Episode 76: Gretchen: An Impromptu Ally by Jim Davies

Waffles stopped, panting heavily. The wolf was seconds away, now. Eve and I looked at each other in terror and confusion. 

Dichall stood on Waffles’s head and addressed the ogre that stood in the snowy street before us. “Would you please help us? A wolf from the forest is hunting us!”

The ogre’s eyes narrowed with eyebrows the size of minks, and then gazed behind us at Magnitrude—but she didn’t know it was Magnitrude, as she had taken the shape of a wolf. 

“I will kill it. Nasty beast!” The ogre raised her rake and stepped over us, toward our pursuer. She smelled like nothing I’d ever sniffed.

Waffles didn’t need to be told to run again. He shot off like fur lightning. I held his fur for dear life with one paw, and cradled Emerson to me with the other. Vivian ducked under the ogre’s legs as she followed behind us.

Behind us, the ogre brought the sharp tines of her rake down on the wolf, stopping Magnitrude dead in her tracks, and causing her to emit a roar of pain. It gave us the seconds we needed to get into the woods. 

Distantly, we heard Magnitrude shout—she must have transformed out of wolf form. “You fool, it’s me!”

It was time for me to activate the geopattern. “Gombree, slow down, close your eyes. Magnitrude is detained. For now.” I invoked by veilring. “Vivian, slow down, slow down. Take Gombree’s hand. You have to walk slowly, with us. We’re going to get you home. Gombree, Vivian will lead you.”

Magnitrude was out of sight, but she’d be back. Yet we had to walk calmly for this to work. Waffles panted heavily. Gombree and Vivian walked beside us, leaving big, obvious footprints that worried me. Never mind. Have to concentrate. 

I calmed my breath and pounding heart and concentrated on the forest, and where I wanted to go. Shutting my eyes, I pictured the woods outside of Vivian’s house, made the image clear in my mind. We walked past snowy trees and around rocks in the locus, and I felt the world transform. 

The forest was Mundane, familiar. We made it out of Pananima. I opened my eyes. “We’re here. Gombree, you can look, now.”

I turned and looked behind us. Just woods. I activated my magical sight, and caught a glimpse of Magnitrude, bloody and furious, wandering the woods in her locus, trapped there. We were in another world, safe.

We walked in silence for a while, the only sound Vivian’s soft weeping. Gombree put his arm around her to comfort her. Soon we were just outside of Vivian’s house. It was twilight, and the golden sky would soon be black. 

Gombree looked around nervously. I looked at his green skin, the fleshy bits on his chin, the horn coming from his head. His life will not be easy here.

But I had an idea. “Waffles, I think this is where we say goodbye.”

We mice jumped off him into the snow. 

Vivian ran toward the house, then turned to her dog. “Waffles, come!”

He looked at her, and almost ran, but turned to us. “Thank you. I can’t believe you made it all work.”

“You were an enormous help. I have one last favour to ask of you. Can you get some money for Gombree? He’s going to need it to get a foothold in this world.”

“Steal money from my masters?”

“Uh, yes.”

Waffles shrugged. “I think they owe you a lot more than I could steal for getting them their daughter back.” Waffles wagged his tail and ran to Vivian, who picked him up and went into their house. 

Eve pulled her cloak closer around herself. “She looks several years older. I wonder how her parents are going to deal with that…”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Magnitrude took some of her youth, and I don’t think we can ever get it back.”

Gombree noticed us shivering. He sat cross-legged in the snow and invited us onto his lap. We snuggled there, and he covered us with a fold of his garments. 

After we stopped shivering Dichall poked his head out. “Gombree, you did a very brave thing. But your troubles aren’t over. You have to be very careful. You’re in the Mundane World, now. Humans here generally don’t know anything about magic, and their disbelief can harm you. If they see you, you could be changed or even killed. You have to stay hidden.”

Gombree’s eyes welled up with tears. “What am I going to do?”

“I have an idea about that…” Dichall pointed to Gombree’s coat. “Those glasses you have?”

Gombree blinked, then pulled the glasses out of his coat and looked at them. 

“You’re going to return them to their rightful owner for us. She’s a white-crowned sparrow wizard who spends most of her time in human form. I bet she can put you to work and help protect you from the people of the Mundane World.”

We sat in Gombree’s stinking coat for warmth and talked about the logistics of it, and slept a little. After maybe an hour, Gombree’s body shifting woke us, and Waffles had come outside, carrying a wad of dollars in his mouth. 

He dropped them on the snow. “This is all I could get. Hope it’s enough. Thank you all, so much.”

I jumped down into the snow in front of Waffles, with Emerson on my back. “How are they in there?”

Waffles smiled broadly. “A very happy reunion. She tried to tell them what happened, but I’m sure they don’t believe her. I heard them whispering that they think she made it up to hide what really happened. They’re very weirded out that she looks older, but the overwhelming feeling in there is relief.”

I hugged him as best we could, though it basically meant shoving my arms into the fur of his chest. “It was good working with you.” Emerson buzzed in appreciation, too.

Eve was next. Dichall smiled at him and they shook paws. “This is goodbye, Waffles. I hope they give you your favourite food, now that you’re back with Vivian.”

“I bet they will! Ribeye steak!” And with that, he licked our faces and ran back inside through the dog door. 

Gombree carried us in his coat toward the bus station. With our consultation he managed to cover his face and wrap his horn in some fabric. He looked weird, but wouldn’t die from a Mundane Backlash if anyone looked directly at him. The horn looked strange, but lots of people covered their faces in this cold weather. 

In the bus station, I navigated Gombree to a schedule. When nobody else was looking, I poked my head out and read it, looking for a bus to Stoneprior. “There, number fifty-one.”

While we waited for the bus to begin boarding, we told Gombree some of the basics of how the Mundane World worked. Money, cars, phones. It was a lot to take in. 

He spent some of the cash on his bus ticket and bought a muffin at the counter. He gave us a chunk of it. We ate, happy and warm in his coats until it was time to go. 

We could feel him chewing. “This is delicious! What is it?”

Eve swallowed and whispered up out of his coat. “Bran muffin.”

Beneath his concealing clothing, he smacked his green lips. “Mmmm!”

Eve turned to me and Dichall and giggled. “Wait until he tries blueberry!”

When it was time, Gombree walked out to a shadowy area near his bus. We crawled out onto his hand. 

Dichall bowed formally. “Gombree, it was an honour. We wish you the best of luck.”

He looked uneasily at the bus. “Maybe you could check on me, see how I’m doing.”

I smiled at him. “We certainly will. Just ask Jody if you can work for her. If she can’t help you, maybe she can point you to someone who can. Okay, it’s time for you to board.”

Eve hugged his thumb. “Goodbye, Gombree.”

We watched him get on and sit down. He looked out of the bus window for us, but we were in the shadows, and he couldn’t see us. He was still looking around as the bus pulled away.

Eve rubbed her eyes. “Is he going to be okay, do you think?”

I shook my head. “I have no idea.”

We heard a gull voice behind us. “Is that muffin I smell?” 

In exchange for the bit of the muffin we had saved, Dichall, Eve, and I got a ride back to Council headquarters on Parliament Hill from the gull. 

By the time we got back to Ottawa, the night was black as a mouse hole, and a blanket of cloud occluded the thin claw of moon. We huddled together on the gull’s back against the frigid headwind. 

When we disembarked at the pigeon stand, two armed Councilmice approached. One I recognized as Eileen Swiftfeet. She looked at us, one by one. “Gretchen Flix, Eve Pixiedrowner, and Dichall Smileyes?”

We nodded. 

She gestured toward the hole going inside. “You’ve been gone a while. You need to go inside for questioning.”

We started toward the hole, but something didn’t feel right. I turned to her. “Aileen, is everything all right?”

She glanced at the other Councilmouse guard, who was occupied talking to some other Councilmice about to leave, then came close and whispered. “It’s bad in there, Gretchen. Watch yourself.”


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