Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 24

Mr. O'Toole was waiting for them when they got off the roadway.

"I knew coming you would be," he greeted them.

"Ghost, he said he would get you yet. And badly do we need someone who will talk sense to the trolls, who hide and gibber in their bridge and will listen to no reason."

"What have the trolls got to do with it?" asked Maxwell. "For once in your life, can't you leave the trolls alone?"

"The trolls," Mr. O'Toole explained, "filthy as they are, may be our one salvation. They be the only ones who, from lack of any civilization whatsoever, or any niceties, remain proficient in the enchantments of old times, and they specialize in the really dirty kinds of work, the most vicious of enchantments. The fairies, naturally, also cling to the old abilities, but all of their enchantments are of the gentle sort and gentleness is something of which we do not stand in need."

"Can you tell us," Sharp asked, "exactly what is going on. Ghost didn't hang around to explain much of it to us."

"Gladly," said the goblin, "but leave us start to walking, and walking, I'll relate to you all the happenstance. We have but little time to waste and the trolls are stubborn souls and vast persuasion they will need to do a job for us. They lurk within the mossy stones of that senseless bridge of theirs and they titter like things which have lost their minds. Although, bitter truth to tell, them stinking trolls have little minds to lose."

They trudged in single file up the rocky ravine which lay in the notch between the hills and in the east the dawn-light had begun to show, but the path, buried in the trees and flanked by bushes, was dark. Here and there birds woke from sleep and twittered and somewhere up the hill a raccoon was whickering.

"The dragon came home to us," O'Toole told them as they walked, "the one place on Earth left for him to go, to be with his own kind again, and the Wheelers which, in ancient times had another name than Wheelers, have at- tacked him, like broomsticks flying in formation. They must not force him to the ground, for then they have him caught and can whisk him hence very rapidly. And, forsooth, he has made a noble fight of it, the fending of them off, but he is growing tired and we must hurry rapidly and with much dispatch if we are to give him aid."

"And you're counting," Maxwell said, "on the trolls being able to bring the Wheelers down like they brought down the flier."

"You apprehend most easily, my friend. That's what lingers in my mind. But these befouled trolls make a bargain of it."

"I never knew," said. Sharp, "that the Wheelers could fly. All I've seen them do was trundle."

"Of abilities they have many," said O'Toole. "From their bodies they can grow devices without number and beyond imagination. Nozzles for the spreading of their nasty gas, guns to shoot the lethal bolt, jets to make them broomsticks that move with amazing speed. And never are they up to any good. Full of anger and resentment after all the ages, lying out there, deep in the galaxy, with rancor eating like a cancer into their putrid minds, waiting for a chance to be what they never can be-for no more than menials they are or ever will be."

"But why bother with the trolls?" asked Drayton, out of sorts. "I could have guns and planes..."

"Don't try to be any more of a fool than you already are," said Sharp. "We can't lay a finger on them. We can't create an incident. The humans can take no part in this. This is something between the Little Folk and their former slaves."

"But the cat already killed-"

"The cat. Not a human. We can-"

"Sylvester," Carol said, "was only trying to protect us."

"Do we have to go so fast?" protested Nancy. "I'm not used to this."

"Here," said Lambert, "take my arm. The path does seem slightly rough."

"Do you know, Pete," said Nancy, bubbling, "that Mr. Lambert has agreed to be my house guest for a year or so and paint some pictures for me. Isn't that a lovely thing for him to do?"

"Yes," said Maxwell. "I am sure it is."

The path had been climbing the hillside for the last hundred feet or so and now it dipped down toward the ravine, which was clogged with tumbled boulders which, in the first faint light of morning, looked like crouched, humped beasts. And spanning the ravine was the ancient bridge, a structure jerked raw from an old medieval road. Looking at it, Maxwell found it hard to believe that it had been built only a few decades ago when the reservation had been laid out.

Two days, he thought-had it been only two days since he had returned to Earth to find Inspector Drayton waiting? So much had happened that it seemed much longer than just two days ago. So many things had happened that were unbelievable, and still were happening and still un-believable, but on the outcome of these happenings, he knew, might depend the future of all mankind and the federation that man had built among the other stars.

He tried to summon up a hatred of the Wheelers, but he found there was no hatred. They were too alien, too far removed from mankind, to inspire a hatred. They were abstractions of evil rather than actual evil beings, although that distinction, he realized, made them no less dangerous. There had been that other Peter Maxwell and surely he had been murdered by the Wheelers, for when he had been found there had been a curious, repulsive odor lingering, and now, since that moment in Sharp's office, Maxwell knew what that odor was. Murdered because the Wheelers had believed that the first Maxwell to return had come from the crystal planet and murder had been a way to stop him from interfering with the deal with Time for the Artifact. But when the second Maxwell had appeared, the Wheelers must have been afraid of a second murder. That was why, Maxwell told himself, Mr. Marmaduke had tried to buy him off.

And there was the matter of a certain Monty Churchill, Maxwell reminded himself. When this all was finished, no matter how it might come out, he would hunt up Churchill and make certain that the score he owed him was all evened out.

They came up to the bridge and walked under it and halted.

"All right, you trashy trolls," Mr. O'Toole yelled at the silent stone, "there is a group of us out here to hold conversation with you."

"You hush up," Maxwell told the goblin. "You keep out of this. You and the trolls do not get along."

"Who," the O'Toole demanded, "along can get with them. Obstinate things they are and without a shred of honor and of common sense bereft..."

"Just keep still," said Maxwell. "Don't say another word."

They stood, all of them, in the silence of the coming dawn, and finally a squeaky voice spoke to them from the area underneath the far end of the bridge.

"Who is there?" the voice asked. "If you come to bully us, bullied we'll not be. The loudmouthed O'Toole, for all these years, has bullied us and nagged us and no more we'll have of it."

"My name is Maxwell," Maxwell told the speaker. "I do not come to bully you. I come to beg for help."

"Maxwell? The good friend of O'Toole?"

"The good friend of all of you. Of every one of you. I sat with the dying Banshee, taking the place of those who would not come to see out his final moments."

"But drink with O'Toole, you do. And talk with him, oh, yes. And give credence to his lies."

The O'Toole strode forward, bouncing with wrath.

"That down your throats I'll stuff," he screamed. "Let me get my paws but once upon their filthy guzzles-"

His words broke off abruptly as Sharp reached out and, grabbing him by the slack of his trouser-seat, lifted him and held him, gurgling and choking in his rage.

"You go ahead," Sharp said to Maxwell. "If this little pipsqueak so much as parts his lips, I'll find a pool and dunk him."

Sylvester sidled over to Sharp, thrust out his head and sniffed delicately at the dangling O'Toole. O'Toole batted at the cat with windmilling arms. "Get him out of here," he shrieked.

"He thinks you're a mouse," said Oop. "He's trying to make up his mind if you are worth the trouble." Sharp hauled off and kicked Sylvester in the ribs. Sylvester shied off, snarling.

"Harlow Sharp," said Carol, starting forward, "don't you ever dare to do a thing like that again. If you do, I'11-"

"Shut up!" Maxwell yelled, exasperated. "Shut up, all of you. The dragon is up there fighting for his life and you stand here, wrangling."

They all fell silent. Some of them stepped back. Maxwell waited for a moment, then spoke to the trolls. "I don't know what's gone on before," he said. "I don't know what the trouble is. But we need your help and we're about to get it. I promise you fair dealing, but I also promise that if you aren't reasonable we're about to see what a couple of sticks of high explosives will do to this bridge of yours."

A feeble, squeaky voice issued from the bridge. "But all we ever wanted, all we ever asked, was for that bigmouthed 0'Toole to make for us a cask of sweet October ale."

Maxwell turned around. "Is that right?" he asked.

Sharp set O'Toole back upon his feet so that he could answer.

"It's the breaking of a precedent," howled O'Toole. "That is what it is. From time immemorial us goblins are the only ones who ever brewed the gladsome ale. And drink it by ourselves. Make we cannot more than we can drink. And make it for the trolls, then the fairies will be wanting-"

"You know," said Oop, "that the fairies would never drink the ale. All they drink is milk, and the brownies, too."

"Athirst you would have us all," screamed the goblin. "Hard labor it is for us to make only what we need and much time and thought and effort."

"If it's a simple matter of production," suggested Sharp, "we certainly could help you."

Mr. O'Toole bounded up and down in wrath. "And the bugs!" he shouted. "What about the bugs? Exclude them from the ale I know you would when it was brewing. All nasty sanitary. To make October ale, bugs you must have falling into it and all other matters of great uncleanliness or the flavor you will miss."

"We'll put in bugs," said Oop. "We'll go out and catch a bucket full of them and dump them into it."

The O'Toole was beside himself with anger, his face a flaming purple. "Understand you do not," he screamed at them. "Bugs you do not go dumping into it. Bugs fall into it with wondrous selectivity and-"

His words cut off in a gurgling shriek and Carol called out sharply, "Sylvester, cut that out!"

The O'Toole dangled, wailing and flailing his arms, from Sylvester's mouth. Sylvester held his head high so that Mr. O'Toole's feet could not reach the ground.

Oop was rolling on the ground in laughter, beating his hands upon the earth. "He thinks O'Toole's a mouse!" Oop yelled. "Look at that putty cat! He caught hisself a mouse!"

Sylvester was being gentle about it. He was not hurting O'Toole, except his dignity. He was holding him lightly in

his mouth, with the two fangs in his upper jaw closing neatly about his middle.

Sharp hauled off to kick the cat.

"No," Carol yelled, "don't you dare do that!" Sharp hesitated.

"It's all right, Harlow," Maxwell said. "Let him keep O'Toole. Surely he deserves something for what he did for us back there in the office."

"We'll do it," O'Toole yelled frantically. "We'll make them their cask of ale. We'll make two casks of it."

"Three," said the squeaky voice coming from the bridge.

"All right, three," agreed the goblin.

"No weaseling out of it later on?" asked Maxwell.

"Us goblins never weasel," said O'Toole.

"All right, Harlow," said Maxwell. "Go ahead and belt him." Sharp squared off to kick. Sylvester dropped O'Toole and slunk off a pace or two.

The trolls came pouring from the bridge and went scurrying up the hillside, yelping with excitement. The humans began scrambling up the slope, following the trolls.

Ahead of Maxwell, Carol tripped and fell. Maxwell stopped and lifted her. She jerked away from him and turned to him a face flaming with anger. "Don't you ever touch me!" she said. "Don't even speak to me. You told Harlow to go ahead and kick Sylvester. You yelled at me. You told me to shut up."

She turned then and went scrambling up the hill, moving quickly out of sight.

Maxwell stood befuddled for a moment, then began the climb, skirting boulders, grabbing at bushes to pull himself along.

Up on the top of the hill he heard wild cheering and off to his right a great black globe, with its wheels spinning madly, plummeted out of the sky and crashed into the woods. He stopped and looked up and saw, through the treetops, two globes streaking through the sky on collision courses. They did not swerve or slacken speed. They came together and exploded on impact. He stood and watched the shattered pieces flying. In a few seconds there were pattering sounds among the leaves as the debris came raining down.

The cheering still was going on atop the bluff and far off, near the top of the hill that rose beyond the ravine, something that he heard, but did not see, came plunging to the earth.

There was no one else in sight as he began the climb again.

It was all over now, he told himself. The trolls had done their work and now the dragon could come down. He grinned wryly to himself. For years he'd hunted dragons and here finally was the dragon, but something more, perhaps, than he had imagined. What could the dragon be, he wondered, and why had it been enclosed within the Artifact, or made into the Artifact, or whatever might have been done with it?

Funny thing about the Artifact, he thought- resisting everything, rejecting everything until that moment when he had fastened the interpreting mechanism on his head to examine it. What had happened to release the dragon from the Artifact? Clearly the mechanism had had a part to play in the doing of it, but there still was no way of knowing what might have happened. Although the people on the crystal planet certainly would know, one of the many things they knew, one of the many arts they held which still lay outside the knowledge of others in the galaxy. Had the interpreter turned up in his luggage by design rather than by accident? Had it been planted there for the very purpose for which it had been used? Was it an interpreter, at all, or was it something else fashioned in a manner that resembled an interpreter?

He recalled that at one time he had wondered if the Artifact might not once have served as a god for the Little Folk, or for those strange creatures which early in the history of the Earth had been associated with the Little Folk? And had he been right, he wondered. Was the dragon a god from some olden time?

He began the climb again, but went slower now, for there was no need to hurry. It was the first time since he had returned from the crystal planet that there was no urgency. He was somewhat more than halfway up the hill when he heard the music, so faint at first, so muted, that he could not be sure he heard it.

He stopped to listen and it was surely music. The sun had just moved the top part of its disk over the horizon and a sheet of blinding light struck the treetops on the hill above him, so that they blazed with autumn color. But the hillside that he climbed still lay in morning shadow.

He listened and the music was like the sound of silver water running over happy stones. Unearthly music. Fairy music. And that was what it was. On the dancing green off to his left a fairy orchestra was playing.

A fairy orchestra and fairies dancing on the green! It was something that he had never seen and here was a chance to see it. He turned to his left and made his way, as silently as he could, toward the dancing green. Please, he whispered to himself, please don't go away. Don't be frightened by me. Please stay and let me see you.

He was close now. Just beyond that boulder. And the music kept on playing.

He crawled by inches around the boulder, on guard against making any sound.

And then he saw. The orchestra sat in a row upon a log at the edge of the green and played away, the morning light flashing off the iridescent wings and the shiny instruments.

But there were no fairies dancing on the green. Instead there were two others he never would have guessed. Two such simple souls as might dance to fairy music. Facing one another, dancing to the music of the fairy orchestra, were Ghost and William Shakespeare.