The Legends of Old Man Gem: The Crystal Mountain and What Followed: A Fairy Tale: I-III
The Hunting King
Chapter I; The Gnome and The King
Once upon a time in the world of Somnii, there lived a great and powerful king in the land of Morda. Now, understand that when I say great, I do not mean this in a moral sense. You will undoubtedly understand why I believe that this caveat is necessary shortly. This king was named Andor, and he enjoyed hunting at which he was admittedly quite good. There were indeed in the histories of Somnii few hunters greater than him.
One day, King Andor was returning from hunting in the woods near his castle when a gnome scurried across the road. Now, Andor’s anger boiled within him for he had had a poor day hunting. In truth, he had failed to catch even a rabbit. His horse, sensing the king’s fury, was already somewhat nervous and jumpy, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that when a short, squat gnome came scurrying across the road, the horse was startled and took fright. Rearing up, it threw King Andor to the ground and then bolted off into the woods. This somewhat embarrassing occurrence did not at all improve King Andor’s mood. He became even more enraged as he climbed to his feet and shouted for his guards to grab the impudent gnome that dared to tread upon the king’s own road. One of his men, realizing that this would be the king’s response, had already grabbed the gnome by the scruff of his neck.
“Here, here, now,” King Andor growled, “what right have you to be scurrying across the king’s road?”
“It is your road, is it?” the gnome replied with an impudent smile.
“Who else’s would it be?” the king growled.
“It truly does amuse me when you short lived humans try to lay claim to things that were here before you and will be here long after you are gone,” the gnome replied. “You neither made the road for it is the dragon riders who made it, nor maintain the road for dragon rider roads need no maintenance. So by what right is the road, which the dragon riders made for all the people of Somnii, yours?”
This impudence from the gnome, of course, did very little to help King Andor’s mood. Roaring like a savage beast, he struck the gnome hard across the face. Then he bellowed, “Who are you to speak to me so?”
“I am he that has walked with the luminaries of the heights,” the gnome replied. “I have spoken and conversed with the wise. I am he that has taught great mages, yet no mage taught me. With wisdom I have guided kings, and with knowledge I have made peasants into princes. Therefore have a care whom you strike for you may not enjoy the consequences.”
King Andor roared in anger, “What plots do the nefarious fairies make against me, gnome, that they send you into my lands. Your kind are not welcome here, and I will hunt every last one of you down.”
“He that is wise would not challenge those greater than himself with such insults,” the gnome replied. “The fairies are not overly concerned with or threatened by you, O king.”
“Take him to the castle,” Andor roared. “I shall have him locked in a cage until he speaks.”
“Many cages have I seen,” the gnome replied. “With air, water, wood, earth, metal, and fire have I been bound, yet man has yet to make the prison that shall hold me. Mark my words, O king, if you seek to hold me, you shall bring grief most ruinous down on your own head. Know in this moment compassion and therefore wisdom, and you and your kingdom may yet be saved. Release me.”
King Andor struck him once more across the face. Then the gnome said, “On your own head be it then.”
The Kind Queen
The guards bound the gnome hand and foot, and after one of them had gone and retrieved the king’s horse, they resumed their journey back to the castle. When they arrived, the queen, whose name was Agnes, came out to greet her husband. Seeing no game with her husband, she at once began to speak words of comfort to him, but even as the kindly words of comfort came to her lips, Andor reached out his hand and struck her hard across the face. “Bring me ale,” he roared, “for I am thirsty.”
As Agnes departed to fetch her husband ale, Andor roared, “Bring me a cage of iron so strong that no man may escape from it. There shall be only one key to it, and I alone shall hold it.”
The guards at once did as they were bid, and they hung the cage from a gallows. Then opening it they placed the gnome inside. The gallows was in the middle of the courtyard, and the sun shone down upon the cage. Then the king in his cruelty did order a fire lit beneath the cage so that the metal would grow hot and torment the poor gnome. When all of this had been done, Andor approached the cage and said in a mocking voice, “I’m sure that this prison will be no trouble for you to escape, O masterful gnome.”
The gnome looked at Andor with sad eyes and said, “Such potential for greatness you had within you, O king, yet you have wasted it on pettiness and on vain ambition. Mark my words, your doom is at hand, though I take no pleasure in it.”
Andor let out a roaring laugh as he turned his back on the gnome. “Keep the fire burning,” he said with a cruel smile. “I want the gnome to suffer for his insolence, and perhaps in time he shall tell me what plots the faeries make against me.” Then he strolled into his keep.
The gnome began to sing softly to himself as he watched the king depart, and if the fire made him uncomfortable at all, he did not show it.
The King's Prisoner
Chapter II: The Gnome and The Prince
Now, King Andor and Queen Agnes had two sons. The elder brother was Geir, and the younger brother Gregers. Geir, having been raised primarily by his father, had become a cruel man given to unseemly fits of passion and anger, whereas Agnes had raised Gregers. Gregers was indeed a gentle lad, who avoided his father’s excesses of passion and anger, but I shall let you be the true judge of his character.
One day, Gregers was out in the courtyard playing with his ball when his brother Geir came out. Smirking, Geir walked up to Gregers and delivered a hard kick to the ball so that it went rolling into the flames of the fire lit under the gnome’s cage. Gregers looked at his brother with a sad face, and Geir merely let out a long laugh. “Go run and tell mommy, little baby,” he said with a cruel smile. Then forming his hand into a fist, he drove it into Gregers’ stomach.
Geir then turned his back on Gregers, and the small sweet Gregers began to cry. Geir laughed. After Geir had departed the gnome said, “Hey, prince, do not cry. Your ball is fine.”
Gregers turned his eyes towards the gnome and saw that the squat little fellow was indeed holding the ball in his hands. “How?” he asked.
“Laddie,” the gnome said, “I’m a gnome. We are known to have a little bit of magic about us as all the fairy races do.”
“My dad says that fairies are nasty creatures always plotting against mankind,” Gregers said. “He says that they are all jealous of us.”
The gnome barked a laugh. “Laddie,” he replied, “most of us fairies are far too busy dancing, singing, talking, or being quiet to actually be doing any plotting. Most of us have very short attention spans. The only fairies you humans ever need to worry about are elves and gnomes. Also what exactly would we be jealous of? Your short life spans? How you seem to spend most of your existence at war with each other? Or how many of you grow up to be bullies? The human condition is not as desirable as you humans sometimes seem to think it is, I am afraid.”
Gregers let out a laugh at that response. “Mom always seems to say things like that,” he said.
“Your mother seems like a very wise individual,” the gnome replied.
“So why are you in the cage?” Gregers inquired.
“Because your father is quite a bit like your older brother, that is to say, he is a bully,” the gnome said with a sad shake of his head. “Sadly, he is the most terrible form of bully, a king and a tyrant, who has turned the once great land of Morda into a land of terror and despair.”
“Then why did you come here?”
“To test your lordly father,” the gnome said with another sad shake of his head. “There was once much that could’ve been great within him. Unfortunately, he has let all such nobility whither and die. Now, I am afraid that I am trapped here unless one would aid me.”
“And you are going to hold the ball ransom for my aid?” Gregers asked.
The gnome tossed the ball back through the bars. “I am not the sort that does that kind of thing,” the gnome replied. “I feel much safer to trust in your own character. All you need to do is get me the key.”
Now, it came to pass the next day that King Andor went forth to hunt with his son Geir at his side. Before he left, he entrusted the key to Agnes, his lady wife. When he had ridden out of the castle gates, the gnome exerted his power over the castle and cast its many inhabitants into a deep, deep sleep. Slowly, Prince Gregers slipped into his mother’s room where she was asleep at her loom, and gently he removed the key from her belt.
Returning with all haste to the gnome, Gregers put out the fire and lowered the cage from the gallows. Then slipping the key into the keyhole, he released the gnome. However, it so happened that Geir had forgotten his favorite hunting crossbow that day, and he would not hear of hunting without it. So the hunting band turned back around and returned to the castle early. As they rode through the gates, King Andor saw his younger son freeing the gnome and let out a bellow, “Seize the gnome and the prince.” But the dextrous gnome dodged the grasping hands and darted out the gate. Prince Gregers was not so fortunate.
That evening, King Andor sat in judgment on his own son, and so great was his wrath and his fury that he found his son guilty of treason for which there is but one punishment, death. Queen Agnes at once came unto her husband’s chambers and pleaded with him for the life of her beloved son, but Andor would not hear of it. The more she pleaded, the angrier he became until at last he struck her savagely across the face and roared, “Trouble me no longer, woman.”
With tears in her eyes, she departed and slipped down into the dungeon where her son was held. It was at this moment that Agnes saw the gnome. “Why are you here?” she asked.
“Because virtue always has its reward, and I have found Morda’s next king,” the gnome replied.
With a wave of his hand, he caused the door to Prince Gregers’ cell to open. “Now, we must away,” he said, “but I promise you this my fair Queen Agnes, I shall see that your son returns to you, for he shall sit on Morda’s throne.”
Good Queen Agnes bowed her head unto the gnome and said, “See that you keep your promise, O gnome.”
Then the gnome and the prince did flee from that place, and Prince Gregers alongside the gnome wandered in the wilds for many a year. Meanwhile, King Andor died, and his son Geir succeeded him to the throne, and he was a crueler tyrant than even his father had been. A woman, before unknown of, also came to be his chief adviser. I must leave this part of the tale now, for great and terrible things were happening not far off in the kingdom of Lithar.
The Silver Wizard
Chapter III: The Crystal Mountain
Years after the prince and the gnome fled the castle, on The Dead Plains in front of The Crystal Mountain, King Asger of Lithar looked over all his knights and lords. His face was that of a man in mourning because his only child, his beloved daughter, had been taken from him by Lady Dagrun the Sorceress of whom there are many tales of woe and terror. She had troubled the world for many a year, and she had set herself against all that was good and righteous. Finally, Asger in his great booming voice said, “You all know why we have assembled here. Lady Dagrun has stolen away my darling Dorothea and imprisoned her on top of The Crystal Mountain. Whoever shall bring her down, to him I will give half my kingdom and the hand of my daughter in marriage.”
The Crystal Mountain had been crafted long ago by the dragon riders. It had been made by the Lord of the Dragon Riders, Ambrosius the Great, as a prison for criminal dragon riders. Anyone, who fell upon it would die. Since the death of the dragon riders, the magic that had been used in its making had began to seep out into the plains around so that nothing could grow upon them.
Many knights and lords tried to ride up the great mountain, but without fail their horses would stumble so that many knights and lords perished.
Now, it so happens that Gregers was sleeping near The Crystal Mountain in the Petrified Forest when the fanfare of trumpets awoke him. Turning to the gnome, who was with him, he asked, “What does this mean?”
The gnome slowly shook his head and said, “I cannot answer your question, but I believe that there is one nearby, who may be able to answer it.” The gnome then scurried off into the petrified woods. A few moments later a man, wearing a silver robe over which hung a silver cloak lined with white fur, stepped into the clearing. A long flowing silver beard fell beyond his chest. Upon his silver hair, there rested a pointy silver hat, and in his hands, he held a staff of gnarled wood.
“I hear that you wish to know the tale of why the knights are here assembled?” the man said in a deep, rich voice. He then related to Gregers the story of how Lady Dagrun had stolen away Dorothea.
When he had heard the tale, Gregers was enraged. “Can any of them save her?” he asked.
“I doubt it,” the old man replied, “but with my help you may be able to.”
“Then help me.”
The old man let out a booming laugh and waved his hand. An elf with long red hair and a forked, red beard came strolling through The Petrified Forest. He led behind himself a great black stallion upon whose back sat a suit of fine steel armor. Prince Gregers donned the armor and mounted the horse at once. Then he rode forth from The Petrified Forest.
Now, King Asger was growing heavy of heart for none of his knights or lords could accomplish the task set to them. In fact after seeing many of their number die, none of the rest wished to try riding up the mountain, no matter what the rewards were. For as one said, “What good is half a kingdom if you are dead?” Despairing of all, the king was about to give up when suddenly there was a sound like trumpets. Out of The Petrified Forest came riding one in appearance like a knight.
Prince Gregers charged at The Crystal Mountain, and as the hooves of his horse struck the crystal of the mountain, there was a sound like thunder. Up, up, up the mountain, Gregers rode, but as he was about halfway up the mountain, he felt his horse growing tired and knew that he would not reach the top alive. So he turned his horse around and rode back down.
The next day, the gnome stood beside him again and asked, “Why did you not ride all the way to the top?”
“My horse grew tired,” Gregers replied, “and I knew that I would not reach the top. I have failed.”
“You have shown wisdom,” the gnome replied. “Perhaps, you can yet be helped.” The gnome then scurried off into the woods.
Shortly, the old man and the elf returned. This time the elf led a gray horse, and on the back of the gray horse, there was a suit of silver armor. At once Gregers donned the armor and mounted the horse. Then there was a sound like trumpets, and Gregers charged the mountain again.
When the hooves of Gregers’ horse struck the crystal of the mountain, lightning sparked from them. Up, up, up, Gregers rode. When he had reached the halfway point, he began to hear the knights and the lords, cheering him on with wild abandon. However, having ridden two thirds of the way up, Gregers sensed his horse growing weary, so he rode back down into The Petrified Forest.
On the third day, Gregers was awoken by the gnome, who asked him, “Why didn’t you ride all the way to the top?”
“My horse grew weary,” Gregers replied. “I knew that while I might have reached the top, neither the princess nor the horse nor I would have reached the bottom.”
“Once more, you have shown wisdom,” the gnome said. “You may yet be able to save her.”
“Don’t go scurrying off again,” Gregers said in a tired voice. “I know that you’re the old man.”
“Quite perceptive of you,” the gnome replied as he waved his hand. Then the gnome was gone, and only the old man remained. The old man bowed to Gregers and said, “I am Old Man Gem, a wizard of some repute.” Then he shouted, “Arvid, old chap, do please come out.”
The elf stepped out of the petrified wood, and behind him walked a pure white unicorn. Upon its back rested a suit of golden armor, the likes of which Gregers had never seen. It was a work of art. He quickly donned it and then mounted the unicorn. Again there was the sound of a trumpet, and Gregers charged towards the mountain.
When the knights and lords beheld Gregers, charging forth from The Petrified Forest, they thought that the sun itself had descended from the heavens unto the earth.
As the hooves of the unicorn struck the crystal of the mountain, there was a sound like thunder and lightning sparked from its hooves. Up, up, up, Gregers rode. When he had reached halfway, he began to hear the knights and lords cheering him on. When he had reached two thirds of the way up, they began to cheer all the louder. Reaching the top, Gregers swung low in his saddle and swept Princess Dorothea up. Then he turned around and rode back down.
The Dark Sorceress
I wish that I could say that the story ended here, but alas I cannot. Lady Dagrun does not take losing well. Three days later, there was a great feast at the palace of the King of Lithar. All the lords, ladies, and knights of the realm had gathered to see Dorothea and Gregers wed. Yet even as they feasted there was a sound like the tearing of cloth. Suddenly, in their midst there stood a woman with silvery hair. Her eyes were red like blood, and her skin was pale. She was dressed in black and red. In her hand, she held a staff made of obsidian at the top of which there sat a skull. Two bonelike hands of silver held the cape that fell down her back “Why was I not invited to the festivities?” she said. “After all, I was to some degree the matchmaker.”
“Lady Dagrun, you have no place here,” Old Man Gem growled as he rose to his feet.
“Your power wanes old man, and your day is done,” Lady Dagrun hissed. “Your fire should have burned out long ago.”
“Begone,” Gem said as he held up his staff.
“But I have come to give my dear Dorothea a gift on this her happiest day,” Lady Dagrun said with a smirk. “The gift of mourning.” With that she waved her hand and growled, “Die, O lords, O ladies, O knights of Lithar, and die Gregers of Morda, yet you, O princess, live.”
A dark miasma filled the room, but Old Man Gem raised his staff. A bright light shone forth from it, and the miasma cleared to reveal only Old Man Gem and Dorothea standing.
“They’re dead,” Dorothea gasped.
“Not yet,” Old Man Gem said. “For the moment, they merely sleep. Even with my waning power, I was able to change that at least, but if we do not act quickly, they will die.”
© 2014 Joseph Ray