Poppyseed and Sunflower
Author: Inventunus

Chapter 17
New Friends and a Rescue Plan at last

    “OK,” said Charlie, calling the twins together for a battle plan. “We need a Plan  to rescue George. I’ll suggest several possibilities and you tell me which one you like best. Plan A: We march straight into the enemy’s camp and demand they hand over George or else.”

      “Or else what, Charlie?” Sunflower asked.

      “Or else we tell them we’re highly trained warriors and they’d better give up or else.”

      “Or else what?” Sunflower repeated.

      “Or else we’ll be forced to do something really unusual.”

      “What’s that, Charlie?” Sunflower asked with a puzzled expression on her face.

       “We’ll be forced to tell ‘Knock Knock’ jokes until they’re utterly sick of them.”

       “Ah, any other ideas, Charlie?” Sunflower said as tenderly as possible.

       “OK, you don’t think that’ll work. Then I have a Plan B.”

       “Does Plan B include lunch?” Poppyseed asked, adding her ounce of wisdom to the conversation.

       “Lunch, Poppyseed?”

       “Yes, I’d hate to miss our lunch,” Poppyseed replied.

        “Well, now that’s given me a better idea for Plan B, Poppyseed. Thank you.”

        The twins looked at each other, their eyebrows furrowed, as if to say ‘Charlie, what are you talking about?!’

        “Mushrooms!”

        “Mushrooms?” the two girls exclaimed in unison.

        “Mushrooms, my dear girls, are wonderful weapons and will form the basis of our attack on the enemy camp. Yes. The question is, can I remember the recipe?”

        “Recipe, Charlie?” Poppyseed asked, unsure if Charlie was talking about lunch or about rescuing George.

        “Yes, Poppyseed. The pepper mushroom sneezing trick.  Quick, Poppyseed, you go and gather a heap of mushrooms, and Sunflower, I saw some wild pepper seeds over by the far path. We need as many as you can collect.”  Everyone got to work and within an hour they had collected a huge pile of mushrooms and seeds.

       “OK,” Charlie began. “First you take this bowl I happened to find in the forest a moment ago. (!) Stir into it a handful of hot pepper seeds and cook them over the hot fire. Then cook the mushrooms on a low heat until they’re nice and mushy. Now add the rest of the peppers and stir them all round together. Add some ground wheat from the field next door and we have a nice gooey mixture. Cool it off, roll the mixture into hand-size balls and put them on this dry wood to harden and there you have it. Any questions?”

         Poppyseed was too busy thinking about lunch and her only comment was, “Mmm! Mmm! There should be enough for about twenty each!”

      Charlie laughed. “Oh dear Poppyseed, they’re not for us to eat! They’re for George’s captors!”

      Poppyseed’s face dropped instantly. “But what about our lunch?!” she pleaded. “What a waste of good mushrooms, Sunflower!”

      “Oh really, Poppyseed. You and food! The first thing we have to think about today is rescuing George. Only after we’re safely away will we have time to think about food.” Then turning to Charlie, she asked him, “What’s the plan, Charlie?”

      “I was wondering who would ask me that. So far what I’ve got is that we have to somehow get the guards  in the camp to eat the mushroom balls. Once they begin, they’ll sneeze so much we’ll be able to get George out. The finer details on the plan I’ve yet to work through. Hopefully something  will come up soon.”

     The twins liked Plan B so far, which was just as well because Charlie hadn’t a clue what else to suggest. “OK,” he continued, “the balls are just the right consistency now. Once they’ve cooled down sufficiently, we’ll begin our trek into the forest.”

                                                            

      They would have retraced their steps to the fork in the path but  Poppyseed happened  to spot a very small path entering the trees not far from their camp. So they used this one instead. 

      The sun in the east was beginning to climb, throwing  golden shafts of light through the forest. This made it far more inviting  than it had appeared the previous night. Feeling much safer and happier, the trio ambled through the forest admiring its awesome sights:  huge vines drooping above them, mosses on old wet logs near their feet, funny furry creatures that ran across their path from time to time...

     It seemed to Sunflower that one of these small creatures looked a lot like a miniature Hootoo. So much so that  next time one popped out its head behind a small bush, Sunflower called out, “Hoot, hoot.” To her surprise (and its), it replied, “Hoot, hoot.”

     The twins looked at Charlie and at the creature again and then Sunflower tried a sentence in Hootoo language. “Hoot, hoot. Oom Sunflower. Woot oos yoor noom?”

     The creature said nothing at first. It looked a little surprised and shocked and kept turning to someone or something behind it in the bush. Finally it replied, “Oom Joospr. Ploosd to moot yoo.”

      Sunflower smiled, then shook the small creature’s leg which it put out in friendship. After that they were all great  mates. Neither Poppyseed nor Charlie could understand the talk which ensued though some familiar names popped out from time to time, like Wootoo, and Eze and George.

      After a long period of talking, Sunflower filled the others  in. “It’s very interesting,” she began. “Joosper here... I’m sorry. I’ll give him an English name. Let  me see... Yes, that would be... Jasper. Jasper is a dwarf Hootoo. A long long time ago, something happened to the Hootoos (which Jasper didn’t go into) and a small group of Hootoos became tiny. These tiny Hootoos became separated from the full-size Hootoos and never saw their relatives again. It seems that Wootoo’s father’s name was also Wootoo and his father before him. Great grandfather Wootoo was a wise leader of Hootoos throughout these Four Lands. It was after he died that this misfortune took place and the dwarf Hootoos came to live in East Forest where they’ve  lived ever since. Jasper was extremely surprised to hear me speak his own language and more so that we’d met Wootoo (the present Hootoo leader). (I guess, Charlie, that’s why our Wootoo knows so much about everything.) Anyway,  Jasper, and his friends who are all hiding in the bushes around us, know where George  is being kept hostage and are willing to show us and help rescue him.”

    Charlie beamed at this piece of news though he wondered how such small furry creatures could possibly help.

    Sunflower continued, “If we are able to rescue George and get away safely, I think we should at least contact Wootoo and tell him about  his long-lost cousins.”

    “Oh yes,” Charlie agreed. “Perhaps we’ll take them with us when we leave the Forest which we may have to leave in a hurry. It may be safer for them to come with us.”

    Sunflower conveyed this to Jasper whose little face beamed with joy at the thought of reuniting with their cousins. At once he turned behind him and called out, “Hoot, hoot. Coom oot oovroo boodoo.” With that, the bushes parted and small faces popped out everywhere. They crowded round Charlie and the twins with giggles and  dances of glee.  

    Jasper introduced 11 of the elders. Their names were (in English): Sapphire,  Chalcedony, Emerald, Sardonyx, Carnelian, Chrysolite, Beryl, Topaz, Chrysoprase, Jacinth and Amethyst. Jasper made the 12th elder. He explained that these were their given names but all the ones with long  names also had nicknames. For example, Sap, Chalc, Em, etc.

     Unusual names, Sunflower thought, for they were all names of precious stones! She wondered if the rest of the dwarves’ names were also names of stones.

    Jasper must have read her mind because the next thing he said was “I imagine you think we’re all stones, girls! Actually only one other Hootoo has a stone name. And that’s our gatekeeper, Pearl. You can see him over there. Not that we have any gates as such but it’s an old name for when we did. His job these days is to warn of danger. It’s a very important job especially since Eglon and his company arrived in the forest causing such a headache for the forest creatures.”

      “Eglon?” Charlie asked. “Tell us more about Eglon.”

      Jasper was happy to reply because he and others  like him had long hoped to find a solution to the bad times Captain Eglon had brought to their home. “Eglon is an Eastlander, originally from a smaller forest in the NE of Eastland. However, too much wine and bad company gave him grand ideas that he could do better in the south near Eastville. From the bits we Hootoos hear, he has plans to take over Eastville with the help of his trained monkeys and eventually become King  of Eastland, though lately we’ve heard he may be working in consultation with another despot.

       “Who knows what he plans to do after that! Already he has captured many monkeys from the Great Forest, as you already know, and your brother George is amongst these, Charlie. The monkeys are all being held prisoner in a huge enclosure where every day they are being trained. Some monkeys have tried to escape but it’s impossible to break through the steel wire mesh that surrounds their part of the forest.”

       “Steel wire?” Poppyseed asked. “Poor monkeys. Poor George.”

       “The monkeys are in good health, thankfully. George has been the main one trying to escape and we’ve been helping him with his plan. You see, the steel wire is attached to the ground with concrete but with help from many friends in the forest, we’ve been digging through underneath the concrete making countless underground escape tunnels to get  all the monkeys out at the same time. You’ve arrived on the very day that we have planned the escape. At dusk tonight after they’ve finished their evening exercises, we’ll complete the tunnels. There’s only one main problem. Captain Eglon always keeps 2 or 3 monkeys near him to use as hostages and we have to think of some way to get them out too because everyone must be rescued.”

      “Oh we have a solution to that  Jasper,” Poppyseed said. “The mushroom balls!”

       Of course, Jasper hadn’t a clue what she was talking about but quickly the twins and Charlie filled him in. Jasper thought it was a great plan. So they put the 2 plans together and this is how it would work. The twins would march up to the entrance of the enemy camp and pretend they’d captured Charlie and offer to sell him to Eglon. When Eglon came out, out would come the peppery mushroom balls and while Eglon and his men were sneezing, Charlie would beat  his chest and call out the “All clear” signal. The monkeys would escape beneath the underground tunnels, pick up one Hootoo each, put them on their backs and swing away through the forest to the western border. Meanwhile,  Charlie and the twins would grab the 2 or 3 monkeys beside Eglon and do likewise.

                                                             

       Well, just before dusk, everyone crept to their places and the twins tied Charlie’s hands together with a slip-knot so that it  looked like he was securely bound. Then they checked their bag was full of mushroom pepper balls. Marching Charlie up to the large oak door of the enemy camp, they knocked loudly.

      A sleepy guard called out, “Who’s there?”

      “Boo,” Poppyseed replied.

      “Boo who?” the guard called back.

      “There, there,” Poppyseed replied. “Don’t cry.”

      There was silence behind the gate. Then the smallest giggle. The guard called out to another guard, “Hey, Boris! I’ve got a new knock, knock joke. Want  to hear it?” But before Boris could ask what it was, Poppyseed knocked again and called out, “Open up, please. We have a present for you.”

     “Oooh. I like presents,” the sleepy guard called out and began to open the large wooden doors. Upon seeing Charlie, his face turned white because for a moment he thought George  had escaped. You see George and Charlie, being brothers, look pretty much alike. In fact sometimes you can only tell them apart by Charlie’s large brown hat.

      “George, what are you doing out…?” He was interrupted by the arrival of a short stocky but strong man accompanied by … George! The guard looked round at George, looked back at Charlie, looked at George again, looked at Charlie again, until his head almost swivelled off!  Charlie beamed. George winked secretly just in case the Captain noticed. George, it seemed, was the only monkey accompanying Eglon tonight. That  made it easier.

       Captain Eglon rudely asked, “Who are you?”

       “We’re travellers from afar and we heard you were looking for monkeys,” Sunflower replied.

      “How did you know that?” the Captain shouted, his eyes frowning suspiciously.

      It’s a good ruse when a conversation isn’t going the way you hoped it would, to change the subject and come at it from another direction. So Sunflower said, “Do you like mushroom balls, sir?” Everyone likes to be called “Sir.”

     “Sorry?” the Captain replied, confused by the question.

     “Mushroom balls.” Now Charlie had cleverly made balls with no pepper in them just in case the Captain asked that they test them before he ate one. Three for them and one extra in case a monkey was given one. Poppyseed added, “These are the hottest treats in Eastlands, sir.”

      The Captain liked spicy food, especially on polka dot mushrooms, and was very tempted as Sunflower drew a few from Charlie’s back-pack. On cue, he suggested that Sunflower try one first and when she showed she was obviously enjoying it, he accepted one. (A hot peppery one.) He liked it so much he let his guards have one too and sent the basket  inside to hand round the rest to the other guards.

    The pepper didn’t take effect straight away. It’s devastating effect held off just long  enough until the guard disappeared into the barracks and all the guards began eating. Then, as they were chewing through their second pepper balls, the Captain sneezed. By the time he’d sneezed 3 times, the other guards inside and at the gate were also sneezing. On the Captain’s 5th sneeze with water pouring from his eyes so he could barely see, Charlie slipped out of his ropes and beating his chest made a huge monkey noise. All clear!  The sign for the escape to begin.

     Monkeys everywhere dived out of the trees inside the enclosure to the fence. Small heads popped up right along the inside of the fence as they finished burrowing the holes and the monkeys helped make the hole entrance big enough to climb into. The tunnels were already large enough. Scurrying through they all emerged in the forest and each Hootoo clambered aboard one monkey’s back for a hair-raising and thrilling ride through the forest. They clung on as tight as possible as the monkeys swung from tree to tree.

     George, meanwhile, clasped Charlie’s hands.; He wanted to give him a huge hug but there was no time for that just yet. They must hurry. Charlie picked up Poppyseed and George picked up Sunflower and with the twins clinging  tight, the monkey brothers each grabbed a vine and swung westwards, the sound of sneezing becoming fainter and fainter.

 

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