Jasperine collapsed against the tall stone wall, panting hard. She wanted to keep running, but her burning lungs needed some time to snatch at air, her aching limbs a moment to relax. Otherwise she would never make it.
As her breath steadied, she gently patted her inside jacket pocket, reassured by the firm lump she felt there. But as a flock of startled birds flapped, squawking, into the sky not far away, her relief shattered into fear. Her pursuer was approaching.
Jas perched on her tip-toes to peer through a watch-hole bored in the thick wall behind her. The small opening looked out over the expansive empty field she had traversed not long before. Her only route home was back in that direction, where she would be in plain sight and horribly exposed. The coast appeared to be clear, but for how long? Adalbert was surprisingly fast for a troll of his size; once he got up to speed, with his large strides, he could easily outpace her. And she did not want to be within reach of his spiked truncheon.
She turned back to examine her surroundings. Around her were the ruins of a grand castle – elvish, judging by the carvings on the keystones of the arches that were still standing. The garrison had mostly crumbled, succumbing to the thorny brambles that strangled the pillars and the weeds bursting through the cracks in the flagstones. The castle was most likely attacked, destroyed and abandoned during the Elven-Giant Wars a couple of centuries previous. Many such fortresses and lands became occupied by trolls, gremlins, spectres and other scavengers once the Wars were over. Now, these particular woods were home to Adalbert the troll.
Adalbert was a thief. Or rather, he recruited others to thieve on his behalf. Two such henchmen had crept into Jas’ homeland in the dead of night and stolen an item of immense value from her people. And Adalbert, in stark contrast to the troll stereotype, was wily and cunning and had managed to conceal the whereabouts of himself and his prize for many years. Unfortunately, he had not reckoned on Jasperine’s superior sleuthing skills. Using her network of friends and allies, she traced Adalbert to the Oaken Woods. The neighbouring jackalope community dug her a long tunnel that started from their shared border and ended in the field near the castle in the Woods. The tunnel had been tight and claustrophobic, but Jas had crawled stoically until she emerged on the other side. From there, it had been easy enough to locate Adalbert’s cave deep in the woods and find his stolen trinket, sparkling atop a pile of other loot – after all, it was just a shiny decoration to him. Jas doubted he knew its true significance.
Luckily for Jas, Adalbert had been asleep upon her arrival, snoring like an erupting volcano. Unluckily for Jas, Adalbert had awoken just as she got her hands on his ornament. Taking advantage of his drowsiness, Jas had managed to escape his clutches and flee into the trees. But the troll inevitably gave chase, and feeling her legs tiring, Jas had been forced to stop and hide amongst the castle rubble.
Now, energy regained, Jas prepared to make her final dash across the field. She stretched up again to peek through the watch-hole and check that her path was clear – and gasped. A big, bulbous eye was glaring at her from the other side.
“Gotcha, you pointy-eared pest!”
Jas scrambled hurriedly away from the wall as Adalbert demolished it with his club, sending debris flying and falling around her.
“Give me back my TREASURE!” he bellowed, thumping after her.
“It’s not yours!” Jasperine squealed defiantly, weaving through the fractured stones, “It belongs to us!”
She wished more than ever that she had her wings. If she could take to the air she would be out-of-reach; safe and home in no time. As it was, she was still more nimble than the troll, even on the ground. He was at least thrice her height and five times as wide. She so led him on a labyrinthine chase around the stone walls, knowing that cover and small spaces were her best chance of survival. Once she was out-of-sight, she commando-rolled under the roots of a towering oak tree, crawling as deep as she could manage into the earthy space. If she could remain hidden for long enough, perhaps Adalbert would give up, or get distracted long enough for her to make a break for it across the field.
She reached inside her jacket and pulled out the stolen item. It was a small orb which fit snuggly in the palm of her hand – obsidian black, but glistening and glittering and glowing with an opalescent aura. It was beautiful, mesmerising – so no wonder that Adalbert lusted after its lustre. But to Jasperine, and her pixie kin, it was more than just a gemstone: it was an enchanted amulet. When activated, the charm released the magic that enabled pixies who had come of age to grow their silver gossamer wings. Ever since the theft, this power was lost, and young pixies were left bereft and wingless. Over time too, the wings of older pixies had begun to decay and fall apart. The sorrow in the pixie community was unbearable. Jasperine, daughter of the Queen, had come of age just over a year ago. The disappointment and fury had driven her to use her royal connections to find the thieves and finally retrieve the long-lost amulet.
She rolled the stone between her fingers, then deposited it carefully in her pocket for safekeeping. If she dropped it now, she would never forgive herself.
Suddenly, there was an almighty smash. Jas screamed as Adalbert swung his club into the oak tree, sending shards of wood splintering through the air and the trunk crashing to the ground. With his warty fingers, he plucked Jasperine from the soil by the collar of her jacket, dangling her in the air in front of his face. She winced as his rancid breath washed over her.
“Pathetic, pesky, poxy pixie,” he spat.
“Let me go!” Jas wailed, trying in vain to free herself.
“Baby pixie still has no wings,” the troll simpered, “Poor baby pixie thief.”
He paused, then roared:
“Give me back my JEWEL!”
Jas had two options. Give him the amulet willingly, or be maced to pieces as he searched for it. The second option didn’t seem too appealing. Her hand twitched towards her pocket, when she realised that Adalbert had a grip on only her jacket – maybe, if she manoeuvred just right, she could get free. Twisting and writhing, she wriggled out of the jacket, plummeting to the ground and landing in a cloud of dust. With the troll caught unawares, Jas knew this was her moment. She dashed off through the castle and towards the field as fast as her legs could carry her, skipping over boulders and ducking under arches. The hapless troll flung the jacket away and stumbled after her, shouting profanities. Jas burst clear into the meadow, speeding through the long grasses that grazed her knobbly knees.
“Keep going, don’t stop now,” she muttered to herself, heart pounding.
She could hear Adalbert behind her, and just as she’d thought, he was making up ground on her. She glanced backwards over her shoulder, saw his face contorted with rage, twirling his lethal truncheon above his head. The entrance to the tunnel was close. Would she make it?
Adalbert charged up behind his quarry, breathing down her neck. She had nowhere to hide in this open field. Soon, he would be spilling worthless pixie blood and his favourite treasure would be back where it belonged. He raised his club a little higher and prepared to bring it slamming down.
With a desperate cry, Jas dived for the jackalope tunnel and vanished into the ground. Adalbert tore over her head, looking around in confusion. How could she have vanished like that? He tried to skid to a stop but tripped, hitting the floor with a thunderous thud. Dazed and concussed, he watched the diminutive figure of Jasperine swim into view.
“Go and pick on someone your own size,” she scowled.
She spun on her heel and returned to the mouth of the tunnel, where she nervously patted her skirt pocket. The amulet jiggled reassuringly. She smiled to herself, grateful that she had instinctively switched pockets beneath the oak tree. One lost jacket was a small price to pay to save her life and finally get her long-awaited wings.
She disappeared back underground to make the long crawl home.
Emma H, age 26, 05/09/2017
Short story penned in response to Sue Vincent’s ‘Sight’ #writephoto prompt. I went back to fantasy this week although the brilliant photo could have taken my imagination in many different directions! To participate or read other bloggers’ entries, you can follow the link here:
My piece ended up being a lot longer than expected, so congratulations and many thanks if you made it to the end! Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks to Sue again for a great prompt! 🙂