Beyond the Vale
A Don Bluth's Thumbelina fanfic
C. "Sparky" Read
Two quick notes: One, please please please correct me if I misuse any Spanish or French in this story, I primarily use Babelfish for translations which means I will get stuff wrong from time to time. Two: I finally designed what Cecil looks like (check my site or my DA account, same name as here, if you want to see), and he no longer has a backpack. I went back and tried to rewrite all mentions of Cecil having a backpack, but if I missed anything please let me know! -Sparky
It was the first day of Summer.
Queen Tabitha fanned herself with a dried rose petal and made impatient clicking noises with her tongue, causing her husband to lean toward her and whisper, "I do hate that noise you make, dear. It reminds me of blackberry brambles rattling in the wind."
Tabitha exhaled sharply and dropped her hands to her knees. "Colbert," she replied coolly, "He is late again. And, for that matter, so is she."
King Colbert nodded indulgently, gazing out over the Palace courtroom, which was quickly filling to capacity with the Royal Subjects. "Yes," he mused. "The boy I am not surprised at. But the Princess..."
"Cornelius is not a boy any longer, Colbert. He is a married man now. And he should not be missing any more Solstice Invocations! It's...It's..." The Queen floundered for a suitable adjective to describe her son's un-Princely behavior and at length gave up. "He must have convinced poor Thumbelina to go for a flight over the fields on that frightful bee..."
"Now, now, Tabitha." It was Colbert's mantra. "Everything will be fine. Thumbelina and Cornelius know better than to miss the Invocation. The entire Vale is present." He indicated the jammed Courtroom with a grand sweep of one arm. "I'm sure they'll both come flying in at any moment."
"Hm," replied the Queen, entirely unconvinced.
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
"Look, I just don't see what the big deal is."
"You want to know what the big deal is?" Thumbelina whirled around to face Cornelius, a great diamond, trailing a chain, gripped in her hand. "This." She waved the diamond as if it were necessary to draw attention to such a thing. "This is a big – no, a very big – a way too big deal!"
Cornelius pulled a face. "What?" he asked, hitching up his shoulders. "You don't like my mother's diamond necklace?"
Thumbelina lowered the diamond, sighing loudly. "Well...no, I don't," she said, and Cornelius blinked, puzzled.
"I don't understand," said the Prince slowly. "Is it...is it because it's my mother's? Look," he went on hastily as Thumbelina tried to interrupt, "it's been in the family for generations, it's a tradition, you know – Would you prefer a new one?" At this his tone changed slightly as he began to feel a bit insulted. "I could go dig one up for you."
"No, Cornelius." Thumbelina tried to keep her voice even. "I – " She covered her face with her hands momentarily. "It's just...it's just that I think it's too...too..."
"Well?" prompted Cornelius impatiently.
Thumbelina looked up abruptly. "It's huge!" When the Prince went back to looking mystified, she rushed on, "I just think it's too big...and flashy...for me. You see?" He didn't see. She exhaled. "Cor," she said gently, using the nickname even the Prince's own parents wouldn't utter despite his years of insistence, "it's just not me."
But Cornelius wasn't placated. "What's not 'you'?" he demanded, a flush creeping into his face. "Upholding my family's traditions? Being a Fairy Princess?" he demanded as Thumbelina flushed as well. "Lina," he pressed, using her own nickname, "you are royalty now. The people expect you to...dress the part."
Thumbelina drew herself up indignantly, suddenly ashamed of the new lavender silk gown she was wearing especially for the Invocation. "I am not some tailor's dressform to be dolled up!" she shot back, her blue eyes flashing. "I am not accustomed to parading about dripping with jewels and looking down my nose at everyone I meet!"
"But that's what you're supposed to do!" the Prince cried in frustration, hands in the air.
Several paces away from the squabbling Fairies, a burly bumblebee droned uneasily. Buzzby never liked to hear his master raise his voice; it put his dander up, and hearing Thumbelina speak harshly wasn't helping any. He shuttled about nervously on the sandy ground, looking yearningly over his shoulder at the Palace, wishing his master and his master's mate would stop shouting at each other and get on his back so they could go to the nice, cool Courtroom where every Fairy in the Vale had gathered. Buzzby knew they would all be there from experience: whenever every one of the purple banners was raised like that it meant for everyone to meet inside. It didn't matter what the Prince and Princess were doing, the point was that they were supposed to be in there and yet they were not and that was making Buzzby very uneasy.
Just as Buzzby scuttled forward to give Cornelius an urgent prod with his antennae Thumbelina threw back her arm and hurled the diamond at the Prince's chest. Cornelius stumbled backward in alarm, therefore tripping over Buzzby and landing quite ungraciously in a heap on the other side of the bumblebee, clutching the diamond in surprise.
Thumbelina stood over him, hands on hips. "Don't tell me what I'm supposed to do!" she blurted angrily, although she fought back tears. "And don't tell me who I'm supposed to be!" And with that she stormed off into the flowers towards the Palace.
Cornelius was so appalled he lay there on his back blinking stupidly at the sky for a few moments before rolling to his feet. "Thumbelina!" he called, jogging after her. He reached the Princess, who had frozen in her tracks, staring at the Palace. "Thumbeli – " he started to say her name again, but then he saw it, too.
A swarm of creatures was attacking the Palace, crashing through the windows to enter. Thumbelina couldn't tell what they were – they darted through the air like grey blurs. "Oh Cornelius, what are they?" she gasped in horror.
"I don't know – but I'll find out. Buzzby, let's go!" Cor cried, stuffing the diamond necklace inside his tunic and leaping on the bumble's back. This call to action suited the bee very well and he took off immediately towards the Palace.
Thumbelina fluttered after them. "Wait!" she shouted, frightened. "Cornelius!"
But her husband did not hear. Buzzby sped towards the Palace just as the creatures began streaming back out, each of them holding one or two struggling Fairies. The Prince saw now that they were Kobolds, a member of the Dark Fey (Cor, like all Fairies, had learned to recognize all of the Faerie-Kin by use of paintings; the Fairies in the Vale had no real contact with any other Fey, whether they be Light, Dark, or Neutral). The Kobolds were big, more than twice the size of Fairies, and were entirely grey from their long, pointed faces to their long, pointed feet. Even their clothes were the same color, giving them the appearance of being carved out of solid rock. They were evidently more than a match even for the Royal Guard, who were among the first to be carried away and out of sight. The attack had been a total surprise.
A big Kobold whizzed by, and Cornelius spun around in horror as he spotted his own mother dangling from its stony claws.
"Cornelius! Cornelius!" she cried, frightened, reaching out to him. And then they vanished in the swarm, which was now retreating as swiftly as it had arrived.
The sight goaded Cor to fury, and he drew his sword as he spurred Buzzby on after the pair. But it was no good – the swarm was fast approaching the horizon, and the bumblebee could not hope to overtake them. Nonetheless, Cornelius continued to give chase.
Suddenly a Kobold – evidently a straggler - dropped upon the Prince and his mount from above and with a well-placed kick sent Buzzby crashing to earth. Cor remained in the air and whirled in space, his wings trailing gold, as he slashed out at his attacker. But the Kobold was alarmingly swift and, dodging, seized Cor by the swordarm and in a second had him pinned and was zooming along after the others with his prisoner.
Cor had one frantic thought. "Thumbelina! Thumbelina!" he screamed, looking wildly about as the ground moved under him in a blur; the Kobold was holding him at an awkward angle. But if his Princess was in the clutches of one of the silent Dark Fey it would be unlikely he could spot her. Until...
Cor bent in half to see Buzzby, with Thumbelina on his back, dogging his captor's flight.
"Thumbelina, no!" Why couldn't she just hide somewhere until the danger had passed?
"Faster, boy," Thumbelina hissed to her mount, who was already at top speed. It wouldn't be fast enough. The Kobolds moved like the wind. But Buzzby hummed angrily and flew on.
Cor's Kobold looked round at Thumbelina; his face contorted in anger before he looked again after his retreating fellows. He was at the rear of the swarm, and no one else was likely to spot Thumbelina. His hands were full with the kicking Prince, and, resignedly, he sped away after the others, leaving Thumbelina and Buzzby far behind in minutes.
Cornelius watched Thumbelina disappear at last behind them with an odd sense of relief. At least she had been spared. He held still for several minutes, clinging to his sword and gathering his strength. He hoped to escape.
At last he felt he was ready. He readjusted his grip on his weapon and waited for the Kobold to dip slightly in his flight, making it easier for the Prince to throw his weight upward and jab at the Fey's wing.
He missed the wing but landed a glancing blow to the Kobold's shoulder, leaving a long, bleeding gash. The Kobold was sufficiently taken by surprise and released Cor's non-swordarm; Cor seized his kidnapper firmly by the front of his tunic and kicked him hard in the legs. The Kobold took a swing at the Prince, trying to get a new hold on him. Cor twisted to the side; the failed followthrough of the swing threw the Kobold significantly off balance and he was forced to release the Fairy to keep himself plunging out of the air entirely.
Cornelius dropped several feet then hovered, facing his assailant. He was ready to fight the huge Fey, to the death, if need be. There was no time to lose; he knew he must find a way to overtake the Kobolds and save his people.
But the Kobold who had carried Cornelius off hesitated. He was already much too far behind the swarm...He looked anxiously between the swarm and Cornelius and, making up his mind, sped off into the sky.
Cornelius hovered there, panting slightly, and lowered his sword. He had been spared, then. But his people were long gone and Thumbelina and Buzzby many miles behind him. He was on his own. Sheathing his sword, he started flying in the direction the Kobolds had taken, keeping low to the ground.
Clearly he would need help. A bird, maybe, something that could fly fast, for long distances...He thought of Jacquimo, Thumbelina's swallow friend. A possibility. But how would he ever find him? He didn't even know where he was now: a field of tall grass bordering a forest. And his path was taking him directly into that forest.
As Cor was trying to decide what to do about the forest – fly through, over, or around it – he heard a crashing in the grass behind him. He'd barely turned around when the something came hurtling through the air and knocked him back about a foot before pinning him to the ground. Cor blinked as he fought to catch his breath, which had been knocked clean out of him, and managed to focus.
It was that toad.
Cor lay on his back, stunned. That toad! The big toad whose family had kidnapped Thumbelina and who had then proceeded to try and kill Cornelius personally; the same toad that Cor had driven over the side of an underground bridge – himself flying to safety in time - and whom he never expected to see again. And now that selfsame toad was sitting on top of him, his eyes boggling with fear. It was that expression that stirred Cor to action.
"So!" exclaimed Cornelius, shoving the toad off of him – as well as he could, as the toad was built like a cobblestone. "I wouldn't have expected it, but it seems I have some unfinished business with you!" He knew he had no time for this, but somehow, having to face down one toad was a much more refreshing prospect than taking on an entire swarm of Kobolds.
The toad, for his part, didn't seem all that interested in what Cor had to say. He kept making as if to dart around the Fairy, who, irritated, had to sidestep in front of him repeatedly to keep him from nipping past. Finally, Cornelius shouted, "Hey! Look at me while I'm threatening you!"
Suddenly the toad gave up trying to go around the Prince and hopped over his head. Affronted, Cor seized the toad by one ankle, tripping him and sending him sprawling onto his stomach. "Cowardly, eh?" Cornelius sneered.
And the toad did indeed seem terrified. He flipped himself over with a grunt and kicked Cornelius away from him sharply. Then he scrambled to his feet and once again began hopping off frantically in the same direction.
"Hey!" Cornelius buzzed his wings in indignation. "I'm talking to you!" He flew after the fleeing toad, catching up with some difficulty – the portly amphibian was faster than he looked. He zipped around to face the toad, flying backwards to do so. "Stand your ground and – "
It was then that Cornelius saw that the toad hadn't been running from him. Half-running, half-flying, and tearing up the ground at an alarming pace, was a massive white stork, its long red bill open in anticipation of a tasty amphibian snack. Suddenly it lunged and the toad leaped and Cornelius found himself plastered to the bird's head, right between the eyes. He couldn't suppress a yelp of fright.
The stork squawked angrily and shook its head in an attempt to rid itself of the thing clinging to its face, but it didn't slow in its pursuit of the toad. Finally with one mighty whip of its neck it managed to send Cornelius sailing off into the grass – but not without a price. The bird screamed in pain, but continued to chase the toad.
Cornelius rolled to his feet and dropped the great bunch of white feathers he had ripped from the crown of the stork's head. He was lucky to be uninjured, and he turned to put some distance between himself and the dangerous bird. He didn't, after all, have time for this; his people were waiting.
But after flitting away a yard or so, he had to hesitate and look back. The stork had stopped running and was now jabbing its long red bill repeatedly into the grass. The toad, Cor realized, didn't have a chance. Not, that is, unless somebody did something.
And there was nobody else there, Cornelius knew, but himself.
It was some sort of instinct that gripped him then, that caused his hand to snatch his sword out of its scabbard once again and that made his wings propel him forward to slash at the great stork's long red legs. As the bird stopped stabbing at the grass to turn angrily on the Fairy, Cornelius gave in to his built-in desire to defend the helpless, no matter who they were; and when he had at last driven the huge bird away after getting one of his own wings torn by the snapping beak, he felt a surge of pride. It had been the Princely thing to do.
Cornelius sheathed his sword and looked over his shoulder at his damaged wing. The pride abruptly vanished to be replaced by horror. His wing! How would he fly after the Kobold swarm now? This was a disaster! At once he was angry at the toad. I shouldn't have wasted my time on him, Cor thought bitterly as he started casting about for something he could use as a bandage. It didn't take him long to spot a shred of cobweb hanging from a bent blade of grass, and he applied it carefully over the tear. It would hold the membrane in place while it healed but in the meantime he would not be able to fly much, if at all, and certainly not quickly. This was the worst thing that could have happened.
A shadow suddenly fell upon Cornelius, and he turned to find himself not two steps away from the toad, who had emerged from his hiding-place – an old snake-hole – and now loomed over the Prince, blinking down at him coldly. Cor fluttered backward a pace and, unsheathing his sword yet again, held it out threateningly before him.
"Hold it right there, Toad," he warned.
The toad (Cor remembered his name now: it was Grundel, Thumbelina had told him) didn't budge. His large watery eyes locked with the Prince's as they stared each other down. The toad was dressed in the same pink and blue clownlike costume complete with pom hat that he had worn the previous winter; it would look cheerful on anyone else but on Grundel it just looked oddly grim. The Fairy and the toad regarded each other wordlessly for a few moments before Cor broke the silence.
"So," he said in a low tone, "you did survive."
"Si," replied Grundel, not quitting the staring match, "I survive." He took another step forward (Cor made a warning motion with his sword). "You save me," the toad said gruffly.
Cornelius stiffened. What? "What?" he said aloud, frowning. For a moment he had forgotten all about the stork – he kept reliving an image of the jealous Grundel menacing him with a torch on the bridge over the dark underground dropoff.
The toad gestured after the departed bird. "Pájaro maldito try eat me. Have me for almuerzo. You save me." It wasn't said in a tone of respect, or gratitude; it was just stated, casually - but all the same the Prince thought he detected an undertone of malice.
Grundel was leaning forward now, looking intently into the Fairy's face, and Cor realized that not only had he unwittingly lowered his sword but the toad had loomed even closer while the latter had been trying to collect his thoughts.
"Ah, yes, well..." Cor edged backward. His own anger had dissapated to be replaced by confusion – this toad certainly wasn't acting the way he'd expected. "You're, uh...It was nothing," he concluded lamely at last, taking another step backward. His sword dangled at his side; he wasn't sure if he would need it after all but was reluctant to put it away. He felt a need to extricate himself from the situation; it wouldn't do to rekindle an old fight now if he could avoid it. If the toad was choosing to overlook the fact that they were enemies then all for the better. "You're injured," he noted, nodding at blood on the toad's shoulder where the stork had pecked him.
"Ees nada," replied Grundel dismissively. His beady eyes continued to bore into the Fairy's. It was making Cor undeniably uncomfortable.
"Well," said Cor carefully. "I'll be on my way, then." Eager to depart, he pivoted on his heel and began to walk hastily towards the wood, meaning to cross it and follow the Kobold.
But a heavy hand suddenly had his swordarm in a viselike grip, and Cor looked sharply round into those staring eyes again.
"What Fairy Prince's hurry?"
Cor managed not to show his unease. "I...I am on a quest," he answered, more grandly this time.
What, exactly, was wrong with this toad? Cor gazed at Grundel with uncertainty; the toad was watching him intently, like a snake might watch a field mouse, waiting for it to try and make a foolish dash for cover which isn't there. "To save my people," he said, relieved that his voice was firm. "They have been taken prisoner. And I must find Thumbelina," he added before he could stop himself. He closed his mouth with a snap – surely that hadn't been a wise thing to say!
But if Grundel was waiting for any news of Thumbelina it didn't register in his wide, expressionless face. He released Cor's arm and stood up straight, gazing off into the woods as if trying to form a complete thought. Cor felt oddly compelled to wait patiently until the toad was done. Finally, Grundel grunted, tapping himself on the chest.
"I come," he announced.
"What?" said Cornelius again. He hadn't expected that!
Grundel shrugged almost boredly. "You save me, I help you; help look Thumbelina. We go."
This was just too much. First, the toad didn't seem at all disturbed to see the Prince he once hated so much, nor seemed particularly grateful for having his life saved by the same; but now he was offering to come along and aid Cor in his plight? This foul-tempered, jealous, great brute accompanying him into Who-Knows-What to rescue his Lady Fair? It was preposterous, and Cor opened his mouth at once to refuse.
But then something happened. In that moment Prince Cornelius saw the spot he was in. Really saw it. Yes, he had been separated from Thumbelina, true, but more importantly his entire Kingdom had been snatched away by evil Faerie-Kin presumably for some sinister purpose, to where he had no idea; and he was utterly alone in his task to save them. He didn't even have Buzzby. Was it wise to refuse an offer of help at this junction? Grundel was as thick as silt in a riverbed but he was obviously more powerful than he. If the toad were loyal, he would be an asset.
If he were loyal.
These thoughts passed through Cornelius' mind in an instant, although he had the impression he had been standing there with his mouth open for a minute or more (but the toad could hardly mind, he thought further, I extended him the courtesy of reflection not a moment ago) before his curt reply of "Very well" rang on the still air.
The Fairy and the toad silently regarded each other once again. It was impossible for Cornelius to read Grundel's thoughts from the great stony face, and he entertained the distinct possibility that there were no thoughts there to read anyway. At last the Prince realized that his sword was still drawn and he sheathed it.
Grundel spoke first. "We find Thumbelina?" he blurted, an expression at last – one of distinct impatience – showing. "Or we stand here like weeds in swamp?"
Cor shook himself, feeling foolish for allowing his mind to wander. "Of course," he said, and then stopped, his heart sinking. "No...we can't," he amended regretfully.
The toad frowned at him, beginning to look truly irritated. "What?" he argued, spreading his great hands before him. "Now you no want look for her?"
Cornelius shook his head, his gaze fixed on a particle of dirt at his feet. "I cannot waste time backtracking," he said slowly. "Thumbelina is safe – or I think she is. No...I am the Prince of the Fairies. My duty is to my people." He looked up at Grundel, trying to appear more in command than he felt. "I must find where the Kobolds have taken them."
"Good, good," mused the toad, unperturbed at this change in plans. "What is Kobold?"
"They are evil Fey," replied Cor, his tone embittered. "They hate Fairies." He fully expected Grundel's expression to register a look of "I wonder why" but was not surprised when it didn't change at all. He recalled the way the Kobolds had appeared as if they had been hewn from stone, and added, "My father told me once that they dwell in the heart of a mountain."
"What mountain?" Grundel replied, frowning. "There no mountain here."
Cor rubbed his chin, an unconscious imitation of his father stroking his beard. "No," he replied. "We must travel far and ask many questions of those we meet. Someone is bound to give us advice." He thought this short speech sounded rather Princely and felt mildly proud of it.
But the speech was lost on Grundel. "How far?" demanded the toad abruptly. "How many questions? You no make sense." He paused then, and, incidentally imitating his own father, he rubbed his thin moustache as he looked Cornelius over. "Perhaps I just eat you, yes? Better than wasting words standing here like two fencepost, yes?" He leaned towards the Fairy then, appraising him for all the world as if he were trying to choose between au jous or a honey glaze.
Cornelius set his jaw. What had he agreed to? "Do not threaten me, Toad," he said in a warningly soft tone. "If you wish to come along it is your choice, but I will not be bullied by you. If you do it again, I will have your head." He rested his hand meaningfully on the hilt of his sword without drawing it. "Do I make myself clear?"
Grundel, in response, narrowed his eyes at the Fairy, but he did not seem in the least intimidated. "You too much waste words," he grunted reproachfully. "I say, I come with you. But too long we stand here; you must not think Fairies in much danger or we leave before now. You not good Prince, I think." He swelled slightly, eying Cor critically. "Waste words, waste time! No good! Now, which way we go?"
Trembling with outrage, Cor forcibly removed his hand from his swordhilt. He could see now that talking to the thick toad was getting them nowhere; although the Prince was too offended to note that that was basically what Grundel had just pointed out. "This way," Cornelius replied abruptly, and marched purposely towards the forest without looking back.