CHAPTER ONE A Sad Goodbye
A fierce wind shrieked down the Green Mountain. It came down the old woman’s chimney with a whooshing sound. Roused by the clang, clang clang of the firebox door, twelve brownies came quickly from their corners, cracks, and holes to close it lest the fire escape and burn down the old woman’s house. That good deed done, they ran into the parlor to check on the old woman.
She grew weaker by the day. Now she slept, or so it seemed, for she lay perfectly still. But why were her eyes open and why could they not see or feel her breath? Had her spirit gone? In answer, while they watched, a swathe of milky mist spiraled out the top of her head. It curled and swirled and soon became a girl child with golden curls and eyes as blue as the summer sky. The brownies drew back in wonder, but the child only smiled and floated gently to the floor.
“See to the fire,” she said, “and oh, if you like, you may finish my puzzle.” With that, the ghostly child became again a fine mist and was gone, while the old woman lay there still. Wishing her a pleasant journey to a world they would never know, the brownies closed her eyes and drew the blanket over her. According to her wishes, they sat round the unfinished puzzle on the table beside her chair and went to work attaching pieces to what had already been done. Blue to blue, red to red, yellow to yellow, and green to green; straight to straight and curved to curved. They had not spoken since they closed the firebox door.
“It doesn’t fit.”
“I told you so.”
“Move over, you’re squeezing me.”
“Look! A fairy!”
The puzzle picture was a garden much like the mural they painted in their cave in Underland. Some of the pieces were missing. Perhaps they had fallen to the floor, but the old woman would never know. Her puzzles were stacked on the floor beside the table. Each had a thousand pieces and bore images of castles, flowers, birds, cats, dogs, clowns, and fairies, and when all the pieces of this one were in place, the brownies hurried back to the kitchen to see to the fire.
It was for the cats she wanted it, to keep them warm ‘til someone came to take them away. They sensed when brownies were around, and would leap to the top of the kitchen cabinets to glower down at what they could not see. Brownies are not fond of cats.
When every brownie had said his last goodbye, they all squeezed under the parlor window, dashed across the dooryard and, before long, were trotting down the gravel road. Only once did they turn around to see the curls of smoke rising out of the chimney. The old woman’s house had now become a home for cats.
The moon had sunk below the trees, and it was dark on the gravel road. To a brownie, darkness is friendly. Like cats, with whom they have little else in common, a brownie can see in the blackest night. So it was they found the rotting trunk beside the gravel road and fell head first into a large round room upon whose walls and ceiling were drawn many red X’s and a large red arrow pointing into a tunnel. The brownies knew it was the way home.
For miles and miles their long feet traipsed the tunnel’s path, beyond and beyond, to the Gate Between the Worlds and thence to Underland, the magical land beyond visible Earth, home to all manner of creatures, some of whom lived in caves, some in holes, and some in crude earthen palaces. Others simply wandered from tunnel to tunnel, leaving the paths littered with their belongings, their footprints, and their smells.
“Goblins were here rather recently I should think,” said a brownie, after he tripped over an abandoned shovel lying crosswise in the middle of the path. “Their smell is strong here, and here is one of their tools.”
“Perhaps a dragon scared it away,” said another.” Goblins often steal from the green snakes. To rob a dragon one must be clever and goblins are not.”
They held their sides, laughing at the picture of a goblin chased by a fiery dragon, but their laughter faded quickly when a worrying thought came into their heads. The worrying thought was that perhaps a dragon might one day be after them.
The brownies’ cave lay at the crossroads of four tunnels, one of which led to the Gate between the Worlds, and the others to remote areas of Underland. Fearwing the dragon lived there once, before accidentally burning himself up and, wishing to be near a crossroads, the brownies chose it for their home. They seldom stayed in Underland for more than a hundred years at a time but, an hundred years, to a brownie is not such a long time..
Immediately upon entering their cave through the hole at the end of the last tunnel, the brownies knew someone or something had been there. Their little stone table and chairs had been turned over, jars of grains and seeds were overturned, and paint pots lay on their sides spreading pools of color. Goblins’ footprints pointed in every direction. They found the dragon’s remains undisturbed and in that the intruders were wise, for the green ember who was once a dragon had been known to spontaneously explode and burst into flames.
The brownies set the table right again, and the not so heavy chairs. Nothing was missing, only disturbed. Had the intruders been robbers they would have taken something. Perhaps they had another reason for being there.
A jar of blue paint had been overturned, and a brownie began mopping up the puddle it made. It is careless to spill good paint, he thought to himself, and very wasteful besides. In mopping up the mess, he noticed something in the puddle that wasn’t paint. It looked like a stone. He took it out of the puddle and when gobs of blue paint had slid off it and it was entirely clean, the brownies gasped and sighed.
It was a beautiful red stone..
“Ouch!” exclaimed the brownie holding it. The stone had burned his hand. He quickly handed it to another brownie who remarked:
“Looks like they forgot something.”
“A nice gem, if one cares for such things,” said another.
“Let’s keep it for while,” said the brownie who found it, while the brownie to whom he’d passed it turned round and dropped the stone into his carryall.
Later, when they were enjoying soup and cookies, they suddenly felt the table move.
“What was that?” said one.
“What?” said another.
“Something’s under the table,” said still another.
Quickly, they jumped up off their chairs and crouched down on their knees to see what was under there. What they saw looked like a little pile of squirming stones.
“Goblins,” said one, with a snarl. “stones are their color, and misshapen as well, but stones don’t wiggle.
“What have you got to say for yourselves?” asked brownie of the wiggling pile.
A small head shot out of the pile. It was a goblin, too frightened to speak. Shortly, another head appeared.
“Oh not, oh not,” said the more courageous of the two. “We is hiding from Greenfire. Please excuse.”
“We won’t hurt you,” said a brownie to the terrified intruders. “We’ll let you go if you tell us what happened. We’ll know if you’re lying too and if you are, we’ll clobber you with what’s left of your tools and throw you into the fire.”
Brownies are not murderers. They would never have done such a thing. But if the goblin lied, they’d have made things very unpleasant for it.
Ordering the goblins to sit in the middle of the table to be kept an eye on, the brownies sat down again and demanded to be told why they were there. This is the jist of what one of the goblins told the brownies:
Not far from this cave, they explained, lives a dragon called Greenfire. One day, while passing by his cave and thinking Greenfire was probably asleep for they heard no sounds, they decided to snatch a few goodies. They would grab something he wasn’t lying on from his pile of treasure. But the dragon was not asleep. One of its eyes, the one they couldn’t see, was open and, just after they’d picked up some shiny stones and were running away, Greenfire arose from his treasure and slithered after them. It was terrifying! Flames shot out of his mouth, and he roared and screeched. The noises he made were terrible. Through one tunnel and another, they’d run for their lives until ending up under the table where the brownies found them. They’d upset things and, for that, they were very sorry.
The goblin had told the truth and they would let them go, but with a warning. Next time they would hit them over the head and throw them into the fire. Needless to say the creatures were relieved to have gotten off so easily and, just in case the brownies changed their minds, lost no time getting out of there.
After the goblins had slithered through the wall, the brownies built a green fire and sat round it remembering previous adventures and, especially, the old woman. But that was not the end of it for, just as they were about to put out the fire, who should come out of the mouth of one of the tunnels, but the two goblins that had just left!
“He comes! He comes,” they shrieked, falling down with fear. Sure enough, the tunnel through which the goblins entered was alive with fire. The hole was small for a dragon but, could possibly be made wider by the fire, so the brownies filled it with the largest rocks they could find.
“Why is it here?” asked a brownie as he tossed a rock into the hole.
“He wants it. He wants it,” the goblins cried, but before the brownie could ask what the dragon wanted, the goblins had disappeared into another tunnel. And what did the brownies do? They strapped on their carryalls and followed after.