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?"
"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.