He had started his travels much lower down, in an area that was full of trees, and alive with small animals and birds. And, unfortunately for him, there were also larger animals. Every time he had tracked and neared his prey, and was about to pounce, a fox or something else, larger and stronger then Gnibby had pounced at him. He had barely escaped several times, the last time the fox had got his claws in Gnibby’s shirt. Only a mighty, desperate pull had saved him. And torn his shirt. After that, he had headed up, hoping to get above those dangers and still find rats, moles, squirrels or rabbits that he could catch. But that didn’t happen, and now, here he was, alone and lonely, and afraid he would stave to death.
Taking a deep breath, he shook his shoulders and muttered ‘get hold of yourself, Gnibby. You certainly will starve if you sit here crying!’ He sighed, and wiped his face and nose on his ragged shirt tail. Then he looked around carefully. Oh! Over there, was that....? yes, it was! A tree! It was growing out of the face of the steep face of the ledge, and....yes, out where the branches joined, a nest! And it looked like there were eggs! Before his mind had made a decision, his body had taken over, and he was on his way to investigate.
Yes, there were eggs, three of them, and they were big ones. One of them would fill his belly with both food and liquid. Making sure his bag was securely set over his head and shoulder, he turned and slowly, carefully, let himself down. His feet searched and finally he felt the bark of the tree under his right foot. Cautiously he looked down, keeping his eyes on the tree, until he could get both feet firmly planted. Then he let go of the ledge and squatted. For a moment he didn’t move, just concentrated on recovering his breath and his balance.
When his breathing and heart beat had slowed, he slowly turned until he was facing outward, toward the nest. Inching his way forward he approached, and at last was able to grasp the side of the nest and pull himself up enough to look in. Three beautiful, wonderful, eggs! Still kneeling, he straightened his body enough to reach in and cup one of the eggs in both hands. Surely, the birds wouldn’t begrudge him one, he thought. They still had two for themselves. But he was wrong.
With a horrible shrieking a huge falcon dove at him, legs extended, claws folded in to form fists. The bird hit with shocking force, and Gnibby went flying off the tree, falling down, down, perhaps to his death. But he still held the egg. He pulled his hands in against his chest, bent his head and shoulders forward and drew his legs up, making himself into a ball. The Gnibby ball bounced off a small ledge, bounded outward and down again. He hit trees, and more shelves and knobs of ground, sailed between branches and finally landed with a thump on a river bank.
For several long moments he couldn’t move, couldn’t even breathe. Then he was gasping air, the ringing in his head faded, and he was able to uncurl. After another couple of minutes, he sat up, and only then realised that he was still holding the egg. Amazingly, it wasn’t even cracked. He became aware of sound, rustling in the undergrowth, and decided he needed to get into shelter before he did anything about the egg. He climbed unsteadily to his feet, and looked around. He soon found a low bush growing very close to a big oak tree, and on investigation, found a hollow between the tree roots where he would be protected.
All this time he had be semi-aware of the sound of water, and once in his little shelter, he saw that the river came under the edge of the bush. Placing the egg safely on the ground, he got onto his knees and leaned over. Cupping his hands, he took several refreshing swallows of water, then settled down to enjoy some nice fresh egg for breakfast.
He picked at the shell with his hard, sharp nails and soon had a small hole. Lifting the egg to his mouth, he tilted it. A small trickle of liquid ran into his mouth, and then stopped. Surprised and disappointed, he pulled the egg away from his mouth and stared at the hole. Something solid was blocking it! What!?....oh, of course. If there was a solid body inside an egg, then it would have to be a baby bird! Even better!
He picked away most of the rest of the shell, leaving enough to hold the birdling. At first, it moved slightly, but by the time Gnibby had freed it, it was still. Lifting it in his hand, he could tell that it was dead. Without further ado, he set to and enjoyed the first solid food he’d had in over a day. Once finished with all but the beak and a few bones, he took another long drink, then crawled from his shelter and looked around.
This was not the forest he had come through when he started his adventure. The trees were farther apart, and there was grass between them. And he could see flower beds neatly arranged out where the trees thinned. He set off in that direction, and soon he heard very familiar sounds. Car motors and horns, people’s voices, and music. Moving from shelter to shelter, he continued to work his way toward the sounds of the cars. Eventually he found a fence, and moved along it to a gate. He looked out.
Yes, there was the hard white stuff people walked on, and the hard black stuff the cars and other vehicles ran on. And across, on the other side, buildings. He waited until there was a break in the traffic, and raced across to the white walkway, and the buildings. Ducking in between two of them, he peeked out. To his left, he saw that the buildings continued, no grass at all, but there were some big squares of the hard white stuff with flowers and small trees in them. To the right, more of the buildings, but then beyond a second black road, there were houses, with lawns and gardens. And one of the buildings nearby had big boxes of food outside.
Gnibby was still hungry, and he wanted to go to see if he could find his house, the one he had run away from. So he scuttled off to the right, and on his way past, he snatched food. Green leafy things that he could stuff into his mouth and shew as he went, and one of the big, round red things. He knew that people called them apples, and he tasted one once. They were good eating, and juicy. With that in hand, he waited his chance and hurried across the road.
He moved along, from hedge to fence to lawn, looking at house after house. Some where not very big, some were huge. Some made of slats of white wood, some of red things called bricks. But not his house. He was feeling more and more depressed when he saw a sign ahead. It looked like the sign in front of his house, a wooden cutout of a house with marks painted on it. He’d heard the bigger boy tell the little girl that the marks said their last name, so people would be able to find their house easily when they came to visit. Could it be?
He moved closer, slowly, not believing yet, and then he could see it. The flower bed where he had stood for so long. And....yes, she was still there! Gwillowy, Glovey, Gnebbet Gnurish, the most beautiful gnome girl in the world. And his spot beside her was till empty! Throwing caution to the winds, he raced across the lawn, under the sprikleers and came to a skidding stop in his old place.
“Gnebbet! Oh, I am so glad I found my way back.!” he exclaimed, smiling at her, and shaking the water off his head and face.
“Gnibby!” she said. “But your clothes - what happened to you? Your shirt is in rags.”
“I thought I wanted to have an adventure, that being here in the garden was boring. Well, I’ve had an adventure, all right. And I never, ever want to go through such terrible things again. It will take days to tell you. All I want to do right now is look at you, and be thankful that I am back home. I did wonder if they had replaced me.” he looked around and sighed.
“Not yet,” Gnebbet replied. “They were talking about getting me a new partner tomorrow. But Gnibby, I don’t want another gnome - I want you!” she reached out her hand and took his. As her hand touched his, all the rips, tears and stains disappeared from his clothing, and he looked as good as new.
“Gnebbet, thank you.” he said. He was about to start telling her some of his adventure when a car pulled into the driveway. The family hopped out, and the little girl shouted “Look, Mom , Dad, the gnome is back!”
Father walked over and looked down at Gnibby and Gnebbet. “I guess whoever took him had a pang of conscience and brought him back. Good, now I won’t have to get a new one.”
Mother had followed him, and she looked at the gnomes. “He seems to be in good shape. Nice to have him back. But he is facing more toward the girl gnome now. Should we turn him?”
“No, Mom,” the little girl said. “They look like they’re in love. They look cute that way!” she grinned up at her mother.
“Ok,” Mother said, and walked off to the house.
In the wee small hours of the morning, all the gnomes in the neighbourhood came to Gnibby’s yard. An old owl who lived in the big oak tree on the lawn officiated, and Gnibby and Gnebbet were wed. They danced and celebrated for the rest of the night. No human ever knew about it. But they did notice that all of the gardens seemed to have a special glow for the next few weeks.