(Part one is here.)
The horse brought Princess Spiderweb to a tiny city by the sea. Princess Spiderweb had heard of the the sea before, but she had never seen it before, and so she stood there for some time, just watching the waves swishing back and forth.
“Quite some ride you’ve got there,” a man said from behind her.
Princess Spiderweb turned and saw that he was a short, stocky man covered with soot. “Thank you,” she said, not knowing what was the right response.
“Never seen anyone riding a dragon before,” the man commented.
“Oh, no, that’s my horse,” the princess assured him.
“Is that so?” the man raised a dirty eyebrow, then shook his head. “Around here, that’d be a dragon. You must be from some far off kingdom, if that’s a horse there.”
“I suppose I must be,” Princess Spiderweb agreed.
“What brings a human such as you to a dwarven port town?” the man asked her.
“Oh, are you a dwarf?!” Princess Spiderweb asked, excited. “I’ve never seen one before!”
“Missy, I’m sure you don’t mean nothin’ by it, but that’s a very rude thing to say. I’m a dwarf, not a court jester. I don’t want to be gawped at.”
“I’m sorry,” the princess answered, ashamed of her behavior. “My escape from the tower was so recent. I didn’t mean to ‘gawp’ or be rude. I just don’t know how to behave around others.” She didn’t quite know what ‘gawp’ even meant, but she was sure it was a very bad thing if it had made the dwarf so angry.
“You was a prisoner, hmm? Maybe you’re the one…” The dwarf rubbed his hairy chin, then nodded. “Right, can you come with me back to the mine, missy? The chief’s got somethin’ to ask you.”
Princess Spiderweb agreed. She was happy to see anything she hadn’t seen before, and she had never seen a mine! (She knew what they were, though. She had heard stories about dwarves and their mines from the aged prince back in the tower.) She instructed her horse to stay put and not go away with strangers, then set off with the dwarf to his mine. As they were making their way down the road, Princess Spiderweb kept peering at his chin.
“Somethin’ bothering you, missy?” the dwarf asked, with a squint of his eyes. “It ain’t nice to stare!”
“I’m sorry!” Princess Spiderweb shouted, taken aback. “I just…why do you have hair on your face? No one in the tower had hair on their face.”
The dwarf’s eyes widened to the size of water pitchers, then he began to guffaw. When he finished, he expounded on just what a ‘beard’ was, and how they grew on the faces grown men, both human and dwarf. “If you ain’t never seen a beard before, you musta not known any grown men, huh?”
“There was a prince in the room under mine,” the princess said. “He was so grown that he was growing in the opposite direction.” He had often expressed his worry that he was shrinking in his dotage. Whatever ‘dotage’ was…Princess Spiderweb wasn’t sure of that, and when she had asked the former queen, she had found it very funny, but hadn’t answered the question.
“Didn’t know humans did that,” the dwarf mused, shaking his head. “He musta been one of them pointy eared twerps,” he announced, nodding his head. “Don’t even mention them around anyone at my mine, if you know what’s good for you!”
“Okay, I won’t,” Princess Spiderweb assured him. She didn’t even know what he meant by ‘pointy eared twerps,’ and didn’t know if the prince had been one or not. (He hadn’t been one…but his mother had been. That was why he had never grown a beard.)
When they arrived at the mine, Princess Spiderweb was excited to enter the deep, dark cavern entrance, carven into the stone. The outside was ornate with fancy decorative bits everywhere, but inside, it was undecorated, and Princess Spiderweb was disappointed by the change. She had heard that dwarven mines were prettier than most cities! And, in truth, many were. But those were the ones that were mines in name but not in fact. This one, however, was a functioning mine, and no one had time to pretty it up. They’d do that after the ore gave way. That was the dwarven way; if the mine was fancy, it was dry.
The dwarf brought Princess Spiderweb into the forge where he worked as a smith, and bowed before a wizened dwarf. “Chief, I brought a human who might be the one you’ve been waiting for,” he said to her.
The dwarf woman (who had been around for more than 500 years!) peered at Princess Spiderweb through the harsh orange air. “What kind of human are you, young’n?” she asked.
“I don’t know what kind I am,” Princess Spiderweb admitted. “I don’t have enough experience being it to know what it is yet.”
The chieftain raised one eyebrow. “Good answer,” she snickered. “Fine, then, what’s your name?”
“I don’t have one,” the princess admitted, “so I chose Princess Spiderweb to be my name.”
“Why?” the dwarf who had brought her asked, his jaw hanging down in confusion. “You’re too dark to be named Spiderweb! You’d hafta be white as the moon for that name! And your hair’s not as jet as the night sky, so — ”
“She can choose whatever name she wants if her parents didn’t give her one,” the wizened dwarf woman interrupted. “Now, Miss Spiderweb, what brings you to our mine?”
“He did,” Princess Spiderweb said, pointing at the dwarf.
Every dwarf in the room burst out into deafening guffaws. As they kept on going and going, Princess Spiderweb began to worry she had said something wrong, but she wasn’t sure what to say to make it better. When the room was quiet again, the dwarf chieftain sighed. “What brought you to our kingdom?” she asked. “And don’t you dare say ‘my horse’ or I swear — ”
“But it was my horse!” Princess Spiderweb objected, in a bit of a whine. What did these dwarves want from her? Why didn’t they just say it instead of expecting her to know?
“More of a dragon,” the dwarf who had brought her interjected.
“Oh?” The chieftain regarded the princess with new interest. “How did you get this steed of yours?”
“I used it to escape the tower where I was abandoned as a baby,” she said.
“Most interesting,” the wizened chieftain said, rubbing her chin. “Are you on your way to the home you never knew, then?”
“Oh, no, I don’t even know where that is,” Princess Spiderweb said. “I just want to see everything that I can so I won’t waste my short time and end up the same way as the prince did.”
“Then perhaps you have time to give us a bit of aid with something?” the chieftain asked.
“Of course,” the princess assured her. “I want to make up for being rude when I first arrived. I didn’t know any better, but that doesn’t mean it was right for me to do it.”
“It won’t be an easy task,” the wizened dwarf said, “or a safe one.”
“Then it’s no surprise you want to ask others to assist you with it, if it’s hard and dangerous,” Princess Spiderweb agreed. “What is it?”
“Deep in the darkness at the bottom of our mine is a terrifying creature,” the dwarf chieftain said. “It asks mystifying questions, and no one knows the answers.”
“What happens if you answer wrong?” Princess Spiderweb asked, cocking her head to the side.
“No one knows,” the dwarf who had brought her admitted. “Everyone runs away. Maybe it eats ya if you can’t answer right!”
“But you don’t know for sure that it eats you?”
“Nothing tarries in the darkness asking such questions without having unsavory ideas about what to do with the unworthy answerers,” the chieftain insisted. “You risk death by going to speak to the creature.”
“If it’s so frightening, why not avoid it?” Princess Spiderweb suggested.
“It’s taken up residence at the base of the mine, where the veins are rich with ore,” the wizened dwarf said. “If we don’t go where it is, we can’t get at the rest of the ore. And what good is a mine that has gone quiet without ore?” she asked. The other dwarves roared their agreement.
Princess Spiderweb frowned. “So you want me to ask it to go away?”
“What’s wrong with offing it?” the first dwarf asked. “You rode in on a gigantic dragon! You can’t be afraid of a tiny coward in the darkness!”
“If it hasn’t hurt anyone, it’s not right to hurt it first,” Princess Spiderweb insisted.
“We don’t care if you exterminate it, or just frighten it away,” the chieftain assured her. “Just get rid of it so we can go back to our work.”
The princess nodded. “Fine. Where is it?”
One of the dwarven warriors, decked out in heavy armor, stepped forward and offered to show her the way. But after they were out of the forge, the warrior stopped, and regarded her. “You need some armor,” he said, “but I doubt we have any in your size. The most recent shipment to human kingdoms was too recent; we haven’t made any more armor in human sizes yet.”
“I’m not afraid of a few questions,” the princess said. “If it hasn’t hurt anyone yet, then I’m sure it won’t hurt me, either.”
“You must take a sword with you, even so!” the warrior insisted. “There are other nasty things down there that do attack, and I might not have enough time to protect you and fight them, too.”
“A sword might be a good idea, then,” Princess Spiderweb agreed.
The dwarven warrior took her to the armory, and found a fancy sword for her. It was made for a dwarven man, but Princess Spiderweb was short for a human (she was but sixteen, you must remember, and not finished growing yet!) and her arms were weak from never having anything to carry in the tower where she had grown up, so it was just right for her.
Once the princess had strapped the sword about her waist, the warrior took her towards the deepest, darkest part of the mine. Before they had even gotten there, Princess Spiderweb began to hear a quiet, weak voice humming a strange, dissonant tune.
“Who’s there?!” the voice shouted as they drew near. “Who wants to take it from me?!”
“My name is Princess Spiderweb,” she answered, “but I don’t want to take anything from you.”
“Everyone wants to take it away from us! That’s why I had to take it away from them! You can’t have it!”
“I don’t even want it,” Princess Spiderweb assured him. Not that she knew what ‘it’ was, but she was quite sure she didn’t want it, whatever it was. There wasn’t anything she did want, in fact, apart from the freedom she had won in escaping the tower.
“You don’t want it?” the voice didn’t sound trusting. “Prove it!”
“Prove you’re a good person who doesn’t take things from innocent tiktox!”
“What’s a tiktox?” Princess Spiderweb asked, confused. She asked the warrior first, but he didn’t know, so she asked again, aiming her question at the voice in the darkness.
“I’m a tiktox, I am!” the voice objected. It sounded offended, but the princess thought it might not be a good idea to say she was sorry just at the moment. The voice paused, then came back, sounding huffy. “What is the engine pumping at the center of everything?” the tiktox asked.
The warrior frowned at her. “See? It asks crazy questions no one can answer,” he whispered. “You’d best run!” Then he ran away, as if to show her how.
“I’ve never been to the center of everything,” Princess Spiderweb said, “since I was trapped in the tower before yesterday. But this engine must correspond to the heart beating in my chest,” she suggested. “The queen has one, and I think my horse has one, too.” She knew the prince had had one, too, because the queen had said that his had stopped beating, but the princess didn’t want to say anything about that. It was too sad.
“Too easy?” the tiktox said. He sounded disappointed. “What has wings, but never sees the sky?”
“I don’t know anything with wings other than birds and my horse, but they both see the sky whenever they want,” the princess said. “Do you have wings, Mr. Tiktox?”
There was a strange sound from the darkness, the wheeze of air in a chimney. “How did you know?” he asked.
“I didn’t,” Princess Spiderweb admitted. “Then are you the thing that has wings but never sees the sky?”
“No, but I have it with me,” the tiktox said.
“Do you want to bring it where it can see the sky, then?” Everything had the right to see the sky, the princess was sure. It had been the nicest part of escaping, getting to see the entire sky, instead of just that tiny section through the window.
“I do, but the dwarves want to take it away from me. Dwarves hate tiktox, they do.”
“Do tiktox have pointy ears?” Princess Spiderweb asked.
“Tiktox don’t have ears of any kind!” the voice snipped back at her. It sounded quite proud not to have any ears, and Princess Spiderweb thought that made sense: it had very good hearing for something without ears.
“Then don’t worry,” she assured him. “The dwarves hate things with pointy ears, but you don’t have pointy ears, so they won’t hate you.”
“But…they want to take it away from me…” the tiktox insisted.
“I have a sword,” the princess said. “I can stop them if they try.”
“You…you are ready to risk that for a tiktox you haven’t even met?” it asked. It sounded happy, but there was something a strange grating about the sound: the sound of a stick on a grate.
“Come with me, and you and it can both see the sky,” Princess Spiderweb promised. She had never used a sword before, but she was sure that the tiktox was a very nice tiktox…whatever a tiktox was…
“Okay…but if anyone tries to take it away from me…!”
“No one is going to take it away, I promise!” Princess Spiderweb insisted.
The words had to be repeated over and over again, but before the end of the day Princess Spiderweb managed to make the tiktox accept them, and soon its tinging, ringing footsteps were approaching her. When it came into the open, Princess Spiderweb saw that the tiktox was a shiny man twice her size, who seemed to be made of a pretty sunset. With two of his six hands, it carried a smooth, gem-covered egg the size of the princess’s head. On it back it had funny, wedge-shaped things that Princess Spiderweb guessed must be its wings.
“That is what everyone wants to take away from you?” the princess asked, regarding it. She didn’t see why anyone might want it. She doubted it had anything inside it to cook.
The tiktox nodded. “I have to keep it safe. Everyone wants it.”
“Why? You can’t cook it, can you?”
“Of course not!” the tiktox sounded shocked at the very idea.
“Then what do they want with it?”
“Gems are worth money,” the tiktox pointed out.
“Are they? What’s money for?”
The tiktox stared at her. “Were you constructed yesterday?” it asked.
“I wasn’t constructed any day,” Princess Spiderweb said. “I was born.”
“But it was yesterday, yes?”
“Um, no. It was years ago. But I escaped yesterday.”
The tiktox nodded. “Yes, that makes sense. Money is very important to humans and dwarves. They use it to buy things.”
“What sort of things?”
“Everything,” the tiktox sighed with a rush of dry air. “The things they need and the things they do not need. Everything requires money to humans and dwarves. Tiktox do not use money. Dwarves say tiktox are made of money.” His voice shook as he said so.
“I don’t understand that,” the princess admitted, “but maybe the dwarves mustn’t see you. Keep behind me, in the shadows.”
The tiktox nodded, and they headed back up. When they came upon a dwarf, the princess gestured at the tiktox to stay back, then she hurried towards the dwarf.
The dwarf grinned on seeing her. “Ran scared, did ya?” he asked. “Can’t say I’m surprised. Askin’ a human gir — ”
“Mr. Dwarf, you have to run away,” Princess Spiderweb interrupted. “The thing in the darkness was huge, with big pointy ears, and it’s very angry at me for answering its questions wrong. It’s on a rampage! You dwarves must run and hide! Then it can chase me back to town where my horse can burn it up to a crisp.”
“Y-y-y-y-yes’m!” the dwarf squeaked, then ran away very fast.
Once he was gone, Princess Spiderweb gestured to the tiktox to join her.
“Your horse can burn tiktox to a crisp?” it asked.
“I don’t think you’d burn much,” she said, “but it can burn softer things.”
“You must have a very different kind of horse to the kind tiktox know about,” the shiny man answered, as they began once more heading towards the surface.
They didn’t see even one dwarf for the rest of their time in the mine. When they got outside, the tiktox gazed up at the starry sky.
“Ah, I thought I might never make it out!” it shouted. “Now, I must somehow protect this so the other tiktox can be saved!”
“Are your friends in danger?” Princess Spiderweb asked.
“They are in much worse than just danger,” it answered.
“I want to aid them, if I can,” the princess said. “Um…but what’s your name?”
“Tiktox are tiktox. We don’t each have names the way humans and dwarves do.”
“Oh.” Princess Spiderweb wasn’t sure what to make of that. “Then…um…we’d better get going, Mr. Tiktox.”
It nodded, and they began to hurry toward the princess’ horse. Mr. Tiktox seemed very surprised to see her horse, but he didn’t try to say it was a dragon, which made Princess Spiderweb very happy.
Mr. Tiktox took quite some time to get onto the horse’s back, because he didn’t want to disturb the egg. Once he was safe and the egg was secure, Princess Spiderweb grinned at her horse.
“Giddyap!” she shouted, and the horse took off once more into the sky.
I’m sorry about the rather obvious, um, borrowing from two very major series of books. (But I hope the switch from the one to the other was a bit of a surprise!)
First posted 2/15/2016.