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The Seven Stones

The Horpyroot Elementary School of Smurfs

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“Welcome! Welcome to Horpyroot Elementary School! I hope you all have found your classes with ease today. My name is Ms. Wormwas,” the teacher announced. She surveyed her new students over the rim of her glasses as they shuffled to their chairs. A plump smurf with a brown beard opened the door, humming a tune and leading a first grader to a chair. He wore a pointy hat of hay, tattering about the rim, a white t-shirt, and brown overalls. He waddled around, noticed the raised brow of Mrs. Wormwas, and stifled his tune.

“Pardon me, me lady,” he said and slipped his hands into his pockets.

“And this is Garvey Grubbottom, the school hole-keeper and my assistant,” she ruefully added. At that introduction, Garvey grinned with pride, revealing a missing front tooth. He pulled his trousers up slightly, folded his hands across his belly, and greeted the students with a nod. A few students giggled in their seats.

She then turned around and began printing her name on the shellboard in widely spaced letters— M S . W O R M W A Ƨ. “In addition to learning your letters, every good smurf must learn how to shapeshift as well,” she declared. “But do not lightly consider the converse as true,” she cautioned with a twirl back toward the class. “Some shapeshifters are quite naughty! Learning goodness, which suffers from the compresence of opposites, is quite beyond the scope of this course and will require a life-age of diligent study. Nonetheless, dear smurflings, fate welcomes you to Shapeshifting 101!” Light glimmered in her eyes.

Ms. Wormwas wore a sleeveless pastel-blue dress, pleated and cinched at the waist. White lace webbed her slender arms. Extending from the collar, the skin of her neck revealed a silver chain. It was simple, composed of tiny circlets wrapped taut around the neck. Yet, it emphasized the innate beauty of the surrounding skin, which matched the color of her dress, yet paler and oddly translucent. Rising from the neck, like a capital from a column, her face drew the attention of the class. It glowed with a soft blue light. Her pink hair, pulsing like moonlight across ocean waves, swathed her breast and torso. Iridescent eyes peered from her sockets and captivated all.

Outside in the hallway, the sound of a squeaking door drifted into the classroom. Then it shut. The Horpyroot Elementary School of Smurfs entered into another round of lectures. This room was a particularly small burrow, with round earthen walls, a marble floor, and a domed ceiling. Eight chairs, filled with smurfs, sat along the perimeter of the back wall. In the middle of the room, a round desk sat. Stains and scuffs marked its wooden surfaces. A fresh breeze swirled in the room from an overhead shaft. Upon its four rickety legs, the desk responded with a creaking dirge of former glory. Three books, a sheet of paper, and a pencil burdened the tabletop. A box sat beside the desk, wrapped in a sheet of dandelions.

It was a humble room with few furnishings and students, indicative of the triviality of shapeshifting in the eyes of the principle, Mr. Clayclopper. His sentiment was felt by most in the Hamlet of Horpyroot, who considered its instruction archaic and unnecessary in this age of tranquility. But somehow, under the pensive gaze of Ms. Wormwas, the students felt that their lives were about to change forever.

Smiling at the attentiveness of her students, Ms. Wormwas proceeded to call the roll. She wrested the paper from the desk, scanned the log, and asked, “Iris?”

“Here I am,” answered a shy voice. A petite smurf, half as tall as the teacher, stood up in the back of the room.

Kneeling down to eye-level, Ms. Wormwas beckoned the child, “Come here, dear Iris.” The teacher’s eyes softened and glowed like a warm fire.

Iris relaxed and walked forward. She grabbed the teacher’s outstretched hands, leaked a smile, and said, “Hi.” Iris wore a white dress with the letters ‘IC’ embroidered in red upon the chest. Dainty white gloves and slippers covered her hands and feet. Her blonde hair wrapped into a small bun with a ribbon. A white flower snuggled above her left ear.

After a long searching gaze, Ms. Wormwas responded, “My dear Iris! Iris Claypetal! You have your mother’s eyes, little one. Do welcome Irene for me. So long ago was she my pupil, sitting in your very chair and wearing this very dress. It was made by your grandmother you know. With tender care she needled this intricate embroidery over your heart long years passed.” Ms. Wormwas touched and traced the letters with her finger, then continued, “You have your mother’s heart as well. How proud they must have been to see you off today!” Iris beamed from ear to ear and walked back to her chair as if in a dream. That smile did not rest until her body fell asleep late that night.

“Morvil?” asked Mrs. Wormwas.

“Yup that’s me.” Up shot a gent of a smurf with slick black hair. He swiveled a drooping brooch, bearing the letters ‘MG’ upon his vest. He stood tall and confident. He wore a grey suit, vertically striped with golden threads. A pencil and small pad of notes protruded from his left vest pocket. With pride he unruffled a letter and handed it to the teacher, saying as if rehearsed, “My parents send you their warm greetings with a note of letters.”

Ms. Wormwas kindly accepted the note and read it slowly to the class:

“To Whom It May Concern, please excuse my precious son from tardiness and/or any acts of mischief he may commit in your company. Sincerely, Mrs. Gimlet.”

A few students giggled. Morvil blushed. Bemused, he said, “That that was the wrong one, I think.” He wrenched the wad of papers from his pocket and heaped them on the desk. He looked up into the eyes of the teacher for comfort.

Ms. Wormwas searched the pile. “Ah, here it is. It’s from your father,” she continued after a brief pause of reminiscence:

“Dear Ms. Wormwas, Beacon of Fair Light, Smurf of all Smurfs, please pardon my shortages in virtue as a child in your classroom. Age has indeed taught me the wisdoms and graces of your instructions. Please, especially you, Lady Wormwas, pardon my son for any transient vices he may suffer from his father’s inheritance. Most Affectionately, Sir Walter Gimlet.”

Garvey muffled a chuckle. But the words were of such eloquence to the smurflings that Morvil grinned proudly, certainly redeemed before the presence of all. More importantly, Ms. Wormwas smiled gaily. Morvil stuffed the notes into his pocket and pranced back to his seat.

And thus, one by one, Ms. Wormwas called the roll and acquainted herself with her new pupils. She finally arrived at the last name on the roll, scrawled hastily. “Garden?” she asked.

“Nay, but you may call me what you will. It’s not the person that chooses the name. It’s the name that chooses the person. But presently, most call me Gordan Thorninger, maam,” declared a disheveled smurfling. He rose to his bare feet. Mud, grass, and bark caked under his toe nails. Stout calves rose from his ankles and disappeared near the knees under ragged pants. His clothes were coarse and brown. His shirt, like his pants, arrived before their destination, revealing his belly button and tanned abdomen. A piece of yellow paper was stapled to his collar, bearing the letters ‘GHT.’

“And what is your middle name, dear?” asked Ms. Wormwas, curiously. For smurfs rarely possessed middle names.

At this question, the smurfling winced as if tasting the bitter drops of toe-root juice. “I know not,” he strained from his lips.

Morvil cackled, no longer restraining his amusement, “A letter with no name is like,” he searched for an answer, “Why that’s like a book with blank pages!” He roared with laughter, “You expect something but find nothing. Wait till my father hears this. I bet Horpyroot never heard of such…”

“Leave the poor fella alone, ya brat!” Garvey growled. No longer a harmless old smurf, Garvey flexed his burly arms and clenched his fist.

Morvil slunk into his chair and snickered under his breath, “H for hobo.”

“Come here, dear Gordan,” Ms. Wormwas said, knowing that any further questions were futile in this setting. ‘The first question alone was like prying a tooth from a sprite,’ she thought. She took his hands. His fingers were stubby with youth but calloused with toil. Likewise, his face was supple; but his jaw, stern. She looked into his brown eyes. They were tearful, swirling with sadness and anger and uncertainty. But behold! They were also brimming with raw power, like a well from some lost civilization—untapped since the beginning of time. Startled, she wiped a teardrop from his face as it overflowed. ‘Such energy I have not witnessed in…in a thousand years,’ she shuddered to herself.

And then, after hesitating, she applied the full weight of her secret art before the astonishment of all. She slowly blinked her eyes. As she opened them, they shone like a ray of sunlight. Massive arteries throbbed beneath the skin of her neck. In rhythm, her hair unraveled and stood on end, surging with static discharges and undulating the room with prismatic reflections of her awful beauty. She slithered into the sanctuary of his soul like a needle into soft flesh. Gordan did not resist.

But all others in that room held their hands before their faces to preserve their sight. Their backs taut with dread, their hearts skipped beats. Soon, they gritted their teeth, straining their very necks to preserve their mind. Death seemed imminent. Suddenly, the light halted like a candle snuffed in the wind.

Slowly their eyesight returned, briefly blinded. Just as before, they saw Ms. Wormwas standing in front of Gordan—calm and relaxed. And thus, they returned from the throes of their consciousness like a toddler waking from a nightmare. The memory of that event slowly faded into a dim speck of paint upon the canvas of their minds. All sat in their chairs comfortably and oblivious, as if soothed by a lullaby.

Then Ms. Wormwas announced with an unusual accent, “Much I discern. But much remains hidden in riddles. Your wisdom is beyond your years; your fair speech, beyond your rearing; your past, unknown. Even your full name, you know not. But be not troubled, little one. Indeed, your name has chosen you, as your wise lips uttered. And your name shall be unveiled to your searching soul before the end. For you are more than meets the eye, Gordan H. Thorninger,” she paused for effect, then continued, “Though he knew not and designed his words to sting, Morvil was correct. The book exists. The pages are bound. And the spine is leathered richly. The makings of a grand book, you are. But the pages have yet to be written!”

“The feeling is mutual,” Gordan said softly, bowing. From that moment onward, they understood one another.

‘But only a bit better,’ Ms. Wormwas thought to herself. Her arms quivered. ‘That would have slew a legion of men, but he bore it lighter than a feather; and the other smurflings, naught but a nightmare. Smurfs are amazing creatures. Their roots are deep; the tree of life that bears their souls, strong,’ she thought.

“Me lady,” Garvey spoke. “Me lady, pardon to interrupt ya in thinkin, but I bess be getting on.” He tapped his pocket watch. It was gilded and possessed a few knobs for winding and setting the time. A picture of the school’s bell lay in relief on the case, surrounded by the letterings of the school’s name. It was old and wrought in proud times long passed. Garvey was the bell-ringer. And he bore this duty with great pride.

“Already?” asked Ms. Wormwas. “How long was I in thought?”

“Fer a long while. I reckon ten minutes. We just watched ya, quite a sight ya are. But yer greetin and things took up most of the hour.”

She was anxious to begin the lecture. But now time had run out. “Very well,” she said. “We will perform the first lecture tomorrow.” With those words, Garvey bolted out the door.

‘In truth,’ Garvey thought to himself, ‘it be a minute passed the bell-ring. The fair lady be difficult to rouse from deep thinkin. I’d hate to rouse her from deep sleep. I bet she would hew a bear with those eyes. I hope Mr. Clappertrapper, er Clapclobber, er whatever his name be don’t notice. But seein as I have the only watch in the town besides ole Gimlet, I reckon I’ll just slow down and act calm.’

“Dear students, it has been a wonderful pleasure to meet you all! Please arrive on time tomorrow. I have a grand experience awaiting you,” Ms. Wormwas said. And with that, the bell rang in the classroom. It was loud and fell from the shaft above, reverberating the room.

All the smurfs found it difficult to breathe when the bell tolled. Its low note resonated their chest, whiffing the very air of their lungs. No one ignored it. The students of Ms. Wormwas shot to their feet, exiting the room to escape. Ms. Wormwas grabbed Gordan’s hand and pulled him aside, saying “Especially you Gordan. Do come tomorrow again.”

“I’ll try,” replied Gordan with doubtful eyes and he slipped through the door.

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Chapter 2