015

The leaf fairy looked around. “Grey castle? Sort of gloomy and made of rocks?”

The traveler nodded.

“You’re heading in the right direction. Keep traveling east through the ogre-infested thicket, then take a left at the river. You might want to write this down.”

The traveler dug out a notebook and pencil.

“The river’s full of sirens, so plug your ears and don’t try to swim across. A few hours walk to your left and you’ll come to a bridge. The bridge troll is reasonable, he’ll let you cross for a handful of moldy berries or a few spoiled apples. Chances are you’ll come across some along the river,” said the leaf fairy.

The traveler scribbled all of this down.

“Once you’re across you’ll come to a fork in the road. Keep right, the left will lead you into a legion of imps and you don’t want that. The right will take you over the Shifting Mountain. Mind the shifting, it feels like an earthquake, but it’s not. The mountain’s a sleeping giant, and he’s a bit ticklish, so when you walk over him he chuckles in his sleep.”

“Does he ever wake up?” asked the traveler.

The leaf fairy shrugged. “Hasn’t for years, you should be fine. Anyway, once you’re over the mountain, you’ve got to turn around and look for a cave. It opens up into an immense cavern and there’s your castle. The giant fell asleep snuggled up to it so it’s a bit tricky to find. Do you have a flashlight or a lantern or anything?”

The traveler shook his head.

“Hmmm. Might be wise to get one at the gift shop in the ogre-infested thicket, though their prices are terrible. Let’s see, I think I’ve got a candle and some matches around here somewhere. Better than nothing, right?” The fairy scurried around a moment before handing them over.

The traveler put them in his pocket.

“Well, then, I best be going. Lots to do before winter!” said the fairy, and flitted off.

The traveler stared at the directions he’d just written down and adjusted his backpack. His gap year was proving more exciting than he’d anticipated. He knew he’d made the right choice coming here instead of backpacking around Europe.

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