Didn’t think I’d get anything like a wanted, and once again, I surprised myself! 2 537 words today and a total of 20 835 words!

The others nodded in agreement as Leddy and Steik pushed the wagon slowly into the corridor outside.

“Do we need another?” Stib asked.

Stikky shook his head. “I think one will be fine,” he replied. “Besides, if we do need another one, we can always come back and get it!”

Hurrying out of the room, Stikky moved in between Steik and Leddy to help push, and they soon had the wagon moving at a reasonable pace down the corridor.

“I’m glad these tunnels are wide enough to fit the wagons down!” puffed Leddy as they turned the wagon to fit it around the corner. “It’s almost like these tunnels were made for them!”

Stikky looked at him, and then grinned. “I bet they were,” he answered. “Or else, the wagons were made to fit in the tunnels… either way, they work!”

Puffing and blowing, the three moved the cart down the passage, the others following close behind them.

As they arrived at the T-junction and did a sharp right-turn, Leddy pointed down the passageway to the left with a free hand. “That’s where we’ll all be sleeping tonight!” he explained. “And what’s more, I can’t believe how comfortable the beds are, after however many years of having no one sleep on them!”

Steik nudged him. “So… how are we getting this wagon down and back up again?” he asked, taking a hand off the cart for a moment to steady his glasses. “We’d better not be taking it down and up flights and flights of stairs!”

Stikky grinned. “Nope, its even better than that!”

Steik sighed. “I suppose you’re about to say ‘wait and see’?”

“You took the words right out of my mouth!” Leddy replied, nodding cheerfully. “But don’t worry, we’re almost there anyway!”

Steik and the other stickmen who had not seen the cavern gasped as they entered into it.

Leaving Steik and Leddy to keep pushing the cart, Stikky ran forward and opened the gate at the edge of the bucket, which conveniently was just wide enough for the wagon to fit through.

Looking nervously down at the creaking bucket, Steik hurriedly pushed the cart into position and stepped backwards onto firmer ground.

“This thing doesn’t look very safe…” he said, shuddering. “Are you sure its going to hold?”

Leddy nodded as he stepped backwards off the bucket. “Don’t worry, we tested it. It’s had a lot heavier stuff on it, you can be sure!”

Stikky shrugged, knowing what Steik was getting at. “If you want to stay up here, rather than get lowered all the way down and back up again, that’s fine.” he explained. “We need at least of couple of you to stay up here and wind the winch up and down, so you can do that if you want.”

Turning to the others as Steik nodded eagerly, he quickly selected two more stickmen to stay and help lower the bucket down.

As the Stikky, Leddy, the twins, and two others crowded into the bucket, some climbing onto the cart to make room, Steik shivered as he handed them a lantern.

“I hope you guys stay safe on that thing,” he said nervously, pulling his glasses off and putting them back on for no apparent reason. “I’m just glad I don’t have to go down there…”

At a nod from Stikky, the three stickmen began to turn the winch, lowering the bucket slowly down into the darkness…

 

The trip down to the bottom of the mountain through the darkness was smooth and almost uneventful, apart from the occasional bump as the bucket scraped against the walls of the tunnel.

In the light of the lantern the faces of the six stickmen showed dimly, growing darker and lighter due to the flickering of the lamp.

Thump!

The bucket stopped with a thump as it touched the ground, jolting the stickmen and sending the cart rolling forwards until it came to a stop against the gate.

Edging around the side of the wagon, Stikky opened the gate and stepped aside as Stif & Stib led it through.

The group found themselves in a wide passage, flickering lanterns lighting the stone walls with a warm orange glow.

As the six stickmen pushed the cart along the passageway, a dim light became visible at the end of the tunnel, not like the orange light of the lanterns around them, but brighter…

“Here we go!” Leddy said, grinning.

As the group neared the glare, the light became brighter and brighter until they almost had to look away.

Thick, green vines parted as the cart rolled out into the dazzling sunlight. The stickmen stood still for a moment, blinded by the glare of the sun until their eyes—so used to the darkness of the tunnels after a few hours—became accustomed to the bright light.

Looking around them, the stickmen saw they had emerged at the base of the mountain out of a small cave, its entrance hidden once more by green lush creepers.

Surrounding them once more were fruit trees of all kinds, and they set to work quickly.

While Stif and Stib picked and filled—and ate—buckets of both blueberries and raspberries, Stikky and the other two stickmen proceeded to pick fruit off the trees and pack the cart with them.

A shout came from behind them, and the three turned to see waving at them from the edge of the forest undergrowth, a large grin clear on his face.

Hurrying over to him, Stikky looked around inquisitively. “What is it?” he asked. “I’m assuming you found something, but what?”

Leddy rubbed his hands together. “You won’t believe it,” he explained. “But there’s an entire vegetable garden back here! Its extremely wild and overgrown, and obviously hasn’t been looked after for ages, but it’s something! I wasn’t fancying eating fruit for the rest of my life!”

Parting the bushes behind him, Leddy stepped back and showed Stikky the vegetable garden that lay hidden in the undergrowth.

There were carrots, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, potatoes—they had to dig a few up to make sure what they were—turnips, radishes, and a whole host of other edible plants.

Stepping back out of the undergrowth for a moment, Stikky hailed Stif and Stib and then began to fill his bucket with potatoes and turnips, while Leddy tackled the carrots and radishes.

As the twins came running, both carrying two empty buckets, Stikky quickly told them what to do, hurried back over to the cart, emptied his bucket, and went back for more.

It talk almost half an hour to fill the wagon, but by the time they had, they had felt like they had collected enough fruit and vegetables to last them for several months.

“Of course,” Stikky thought aloud, grinning. “Everyone eats more than they think, especially if the food tastes good!”

With much puffing and blowing, the six stickmen pushed the cart back through the ivy-covered entrance of the tunnel, the wagon now much heavier due to what was inside it.

As the cart was moved into position at the centre of the bucket, Leddy looked up at the top of the tunnel, where a speck of light showed.

“Hoist away!” he bellowed, his voice echoing around them deafeningly, fading until a faint voice replied with, “Okay!”

Quickly shutting the gate as the bucket groaned loudly and began to rise, lurching slightly and scraping against the wall as the stickmen tried their best to keep the cart steady.

After a few minutes of silence, apart from the occasional creaking of wood, the bucket reached the top where they were greeted by the faces of Steik and the two who had accompanied him.

“Wow!” Steik gasped, after he had had a chance to see what it was that filled the cart and had made it so much harder to turn the winch. “You got all this? And where’d you find these vegetables?”

As the others helped to push the cart off the bucket and slowly down the tunnel, Stikky managed to have a word with Steik.

“There’s an enormous garden near the edge of the undergrowth,” he explained. “We obviously didn’t notice it the first time; it was that well hidden!”

Steik nodded, and they set off down the tunnel after the cart.

After following the twists and turns of the passages, they finally emerged out into the castle grounds to find the rest of the stickmen hard at work, repairing the damage done to the wall.

As soon as the loaded wagon came into view, most of the group stopped what they were doing and came crowding around.

Stikky spotted McRhoddy, who was trying to get everyone’s attention. “C’mon, laddies,” he was saying. “Let’s not just guzzle up all the supplies; how about we cook something nice up?”

Everyone stared at him, and he got the attention he wanted. “You can cook?” someone asked after a moment of silence.

McRhoddy shrugged modestly. “Well, I wasn’t exactly meaning me do the cooking, but yes, lads, I can cook! Just wait till you taste what I whip up!”

He spotted Stikky and Leddy amidst the crowd. “I say, you lads, can you wheel all that food into the kitchens and I’ll see what I can do with a few able-bodied helpers! Yes, don’t look so surprised, I know you found them—they look pretty good, I’d say, in fine shape too. C’mon now, let’s get moving!”

Together the stickmen pushed the cart of fruit and vegetables down the second tunnel to the kitchens, where McRhoddy proceeded to whip up (with the help of a few ‘able-bodied’ stickmen) a host of incredible dishes ranging from pies and pasties to roasted toffee apples and popcorn.

Finding himself kneading a large batch of dough, Stikky looked around as McRhoddy flew around the kitchen like a whirlwind, calling out orders in all directions.

“Take that water off the fire, it’s boiling, can’t ya see that?”

“Are those apples roasted yet? They are? Pfff… they’re not cooked, anybody could see that! Put them back on the stove immediately!”

“You two, over there! Whatever yer names are, stop sampling those nuts, we need ‘em!”

Suddenly he was beside Stikky, talking to him. “How’s it going boy-o?” he asked, handing him a rolling pin. “Here, use this; roll it out flat now!”

Half-bewildered, Stikky, following McRhoddy’s instructions as best he could, began rolling the dough into a thin circle.

“That’ll do!” McRhoddy exclaimed, lifting the circle of pastry, placing it in a red clay dish, heaping a mixture of candied nuts and fruit into it, and folding up the edges around it. Grabbing a little of the spare dough from the pile Stikky had put it in, he rolled it out until it was roughly the same thickness as the rest of the pastry, laid it on top, tucked the edges into the dish, and popped it into the oven.

“Um… is the oven supposed to be on?” Stikky asked, scratching his head as McRhoddy hurried off to another area of the kitchen to order around someone else.

The old stickman ran back over to him, his face beginning to go red from the heat. “What’s that?” he asked, snagging a piece of roasted peach out of a bowl Stif was carrying and chewing it thoughtfully. “Mhm, that’s good, put that lot on the bench over there. Sorry, Stikky, what is it?”

“Are these ovens supposed to be lit?” Stikky asked, repeating his question again. “Because they’re not…”

McRhoddy smacked his forehead with a hand. “O’ course!” he exclaimed. “I knew there was something I forgot—hopefully that’s tha only thing—but anyway, there’s coal or somethin’ like it in the box over there; matches are on that shelf, you can light ‘em, I’m sure!”

Without waiting for Stikky to respond, the old stickman spun around and made his way to another part of the kitchen, where he began mashing some potatoes with vigour.

Grabbing a few chunks of coal from the wooden box at the edge of the room, Stikky picked a match off the shelf, threw the coals into the bottom section of the oven atop a pile of wood, struck the match on the rough cloth of his pants and had a fire going in a matter of seconds.

As smoke billowed out into the room, he hurriedly shut the door of the oven, allowing it to flow out of the back of the stove and up the chimney.

Turning, he looked around just in time to get out of the way of Steik, who was holding three trays of muffins—one in each hand and another perilously balanced atop his head—trying to make his way from one of the ovens to another benchtop across the other side of the room.

McRhoddy rushed past Stikky, almost knocking him over as he took one of the trays and helped to place the muffins on a cooling rack.

“And I think we’re almost done!” the old stickman exclaimed, letting out a huge sigh. “Just a few more minutes, and everything’ll be finished cooking, and we can dig into this delicious feast!”

Stikky shook his head in admiration. “I can tell you,” he replied. “I would never have guessed you were a chef, unless you had told me!”

McRhoddy grinned. “Neither would I!” he added. “In fact, I think all of you having the making of chefs, ya’ll just need some practice, and a bit of proper teaching!”

“So…” Stif and Stib began in unison, folding his arms across his chest. “What do we do now?”

McRhoddy relaxed back into a chair. “What do we do?” he asked, as if the answer was obvious. “Why, m’lads, we wait!”

And wait they did. In a little under half an hour the last of the pies, breads, muffins, and pastries were done.

As the stickmen filed down the passageway—each  carrying a tray, and some holding more than one—they followed the tunnels until they came to a large, brightly lit room with an enormous table at the centre where the rest of the stickmen were waiting.

“I’m glad we found this hall!” Leddy commented aloud, trying to resist the urge to sample a candied nut out of the clay bowl he carried. “It’s way better than eating outside, or anything like that.”

As each stickmen placed their dish on the table and sat down around the enormous stone bench, Stikky looked to McRhoddy, who rose and nodded to everyone.

“Well, whaddya think?” he asked, looking at the delighted expressions showing around the table. “Don’t ya think this is better than just wolfing down raw fruit and vegetables? Anyway, don’t be too greedy, I know ya’ll hungry, but try and be nice!”

Tucking in with vigour, Stikky and Leddy grinned at each other as they both took a slice of pie.

None of them had tasted food like since leaving Stickland; just the taste itself brought back hundreds of memories, both sad and happy.

“Well, m’lad?” asked a voice from behind him, and Stikky turned to see McRhoddy making his way over to him, holding a half-eaten muffin in his hand. “What do you say?”

What could he say? What else was there to say? It was delicious!