"Of course I'll help, if I can," I said. "But what can I do? It all sounds a bit beyond my reach - in more ways than one."
Cleome leaned forward, her hands clasped together. "Ever since I escaped, my plan has been to go for help. I know that there is a brilliancy of elves in the maple woods on the other side of the village. If I could reach them, I know that they would assemble an army to help us. You are big and have ways of travelling that are faster than mine. Could you take me there?"
"Certainly, but is that all you want me to do?"
The elf hesitated. "I'm not sure. If you were to convey us all to the Goldenwood, or someplace near it, it would make our attack that much quicker and easier. I don't know if the other elfs would trust a human; it is not our policy. But perhaps, under the circumstances, they would make an exception." She gazed at me intently. "You would have to swear never to reveal to anyone the location of the brilliancy, nor the Goldenwood. Though you would never be allowed to approach either place too closely; we would come out to meet you and then ask you to leave us a distance away from the Wood. I know it may seem ungrateful, but you must understand how important secrecy is to us. And your help would be invaluable!"
I considered for some moments, trying to absorb everything I had heard. "Of course I'll take you. And the others, if they'll let me. I have plenty of room in my car and I can put you all in a basket - or several baskets - to hide you from prying eyes. But there's one thing I don't understand - the gnomes. I thought gnomes were gardeners, who loved living things and cared for them. I can't see how they would stand by and let the squirrels destroy the trees. That part of your story doesn't make sense to me at all."
She frowned, drawing her petite brows together in a deep furrow. "I don't understand it either," she said. "We've always gotten along very well with the gnomes before. But I suppose that there are good gnomes and bad gnomes, as with any other creature. These just seem to be a particularly bad lot. We've never encountered them before, however, and I can't help wondering just where they came from.
She sighed deeply. "If I could speak to my father, he might know. He knows all of the creatures for a hundred miles around and has friends among the birds and animals who bring him news of everything that moves. Surely he would know where these gnomes came from." She began to look a little weepy. "I hope he's allright. I hope they haven't... haven't... done anything to him."
I quickly changed the subject. "Let's decide on our plan, then, to get you to the brilliancy as fast as possible." We discussed this for a while, and decided that after the sun had risen and I assumed my normal size, I would cycle to the other side of the village and leave Cleome at the edge of the road by the woods. For the next three mornings I would then drive my car to the same spot an hour before dawn, with several baskets padded with towels in the back seat to convey the elves. If she was successful in convincing them to come with me, they would be waiting on one of those mornings, depending on how long it took them to prepare. If not, they wouldn't come, but she would contrive a way of sending me a message somehow to let me know how things turned out. In other words, I might not see her again. Unless, of course, they weren't there or she couldn't find them or they refused to help, in which case we would have to devise something else.
It occurred to me as we discussed all this that the modern conveniences I so often complain about as being annoying - telephones, cell phones, television and email - actually do serve a useful purpose. It's easy to forget what it was like when you spent hours searching for someone from whom you had been separated at an amusement park, for example, because you couldn't just call them on their cell phone and tell them you were waiting for them at the Ferris Wheel. Or said goodbye to a visiting relative and wouldn't know if they arrived safely until you got a letter from them the following week. If the gnome and squirrel invasion had been covered on the evening news, the Maple Wood elves would be there already to reinforce the troops and provide aid to the victims, and there would probably be a peacekeeping force of Friendly Magical Creatures sent along to uphold the truce. The world was a much more frightening place when you faced it without technology.
I shook my head to clear it. Being an elf was making me philosophical.
Now that our plans were made, Cleome seemed light-hearted, even giddy. I for one was eager to make the most of my remaining few hours in miniature. So we explored first the dollhouse then the real house together. I took her into my miniature room and we had great fun running in and out of all the different buildings I had made, including my half-scale cottage that was like a child's play house to us. We even made our way into the bizarre forest of the garden, with lilies as tall as bamboo and roses the size of automobiles. I love roses; their scent made me nearly swoon with its sweetness in the moist night air and I drank the dew from their petals with reverence. Then we went cautiously to the hydrangea bush with Taffy as our guard and Cleome showed me the hole through which she had escaped from the snake. I promised to block it up the next day so that he couldn't enter the garden, but she said "No, don't do that, for if some other creature should try to escape that way, they wouldn't be able to get out." She laughed merrily. "Besides, I don't think that snake will have been able to spit out that stone. He won't be swallowing anything again!"
She was so brave and merry and beautiful, I wanted to be just like her.
We returned from the garden and raided some chocolate biscuits (mini-Oreos, in fact) from the kitchen. As I had hoped, Cleome liked chocolate very much and it did not seem to have any deleterious effect upon her. We sat on the sofa in the office watching the sky lighten in the east, nibbling our biscuits and chatting about elfin and human cuisine. Before the edge of the sun slipped over the horizon, we hugged each other fiercely and promised never to forget our night as elf-sisters together. Then the light suddenly grew and the colors in the garden sprang to life. Although I couldn't see it for the trees, I knew that the yellow disc had peeked above the hills on the other side of the orchard. I held my breath and waited.