Gerald was surprised to find his nose pressed against a huge tree. Huge wasn't the word he would have used to describe it as, when his eyes followed the enormous trunk upwards, he couldn't see where it ended. He probably would have used a word like gargantuan or colossal, perhaps even mammoth or titanic.
"Wow, big tree," said Colin.
Gerald shot Colin a look of annoyance, "really? That's the description you're going to use? This tree is huge!"
"What I really want to know is...," said Colin, fixing Gerald with that 'what have you done?' glare, "where are we?"
"No idea," said Gerald taking a step back. "I can't remember this tree being below the wizard's court.
"I'm sure it wasn't," said Colin. "In fact I'm sure the entrance to the wizard's court was in a cellar, or am I wrong?"
Gerald could feel his friend's eyes boring into the back of his head and knew that any moment now he was about to lose another inch. He held his breath, eyes shut tight, waiting.
"Erm, no you're not wrong. How did we get here? And more importantly, where is here?" he said, his eyes scanning the forest surrounding him. All the trees were massive, not just the one before him.
A cold snout touched Gerald's shoulder. I believe you lined the amulet up wrong when you inserted it. You were too busy saying how you had experience of this sort of travel and we should leave it to you.
"Well, anyone could make that simple mistake," said Gerald, "but the question is, what do we do now?"
Gerald, Colin and Zach all span round to face a tall wizard. In Gerald's eyes this figure was the ultimate in wizards. In fact he'd never seen one this tall. Gerald stepped forward and with a low bow said, "Oh great wizard, we are new to your realm. Where might this be?"
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Colin with his face in his hands and noticed a red tinge to the tips of his ears. He was sure he heard the words, oh no, not again, but couldn't be sure as Colin seemed to be now stuffing parts of his clothing into his mouth and his shoulders had this strange jiggling kind of thing going on.
"Colin, are you having a seizure?" said Gerald. "Do you want one of my healing spells or, better still, one of the potions Blossom made for me."
The jiggling stopped, but now Colin's face had turned a very strange shade of puce at the mention of Ma Thistle's granddaughter. "Err, no, no need for that Gerald."
"Excuse me," said the great wizard. "You are in the realm of DeFaretayl. I am Derek and I belong to the guild of wizards here."
"I'm sorry sir," said Gerald. "My friend seemed to be ailing, but I believe it has passed now."
"No Problem," said Derek.
We need to find a way back.
"Hmm, what was that Zach?" said Gerald, who continued to stare at Derek with awe. In fact the way he was staring wasn't too different from the way Colin looked at Blossom, although without all the blushing.
We should be looking for where to place the amulet so we can get back.
Gerald looked at Zach and said, "you're right, we should be trying to get back." He faced Derek again. "We'll have to get going now as we have a very important meeting with the Wizards' High Council in Wyverndawn."
"Wyverndawn!" said Derek. "You're not... no it can't be true... are you Gerald?"
Gerald caught Colin's look of disbelief and shrugged. He turned to face Derek again and thought he heard Colin groan as a grin spread across his face.
"Why, yes I am."
Derek stepped forward and bowed. "Your fame has spread far and wide and I wonder if it would be inappropriate to ask a small favor."
Gerald pulled himself to his full height; and a little more as he tried to stand on tip toes without being too obvious. He wants an autograph. I can't believe a high wizard is asking for my autograph. "Of course you can," said Gerald. "I have time to sign a few." Now where's my quill?
"Sign a few?" said Derek. "I've been sent on a quest, a small, but important one. If you would do me the honor of aiding me I, and DeFaretayl, would be forever in your debt."
"A quest?" said Gerald beginning to feel uncomfortable at the direction this conversation was heading. An autograph was one thing, but anything that involved possible danger or hard work was not on his 'to do list' right now. Almost getting barbecued by Vabalaz the previous year was enough heroics for him. Anyway he had a very important meeting at the wizards' council in Silverfell. But, this was a great wizard asking for help, perhaps a little detour wasn't too much to ask, especially as his fame had reached this distant realm. Yes, I think this would do great things for my standing with the Wizards' Council. I'd be the perfect ambassador for Wyverndawn in DeFaretayl and there's bound to be promotion in it for me.
"Of course we will help." There's that groan again. "Colin, are you sure you're okay. You really do sound as if you're ailing."
"No," said Colin. "I'm fine, although I am beginning to wonder at what mess I'm going to have to clean up in the very near future."
The frown on Gerald's face relaxed as he turned to face Derek again. "What is your quest, Derek?"
"Well, I'm not exactly sure to be honest. As soon as the king mention the word 'princess' I sort of went weak at the knees. The rest of the conversation, I'm afraid, is a bit of a blur. The king did say it was simply a matter of guiding her back home, so I presume she's just lost."
"Hmmm, this seems like a simple quest," said Gerald, whose head span round to glare at Colin when another groan emanated from that direction. "Do you have any idea where she might be?"
Are you really sure you want to accompany this wizard on his quest, Gerald? Even though he is tall I have serious doubts about his abilities.
Gerald turned to Zach. "I'm sure it will be fine, a wizard doesn't get to that height without being brilliant."
Hmmm, I'm not so sure, but if you say so...
Gerald turned back to Derek feeling Colin's eyes following him.
"Not really. She does like to go wandering off by herself a lot and I know she has a few friends in a forest to the north of the capital" said Derek.
"So, what's our first step then?" said Gerald.
"I think we should camp here for the night and set out for the king's court at dawn. He and his advisers will fill you in on the details as they're still a bit fuzzy to me," said Derek. "If you collect some firewood and water we can settle down and have something to eat. If you have any food, that is, as I forgot to bring some."
"Okay. Colin can you get the water while I get the firewood? Zach, can you catch us something to eat?"
The look Colin gave Gerald was all he needed to understand that his friend didn't approve of his decision to help with Derek's little quest. In fact Gerald assumed that he'd be a pile of ashes if looks could spontaneously combust a person.
Gerald piled the wood in the center of the clearing and watched while Derek prepared to light the fire. Excellent, I get to see a high wizard at work.
He watched Derek stare at the rickety pile of wood and point a slightly tatty looking wand at it. Derek seemed to take a deep breath before shouting, "woody, lighty, fire!" The tip of the wand glowed. Then a lance of fire shot out of the end, arcing left, ricocheting off a rock and hitting a crouching Colin squarely in the buttocks. Gerald's eyes followed the bucket, which Colin had been filling, launch into the air, turn one hundred and eighty degrees and deposit the contents on Colin's now flaming robes. Luckily enough the water extinguished the fire, but the glare aimed at him snapped his mouth shut like a bear trap.
"It wasn't me!" said Gerald.
"Sorry!" said Derek. "I think my wand needs re-calibrating."
Gerald turned to face Derek and was shocked to see the wizard grow an inch. If he'd been the one to cast the spell he'd have shrunk an inch. And another thing, the words that made up the spell didn't sound very wizardly at all.
"Incendio!" Gerald lit the pile of kindling and was surprised when he shrank an inch. "What the...?"
"Why did you shrink?" said Colin. "That was a perfectly good spell, and such a simple one."
"I've no idea." A sliver of panic ran through Gerald's body; it seemed this realm was off kilter. Although he had lost an inch, which irked him, he decided it may have just been an error on the part of the wizards' guild here and would be rectified once he explained the issue.
They sat and ate a supper of roast venison, well the remains of the deer as there was a slight disagreement with Zach on his return from hunting. And the ensuing argument on the ownership of the deer resulted in singed robes and a few small lacerations as they prised what remained from Zach's mouth. Gerald had to admit it was a delicious meal though.
* * *
Gerald's eyes opened to a kaleidoscope of green above his head, so far above that he could imagine the sky itself was green. Thin rays of sunlight speared their way between tiny gaps in the thick foliage dappling the ground around him. He could hear the nearby stream gurgling and splashing as its crystal waters made their way to an unknown ocean.
Gerald's view was completely obliterated by whatever had landed on his head and he was sure some of it had entered his mouth.
"Oh my god," said Colin. "That is the biggest bird poop I've ever seen."
Gerald sprang to his feet and launched himself towards the stream, Colin's hysterical laughter ringing in his ears. As he lifted his head from the icy waters Colin sat down beside him.
"Doesn't this remind you of the time we camped outside Peakhaven?" said Colin. "If I remember rightly a bird did the same thing then. Although the poop that landed on you then wasn't the size of something Zach would have done as a youngster."
Gerald glared at Colin as his friend doubled over with laughter. "I don't find it funny at all. How big was that bloody bird anyway?"
"Huge," said Colin. "I've never seen one that big before."
Derek strolled over and said, "You need to watch for the birds in this glade. That was just a Thrush, you should be glad it wasn't one of the Ravens, or Eagles that nest here."
Gerald looked at Colin who shrugged.
Gerald look at this!
Gerald, Colin and Derek walked back into the glade and looked around. It was only then that he saw the massive standing stones.
"What are those?" said Gerald.
"Ahh, this is a magical glade," said Derek. "These stones were said to be left by sorcerers thousands of years ago. Very old magic.
"They say that they used places like this for sacrifices to gods of magic and that the residue from those rituals still remain, which is why any animal or plant born within the local area is unusually large.
"They also say that any spells performed within these circles are more powerful than would normally be the case."
Gerald looked around and thought about what Derek had just said. "More powerful?"
"It's a pity it couldn't be harnessed," said Gerald. "Can you imagine what we could achieve given more power?"
"It's that way of thinking that got us into our last mess," said Colin.
"People have tried," said Derek. "But I think only one wizard has ever managed to harness it, albeit in a small way. In fact he created the portal that you came through."
"Zonrach?" said Gerald and Colin.
"Yes, how did you know that?"
Gerald's hand grabbed the folds of his robes at his chest and he saw the glare from Colin.
"You're wearing it," said Colin. "Aren't you?"
"Just for safe keeping," said Gerald.
"Anyway," said Derek. "Although we know the theory of how to do it, we don't know how to physically get it into an object. The senior wizards in our guild believe that an object, once created to hold the power, can recharge itself when in a certain range of the stone circles."
Gerald's eyes were growing wider and wider at the implications of what Derek was saying. He also caught sight of the look that both Colin and Zach were giving him.
"Don't even think about it," said Colin.
I think we better leave here as soon as possible until we understand what this all means.
"We're leaving... Now!" said Colin
"Zach, Colin, you are both party poopers," said Gerald now feeling as if someone had stolen his last square of chocolate. In fact it felt more like someone had blown the candles out on his birthday cake before he'd had a chance to. If he'd been prone to tantrums he would have thrown himself on the floor and screamed and screamed until he was sick.
With a flick of his robes he turned and strode towards Rebel, which deflated him slightly as they hadn't brought Rebel with them, so to save any more embarrassment he carried on straight out of the stone circle and into the woods.
Where are you going Gerald?
"I have no idea, Zach! But it involves getting away from you two until I calm down." He hadn't actually gone that far as he'd slipped behind one of the huge trees to save face.
"Wow, what a spoiled brat," said Colin.
"I heard that!"
"Come back out here. We need to figure out what we are going to do next."
"I want to go back home," said Gerald walking back into the glade.
"You can't," said Derek. "You made a verbal agreement to help me and in DeFaretayl that is binding. The portal won't work now until you've fulfilled your part of the agreement."
"I'll speak to your king or high wizard or whatever and make them let us go."
"It won't make any difference," said Derek.
"Well, we'll see about that," said Gerald. "Which way, Derek?"
Derek pointed to a path, "follow that to the north."
"Can you fly ahead and let us know the lay of the land, Zach?"
Gerald turned back to Derek. "Lead the way."
With Colin by his side he fell in behind Derek and made his way out of the glade. The forest closed in around him making him feel claustrophobic. His eyes followed the towering monoliths until his neck ached. He couldn't be sure, but he was certain that the trees were actually turning slowly to follow the group's progress.
An almighty crash tore through his thoughts, and a sound like the ripping of a sail in a storm reached his ears. He saw a jet of flame shoot through the trees to his left. Then words he never thought he'd ever hear from his dragon leapt into his brain.
Sorry about that.
I couldn't reach the top of the canopy, it's too dense. So I tried to thread my way through the trees and I'm not sure if I lost concentration and flew into a branch or not, but I could swear that one reached out and slapped me as I reached the edge of these large trees.
"You might be right, because I've been getting the impression that the trees are watching us," said Gerald. "But what about the flame?"
Yes, well it appears that being knocked out of the sky has a similar effect to the one when we confronted the assassin last year.
Gerald's mind went back to an incident that he would rather forget. It involved a dodgy spell to increase Zach's size and an unfortunate jet of flames from an unmentionable area of Zach's anatomy. On the plus side it did deter the assassin from carrying out her task, and left her with a barbecued appearance.
"So that would account for the sound of ripping cloth then," said Gerald.
Yes, sorry about that.
"Okay, wait for us there."
As the group meandered through the forest Gerald wondered at the world he'd arrived in. A very disturbing feature seemed to be the animated vegetation which was not a feature of Wyverndawn. Yes there had been monsters and yes they were frightening, but here a tree root could grab your foot and drag you under the dank surface of the forest. A limb could whip out and slap you in the face. It was only his second day here and the bravado that was his trademark had been knocked into submission already.
"What the... Not again?!"
"That Thrush seems to like you," said Colin with a grin.
And there were also the huge bloody birds that pooped on you at every opportunity. Gerald growled and tried to wipe away the noxious goo streaming down his face and robes. He'd never be able to get rid of that smell and his prized set of Persian blue ceremonial robes were toast. He was just about to give the giggling Colin a piece of his mind when Zach appeared on the path before them.
This seems to be where the area of the stone circle's influence ends.
Gerald breathed a sigh of relief at the thought of only being crapped on by a normal size bird, which was a pretty unusual thing to be happy about.
His eyes were drawn to the vista in front of them. They had emerged on the edge of a valley and far below them stretched, what seemed to be, a normal forest. In the distance he could make out monochrome towers which pierced the misty skyline.
"That is our destination," said Derek. "Mouldyend."