The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Seventeen: The Wizard's Way

        The snaky line of the river Ayndruen was easy to spot in the predawn darkness. Sara swung right in a long, slowly descending arc until she was only a few hundred feet directly above the water, heading generally south. She somehow did not feel the need of great haste, taking her time to observe what effects there might be from the decade of Soraun's rule of Midgarde.
        One of the first obvious signs was at the unmistakable confluence of the muddy Ayndruen and the clear Swiftload flowing from the lake at what had been the eastern entrance to Muriah. The ancient forest of Laurien should have been there. It had been clear-cut, the timber probably floated downstream. Settlements that must have been built from its silvery trees lined the great river at intervals, with rows of squalid tenements radiating from smoky riverfront industries. Ungainly riverboats plied the turgid water. It seemed that the agents of Progress had been hard at work in this part of the world.
        When the sun finally broke the hazy horizon, Sara had seen just about enough, rising quickly with a burst of speed to hurtle down the course of the wide valley, past the grassy plain on the right and the browned lands on the left. She dropped and slowed again a short time later as the Roring Falls came into view. Beyond, the Ayndruen curved almost directly east where the great delta of the Enduish River emptied into it. Recalling that Gundolf had told her the Nazghoul would gather in Min-Ashtireth to prepare an assault that she 'would not expect', she thought she should maybe reconnoiter a little before barging into town.
        There, on a patch of flat land on one of the innumerable islands made by the diverging streams of the delta, was a tiny factory town among others lining a broad road that relentlessly forced its way across the landscape, hopscotching each channel with sturdy stone bridges. There was something a little odd about this town and its close neighbors on other islands. Instead of row houses, there were brightly colored individual cottages, tightly packed together, with round windows and doors — diminutive dwellings fit only for what must be very little people.
        The Little People! How wonderful, thought Sara, in spite of her misery. As she swooped down, Sara could see them trudging off to work from each little hut, filing down the lanes toward their village sweatshop beside the road. They were dressed in a riot of fantastic outfits — at least from the waist up. But they all seemed to be wearing the same style of cheap, cotton trousers, males and females alike. On an adjacent island, she could see another town of the Little People wearing garish skirts and pants in every conceivable style — and cheap cotton workshirts. None of them were wearing shoes.
        Sara landed behind a patch of trees out of sight of the marching villagers and watched as they passed a trio of officious-looking Little People outside the workhouse, busily checking off names as each went by. She walked over by the bridge so as to appear to be a traveler along the highway, but when she neared the road she had to wrinkle her nose in disgust.
        Good grief, what a stench, she thought. The roadbed looked like it was made from rectangular white building stones, grouted together carefully, that had been grossly discolored. She held her breath as she came close enough to the trio to thankfully leave the road upwind.
        Sighting her, the closest one said, "Well, lookee wha' we got 'ere."
        "It's a great, 'uge Man, by th' looks o' it," said the second.
        "An' a Lady, t' boot," said the third.
        Determined not to alarm them, and delighted at meeting real, live Little People, she mustered as much cheer as she could and greeted them.
       "Hello! My name is Sara Corel, and I'm very pleased to meet you. I'm just passing through on my way to Min-Ashtireth. Mind if I visit with you for a little while?"
        "Min-Ashtireth?" said the first, a puzzled look on his face.
        The second echoed him, "Min-Ashtireth?"
        The third grimaced smugly, "Oh, it ain't been called tha' since b'fore th' War. You must mean Haughz City."
        "Haughz City?" said Sara.
        "After th' Goblins took it, they named it wha' they liked. Their priv'ledge, I'm sure." He eyed her suspiciously, "An' where was it you said you was from, Miss…?"
        "You should call me Sara." She turned her smile on the youngest one on the left, "And what shall I call you?"
        "Uh," he stammered, suddenly a little shy, "I'm Nob, if it pleases you. Nob Munt."
        "Why, it pleases me very much, Nob." She turned to the Little Person on the right and said, "And you…?"
        "Hamiel Munt. Call me Ham," he bowed.
        Not wanting to be left out, the leader introduced himself as, "Soady Munt, Chief Shop Steward, Local 29. These're my assistants," indicating the others.
        "Are you brothers?" Sara asked.
        "'Ardly!" protested Ham. "No more'n third cousins, a' th' least." The others looked at her sourly.
        "Oh. Sorry, it's just that you all have the same last name…"
        "Ev'rybody on this 'ere piece o' land 'as tha' name, mostly," said Nob, "'Cause this 'ere piece o' land is all settled by th' Munt family, formerly o' th' Westshire, what came 'ere together, mothers an' fathers, sons an' daughters, brothers an' sisters, aunts an' uncles, close relations an' in-laws, an' cousins o' ev'ry degree. All Munts, ev'ry one."
        "Really," said Sara, looking fascinated.
        "For th' employment, after the War," said Soady. "Good jobs 'ere, yessir'ee, or we'd be back on th' farms diggin' taters an' plantin' smokeweed. The Wizard 'imself set us up, 'e did — cot, shop an' comp'ny store. An' we're mighty grateful, ain't we, lads." He glared at the others.
        After receiving an elbow from Soady, Ham spoke up rather too earnestly, "Oh, yes. Mighty grateful."
        "Mighty grateful," echoed Nob, as if maybe his life depended on it.
        "So," persisted Soady, "you must ha' come down th' 'ighway."
        "No," said Sara, "Actually, I came another way. From pretty far, as you might guess. This is the first I've seen of such a road. It's — pretty unusual…"
        "You mean, it stinks," said Nob.
        "It looks, uh — stained…" she went on, making a face.
        "Tha's on account o' th' Goblins," said Ham.
        "The Goblins?"
        Ever the expert, Soady jumped in, "After th' War, there warn't much use fer Goblins an' there warn't much use fer walls, neither. So th' Wizard, 'e puts 'em t' work tearin' down th' walls o' Haughz City an' turnin' 'em into these fine 'ighways like wha' you see 'ere.
       "Th' Goblins, they digs out th' roadbed all proper like, then lays th' stones in pretty as you please. Then they pours concrete powder all over it an' sweeps it down into all th' cracks. Then they…" He broke off, belatedly realizing he was, after all, talking to a Man Lady.
        "They what?" asked Sara.
        "Well," began Ham, "they drinks lots o' beer. A whole lot. Like it's just 'bout all they lives on, 'twould seem."
        "And then…?" prompted Sara, intrigued.
        Ham and Soady looked at each other. Finally, Nob spoke up, "They pisses on it."
        Sara raised her eyebrows.
        "It sets th' mortar like nobody's business, it does," he went on. "Them roads o' theirs won't never break."
        "And," added Ham, "Grass never grows where a Goblin pisses. Uh, Ma'am."
        "Keeps th' traffic light, t' be sure," said Nob.
        Soady told her, "So now we 'as all these great, lovely 'ighways fer th' benefit o' Commerce, thanks to th' Wizard. That's Progress! We're mighty grateful, I can tell you."
        "Mighty grateful," repeated Ham.
        Nob echoed, "Mighty grateful."
        "I've heard that word 'Progress' mentioned a lot lately," said Sara. "This Wizard — I suppose he's behind all this 'Progress' I've been seeing along the Ayndruen lately?"
        "Aye, ee's th' one," answered Soady. "The Goblins, they calls 'im 'The Boss', but 'is real name is Soloman."
        "That figures," Sara said, her eyes narrowing. "Soloman, the White Wizard. I think I need to pay him a visit and talk to him about this 'Progress' of his."
        "You mean," said Nob, his eyes widening, "see th' Wizard 'isself? You? All th' way t' Haughz City?"
        "I don't think he will escape me," she said, looking dreadfully thoughtful.
        The three Little People looked at each other, not knowing whether to be frightened. "Well," ventured Soady, "if y' do see 'im, y' can tell 'im that us Munts are mighty grateful."
        The others nodded vigorously, chorusing, "Mighty grateful."
        Sara snapped out of her black thoughts. "Tell me," she said with a return to her earlier cheerfulness, "What kind of work do you do?"
        Relieved, Soady answered, "Why, garment assembly, o' course. We 'ave some o' th' finest seamsters an' seamstresses in Midgarde right 'ere in our little Land o' th' Munts. Look at th' quality o' this workmanship," he said, hooking his thumbs under his lapels and thrusting out his chest.
        Sara looked at his garishly colored jacket. "It looks very nice. What is this material? I swear it looks like polyester."
        "We calls it 'poly'," said Nob.
        "More 'Progress', I'll bet," said Sara wryly. "Why is it you're only wearing poly tops? The rest of your outfits look like cotton."
        "Well, there's Specialization," said Soady, "th' key t' Efficiency. Tops are wha' we do. You'll 'ave t' ask th' Mollows an' their kin over t' th' next Land 'bout th' rest o' it. They makes bottoms." The three Little People all laughed, like it was a secret dirty joke.
        "Yeah," said Sara, "I couldn't help noticing. Maybe you should get together with them someday and work out a trade or something."
        "Couldn't do tha'," said Nob hastily, "Tha' wouldn't be regulation, now would it?"
        "True, true," said Ham, nodding his head earnestly.
        "No," said Soady, " we follows th' regulations, 'ereabouts. It's th' only proper way, an' you can quote me on tha' one."
        "Well," said Sara, "I must say this whole place seems a little cockeyed. For one thing, it looks like the whole village is pretty much slaving away in there."
        "Not true!" protested Soady, "Tha's good, 'olesome work, no time fer idleness. Why, it's a 'onor, it is, t' be workin' in this 'ere Land wha' was given t' us by th' Wizard 'imself. Yessiree, we're mighty…"
        "…Grateful," Sara waved her hand and rolled her eyes, "Spare me."
        "Look 'ere, Lady," countered Soady, "We 'ave Protection. Our Guild looks after us. I'm th' Chief Shop Steward, see, and I sees to it tha' ev'rybody gets a fair shake. We got Benefits," he finished proudly.
        "Such as…" prompted Sara.
        "The comp'ny store," offered Ham.
        Sara countered, "With a rather incomplete wardrobe line, I'd say."
        "An' 'alf-a-day off every other weekend," said Soady with pride.
        "Whoo-hoo," said Sara.
        "Well, 'ardly nobody never starves," Ham added, "Uh, 'cept maybe in winter."
        Sara didn't know how to answer that one.
        Nob finally spoke up, very quietly, "An' if ev'rybody works hard an' minds their own business, th' Goblins…"
        "Shut up, Nob," warned Soady.
        He went on despite the warning, "Th' Goblins won't eat us."
        Sara looked grim. So that's it, she thought. Wonderful.
        Soady looked up at her, almost pleadingly, "I don't know 'ow it was fer you after th' War, but in th' Westshire…"
        Sara nodded, "I can see now why you're so, uh, grateful."
        "Tha's 'ow it is," said Ham, "You'll not be sayin' nothin' to no Wizards, will you?"
        "Oh, I am going to have a great deal to say to a certain Wizard," said Sara menacingly. Seeing the Little People flinch, she went on, gently, "But not about you. Trust me, guys. My job is to free you all."
        They looked at each other. "Free us? Wha' do you mean?" asked Nob.
        "I don't know," mused Sara. "I freed the Dwarves, and look how that turned out." She was silent for a while.
        "Forgive me," she said, "I have a big job to do and I really must be going."
        "Wait!" said Soady, "We 'aven't given you th' Official Greeting!"
        "Oh, you needn't bother," Sara said graciously.
        "It's Regulation," said Ham.
        "It's our job," added Nob, "If y'know wha' I means…"
        Sara could imagine. "Very well. This won't take long, will it?"
        "Well," said Soady, "Since you're just a day visitor, an' not a guest, we'll do th' short version. Ready?"
        The others nodded.
        All together, they began, "We represent th' Poly Top Guild…"
        "The Poly Top Guild?" answered Sara.
        Nob nodded his head, "Th' Poly Top Guild."
        Soady looked annoyed. He signaled them to take it again from the top. "And in th' name of th' Poly Top Guild." They paused for effect on the high note, then continued in unison, "We wish t' welcome you to Munt's-kin Land."
        Sara told them, "Why, thank you. I am very honored," and reached down to give each one of them a little hug, making them blush brightly.
        "Well," Sara laughed, "I'm off to see the Wizard."
        "Th' wonderful Wizard," Soady stressed, as if someone might be listening, "o' Haughz."
        Ham said, "You'll be needin' directions, won't you?"
        "Oh, I'll probably manage. The city's basically southeast of here, so I can just head for the Whyte Mountains and hang a left."
        "You'll be wantin' t' stay away from them mountains, from wha' I 'ears," said Soady. "They're full o' wild animals since th' War. Like lions."
        "An' tigers," said Ham.
        "An' bears," finished Nob.
        "Oh, my," Sara replied, trying to appear concerned. "I guess I could follow the river."
        "Uh-uh," Ham said, shuddering. "Full o' crocodilagators, so they sez."
        "No doubt about it," said Soady authoritatively, "there's only one sure way t' go."
        "What's that?" Sara asked.
        "Follow th' yellowed brick road," said Soady.
        "Follow th' yellowed brick road," chorused Ham.
        "Follow th' yellowed brick road," agreed Nob.
        "Yuk," replied Sara. "I think I'll pass." Clicking the heels of her ruby-red slippers together three times, she rose into the blue sky like a soap bubble, then quickly vanished from the astonished Little Peoples' sight.

Chapter Eighteen: Nazghoul, Inc.

Table of Contents

© Patrick Hill, 2000