Chapter 26 – Boab Plute

The unlikely trio of two boys, one shorter, and one taller, together with a monkey-like figure struggled through the untamed terrain. They were tired and hungry, but hopeful to meet up with the others soon.

Just as dusk was falling, they discovered the many trees lingering in the distance.

‘Must be here then. Or what do you think?’ said Jack.

‘Yeah, they’re like gigantic onions on a chess-board,’ said Ben. ‘Hey, do you see what I see?’

‘So what do you see?’

Ben pointed. ‘Look there! The biggest one, over there in the middle, seems to be three of them growing together.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘Because I can see the trunks.’

The massive tree stood out from the rest with its enormous bulbous bottom in three parts, almost like they were glued together. Thicker arm-like branches pointed upwards at the top, sandwiched between countless thinner ones.

‘Yeah, yeah, I see that now,’ said Jack. ‘Hope we can get something to eat. Is that a door?’

Ben was surprised. ‘You mean a door on a tree?’

‘Yeah, on the one smack bang in the middle,’ said Jack. ‘That tree’s almost big enough to live in. Remember the Derby Prison Tree? Only, this one is so much bigger since it’s like you said, three of them together. What the …? Is that guard dogs?’

‘Must be tied to something, or they would’ve come running, barking like mad,’ said Ben.

‘Something isn’t right. It’s something weird about them. Maybe they’re attack dogs. Hard to see in this light.’

Ben giggled. ‘I think they look like Chihuahuas.’

Closer up, Jack was taken aback. ‘What the …? Look at that, Ben, they’re massive crabs! Look at their eyes! Like bloody periscopes! We’ve got to get in there before something happens.’

‘I’m not getting any closer. I don’t care if we don’t see that Angry Mona. I don’t think I like her anyway.’

‘She’s not ‘Angry Mona’. It’s Agrimona. The others could be here already. Sinton, you better stay invisible until we know what’s going on here.’

Ben was overcome by feelings of dread. ‘I just thought about something. Those crabs might be poisonous. What if they snap off a foot, or a leg?’

‘They’re not poisonous,’ said Jack. ‘Panghellan doesn’t have poisonous things.’

‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said Ben. ‘You always come up with the strangest theories. I’ll tell you, you could get gangrene if something’s cut off apart from that you might bleed to death.’

Jack sniggered. ‘I knew you’d say that. Ambrosius told us there’s nothing to poison us to death in this land.’

‘No, that was only things to EAT! Look at them! They’ve got pincers the size of sledgehammers. They use them to break things … and bones. They’re vicious machines, and you know how fast normal crabs can run. These ones, they’re so much bigger, and would be so much faster.’

They were wary of the humongous crabs, and kept their eyes on where they were at all times. As they reached the door, and were ready to knock, it opened.

Out popped a hideous head of an old woman. The face was wrinkled like an old scrunched up apple with bushy grey hair hanging down from one point on top.
She croaked: ‘We have been expecting you. Welcome to Boab Plute!’

Jack pointed to the jumpy creatures. ‘Can you get those away from us first, please? I don’t like the look of them.’

‘Get into your hollows you wicked things!’ She hit a crab on the shell with a stick, and then another one, and another. Kicking and spurting sand, they receded into gaps in the ground.

Suddenly, a young boy walked out the door.

Ben was shocked. ‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HIM?’

‘Haven’t done nothing,’ said the woman.

‘Crikey, Ben, I’ve been waiting so long. I thought you’d never get here. Where were you? Look what I found! Beaut little pebbles in a pond, heaps of them. You should’ve been there. Look here, I found this piece of smoky quarts too! Nice quality. I had a swim, and I can tell you, I nearly drowned in that pond. It was so scary.’

‘What’s wrong with him?’ said Jack. ‘Why is he so small? He talks like a little kid.’

‘Don’t know, but Agrimona said it must be the water from one of Amossian’s tributaries.’

‘Amossian is bad,’ said Agrimona. ‘There’s magic, and then there’s cursed magic.’

‘What does it do?’ said Jack. ‘Apart from the most obvious.’

‘Obviously, it’s renewing. Yes, extremely renewing, but if you stay in too long, you DIE, boy. Your grandpa stayed in long enough to become a child. Any longer, and he wouldn’t have made it. He wouldn’t even be born. Not worth it, definitely not. The water is treacherous, makes you sleepy, and before you know it … it’s too late. I’ve been in a couple of times. Only under the strictest guard, of course.’

‘No use for me. I can’t wait to get my license,’ said Ben.

‘So, how do you turn back to the same person you were?’ said Jack. ‘What can he do? I mean, there must be something he can do.’

‘It takes time. Time will eventually heal, unless he goes in again. I don’t know anything else about it.’

Bill seemed less concerned. ‘It’s okay. We’ll worry about that later. I don’t like it, but I’m kind of used to it already. Sometimes I talk like a kid. Sometimes more like an oldie. I don’t know what I am. So, where were you guys?’

‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. But, just as you know, grandpa, Yowies are real,’ said Ben.

‘I knew it! Did you see some?’

‘Better than that,’ said Jack. ‘But we’ll go through it a bit later. Did you tell Agrimona why we’re here?’

‘Yes, I know why you’ve come, and I know you want the Binehogen. Have to tell you that I don’t know much about that stone. Why is it all of you want it so much? It’s just a bunch of trouble, that is. And, whatever you do, don’t trust anyone down here when it comes to that one.’

‘Yeah, I’ve come to understand that much,’ said Jack. ‘So what do we do now? Our grandpa’s like a little kid. Maybe it’s better if you Ben, and grandpa stay here, and wait for the others. I suppose they’re not here yet, are they?’

‘Nope,’ said Bill, jumping up and down on the spot.

Jack looked bewildered at his grandpa who acted like he had no care in the world. ‘I could easily continue on my own. Can you just stand still for a minute? Anyway, you two can’t do much to break them out of prison.’

‘Huh? What do you honestly think you can do, that I can’t? I’m not staying here, Jack. I’m not. What about you, grandpa? You’re coming?’

‘’Course I’m coming. But first we’ve got to wait for Charlie and Andy,’ said Bill. ‘Oh, yes, and Whistler too. We’ll have to stay put a bit longer before we’re heading off to the islands.’

Agrimona scratched herself around the eyes, shook her head, and waved her arms. ‘You youngsters don’t know what you’re talking about! How’re you going to get even close to the Kernel?’

‘Calm down, Agrimona!’ said Bill. ‘I know we’ll have to make plans before everything else.’

‘Well, I’ve never met your parents, but I’ve heard about them from Bill here, and I can tell you, it’s not, as easy as it seems. First of all, if word leaks out inside the Kernel, you’ll have a whole bunch of prisoners on your hands to take care of. I’ve got no idea how many will be in there right this minute, but everyone will surely want to leave that appalling hellhole of a place, every single one of them. For all we know, they would be queuing all the way to the Phosphene Portal. Secondly, if THEY hear about it, you can rest assure that every single Grim, and Warper will know you’re on your way. Thirdly, you don’t just sail into the Grim Islands, and walk into that fortress unless you’re absolutely harebrained. I suppose you’re not. Huh … I could be wrong.’

‘We’re going to get help. We’ve been told that Scaramoss is the one to take us,’ said Jack. ‘He’s supposed to know the way.’

‘Well, well, well, you haven’t heard the latest then. Scaramoss is dead. SO DEAD! Bragdon has taken over the run. He’s only a boy though. His parents were locked up years ago. Born at the Kernel on Grim, the hostiles didn’t have any use for a baby, and threw him out … yes … almost with the bathwater. Pity, he was only a toddler at the time. I’ve heard that the parents could do nothing. Word got smuggled in, and out, and Scaramoss took care of the poor mite. He, himself, had already been discarded, as a teacher. However, Old Mossie was too old, and found a wee one too hard to handle. Well, he wasn’t used to the needs of a child. So, when he had enough, he brought the lad to me. I looked after him until he didn’t want any more looking after. That’s when he went back to Old Mossie, and learnt what he could until Mossie was gone. Not everyone down here lives for centuries. Oh, yes, Bragdon manages himself now. He’s got his own business running the Mackle Ship on the clay pan salt lake sea. It’s been disastrous for the poor thing. But he’s making it, I know he is.’

Ben was overwhelmed. He thought his life was tough. What sort of life did that kid get?

The conversation was in full swing, but he just had to ask. ‘What exactly is a Mackle Ship?’

‘From a distance, it’s supposed to look blurred, almost like two. That’s all I know,’ said Agrimona. ‘I’ve never been close to the Ciyon Sea, and never laid eyes on the Mackle Ship either.’

‘We’ve got to look for him when we get there,’ said Jack. ‘Do you think he’d be around the rock? I think it’s called Lemirius Rock?’

‘He’ll be somewhere around there when he’s back,’ said Agrimona. ‘From what I’ve been told, he always is. He transports supplies from the north to the islands.’

‘From the north?’ said Jack. ‘What can you get from there?’

‘The northerners grow produce that can only be grown up there. It’s up river, and a tad bit warmer. They’ve got edible plant stuff, sea gherkins, kelp, seaweed, bush grapes, bush plums, and stuff. Nothing like that can be found around the Ciyon Sea, and the Hogen desires his little goodies. Never enough for the masses, only kelp for their uniforms, mind you. Sometimes Bragdon goes to Ludvigstown. Others trade with Robin Feathers, and some even go, as far as all the way to Polly Piper.’

They were astounded.

‘But … but … I had no idea there were so many places,’ said Jack. ‘Are there people there?’

‘Remember Jack? The maps?’ said Ben.

‘People abound in the strangest places,’ said Agrimona. ‘They’re all spread out.’

‘We’ll have to wait for the others before we do anything,’ said Bill.

‘What about the hostiles? Are we safe here? Do they know about this place?’ said Ben. ‘They could come here, couldn’t they? Aren’t you scared of them?’

‘Nope, not at all scared. Oh, let me correct that. I’m terrified, but not to worry, I’ve got the best warning system, which I will show you in a minute. If I see them coming, I just remove the door, and it’s no way in. We better go now. I need to check the latest news.’

‘Ouch!’ Jack jumped when one of the crabs brushed past his leg.

‘SKEDADDLE! You putrid thing,’ she screamed. ‘Come inside by all means! I’ll show you the advance warning system. We can also talk without interruptions.’

She motioned for them to enter.

‘What sort of system do you think it is?’ whispered Ben. ‘It’s no power down here.’

‘I wouldn’t have a clue. Must be some sort of mechanism.’ Jack’s laugh was a muffled giggle.

Bill had a shrewd look on his face. ‘I know what it is. She saw you coming. But I’m not telling. You’ve got to see for yourselves.’

They walked over the threshold with Bill skipping across, and found themselves on a small landing. From there, uneven wooden steps led down to an enormous hall where the ground was covered in red sediment, compacted to become rock hard. Various structures, some resembling platforms, were built out of thick logs. A fancy, but primitive hut with pillars made of twisted tree trunks, and a lichen-covered roof, was placed in the middle. Intricate signs were everywhere, and side walls had openings of different sizes. Symbols had been added either on the left or right of the holes. Some had marks with a tick, others with a cross. A few had a couple of letters.

‘It actually looks a bit like a train station,’ said Ben. ‘Could those letters … the L and R, be for Lemirius Rock?’

‘Yes, you’re so right there, my boy. It’s Lemirius Rock,’ said Agrimona, and nodded.

‘What sort of a train station is it? There wouldn’t be any trains now, would it?’ said Jack.

Agrimona made a move to grab onto Jack. ‘Don’t stand in the air blast young man, or you’ll end up somewhere in the Lemilot Mountain Range quicker than I can say Bafflebuff! And I can assure you that you don’t want to dip even your toes in the Ceranian. If you’ve heard bad stuff about the Amossian, you should know that the Ceranian is worse, so much worse. Watch out! That blower’s direction is out of the ordinary.’

Jack had already leapt to the side when he felt the strong pull. No way did he want to get sucked away without knowing more about the destination. ‘So what does the Ceranian do?’

‘You shrink, boy. You also turn into some kind of monster. I’ve only seen the apelike zilch once. I can tell you, it’s not a pretty sight. You don’t want to end up like that. And you definitely don’t want to mess with one of those. Oh, and they can make themselves invisible too. At will, mind you.’

She waddled away over the platform. ‘We’ll head off to my abode now. You better watch out for holes on the way. What am I saying? There will be no real blowers until later. Maybe not until tomorrow. Which one did you want to catch? Head straight onto Lemirius Rock? Or a stopover along the way? I’ve heard that the giant eels have come into season in the river pools at Robin Feathers. No trouble catching them. They almost crawl up into your lap. If you want to stop there, you’ve got to throw out an anchor at the first intersection.’

‘I think we should go straight to Lemirius Rock,’ said Jack. ‘One thing’s for sure, if we can’t get Scaramoss to help us, we’ve got to find that boy you mentioned. We need him to take us to the islands, and the Kernel.’

‘You’re sure you want to?’ said Agrimona. ‘You’ll face the gravest trouble to return here. That is; if you’re not captured. And you’ll have to take the long way around on the way back. I can assure you that it’ll be one monstrous efforty hardship to get passed the prickle mesh, but the horn-like spinners are so much worse than the mesh on any day. They abound in the prickle bother like flies around cattle, and will try to bite every sweet-bloodied living thing.’

‘Nothing else we can do. But they might not be that bad, and we’ve come this far to find our parents,’ said Jack. ‘I just hope they’re alive, and still there.’

‘What about the hornlike spinners?’ said Ben. ‘You know what they look like? Are they big? Spiders with … horns? Or-or, what are they?’

‘Yes, big alright, and the horns are sharp. It’s probably better to get pricked by the prickle mesh than those creatures. We, people, get sick from their poison. I would advise to give them something to eat before they start their nibbling on you. That way they’ll be full of activity, while you move on. You have to crawl some of the way to escape the thorns. It’s the only way possible according to what I’ve heard. Only, crawl fast if you want to leave the hornlike spinners behind. If I were you, I would be worried about all this. And, you better watch out for the slinkier fronds too! They look fine, but grab onto those unawares, and you might regret it. Yes, easy to get tangled in a serious stranglehold if you do.’

‘So much bad stuff,’ said Ben.

‘That’s nothing compared to the troublesome Grims. If you’re caught, you’ll surely end up in prison, with all the others, for your natural life, which can be extremely long down here, especially if they bring you to an Amossian tributary for a bit of a renewal now and then. If that happens you won’t be able to save anybody at all, not even yourselves. Rest assured though, while you’re here with me, the hostiles aren’t coming past my crabs. They’re better than the most vicious guard dogs. Not that there are many dogs down here. However, uninvited riffraff can’t get past the front door ‘cause I can remove it any time I want. Yes, I will remove it soon, so nobody can get in. That should keep you safe for the time being.’

‘But if you remove it, the others won’t find it,’ said Ben. ‘We’ve got to wait for them to get in here before you do that. Please help us.’

‘Nothing in it for me, but I will put my special hex on it, and make sure that those three can get through, but no others. The Warpers have been around inside here before, searching high, and low for the Binehogen. There will be more trouble if the Grims, the hostile hunters, arrive. But they never seem to take the left fork to come this way.’

Agrimona took them through enclosed walkways adorned by the usual crystallised formations, and tassels of waving spider webs. They went through forest-like structures of flow stones, shawls and pillars with stalactites clinging like icy pencils to the ceilings. They ended up in front of a man-made portal, richly decorated with rough carvings, and painted scrolls.

Ben was the first to read the sign. ‘Siesta Inn! It sounds like a hotel, or something. What is it?’

Agrimona opened the door. ‘Not many visitors, but now and again there’s a rush. We’ve got thirteen rooms, if I count the closet hole under the stairwell. It’s only been used once, and that by a small man, in a straw hat, looking like a Chinese leprechaun. This was when I had a full house. Must’ve been … huh … maybe fifty years, or so ago.’

‘That would’ve been something to see,’ said Bill. ‘I mean a Chinese leprechaun. Not every day you see one of those, is it?’

‘Oh, yes, he was quite a character with a bright green suit, as if he was Irish. After some time in the hollows, his clothes were stained with brown and black.’

‘A bit like camouflage gear, maybe,’ said Bill, giggling.

Agrimona ushered them into an enormous ballroom sized area glistening with calcite. Around the walls hung wide shawls, resembling frozen waves, while a few areas of the floor had the thinnest stalagmites stretching upwards like strands of dry spaghetti. Behind flow stones, forming translucent curtains, and drapes, stood pendulums, and columns.

Ben became excited. ‘Look at that wall! Those look like a whole bunch of bearded walruses sitting up there!’

At one end of the room, a spiral staircase made with railings of crooked tree branches devoid of bark, stood leaning into a large gap up the wall.

Ben was doubly excited when he saw them leading down through a floor opening as well. He made Jack aware of what he had seen.

He was interrupted in his thoughts when Agrimona, in a fit of laughter, opened a door behind the massive stone counter. ‘My rakish chapel, or in other words, my headquarters.’

Everyone expected it to resemble a workplace, but what they found was a room full of wooden garden rakes lining the walls. Partly hidden behind tree roots and chunks of spider webs stood a small cupboard. Most intriguing was a pencil thin light beam shining from above to light up a tiny pond.

‘Is this supposed to be an office?’ said Ben.

Agrimona nodded, still giggling. ‘Okey, dokey, a kind of office, it is.’

Ben had trouble understanding. ‘What do you do with all those rakes? If it’s an office, I mean?’

She turned serious. ‘The rakes are for protection, my boy. Nothing can get through, no thoughts, and no hostiles. See, you don’t want them to read my sightings, do you? Now, let’s see what my milk-like eye patch is going to tell us.’

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

© Lena Nilsson. All rights reserved.

Published by Lena Nilsson

Swedish-Australian Critical Thinker, who loves to research, write and crochet in no particular order. 😁

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