One Day in Widderlock Valley
A tale from Dingleworld
A brief exposition on the ramifications of the sudden appearance of dragons on the flora, fauna, culture, and general sentiment of the Widderlock Valley by E. K. Bittershanks, Scholar and Historian, Sixth Order of the Chevron House, and Anna Godunkles, Current Overseer of All Things Concerning Widderlock Valley and a Few Spots Beyond.
Vizier Iopen glared at the title of the impossibly self-important and anything-but-brief scroll that sat on his desk.
“Flay me with a weasel,” he said.
But just as he was about to sweep the scroll away into the Pit of Consideration—his personal nickname for the hole in the corner of his chambers, which served equally as a filing system and a piss-well—he spotted the scarlet wax signet and winced. Partly from gout coursing through his wretched big toe as a razor-sharp reminder of all the previous evening’s indiscretions, but mostly because he had never before seen (but had always dreaded) the actual seal of the King. Our Majesty and Savior Roald the Unimpeachably Handsome, Most Wise, and Well-Endowed himself had sent him this parchment.
Worse yet, Our Majesty had attached a hand-written note.
DEAL WITH THIS SHITE NOW OR ILL BE ROYALY IRCKED.
The King had a decidedly clear if not well-lettered style of communication, Iopen mused. He himself was a master of high-worded evasion and procrastination. It was not for nothing that he occupied the role of Royal Obfuscator of Majestic Meaning Etcetera and So Forth. But of all the concerns that he excelled at muddying, ignoring or quashing, Iopen knew that this missive demanded his immediate and actual action.
“Minions, approach!” he bellowed. And waited an eternity. He could hear Esmeralda the Only Remaining Incubus in Mossburgshire swishily drifting down the hallway. He could smell split-tongued Grimwald startle in his crevice, farting sulfuric fumes and scratching his lice. In due time, they appeared before him.
“Hear me, worthless blackguards and ant-wits,” Iopen began.
“Is this about the king’s thingy?” Grimwald interrupted. “I pretty much loosened all three of my bowel holes when I saw that scroll arrive pre-dawn. All the other gremlins in the scroll-sort room also pretty much loosened theirs as well. Much gremlin bowel-loosening occurred, Master Iopen. And did you read the passage in the thirteenth winding? Where it goes: ‘the peasants are revolting even as the dragons rise as scourge’? ”
“Shut your ungainly maw,” Iopen said sternly. “Of course, I have read the scroll. Both fro and yon, and to and forth.” Mentally, he noted the need to eventually read the scroll. “Esmeralda, summon the Leech-Maister. I will be dealing with this directly but require some appeasement to fully focus. And bring the scrying ball, two hazelnut candles, and a restorative of vole’s blood.”
Esmeralda the incubus shifted in and out of focus, like marsh gas.
“The Leech-Maister is on vacation, Master. The scrying ball is badly chipped, and we’re outa vole’s blood,” she said sulkily. “I requested more two fortnights ago. We have badger, brownie, and indiscriminate animals-hit-by-coaches’ blood in stock. But that’s it. No one listens to my concerns until it’s too late and the dragons start a scourge.”
“THERE. IS. NO. SCOURGE!” Iopen bellowed. “For all I know, there are no dragons, either, and this is just another mis-scroll intended to rouse the peasants. Now, here are your tasks.” He paused, interested in hearing what he would demand next. The pang in his toe was like a banshee bite.
“Grimwald, summon the town criers.”
“Which?” said Grimwald. “There are twenty-two and some will take five days to reach us.”
“Which are most favorable to our office?” Iopen asked.
“There’s the King’s Mouth crier, Roald’s Truth Daily crier, and the Star Crier of Lastland. They all can be relied upon.”
“And least favorable?” “The Make the Kingdom Great Again crier of Beanshire and the Relentlessly Investigative crier of Palan.”
“Don’t we have something on that Palan fellow?” Iopen asked Esmeralda. “Didn’t you bed him in his dreams last fall? Or was that just a rumor we started? I can’t recall.”
“He’s a eunuch, Master,” she replied. Her eyes glowed emerald in her hazy face. “I can’t do much with those.”
“I suppose not,” said Iopen. “Alright, have those last two poisoned. But get me the others at once. No, wait, better yet. Take them this.” He laid out a fresh scroll and dipped a quill in ravens’ blood ink, which he reserved for royal matters of the highest urgency. He began to laboriously scrawl.
FOR IMMEDIATE CRYING, TO BE SUNG WITH AUTHORITY TO THE TUNE OF BLESS OUR KING, HIS AMPLE CODPIECE, AND HIS NOBLE STAFF:
KING SAYS RUMOR OF DRAGON SCOURGE IS POSSIBLE CLAPTRAP. DECLARES PEASANTS ALWAYS REVOLTING AND SOME THINGS JUST NEVER CHANGE. SENDS MOST LOYAL AND TRUSTED VIZIER IOPEN TO UNVEIL TRUTH.
He sealed the scroll and flung it at Grimwald. “Have them cry it at all bells for the next two days.”
“Esmeralda, tell the coachmen I will leave for Widderlock Valley myself at three bells. A wide coach this time, mind you, not one of those hip-choking atrocities. And go before me and prepare suitable lodgings. I myself will espy these so-called dragons.” Iopen pounded his desk. “Such is my obeisance to Our Majesty the Unspeakably Generous and Witty!” This last he shouted just in case there was an enchanted earworm lurking about his chambers. You simply couldn’t be too careful.
“Now leave me and make haste. I have much to cogitate.” After they left, Iopen rose and locked the door. He pressed the concealed button on his desk and a secret cupboard yawned open. He took out the crock within and a small silver spoon. He unscrewed the lid and at once felt something like lust surge through his marrow. He could smell the pixies’ sweet sweat; see their frail limbs as they struggled within their honey glaze. Carefully, he spooned out a fair helping. Ignoring their faint cries and pleading eyes, he dolloped them into his mouth. A single wing caught on his beard, still twitching. He crunched down once with pleasure. His eyes rolled back and his obese body slumped with delight. The morning was already looking up, he thought, and idly picked a leg from his teeth. ____________________________________________________
One of the most fabled treasures of Widderlock Valley is its unicorn herd. They are as vividly colored and patterned as the wildflowers they graze upon, seen from afar as a shifting tapestry of pinks and orange and even—the rarest of rare—the black-spotted stallions. They range freely through the meadows near the river Little Newting in the south to the outskirts of Goodburg-Upon-Little-Newting in the east to the warm Pelungish hills in the west, home of the Magic Forge. Each year, the King graciously allows valley residents to drive a portion of the herd over the river where two score of the skittish beasts is then penned. A festival follows, attracting peasants from far counties and vendors of all ilks, selling unicorn cheese, horn powders to induce love or banish warts, and over-priced pelts. At all other times, would-be poachers in the Valley are caught and impaled. Their withering carcasses stand both as a warning and a sharp contrast to the herd that shimmers around them and the sweet william that springs from their fallen skulls.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Tomas Son-of-Tomas-No-Thumbs, was a woodsman and ranger in Widderlock Valley. He watched over the unicorns. His wife Anwen tended to their two-year-old twin daughters, Pippa and Eefa, as well as the gardens, goats and hens while he patrolled the valley on the back of his white stallion, Mistofal.
On the very same spring afternoon that Vizier Iopen was clambering into a carriage in Kingsport, Tomas was watching the dragons from the bank of Little Newting. But he wasn’t even entirely certain that dragons was the right word.
Struth, they were winged, just as the wurms in the tales of yore were said to be, and covered in red scales and vermillion spines. They whipped their tails, snorted, and spat flame. But none were longer than his foot, and most were considerably smaller. In fact, had he not looked carefully, and for the fact they could fly, he might have mistaken them for the salamanders and newts that frequented the river’s rocks. Tomas tugged on his blonde beard braid thoughtfully and watched the bright creatures dart over the water’s surface. They seemed more mischief than menace, although Mistofal had startled when an errant flame or two singed his pasterns and cannons. Tomas’ boots were speckled with scorch marks from his morning tour.
But more than any of that, he’d observed how the unicorns were afraid to approach the river to drink, wary of the smoky, sparking throng. Clearly, this would not do, but Tomas hadn’t the slightest idea how to fix it. He’d noticed the dragons grew thicker the further upstream he traveled to the north, but were barely present in the tail waters.
A giggle startled him from his musings and he turned to see Eefa, laughing and pointing from her sling on Mistofal’s saddle. He’d brought the twins with him that day, as he often did, both to give Anwen a respite and to treat the girls to fresh air and sun. But just then Mistofal shifted and Tomas’ heart turned over with a thud. Pippa’s sling—where she’d been secured just a moment ago across from her sister—was empty. Its bindings lay on the ground. Tomas scanned the woods. The child was nowhere to be seen. ___________________________________________________
Grand Wizard Magnus Ominus, First Order of the Magenta House and Head Keeper of the Magic Forge, was beside himself. Literally. He was so angry that his aura had manifested as his double, bubbling with fury.
“Ninnies, slugabeds, ne’er-do-well lizard-brains,” Magnus scolded. The three basilisks standing before him couldn’t meet his gaze. Literally. All three wore hoods with no eye slits.
“You had one task. Did you think I wouldn’t learn how you failed?” Magnus’ double shook its fists.
“See, here’s the thing, boss,” the first basilisk said. “Most times, when we check the cauldron, there’s only one of us on the shift. But Excali thought it was his day and Perpetux thought it was his. So they both took off their hoods at the same time, and their eyes met, and well, you know—”
“Turned to stone. Both of ’em,” the second basilisk said sadly.
“And then nobody was checking it until two days later,” the third basilisk said. “That’s when I saw this teensy-eensy leak. And a puddle of the magic by the drain.”
“Which goes to the river,” Magnus said. “So you cretins have released some of the most undiluted, purest magical effluent into the wild. Which, of course, explains why the salamanders have changed to dragons. And why I saw a levitating muskrat this morning. And a willow that is now pure copper.
“If this gets out, we will be shut down. At once. The peasants have no idea of the true cause of the dragons. If they find out, it’ll be torch and pitchfork time, you can bet your scaly butts. And the lot of you will be shipped straight back to the moors. So this is what you’re going to do. You’re going out to the river and destroying every trace of the transformations. Take two dozen wood imps with you.”
After dismissing the beasts, Magnus climbed the winding stone stairways to the topmost tower of the Magic Forge. On any other day, he might have enjoyed the sweeping vistas of the woods and the Little Newting burbling below. He might have watched the fields, farms, and cottages with the peasants grunting about raking mud, milking pigs, or making socks from husks or whatever the dickens peasants did. But today, in the wake of the unsettling news, he had summoned the other five wizards that made up the Committee for Oversight and Compliance of Magic Effluence. Each waited for him, seated in carved chairs, painted in the colors of their House. There was a long silence while Magnus seated himself. Then the oldest wizard, Trimus Greyshanks, First Order of the House of Puce, rose shakily to his feet, leaning heavily on his staff.
“Brother Enchanters,” Trimus began. His voice is that of a raven with a slug caught in its throat, Magnus thought. “I stand before you today—”
“Barely,” muttered a wizard to Magnus’ left, and there were snickers.
“— with the weight of memories. I was here six hundred and forty-three world turns ago, when the Magic Effluence was first discovered, springing from the earth itself. Here when the Magic Forge was constructed to conceal the true source of our Magic. Here when the first Wizards of House Puce, House Grey-Blue, and House Pink-But-More-Like-Salmon made a solemn vow never to reveal the true origins of the Effluence, lest the brutish peasants seek to harness its power.
“Since that fateful day, brothers, we have enjoyed the riches of our pact, doling out charms, potions, and talismans for handsome profits throughout the Kingdom. We, and we alone, control the sale and trade of Magic. We are second only to the King in wealth and status. Yet, in the wake of this most irresponsible mishap, I fear for our status, and indeed for our lives.”
Trimus paused, and the other wizards waited patiently for him to continue. Until it became clear that he had fallen asleep, still standing, but with gentle snores tickling his massive white beard.
“Right,” said Magnus. “Let’s move on to a solution. I’ve already ordered that all traces of the spill be removed. But that is not enough. We need something to distract the attention of the citizens of Widderlock Valley. I suggest a witch.”
The chamber fell silent.
“It’s been at least one hundred years since we had a witch scare,” Magnus continued. “Do you remember how the peasants enjoyed themselves then? A witch here; a witch there. They burned at least a dozen old women, many with unsightly facial hair. Good times.”
“Perfect,” said Grisolm Bonaventura, First Order of House Chartreuse. “Find a witch. Cover up the leak.”
One by one by one, all the wizards nodded in agreement. Except for Trimus Greyshanks, who still stood, gently snoring, attached to his staff. ____________________________________________________
As any parent can attest, an unwatched toddler can be surprisingly fast. Despite the fact that they lurch and wobble like tiny drunken gremlins, they are also fueled with enthusiasm for freedom and discovery. So once Pippa was freed from her sling and fell unceremoniously to the ground, she was off. She tumbled into a small dale, got up again, and toddled barefoot toward the river. These were her thoughts:
I HAVE FOOTSIES.
She reached the shoals in the river’s bend and promptly waded in, giggling. The dragons clustered around her, and one curious beast landed on her shoulder. But when the toddler tried to pet it, she lost her balance and sat with a splash. The waters swirled around her and she felt an odd tickling sensation in her feet.
OOH. FUN. PRETTY. WATER.
She made a cup with her hands and slurped up some river water. The tickling grew stronger. When she stood up again, she was delighted to see that tiny mauve wings had grown from her ankles.
PIPPA. GOOD GIRL. NOW BIRDY.
Just then Tomas came tearing around the bend astride Mistofal. He was so relieved to spot Pippa that at first, he didn’t notice that anything was amiss. It was only after he’d dismounted, waded in, and scooped her into his arms, that he saw his child had grown wings. On her feet. He was so startled that he loosened his grasp on her, and she darted from his arms into the air where she hovered. Her tiny wings beat as furiously fast as a hummingbird’s and she laughed out loud.
“Witch!” screeched a voice from across the river. It was Trishlyn the Head Cheesemaker from Goodburg-Upon-Little-Newting. She had gathered five other peasant women with significant mustaches to traipse the banks in search of witches, pointing out to them that if they went out searching, chances were better that they wouldn’t be mistaken for witches themselves. For extra motivation, she’d promised to bring along a bottle of honey mead and one of her ripest, most highly prized cheese wheels.
Now they carried rolling pins, rakes, and kitchen knives, and had wandered into a clearing at the precise moment Pippa was demonstrating her newfound ability to her thunderstruck father.
“You sure?” said her neighbor Weezia, squinting. “Pretty small for a witch. More like a field fairy or one of them whatsits, a sylph or dryad.”
“Better her than us,” snapped Trishlyn. “Quick, down to Dingus Bridge and we’ll catch them.”
The carriage stopped with a sudden crunching sound and Iopen was thrown from his seat. He’d been dozing in a pixie-induced stupor and wasn’t happy to be so rudely wakened.
“Driver, you imbecile!” he shouted, wrenching open the door.
“Couldn’t help it, milord,” his driver responded. “Damned beasts ran straight into the horses.”
Dismounting, Iopen was perplexed to see a throng of wood imps milling about, along with three large lizards wearing hoods. One of the lizards was still entangled in the reins.
“I am on the King’s business,” Iopen declared. “How dare you block our way!”
“Most sorry, Master,” one of the lizards said. “Bit hard to see in these hoods. We’ll be right off now, we will.”
“Wait,” Iopen said, he examined the creatures more closely. “Why are you wearing hoods?”
“Er, we just like ’em. Kind of a game with us, see? Like blindman’s bluff.”
“Absurd,” Iopen said. “You wouldn’t be dragons in disguise, now, would you? You’re speaking to one who knows deception when he sees it.”
“Nope, we ain’t dragons, just your run-of-the-mill iguanas. Minding our own iguana business, we are.”
“Come now, you knaves. I will not be, um, hoodwinked by the likes of you. Iguanas do not run to the size of cattle, nor did they speak when last I checked. Take off those hoods at once; I demand it! Driver, your swor—”
In the next moment, the Royal Widderlock Memorial Statuary Garden was born. For years later, tourists would marvel at the lifelike figures: an obese man with mouth open and fist raised, a guard about to draw his stone sword, four wood imps, a chipmunk, and three large beasts with only a vague resemblance to iguanas.
“She is only a girl,” Tomas said to the red-faced women that blocked his path down the hill. “Two and a half years old. My daughter, Pippa. She is no witch.”
“Two-year-olds don’t fly, mister,” Trishlyn accused. “And they ain’t got no purple wings on their feet, neither. We been told by wizards theyselves there’s a witch about and we aim to find it and burn it.”
“Examine her feets!” one of the women cried, and began pulling off the child’s booties.
“Ooh,” they said in unison.
“Look at them cute little tootsies,” one said. “Have you ever seen anything more darling? Come off it, Trishlyn, this ain’t no witch. This is one little honeybun.”
“What about that, though?” screeched Wizia and pointed.
At the bottom of the hill, Esmeralda the Only Remaining Incubus in Mossburgshire was on her way to secure lodging at a nearby tavern. She wore a long black traveler’s cloak which did little to hide the fact that she was mainly made of mist with glowing scarlet eyes.
“Now that’s a witch!” shrieked Trishlyn. “Stop, you demon spawn!” She seized the nearest thing to hand, which happened to be her cheese, and flung it down the hill. It gathered speed but missed Esmeralda by a yard. It did, however, knock down several wood imps as they scattered in terror across the road.
When the peasants had finally disappeared, chasing after the incubus, Tomas patted his daughter’s head with relief.
“Well played, Eefa,” he said. He looked up to the high branch of a pine where her twin sat happily gumming a pinecone. “You too, Pippa,” he said. “Now come down to your Da.”
After that fateful day, things settled back down in Widderlock Valley. The dragons migrated south the next winter and did not return. The unicorns resumed drinking by the river’s bank. The peasants lost interest in witch-hunting in favor of a new fad: the sport of cheese bowling. Tomas and Ana watched their daughters grow into beautiful maidens. The King appointed a new Royal Obfuscator of Majestic Meaning Etcetera and So Forth.
Life returned to normal. Normal, that is, except for one pure copper willow where a muskrat would occasionally roost, or sometimes a girl with purple wings on her feet sat on a branch and sang at the moon.
About the Creator
P. D. Murray
Murray is an accomplished painter and writer.
Through 2010, he was shown exclusively by Treehouse Studio Galleries. His work hangs in private collections around the world. He's also published 5 books. You can see more at www.pdmurray.art
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
1.Throw Dr Suess's smoking jacket, Piers Anthony's knickers, J.R.R. Tolkien's ink stained tweed vest, a rapier, a few razor blades, a copy of the New York Times, and a few loose marbles in the dryer. 2.Tumble them on low until you can compose the perfect 80's punk rock bass riff, set to the rhythmic bashing 3.Scoop the lint trap, then used that very same lint to tinder a merry and scorching blaze for lighting torches and warming hearts... thank you for the wonderful ride! I will be forever searching for unicorn skulls under Sweet William and hoping those wing-footed children find their copper willows and singing moons.
I’ve been looking forward to reading your submission since your 100 things you’d rather do😆 This was so fun to read! From the humor and dialogue to the world building and descriptions to the high fantasy and story itself, this is fantastic. Nice work!