Sunday, June 30, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: A Forked Path

The companions headed back to the oasis and found the traders just preparing to head onwards. They were surprised to see Sarai coming back at all, let alone so soon.

"Well, did you find it?!" one wanted to know.

"Yes, and we got just the one piece we wanted," Sarai answered.

"One piece? But why not take more?" another asked.

"It wasn't ours to take. The genie who owns it didn't want us to have it."

"Still, you could have slipped at least a few coins, right?"

"Not even one," Sarai said, shaking her head.

The baffled merchants were nonetheless happy to have the other camels back in the caravan to help carry the spice for the rest of the journey. They spent the next several days traveling form one oasis to another.

As they traveled, Sarai was surprised to see a thin blue and green entwined line stretching out before her on the ground. It traced the exact path the merchants were following through the desert.

When they reached the far side of the desert, they unloaded all the goods and took them to the market.

Sarai and her friends found another merchant to exchange the camels for horses again, and this one was happy to make the trade. It was clear the camels were find beasts but he understood wanting horses for the plains beyond.

After resettling their packs on the new mounts Alatar looked to Sarai. "Which way now?"

She looked for the line and found it leading out of the town. "This way, I think. The genie's gift is helping me see the way."

At the edge of town where the road forked, she stopped short. The line split, with the blue trailing off one way and the green following a different path. She described what she was seeing to her companions.

"But isn't there just one item left to find?" asked Mandalar.

Elie: There's the castle.
Me: Anything else?
Elie: The throne, too!

"Well then - two more places to go," Tiana said. "Which way is which?"

Alatar scratched his beard thoughtfully but had no answer. Mandalar shrugged, and Tiana slowly shook her head.

Elie: The blue one.
Me: You think that's where the throne is to be found?
Elie: Yes

So they set off to follow the blue trail. As they rode, they saw a mountain range looming in the distance. It was clear their road was leading to a pass between two high peaks. The farther up the slopes they went, the chillier it became. Soon they were even seeing patches of frost and ice on the ground.

At the pass itself, the two mountains formed a ravine through which the road twisted. They slowed their horses to a walk and started through.

Behind them came the sound of creaking and crackling of rocks, as if small pebbles had fallen and knocked larger stones along with them. When they looked back, though, what they saw instead was a creature who looked made of all stone.

Its face was like that of a dog with ears of a fox. It had a long whip-like tail swaying easily behind it. Two wings stretched from behind its shoulders, and on the end of its arms were hands with long claws.

"What is your purpose here?" Mandalar demanded.

"My purpose? What is yours?" the creature spoke, its voice like grinding stone. "Just where do you think you're going?"

Elie: We're off to help unite the whole country.

"Why go through all that bother? The people love squabbling so much, why not leave well enough alone?" it asked, a sly smile spreading around its face. "No one really wants to go back to the way things were, you know. There is much more that can be accomplished now that people don't have to all work together if they don't want to, you know."

"That's not true!" Sarai shouted. "And it's not a nice way to live at all. We can do so much more together."

"Begone, fowl gargoyle!" Alatar shouted. He waved his hands quickly and a wall of air appeared between them and the beast, shimmering and weaving back and forth.

The gargoyle hissed and spat. "You may think that's a good thing, but remember that us gargoyles like how it is now and don't want to let you change it."

With that, it flapped its wings and flew off toward the peaks. The companions hurried through the rest of the pass and down to a village below.

Me: We'll hear about their next obstacle tomorrow.
Elie: Well, why do they gargoyles like how things are?
Me: Hard to say, maybe it gives them energy and strength somehow. Perhaps they think it's like a show and they like to watch. Maybe we'll find out more in another part of the story.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: Just Desert

As Sarai left the plains and forest kingdoms, the forest king told them of a town near the edge of the desert. There, he said, they should exchange their horses for something better suited for desert travel.

Me: Do you know an animal that's good for traveling in the desert?
Elie: I don't know.
Me: A camel! And there are two types - dromedary with one hump and bactrian with two. Which should they take?
Elie: Dromedary, I think.

They got to the town and found a merchant.

"We'd like to trade our horses for some camels," Sarai told him.

When the man looked at their fine horses, though, he saw how powerful they looked. Why would they want to trade such fine beasts for camels, he wondered. Perhaps there is something wrong with them.

"Your horses are obviously tired and growing weak," he said dismissively. "It will cost you much more than that to get these four fine camels."

Me: What did Sarai answer?
Elie: They're strong, and very good.

"Then why are you looking for camels?" the merchant wanted to know.

Elie: We want to cross the desert, said Tiana.
Me: Oh, Tiana said that, did she?

Well, the merchant smiled. "You know, I have a caravan of traders who will be leaving tomorrow with a load of spices to trade for silks on the far side of the desert. If you carry some of the spices on your camels, then, I'll be happy to trade."

They agreed and moved all their packs over to their new camels. The caravan set out early the next morning. They rode over the sand dunes for some time. Each wore a scarf wrapped tightly around their head and face to keep the sand out. Only a thin slit stayed open for their eyes.

After a time, they came to an oasis in the desert. It was the only fresh water for miles around so they stopped to refill their canteens. While they were stopped, Sarai asked them about the treasure trove rumored to be hidden in the desert. The traders grew very quiet and wide eyed.

"We've heard of it, yes, but no one who's every gone looking for it has come back with anything," one finally said. "Some don't come back at all."

"It's guarded by a powerful genie who won't let anyone in," added another.

Elie: We're not afraid!

So the traders pointed them in the direction they believed the treasure was hidden. Off rode Sarai with her companions on their camels.

Elie: Did they fill up their camels like a gas tank?
Me: The camel's hump is kind of like a gas tank, but it doesn't have a place to just pour stuff in. Do you know what it's made of?
Elie: Food and water?
Me: That's right- and the camels had plenty to spare.

Just over the fifth dune they saw a stone archway set down in the sand. A desert breeze swept away some of the sand as they approached.

All of a sudden, a blue and green mist began swirling up from the ground. It billowed larger and taller, soon as large as a tall tree. It whirled around in a slow circle, a slow tornado of color. The mist began to clear at the top and they found themselves staring at a genie large enough to hold them all in his hands.

From the waist up, he looked like a man with a broad chest, long thick arms, neck and head. But instead of legs he had the swirl of mist still spinning about. His brow furrowed as he looked down at them.

"Just what do you think you're doing here," the genie bellowed.

Sarai smiled at him. "We're not here for your treasure," she said reassuringly. "We just want the old king's scepter. Do you happen to have it? We've already gotten his crown from the goblin king."

The genie smiled and shrunk down to just her size. He reached over and fondly honked her nose. "I knew that already, but it's so good to hear you say it! So many people just want to take all the treasure, or at least as much as they think they can carry out without my noticing."

"Before I let you in, would you mind if I cast a helping spell on you? Just a little something to assist you as you go," the genie asked.

Elie: Sure!

The genie waved his hands slowly in circles, gradually reaching toward Sarai. As he did, his hands turned pale, even patchy. Soon they became mist again and he held them toward her eyes. Some of the mist flowed in and her eyes glowed briefly.

"There! Now, you can see that which you seek even better. You path will be always visible to you," the genie told her.

As she looked around, she found she could now see the smallest grain of sand on the next dune, and even the one beyond that. On the door to the treasure itself, she could now see the lock and, in seeing it so well, knew just how too open it. She opened the door and started inside.

The genie called after her, "Remember, take nothing but the scepter!"

She entered a large room filled with golden coins, polished gems, fine crowns and jewelry, and more. Everywhere she looked, there were glitters and sparkles in the dim light. But she walked carefully around these looking for anything that looked like what Alatar had described as the scepter so many days ago.

A thin line seemed to appear in the air, almost like a thread in blues and greens. It lead her to the corner under a table. There, beside a wooden crate stuffed with beads and under folded tapestry lay a black iron scepter. It looked nothing like all the riches and finery in the room.

Still, Sarai knew that this was just what she was looking for. It was even heavier than it looked at first sight but she was able to carry it in both arms. She carefully walked back around the other piles scattered throughout the cavern.

Emerging back into the glaring sunlight, she found the genie watching for her. "Good - you have only the scepter," he beamed. "I knew you could do it - something about your smile told me so. Had you taken even one other coin, I would have to imprison you forever in the cavern, transforming you to treasure as well. That's what most of it is, you know. Overeager explorers who wanted only wealth. Sometimes true riches are not to be found in gold or silver, you know."

With that, he honked her nose again and whirled down to a faint mist by the door as it creaked closed.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Friday, June 28, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: Food for the Forest

The foothills of the mountains gave was to easily rolling hills as they rode on. Soon, the companions found themselves riding though the plains, with a few hills still scattered off to one side or another.

They heard a sound like gathering thunder off to one side. This was rather odd, though, as there were so few clouds in the bright sky. As they stopped to wonder at it, they saw first a cloud of dust off to one side followed by row upon row of horses with heavily armed riders.

The riders all wore helms with giant plumes. Some carried banners, others trumpets, and most had swords or spears at the ready. As the riders approached, Sarai and her friends slowed to a halt. Not far from, the riders stopped, too, and one rode forward.

"What business have you here?" he inquired gruffly.

"We're on our way to the desert, just passing through," Sarai answered. "And how about you?"

The rider seemed somewhat surprised at the question. "We're off to defend our kingdom," he replied. "They used to trade with us, but for quite some time now they've been looting our food stores. Though we have plenty to share and sell, they're no longer interested in trade. What's worse is that they won't sell us the wood from their forests, either. We used to use it in the smokehouses to cure meat, as well as to warm our fires in the winter."

Mandalar frowned, "But how did it start? Why did the trading stop?"

"I'm afraid I don't know - but it must be that they decided they just didn't want to pay a just and fair amount for the food," replied the rider. "And that's when we had to start taking to wood without payment. No reason to try to trade with someone who's stealing from you, after all."

Everyone sat for a moment, until Sarai remembered the goblin king and how he had helped the dwarves and goblins to get along. She looked up with a smile, "So you're saying they don't want to trade anymore?"

"That's right," he said, "and there's no help for it."

"And you would rather go back to peaceful trade than continue this war?" she askeed.

The rider looked back over his soldier at the horsemen gathered. "I've lost too many friends already. If I could end this, I would."

"Suppose, though, just suppose that they did want to trade and would prefer peace to war, as you do. Would you work with them?"

The man nearly fell from his horse with laughter. "And supppose the sun were to rise purple in the north." He paused to wipe a few tears from his eyes and grew serious. "Yes, clever girl, if they prefer to talk rather than fight then we would be happy to oblige."

"Then let us go talk to them and see what we can do," Sarai offered.

A shadow passed over the rider's face as he said, "It won't do any good, and I must see to the defense of our kingdom. But still, your wit might just amuse them enough to try..." He paused to sigh. "Very well. I give you two hours. If you've not returned by then with news, or returned at all, we ride on to the border to take the wood we need."

Sarai exchanged a glance with her companions, and then they swiftly rode off as fast as their horses could run. The horses' breath grew heavy and labored before they finally neared a castle with archers and spearmen lining all the walls. A thick moat surrounded it filled with water, and only one drawbridge lay across.

"Halt! Identify yourselves!" commanded a guard by the gate.

Me: Did Sarai tell him right away or did she try to be crafty?
Elie: She told him right away.

"I'm Sarai, and we want to talk to your king about stopping this fight," she answered. "May we see him?"

The guards looked them over for a moment. "Leave any weapons you have here and you may enter."

Sarai immediately handed him the long dagger she carried. Mandalar took his sword and gently handed it to the guards. "Keep it safe," he said, "for that is no ordinary knight's sword."

To the amazement of the guards, Tiana quickly removed forty seven daggers from all over her armor and put them in a sack. She gave a sideways glance to Sarai who nodded. Then, with a sigh, Tiana took three more well hidden ones and added them, too. The stunned guard took the sack and placed it along with the other weapons.

They dismounted their horses and followed another guard to the king's court. He looked at them sternly and asked, "Are you spies? Are you hear to learn about our defenses from theh inside and report back?"

"No! And you haven't much time to end this war before a great many horsemen attack," Sarai shouted. "Would you rather fight or do you prefer to trade peacfully with your neighbors?"

The king shook his head. "Of course I would rather trade without incident. Too much is lost in war. But they asked for too much for the food we need so we had to take it or our people would starve. Then they attacked and stole the wood so we had even less to trade. Now there's no reasoning with them"

"You can reason with them! They want to trade, too, and I'm sure they'd be willing to talk about a fair price if you're willing to listen. Maybe they had a bad harvest and food was scarce for them, too. Perhaps they had a fire and lost much," Sarai said.

The king regarded her for a moment. "And you're sure they would rather trade than fight?"

"She speaks the truth," said Alatar, and everyone knows that a wizard's word is good. At least when he speaks so plainly, that is.

"Quickly! You only have a half an hour before they cross the border!" Sarai urged.

The king lept to his feet. "Then there's not a moment to lose! Guards, gather as many wagons loaded with timber as you can. We ride as soon as they are ready."

Minutes later, they set out from the castle with a dozen or more wagons. There were only a few guards to ride along with them to show they did not intend to fight. They rode hard, arriving at the border at the same moment as the riders came into view at full speed.

However, when the horsemen saw the wood, they slowed and stopped. The same rider came forward.

"What is this?!" His eyes were wide as he stopped before them.

The king rode forward. "A gesture of good faith. Let us stop this fight. I'm sure there's a good reason you wanted us to pay more for the food, but we just don't have the money. Perhaps we can work out something else?"

The rider nodded, "Rats ate a good deal of our foodstores and so we had less for us, too. But we didn't expect it to lead to war. I'm sorry it got to this point."

"And I, too," replied the king.

The horseman called for his men to bring forward all the food from their caravan that they could to give to the foresters. The horseman and king talked for awhile and arrived at a new deal to trade the one for the other in the future.

"I haven't let many know, but I am actually our king's brother and can make bargains in his name," explained the rider. "We'll work together, now, and be sure to talk about anything that changes instead of being so quick to fight."

They all thanked Sarai and her companions, sending them on their way and promising to remember them.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick 6/28/2013

The Trekker invented by Google
Will help those who act rather frugal
They'll see all the sights
With none of the flights
To try to avoid it is futile

Google loans out Street View Trekker for global exploration

Thursday, June 27, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: The King's Crown

After he had finished telling them how he came the goblin king, he paused and looked them over. "You did mention you were interested in the old king's crown," he mused, learning back with his arms crossed. "Why do you want to know about it?"

Sarai quickly told him of her quest and all that had happened since they left the farm. His eyes grew wide as he looked each of them over. He could tell by Mandalar's armor, the crest on his shield, and his ornate sword that he was no ordinary knight. Alatar nodded in agreement throughout, and Tiana quietly smiled.

"Saved a village? Rescued a king? And freed... how many prisoners?!" The goblin king's eyes grew wide in amazement. "And now you want the old king's symbols to try to help bring peace to the whole of the land. Well, if it weren't so utterly unbelievable it couldn't be true. I mean if it didn't seem so unlikely then it would be false. Or anything so incredible must not be a lie. I think... I've gotten myself confused."

As he put a hand to his head to stop it spinning, the wizard kindly placed a hand on his shoulder. "I scarcely believe it myself," he murmured, "and I was there."

At this reassurance, the goblin king brightened and sat up. "Well! It's settled then," he said cheerily. "You shall have the crown - but first I'll tell you how we came by it."

"You see, not long after the dwarves and goblins began mining together we came across a series of underground lakes and rivers running right through the mountains. In one of the largest and most beautiful caverns, a scouting dwarf saw something poking up through the water that he though must be a vein of gold. When he returned with goblins and more dwarves to investigate, however, they were surprised to find it was merely an old, dull crown.

"They pulled it up and brought it to me to decide what to do with it. Of course, having traveled and heard all the old stories I recognized it immediately. The goblins had no use for it, but were happy to polish it up. The dwarves agreed it was much too precious to sell and insisted we close off the caverns with the doors you had to pass through, just to keep it safe, you see."

At this, he reached behind him and pulled forth a simple wooden box. Lifting the lid, he revealed the ornately carved, yet unadorned, crown of the king.

"Here," he said gravely, "it is now yours. Use it well!"

"Thank you for trusting it to us," Sarai beamed. "Now, do you know anything about the scepter or the throne? We have to find those, too."

After a moment's thought, the goblin king replied, "I do recall a story I heard long ago of a desert some ways from here. There is said to be a treasure trove buried there, and the scepter may well be hidden in its midst."

They soon said their goodbyes and prepared to leave the mountains for the desert. Once out of the caves, they mounted their horses grazing idly by the chill mountain stream and rode off in the direction the goblin king directed.

Elie: Were they holding those... things?
Me: The reins? Yes, they were.
Elie: And did the all put on helmets to be safe?
Me: Certainly! Wouldn't want to get hurt horseback riding, of course.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick 6/27/2013

With lemurs, you can't turn your back
Or else they may quickly attack
They'll steal all your food
But not to be rude
It's just that they wanted a snack

Lemurs' group size predicts social intelligence

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

News Limerick 6/26/2013

She spoke for ten hours alone
Objections against her were thrown
Her tactics still worked
And Perry's now irked
The fate of the bill is not known

Texas Vote Passing Abortion Bill Is Rendered Moot

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: The Goblin King's Story

They sat precariously on the tiny chairs. The goblin king leaned back against the child-sized table and grinned. "You'd like to know how a man like me got to be king of the goblins? A rather strange story, that, but I'll happily tell it," he said softly, his voice almost musical in his small chambers.

"You see, I wasn't always the goblin king. I was one a traveller, buying goods from one town and selling them in the next. When there was nothing to buy or sell, I made my way performing with song or dance, learning more of each as I went, too.

"Some years ago, I happened by these mountains when a terrible rainstorm struck. I tried to take shelter under the trees, but it was such a gale that I was soon soaked through even under the thickest branches. It was then that I spied the cave leading into the mountain and raced for its shelter.

"In those days, they hadn't yet built the door so I walked right in. I soon found myself in their town, welcomed warmly by the friendly folk here.

"You see, just as I haven't always been the goblin king, the goblins haven't always had a king at all. They lived together in harmony, each working as the could for the good of all and sharing happily together. When I offered to buy or sell, the looked at me as if I had two heads. I offered to pay my way with a performance but they smiled and shook their heads.

"They told me, 'Song and dance are wonderful, indeed, but there is no need for payment. Instead, there may be something you can help us with, if you would be so kind?'

"Then the told me of their mines throughout the mountain and how they dug up some of the gold and gems within to make statues, mosaics, and other fine works of art. Lately, however, a colony of dwarves have moved in to the other side of the mountain and reached the same areas the goblins favored. When the dwarves arrived, they demanded the goblins leave the riches to them. Hating any form of confrontation, the goblins sadly retreated from first one and then another rich vein under the mountain.

"The same day I arrived, however, the dwarves had worked their way down to the very heart of the mountain where the most beautiful and varied collections of gems was to be found. As ever, the goblins had left it to the dwarven invaders but they were all sad at the loss. Perhaps I could possibly consider that maybe I would be willing to think about going down and speaking with the dwarves, inquiring if the goblins might have a chance to ask to come back from time to time to share the mine.

"I was more than happy to oblige and they showed me the tunnels to take. When I arrived, a dozen dwarves were hard at work with their pickaxes and wheelbarrows, carting away great loads of the precious stones.

"I cleared my throat and spoke, 'This is quite a lovely mine you're working, and with such skill too!' They looked at me and I got a good look at their faces in the torchlight. They looked surly and mean spirited, every one. From their furrowed brows to their pouting lower lips, their heavy thick beards to their potbellies, their broad hands to their large feet. Every one of them appeared on the verge of flying into a rage at anything that displeased them.

"The largest one, his head scarcely up to my chest spoke first, 'Yeah? And what's it to you?'

"'Have you worked here long, sir?' I asked politely.

"They exchanged quick glances before they replied, 'Eh, only a bit. Them goblins got it nice and started for us and now we're here to do the job right.'

"I brightened at the opening, 'Oh! So the goblins said. They were hoping to come back to mine a bit, too.'

"The dwarves laughed then, deep belly laughs that started in their guts and vibrated their way out to their arms and legs in great bubbling waves. 'Those goblins want to come back?!' one gasped when he regained his breath. 'They wouldn't know the point end of a pickaxe if you were to poke them in the bum with it! We're the only ones who truly know how to work a rich vein like this one.

"A spark of an idea came to my mind then. 'Oh, you think so? Perhaps you might be willing to show them in a sort of a challenge? Let's take that one wall there divide it down the middle and decide with a coin flip - yes one of those nice golden coins will do - who gets each side. Then, the winner gets to decide who gets to mine where and when down here in this mountain. What do you say?'

"If I thought they had laughed before I was mistaken. The cave itself began bouncing like a bowl of jelly from their howls and squeals and I was clean knocked off my feet, as were they. 'You just bring them right down and we'll show them how it's done!' they chortled.

"I raced back up the tunnels and told the goblins about the challenge. Their bright eyes lit up and they quickly ushered me into a small workshop. 'This is perfect!' one said. 'We've been working on this super mine whizbanger and just put on the final touches yesterday.'

"It was quite the contraption. It had picks on a wheel in front, shovels underneath, spikes to poke out the hardest rocks coming out all directions, and conveyer belts to drop the stones into an assortment of buckets and baskets. The whole of it was covered with gears and pulleys and twisted ropes with levers and handles for the goblins to make it work.

"We got that whizbanger loaded up and covered with a blanket, so as not to spoil the surprise. When we got back down, the dwarves were leaning back idly in the corner. We flipped a coin and picked sides. I raised my hands and said, 'Ready, set, go!'

"Off came the blanket with a whoosh of air and the goblins set to twisting and turning and pushing and prodding and lifting and pulling like you've never seen.  The dwarves were speechless, a few halfheartedly lifting their axes, but most were transfixed. One got in a couple of good blows on the wall before he missed and hit his foot instead. He yelped and just about hit the roof, I'll tell you!

"Well, in no time at all the goblins were done and had a beautiful pile of fine gems all ready to transport. The dwarves hadn't even gotten one free. Now, there's about two ways the dwarves could have felt. Do you think they were happy or mad?"

Elie: Happy!

"You'd be right, they were just about as happy a bee with a bowlful of honey. 'We got it all wrong,' said the largest one. 'You goblins really know what you're about! Would you maybe show us some of what you know and help us build one of them whizpoppers too?'

"From that day on, the dwarves and goblins have worked together happily down in the mines. The goblins plan it all out so no one vein is mined too deep or too fast and the dwarves handle all the trade to bring in better parts for more goblin inventions. The goblins were so happy they decided to crown me king just so I could have an official title if we were ever to need to deal with another group of folks again.

"But you wanted to know about the old king's crown, didn't you? I guess we'll just have to save that for next time."

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

There Once Was a Kingdom: The Goblin Keep

The door swung open and Sarai stepped through followed by the others. On the other side of the door, a small stair led up to a platform by the panel. A short goblin was waddling down the steps, peering at the visitors with keen interest. He was no taller than Sarai's waist, but wore a metal helmet with a tall spike on top to try to make himself appear taller. It didn't help much.

Me: What do you think he was wearing?
Elie: Pants, a belt, and a shirt!

He wore short trousers held up by a belt almost as wide as they were tall. Above this, his shirt came just over his shoulders into short sleeves that exposed his thin green arms. He had two long, pointed ears, the tufts of which sprouted wispy hairs out to the sides. His face was mostly eyes and mouth, sporting a broad grin.

"Don't often get visitors around here," he said, his high-pitched voice ringing in the small corridor. "Glad to see a friendly face."

"We're hoping to meet the goblin king," Sarai repeated. "We hear he has the old king's crown...?"

"Well, I've heard so too, though I've never really seen it," the goblin sighed. "I'd lead you down to the Keep myself but I've been up here on guard duty so long I've rather forgotten the way."

With that, the small goblin grasped a tall pole, easily more than twice his height, with a hook on the top.

Elie: Why did he get a tall pole?
Me: To help reach things up high - he's rather short, you know.

This he used to help pull a latch to close the wooden door behind them and he went back to peering through a peephole at the empty tunnel beyond.

Sarai, Alatar, Mandalar, and Tiana walked easily down the sloping corridor, finding it grew more chilly and damp as they went. The tunnel seemed to go on endlessly and they were sure they must have reached the heart of the mountain by now. Their legs ached from walking so they stopped to rest.

Mandalar, hot in his heavy suit of armor, tried to lean back against the rock wall, but as his lifted his elbow to rest it on a large crag, he fell straight through what appeared to be solid stone.

"An illusion!" Alatar exclaimed. Tiana drew her daggers quickly and leapt through after him. Alatar and Sarai quickly followed.

On the other side of the wall, though, they found no enemies. They were standing on a wooden path fixed against the wall of an enormous cavern. It extended up so high that they couldn't make out the ceiling for all their straining. The cavern was deep, as well, and the lower tiers were lost to view.

All around the edge of the cavern were level after level of wooden walkways, fronting on shops, houses,  and large open areas. Bridges spanned across at odd intervals and goblins could be seen going about their lives all around. Some were sitting down for lunch at open air cafes, others enjoying a life juggling and tumbling performance up to one side. On the other, a class was in session with students learning goblin history. Across from Sarai and her friends, a parade of goblins with pickaxes and shovels on their shoulders were off on their way to work in the mines.

The adventurers stared in amazement at the town, their mouths forming perfect Os as their jaws dropped at the sheer immensity of the goblin keep.

Each of these goblins was no more than three feet high, and most were shorter than that. One young goblin looked up at the newcomers and squealed, "Look mommy! Giants!"

All the bustle and noise of the town screeched to a halt. A thousand pairs of eyes turned and faced them from a thousand stock still faces, each a mask of surprise.

"Hi!" the young Goblin blurted out.

Me: What do you think Sarai said?
Elie: "Hi!"

"What's your name?" the goblin asked.

Elie: "I'm Sarai. Who're you?"

"I'm Gerta," the young goblin bashfully replied. "What're you doing here?"

Elie: "We're looking for the goblin king!"

"Oh - you probably want to talk to them," Gerta answered, pointing at two guards near the entrance.

Sarai turned to the guards who looked her and her companions over. "Well, do you want to take the quick way down or the long way?" one asked after a careful inspection.

Elie: "Oooh! The quick way!"

The goblin grinned, "I was hoping you'd say that!" And before they knew it, the goblins had grabbed nearby ropes, tying one each fast around their waists.

"Have a nice day!" the other goblin called as they flung Sarai, Alatar, Tiana and Mandalar over the railing. The ropes looped through pulleys and hooks high out of view and they found themselves falling quickly through the open air, narrowly missing bridges and wooden beams and they sailed down. A cheer rose from several goblins they zipped past and Sarai grinned at the rushing air. Alatar appeared a bit queasy and held onto his staff extra tight. Tiana was quite at ease, of course, and Mandalar - well, he still had his helmet on so it was difficult to tell.

As they neared the bottom, the ropes grew tight and slowed them down to a gentle pace.

Elie: Was it soft at the bottom?
Me: Of course! They had a pile of mattresses and pillows for them to land on.

When they untied the ropes, several goblins at the bottom directed them into the goblin king's chambers. Down the narrow passage they went and into king's chambers. What they found was perhaps the greatest surprise of all.

Unlike all the goblins they had seen outside, the king was about the height of Tiana. His ears were small, not pointed, and his skin wasn't green either. In fact, he didn't look very much like a goblin at all. He looked more like a person!

"Ummm, how do you do?" Tiana asked hesitantly.

The goblin king looked up from a low table he was hunched over, almost as startled to see them as they were to see him. He quickly regained his composure, however, and smiled warmly. "Let's skip all the pleasantries, shall we?" he suggested. "You're probably wondering how me, a not so goblin looking guy, got to be the king of the goblins. Well, it rather surprised me too, but it's a bit of a long story. Perhaps we should all sit down?"

And so they did, squatting uneasily on chairs rather too small for them.

Elie: But why didn't he look like a goblin?
Me: That's the Goblin King's story, and we'll hear that next time.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

There Once Was a Kingdom: Into the Cave

They set out the next morning for the goblins' cave in the mountains.

Elie: How did they travel? Were they driving?
Me: No, this was long before there were cars. Let's see... they probably each rode a horse from Mandalar's stables.

The hills rolled easily at first but grew steeper the closer they got to the mountains. Finally, they crested the tallest hill yet and found themselves looking at the rocky slopes of the mountains before them.

They tied the horses' reins to a tree near a cool mountain stream with plenty of fresh grass growing nearby for the horses to eat and set up the rocky trail on foot. Within a few moments, them found themselves facing a pair of large stone doors blocking the entrance to the cave.

The doors had no handle but rather just one small keyhole set in the middle. The four pushed with all their might but the stones would not budge. Mandalar began searching under nearby rocks for a key. Sarai checked in the scraggly bushes. Tiana felt along the doors' edges hopefully but had no better luck. She even tried to pry it open with one of her daggers but was afraid the blade would bend and break. Alatar, though, looked at the keyhole itself.

It was small and dark, but not very deep. He touched it gingerly with his thumb and found that the black stone within slid back easily at his touch. As it slid, he felt a latch spring up from underneath. This he tugged ever so slightly, and was rewarded with a resounding thud of some unseen lock falling into place.

The doors creaked heavily, shuddering and releasing a cloud of dust gathered during years of disuse. They began to swing ever so slowly inwards revealing a long, dark passageway into the mountain. They lit torches and began treading carefully into the tunnel.

Elie: Did Mandalar put back on his helmet?
Me: Yes - though he lifted the visor so he could see better in the dark.
Elie: Why does he have a helmet?
Me: To protect his head from... bumps, I suppose.

A short distance into the tunnel they found another door, this one made of wood but no less solid than the stone one behind them. Alatar, Mandalar, and Tiana set to searching for another keyhole or any other means of opening the door.

Sarai, on the other hand merely stood looking at the door for a moment, tapping her chin thoughtfully with one finger. An idea struck her, and she knocked firmly on the door three times. The sound echoed through the cave with each blow, filling their ears with its deep tone.

For a moment, all was then silent. Then, without warning, a panel slid open halfway up the door. Two large glowing eyes peered out at them.

"Hey, who goes there?" asked a squeaky voice, almost bubbling with excitement.

Sarai smiled warmly. "I'm Sarai, and this is Alatar, Tiana, and Mandalar. We -"

"Nah, we don't want any," the small voice interrupted. "Thanks, bye."

And with that, the panel swiftly slid shut.

Sarai, surprised, looked at her companions and then back to the door. Determined, she knocked again more firmly.

"Yes?" the small voice said, now sounding almost annoyed.

"We just want to come in!" Sarai answered firmly. "We're not selling anything. We just heard the goblin king may have a crown that once belonged to the old king and we wanted to ask him about it. We want to bring the symbols of the old king back together to help restore peace for everyone."

"Oh! Not selling anything? And peace? Well that sounds rather lovely. We like a good bit of peace as much as the next folk around here. Why didn't you say so in the first place?" the small voice seemed to be smiling as it replied. "Right this way, come on in."

And with that, the heavy door began to swing inwards.

Me: We'll have to pick up the story there tomorrow.
Elie: Do you have an imaginary bookmark in your head?

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick 6/25/2013

It seems that some plants can do math
Controlled by a chemical path
Surprising, it's true
But how will they do
With reading some Sylvia Plath?

Plants 'do maths' to control overnight food supplies

There Once Was a Kingdom: The Dastardly Duke

The following morning after the celebration, the townsfolk told them that the soldiers came from the nearby castle ruled by a cruel duke and that more might come when the six captured the day before didn't return. Sarai, Alatar, and Tiana agreed to go see what they could do to help protect the town and all the others nearby.

They gathered some provisions, food, water, sleepsacks, and backpacks to carry it all. Together right after an early breakfast, they snuck through along the road as quietly and quickly as they could. They came to a break in the trees and saw the tall, well guarded castle before them. Soldiers stood on all the walls, more at the front gate by the single bridge over the wide watery moat.

Alatar and Tiana began discussing how they might sneak in or scale the walls. Sarai, however, looked to the side and saw a small hut. She motioned the other two closer and they tiptoed over. Peering in the windows, they saw it was a small tool shed. Something seemed strange about it, though. The walls were solid stones and it seemed too well built to be a simple shed.

Since no one was inside, they pushed open the wooden door and glanced around. They spied a trapdoor in the floor and easily pried it open. Alatar grabbed a torch from among the tools and descended the short ladder to the passageway below. Tiana and Sarai followed silently, pausing to let their eyes adjust to the dimness of the stone passageway.

"This leads straight towards the castle!" Sarai exclaimed.

"Perhaps it's an escape route?" Tiana wondered.

They agreed to follow it and picked their way forward until they saw the glow of lanterns ahead. The walls were now just iron bars to cells on either side. They had found their way to the castle's dungeon without even knowing it. Here, the townsfolk had told them, they would find people the duke had captured because they refused to give him whatever he asked for or they had spoken out against him.

Ahead, two guards stood watch over the cells, leaning idly on their tall staves. Alatar put his finger to his lips and then slowly raised his staff above his head. He spun it in small circles, slowly at first but gradually gathering speed. He spun it faster and faster over his head until a small funnel formed and spun on its own.

With a softly muttered word, he jabbed his staff towards the guards and the small tornado flew off toward them with great speed. It came to a sudden halt right over one of the guard's heads. He looked up slowly, his mouth agape at the spinning air. It spun faster and faster, suddenly touching its tip to his helmet. In an instant, the helmet began to spin right along with the funnel.

Stunned, the guard grabbed his helmet with both hands. This brought it to a halt, but the whirling wind was faster. The guard began to twirl and spin in place, hands held fast to his helmet not now holding it onto his head but holding himself up. Alatar smiled and spoke another hushed word. The wind suddenly stopped and the guard whirled into the other, both collapsing on the ground as their heads crashed into each other and left them unconscious.

Tiana quickly pulled lock picking tools from her pouch and freed all the prisoners. Jubilant, they grabbed anything they could to help the three travelers take the castle from below. As they prepared, one lone prisoner broke open the door to a sealed cabinet, exposing a gleaming suit of armor, shield, and sword within. These he donned quickly and expertly, joining Sarai in the lead of the group.

They found their way up a tightly twisting stairwell to the main corridor above. Two more guards stood by the entrance, but a quick blow from the knight's sword sent them reeling. Alerted by the noise, more soldiers called out for help and raced to the scene. The escaped prisoners poured into the hallway and quickly overwhelmed the few guards present, but heavy footsteps could be heard running from all directions.

"This way!" shouted the knight, and they followed him as he raced first down one passage and then another.

Around another bend, they found themselves facing row upon row of archers, bows at the ready. The first arrow was already in flight before Sarai could think, but a dagger whizzed past her ear, thrown by Tiana with expert aim. It struck the arrow in midair, splintering it instantly. More arrows flew after the first, however, and everyone threw themselves to the ground or the walls.

Everyone, that is, save the knight. He raised his shield, deflecting the arrows left, right, up, and down. One slammed into a wall near a sleeping dog who awoke with a frightened "awoorf?!" and leapt clear out a window to a pile of hay below. Another struck a metal pitcher that landed straight on a cat's head and stuck fast. With an angry "mreow!" it raced straight toward the archers, knocking several off their feet. They, in turn, tangled up the next row behind them and arrows now flew wildly, and harmlessly against the walls and floor.

In the midst of the jumble, Sarai and her companions regained their footing and raced forward over the confused ranks and into the throne room.

There, they saw the duke's own guard and his favored courtiers all armed and ready to fight. Upon a red velvet throne raised above them all sat the duke, his face fixed in a permanent scowl. His beard was a mass of tangles and angry snarls, and it hung halfway down his broad chest. He rose slowly to his feet like a mountain eager to get a better view of the sea.

"Seize them!" he boomed, his deep, gravelly voice echoing in the wooden rafters.

His guards and courtiers began to move forward as one, but stopped when they saw the mass of people pouring into the room with the knight in shining armor in the lead. Vastly outnumbered they looked carefully at one another, back to Sarai and her forces, and then up at the duke. Slowly, but quite deliberately, each of the duke's guards laid their swords and spears on the ground - they would have no part of this fight.

The duke roared with anger and reached both his hands over his head to grab the hilt of his own sword. It was as tall as a bear standing up on its hind legs to fight and as wide as grown man's leg. He swung the heavy sword first to one side, splitting a stone pillar as it struck. He swung it back to the other side, where it struck a large tree (which was inside for some reason) and sent it flying backwards through the window. With one more step, he raised the terrible sword above his head and was about to bring its full force down on his enemies.

Before he could, the knight flung his own sword with all his might. It crashed into the mighty blade and splintered it to tiny shards. The force of the knight's sword was so great that the duke's hands shook like two bells announcing a holiday or wedding. The duke fell to his knees, and the knight quickly tied him up in ropes and chains.

As he turned back to face Sarai and her friends, the knight removed his helmet. "I am Mandalar," he announced, "and I was once the king of this castle. This duke captured me and cast me into the dungeon with so many of my poor subjects. Thank you for rescuing me and helping restore me to my throne. We shall return to the towns all the duke has taken and try to set right what has been done here. Now, in return for your help, is there anything I can do to help you?"

Sarai was almost too stunned to speak, so Alatar urged her on. "Perhaps he can help us in our task?" Alatar prompted.

She nodded. "We're trying to find the old king's crown, scepter, and throne so we can bring them to his castle and bring back peace. But we just don't know where to start looking," she said. "Do you know anything about them?"

Mandalar smiled and nodded. "I do not know for certain, but I have heard that the crown rests in the treasure trove of a goblin king not far from here."

"Thank you! We'll have to go see if he's willing to let us have it to help make the country whole again," Sarai replied.

"Let me come with you, if you please," Mandalar offered. "It's the least I can do after what you've now done for me."

They agreed and spent the rest of the combing through the castle, looking for anything that had been taken from the several nearby villages and towns. They had another feast and party that night to celebrate the duke's defeat.

Elie's commentary: I didn't like all the fighting.

Next time: More diplomacy, puzzles, and scenery! Fewer swords, daggers, and arrows!

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Monday, June 24, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: The Adventure Begins

Sarai, Alatar, and Tiana left the small village near her farm. Alatar chose the road, telling them he had heard a legend of how the people might once again be united and peace return to the country. Tales spoke of three symbols of the old king that must be found and brought back to his castle.

First was his crown, simple yet distinct. It was beautiful in its own way, lacking any jewels but ornately carved by loving subjects who worked the metal to a fine polish.

Next was the king's scepter. When he pronounced judgements, he always carried it to remind him of the weight he must bear in deciding justly. It was made not of fine metals but of wrought iron. Even so, it had been delicately forged especially for him to serve him as he ruled the land.

Lastly was his throne. Unlike those of other kings and princes, the old king did not sit upon a high-backed golden chair with lofty arms and plush velvet. Instead, he sat upon a simple sturdy oak chair draped with a pair of coarse blankets. He would have been content with dull grey or beige, but others had insisted on dying the cloth in brilliant reds and blues to match the country's flag - a red swan swimming on a rippling blue lake.

Alatar told them all this as they walked and Sarai could only listen in wonder at the simple desires of the king, so different from the lords she heard of now.

"And where can we find all of these? Where do we start?" she wondered.

"That, sadly, is unknown to me," Alatar replied sadly. "And there is one more hurdle. The very location of the castle the three symbols of the king must be brought to has been lost to time."

They walked on in silence for a time as Sarai considered the task before her. She was lost in thought as the crested the last ridge and found themselves overlooking a town larger than the village she knew.

As they approached, they saw many people bustling about but few spoke to one another let alone the new arrivals. Surprised at this, they walked through the town to the large market square. Despite its size, it was mostly empty.

Tiana shook her head sadly. "There were once many merchants here, but so few remain," she lamented. "Soldiers have been coming here from the nearby castle to take what they want, when they want without payment or any thanks. The people live in fear and barely have enough left to care for themselves."

As she finished, they heard a clatter of hooves on the cobblestones and people began rushing all around them. Everyone quickly gathered whatever they could in their hands and began running in all directions at once.

Before Sarai could turn to see who was approaching, Alatar and Tiana had ushered her into a back alleyway. She peered around the corner and saw six mounted soldiers riding slowly up the road, laughing loudly. One leaned casually to the side to scoop up a few apples from a cart. He took a large bite of one and threw the others to his companions.

Sarai found her face growing hot with anger. She pulled out her slingshot, grabbed a stone from the ground and let it fly. It hit the soldier square on the helmet and he flew backwards off his horse. He landed squarely on his head, bounced back to his feet and sat down heavily in a large mud puddle. He swayed slowly for a moment and the fell on the ground fast asleep.

The other soldiers were stunned just for a moment, giving Sarai enough time to let loose another stone. This one landed true on another's breastplate, knocking him clean off his horse and into a large bowl of pudding for sale in another merchant's cart.

The remaining soldiers were quick to turn toward Sarai and charged at her, yelling out in anger. She fumbled for another stone but couldn't find one. They were almost on top of her when Tiana threw a pair of daggers with startling accuracy at the two in front. Although their armor was thick, the daggers knocked them backwards into the other two behind them and they all fell in a jumble.

Alatar sprung to action, waving his staff high in the air with both arms. A length of rope flew out of a basket to one side of the road and quickly tied all the soldiers together.

A surprised silence fell over the square, but broke suddenly as the townsfolk all cheered as one for their new found saviors. Windows long shut flew open, smiles appeared on faces long accustomed to only frowning. They declared a feast and parade to celebrate.

There were jugglers, acrobats, and clowns. Dancers and music filled one side of the square, while a rich buffet of the best they had to offer was spread out at the other end . Sarai celebrated with her new friends and companions, but knew that many more trials lay ahead.

Elie's Commentary: Why did she have a slingshot?
My reply: Well, you see - hmm. Some people use them to hunt. Like for food?
Elie: I guess that's okay.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick 6/24/2013

He brought the news out in the sun
So now he is off on the run
He picks his stops well
It's like he can tell
Where U.S. relations are shunned

Russia defiant as U.S. raises pressure over Snowden

Sunday, June 23, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: A long time ago

A long time ago, there was a kingdom ruled by a wise and gentle king. He did not want power or gold, but only for those living in the whole kingdom to live in peace as much as possible. Whenever there was an argument, he worked hard to settle it so everyone got something of what they wanted. The king was well loved and many came to him for advice.

But when he passed and it was his children's turn to rule the whole of the continent, they couldn't decide who should be in charge or what the rules ought to be. Without their father's guidance the brothers and sisters argued and eventually all went their separate ways, always fighting and wanting more than what the others had.

The states of the kingdom split and soon fought amongst each other, too, and the common folk stopped traveling so far to visit the other parts of the continent. People still traded and went about their business, but many missed the old king.

In was in this time that an old man came to a small, remote farm. He knocked on the door and asked if the young farm girl, Sarai, was in. The farmer and his wife let in the old man who went straight to the young girl and looked deep into her eyes.

"You, Sarai, are heir to the long lost crown of the great king," the old man said gravely. "In this time of great fighting, you can bring the people back together and end this useless bickering."

Sarai was surprised, for she thought the farmer and his wife were her aunt and uncle. "This can't be," she murmured. "Uncle, tell him!"

But the farmer shook his head. "You were brought to us when you were just a baby. We were told to look after you and keep you safe for one day you might do great things," the farmer admitted.

They talked long into the night and, when they were through, all agreed that Sarai would journey out with the man the following morning. He revealed himself to be a wizard named Alatar. His magic would help them along their way.

The following morning, they gathered their belongings and traveled to the nearby village. There, they met with a woman named Tiana who often traveled between towns and knew the country well. She agreed to go with them as she was fond of Sarai and hoped to do what she could to make the kingdom whole once more.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Friday, June 21, 2013

News Limerick 6/21/2013

When Grayson can first hear a sound
The image is really profound
His mouth opens wide
I'm sure daddy cried
See science make worlds turn around

New implant helps boy hear for first time

Thursday, June 20, 2013

News Limerick 6/20/2013

This battery may prove quite good
With sodium, tin, and some wood
Recharge count can grow
The eco cost's low
Would you like to try some? You should!

Scientists develop long-lasting batteries from wood and sodium

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

News Limerick 6/19/2013

Now NASA's announced a new class
With many new skills all en masse
They'll take to the stars
For asteroids, Mars
Our hopes they will clearly surpass

NASA Names First Astronaut Class for Deep Space Exploration

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

News Limerick 6/18/2013

We learn that they've rigged all the rates
To help the bank through dire straits
The banks paid a fine
For crossing the line
And now time in prison awaits

Ex-trader charged with Libor rigging in U.K.

Monday, June 17, 2013

News Limerick 6/17/2013

The election is done in Iran
And the winner's a moderate man
He seems shocked with his win
Now he's set to begin
Giving rights he's proposed in his plan

Hassan Rowhani, cleric known as a pragmatist, wins Iran election

Friday, June 14, 2013

News Limerick 6/14/2013

The Syrian forces used sarin
With hopes it's the rebels their scarin'
But Britain steps in
Exposing their sin
"You're making your country turn barren."

Britain agrees with U.S. that chemical weapons been used in Syria

Thursday, June 13, 2013

News Limerick 6/13/2013

"Since Facebook will now allow tags
Discussion is better," he brags
And why the delay?
It's Zuckerberg's say
And that's why a change sometimes lags

Facebook copies social rival Twitter, adopts hashtags

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

News Limerick 6/12/2013

It may seem like it's all just a plot
Meant to monitor what we have thought
But we may have it wrong
It's been George all along!
Now we see how his book has grown hot

NSA surveillance puts George Orwell's '1984' on bestseller lists

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

News Limerick 6/11/2013

They're testing out tech for a station
Which leads to some muted elation
While some folks may jeer
"Use money down here!"
New science deserves an ovation

Chinese spaceship blasts off from Gobi Desert

Monday, June 10, 2013

News Limerick 6/10/2013

Invisible objects inside?
Just think of what else it can hide
You car keys, remote
Loose change, an old note
My couch can do all that with pride

Human-Scale Invisibility Cloak Unveiled

Friday, June 7, 2013

News Limerick 6/7/2013

So, a comet has flown through the sun
And the scientists thought it was done
But it came 'round the back
From its solar attack
Well I guess that must mean that it won?

Comet Lovejoy flies into Sun to reveal solar secrets

Thursday, June 6, 2013

News Limerick 6/6/2013

In Phillie, a building collapsed
The contractor did it? Perhaps
They pulled the wrong beam
(An error supreme)
They've learned that they must mind the gaps

6 dead, 14 hurt in Philadelphia building collapse

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

News Limerick 6/5/2013

Now Windows goes back to the "Start"
Restoring that once missing part
They hope it's enough
For sales are so rough
Will this be the horse for the cart?

Microsoft unveils operating system update

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

News Limerick 6/4/2013

Most planets out there are quite shy
But this one has captured our eye
It's young and it's hot
So easy to spot
And that's why we look to the sky

Smile! This Could Be The Lightest Alien Planet Ever Captured On Camera

Monday, June 3, 2013

News Limerick 6/3/2013

It's three new computers in one
And that makes it all the more fun
But Windows and Droid?!
It must be destroyed!
That Frankenstein can't see the sun

Asus Transformer Book Trio runs Windows 8 and Android simultaneously