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Hieracium and the Earthquake (youngsters:fairy tales, 3186 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: Aug 04 2006Views/Reads: 4236/1785Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Much later, when Hieracium woke, Tritoma was gone, but soon the cat returned, licking his lips. ‘Water rat,’ he said, guiltily… Another bedtime story from Astrantia (Following on from Hieracium and the Lady of the Lake).

Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story

was food too: for on the table there was a half a loaf of bread, some 
cooked meat, a bowl of dried fruit, another bowl, full of nuts, and on 
hooks and racks and shelves around the room there was more food: 
strings of onion and garlic, sacks of flour, a muslin wrapped cheese 
and assorted bottles and jars. 

The parrot had landed on the table and was pecking up some breadcrumbs. 
So Hieracium, with little thought for whom the vehicle and the food 
might belong to, lay his sword on the bed, sat down and helped himself 
to some of the meat and a chunk of the bread, and he was so busy eating 
that at first he failed to notice that another parrot, and three other 
less exotic birds, had flown in through the door. 

Then two more birds flew in, soon followed by Tritoma.  And then there
was pandemonium, as one of the birds, frightened by Tritoma, knocked 
over the nuts; while the rest of the birds flew around the wagon, 
squawking and pecking at the nuts and knocking over a bottle that stood 
on one of the barrels. 

'What's this?' said an angry voice, as the bottle crashed to the floor. 
Hieracium looked up as the wagon tilted slightly and a man stepped 
through the doorway.  He was the ugliest man that Hieracium had ever 
seen, with a scared face and a long hooked nose, and he was dressed all 
in black. 'Who are you?' he asked, scowling at Hieracium. 

Deciding it was time to leave, the birds flew past the man and out
through the door leaving Hieracium to face his anger.  Though one of 
the parrots lost several tail feathers as the man tried to grab it.  
Meanwhile, Tritoma had wisely decided to hide under the bed. 

'I'm sorry, sir,' said Hieracium, getting up from the table.  'It's just
that I was so hungry, and the parrot said there was food inside, and 
that you had gone away and...' 

'Gone away!' exclaimed the man.  'Do I look as though I've gone away?' 
The man looked around at the mess that the birds had made, before 
looking angrily back at Hieracium.  'Can't a man take his horse to 
water and leave his door unlocked, without a thief sneaking in to steal 
his goods?' he asked.  'Where are you from, boy, and where did you find 
this?'  The man reached for the pirates' sword that lay on the bed and 
drew it out of its scabbard and looked closely at it.  'Nice piece of 
work,' he said.  'Should be worth a pretty penny.'  Then he turned his 
attention back to Hieracium.  'And so should you, boy; a very pretty 
penny.'  The man lifted Hieracium's chin with the point of the sword 
and smiled, but it was a very wicked smile. 


'There's no way out of here, is there?' whispered Hieracium.  He was
sitting on the floor of the wagon with his back to one of the barrels. 

'No,' replied Tritoma, scratching at a flea that he thought must have
come from the man's bed.  The sun had set and the interior of the wagon 
had grown dark, though gradually there was a little more light as 
Hesperis, Astrantia's pale pink moon, rose into the sky and shone 
through the windows.  The man had made Hieracium clean up the mess that 
the birds had made and then ordered him to be quiet before giving him a 
crust of bread and some water and locking the door.  But then, after a 
suspicious glance at Hieracium, the man had taken the key from the lock 
and hung it high on a hook above the door before climbing into bed 
where he had soon fallen asleep.  And as the man began to snore loudly, 
Tritoma had come out from hiding. 

'And what did he mean about selling me?' Hieracium asked, still
whispering for fear of waking the man. 'And what do you suppose a slave 
is?'  The man had warned Hieracium to be ready for a long journey, at 
the end of which, he would be sold as a slave. 

'I don't know,' replied Tritoma, still scratching at the flea, 'I don't
like the sound of it, whatever it is.  Can't you reach that key?'  
Hieracium got to his feet and tried to move one of the barrels towards 
the door so that he could stand on it and reach the key, but the barrel 
was too heavy. 

'It would be nice to be sold, though' said a voice.  Hieracium was
startled; but not as startled as Tritoma who had been sitting on the 
floor beside the pile of sacks where the three little carved men with 
pointed hats were sitting, and it was one of them that had spoken. 

'I thought you were just made of wood,' said Tritoma, turning to stare
up at the three little men.  They were all dressed in red suits and 
hats, and shiny black boots, and each had a long white beard.  And they 
were moving. 

'Wood?' said another of the little men, indignantly.  'We're not made of
wood.  We're moulded from the finest quality clay, and glazed and baked 
in a kiln for two days.' 

'A magic kiln,' said the first little man.  'It has to be a magic kiln.'

'Don't make so much noise,' whispered the third little man, 'you'll wake
the tinker.' 

'But how can you talk?' whispered Hieracium, looking down at them.  They
all looked very similar except that one was holding a fishing rod, one 
had a pickaxe stuck in his belt and the other was holding a lamp. 

'Because we're gnomes,' replied the one with the lamp as he slid down
from the pile of sacks.  'All gnomes can speak, but only after dark, of 
course, not during the day.  And, of course, we can't speak to 
grownups; that's strictly against the rules.  My name is Gromwell, by 
the way, and this is Sedum,' the one with the fishing rod climbed down 
to the floor and then bowed, 'and this is Willowherb,' and the one with 
the axe gave more of a nod than a bow and then climbed down to join his 
two companions. 

'I'm Hieracium and this is Tritoma,' said Hieracium. 

'What did you mean about it being nice to be sold?' Tritoma asked Sedum.

'We're garden gnomes,' answered Sedum.  'We were made to sit in the
sunshine in a garden, not sit inside.  But when the tinker takes us to 
the fair to be sold, no one buys us.' 

'So we stay in here and rot,' said Willowherb. 

'Is he the tinker?' Hieracium asked, pointing towards the snoring man. 

'That's right,' replied Gromwell.  'He travels around and buys and
sells... things.'  He looked at Hieracium with a sad expression. 

'So I'm to be sold too,' said Hieracium, despondently. 

'Better to be sold than stuck in here for ever,' said Willowherb.  'And
I'm afraid that's what we'll be; stuck in here for ever.' 

'Then why don't you escape,' suggested Hieracium.  The gnomes looked
surprised at this idea, as though such a thought had never occurred to 
any of them. 

'But how?' asked Sedum.  'We're usually locked in, or the tinker is not
far away.' 

'Willowherb has a pickaxe,' replied Hieracium.  'He could try and make a
hole in the floor to escape through.' 

'Make a hole?  In the tinker's wagon?' exclaimed Willowherb.  'And have
him come back and break me into pieces!  I may be only a garden gnome, 
but I'm not stupid.' 

'It would be good to escape though,' said Sedum, 'and find a nice garden
to live in.' 

'The cottage where I live has a garden,' said Hieracium.  'You could
come and live with me.' 

'Now, just a moment,' said Gromwell.  'We haven't agreed to escaping
yet.  And, anyway, how far is it to where you live?  We can only travel 
by night, remember.'  There was silence then, as Hieracium and Tritoma 
and the three gnomes pondered this problem. 

But then Hieracium had an idea.  'If I stand under where the door key is
hung and lift one of you up,' he whispered, 'perhaps you could reach 

Willowherb looked at Hieracium and then up at the door key.  'Too high,'
he said.  'You would have to lift more than one of us and we'd have to 
stand on each other's shoulders.' 

'Let's do it then,' said Sedum. 

'Are you crazy?' exclaimed Willowherb, quickly changing his voice to a
whisper as the tinker monetarily stopped snoring.  'If we fall, we 
could get hurt.' 

'Oh, you're such a wimp,' said Sedum. 

'What about using your fishing rod,' suggested Tritoma.  'If Hieracium
lifts you up, you could try and lift the key off the hook with your 

'Good thinking,' said Gromwell, suddenly enthusiastic at the prospect of
escaping.  ''Why don't you try it?' 

So Hieracium crept over to the door with Sedum and lifted him up towards
where the key hung on its hook and Sedum tried to hook it with the end 
of his rod.  But it was more difficult to achieve than expected. 

'Not like that,' whispered Willowherb.  'Get the rod end behind the key
and give it a good whack.'  So Sedum tried this and at the third 
attempt the key came off the hook and flew half way down the length of 
the wagon and clattered loudly to the floor causing the tinker to wake 
with a start. 

The tinker sat up in bed and blinked at Hieracium who was still standing
by the door holding Sedum high in the air.  'What are you doing,' boy?' 
he shouted.  He clambered out of bed and around the table, and in the 
semidarkness he almost tripped over Willowherb but immediately kicked 
him out of the way.  Then he stepped over to Hieracium and snatched 
Sedum from his hands and threw him onto the bed.  'Trying to steal from 
me again, eh?  Though why you should want to steel these useless lumps 
of clay, I can't imagine. But still, it's time you were taught a 
lesson!'  He unbuckled his leather belt and took it off.  'A few 
strokes of this, is what you need.' 

He forced Hieracium against the table and then stepped backwards, making
ready to lash him with the belt.  But he stepped on Tritoma's tail, 
making him wail, as cats do if you step on their tails, and the sound 
must have given the tinker quite a fright because he leapt in the air 
and banged on head on an oil lamp that hung from the ceiling.  But 
Tritoma's wail was soon eclipsed by a much louder sound: a rumbling 
sound that seemed to come from the very depths of the earth.  And it 
was not just a sound, because whatever it was was shaking and rattling 
the wagon and everything in it: including Hieracium and the tinker and 
the three gnomes, all of whom, lost their balance and fell over, only 
to be showered by pots and pans and other goods as they fell from where 
they were hanging.  And that was not all: the wagon had begun to move 
and was gradually picking up speed as it rolled downhill. 

'Earthquake!' shouted the tinker as he tried to get back onto his feet,
but as he stood, a cupboard door flew open and hit him in the face, 
knocking him back down again.  Meanwhile the wagon was still rolling 
downhill and bouncing over tree roots and fallen branches, and then 
Sedum fell off the bed, landing on top of Tritoma, while Hieracium and 
the other two gnomes slid and bounced across the floor as more of the 
tinker's merchandise fell from the cupboard that had sprung open. 

Then as abruptly as it had begun, the earthquake and its rumbling noise
stopped, though the wagon continued to roll backwards downhill until, 
with a resounding crash, it ploughed into a huge pine tree and came to 
a shuddering halt.  There was silence then as the wagon's occupants 
slowly began to recover their wits and clamber out of the pile of 
debris that littered the floor of the wagon. 

Hieracium was the first on his feet, soon followed by Sedum, who had
taken refuge under the table with Tritoma, and then the other two 
gnomes crawled out from between a fallen barrel and several sacks of 
flour.  Hieracium's head was hurting and already he could feel a bump, 
but apart from Sedum's fishing rod being broken and Gromwell being 
covered in flour from a burst flour sack, the others seemed to be 

'Look!' exclaimed Sedum, pointing with his broken rod.  'We're free!' 
Light from Hesperis now streamed in through one half of the door, which 
had been flung open by the impact with the tree and hung half off its 
hinges.  The tinker was still on the floor but had pushed himself into 
a sitting position. He stared malevolently at Hieracium and then at 
Tritoma, but then movement caught his eye and, with a look of 
astonishment, he studied each of the three gnomes. 

'You moved,' he accused Sedum, 'and so did you!'  He pointed at
Gromwell, who was trying to keep very still, but the flour had got up 
his nose and he let out an enormous sneeze. 

'Run!' shouted Willowherb as he pulled his pickaxe out from under his
belt and strode towards where the tinker was trying to get to his feet. 
 'Run!'  He swung his axe, bringing it down hard on the tinker's right 
foot.  It was only a small pickaxe and not very sharp but it made the 
tinker yelp with pain and hop around until he tripped on something and 
fell over backwards.  'That's for kicking me,' said Willowherb as he 
swung again, this time hitting the tinker's left ankle, 'and that's for 
calling us useless lumps of clay.'  Then as a kettle that had been 
teetering on the edge of a shelf finally fell and hit the tinker on the 
head, Willowherb ran after the others who were already through the door 
and half way down the steps. 

Sedum had excepted an invitation from Tritoma to ride on his back, while
Hieracium, who had found his sword and scabbard lying on the floor 
amongst the tinker's goods, had one hand full, but still managed to 
scoop up both Gromwell and Willowherb.  And so, followed by angry 
shouts and threats from the tinker, the fugitives ran off down the cart 
track and into the night. 


'But what happened next?' Callistephus asked. 

'Well,' replied Thymus, 'my dream was a bit hazy after that.  But I
think Hieracium found the road through the forest and made his way back 
to Passiflora.  I seem to recall him telling Caltha all about his 
adventures before his father came to take him and Tritoma back home.' 

'And did he have any more adventures?' asked Callistephus.  'And what
about the gnomes?  Did they go home with him?' 

'Perhaps,' replied Thymus, yawning.  'Perhaps and perhaps.  But story
telling makes me very tired so, if you don't mind, I think it's time 
for bed.' 


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