Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 16

Maxwell got off the roadway at the point where it crossed the mouth of Hound Dog Hollow and stood for a moment, staring at the rocky cliffs and bold headlands of the autumn bluffs. A short distance up the hollow, he caught a glimpse, through the red and yellow of the tinted leaves, of the bare rock face of Cat Den Point and up there, high against the sky, standing just back of the most prominent of the headlands, he knew he'd find the castle of the goblins, with one O'Toole in residence. And somewhere in that wilderness lay the mossy bridge that served as a den for trolls. It was still early in the morning, since he had started out well before the dawn. A frosty dew lay upon the grass and twinkled on clumps of weeds the sun had not yet found. The air had a winy flavor to it and the sky was so faint and delicate a blue that it seemed to have no color and over all of it, over the entire landscape, hung a sense of strange expectancy.

Maxwell walked across the high-arched footbridge that spanned the double roadway and on the other side he found a path that led him up the hollow.

The trees closed in around him and he walked through a fairyland that held its breath. He found himself moving slowly and very carefully so that no quick movement or noise would break the forest hush. Leaves came planing down from the canopy above, fluttering wings of color falling gently to earth. Ahead of him a mouse ran, humping in its haste, moving through and over the fallen leaves, but making scarcely a rustle in its fleeing. Far up the hollow a bluejay screeched, but among the trees the screech was muted and robbed of its customary harshness.

The path forked, with the left-hand fork continuing up the hollow, while the right-hand fork angled up the bluff. Maxwell took the right-hand path. Ahead of him lay a long and wearying climb, but he would take it easy and stop to rest at frequent intervals. It would be a shame on a day like this, he told himself, not to stop to rest as often as he could, begrudging the time that eventually would take him out of this place of color and of silence.

The path was steep, with many turnings to dodge the massive boulders crouched upon the ground, anchored in the soil, gray-bearded with their crops of lichens. The tree trunks crowded close, the rough, dark bark of ancient oak, the satin whiteness of the birches, showing little tan blotches where the thin bark had peeled off but still clung, fluttering in the wind. In the cluttered trash of the surface rose the fat red pyramid of the jack-in-the-pulpit fruit, the shriveled hood drooping like a tattered purple robe.

Maxwell climbed slowly, saving his breath, stopping often to look around, to soak in the feel of autumn that lay all about. He reached, finally, the fairy green where Churchill's flier, with himself as passenger, had come crashing down under the spell of the trolls' enchantment. Just up the hill a ways lay the goblin castle.

He stood for a moment on the green, resting, then took up the climb again. Dobbin, or another horse very similar to him, was cropping at the scanty grass which grew in ragged bunches in a pole-fenced pasture. A few doves fluttered about the castle's turrets, but there were no other signs of life.

Sudden shouts shattered the morning's peace and out of the open castle gate came a gang of trolls, moving rapidly and in curious formation. They were in three lines and each line had a rope across its shoulders, exactly, Maxwell told himself, like the old painting he had seen of the Volga boatmen. They charged out onto the drawbridge and now Maxwell could see that the three ropes were attached to a block of hewn stone which bounced along behind them, raising a hollow, booming racket when it hit the drawbridge.

Old Dobbin was neighing wildly, kicking up his heels and galloping madly around the inside perimeter of the fence.

The trolls, their fangs. gleaming against the brown, wrinkled viciousness of their faces, their roached hair seeming to bristle more stiffly than was the usual case, came pounding down the path, with the massive stone bouncing along behind them, raising puffs of dust as it gouged into the ground.

Boiling out of the gate behind them came a cloud of goblins, armed with clubs, with hoes, with pitchforks, apparently with anything they could lay their hands upon.

Maxwell leaped out of the path as the trolls bore down upon him. They were running silently and with vast determination, their weight bent against the ropes, while the goblin horde pursued them with wild war whoops and shrieks. In the forefront of the goblin band, Mr. O'Toole ran heavily, his face and neck violet with his anger, a two-by-four brandished in his fist.

At the point where Maxwell had leaped out of the way, the path took a sudden dip, tobogganing downward in a rocky slide to the fairy green. At the top of the dip the block of stone took a mighty leap as its forward edge struck a rocky ledge. The ropes hung slack and the block came down and bounced and then, with the ropes flying, started pinwheeling down the hill.

One of the trolls looked behind him and shouted a frantic warning. The trolls dropped the ropes and scattered. The block of stone went tearing down the slope, gaining speed with every revolution. It struck the fairy green and gashed a great hole in it, made one last bounce into the air, mushed down into the grass and skidded, ripping up the sod, tearing an ugly gash across the place of dancing. Crashing into a large white oak at the far end of the green, it finally came to rest.

The goblins went roaring down the hill in pursuit of the trolls, scattering out into the trees to hunt down the stealers of the stone. Hoots of fear and yelps of rage floated up the hill, intermingled with the sound of many bodies thrashing through the underbrush.

Maxwell crossed the path and walked over to the pole fence. Old Dobbin now had quieted down and stood with his lower jaw resting on one of the topmost poles, as if he needed it to prop him up. He was staring down the hill.

Maxwell reached out a hand and stroked Dobbin's neck, pulled gently at one ear. Dobbin slanted a gentle eye toward him and whuffled his upper lip.

"I hope," Maxwell said to him, "that they won't expect you to drag back that stone. It's a long, steep pull." Dobbin flicked one ear languidly.

"If I know O'Toole," Maxwell said, "I don't expect you'll have to. If he can round up the trolls, they'll be the ones who'll do it "

The uproar down the hill had quieted now and in a little while Mr. O'Toole came puffing up the path, carrying the two-by-four across one shoulder. He still was purple of face, but apparently from exhaustion rather than from rage. He hurried from the path toward the fence and Maxwell walked out to meet him.

"My great apology," said Mr. O'Toole, in as stately a voice as he could manage with the shortness of his breath. "I glimpsed you and was happy of your presence, but engaged most earnestly and very urgently. You witnessed, I suspect, the low-down happening."

Maxwell nodded.

"My mounting stone they took," raged Mr. O'Toole, "with malicious intent of putting me afoot."

"Afoot?" asked Maxwell.

"You comprehend most feebly, I see. My mounting stone, up which I must scramble to get astride Old Dobbin. Without a mounting stone there gets no horseback riding and I must trudge afoot unhappily, with much pain and puffing."

"I see," said Maxwell. "As you say, at first I did not comprehend."

"Them dirty trolls," said Mr. O'Toole, grinding his teeth in fury, "at nothing will they stop. After the mounting stone it would have come the castle, piece by piece, stone by stone, until there be no more than the bareness of the rock upon which it once had roosted. It is necessary, in such circumstance, the bud to nip with quick determination."

Maxwell jerked his head in a downhill direction. "How did it come out?" he asked.

"We root them out," said the goblin with some satisfaction. "They scatter like the quail. We dig them out from under rocks and from hiding in the thickets and then we harness them, like so many mules, of which, indeed, they bear a striking likeness, and they drag the mounting stone, most laboriously, I think, back to where they found it."

"They're getting back at you," said Maxwell, "for tearing down their bridge."

Mr. O'Toole jigged in exasperation. "You are wrong!" he cried. "Out of great and misplaced compassion, we refrained from the tearing of it down. Just two little stones is all-two tiny little stones, and much effective roaring at them. And then they betook the enchantments off the broomstick and also off the sweet October ale and, being simple souls much given to good nature, we let it go at that."

"They took the enchantment off the ale? I would have thought that impossible once certain chemical changes..."

Mr. O'Toole fixed Maxwell with a look of contempt. "You prate," he said, "in scientific lingo, which brings no more than errant nonsense. I fail to fathom your engagement in this science when magic you could have for the asking from us and the willingness to learn. Although I must confess the disenchantment of the ale left something for desire. It has a faintly musty touch about the tasting of it.

"Although," he said, "it is a notch or two improved upon no ale at all. If you would only join me, we could do a sample of it."

"There has been nothing all day long," said Maxwell, "that sounds as good as that."

"Then leave us retire;" cried Mr. O'Toole, "to the drafty halls built so inexpertly by you crazy humans who thought we doted upon ruins and regale ourselves with foaming mugs of cheer."

in the drafty great hall of the castle, Mr: O'Toole drew the foaming mugs from a mighty cask set upon two sawhorses and carried them to the rough-hewn table before the large stone fireplace in which a smoldering and reluctant fire was smoking rather badly.

"The blasphemy of it," said Mr. O'Toole, as he lifted his mug, "is that this preposterous outrage of the mounting stone was committed at a time when we goblins were embarked upon a wake."

"I'm sorry," Maxwell said. "A wake, you say. I had not been aware..."

"Oh, not one of us," Mr. O'Toole said quickly. "With the possible exception of myself, in disgusting good health is all the goblin tribe. We were in observance of it for the Banshee."

"But the Banshee is not dead."

"Not dead," said Mr. O'Toole, "but dying. And, oh, the pity of it. He be the last of a great and noble race in this reservation and the ones still left elsewhere in the world can be counted upon less than the fingers of one hand."

He lifted the mug and buried his muzzle in it, drinking deep and gustily. When he put it down there was foam upon his whiskers and he left it there, not bothering to wipe it off.

"We die out most notably," he said, in somber tones. "The planet has been changed. All of us Little Folks and some who are not so little walk down into the valley, where shadows hang so densely, and we are gone from the ken of all living things and that is the end of us. And the very shame of it makes one tremble when he thinks upon it, for we were a goodly people despite our many faults. Even the trolls, before degradation fell upon them, still had a few weak virtues all intact, although I would proclaim that, at the moment, they are destitute of virtue. For surely the stealing of a mounting stone is a very low-down trick and one which clearly demonstrates they are bereft of all nobility of spirit."

He put the mug to his mouth again and emptied it in several lusty gulps. He slammed it down on the table and looked at Maxwell's mug, still full. "Drink up," he urged. "Drink up, then I fill them yet again for a further wetting of the whistle."

"You go ahead," Maxwell told him. "It's a shame to drink ale the way you do. It should be tasted and appreciated."

Mr. O'Toole shrugged. "A pig I am, no doubt. But this be disenchanted ale and not one to linger over."

Nevertheless he got to his feet and shuffled over to the cask to refill his mug. Maxwell lifted his mug and took a drink. There was a mustiness, as Mr. O'Toole had said, in the flavor of the ale- a tang that tasted not unlike the way that leaf smoke smelled.

"Well?" the goblin asked.

"It has a strange taste to it, but it is palatable."

"Someday that troll bridge I will take down," said Mr. O'Toole, with a surge of sudden wrath. "Stone by stone, with the moss most carefully scraped off to rob the stones of magic, and with a hammer break them in many smallish bits, and transport the bits to some high cliff and there fling them far and wide so that in all eternity there can be no harvesting of them. Except," he said, letting his shoulders droop, "so much hard labor it would be. But one is tempted. This be the smoothest and sweetest ale that was ever brewed and now look at it- scarcely fit for hogs. But it be a terrible sin to waste even such foul-tasting slop if it should be ale."

He grabbed the mug and jerked it to his face. His Adam's apple bobbed and he did not take down the mug until all the ale was gone.

"And if I wreak too great a damage to that most foul bridge," he said, "and should those craven trolls go sniveling to authority, you humans will jerk me on the rug to explain my thinking and that is not the way it should be: There is no dignity in the living by the rule and no joy, either, and it was a rotten day when the human race arose." "My friend," said Maxwell, shaken, "you have not said anything like this to me before."

"Nor to any other human," said the goblin, "and to all the humans in the world, only to you could I display my feeling. But I, perchance, have run off at the mouth exceedingly."

"You know well enough," said Maxwell, "that I'll not breathe a word of it."

"Of course not," said Mr. O'Toole. "That I did not worry on. You be almost one of us. You're the closest to a goblin that a human can approach."

"I am honored," Maxwell told him.

"We are ancient," said Mr. O'Toole, "more ancient, I must think, than the human mind can wonder. You're sure you don't want to polish off that most foul and terrible drink and start another one afresh?"

Maxwell shook his head. "You go ahead and fill your mug up again. I'll sit here and enjoy mine instead of gulping it."

Mr. O'Toole made another trip to the cask and came back with a brimming mug, slapped it on the table, and settled himself elaborately and comfortably.

"Long years gone," he said, shaking his head in sadness, "so awful long ago and then a filthy little primate comes along and spoils it all for us."

"Long ago," said Maxwell. "As long as the Jurassic?"

"You speak conundrums. I do not catch the term. But there were many of us and many different kinds and today there be few of us and not all the different kinds. We die out very slowly, but inexorably. A further day will dawn to find no one of us. Then you humans will have it to yourselves."

"You are overwrought," Maxwell cautioned him. "You know that's not what we want. We have gone to much effort..."

"Loving effort?" asked the goblin. "Yes, I'd even say to much loving effort."

Weak tears ran down the goblin's cheeks and he lifted a hairy, calloused hand to wipe them away.

"You must pay me slight attention," he told Maxwell. "I deep am in the dumps. It's this business of the Banshee."

"The Banshee is your friend?" Maxwell asked in some surprise.

"No friend of mine," said Mr. O'Toole. "He stands on one side the pale and I upon the other. An ancient enemy but still one of us. One of the really old ones. He hung on better than the others. He dies more stubbornly. The others all are dead. And in days like this, old differences go swiftly down the drain. We could not sit a wake with him, as conscience would decree, but in the absence of this we pay him the small honor of a wake for him. And then these low-crawling trolls without a flake of honor in them-"

"You mean no one, no one here on the reservation; could sit the deathwatch with the Banshee?"

Mr. O'Toole shook his head wearily. "No single one of us. It is to the law contrary, to the old custom in violation, I cannot make you understand-he is outside the pale."

"But he is all alone."

"In a thorn bush," said the goblin, "close beside the hut that was his domicile."

"A thorn bush?"

"In the thorns," the goblin said, "dwell magic, in the tree itself..."

He choked and grabbed hastily at the mug and raised it to his mouth. His Adam's apple bobbed.

Maxwell reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the photo of the lost Lambert that hung on Nancy Clayton's wall.

"Mr. O'Toole," he said, "there's something I must show you."

The goblin set down the mug.

"Let me see it, then," he said. "All this beating amongst the bushes, when there was something that you had."

He reached for the photo, bending his head to puzzle over it.

"The trolls," he said, "of course. But these others I do not recognize. As if I should, but fail. There be stories, old, old stories..."

"Oop saw the picture. You know of Oop, of course."

"The great barbarian who claims to be your friend."

"He is my friend," said Maxwell. "And Oop recalls these things. They are old ones from the ancient days."

"But what magic is called upon to get a picture of them?"

"That I don't know. That's a picture of a painting, painted by a man many years ago."

"By what means..."

"I do not know," said Maxwell. "I think that he was there."

Mr. O'Toole picked up his mug and saw that it was empty. He tottered to the cask and filled it. He came back with his drink and picked up the photo, looking at it carefully, although somewhat blearily.

"I know not," he finally said. "There were others of us. Many different ones no longer present. We here are the tail end of a noble population."

He pushed the photo back across the table.

"Mayhaps the Banshee," he suggested. "The Banshee's years are beyond all telling."

"But the Banshee's dying."

"That he is," said Mr. 0'Toole, "and an evil day it is and a bitter day for him, with no one to keep the death- watch."

He lifted his mug. "Drink up," he said. "Drink up. Can one drink enough, it may not be so bad."