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The Wishing Map
Chapter Seventeen: Naimian (Continued)
Previously: After being shanghaied as the naims’ (gnomes) new Storysmith, Zack was taken to “the great city of Naimian,” which seemed to be nothing more than a clearing in the woods. Until…
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From the place where the roots divided, the tree began to open. Zack stepped back. It appeared to be magic, yet the naims considered it as natural as unlocking a front door. The opening stopped at about four feet high and three feet wide; it looked like the kind of split made by lightning (although, as Zack had previously learned, there was no lightning in Ismara).
Bulgy led the procession in. Zack wasn’t sure what to expect, perhaps a single room with a few rough-hewn chairs. Instead he found an impossibly large chamber. (Like the Tardis! Zack thought.) It was lit by orange-red sconces that exuded a pleasant cedary smell. At the center was what looked like a giant three-tiered serving dish made entirely of rainbowwood. Beside it, to the left and right, were curved wooden steps leading to each tier. Piercing through all three levels was a braided hempen rope made from three strands, each as thick as a well-fed naim.
“The heartwood lift,” Tuber explained. “All the heartwood trees has ‘em!”
“It’s ter the Rootworks we’ll go first,” Bulgy declared. “That’s my plan, and Master Zaggyzim agrees with me!”
“Well, I—“ Zack began, but before he got any further, a cacophony of votes cried:
“Crown!” “Rootworks!” “Crown!” “Rootworks!” “Crown!”
Over the fray, Bulgy shouted, “Bottom-up makes sense ter me, an’ I’m the most thinky-est. Right, Master Zaggyzim?”
Zack was about to reply when a strident female snorted, “Most stinky-est, seems ter me, Bulgy Bulge-Root!” The chamber erupted in a paroxysm of cackles, sneers, hoots, brays, and bullyrags. The owner of the voice, a long-faced naim with a shock of orange paintbrush hair, identified herself:
“Lyffwin Fair-Leaf is as I’m called, an’ I, being the most wisest—an’ not just braggy-est, like old Bulgy here—says top-ter-bottom is most sensible-est, and Master Zaggyzim agrees, don’t yer?”
“Well, I—“ Zack began.
“Top-ter-bottom!” shouted half the room.
“Bottom-up!” shouted the other half.
“Lyffwin is full a’ wind!” Bulgy quipped. (Lyffwin means “breeze-blown” in Kellish). The chamber erupted once again.
Zack looked down at Tuber. The old naim shook his head gravely.
“Hey!” Zack shouted. “Maybe I could toss a coin.”
The cacophony ceased. It was followed by blank stares.
Zack spotted a piece of bark on the chamber floor. He picked it up and said, “Rough side up, it’s top-to-bottom; smooth side, it’s bottom-up.” He wasn’t sure what either option meant, but a choice needed to be made.
More blank stares—except from Lyffwin and Bulgy, who seemed profoundly peeved at being overruled.
“OK, so here we go.” Zack tossed the bark in the air. Three dozen faces watched, mystified. He grabbed it and smacked it down on the back of his hand. “OK, smooth side wins, so it’s bottom-up.”
There was a moment of silence, followed by Tuber’s awestruck,
“Even lee bits a’ bark speaks their stories ter Master Zaggyzim!”
“Hey-fah!” rejoiced Sniggle. “Hey-fah for Master Zaggyzim, the greaty-est storysmith as ever was!”
“Hey-fah!” the room exploded. (All but Bulgy and Lyffwin.)
Thoughts: Have you ever found yourself in the role of peacemaker simply because no one else would play the part?
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