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 The Seventh Golden Coin.

 The Elf King And The Witch.

It all began before the measuring of time
in human years
in a deep forest filled with roots that looked
like the knuckles of powerfully gigantic hands
grabbing at the earth... when an elf king
was wandering through it for the sheer pleasure
of doing so, and was surprised by a huge
and terrible monster once a wicked witch
he had banished from his kingdom.

The elf king had magic powers himself, but
the witch had bargained away all chances of
ever returning to human form
in order to become a monster so terrible
it would not be affected by the magic of the elf king
(whose magic only worked for or on good things).

The monster that had once been a witch chased
the elf king across half the forest--Although,
fortunately for him, the woods were so thick with trees
and so huge was the beast that it could only squeeze
between the trees with a mighty effort.

It still might have caught him, though, only
at the last moment the elf king was able to escape
by climbing a sheer pillar of stone that stood
in the middle of a small clearing in the deepest part of
the forest just as the beast thought it had him!

Not being able to get its claws on the elf king
made the monster so furious that for a long time (hours,
days, and months) the monster thrashed the trees
about the pillar of stone with such a fury that
soon there wasn't a single tree left standing
anywhere around it for some distance.

And the longer the monster kept thrashing trees
around the pillar of stone the larger the clearing became,
until finally only a carpet of fine grass was able to grow
in a wide circle around the stony pillar.

The monster itself encouraged its growth
so it could feed on the grass... as well as
to make it easier to spot the elf king
if he ever tried to sneak down and escape the pillar of stone:

There the monster vowed to stand guard by that pillar of stone
forever if it had to, and to wait out the elf king
in order to tear him apart with its razor-sharp claws and tusks
if ever he finally climbed down.

Being a magical creature, the elf king could not age.
So he was forever doomed to remain a prisoner
atop that pillar of stone... because,
being a magical creature itself, the monster also never aged.

The beast was as evil as its word was good:
From then on it paced furiously around
the foot of that pillar of stone clearing out an ever larger
and larger grassy circle around it, until,
after years of doing so, so huge was the grassy circle
that the monster could stand at one end of it and
almost remain unseen from the other end.

This did the elf king little good, however, for,
as you can imagine, the pillar of stone
was right in the middle of the giant circle, and
it would have been impossible for him to come down from it
without the monster catching him before he could reach
the edge of the woods.

Many brave elf knights tried to rescue their king
from the pillar of stone, but all met a terrible fate
as soon as they stepped into the grassy clearing
and faced the monster away from the safety of the forest
(where the monster did not like to go because the trees there
grew too closely together for it to move between them
quickly enough to catch its victims).

Time passed, as it must, and the elf king's subjects
at last resigned themselves to the fact that the monster
would never allow their king to escape the pillar.

Then, after a few hundred years more,
when there were no more elf knights,
the world itself began to forget the tragedy
that lived on deep in the Mysterious Forest
... and only legends of some long-ago evil
still dwelling deep inside in those mysterious woods
remained to be passed down into the age of men:

Eventually the age of elves passed away too,
as did most of the elves themselves
except for a handful who, wishing to make themselves useful,
moved to the North Pole, there to work their magic
without revealing themselves... or others who,
like the elf king trapped atop the pillar of stone,
were left behind here and there forever unsuspected
by the people living all around them.

By and by, the elves' magic began to be replaced
by the hard work, wisdom, and folly of the people
who build their villages around the edges
of the Mysterious Forest--always
without daring to step very far into it
because of the terrible legends
which had been handed down from the age of elves
about a wicked monster living deep within it.

 The Hunting Party.

There was one man who did not fear the dark legends
of the Mysterious Forest: This was Prince Guillermo,
who ruled for his king (and father-in-law) the lands
that now included the elf king's Mysterious Forest
and all the villages around it.

A brave and noble gentleman, the Prince
was admired and loved by his friends
for his kindness and loyalty to everyone.

Prince Guillermo decided one day that it was time
for men to be cured of their long-held fear
of the Mysterious Forest, and he invited his son
and all his Court, including all the kingdom's noblemen,
noble ladies, and their neighbors, to accompany him
as his guests on the first ever hunt
inside the Mysterious Forest.

All accepted gladly, at first, for no one
had ever refused the Prince's invitations before
(so reasonable had they always been):
Everybody came to the princely hunt
looking forward to having a splendid time.

Trumpets, fifes and drums made the hunt seem
almost a festival. Servants, coachmen,
and all manner of food and drinks
making it more like a grand outing at the palace gardens.

At first everyone went along laughing
and enjoying themselves tremendously. But
the deeper the hunting party travelled into those
never before seen woods,
the quieter the hunters and guests became, and
the more anxious and worried, including
the Prince's own son (whose first hunting outing this was).

Some of the servants actually thought of running off
and going back to the staging grounds
outside the Mysterious Forest where
they had left the carriages and other heavier equipment.

Even some of the bravest hunters and more adventurous guests
also began to complain, suggesting that there was just as much game
to hunt outside the Mysterious Forest as in it.

Taking note of how terribly nervous all his hunters
and guests were becoming, the Prince tried to calm their fears
by telling them about the first men to ever set foot
inside the Mysterious Forest...

 The Two Friends.

"Long ago, before most of you were born,"
began the Prince (who was himself well along in years)
... "the world was covered everywhere with thicker
and more mysterious legends than any woods
anyone might get lost in--even the Mysterious Forest,"
the hunters were travelling through just then--

There were no roads by which to find one's way
through such a world, and everywhere the earth whistled
with the still undying magic of its earliest and darkest days:

This was the world in which two childhood friends
found themselves trying to earn a meager but honest living
(out of one of the first little villages which had grown
around the Mysterious Forest).

The name of the first of the two friends was Ferrando:
Perhaps too hard-working a lad for his own good,
Ferrando was always trying to make his fortune
by the quickest possible means (instead of the best,
or the surest)... always denying himself every luxury
and even some basic necessities in order to save
a penny here and there with which to get
yet another one of his endless get-rich-quick schemes
off the ground.

But nothing worked out for Ferrando, unfortunately:
He could never sell enough of his cheaper goods,
and could never get good enough goods to sell either.

Worse, he never stuck with anything he started
long enough to make it work in the end, so
he was always starting something new even before he had
finished whatever it was he had been in the middle of.

The other young man, "Let's call him Guillermo,"
said the Prince, winking to his smiling friends:
"He was the more successful of the two young men..."

Guillermo always followed through on everything he started
and never gave up on anything until he had finally
brought it to the best possible conclusion it could be brought to.

Unlike Ferrando, Guillermo was always a success
at almost everything he tried. Although
he made his living mostly by buying whatever goods
each little village had too much of and selling them
in all the other little villages where those goods might be in short supply:

With the profits he earned along the way
Guillermo was able to buy his own horse and wagon
and was well on his way to earning a
handsome amount of prosperity for himself.

He was soon using his wagon to move more and more products
between the little villages which had grown around the Mysterious Forest,
driving to each of them over rocky plain or rolling hill
(there being no roads in the world yet)
so he would not have to set foot inside the Mysterious Forest
that sat in the middle of everything
like some impossible to climb mountain.

Being the good friend he was, Guillermo always left
a little corner of his wagon free for whatever new product
Ferrando might be working on at the moment
... always something new and unfinished, of course,
and almost certainly something never to be finished
(since Ferrando was always losing faith in
whatever he was in the middle of):

The one thing Guillermo did fail at, however,
was at selling whatever latest product Ferrando's fanciful
imagination was being swept away with: No one ever bought anything
Ferrando gave Guillermo to sell for him in the other villages.

But even if it was a waste of time (and of the precious space
there was so little of in his wagon), Guillermo always
seemed to bring back a little money from the 'sale'
of Ferrando's 'goods' so his friend could eke out a living
and continue to dream and scrimp like a miser
for a little while longer in his never-ending quest
to try something else anew the next time.

Yes, instead of sitting back and letting Ferrando starve
(something he would have surely done if left to fend for himself),
or forcing him to openly accept his charity,
Guillermo had decided to just give away Ferrando's
(very poor) goods (far enough away so no one would ever
be able to tell Ferrando the truth) and then to tell Ferrando himself
that he had managed to sell them somewhere after all.

 Ferrando's Greatest Shortcut.

Guillermo could never spare enough money
to 'pay' Ferrando too much for his 'homely' products
(without starving himself and his horse)
... so he always had to patiently put up with a great deal of
lecturing by Ferrando about how 'poor a businessman'
Guillermo was to let himself be talked into
selling Ferrando's 'handsome' goods so cheaply.

Guillermo always had his hands full coming up with newer
and newer excuses for putting off Ferrando
--who wanted to go along on Guillermo's business rounds,
so that he, Ferrando, "Obviously, the better businessman
of the two," (according to himself)... could work out
'a better deal' for his own, as well as for Guillermo's goods:

"Most of the other villages only allow one stranger in town
at a time, you know," Guillermo explained to his friend.
Or, "I mustn't overburden my horse," he would tell him:
"Also, there are so many merchants in our village
who can't survive unless I carry their products
outside the village that if I made more room for you
in my wagon I might have to leave behind somebody else's
goods: You wouldn't want to see anybody go wanting,
now would you?"

"No, of course not," never that, since, for all his faults,
deep inside Ferrando was still a good person. And,
had it been otherwise, Guillermo might have found it difficult
to be such a good friend to him.

Thus Guillermo was able to smile at Ferrando's lectures
on how he should be a lot more demanding as a businessman,
happy in the knowledge that his childhood friend
was still able to hold his head high and never gave up trying
to succeed with newer goods and ideas.

Ferrando, on the other hand, could never understand
how his friend could smile in the face of how little profit
they 'both' made even by all their hard work--

It frustrated him so much that he often worked himself
into a fever trying to come up with more and more ways
to get rich without having to work so hard. And then
Guillermo had to nurse him back to health.

Then one day, coming back to life from one of his
usual high fevers, Ferrando suddenly sat up on his sick bed
and began to tell Guillermo that he had finally caught up
with the idea he had been chasing all his life:

"Now at last I have so good a reason for you to take me along
on your next trip that you will not be able to say no to me,"
he told Guillermo, who really had his hands full just
trying to calm him down so he wouldn't get sick all over again.

But nothing could calm him down this time:
"Instead of making your normal long trip
around the edges of the Mysterious Forest,"
(a hard trip which always took Guillermo such a long time
that it was never possible for him to carry
anything in his wagon which might spoil along the way):
"We shall take the most direct route of all
... and cut straight across the Mysterious Forest itself!"

At first Guillermo shuddered at the suggestion
that they set foot in the Mysterious Forest:
"What about the evil legends, all the monsters
and the witches, all the gnomes and trolls?"

But now, listening to himself as he spoke these things,
suddenly Guillermo realized just how silly people had been
to fear such things, and he actually laughed out loud!

"What a brilliant plan," Guillermo told Ferrando
so his friend would not think he was laughing at him
or at his idea (besides, Guillermo had to admit
that Ferrando was the first person to realize how silly
the superstitions about the Mysterious Forest had been all along).

No one was happier than Guillermo that his best friend
had been the first to come up with such a worthwhile plan
(for it certainly justified the faith he had always had in him).

"Find a direct route," Ferrando boasted excitedly,
walking about the room as if he had never been sick at all:
"And imagine the profits we'll make when we cut the time
it takes to journey around the wide expanse
of the Mysterious Forest!"

So carried away were the friends with the idea
that they never noticed the dark clouds that began to churn
around their little cottage as they laughed and danced inside it
in anticipation of their 'victory' over the Mysterious Forest.

But the idea was a good one, of course:
The only thing that had kept people from thinking of it before
was the 'childish' legends and superstitions about its monsters
and ogres and... all such silly things.

"We'll be able to move fresh goods
and newly harvested fruits and vegetables,"
Ferrando cried out as he danced giddily
inside their little cottage: "Instead of having to herd
the live animals, we could ship fresh beef, pork,
and mutton --even fresh fish!"

Carried away with Ferrando's enthusiasm
Guillermo quickly agreed to take him on a trip
right through the middle of the Mysterious Forest
the very next day--since Ferrando could not be talked out of
waiting even one minute longer than that--in a quest
to find the best and most direct route
from village to village across it.

 Into The Mysterious Forest.

Early next morning, after leaving Guillermo's horse and wagon
at the edge of the woods in the care of a neighbor
the two friends started their journey into the Mysterious Forest.

Almost immediately they found that instead of being threatening
and dreadful, the Mysterious Forest was unexpectedly
bewitching and even welcoming:

All that first day the little creatures of the Mysterious Forest
(which no human being before them had ever seen, and
which had seen no human beings themselves before then)
ran alongside the two young men for long stretches of time,
as curious about them as they themselves were about
how tame and friendly they all seemed:

Squirrels tickled or begged treats from them
with their long furry tails and longing eyes.
Never before seen birds lulled them to sleep that first evening;
and then sang their best songs at them
as dawn's greetings almost at their feet.

Meanwhile, their second day inside the Mysterious Forest
was taken up with following a little stream that twisted its
musical way over the fallen twigs and exposed pebbles
... making a constant smooching and rippling sound
while it went about quenching the thirst of all the dark roots
coming to drink deliciously from it along the forest floor.

Practically every bird nest was well within dipping distance
off the little stream, and many warblers were always
taking their baths in the laughing liquid... as blades of grass
constantly fingered the folds of cool water winding their way
though its tiny but crowded volumes.

So magical was the Mysterious Forest that the two friends
hardly noticed they had made their way into
the most unexpected... roundest grassy clearing
they had ever seen in their lives--right there
in the middle of such a thick stretch of trees!

The grassy circle looked like it had been designed that way
on purpose--Perhaps to make way for a castle, they thought,
and they seriously questioned whether they might really be
the first human beings ever to set foot in the Mysterious Forest...

Maybe a recluse nobleman lived nearby.
It was certainly the most well kept and largest lawn
they had ever walked over: So evenly cut was the grass
that it looked like each blade had been individually nursed
with all the tender love and care capable of being
squeezed this deeply into the Mysterious Forest,
and then clipped--or chewed--down so neatly
that only the greatest personal attention by a master gardener
could have matched it.

Only... instead of a castle, they were soon staring
straight up a tall, sheer pillar of stone
set at the exact center of the strange grassy clearing
--a pillar of stone not much thicker around
than any one of the many trees around there,
and so tall that it easily matched in height the tallest tree within view.

 The Monster And The Pillar of Stone.

The whole world seemed to be oddly still and quiet
in that eerie grassy clearing.
The never-ending symphony of melodies
which the birds had been singing to their every step
suddenly fell into so deep a hush
that they could hear the howl of every tiny breeze.

Now not one of the countless tiny creatures
that had run and played by their side on the way there
was anywhere to be found inside that grassy clearing:
It was as if something or someone was keeping them
from setting foot anywhere on it... or even flying over it!

The two friends listened to their own breathing
until even the wind itself seemed to drop off into dead silence
--A good thing, actually, because without a warning,
a strange rustling sound began to build in the distance
resembling an avalanche of logs tumbling over each other
... all the time it was coming straight at them!

In a flash it became a vicious roar of hooves
thundering closer and closer
--The frightened young men were just able to turn
in the direction of the whoosh of hooves
in time to catch sight of a huge, monstrous blur
(a nightmarish cross between a dragon and a tusked boar),
as ugly and ferocious an animal as ever human eyes had
looked upon... and it was right in the middle of
charging towards them at full speed from the edge
of the woods on the opposite side of the clearing.

It was immediately obvious to the two friends
that the monster was too quick to be out-run to the woods
--So fast was it that by the time they had disposed of this thought
the beast had already cut off their escape.

The only means of escape still left them was
right in front of them: They would have to try to save their lives
by climbing that thin, sheer pillar of stone!

The monster must have also realized this, however, because
as soon as it was sure it had cut off their escape
back into the woods it immediately swung around
and made straight for them --Although in its haste
to box them in it had swung out just that inch too far
and the two friends were able to win the race for their lives
and just did manage to climb the rocky pillar
with absolutely no time to spare:

Inches below their heels the awesome beast's
razor-sharp tusks and claws drew sparks from
the stone ledges their feet had struggled over on their way up
even as its fiery breath scorched and charred their socks!

Its terrible roar shook the thin, flaky ledges
their fingernails now clutched as they climbed higher
and higher still, further and further out of reach.

Finally, once they had gone far enough up the pillar to
feel comfortably safe from the monster's clutches,
they paused to catch their breath.

They had to cut short whatever glee they might have felt
about escaping the monster, though, as they realized
that the only way they could go now was up,
higher still, as high as that pillar of stone itself went.

Higher and higher they climbed then, hugging for their lives
the half-crumbling ledge they were using as steps
up the stony pillar... which promised nothing more than a
temporary place of shelter, really: they could already feel it
shudder like a rotted tree from top to bottom
with every blow that the monster kept hitting it with
in its frustration over having let them escape.

They still climbed, though (almost by their fingernails),
always trying to get farther from the monster's sight
in the hope that that would make it stop attacking
the dangerously shuddering pillar (and possibly toppling it).

Then, after the most terrifying minutes of their lives
the two friends finally managed to reach the top
and pulled themselves on to a flat summit
no broader around than four chairs' worth,
grabbing hold of a single clump of weeds
which had anchored itself to a rock sticking out of
the thin edge of the top of that pillar of stone's
otherwise completely flat summit.

But, so small around was the top of the pillar that
they actually had to sit with their legs hanging over its edge
(even though they knew that the sight of them
might keep the monster's fury alive down there where it was even then
still taking out its frustration against the pillar's luckily unyielding base).

 Barnabe Goo's Palace.

"Not so lucky!" Ferrando suddenly thought he heard
a little voice speaking behind him. It sounded as if
a man had spoken the three words from a cloud high in the sky
and they had been carried to Ferrando's ears by a freak breeze.

Nevertheless, Ferrando turned around, somehow expecting
to find somebody standing immediately behind him.

"I sure hope this pillar is strong enough to withstand
that awful monster's blows!" Guillermo was saying
as his friend searched behind them hoping he had not gone crazy:
"Look at the monster! He's foaming mad!"

"Don't worry," Ferrando again heard the little voice speaking
the minute he turned to look down the pillar of stone at the monster.
And this time Guillermo heard it too.

Both men turned around at once and were shocked to find
themselves staring at a fully-formed and yet unimaginable tiny man
... so small he could have danced a jig comfortably upon
the open palm of any lady's dainty hand!

"This stony pillar has withstood the monster
since before either one of you were born,"
the tiny man assured the two startled friends,
a smile on his little bearded face.

The two friends were even more surprised then
to discover that behind the little man they could raise their eyes
up the towering spires of a magnificent huge palace
draped almost to the clouds with as splendid a garden around it
as imagination could have ever given shape to
--And every bit of it human size.

Behind that, as far as their sight could sweep:
valleys, rivers, hills, and endlessly rolling forests
of flowering trees were everywhere (where
even the smallest bushes were neatly fashioned into
all manner of lovely shapes).

It did not end there, either... there were graceful statues
among the fountains and flowering bushes, and
ancient-looking decorative trees woven into shading canopies
and leafy mock umbrellas--all as natural
as if they had grown out of their own accord into such shapes
right from their seeds:

All about them, arrayed rows on rows
that seemed to go on forever into the unending distance:
servants and waiters came along now
offering them a wide-ranging feast of food and drink.

"Who are you?" Ferrando stammered in shock, hardly
able to understand even the words coming out of his own mouth,
for although the master of all these marvels was
such a tiny little man, he was probably a very powerful wizard.

"Barnabe Goo, your servant," the little man told Ferrando,
bowing gracefully and laughing as merrily as if
he'd been greeting a long-lost friend after many a year.

Unable to believe his eyes, Guillermo chanced another look
down the pillar of stone, just to see if he might have gone mad
... to believe he was looking upon so much land, mountains,
valleys, and rivers, the strange little man himself and
all his servants and waiters, including even a palace
with no end of lovelier and lovelier gardens around it
... all of it balanced over a thin pillar of stone
no wider around its widest point
than the trunk of any of the trees in the Mysterious Forest.

"What are you?!" Guillermo asked Barnabe Goo,
doubting his eyes.

"If Barnabe Goo won't do," was the little man's answer
to that: "Then I'll be your Uncle Elknoo!"
And he laughed so heartily
his whole little body shook like a twitching twig
with every one of his ho-ho-hos:
"What do you say we sup!"

With a wave of his tiny arm, Barnabe Goo pointed to
what must have been the world's grandest banquet
(suddenly spread out for them as if out of thin air
over numberless tables suddenly appearing
throughout the palace's gardens).

The friends were too stunned to speak,
and allowed themselves to be guided by the airy servants
and waiters, step after step, yard after yard, up there
atop what really should have been a tiny stretch of summit
not more than a couple of yards (if at that).

And yet on and on they walked now... towards
the shining palace gardens over impossible distances
along marble and ivy-covered walls, by endless flowering beds
in which precious stones sprouted like crystal plants,
hardly able to feel their feet touching the ground
as they walked in the direction of the banquet tables
so splendidly laid out for them.

Neither did they have the will to resist. Besides,
their mouths were drier than if they had been chewing bags of starch.

Out of nowhere Barnabe Goo whipped up a couple of
glasses of fresh glittering cool water for them (from which
they both gratefully drank then, and drank and drank
... a lot longer than those two glasses should have held water).

Barnabe Goo pointed to the feast of meats, drinks, fruits
and pies waiting for them attended by patiently smiling servants
and waiters who never tired of offering them every manner of
appetizing thing to drink and eat--where moments before
(they would have sworn) nothing at all stood
except a stark small clump of rock weeds.

But so hungry, weary, and downright confused were they
that the two friends could hardly even think straight at all
any more. So they gave in and joined the strange little man
at his splendidly provided tables (not to offend him),
no matter how curious they were about him
--and eager to ask him a million questions.

 The Prisoners.

"That is not my watch-dog down there!"
Barnabe Goo suddenly protested to Ferrando,
right in the middle of biting into a tiny leg
of lamb (for although the friends' fare was
quite up to their 'standard' size,
everything spread before the little man himself was
just exactly big--or, I should say--exactly small enough for him).

"Can you read minds?" Guillermo asked the little man,
seeing in Ferrando's face that his friend had indeed
been wondering whether Barnabe Goo owned
the terrible monster guarding the pillar of stone
... and might have asked him about it--had not
the little stranger beat him to the punch with his answer!

Barnabe Goo smiled knowingly, ate a tiny bit more,
drank a few drops from his miniature mug, and then laughed
so that it left the two young men wondering
whether he might have lost his mind.

But they too laughed, almost as heartily, for
the dinner was the most wondrous they had ever had,
with no end to favorite portions
as each new plate brought before them a brand new treat
and every fruity drink was twice as delicious
and quenching as everything which went before it--

All of it effortlessly brought within their reach
to the beautiful strains of a music being played by
unseen musicians that somehow seemed to be concealed
in every possible place the music lover would wish
such pleasing music to be playing from.

"The beast below us is no friend of yours,"
Guillermo told Barnabe Goo unexpectedly,
instead of asking him, for in his own travels he too
had also picked up a knack for reading people:

"You too," he told the jolly little man, "no less than us,
are also trapped atop this... pillar which, though it may seem
a world without end,
is really not much more than a tiny prison--is it?"

Sure enough, as if he had been cruelly struck
with a heavy sorrow, Barnabe Goo hid his face in his hands:
"An unimaginable tiny prison!" He confessed to Guillermo.

It was too sad an end to a wonderful meal,
and all at once the sprightly music turned a mellow gold.
The leaves around them became almost melancholic
and began to threatened to fall from their trees,
while all around them the servants and waiters
began to melt away before their very eyes
into moist shadows which one could actually see through
... until, finally, they almost became but mere random breezes
aimlessly moving back and forth
as if they had been trying to dry themselves into nothingness.

The gardens, the palace, even the hills and valleys
going out as far as the eye could see
began to decay away as well
until the entire kingdom itself was vanishing away
like a dream, including even the very taste of the mouthful
which Ferrando had been enjoying at that moment--

Until, that is, until Guillermo promised Barnabe Goo
they would listen to whatever plan of escape
he might wish to propose. Then, just as suddenly,
all about them the fading world seemed to regain its colors
and solid shape and the once sad servants and tearful waiters
were once again everywhere merrily trying to please them all.
(Even the taste of Ferrando's mouthful
turned twice as wonderful as ever.)

Barnabe Goo happily invited the two friends to walk
by his side through his splendid gardens. Telling Guillermo:
"Like me, you too are the monster's prisoners. Remember that!"

But then it was back to smiling and laughing, and
even the marvelous music which swept them along
like soapbubbles in a dream
became sweeter and more joyous than ever...

"Can you tell us--?" Guillermo tried to ask the little man:
"How long have you lived atop this pillar of stone?"

Instead of an answer, the two friends suddenly found
themselves in a splendid ballroom
where ladies and lords were merrily dancing
to a music that seemed to be one with the walls
sparkling all around them like living smiles!

The Escape Plan.

"The beast can only chase after one of us at a time,
you know," Barnabe Goo pointed out,
all the time he was dancing with a string of tiny ladies,
one after the other one, even as Guillermo and Ferrando
found themselves dancing too (with the loveliest ladies
they could have imagined, every one of them human-sized):

"I could have never dreamt of escape until you
or somebody like you climbed this solitary pillar," he said,
laughing with such glee it made the two friends happy
just to see how much joy could fill such a tiny fellow.

(Barnabe Goo explained to them that it would be impossible
for him to escape among a mad dash
of his many imaginary servants
because the monster could tell which were the illusions
and which were the real persons.)

"But now, with three of us escaping down the pillar of stone,"
he told them, walking them through his minty gardens
and reading for them the tales of the stars spread out
at their feet like twinkles over a reflecting pool," all three of us
at the same time running for the safety of the woods,
all we need do is clear the clearing, so-to-speak."

It sounded like a good idea to Ferrando, but Guillermo
pointed out a little fact which Ferrando, in his eagerness to
arrive at the quickest solution, was obviously overlooking:
The monster would surely be quick enough
to run down at least one of them!

"I cannot pretend it will not be so," Barnabe Goo told them:
"That is why it's not up to me to decide. As long as I
have lived atop this pillar, I will yet live a lot longer
than both of you put together. Which, I'm afraid, is not
the case with you: Every minute you two mortals spend
up here with me
is one less minute you have
to live the rest of your lives among your people."

"But, you are so much smaller that we!"
Guillermo spoke out, his voice dripping with concern:
"Is not the monster much more likely to spot one of us
and miss you altogether?"

"Indeed you do run the bigger chance,"
Barnabe Goo had to agree: "But perhaps it's as it should be,
since you also have the most to gain (as, unlike me, you
must run not only for your liberty
but also for your very lives)."

Guillermo still found the whole proposal unfair,
because: "One of us is almost certain to be caught
by the monster--You're almost guaranteed to escape!"

  It started the little man thinking for a long time.

"You seek not love," Barnabe Goo finally spoke,
studying the two friends: "You seek not fame.
Or adventure. You seek not glory."
All of which sounded true enough to them.

"Nor honor," he went on: "You do not seek power.
You are two hard-working lads from a poor village
--You do not even seek wealth beyond imagining,
but only riches enough!" Which was also true enough
as far as the two friends were concerned.

Indeed it certainly looked as if Barnabe Goo was reading
their every thought (so it would have been unthinkable
for them to try to deceive the little man):

"Well, that," Barnabe Goo said suddenly: "That
and much more can I grant you! Enough
as you seek will I give you, and a little bit more perhaps."
Sounding a little disappointed that the treasures the two mortals
were dreaming of were, to him at least, but
a few meager coins, and not very many of them at that...

Shaking his head, Barnabe Goo brought forth then a purse
which was almost as big as his whole person.
This was the first time the two friends had seen
the little man actually bring forth anything
with his own two hands (instead of by some magical gesture
or another)... proof enough in their eyes that the articles
were real and not just more of Barnabe Goo's illusions.

"No one from your mortals' villages has ever seen a silver coin,
let alone a coin of true gold," said Barnabe Goo (for
none of the little villages that ringed the Mysterious Forest
were prosperous enough for anyone from any of them
to have ever come across any coins at all but copper ones).

None of the villagers had ever seen jewels or precious stones
either, so it never crossed the two friends' minds
to think they wanted things like that.

Nor had anyone from the little villages ever brushed against
any of the fineries which the great nobles wore, because
no one from the nobility had ever
thought it worthwhile to visit them.

Indeed, none of the villagers had ever so much as
seen a horse that was only for riding
and not for pulling a wagon as well or working the fields.

Still, the two friends were held captive by burning thoughts
of what possible treasures that fascinating purse in front of them
might be hiding from their eyes, of copper, silver, or--

"Gold!" Barnabe Goo cried to them,
while pulling the strings of his magical purse--

A bursting rush of yellow sparks poured out,
plunking down over the solid wood of the table
on which the little man was standing, flashing out of his purse
like thundering smidgeons of the Sun--a lode of coins,
seven in all--spilling out one after the other one
until all seven of them had trickled out to a stop.

"Seven coins of true gold," Barnabe Goo told them with glee
as he watched their ever-growing delight: "More than enough
to make any villager richer than he could ever be. And
all yours but for a deed of courage (which
coins or no coins you will eventually have to perform)."

It was only seven coins of gold in all on that table
before them, but, just as Barnabe Goo knew it would,
to the two friends it seemed like a mountain of gold:

It could not have been a lovelier sight to them had it been
ten times seven coins, or seventy times ten coins for that matter
--Guillermo and Ferrando stared at each other, then
at the coins, then at each other again, trying to
make up their minds which could have been
the happiest thing there: those coins of gold or themselves.

"I offer you the gold" he told them, "because
as long as I am held in the monster's thrall
I cannot make myself as big as you or shrink you to my size
--to make the dash to the edge of the grassy clearing fairer
for all of us: We are all stuck the size we were
when we first climbed the pillar."

"Upon my royal word," Barnabe Goo added,
revealing that he was indeed king of the elves, and
allowing them to see him in all his glory,
his noble white beard and splendidly red royal suit:
"This boon will I grant you," he solemnly promised them:
"If the monster takes one of you, whoever survives
shall not escape with just only his life
... for seven coins of true gold will he take with him
to make his way to happiness in life."

Then he further promised them: "At the end of his life
that man shall have no regrets that he lived
(which is the greatest gift Barnabe Goo could offer anyone):
"What say you to my bargain?"

"Yes, my friend," Barnabe Goo suddenly told Ferrando
as if he had just read a doubt in the young man's mind:
"Everything's fairy's dust atop this stony pillar,
just as you'd have it, fairy's dust to be blown away
with the first breath of dawn --Everything except
this gold before you: That is real enough!
For all I bring forth out of this magical purse
remains true forever after in the world."

And not only were the two friends convinced
that Barnabe Goo was telling them the truth, but,
whether from courage or simple horse sense,
they were just as sure that it was unlikely there would ever be
a better reason or time to try the escape:
Sooner or later they would have to get past the monster
that stood guard at the foot of the pillar of stone,
whether it was just to save their lives or for a treasure as well.

The jolly little man laughed wildly and merrily,
not just at how easily men could be swayed
by a few flecks of gold--and so very few of them at that
--but also about how happy he had made them feel
at such a terrible moment in their lives.

Then Barnabe Goo pointed out a three-trunked tree
which grew safely beyond the grassy clearing
and told them that whoever survived the race
against the monster was to meet him under that specific tree.

"Once free of the clearing we are free of the monster,"
he answered them, "since the monster (which is so huge
because it has never stopped eating and growing
since it was originally a witch) is too large by now to fit
between the trees of the forest, and will not be able to follow us
out of the grassy clearing
(where it is forever doomed to remain imprisoned)."

"Remember!" Barnabe Goo suddenly became quite serious:
"For at least two of us to make it, all three
must jump off the pillar of stone exactly at the same moment
and race in three different directions--that way
we will force the monster to pick only one of us to chase!"

Guillermo was also becoming almost as serious
as the little man, for it was now obvious to him
that the tiny Barnabe Goo was sure to escape
the attention of the monster:

The real choice of who would live and who would die
was between him and his friend Ferrando:
One of them would have to give up his life
in order for the other one to escape.

And then it truly pained Guillermo
to think he should have to live always knowing
that he had been the cause of his friend's death
in the claws of such terrible a monster,
even if it wouldn't be exactly his fault--Or, wouldn't it be?


"Exactly!" Barnabe Goo commented mysteriously
(as if he had been reading Guillermo's every painful qualm)
... just when Guillermo was thinking that the first one
to jump off the pillar of stone would probably be the one
the monster would choose to come after.

Realizing this, the only thing a true friend could do then
was to make sure that he was the first one off the pillar of stone.
And before Ferrando himself also realized the very same thing.

And that is exactly what Guillermo did:
He waited until Ferrando was on his way to sitting down
and then, without any warning,
he started for the edge of the pillar.

Ferrando tried to get up and follow him,
but by the time he was back on his feet
Guillermo was already beginning to climb over the edge.

"Wait!" Ferrando yelled when he saw what his friend was up to
--but from where he was Guillermo only waved for them to follow
after him, waiting at the edge only long enough
to give the other two enough time to pick up the gold from the table
and rush after him. Then Guillermo quickly started to climb
down the long stony pillar as the other two tried to catch up.

The minute he was close enough to the ground
Guillermo let go and crashed hard to the grass.
Too hard, in fact, and he twisted his foot slightly
--It was a miracle he didn't get himself injured even worse.
But it was bad enough to make him roll over the grass
trashing about noisily--And attracting the beast!

At once, just as Guillermo painfully pulled at his twisted foot
to get himself off the ground and run as best he could
in the direction of the nearest line of trees
... he was staring into the eyes of the charging monster!

Guillermo glanced back at the pillar of stone
in time to see Ferrando and Barnabe Goo (who was
hardly visible at all) jumping down from it.
Then he felt the fiery breath of the monster's roar
almost upon him, and twisted foot or no, Guillermo rushed
for the edge of the grassy clearing with all his might.

But it was no use--even the monster could see
that he was limping badly. And so eager was the beast
to finish him off (so it could then turn its attention to
the other two runners) that instead of trying to grab Guillermo
and finish him off
it closed its eyes and pounced at him
to try to slash him with one of its long, sharp tusks, and,
leaving him wounded on the ground (to be finished off later)
... turn around and immediately go after the other two runners.

Fortunately, just as the monster was in the air
half way through its pounce
and unable to make any changes in direction,
Guillermo tripped over his twisted foot
and was violently knocked to the ground,
sending the huge monster sailing completely over him
thinking its blow was what had brought Guillermo down.

Once it landed again on the ground, still unaware
it had missed Guillermo, the monster opened its glaring eyes
and glanced at the body of Guillermo on the grass.
Convinced it had killed him, the monster then changed direction
and headed after Barnabe Goo and Ferrando (who by this time
were well on their way to the other side of the clearing).

The monster turned in their direction like a furious tornado
and howling its frustration so loudly
that Ferrando and the little man could have sworn its roar
had teeth, it charged after them--putting forth
such a thundering storm of hooves
that trees around the huge clearing shook their leaves
as if a cold blast of winter had grabbed hold of
their trunks with its icy hands.

the time it had taken the monster to chase down Guillermo
permitted Ferrando and Barnabe Goo to reach the safety
of the Mysterious Forest's first line of trees:

Almost immediately the monster reached the edge of the grassy clearing
... in time only to crash viciously against the first line of trees there
with a powerful thud which knocked down half a dozen or more
of them, but still kept it from going deeper into the woods
after the two runners.

The little elf king and Ferrando had escaped the monster!
But it had got Guillermo
--at least that was what the monster itself thought
as it turned around now to get back to his body
and finished him off... only to catch sight of Guillermo
limping into the Mysterious Forest
on the opposite side of the grassy clearing.

The Reward.

Once they were safe from the beast
they all headed for the three-trunked tree
well away from the grassy clearing:

"We were sure the monster had killed you,"
Ferrando told Guillermo, who was just then
recovering from his slightly twisted foot.

"He very nearly did," Guillermo replied:
"But not quite! Which poses a curious problem
for our little friend here..."

"Since both of you survived," said Barnabe Goo,
reading Guillermo's mind: "Which one gets the seven coins?
Well, you needn't fret there: Our bargain was for me
to give seven gold coins to whomever survived,
and since both of you did,
each of you gets seven coins all to himself."

Saying which he grew to human size
before the friends could even blink,
there right in front of them. Then he brought forth his purse,
now so huge a bag that either of the two young men
could have easily crawled inside it.

"Go ahead," Barnabe Goo told Guillermo, offering
the opened bag for him and inviting him
to stick his hand in it: "Reach inside!"

Guillermo did exactly that. And then he pulled out
his hand with seven gold coins in his palm.

Right away Ferrando did the same thing his friend had done
--with the exact result: He too pulled out
seven gold coins from Barnabe Goo's magical bag.

"Now you are both equally wealthy,"
the all-grown-up Barnabe Goo told them:
"These seven coins of gold will be able to secure
you happiness in the end--That's when it counts, you know."

"But not right away, then?" Ferrando wanted to know.

"No," replied Barnabe Goo: "It takes time to find real happiness.
And it will take you in particular a much longer time,
I'm afraid," he said directly to Ferrando: "But this
I promise even you: Hang on to your coins long enough
and in the end they will buy you happiness too."

The friends didn't know just what to make of this.
But then all their thoughts dropped right out of their heads
as they watched with their mouths open
while Barnabe Goo gave a loud whistle
and a huge sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer
came down from the sky in front of them
and the jolly red-suited man climbed into it.

"Now you will excuse me," he said as he settled
comfortably inside: "I have a long overdue appointment
at the North Pole!"

Saying which he sailed his magical sleigh away
on the wind as swiftly as if it had been sliding over oiled snow
... laughing all the way (so happy was he, apparently,
to be free at last to do good deeds in the world again).

The Tunnel.

As soon as Barnabe Goo had left, the two friends
continued their quest to discover a shortcut
between the little villages which dotted the edges
of the Mysterious Forest.

They walked for quite a long time.
Then they suddenly came upon a very wide
and swiftly moving river
which looked impossible for them to ford.

Unexpectedly... "I can help you get across,"
said a funny little voice behind them.

When they turned around they discovered a funny little man
no bigger than a child standing there
all green and red both in clothes and skin!

"For one of your coins of gold," the odd little stranger said
to them, "I will tell you where lies the hidden entrance
to a tunnel that runs under the wide and swiftly moving river
all the way across to the other side."

Ferrando immediately objected--to the price:
He proposed instead that the two friends do some work
for the funny little green and red man (who
looked like a frog turning into a little boy)
to pay for the information.

The green and red little stranger would not hear of it,
however, suddenly turning red and green
as if to signal that he would not be put off the price
he had set for the whereabouts of the tunnel.

"In that case, no!" Ferrando resolved:
"We will find a way across the wide and
swiftly moving river on our own."

Guillermo was of a different opinion, though.
He knew they running short on supplies and
would have to find their way out of the Mysterious Forest
without any further delays; and so Guillermo volunteered
to pay the little red and green stranger one coin of gold
out of his own seven to be shown the entrance to the tunnel.

"Excellent," said the little red and green stranger,
snatching the coin of gold from Guillermo's hand:
"Follow me then!" And then he turned green and red.

"You're being foolish and wasteful,"
Ferrando chided his friend: "I'll grant you
it might take us some time to find the entrance to that tunnel,
but we'd eventually find it on our own
and without any help from--"

"Not in a million years," the (now) green and red little stranger
interrupted Ferrando. And he was quickly proven right,
when the entrance to the tunnel (which he led them to,
as promised) was found to be extremely well hidden
far back in the Mysterious Forest... where neither of them
would have ever thought of looking for it.

"Besides," said the little green and red man to Ferrando:
"You will not have to pay anything at all, for now
that I've shown your friend the entrance to the tunnel
I'm sure he will not charge you one of your gold coins
for the information you too already possess."

And since he could not charge Ferrando anything else either,
the funny little green and red man suddenly turned red and green
and vanished into the Mysterious Forest
the same mysterious way he had appeared
(taking with him Guillermo's gold coin).

"I still say we should have spent some time searching for it
ourselves," Ferrando was stubbornly protesting even now to his friend
his having given in so easily: "Now you only have six coins left!"

"You see for yourself," Guillermo said, pointing out
for his friend how hard to find the tunnel was:
"We could have spent forever searching and never found it.
I believe my gold coin was well spent."

The answer did not satisfy Ferrando one bit:
"You'll believe anything anybody tells you, my friend.
And if I don't keep a very close eye on you, you will soon
find yourself penniless and trying to borrow my coins
so you can throw them away
as quickly as you're throwing away yours!"

Guillermo only shook his head at this and started for the entrance
to the tunnel, where they quite abruptly came upon
a very wrinkled old man--blocking their way!

"This is my tunnel, you know," said the very wrinkled old man
(if man he was, for he was as wrinkled as a spider's meal
and it was difficult for the friends to tell whether his eyes
were even open): "You will have to pay me before you may cross
to the other side of the wide and swiftly moving river."

"Nonsense," was Ferrando's answer to that:
"We already paid the little red and green man--"

"To show you where the entrance of the tunnel was,"
the very wrinkled old man interrupted Ferrando:
"Which he did. You got your money's worth. Now
you will have to pay me to get across
--For this is my tunnel:
A tunnel I have spent all of my life digging."

"You can't stop us from using the tunnel,"
Ferrando argued to the wrinkled old man:
"And not even if it IS your tunnel
--Which I very much doubt, for no one single person
could have possibly dug a tunnel as huge as this one
all by himself. And not even in a lifetime."

"Well," said the very wrinkled old man with a smile
full of toothless pride: "I am much older than I look."

"However old you are," Ferrando told him:
"You are a weak old man,
and we are two strong and young ones."

"Ah, two," said the very wrinkled old man (as if
he had also been blind): "Then the price to cross
to the other side of the wide and swiftly moving river
will be two gold coins, one for each of you."

The comment angered Ferrando so much
that he would have pushed past the very wrinkled old man
--had not Guillermo held him by the shoulder:

"I will not pay him one of my gold coins," insisted Ferrando.

"We cannot refuse to pay him," Guillermo tried to reason
with his friend: "If we had spent our whole lives digging such a tunnel
the least we would expect of those who used it would be a fair price."

And no matter how unfair his friend Ferrando thought the price,
Guillermo remained of the opinion that they should pay
what the very wrinkled old man was charging for the use of his tunnel:

       "It's his tunnel, after all!"

But, "So says he," Ferrando argued stubbornly:
"Remember what Barnabe Goo told us:
We have to have seven gold coins in the end
to buy our happiness--And you've already thrown away one!"

"Three," Guillermo told his friend, handing over two
of his coins to the very wrinkled old man:
"For not only will I pay my way across--I will also pay yours
as well: Barnabe Goo also told us that we were to buy
our happiness with the gold coins."

Ferrando did not take kindly at all to his friend's willingness
to pay for him, however, perhaps feeling
that it made him look miserly--

In any case, Ferrando was convinced that Guillermo expected him
to change his mind sooner or later and eventually hand
one of his gold coins over to him after all,
in spite of everything he had just told him
about not being willing to do so:

"You're fooling yourself," he told Guillermo
as they made their way into the tunnel, "if you think
I will give you one of my coins later just because
you threw away one of yours in my name just now!"

Guillermo only shook his head and continued through the tunnel
--By now Guillermo was used to Ferrando saying all sorts of
things, especially under the influence of one of his fevers
... things which he really didn't mean (and it was obvious to Guillermo
that his friend was suffering from a very bad case of gold fever).

They were distracted just then, though, when, looking back
the way they had come, they imagined they saw a huge
and powerful-looking knight in full armor
where the very wrinkled old man should have been.
Although maybe it was the light playing tricks on their eyes

In any case, onward they continued through a dark tunnel
literally humming with danger--So loudly could they hear
the wide and swiftly moving waters under which they were passing
that the walls of the tunnel shuddered with their echo
(making that dark and mysterious tunnel
nothing simple merchants like them would ever want to
drive a horse and wagon through on a regular basis).

After the most horrifying moments of their lives
the two friends finally reached the other side
of the wide and swiftly moving river, and there came out of the tunnel
upon an unexpected fork
in the trail they had followed all the way across.

The Fork In Their Paths.

To their surprise they found a goat keeper
surrounded by his animals at the fork in the trail
... a goat keeper like no goat keeper they had ever met before,
as his goats were not the only ones wearing horns:
he too had quite a lovely spread of horns
--growing right on his forehead!

"I suppose you'll want to know which trail to take,"
the horned goat keeper calmly said to them:
"The Right one or... the Wrong one?"

"And I suppose you'll want a gold coin
for your very prized knowledge," answered Ferrando,
apparently still in the grip of his gold fever.

"It's the least you can do for me," replied the goat keeper,
"considering what I am about to do for you:
The Right trail leads to success and happiness,
the Wrong trail leads to failure and happiness."

"But," Guillermo asked the goat keeper:
"If both trails lead to happiness--what's the difference?"

"How you get there," replied the goat keeper, cryptically:
"But that remains for you to find out, of course:
I myself can only tell you which is which--"

"For one of our gold coins I imagine?" Ferrando said angrily.

"Only one will do," insisted the goat keeper:
"And from either one of you."

Well, it was obvious to Guillermo that it wasn't going to be
Ferrando who would give up a gold coin
to know which was the Right path
... so he was the one who handed over one of his own gold coins
to that very odd goat keeper.

An action, however, which, no matter how big-hearted
on Guillermo's part, was just too much for Ferrando:

"I cannot bear it any longer," he suddenly exploded
at his friend: "We haven't even gotten out of the Mysterious Forest
and you've already thrown away four of your gold coins.
Well, I have no intention of being around
when you give away your last one
and then expect me to begin giving away mine as well!"

Saying that, Ferrando angrily took his seven gold coins
as well as his leave of Guillermo
and, without even waiting to be told which was which,
started down the right fork!

Guillermo was about to follow after his feverish friend,
but was stopped by the strong arm of the goat keeper...

"The Right trail is the left one," he told him:
The one Ferrando had not taken!

Guillermo called desperately after his friend, but
either Ferrando did not hear him or he pretended he didn't.

In any case: "But my friend--"
Guillermo turned to the goat keeper.

And, He," the goat keeper replied even before
Guillermo had finished speaking: "He
has chosen his own path.
The best thing you can do for him now
is to choose the Right path for yourself
--Trust me, it would do him little good
if both of you went down the Wrong one."

Guillermo thought about this for a moment, sadly,
even as he watched his old friend hurriedly
marching away down the Wrong path
as if thieves had been after him.

Several times he called after Ferrando again,
but always with the same results: none.

"Don't worry," the goat keeper comforted Guillermo
as the young man sadly took up his journey again
all by himself up the Right path
(which in this case happened to be the left one):

"Don't worry--The two of you will meet again.
And it will be the better for your friend
that you at least did not choose to go down the Wrong path."

"Then Guillermo was travelling all by himself across
the Mysterious Forest," said the Prince, continuing his story.

"Wasn't Guillermo afraid, father?" Asked his son.

"Oh yes, very much so," the Prince answered:
"But he went on anyway, convinced
that he was indeed on the Right path."

    "What happened then?" Asked one of the hunters.

    "Then," said the Prince: "Then he met the ogre!"

The Ogre And The Chained Maiden.

"This particular ogre was an ugly beast
indeed," continued the Prince...

The ogre barely had a human form.

It was not alone, either, for with one of its monstrous hands
it held a heavy chain at the end of which
a beautiful young maiden was being held captive.

Right away Guillermo knew that he had to do
everything possible to free her from the ogre.

The creature looked as strong as ten men, though,
so he tried reasoning with the beast
instead of doing battle with it:

"Who are you?" He asked the ogre: "And why
do you hold this young maiden in chains?"

The ogre merely roared menacingly in reply
and continued on his way--pulling viciously on the maiden.

She, however, did speak a few words to Guillermo
(even though she was almost completely wrapped in the chains
... with only her face and legs free of them):

"Young man," she called to him: "Flee for your life!
This monster has already finished off
every young man my father has sent to rescue me.
Don't be so foolish as to die where there is no need to!"

"I do not intend to die," Guillermo answered her,
paying no heed to her pleas and speaking to the ogre again:
"Is it that you want this poor maiden for a bride?"
(Something which made the ogre laugh at him.)

"No, my foolish young man," the ogre said at last:
"Long ago I did a service for the kingdom of this maiden's father
and was promised the reward of a gift."

  "What kind of a gift?" Guillermo asked him.

"Any gift really," said the ogre, "as long as
it is a gift from the magical bag of the elf king
--But before I could be paid my reward... the elf king,
his entire kingdom, and most of the other elves
vanished without a trace. And so
I have held every king's daughter in chains since then
and will hold every king's daughter in chains forever
until such time as the elf king comes back
and grants me a gift from his magical bag."

Naturally Guillermo immediately realized that
the elf king the ogre was talking about
was even now on his way to the North Pole
and probably had no intention of returning
to the Mysterious Forest anytime soon--

But, "Wait," Guillermo told the ogre:
"Any gift from the elf king's magic bag will do?"

The ogre nodded his head.

"How would you be able to tell such a gift
really comes from the elf king's magical bag?"

"The gifts from the elf king's magical bag are so special
and unique that they are easily recognized by everyone,"
the ogre told Guillermo. "But, alas, no mas has laid hands
on a gift from the elf king's magical bag since he vanished--"

"Until now," said Guillermo, triumphantly
producing for the ogre one of the three gold coins
left him from the seven he himself had pulled
with his own hand out of Barnabe Goo's magical bag.
And, "Look!" He showed it to him.

So startled was the ogre at the sight of Guillermo's coin
that he at once let go of the chain with which he
had held the king's daughter captive (for he wanted to
use both hands to reach for the precious gift
from the elf king's magical bag
the young stranger was offering him).

"Is this not a gift from the elf king's magical bag?"
Guillermo asked the ogre, unsure whether the ogre was
going to recognize it as such as he had claimed.

But, "It is!" The ogre replied, taking the coin in his hands
with as much reverence as if it had been a holy object.
And, pointing to the king's daughter, he told Guillermo:
"Take her --She is yours to do with as you please
(for this gold coin): Tell her father the reward
his kingdom owed me since the time of the elves
is now paid in full and no other daughter of a king
will I hold captive again!" And then he was gone.

"But, wait!" Guillermo cried after him:
"You have not given me the key to free the maiden
from her chains!"

It was useless, though: the ogre had vanished
as quickly as if he'd suddenly become invisible!

"He has none," said the king's daughter to Guillermo,
weeping even as she spoke: "And no key exists, either,
for so certain was the ogre that no one would ever again
receive a gift from the elf king's magical bag
that he broke the key in the lock:
I cannot escape my chains though I live forever
--They are enchanted and no power on earth may break them."

"Don't weep," Guillermo comforted the beautiful maiden,
already half in love with her: "We will yet find a way to free you
from your chains--even if they are magical!"

Saying this Guillermo tried to open the lock with
the only thing on his person which could possibly even
come close to working like a key (to turn the lock's tumblers)
... one of his two remaining coins.

But the broken key in the lock could not be moved
out of the way. The coin itself was nothing at all like a key
(and by struggling desperately with it to open the lock
all Guillermo accomplished was that he let it slip out of his grasp):

It soon fell through the slit and right into the lock!

Well, no sooner did the coin fall past the lock's slit
than all the chains in which the king's daughter had been wrapped
fell away from her like so many cobwebs of dust!

About the only thing that turned out to be bad
about the entire episode was that no matter how hard
Guillermo tried... the lock refused to surrender that
next-to-last gold coin it had swallowed,
so he was left with only one more.

But, "Don't worry," said the king's daughter to Guillermo
after seeing how much the coin meant to her young rescuer:
"For what you have done today
my father will shower you with more gold coins
than you'd ever even imagine existed."

And so it was, for as soon as Guillermo and the Princess had
escaped the Mysterious Forest and he had delivered her
to her father, the King was so overjoyed
at the return of his daughter that he offered Guillermo
half his kingdom as a reward--An offer which
Guillermo turned down because, quite frankly,
the Princess herself had offered him an even better deal
(namely, all of the kingdom and her hand in marriage).

"You know the rest of the story," said Prince Guillermo then
to his hunters and guests: "The very wide and swiftly moving river
that cuts through the Mysterious Forest makes any shortcut
between the villages impractical. Our king still reigns over us,
aged as he may be. His daughter is now my wife. And
we have been blessed with a good and honest son
--As well as with good and honest friends I dare say!"

The Seventh Golden Coin.

"But father," the Prince's son reminded him:
"You never again found your old friend Ferrando!"

"For whom I have been searching all these years,"
replied the good Prince Guillermo, sadly: "I know."

And then it was that the hunting party stumbled across
a wild and shabby hermit, his clothes tattered and torn,
his looks as ragged and wild as if
he had never made his way out of the Mysterious Forest.

But it was an appearance, however, which could not
deceive Prince Guillermo's old eyes:
As soon as he glimpsed the rotted little bag the old hermit
was jealously clutching to his chest
he knew there were seven gold coins inside, and
it instantly told the Prince exactly who that old hermit was:

  "Ferrando!" He called to his old friend.

"Who knows me in these woods by name?"
Ferrando asked in a voice as shaky and frail
as his appearance, for living all by himself like that
in the Mysterious Forest
the poor old fellow had found it difficult
to scrounge around for things to eat, and was very weak indeed.

 "It is your friend Guillermo!" The Prince answered.

"Ah, yes," said Ferrando, straining to see him
through his dried but bleary eyes.
"You've wasted all your gold coins --haven't you?"
He suddenly told Guillermo: "And now
you're here to try to waste mine too!"

"You still have all your seven gold coins!?"
The Prince marvelled, sadly, for now he could see
that his old friend had not profited in the least
from even one of his seven gold coins.

Unbuttoning the front of his jacket, the Prince then
showed Ferrando his own golden coin, the last one
of the seven he had snatched out of Barnabe Goo's
magical bag, and which he had worn for many years
about his neck from a silver chain
as a treasured good luck piece:

"It is true that I have but one coin left, dear friend,"
he told Ferrando: "But I also have a wife, and a son,"
proudly bringing forth his son, "and a future
as king of this land."

But, "I'll still not lend you any of my coins,"
Ferrando said to that, clutching to his chest
the rotted little bag with his seven gold coins inside it
... with a greater effort than his poor state of health would indicate.

"No, dear friend," the Prince tried to reassure him:
"You must return to the palace with us this instant
--where you will live from now on
as our most cherished and honored guest!"

An offer which all the Prince's hunters and guests
heartily approved of (and expected, really,
knowing him as well as they did).

However, "I'll go nowhere with you," said
the shabby and sick hermit Ferrando had become,
accusing everyone there angrily: "All you want is
to take my gold coins from me! And I will not allow it!"

The Prince's son, the hunters and the guests were mystified
by the poor old man's behavior, for now they could all see
how terrible must have been the life which had led Ferrando
to such a sad state. But
none of them knew what to do about it.

None but the Prince himself that is:
He took from around his neck the beautiful pendant
he had fashioned out of his last golden coin,
and then offered it to his old friend.

"Father!" The Prince's son cried when he saw this:
"That is your most prized possession!"

"It is," answered the Prince: "And this dear old friend
you see before you is the reason I valued it so."

Then he again offered the golden coin to the old hermit,
saying to him: "Here! Will you go with me
and be my guest at the palace in exchange for this coin?"

Ferrando thought it over for a moment or two.
There was fear in his eyes (and he was very reluctant
to go anywhere with so many strangers).

But then his sight fixed upon the golden sparkle of
Guillermo's coin and he grabbed the coin
as if without thinking, saying to the Prince:

"I knew that sooner or later you'd give them all away
for nothing: I will be your guest at this palace of yours
... in exchange for your last coin."

And so the Prince and his companions were finally able
to coax Ferrando to his feet, and to persuade the old man
to go with them...

Ferrando himself was as good as his word, though:
At last able to take his old friend with him to the palace,
the Prince personally saw to it that he was properly cleaned
and clothed, fed and nursed back to health...

Until, one day, when Ferrando finally came to his senses,
he humbly gave the Prince back that seventh golden coin
which Guillermo had treasured for so many years
as a reminder of their friendship
(and which the Prince then wore about his neck from that moment
until the last day of his rule as the best king the land ever knew).

Ferrando eventually offered the Prince his own seven gold coins
as a token of his own friendship and gratitude (a gift which,
as Ferrando himself had done, the Prince also returned
to his friend, as their friendship alone was the only thing
they had ever needed between them):

No better friend ever had a prince or a king than Ferrando
... who himself eventually came to know such joy and happiness
in the company of his friend
that even his prized seven gold coins paled in comparison:

So one day he gave all seven of them away
... to those less fortunate than himself (an action which
brought him the greatest happiness yet),
fulfilling at last Barnabe Goo's promise
that by their coins the two friends would secure for themselves
their greatest happiness in the end.