Swazzle and Pogmorton pelted down the forest path as fast as their short little legs could carry them. Before long they were both completely out of breath and collapsed against an old Ash tree, sucking in great lungfulls of air, their faces the colour of ripe beetroot.
‘Oh bollocks,’ wheezed Swazzle, ‘I’m getting too old for this.’
Pogmorton could only grimace, his chest heaving. He was still a long way from being able to speak. After some moments of careful walking up and down and stretching to ease his screaming muscles, Swazzle settled down with his back to the tree trunk to wait for his body to recover.
A scrabbling sound from behind him soon got the better of his curiosity, and peering round the trunk, Swazzle saw Pogmorton, now also much recovered, holding a small, plain wooden box, its hessian wrapping lying discarded at his feet.
‘What are you doing?’ Swazzle demanded, ‘You know what Flaarti said, that we were to bring “the package” directly to him. He never said anything about peeking at it first.’
‘All right,’ replied Pogmorton, ‘Keep your hair on, I’m just having a quick look. I’d rather like to know what we nearly died to get hold of.’
Flipping open the box’s lid, Pogmorton took a delicate sniff of the contents and Swazzle watched in horror as a look of pure lust stole across his friend’s face.
‘Fairy Dust!’ Pogmorton whooped, ‘It’s Fairy Dust!’
Snatching a twig from a nearby bush, Pogmorton expertly stripped the bark with his sharp, pointed teeth, then rolled it neatly into a short tube.
‘Oh no,’ Swazzle began, a feeling of deep trepidation sweeping over him, ‘You’re not going to…’
‘Only a pinch,’ interrupted Pogmorton, ‘Just a little bit to err…check the quality, like.’ He winked.
Swazzle was on his feet and running towards Pogmorton in an instant. It was an instant too late however, and he watched fearfully as Pogmorton stuffed the bark tube up his right nostril, lowered his head to the box and inhaled.
‘Now you’ve done it,’ wailed Swazzle, skidding to a halt in front of him as a strange and unusual reaction took over Pogmorton. His face grew redder and redder, his eyes bulged and tears ran down his cheeks. Pormorton’s belly began to swell, his stomach growling and grumbling until, with a grimace he doubled over holding his stomach and broke wind long and loud, the sound somewhat reminiscent of a ship’s hooter.
Caught in the noxious blast, the Elderberry bush wilted, its leaves withered and fell, floating down in a crispy brown cloud to half cover the body of a wood mouse which, also caught in the blast, had expired with a very surprised look upon its whiskers.
Swazzle was on the point of asking Pogmorton if he was all right when his friend straightened up, fury writ large upon his face.
‘Twinkle!’ he roared, then let fly such a tirade of foul language that, by the end of it, Swazzle was taking notes in the hope of increasing his vocabulary.
‘What? What is it?’ Swazzle asked when Pogmorton paused for breath.
‘That rotten, double-crossing, bloody fairy,’ fumed Pogmorton, ‘She’s cut the Dust with flour. How the hell did she find out I’m gluten intolerant?’
‘Aye,’ replied Swazzle, ‘or that you’re a recovering Dust addict. She must have known you wouldn’t be able to resist what’s in that box.’
Pogmorton snapped the box lid shut, rubbed his sore stomach and said wryly, ‘The Big Folk must have it easier than this with allergies I reckon, otherwise they'd all explode. Anyway, better out than in.’
The Elderberry bush begged to differ.
‘By the gods, that nearly did me a mischief,’ continued Pogmorton.
Swazzle, who had just spotted the wood mouse, began to chuckle, spasms of laughter rippling through his body until he collapsed at Pogmorton’s feet, tears of mirth streaming down his cheeks.
‘It didn’t do that mouse much good either,’ he gasped between guffaws.
Pogmorton stooped and brushed away the shroud of Elderberry leaves. Turning back to Swazzle, he stood up holding the mouse by its tail. The mouse was as stiff as a board.
Pogmorton popped the mouse into his mouth and was twirling the end of its tail from one side of his mouth to the other like a spiv with a toothpick as Swazzle heaved himself to feet.
‘You might have saved me a bit,’ he complained as Pogmorton crunched his way through the carcass.
‘Aw, come on,’ mumbled Pogmorton through a mouthful of mouse, ‘After what I’ve just been through? It’s only a little ‘un, hardly enough for two, and anyway, you know how much I enjoy a freshly smoked mouse. Come on, we’d better get going.’
This is not going to end well, thought Swazzle, as together he and Pogmorton marched off down the path again. And what was Flaarti going to say about the Fairy Dust – it was damn hard to get hold of at the best of times, but with this war on…