oaf such as yourself who could enter that dratted witch’s premises to retrieve what is rightfully mine. An old spell declined my wish to enter for myself, but I knew someone would eventually come along who was witless enough to do it for me.’

A fury welled up inside of Petri. He was angry both at the dark wizard and at himself; how could he have been so foolish? Hadn’t he noticed that nobody else seemed to live in this village? Hadn’t he questioned why the old man would not retrieve this treasure himself if it were so powerful and might bring about days of peace simply in the possession of it? Once again he tried to shout at Jeckar, but only made the same sound his own donkey had oft made on their long journeys around these lands.

‘You have served your purpose,’ said Jeckar. ‘Now you may spend the rest of your days consuming shrubs and flicking flies from your back with your tail.’

With the knowledge that what the wizard was saying was true, Petri almost resigned to accepting his fate, when all of a sudden, the witch’s door flung widely open. From it, a woman with wild, frizzy black hair and gleaming green eyes emerged and shouted something that must have been a spell. The spell knocked Jeckar to the ground, who looked up at the woman with palpable fear in his eyes.

‘Ecthenia! You should not be awake!’

‘O, but I am, dear Jeckar!’ said the witch. ‘And you may possess my staff, but I am still more powerful than thee!’

Suddenly, Jeckar sprung up from the ground and aimed the staff at the heart of Ecthenia. Seemingly in pain, she fell to the floor and gasped for air.

‘I would not be so sure of that, my dear!’ gloated Jeckar. ‘As long as this staff is in my hands, I shall hold power o’er you!’

This was all Petri needed to hear. Sprinting forwards as fast as his four legs could carry him (which was very fast indeed), he reached Jeckar, turned his body around and kicked with his back legs as hard as he could. He knocked the staff from the wizard’s hands and the witch caught it. In one swift move, Ecthenia transformed Jeckar into a field mouse before he scuttled away, squeaking nervously as he went.

***

‘I thank thee most kindly, my lady,’ said Petri once the witch had transformed him back into a man again. ‘And I beg your pardon, for I did not see past the deception of the wizard.’

‘Worry not,’ Ecthenia said with a soft smile. ‘You are not the first to be tricked by Jeckar the Jubilant. But I’m afraid I shall have to take my staff back now.’

Petri looked upon the staff, sadly. ‘Yes, I suppose you will, ma’am. And I shall return to Pree with nothing to brag about.’

Ecthenia grinned at this, and patted the little man softly on the shoulder. ‘I wouldn’t say that,’ she said. ‘You’ll have a great tale to tell. And that is more valuable than a silly old magical staff. For a great story may be told and retold, and still there will be many eager to hear it again.’

And so Petri and his donkey left the witch’s abode and followed the moon as it began to rise, which would lead them back to Pree. And Petri sang as they went.

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