The UCPO Spoon of Glory

Chapter 6: The journey

Sam and Nikolaus set off very early the next morning, in the hope that none of the UCPOites would be awake to send them off. They were in luck, and shut the huge gate very quietly behind them. The Mighty Kendall had told them that their quest had to be undertaken in secret, and so they would go the whole way on foot. The small accompanying army would follow at a distance, to be on hand if needed.

On the first day, they walked all day, stopping for the night on the edge of a dark and forbidding forest. On the second day, they had no choice but to venture into it. It was murky inside, and the noises of unseen forest inhabitants made them very nervous. They had been instructed not to stray from the path under any circumstances, and they faithfully did as they were told. The problem was, it soon became apparent that they were going in circles. After carefully checking that they hadn't missed another branch of the path, they sat, crestfallen, against a tree to work out what to do.

Nikolaus was telling Sam for the fourteenth time how bad an idea it was that he had been chosen, when they felt a deep boom and shiver through the tree they were leaning against. They both leapt up immediately and faced it. A deep, slow voice said, 'There's no need to be frightened. I am Johnbeard, warden of the forest. I can help you find your way.'
'Oh, thank you,' said Nikolaus gratefully.
'My pleasure,' said Johnbeard, 'it's this way to get north,' and one of his branches gestured to his left. 'But if I were you, I'd go the other way. There's a pub about five minutes that way that has excellent ale.'

Nikolaus and Sam looked at each other. That was a no-brainer. What UCPOite wouldn't go out of their way for a good ale? They thanked Johnbeard, and headed off the path in the direction that he'd pointed. Sure enough, they saw the cheery lights of a pub through the gloom in no time, and sank gratefully onto stools at the bar, asking the man behind it which was the best ale.
'Ah, that's easy. Bombadil's the best.' said the man. 'JC Butterbur, at your service.'
It was Sam who answered: 'Two pints of Bombadil then, please, Mr Butterbur.'

But two pints became four so easily in such a jolly establishment, and then eight. JC Butterbur proved to be excellent company, and Nikolaus and Sam were amazed to hear that he had once got lost in the forest years ago, found the pub, but was too scared to ever leave it. After so much beer, our heroes felt emboldened to share the details of their quest with JC, and he was fascinated.
'Do you think this great and powerful Robert of Nimmo might be able to give me some courage?' But when pressed to join them, the prospect of going back out into the forest was too terrifying for him.

They finally said their goodbyes, and staggered out into the murk. After making some indeterminate progress in one direction or other, they decided that it would be best to stop for a nap. And so they did, under a tree.

Some time later (it was impossible to tell how long, for it was always dark in the forest), they awoke. Nikolaus, panicking, felt to see if the Spoon was safe. It was. With sore heads, they looked around them despairingly. How ever were they to know which way to go? Sensing their quandary, a now familiar voice boomed, 'It's that way. But don't let the trees fool you. They'll not make it easy to find the true path. The yellow one is the true one.' Shame-faced but grateful, Sam and Nikolaus thanked Johnbeard a second time, and went on their way.

After a few hours of walking, and keeping their wits about them, they emerged on the far side of the forest. With visibly lighter steps and hearts, they went on for a bit longer in the fading light before stopping for the night. Choosing a grassy spot beside a river, they started to set up camp. Nikolaus went to scout for some firewood. He had only been gone for a few minutes when he heard Sam yell. Though Nikolaus dashed back to the camp, he was only in time to see Sam disappearing amid a flurry of small, furry brown bodies in armour, and a stealthy creature in a blue hat throwing a calculating glance over his shoulder as he slunk off into the trees. Nikolaus ran to follow them, but there was no indication of which direction they'd taken.

Nikolaus stood, alone. He hadn't given any thought to what might happen if he were left to carry out the quest alone. While pondering, he built a fire, and had something to eat. He could always just go back to UCPO capital city. But he didn't want to disappoint the Mighty Kendall, and the idea of smug Daniel made him resolve to see it through.

The next morning, Nikolaus covered many miles – he was like an UCPOite possessed. A few times, he thought he heard the sound of someone moving behind him, but when he looked, there was no one there. He stopped for lunch, and then continued up onto a narrow path between two mountains. A cave yawned ahead of him, and he couldn't see an alternative but to go through it.

It was very dark inside. He moved slowly, feeling his way, careful not to lose his sense of direction. His foot hit something immovable, and as he went to step around it, his arm brushed something hairy. He leapt away from it with a gasp, and a silky laugh came out of the darkness. Soon after came a silky voice. 'You must be Nikolaus. Daniel told me you'd be travelling this way.'
Nikolaus shrank back against the cave wall. 'Daniel?' he stammered. 'Daniel has no idea where I am.'
The silky laugh again. 'Daniel knows everything.'
'Who are you?' asked Nikolaus. 'What. . . are you?'
'I am Angelika Spiderqueen. Have you heard of me?'
'Um, yes.' Who hadn't? At this point, Nikolaus felt real fear. His mind cast about for a way out, but nothing occurred to him. 'What do you want?'
'Well, Daniel wanted me to keep you here until he could recover the Spoon of Glory, but actually, now I think about it, I think I'll just take it for myself. How lovely would it be to have an army of Angelika clones walking the land.'
Nikolaus shivered. 'Daniel won't like that,' he said, slowly edging his way around the cave wall to the far side.
'He won't have a choice,' Angelika crooned.

Nikolaus continued to silently move towards the exit, and was almost there when he encountered a sturdy, and hairy, barrier to his progress. Again he jumped back, and again Angelika laughed her silky laugh. 'You can't outsmart me. I've survived by my wits for hundreds of years,' she said.

As Nikolaus sensed her moving closer, and shrank away, two things happened. First, an unseen clarinet choir began playing The Blue Danube at full volume. Second, Angelika let out a shriek so painful that Nikolaus had to clap his hands over his ears. When he felt brave enough to take them away, he could hear her howling, 'Owwww! Nooooo! Make it stop! Aarrgghh! Anything but Strauss!' And her howls gradually receded as she scuttled away down some passageway or other.

And then there was much laughter, and Nikolaus was bewildered. Someone switched a torch on, and there before him was the UCPO clarinet section, full of glee and mischief. Nikolaus relaxed, and joined in with their mirth. 'Thanks, guys. That was a close one.'

But Nikolaus soon remembered the disturbing news he had to share, and told them the tale of Sam being carried off by attack hamsters. The laughter stopped, and the UCPOites put their heads together to come up with a way of saving Sam.

Chapter 7

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