Trickery Times Two
The thin slack girl tried unsuccessfully to balance the two heavy pails of water as she walked down the dry, dusty road. Water sloshed out of her pails and down her trembling legs for the third time, as she lost her grasp on each handle. Exasperatedly the girl clicked her tongue against her teeth and sat both pails on the ground, and then righted herself. The well seemed to get farther away ever time she went to fetch the water for washing. Rayniah Cuchlain hated washday even more than baking day in the high heat and humidity of late August. Nonetheless, as the youngest daughter of a farmer, it was her job to help her Mother with the atrocious house chores, while her elder sisters searched for their future husbands. Rayniah flopped down on the ground next to her dropped pails and sighed loudly, for the moment, the pails remained forgotten. A group of young children squealed in delight as they ran by, playing a game that only they knew the rules to. Rayniah smiled as she watched them play so gaily. They seemed to have the perfect life, no cares or worries. One of the larger children turned to the group, shouted something indecipherable then spun back around and ran back the way they had come. The others had no hesitation as they ran after him. A sudden strong desire to run after them swathe Rayniah, but instead she stands and grasps the handles of her pails once more. Slowly and carefully, she made her way back toward her waiting washtub.
The village all seemed to be absorbed in their own chores, as Rayniah carefully paced her steps, fearful of sloshing out any more water lest she would have to return to the well and refill the pails. Suddenly Rayniah stopped short, sloshing out still more water, a beautiful tree stood just beyond the village road, a tree that Rayniah had never
seen before, a tree so magnificent and grand that she felt a mysterious yearning to run straight to it.
"Rayniah, Rayniah have you brought more water?"
Her Mother's question pierced through her reverie. "Yes, Mother, I brought back water," Rayniah answered distractedly. Then added offhandedly, "Mother, I-I-I, um I'll be right back."
Mother's voice answered sweetly, "Of course, Rayniah, just leave the pails by the tub."
Not waiting for her to change her mind, Rayniah darted off toward the tree. Her Mother's echoing reprimand of, "Hurry back, we still have a lot of washing to do," bounced off the fleeing girl.
In a matter of minutes, the wonderful tree was right in front of Rayniah. Enormous expanding leafy limbs spread out from the willow, shadowing the ground underneath a deep gray. The leaves were still a bright green color, as if this season's drought had not touched them. The vibrant green grasses below it softened the ground until it would rival the softest velvet. The few feet behind the tree housed an oversized pond filled with sparkling clear, pristine waters. A lone heron stood in the pond's shallows, its eyes ever watchful for his next attempt at dinner. The landscape about the tree and its pond were flawless, except a black spot between two of the tree's exposed roots. Curiosity overcame the timid girl, as she bent to duck under the languid limbs.
Once under the tree Rayniah was shocked to see that she could stand to her full
height beneath the limbs. Cautiously she moved still closer to the hole, but a sudden unexpected bout of drowsiness shrouded her. Unable to hold her eyes open, she lay down on the cool grasses that grew under her bare feet. Darkness overtook her quickly and easily, as she fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
A deep melodic voice reached through the darkness, it called to her. "Awake, awake child I have a bit o' gold for ye. Ye just have to come for it."
The voice rang so beautifully clear through the blackened haze that blinded her eyes, that Rayniah wanted nothing more than to see the voice's owner. A dark desperate urge overwhelmed her; Rayniah wanted her eyes to open. Her eyes felt weighted with sandbags, but still she stubbornly willed them to open wide.
Again, the voice cut through to her ears, "A shiny piece o' gold for a beautiful lass. Will she claim it?"
This time a hunger for the voice's gift gnawed incessantly deep within her heart, as the voice drifted away. Rayniah groaned aloud as she pushed herself up on her elbows from a prone position, her eyes only open to tiny slits. Scanning the area around her, Rayniah jumped as she noticed a short, well-groomed man standing just next to the hole at the tree's base. The squat little man elegantly adjusted his green silk waistcoat as she watched. Then noticing a tiny little particle of dirt on the toe of one of his small curled toe shoes, he bent and brushed it off with a minuscule little flick of his wrist. His pointy tip ears gave a little flip as he righted himself. Rayniah's eyes flew open wide, as she scrambled to her knees. Who or what was he? The question bounced around in her still foggy mind. Unable to stem her curiosity, Rayniah slowly crawled forward, not allowing
her eyes to stray from her visitor. The little man cocked his head like an inquisitive puppy, and watched her inch closer. A closer inspection of the man revealed a set of rosy lips and a small bulbous nose. A pair of intent black eyes set beneath a pair of manicured eyebrows and long curling eyelashes. A small corncob pipe protruded from his waistcoat pocket, and a fine pair of leather riding pants covered his petite legs. Still, Rayniah moved closer until she was close enough that she could have reached out a hand to touch him, but the man was too swift for her.
A cry of surprise fled from Rayniah's lips as he jumped nimbly out of her reach. Disappointment etched across her face at his escape, oh how she had wanted to stroke his glorious silken waistcoat. Unable to stop a pout from breaking out on her soft lips, Rayniah moaned, "Your game is not fair, sir. You promised me a shiny piece of gold, and now you refuse. That isn't very kind."
The man smiled and replied, "Riddle me this, and ye can have a golden nugget. What is small, smart, and lively? Trickery is the game, but winning is never much fun."
A look of udder amazement softened Rayniah's face, as she retorted, "A thing that is small, smart, and lively, and plays at chance, then doesn't enjoy winning is absurd. Everyone likes winning; it is not possible to have a single thing with those qualities. There is no answer to your mindless riddle, now give me my gold piece."
Aye, but I cannot. You still must answer me riddle. There is an answer, but one may not be the answer to all," the man chirped back gloating.
Now totally exasperated with the man, Rayniah fumed indignantly, "A riddle can not have but one answer, and some have not any. You have asked an impossible task."
"If that be the case, then the nugget is impossible to claim," the man returned smoothly, his lips still upturned in a rosy grin.
Rayniah narrowed her eyes and thought for a minute. A sudden realization washed over her, "I've heard about things like you. I have heard mad tales about them for as long as I can remember. You are a Bukkys. A shape shifting trickster that plays games to steal souls, and I'll have none of it. I must get back to my washing. I'm leaving!"
Rayniah spun on heel and bent to duck out of the dangling branches, but stopped in her tracks. The tree's limbs seemed to have bonded together, blocking all ways out.
A malicious sounding laugh rose from behind her, then the man corrected haughtily, "I don't think ye will be leaving, at least not the way ye came in."
Rayniah ignored the man and irritably seized two separate branches and tried unsuccessfully to yank them apart. A yowl of pain reverberated through the air. Rayniah froze aghast at the deafening sound. The Bukkys seemed unconcerned, and propped up comfortably against the tree's thick trunk, as if he were waiting for some type of show to begin. Rayniah stared around in wonder, but still didn't loosen her grip on the branches she held. In a sudden panic Rayniah realized that the limbs she held were twisting and shuddering in her hands. On instinct Rayniah opened, her tightly clasped fingers and attempted to drop them. She cried out in fear when she saw tiny little vines wrapped intricately around each finger, she couldn't let go.
Again, laughter cut through the tension. He was laughing at her again. Tears welled up in Rayniah's eyes, and fear and doubt resounded in her soul. The tree's branches continued to move and sway, taking Rayniah's arms with them. Through her
soggy gaze, Rayniah again shuddered violently. A walkthrough tunnel had opened just beside her in the tightly laced branches. As Rayniah watched, an army of Bukkys marched through the tunnel. None of these transformed into anything except their usual beings. The hobgoblins filed in one at a time, each dressed in worn leather pants and soiled tunics. Their faces were sharp and pointy, huge floppy ears traced down their brown heads. Tufts of stringy, greasy hair crested their heads, while their thin lips did little to conceal razor sharp teeth. Each one carried a weapon of some fashion in their calloused hands. Spears, swords, and even battle-axes were noticeable weapons of choice.
Rayniah pulled desperately at her bound hands, driven by a fear that consumed her wholly. As she struggled with her hands, the Bukkys that had offered her gold, straightened himself to his full height of maybe four feet, and turned himself back into the same type creature as those that had just entered. For a moment, he allowed his small red eyes study the captured girl.
He seemed to consider his options, and then he offered her another chance. "Riddle me this, what is small, smart, and lively? Trickery is the game, but winning is never much fun."
Rayniah moaned, "I don't know. There is not much information in your riddle. It could have many answers. Could you give me a tiny hint?"
The Bukkys cocked his head ever so slightly to an angle, and then answered, "A hint ye want, but one would make it much too simple."
Rayniah's mind raced, and then suggested, "There must be a small hint that
wouldn't make it to simple. Can you not think of one? I am not a very bright girl, surely
there is one."
The Bukkys pursed his lips in thoughtfulness, before replying, "There is one. The answer is around ye."
"Oh, but Master Bukkys there are many things around me. Could you not be a bit clearer? Perhaps you could reword the hint. Like I said I am not very bright, and I get confused easily," Rayniah returned smoothly, offering what she hoped was a convincing smile.
The Bukkys narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but answered, "There are many things about ye, but some are more numerous than others."
Rayniah bobbed her head up and down, and bit her lip as though in deep concentration. "I beg your pardon, Master Bukkys, but I seem to have forgotten the original riddle. Could you repeat it, once more?"
The Bukkys tweaked his own ears in frustration, but blandly intoned, "What is small, smart, and lively? Trickery is the game, but winning is never much fun."
Rayniah squeezed her eyes shut, and gritted her teeth acting the part of serious thinking. Then, sadly shaking her head, she turned to the Bukkys, "I simply can't think straight. You see I'm used to twiddling my thumbs while thinking, and since my hands are stuck in this tree, I can't twiddle them. Oh, I hate to ask this, but you don't suppose you could free up my hands, so I could think better, do you?"
The Bukkys' eyes bulged with disbelief, before he shouted, "ABSOLUTELY NOT! I'll not free anyone's hands. Ye will try to run I know it. Ye can just think the
way ye are."
"But, I can't think without my thumbs. We'll be here forever if you don't let me twiddle my thumbs," Rayniah explained breezily. "And besides, what harm would come from it? You have that army of Bukkys behind you. I would never be able to get away."
The Bukkys studied her doubtfully, and stubbornly shook his head, "No! I'll not do it."
Rayniah remained silent for a time and stared back at the man. Trying to look the part of a poor helpless girl, she stuck her lower lip out and dug her bare toes into the dirt. Lowering her head so it would appear that she was truly innocent, Rayniah still maintained a vigilant study of her captors.
The Bukkys seemed to develop a kind of sympathy for Rayniah, and then he asked, "Twiddling thumbs helps ye that much, if I cut ye free ye promise not to run?"
"It would be ignorant of me to run, why your army would have me in no time," Rayniah answered with a fake sweetness.
The Bukkys hesitated for a moment then reached behind his back and pulled a large ebony knife from its sheath. The knife shown brightly even in the shadowy gloom that covered the group. Hesitating again the Bukkys held the knife's crooked blade close to Rayniah's hands. Hope spiraled gleefully through Rayniah. He was actually going to cut her hands free. Faith once more dominated the girl's mind, as she watched the Bukkys place the knife's sharp edge right on top of one of the binding limbs. The Bukkys applied a little bit of pressure to gouge out a sizable chunk of the first vine, and Rayniah felt happiness course through her. The vine quickly fell away from the Bukkys' continual
sawing. In a matter of mere minutes, Rayniah pulled her left hand free of its bindings. She had never been so happy to see her hand. The Bukkys continued hacking at the other limbs with his black knife, but he stopped just shy of cutting her right hand free. Uncertainty shown on his face and with an afterthought he turned to look at the gathered Bukkys that now stood in rank behind him.
One of the other hobgoblins stepped up from the line, and made an irritating clicking sound in his throat. When the head Bukkys turned his eyes on him, he bent low in a deep bow. The one holding the knife dipped his head in the tiniest bob, obviously granting permission of some kind to the kneeling Bukkys. The Bukkys drew himself up from the ground and recited, "Gaelo fom muna recradea." He motioned toward Rayniah insistently and then attempted, "Reveo betchrea."
The head Bukkys spun around on Rayniah, "he says, ‘ye are trying to trick me.' Where should me trust go?"
Rayniah looked stunned, "Me, trying to trick you. No, Master Bukkys I am much to slow to trick you."
Master Bukkys whirled back around on the other Bukkys and ordered him into rank. A look of befuddlement caressed the lines of Master Bukkys' face, but he reached out with his blade once more. Relief washed through Rayniah as he started hacking at the vines. The Bukkys made quick work of the last intertwined vines, and Rayniah's right hand was free.
The Bukkys turned to Rayniah and demanded, "Now, use the thumbs and answer me riddle."
Rayniah offered the little hobgoblin a smile that she hoped looked cheery, and inquired, "You said that it could have more than one answer. Then, you prompted that the answer was around me. Is that correct?"
Master Bukkys raised an eyebrow and answered, "That is what me said. If ye can guess the answer a gold nugget can be claimed."
Rayniah nodded, but did not reply. Dropping to her knees, she clasped her hands together and started twiddling her thumbs. Several minutes passed and Master Bukkys began to dance in place in his impatience, just as he was about to say something to Rayniah, she interrupted him.
"I think I know the answers you seek, Master Bukkys. I was wondering if you could repeat it just once more, to make sure that I have thought of the right answer," Rayniah requested innocently.
The Bukkys smiled a knowing smile; no one ever guessed his riddles. Still, the hobgoblin repeated the riddle, "What is small, smart, and lively? Trickery is the game, but winning is never much fun."
Rayniah beamed of luck, "I know it. The answer to the first part is you, or rather a Bukkys, and winning for you is never fun because you must lose something of value every time someone gets a game answer right. Am I right?"
A look of udder disbelief washed over the Bukkys followed quickly by white-hot anger. Spinning around quickly he flashed his knife in front of Rayniah's face. The girl squealed and jumped back in fright. Her impulsive movement caused a wave of excitement to advance down the line of warriors. They all quickly readied their various
weapons, and prepared to fight. Rayniah gasp at their sudden hostility, but on shaky legs held her ground. A violent wind picked up and whipped around those under the willow tree. Rayniah's hair was whirled in her face shortly blinding her, until she could pull it up in a stringy ponytail. The limbs above her head spun in all directions, as tiny sticks fell free and fell to the ground. Small whirlwinds of leaves spun by the pond. The once placid waters of the pond now churned viciously, as the winds continued to spiral.
Rayniah felt tears well up in her eyes, and then suddenly the demeanor of the Bukkys changed. Master Bukkys transformed back into his well-dressed counterpart and kindly smiled at Rayniah. The picture seemed oddly distorted, the winds still raged, but Master Bukkys looked ready for a picnicking holiday.
Master Bukkys turned to the others and ordered them to lower their weapons. He then turned back to Rayniah, "Ye are correct in the answer, however ye are a tricky one. Ye practically made me tell ye the answer. However, as a Bukkys, it is required that ye get what me promised. Just follow me into me house, it is not far. Me treasures are in there." Master Bukkys offered to Rayniah, with a wave of his hand toward the hole at the tree's base.
Rayniah looked doubtfully at the hole, then back at the Bukkys, who all appeared happy. Master Bukkys moved his head slightly to the left, and pulled out his gold pocket watch from his green silken waistcoat's pocket. Opening it, he studied it carefully, and then nodded once more. "What say, ye? Will ye come? I have a schedule that must be kept to impeccably, and I am almost late."
Rayniah felt a mysterious tug at her heart for this queer little creature, and she
nodded, "I will come, but I will not leave. I have answered your riddle and you have lost, the only missing piece of this whole strange little game is that I still hold onto my soul."
Master Bukkys wrinkled his nose in a look of concern, and then asked, "Are ye sure that ye still hold onto your soul, or have ye felt a sense of desire to follow me to me house?"
"The desire is there," Rayniah, answered matter-of -fact.
"Ye are right to in saying that if ye come ye won't return," Master Bukkys replied just as matter-of -fact.
No questions rang in Rayniah's mind as she turned and followed Master Bukkys into the hole. As the two disappeared the winds stilled and the army of hobgoblins vanished. No one ever heard from the timid youngest daughter of the farmer again.