After a short rest, the boy king got up and wandered again.
He had decided he would spend the night in the forest, and work his way back to the village during the day, so that even if he could not find Pirt, at the very least none could say hadn’t looked long enough.
The immediate problem was finding someplace safe to sleep. He would keep his eyes and ears out for the lost boy of course, but there was no trail to follow and calling out would just attract the attention of beasts and monsters.
The ground underfoot was dirt and crunchy leaves and twigs. He tried to be careful and to go from dirt patch to dirt patch, but it was not always possible and every crunch he made worried him. After some time, but not a long time, he found a very large tree with very wide branches that looked like a good place to sleep in some measure of safety.
He started to climb up, but soon realized that the antlers were so big that he wouldn’t be able to go very high without getting stuck. The most comfortable place he could get to was only about his height off the ground, and he squeezed in as close to the trunk as he could.
He tossed and turned and wiggled, and eventually his tired body sank into the arms of the tree and he fell asleep. He did not dream and to him it seemed as if he had just barely dozed off when the sound of crunching footsteps woke him.
The body of the thing was hard to make out, but the eyes shone as if they had light behind them. They were large white circles with a dark slit down the middle, and the boy king felt pleasantly relaxed while looking at them. Then he felt something on his cheek, and a girl appeared in front of him, and it was she who was touching him.
“How did you?” he began, but was interrupted with the sound of things crashing against the branches.
“Down here,” she said, and she pulled him by the arm into a little crevice in the wood.
Above them, several large black cats hissed and pawed at the branches, no doubt looking for him, but for some reason they could not see them, and the cats left as suddenly as they had come.
“They’re gone, let’s go inside,” said the girl as she looked him over very carefully.
“Go inside where?”
“The tree. Follow me.”
She then jumped into the air and flew up and up and the boy king, who knew that he could not fly, did not even try, but only sat and watched in awe and confusion. The girl flew back down.
“Do you know how to swim?” she asked.
“It’s just like that. You pull against the air and you move through it.”
“My people can’t fly.”
“Why? What kind of people are you? You don’t like anyone I’ve ever met.”
“I’m the deer king.”
“King? You’re too young to be a king. Unless you have magic that makes you look young.”
“My magic makes me strong. My antlers are like knives and if you touch them you will die.”
The girl looked up at the antlers briefly, then jumped into the air again.
“I made you small, so you can fly now too. Follow me inside and I’ll give you food and a nice warm place to sleep.”
“You what?” he said and looked around.
The tree did look different. He looked down. Yes, he had lots of room to lay down now.
“Why did you do that? I want to be big.”
“So the falanxes wouldn’t eat you. Did you think you could kill seven of them with your horns?”
“Yes, I could.”
She smiled at him and shook her head.
“Silly deer boy, you would get all tangled up before you could do anything. You don’t know anything about the forest do you?”
She then flew up and away from him, then stopped and looked back at him.
“Try to catch me deer boy.”
“No,” he said.
“Do you want to die?” she asked.
He then jumped into the air and waved his arms around, and to his surprise he did fly, but because his arm movements were wild he spun around and went the wrong way. The girl laughed and flew up, and he was angry and embarrassed and he flew after her furiously and almost caught up to her, but not quite, and they went all the way to the top of the tree and down into it through a little door.
Once inside the door they were in a long hallway. It was mostly empty, but there were some people bouncing and floating toward them.
“Fourth door on the right,” said the girl, and at the fourth door on the right, and before the people came, they stopped and went inside and the girl shut the door.
“Welcome to your home for the night, do you like it?”
The girl floated around and smiled at him.
“Yes, it’s nice.”
It was a very cozy room, full of soft and colorful things. They were not the normal things, however, like chairs and table and sofas. No, instead they were the things that normal sized people might find in their pockets.
There was a cream colored button with four holes situated at the center of the room, a gold coin leaning against a wall, a clear marble with orange stripes, a slab of brown leather laid out like a rug, and several pieces of thread that were not organized at all and were lying on top of everything. The thread was red and blue and white and yellow and pink and purple and green, and to the little people was as thick as a rope.
“What’s your favorite color?” asked the girl.
“Me too,” she said with a wide grin.
Wip wasn’t sure what to do next, so he just stood there and kept looking.
“Come look at my bedroom.”
The girl floated through a door-less entry and he followed. On the floor was a big soft red thing. On top of the red thing were clothes. The girl flew up and threw the clothes on the floor.
“Do you know what this is?” she asked.
“Fly up here and look down.”
She flew up to the ceiling and he followed.
“It’s a mitten,” he said.
“Yep, a baby’s mitten, but it’s a bed now. Look, you just climb right in and you’re snug and sleepy in no time.”
She flew down to demonstrate and he wanted to get in too but did not say so and she flew back out.
“Let’s sit on top and get to know each other,” she said eagerly, and she jumped down and landed with a soft poof.
Wip wasn’t sure about her, and he hesitated a moment before gliding down and easing in next to her.
“You don’t have to be so gentle. Have some fun,” she said.
Wip pointed to his antlers.
“Oh, you think you’ll rip me up like you were going to rip up those falanxes,” she teased.
“What is a Falanx?” he asked.
“Didn’t you see it? It’s a big black cat, only there’s never just one. They have magic that tricks your eyes. Nobody knows exactly how they do it, but we know a spell that lets us see what they really look like.”
“What do they really look like?”
“Like a pack of black cats all squeezed in next to each other and moving exactly the same way at the same time.”
“How did you make us small?”
“How did you grow big horns on your head?”
“I have magic in my blood.”
“So do I. All of us do. We can change our size just by thinking about it. We can’t get bigger than normal, only smaller, but that’s better because big people need more room and they can’t fly.”
“What’s your name?” asked Wip.
“Lya. Princess of the dust.”
“That’s what we are, the dust people. Haven’t you heard of us?”
“No, are there a lot of you?”
“Do you all live here in the forest?”
“Yes, no, well mostly. Sometimes we go on adventures to find things, but we always come back.”
“Do you ever make yourself normal sized?”
“Yes, but only when we need to.”
“How did you make me small?”
“I touched you. Don’t you remember?”
“Can you make other things small, like a mountain?”
“No, just people.”
“Do you want something to eat before you go to sleep?”
“Maybe, what do you eat?”
Wip made a face and Lya laughed.
“I was just teasing. We eat normal things like fruit and berries and bread and cheese.”
“I like all of those,” said Wip.
“Then you’ll love it here. One strawberry can feed a hundred of us. Come, I’ll take you to the kitchen.”
Lya flew up and out and Wip climbed off the mitten and walked back into the other room.
“You should really fly when you have the chance. You never know when I’ll make you big again.”
“If you do that I’ll destroy your tree.”
“No, you’ll die.”
“Fine I’ll keep you small forever. I’ll make you so small that you’ll be my little pet and I’ll keep you in a cage.”
“You have to touch me to do that, and if you try to touch me, I’ll thrash you.”
“I’ll do it when you sleep,” she said with a smug smile.
“The deer king sleeps with one eye open.”