Oathbreaker by M. R. Mathias A Faery Tale

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  1. M. R. Mathias

    M. R. Mathias Master Wizard

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    Oathbreaker by M. R. Mathias

    Copyright 2005


    “I only busted Dannyo’s lips, and swelled his eyes shut, Master Zarvin!” the excited young pixie, named Oonzil, said from his seat, atop the human wizard’s upside down teacup. His frog skin jerkin was ruffled, as was the shock of lavender colored hair atop his head. “I could’ve, and should’ve, done him more harm than that.”

    Master Wizard Zarvin narrowed his huge silvery eyebrows and leaned forward in his chair, “Oonzy, you can’t keep pounding every faery, sprite, and pixie that teases you about your Da. Dannyo Dewdrop’s father is the head of the Toadstool Alliance. He will, no doubt, cause a stink over this.”

    “Oh, but I can, sir.” Oonzil spoke in a voice full of adolescent defiance. “My father may have broken his oath once, but he did it ‘cause Ma and me needed him! I’ll be stompin’ anyone who dares call me Da Orvil the Oathbreaker, Toadstool Alliance or not!” He slipped off of the teacup, rattling the pewter spoon that rested in the saucer. His chest swelled as he hooked his thumbs in his belt loops, and finished his tirade. “And let there be no doubt, kind wizard, I’ll not be breakin’ my oath!”

    Master Zarvin leaned back and sighed. As his mind wandered, he began stroking his long, snowy beard. Why he had built his tower in this forest full of fae folk, he would never understand. As the most powerful practitioner of magic in the area, the duty fell on him to oversee matters of justice. He hated having to settle disputes like the one before him now. Young Oonzil had already whipped half a dozen other little folk. He even threatened a gnome that was twice his size, for the offense of calling his father what he truthfully was. Very few of the fae even remembered what oath Orvil Windlestraw had broken, or why. Had they known the circumstances, they might have thought better of pestering young Oonzil over his father’s sordid past.

    Warm sunlight, and the sounds of the busy springtime forest, streamed in through the un-shuttered window, as the wizard recalled the events that led to Orvil’s oathbreaking.

    *** *** ***

    Some four years earlier, which is quite a span of time for the short lived little folk, Orvil Windlestraw was out hunting grasshoppers and stool toads, when he and his apprentice were snared in a trap. They had wandered too far away from the wizard’s tower, past the point where Master Zarvin’s wards could protect them. That far away from the tower, the fae stopped being the hunters, and often became the prey.

    A human man, named Markham, set traps in the honeysuckle shrubs and along the berry beds in those areas. He hunted and trapped the faeries, pixies, sylphs, and sprites for profit. The fae creatures he caught were usually nailed out on a stump to dry in the sun. After that, they were ground into fine powder. Pixie dust and faery dust were prized spell components to the witches and sorcerers who practiced the darker side of the arcane arts. Markham made a comfortable living supplying those types with the rare substances he harvested. Orvil and his young apprentice, Jurva Sageroot, had been hot on the trail of a fat, gray leaf hopper that afternoon. Unfortunately, they chased the meaty bug right into one of Markham’s traps.

    Though his chosen trade was a seemingly cruel one, Markham was not truly an evil man. To him, harvesting the little folk was no different than harvesting a field for grain, or a wild boar for meat. So, when Jurva began begging and pleading for his life, the trapper seemed to have a moment of weakness.

    “If your chum will give his oath not to try and escape me, so that I might stay with my traps until I catch me a faery or two, then I’ll let you go.” The truth of it was that Markham couldn’t expect to catch anything with all of Jurva’s bawling and whining. He thought about killing the lad, but the smell of dead fae would keep the other little buggers away. Letting Jurva go was necessary, if he hoped to catch one of the elusive winged fae on this hunting trip.

    As the apprentice, Jurva’s safety was Orvil’s responsibility. He didn’t hesitate to give his oath. “Let him go, and I swear I won’t try to escape,” declared Orvil. He hadn’t even crossed his fingers behind his back or his toes in his boots when he spoke the words. Markham did as he said he would and let Jurva go. As quickly as he could run, Jurva carried the sad tale of Orvil’s brave sacrifice back to the village of fae folk who lived around Master Zarvin’s tower.

    Orvil had only been thinking of Jurva’s well being when he gave his word not to try an escape. He hadn’t been thinking about his pretty, young pregnant wife who depended on his labors. He loved her dearly. When he thought about her, and how she would be forced to raise their child on her own, he fell into a state of panicked despair.

    He would never see her again. She would want for food and clothing. She would have to beg and scrounge to get by, or worse. The idea of it was more than he could bear. He scoured his mind for a loophole in the oath he had given. He was determined to find a way out of it. He was also determined to keep his oath, because everyone knows that a man, even a man only two hand spans tall, is only as good as his word.

    The next day, while riding in Markham’s vest pocket, with his leg tethered to a buttonhole by a length of cord, he watched as the trapper made his rounds. All of the traps were empty, save for one. It held a teary-eyed faery girl. One of her wings was fouled, possibly broken. She looked miserable. Up until this point, Orvil hadn’t understood why Markham was trapping the fae folk. For all he knew, he and the faery girl were going to be kept in a cage, like a light bug in a lantern, or a pet gnat. It was the trappers muttering, as he neared the faery that gave away the fate that truly awaited them.

    “Blaster, you’re so small a thing,” Markham grumbled, as he shook her cage. “You’ll do good to grind down to half a bag of faery dust.”

    Orvil understood that. He had heard of witches making powder out of his kinfolk, but dismissed the notion as a wives’ tale. He thought it was one of those ogre stories that were told to keep the children close to home. Looking back, which was no easy task for one of the forgetful fae, Orvil could remember more than a few of his friends and neighbors going missing over the years. Is this the fate they met? He wondered worriedly. He always figured a badger, or maybe a big owl, had gotten a hold of them, or maybe a fox or a hawk. There were plenty of dangers in the forest for the little folk. The fae had a saying; “Don’t wander too far from the toadstool.” When someone did, a search was made. But if no trace was found, the worst was assumed, and that was the end of it.

    Orvil took one look at the faery girl, and his oath was all but forgotten. He decided he had to get himself loose and set her free. It was the right thing to do. That night, Markham put him in the cage with her. Then Markham lay down in his bedroll by the campfire. In minutes, the trapper was snoring loudly. By then Orvil had come up with a plan.

    “How bad is your wing, lass?” Orvil asked the faery. She was huddled and sniveling in the corner of the cage. When she looked up at him, he realized that he didn’t know who she was. She was probably from the fae clan that lived across the stream to the east. Every now and again a storm, or a brisk wind, would blow one of them across. Sometimes, they crossed the stream on their own to harvest seeds and nectar from the many flowers that thrived inside of Master Zarvin’s magical wards.

    “I’m not in much pain, good sir,” she whimpered. “But I can’t… I can’t… I can’t fly anymore.” Her pretty young face went back into her hands, and her sobbing grew even louder. Her frail shoulders shook with her sorrow and fear.

    Orvil sighed with frustration. He would have to escort her away on foot. He turned his attention to unknotting the cord that held the cage’s door shut. It wasn’t a particularly hard task to perform. Markham hadn’t gone through any great lengths to secure the wire frame door. After all, how far could a faery go on a broken wing? Markham had been so sure that Orvil would keep his oath that he hadn’t seen a need for a lock, or a leather sack, or any other extreme measure of restraint.

    It took a few minutes to work the knot undone, and more time to build up the faery girl’s courage, but by the time dawn broke, Orvil had escorted her all the way to the bank of the Eastern stream. There, he built a raft out of some tree bark, and floated her back to her own territory. She thanked him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and then disappeared off into the thick underbrush. Orvil floated back across the stream, and made his way home. When he got there, his young wife greeted him with loving tears of relief, but the rest of the villagers marked him as an Oathbreaker. Jurva had spread the tale of how Orvil had sworn to stay the trapper’s captive, how he had given his oath, so that Jurva could be released. Now, here Orvil was, back again, as pretty as you please, as if giving his word meant nothing.

    Many of the fae understood why Orvil had broken his promise that day, but over the years the reasons were forgotten. The fae, being a cheery sort of folk, were forgetful like that. The nickname ‘Orvil the Oathbreaker,’ took root though, and as much as young Oonzil Windlestraw wanted his father’s nickname to go away, it would not.

    Master Zarvin pondered the dilemma for some time. He couldn’t allow Oonzil to keep thumping the fae. This wasn’t the first, or even the second time, either. The whole while Master Zarvin deliberated, Oonzil paced back and forth, across the wizard’s supper table, rattling the silver and the china as he went. Occasionally, he paused to lean on a candlestick for a moment or two, but not for long. He was too wound up to sit still.

    Suddenly, Igor, the old wizard’s eagle, came gliding through the open window. The big bird landed on the table’s edge, with a thump and flutter of wings. Instinctively, Oonzil darted for cover. There wasn’t much to choose from, so the young pixie had to settle for putting the wizard’s teapot between himself and the huge predator.

    “Bah, Igor, you’ve done it again!” Zarvin barked with melodramatic disappointment. He reached to the bird’s sharp, curving beak, and took away a small, blackish looking wing, and part of a red insect’s little body. “If you eat the wasps before you get them back to me Igor, they are of no use,” he chided. “They don’t have to be alive, but I need them whole at least.” He looked around and noticed Oonzil hiding behind the crockery. “Be off with you Igor, you’re frightening my guest!” The wizard ordered, with a dismissive wave. “Try to bring me back a whole wasp this time.”

    The bird cocked its head, and eyed Oonzil curiously. Then, it let out a screeching caw, leapt off of the table, and flew out the window.

    Relieved, Oonzil eased back into the open. As he came, he tripped over part of the lace doily that the teapot sat on. He was glad that the wizard was back in his thoughts and hadn’t seen his clumsy stumble. As he recovered himself, Oonzil noticed that the doilies’ open weaved pattern would make an excellent net for hauling minnows out of the stream. While he waited on Master Zarvin to come up with a suitable punishment for his fighting, he pondered that concept, and other things; like the wizards’ need for whole wasps.

    The last time he got in trouble, and the time before that, the wizard had made him trim the hair off of several caterpillars. Oonzil hadn’t understood why Master Zarvin wanted bald caterpillars, but he did the work anyway. He learned later that the wizard wanted the caterpillar hair, not the squirming bald worms that were left.

    It came as a disappointment when Master Zarvin finally announced that he needed more time to think on the matter. Oonzil would rather get it over with. He hated having to linger in suspense, but it wasn’t up to him. Since the eagle was gone hunting wasps, the wizard had Oonzil start cleaning the floor of Igor’s cage. “Some hard labor will keep you out of trouble until a final punishment can be decided,” he said.

    It was horrible work, but Oonzil did it without complaint. The eagle was a large bird, and its dung piles were quite messy. Not to mention the smell. If it hadn’t been for the slight breeze blowing in through the open window, Oonzil would have fallen ill. It took him awhile, but he finally got the stuff shoveled into a pile near the cage door. All he had to work with was a small brass measuring scoop, but it was far better than using his hands. He was so intent on his labors, that he didn’t notice when the sun went down. Only when Igor came sailing back through the window, did Oonzil realize that the day was gone. The huge bird came right into the cage and perched above him. Oonzil panicked. He looked around the tower room, but the wizard was nowhere to be seen. He wanted to flee, but he had foolishly made his dung heap in the cage’s doorway. Terrified, but curious, he tilted his head and looked up at the eagle. Igor was eyeing him right back.

    Igor had no intention of eating Oonzil, but the boy didn’t know that. The bird had eaten half a dozen wasps, a slow brook trout, and a lazy rabbit already this day. The fact that the little pixie had cleaned his cage for him wasn’t missed either. With a strange bit of the familial magic Igor shared with Master Zarvin, the eagle ranged out and touched Oonzil’s mind with his own.

    “I won’t harm you, Oonzy,” Igor said into Oonzil’s mind.

    Oonzil dropped the measuring spoon he was clutching, and gasped when he heard the words in his head. “How do you know my name?” was all he could think to say in reply.

    “You’ve been here several times now pixie. How could I not know it? You’re always fighting amongst your kind.”

    “Aye,” Oonzil nodded. “So you’re not going to eat me then?”

    The eagle cackled out a crisp laugh. “No, no, no. You little folk are more bones than meat, and those frog skin clothes you wear… Blahh!” Igor shook his white feathered head. “I couldn’t stand the taste of you.”

    “Alright then, Igor is it?” Oonzil relaxed visibly. “I seem to have worked myself into a corner, so to speak.” He shrugged, and took a seat on the edge of a half filled dish of seeds. “I guess I’m stuck here until Master Zarvin comes back around.”

    “I could fly you home,” Igor informed the pixie. “It’s no trouble.”

    “I’d rather not have to feel your claws wrapped around me, friend,” said Oonzil, trying to hide his fear. “It’s the idea of it you see.” He couldn’t imagine being carried through the air by the big bird. The very thought of it made him shiver.

    “Oh, you wouldn’t be in my claws,” Igor explained. “If you climbed up the side of the cage, you could mount my neck, like a dragon rider mounts his dragon. You’ll love the feel of the wind Oonzy, you really will,” the eagle encouraged.

    Oonzil pondered this, and as he did, his fear slowly turned into curiosity. Before he knew it, he was mounted on Igor’s neck, and held on for dear life, as the eagle shot out of the tower window into the moonlit sky.

    It was rough at first, but Oonzil soon got the hang of it. The eagle used heavy wing strokes to circle them up into the sky. Oonzil was terrified, but thrilled to no end. Igor soared over the forest for a while before working his way down into the treetops. There, the branches came and went, and the agile bird was often forced to swoop and lift to avoid them. When Igor finally landed on a thick limb, Oonzil had to fight back the exhilaration he was feeling so that he could find his voice.

    “That was wonderful!” He exclaimed. “Completely amazing.”

    “Yes… Yes it is,” Igor agreed glumly.

    Oonzil couldn’t help but notice the disappointment in the eagle’s thought-voice. “What is it? What’s wrong Igor?” Oonzil asked his new friend.

    “Master Zarvin wants whole wasps, but they are infuriatingly hard for me to catch. By the time I get them to the tower, I have munched them, and crunched them in my beak,” he said, dejectedly. Igor preened a feather into place on his shoulder, nearly tumbling Oonzil from his seat. “If he wanted rabbits, or trout, I could bring him a dozen a day. But wasps… Bahh!”

    “I’ve got an idea, Igor,” Oonzil said after a moment. “If you help me make that trapper rescind the oath he forced my father to swear, then I’ll help you catch the wizard some wasps.”

    Igor thought about this for a while before responding. “How will you get this human to do anything, much less release your father from an oath that’s already been broken?”

    “I think Master Zarvin will have to help me figure that part of it out,” Oonzil answered. His mind was churning with possible ideas. “Do you think if we bring him a dozen wasps, all of them whole, that he will help me?”

    Igor bobbed his head in a nod of agreement. “For a dozen whole wasps, Master Zarvin might make you the king of the forest.”

    “Take me home then, if you would,” Oonzil gave Igor a pat on his feathered neck. “You’ll have to come get me at dawn. And bring that lace doily that the wizard keeps under his teapot.”

    *** *** ***

    The next morning, as they prepared to go wasp hunting, Oonzil wondered how the eagle had managed to get the doily out from under the teapot. He never had the chance to ask about it, because no sooner had the curiosity came on him, Igor leapt from the ground, and went flapping lustily after a wasp.

    It was all Oonzil could do to keep from tumbling off of Igor’s back, as the eagle started after the unsuspecting bug. Igor was strong. He surged through the air swiftly. Just as Oonzil had instructed him, the eagle got as close as he could to the wasp before he swept past.

    Oonzil was thrilled. The feel of the wind in his hair, and the forces generated by Igor’s sharp swooping turns, caused his heart to soar. Using the rigged up doily like it was a throw net, Oonzil timed his toss and threw. He yanked on the makeshift draw string he had attached. The net pulled closed just like it was supposed to. Excitedly, Oonzil had Igor sit them down near the fire bug cage Oonzil had borrowed from the village bug man.

    Both of them were disappointed to find the doily net empty, but they weren’t discouraged. The setup would have worked perfectly, if only Oonzil would have timed his throw better.

    “You’ll have to slow up a bit when we come upon the buzzers,” he told the eagle, with a grin.

    “Aye, Ooonzy,” Igor exclaimed, gleefully. “It worked just like you said it would. We just need to get closer, I think.”

    It took a few more attempts to get the timing of the approach and the throw down, but they did it. By evening, the cage was buzzing with angry wasps. With much pride, and more than a little satisfaction, Oonzil and Igor delivered the prize to the wizard at his supper table.

    “What’s this?” The old man asked. He rose from his soup bowl to see the pixie boy sliding off of Igor’s back. The cage the eagle put down at the end of the table, buzzed and vibrated in angry response. “Oh ho!” Master Zarvin chuckled with a big smile showing in the crinkled corners of his eyes. “Wasps!”

    “Wasps for a bargain, good wizard,” Oonzil clarified. “A full Baker’s dozen of them, all alive and whole.”

    “A bargain?” Master Zarvin’s brows wiggled with curious delight. “Well, Oonzil Windlestraw, let’s strike a deal then.”

    And deal they did. The wizard agreed to help Oonzil force the trapper to release his father from the broken oath. In turn, Oonzil would work with Igor collecting specimens. His work would be his punishment for a while, but Master Zarvin said that he could continue to labor around the tower after that for a fairly lucrative wage, but only if he survived Markham.

    Master Zarvin helped Oonzil plan his scheme, and provided a potion and a few other items the pixie would need. He said he would also persuade some of the little folk to be at the right place at the right time. The wizard would have offered to do more, but by the King’s law, he could not interfere with Markham’s trade as long as the trapper stayed off of his property.

    Over the next few days, Oonzil began to work out the details of his plan. He spent a few hours each morning down at the twig mill where his father was working. Orvil Windlestraw’s aging limbs had started to interfere with his ability to hunt, but he was far too proud to let his son put the food on the table. While Oonzil worked with his father, he wheedled the story of the capture out of him. He told his father the wizard wanted him to ask about it as part of his punishment for thumping that 'leaf licker' Dannyo Dewdrop. The truth was, he had heard the story a half a dozen times, but he had never paid much attention to the location of the incident.

    Once he knew which part of the forest Markham liked to hunt, he enlisted Igor’s help one morning, and they took to the skies. It took most of an afternoon to find the trappers camp, and nearly a dozen passes with Igor’s keen eagle eyes to spy out the man’s traps, but they found them.

    That night Oonzil ate dinner at Master Zarvin’s tower, and worked out the final details of his plan with the wizard. Then, he went home to prepare his things. He told his father he was going on a hunt and would be gone for a few days. This was not an unusual thing for Oonzil to do. His father eyed him with suspicion, but Oonzil figured the look was because of the grief old man Dewdrop was giving him over Dannyo’s thrashing.

    Oonzil escaped the gaze, retired to his meager room, and tried to sleep. Eventually, he did, but excitement and fear made his slumber restless. His father had already left for the mill when he woke, and his mother sent him off with a loving kiss, and a satchel full of sandwiches. “Promise me you’ll stay out of trouble,” she asked of him before he started off.

    Thinking that she meant for him to stay out of fights with the others, he absently agreed that he would. He made his way to the wizard’s tower to fetch the gear that Master Zarvin was providing, and to hitch a ride with Igor. He confirmed his plan with the old mage, and then Igor carried him off to carry it out. A short while later, he was intentionally caught in one of Markham’s wire framed, trap cages. He was killing time eating the sandwiches his Ma had made for him. The idea that he had just promised her that he would stay out of trouble, never even crossed his mind.

    *** *** ***

    Back in the fae village, there was a great uproar in progress. Tanda Larkspur, the pretty, strawberry haired daughter of one of the senior members of the Toadstool Alliance, hadn’t come home the previous night. Naturally, the worst was feared. In the village square, a search party was being organized. Her family members were going door to door, frantically looking for anyone who might have seen her.

    *** *** ***

    Markham was having a grand day. Two faeries had gotten themselves caught over by the stream. He found a pixie girl in one of the traps just after sunup. He tied Tanda Larkspur on the face of an old stump, out away from his camp, so that she would be good and dry by nightfall. He had gotten so excited over the other two catches, that he forgot to ring her neck before he left. Now, another of the little buggers was ringing the tinker bell on a trap by his camp. A month’s worth of work was paying off in a single day. With the two bewildered faeries in his tote cage, he left her alive, and made his way back toward camp, and the new catch that awaited him there.

    He whistled a joyful tune as he went. It was a song he often heard the lute player perform at the tavern in town. All the while, he was thinking that he might have better luck with the barmaid if he bought her a bolt of that shiny silk he’d seen her eyeing at the market. He had no idea that his wonderful day was about to be ruined.

    *** *** ***

    Oonzil scowled when he saw the two faeries in the trapper’s cage. He hadn’t taken into account that Markham might have other captives. It wouldn’t be an issue if they could both fly away, but if one of them was winged like the faery his father had saved, then there could be a problem.

    Oonzil didn’t have time to mess around with the two faeries from across the river. He had to stick to his plan. The shrill tinkle of the alarm bell that jangled with his every move was set at a nerve grating pitch. The sound made his nerves sizzle, and his heart was racing so hard, that he thought he might pass out.

    “Little fellow, don’t make it hard on yourself,” soothed Markham. He had hoped for another faery, but wasn’t too disappointed with his pixied catch.

    A hand big enough to crush Oonzil, reached down and opened the catch on the trap’s door. Oonzil took a breath, and ran from the hand as it reached in to grab him. A grin of satisfied pleasure shown in the eyes of the huge trapper’s stubble covered face. Oonzil, now cursing himself a fool, crouched himself into the back corner of the wire framed box. He could smell Markham’s hot, sour breath, as the man loomed in close so that he could reach deeper into the trap. The human was huge! With his heart hammering around inside his chest, Oonzil grinded his jaw, and made his move. From behind his back, he produced a length of straw with one of the wasp's stingers attached to it. With his teeth, he pulled the cork stopper off of the other end of the tube. With a savage howl, he jabbed the stinger deeply into Markham’s palm. He then puffed his cheeks out like the King’s Royal Trumpeter, put his lips to the other end of the straw, and blew with all he had in him. The sleeping serum Master Zarvin had prepared for the occasion, squirted through the hollow straw, into the stinger, and out into the trapper’s blood, just as they had planned.

    The two faeries cheered Oonzil on from their cage. Markham slung the trap off of his arm with a violent curse, and brought his palm to his mouth to suck on the wound. This only quickened the effects of the potion.

    A pair of wincing “Ooohs” came from the faeries when they saw how Oonzil was thrown around inside the trap when it slammed into the ground and rolled over. For a long moment they held their breath. Finally, Oonzil lifted his head and shook the cobwebs out of it. He crawled out of the trap and looked around. He was glad to see the trapper sitting on his rump, with his head lolled forward, and his arms hanging limply at his sides. The man was snoring softly.

    Oonzil was bleeding from a split on his forehead, but he was otherwise only bruised. He wasted no time freeing the two faeries. Both of them were capable of flying, and they thanked Oonzil profusely for helping them, but when Igor came swooping in, they went zagging away across the clearing, like dragon flies fleeing a hungry sparrow.

    With the twine Igor brought in his claws, Oonzil bound Markham’s hands and feet. He had to lay the man out on his back to exact his plan, and that was no easy task for pixie. He ended up scaling up the trappers arm to his shoulder, and tying a loop around the man’s neck. He then trailed the line around a nearby tree. Using the tree’s trunk as a pulley, he inched Markham back, until the man’s own weight made him fall over. This took some time. Oonzil began to wonder what was keeping Master Zarvin and the villagers he was supposed to send this way. Oonzil didn’t know about Tanda Larkspur’s disappearance yet, or even how Master Zarvin planned to get the village folk out here. He just took the wizard’s word that they would be there. He squatted himself a seat on Markham’s forehead, and took a pull of water from the skin he carried while he waited. It wasn’t long before he heard some of the fae coming.

    To Oonzil’s satisfaction, it was his father’s old apprentice, Jurva Sageroot, and Dannyo Dewdrop, two of the pixies who most needed to witness this event. Both of them froze as still as stone and held that way, petrified by their fear, when they saw the huge trapper laid out. When they noticed Oonzil sitting on the man’s forehead, their jaws dropped in unison.

    “Is that?” Daniel swallowed hard, as he squinted through his still swollen eyes. “Is that the grubber that once caught you, Jurv?”

    “It is,” Jurva answered with a nervous lick of his lips and a wide eyed glance up at Oonzil.

    “How did Master Zarvin get the two of you to come out here?” Oonzil asked.

    “Master Zarvin?” Jurva asked stupidly.

    “Tanda! Taaaandaaa!” A worried woman’s voice called out from not far away. “Tanda Larkspur!”

    “Over here ma’am,” Dannyo called out, trying to make sure that no false hope was conveyed in his voice.

    “Is she? Oh my! Did you find?” The woman’s voice sputtered as she grew nearer.

    “Don’t get excited yet, Mabel” another woman said sternly. “He didn’t sound like he found her.”

    “Found her?” Oonzil asked, catching Jurva’s eyes. “What’s going on?” He wondered aloud. It sounded like Tanda Larkspur, the pretty daughter of one of the honeysuckle distillers, had gone missing. Was this how Master Zarvin had lured the village folk out here to bear witness? Would Master Zarvin go that far?

    “Tanda didn’t come home from Mista’s tea party yesterday evening,” Jurva said, grimly. “I figured she was caught in one of those traps.” He indicated the trap that Oonzil had been in earlier.

    “Well, she’s not in any of the traps,” Oonzil said. His mind was a jumble of confusion now. He didn’t really think Master Zarvin would use Tanda to get the other fae folk out here, but he couldn’t put it past the wily old wizard.

    He stood, and called over some faeries he saw buzzing around a shrub a little ways away. They were flitting around, fretfully calling out Tanda’s name. Oonzil was nearly thrown to the ground, when Markham suddenly rolled his head. Oonzil managed to keep his place, but barely. Without further thought, he ran down Markham’s nose, leapt over his mouth, and landed right on his hairy chest. Igor had bitten off the man's shirt buttons, and left a stoppered clay vial lying between Markham’s pectoral muscles.

    “Oonzy’s caught the trapper!” Mabel Larkspur, Tanda’s aunt, called out with shrill anger in her voice. “What’s he done with her? What’s that monster done?”

    Oonzil hadn’t seen Tanda in any of the traps this morning when he and Igor did their final fly over. Her disappearance had to be Zarvin’s doing. The wizard had promised to get him an audience, and here they were. Tanda was probably sipping tea with Master Zarvin, and waiting for him or Igor to return, to tell them that the mission had been accomplished. With that thought, Oonzil gave a glance up in the trees to where the eagle was supposed to be watching. Igor wasn’t there. Oonzil decided to go on with the plan anyway. He didn’t have much choice really. Markham was lolling his head from side to side. He was starting to awake.

    Half a dozen fae folk were gathered now, and a few more were coming in from the forest. A gangly gray skinned gnome had joined the group of searchers.

    “I think this murderer has something to tell us,” Oonzil said to the group. Markham raised his chin into his chest, and looked with narrow eyes at the pixie standing on his abdomen. He struggled to free his hands, but Oonzil had bound them well.

    “What’s going on?” Markham asked. His voice was rough and horse, but, the angry disbelief in his tone came through loud and clear.

    “Release my father from the oath he gave you years ago,” Oonzil commanded.

    “What?” Markham wiggled and growled. “Why should I?”

    “If you don’t take back the oath, then I will unstop this vial of maple sap, and let it run all over you.”

    “Maple sap?” Markham almost laughed. “So what? Do it.” Markham wiggled again, and might have loosened his wrists a little bit, but not enough to pull his hands free yet.

    “What are you doing Oonzy?” It was Oonzil’s father, calling out from the growing crowd. “Tanda Larkspur’s gone missing son. We’ve no time for this nonsense about oaths! Make him tell you what he’s done with her.”

    “Quit struggling, and take back the oath!” Oonzil pulled the stopper nearly out of the vial. “Or, I’ll leave you glazed in maple. The red ants and the chiggers love the maple, you know.” He pulled the stopper out some more. “The beetles love the red ants, and the crows love the beetles. Are you getting my drift now?”

    Markham did get the drift. He decided to play it a little more calmly. If he could just get a little more room in the loops around his wrist, he was confident that he could pull his hands free. If he managed that, he could snatch up a handful of these little pests, crush them like ripe peaches, and then take his time drying the resulting pulp in the sun.

    “I don’t know what oath you’re talking about,” Markham sighed, as if he were trying to remember. “But, if you cut me loose, I’ll tell you where the girl is.”

    “He knows where she is,” a new voice called up. It was Targon Larkspur, Tanda’s father. “Make him give his oath to tell us where she is, then cut him loose.”

    “Orvil Windlestraw broke his word to the man once already,” said Jurva Sageroot, with a dejected shake of his head. “That grubber ain’t bound to keep his word to us anymore.”

    “If Oonzy gets him to take back the oath he made Orvil swear, then he will have to keep his word.” Dannyo Dewdrop called out. Oonzil was glad to hear this, even though it didn’t make much sense. He was still fairly certain that Tanda was safe with Master Zarvin, but that idea was starting to seem a little farfetched now. He figured that Markham was just saying that he knew where she was so that he would cut him loose.

    “You’d trust the word of a murderer?” Oonzil asked the crowd. “He’ll take back the oath he had my father give, or I swear I’ll pull this cork, and leave him for the critters. We can find Tanda on our own.”

    “Blast ya to blarney, Oonzy!” Orvil Windlestraw yelled at his son. “I never broke my oath to this fungus fly. You should be glad that I broke the oath that I did break, or you wouldn’t even be here.”

    “What?” asked Oonzil.

    “I heard you give your word Orvil Windlestraw, plain and clear.” Jurva said over the confused sobbing of Tanda’s aunt. “You said you wouldn’t try to escape if he let me go, and yet there you came the very next day, escaped as pretty as you please.”

    “I didn’t try to escape the hunter’s cage, Jurva. I did escape.” Orvil said hotly. “Trying implies failing, and I didn’t fail. The only oath I ever broke in all my life, was when I took Oonzy’s Ma for a roll down in the clover patch, and promised not to get her all whelped up.”

    A few of the older males that had gathered, chuckled.

    “Who cares about all that!” Targon Larkspur yelled. “Where is Tanda? By the butterfly and dandelion, my daughter’s gone missing, and that humongous tingle turd knows just where she is.”

    Several things happened at once then. Igor swooped by and spoke into Oonzil’s mind. He said that Master Zarvin hadn’t sent any little folk out here because he had abandoned the plan to go search the limits of his property for Tanda. This let Oonzil know that he had been foolishly wrong about Markham’s offer. As much as he wanted to bargain with the trapper now, it was too late.

    Markham broke his hands loose, and was rising up to get at his ankle bonds. Oonzil ran up the man’s shoulder, and dove for it. He was saved from a killing swat, when Igor swooped by just in the nick of time, and caught him in his claws. The other little folk went scattering, save for Dannyo Dewdrop, and Oonzil Windlestraw. Both of them made to cover the retreat of the others, with their own lives, if necessary.

    “You pesky little bugs are gonna be sorry,” Markham was yelling, as he got himself completely loose. “I’ll grind all of you to dust. You’ll not get away from me”

    Igor sat Oonzil on a limb, and then landed beside him. Oonzil quickly climbed up onto Igor’s shoulder, so that he could ride properly. Desperately, he tried to think of a way to save his people from this foolishness he had caused. In all his days, it had never crossed his mind that the reason his father didn’t mind being called an Oathbreaker was because it wasn’t true. Oonzil had always thought that it was shame that had caused his Da to suffer the indignity of the name calling. However, this was no time to dwell on the matter. The fae were in dire trouble. Markham would surely catch some of them. Where is Tanda? Oonzil knew he had to stop Markham, and find her. But how? Something Master Zarvin had told him came to mind, and he urged Igor to fly over where his Da, and Dannyo Dewdrop were just starting to flee the angry human.

    “Let him give chase,” Oonzil called down to them. “Lead him toward the wizard’s tower.” If they hadn’t been so terrified by the approaching gargantuan, they might have gawked openly at Oonzil sailing by atop Igor’s back. “Get him on the wizard’s land,” Oonzil called back, as the eagle carried him past. “I’ll find Tanda!”

    From the thicket, Jurva charged out, and caught Dannyo by the sleeve. “You go watch over the others,” he told Orvil and the Dewdrop boy. “I spread all those fool lies about your honor, Master Windlestraw. I’ll head that fungus fly toward the tower.” With that, he darted out into the clearing to get Markham’s attention. It worked. When he took off darting through the foliage, Markham was stomping right on his heels.

    “I’ll help Jurva,” Dannyo told Oonzil’s father, hoping to make up for all of the name calling he had done.

    Oonzil’s Da didn’t wait around. He charged off after his fellow villagers. If Markham forgot Jurva, and went after the villagers, he could lead him off of the trail. He might be old and slow now, but he still knew these woods better than anyone.

    Markham wasn’t fooled by Jurva and Dannyo’s heroic effort. He was too sharp and too greedy to go for the easy catch. He wanted the whole group of fae buglets, that had been gathered around, to watch him grovel for his freedom.

    Oonzil and Igor found Master Zarvin before the others did. They told the wizard what had happened, and where to head off the trapper. Oonzil knew the woods as well as his father did. There was only one good place to hide from the hunter, and he was certain his father or Jurva would lead him there. When they left the wizard, Oonzil and the eagle flew around and checked each of Markham’s traps again. Tanda wasn’t in any of them. Oonzy then had Igor circle up high over the trapper’s camp, to have Igor use his eagle eyes to search for the pixie girl. It didn’t take long to find her that way. She was lashed to the top of an old sheared off tree trunk that the loggers had cut to make the floor beams for Zarvin’s tower. Badly sun burned, and more than a little dehydrated, she was grateful to be rescued. Oonzil quickly undid the strings that held her to the stump, and let her sip from his water skin. It took some coaxing to get her to climb onto Igor’s back, but once Oonzil was snug behind her, with his arms wrapped protectively around her, she let herself relax.

    Oonzil took her back to the fae village. Her mother greeted them with sobs of relief. Most of the other searchers were still hiding in the forest, so Oonzil and Igor went to see what was happening. What they found sent chills of terror through them both.

    Markham had chased the group up into an empty badger hole in a hill near the lily pond. It was the very same place that Oonzil had figured his father would lead the man. Master Zarvin was nowhere in sight. The wizard was supposed to be there, defending his property. Instead, Markham was using his water flask to force out whoever had gone into the badger hole. The lily pond was right there, and Markham was taking his time filling his flask, only to pour the contents into the badger hole over and over again. All the while, he was telling the little folk, who were trapped inside, how horrible it was to drown to death.

    Oonzil was just about to have Igor swoop down from their perch, and claw the trapper’s eyes out, when a crackling puff of smoke appeared. It slowly dissipated away with the breeze, revealing Master Wizard Zarvin, and a nervous, yet formidable looking, Royal Warden.

    “You see him? He’s trespassing, just like I told you,” said Master Zarvin. He patted the warden on the back, in a futile attempt to ease the man’s discomfort at being zapped from his post into the forest by wizard’s magic.

    “There is honest fae folk in that hole he’s trying to flood,” said Oonzil from his place on Igor’s back in a nearby tree. The idea that they might be down there, already drowning, struck him, and he looked at Master Zarvin with growing concern.

    The old wizard saw Oonzil’s worried look and gave him a wink. “No Oonzy. I made the hole go all the way through a while back. They’ll be coming round the other side… Oh, look, there’s a few of them now.”

    Orvil Windlestraw, Dannyo Dewdrop, and Tanda’s father were charging purposefully around the hill. They were wet and muddy, and looked none too pleased, but they were alive.

    “Tanda’s with her mother now,” Oonzil informed them quickly. He didn’t want her father to worry about her a moment more.

    “She’s all right?” He asked hopefully.

    Oonzil nodded that she was.

    The Pixie man nearly collapsed with relief.

    With ideas of escape showing plainly on his face, Markham glanced at the wizard. The warden casually pulled his bow from his shoulder. “Go on then, run man.” The Warden grinned. “I’ll put an arrow in your arse before you’ve gone ten strides.”

    Markham growled, but relaxed his stance. He was caught and he knew it. “I’ll admit it, I was trespassing, and trying to flush out a badger, Warden,” he said smugly. “How much is the fine going be?”

    “Fine? You were hunting more than badgers, and Tanda Larkspur will confirm it,” said Oonzil. “You tried to kill her so you could sell her ground up body as pixie dust,” he added.

    “And you trapped us to do the same!” One of the two faeries that Oonzil had released earlier said. They were zipping in from the east, with several of their chums from across the river. “We came to thank you for saving us, sir,” one of them said to Oonzil. “The girl in your village told us where you were.”

    “They’re like blasted insects, Warden,” Markham defended. “These ain’t the King’s subjects. Are you gonna believe little talking bugs, that don’t pay taxes, over a hardworking citizen?”

    The Warden looked around at all the faery folk, and cringed with disgust. “So all you were doing was hunting a badger on this wizard’s property?” The warden asked Markham.

    “On my good name, I swear it,” agreed Markham.

    “Well, that will do it then,” said the warden, as he began looking around, trying to find the right direction he should take to go back to his post.

    “That’s it?” asked Oonzil indignantly. “He gives his word that he didn’t harm nor kill none of us, and you believe it?”

    The Warden held up a hand to forestall the purple haired pixie’s rant. “Poaching is a hanging offense, my little friend,” the warden said. “This man just gave his oath that he was poaching a badger on this wizard’s property. It don’t much matter what else he did. He’ll be dangling from a noose by the morrow’s sunset.”

    A mumble of satisfied agreement spread through the growing crowd of fae.

    “What? I… I’d never… You tricked me!” Markham was red with rage. “I swear you’ve not seen the last of me! All this talk of oaths and Oathbreakers, I’ll swear an oath right here and now. You will see me again. This isn’t the end of it.”

    That evening, there was a feast in the fae village. Every single person, who had ever called Orvil Windlestraw an Oathbreaker, came forth and apologized. Oonzil was too enthralled by Tanda Larkspur’s sky blue eyes to care. Her strawberry locks, and long, fluttering lashes, had him captivated. The Toadstool Alliance awarded Oonzil for his bravery, and offered him a prestigious place among their members. He accepted the award, but declined the employment. He explained that he already had a job collecting specimens for Master Wizard Zarvin.

    Oddly enough, the last oath that Markham swore wasn’t broken. Two days after the feast, a horse drawn wagon came out to the wizard’s tower. Markham’s corpse was in the back. All of the curious little folk stopped by to give it a look-see. The fae folk did see Markham again after all.

    The very next spring, Oonzil followed in his father’s footsteps, and became an Oathbreaker down in the clover patch with Tanda Larkspur. It’s rumored that he got her all whelped up, and that they will be getting married soon.



    THE END