“To Dibble’s Quarry, Your Majesty.”
“You would take them to the Hall of the Mountain King? Why?”
“Because it’s time, Your Majesty. They have served you well, and deserve the chance to prove their mettle on this quest. Besides, I think they’d enjoy it.”
“ENJOY IT?!” the Queen convulsed in gales of laughter. “Oh, child, you do amuse me! Very well, for your pluck alone, I shall grant them this quest. Perhaps the Mountain King will find them amusing as well. Please bear my greetings to His Highness. But be sure you do not return without his token! Though I will be surprised if you succeed in this quest. It’s a rare visitor to his Hall that has the fortitude to win such a boon.”
“You… you don’t think the King will be there, surely?” the elf asked in a quavering voice.
“I know not. The Mountain King is no consort of mine, he does not answer to me. I bear no responsibility for what may come to pass should you find him at home.”
For the first time, the respectfully lowered eyes of one knight-apprentice looked up from the ground. “We are prepared, My Queen, and ready for all challenges. What could go wrong?”
As the travelers turned to leave, the Summer Queen wiped tears of mirth from her eyes. “What could go wrong, indeed!”
The path wound through an unremarkable woodland of maples and small beeches, a few ferns scattered about. As they crossed a little stream, the wood elf could feel the knights-apprentice growing restless and bored. She worried they would find the quest disappointing. They had, after all, recently returned from the Edge of the World. Would this journey pale in comparison?
Should they continue on this folly – or turn back?
The elf was wary, but the knights had no such doubts. “Onward!” they cried.
Now the path grew rugged, steeper, as it clung to the side of a hill. The oppressive heat of the Summer Queen’s land made itself felt.
Jewelweed and ferns carpeting the floor of the deep woods captured the attention of the knights.
The travelers struggled on, dripping in sweat, labored of breath. Carefully they trod the flat stepping stones laid across the seemingly endless expanse of boggy trail.
At the top they emerged into an open grove of hemlocks and soft moss – and promptly lost the trail. This distressed the wood elf. Though she’d not been here before, she knew what they were searching for – and this wasn’t it.
A voice whispered in her ear. “Search along the edge; the drop is precipitous, but there is a safe path.” The Summer Queen! Had she been following them all along? The elf whirled to look, but saw only the boughs of the hemlocks, swaying in a passing breeze.
Tentatively she led her companions along the edge until they came upon an opening. Carefully they slid down the ledge, the exposed roots of a tree serving as steps.
They had not walked far before the forest opened, and they caught a glimpse of the mountain realm of the King.
And just beyond, through a pair of stone pillars – the Hall of the Mountain King.
Before she could warn him, the Blue Knight audaciously perched upon the throne of the King himself.
Just then a deep voice thundered from nowhere and everywhere at once.
“Who dares enter my Hall?”
“Servants of Her Majesty the Summer Queen, Your Highness. We bear her greetings and good wishes,” the wood elf responded in tremulous tones.
“Do you, now?” the Mountain King said with a chuckle. “A plucky maiden are you. Tell me, does the Queen fare well?”
“She does, sire.”
“Good, good! And did she promise a token of my realm would be yours, had you courage enough? Did you think it would be a slab of stone or a jeweled flower? Then she fooled you. The Summer Queen knows I bestow no such thing. My token is a tale, one oft-told.”
“A tale, Your Highness? Surely the Summer Queen expects something more… tangible?”
“Indeed, she does. You will need to be skillful in the tale’s retelling to avoid her displeasure. Sit down, my children; recline upon my chairs and I will tell you a tale of how this Hall came to be.”
“The stones you are seated upon are a fine-grained sandstone, known as bluestone for its bluish color. Long ago settlers in the mountains prized this stone they found in my mountains. Easily workable, it was an ideal building material for homes, barns, roads and hearths.
“So men set to work blasting out the bluestone in many places in my mountains. Here you see the wall of this particular mine, known as “Dibble’s Quarry.” Note the blasting holes that mark its surface.
“In the time since, certain of my subjects have stacked these stones to fashion a Throne Room for me to enjoy.”
“What kind of beasts could move these stones, Sire?” the Blue Knight asked.
“Wondrous beasts are they! Mountainous creatures, hairy of form and large of feet.”
“Bigfoot! cried the Green Knight
“NO!” thundered the Mountain King. “That is a human name that belittles these gentle creatures. Refer to them as ‘Sasquatch” – or refer to them not at all!
“Now, go, my children. I must leave you. Step carefully down the path. Convey my fondest greetings to the Summer Queen; she has sent me amusing visitors indeed! Tell her my tale, may it please Her Majesty, and perhaps the sunset will see you safely returned to your humble home.