The curtain of night had fallen, but the end of Tob’s Tale was nowhere in sight.
“Forgive me,” Benda said yawning. “I’d like to continue listening, but I need to stretch out. It has been… a long voyage for me to get here, as I suspect it has been for you.” Benda lay down on his back, and folded his hands behind his head for a pillow.
Tob did not seem disturbed in the slightest, and merely continued his tale, silhouetted now against the emerging stars.
“As I was saying,” he continued, “There I found myself in a sack on the wall of the hero Lam’s dwelling, awaiting morning. Neither the first nor the last of my kind to find themselves in a sack such as this. I dared not move or breathe, so as not to be found out, and waited with all the patience I could muster to find some glimmer at a chance at freedom.”
“At the very first light of dawn, before even the cock had woken in the village to welcome the sun’s rays, Lam was up and about, preparing for a journey. Neither Bola, his young son, nor Useld his faithful wife had stirred. However, the second he picked up the sack containing myself from its peg by the door, slinging it over his shoulder, and crossing the threshold, his dog Wawiro heard him from without, and leapt into action after his master.
“Lam strode out of the village, Wawiro following close behind, whimpering softly at having been woken so early on this mission. ‘We must go find my brother, Dal’ Lam said to the dog. ‘He is down in the valley, tending the flock.’
“At the sound of Dal’s name, Wawiro’s tail wagged happily. Together they had had made the journey to meet and relieve Dal’s watch over the flock often enough before, and Wawiro even knew the way. He ran out ahead of Lam toward the forest, and looked back expectantly. ‘That’s right, boy,’ Lam said. ‘Let’s go.’
“As they skirted the edge of the wood, the ground became increasingly rocky, with boulders jutting out from below and strewn here and there along the surface of what turned into a ledge, and as they moved, dropped down to a cliff. As dawn broke, however, the sky did not fully lighten, for a thick blanket of fog was rolling in. It was not, Lam observed, an ideal time to descend down to the lower pastures in the valley, but he was not yet alarmed enough to turn back to the village.
“They kept on, until Wawiro struck the trailhead by which they would ordinarily descend. By now, the fog coverage was near total, and though the sky was somewhat lightened, the way was fully obscured. It had been many days since Dal set out with the flock though, and Lam knew his provisions must be running quite low, and he would be in need of relief. Plus they knew this valley well enough, so there was no need to worry, even under such low visibility conditions. He pushed aside his trepidation at descending under such treacherous conditions, and they did so anyway.
“Something happened on that trail though, and both man and dog became disoriented in their descent. What should have appeared as familiar rock outcroppings seemed cold and wrong, and their footing increasingly perilous. Wawiro was becoming agitated, and whined impatiently to his master. ‘Shhh, boy. We’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘Perhaps a little father up the valley than we will have intended, but no bother.’ They pushed onward and down, fog closing in thick around them. Lam assumed it would break and daylight burst in with its fullness at any moment, but it did not.
“Finally, the perilous trail down the cliff face opened out into a rocky slope, and they followed it down to the edge of a field. From this field arose an unholy stench, as of dead things in a state of putrefaction. Lam peered out across it, and as the fog swirled and lifted slightly, we saw a thin trail winding off through the field amidst great broad leaves close to the ground, and spiny vines he did not recognize. Wawiro eyed it nervously, and turned himself fully about, pointing back up the slope and rocky trail from whence they had come, wagging his tail with bright eyes.
“‘There’s no sense now in turning back,’ Lam reassured him. We’ll press on, come.’ As ordered, Wawiro lowered his head and tail and followed Lam meekly as he set foot on the winding trail through the patch of strange vines. As they walked, hearing the crunch-crunch of their footfalls echoing up in the rocks behind them, the ears of both man and dog pricked up. Each thought they’d heard something moving amidst the mist, somewhere in the field. It was a sound between a groaning and a slithering, and hearing it made Wawiro press all the closer to Lam, who pushed on bravely along the thing trail through the fog.
“When they were out in what must have been the middle of the field, the sound had become unbearably loud, and omnipresent on all sides of them. Wawiro barked once nervously, in no particular direction. Lam, his own nerves mounting, did not bother to shush him, but seeing no other course of action pushed onward. Just then, a creeping vine slithered out across the path, just outside the sight of Lam, and caught his foot. He tripped, and tumbled headlong into the vine-laden patch to one side of the thin trail. Though he managed to soften the fall by landing raw on the palms of his hands, he heard a loud groaning slither, and to his horror, other tendrils of vine crept out with rapidity and encircled his two wrists. ‘Go find Dal!’ he screamed to his dog, who commenced immediately barking his head off at the strange slithering vines pulling his master to some unknown doom. ‘Go!’ Lam shouted again, and the dog ran off terrified into the mist ahead.
“The strange slithering vines had now fully encircled his wrists, and both feet, and Lam was pinned to the ground, kneeling on all fours. As he struggled, and tried to free himself, the sack slung over his shoulder had gotten shifted around to the front, and in the tumult, I had managed to squeeze myself loose. Sensing freedom near at hand, I made to run on my own thin root-legs, but observing Lam struggling there with my many tiny eyes, my sympathy was moved for this poor unfortunate human who, I did not yet understand, had killed my own brother-father.
“Instead, I stood my ground, and moved over to where his wrist was pinned to the ground by a slithering, snaking vine, and with my rootlets, I tried my hardest to pull it off him. It would not budge. The man, seeing this pathetic struggle, could not help but laugh at me. ‘Little tuber!’ he cried. ‘Are you the only help the gods see fit to send me, in this dark hour?”
“‘Aye,’ I said, speaking aloud to him for the first time. ‘It is I, Tob Gobble, at your service!’ He laughed heartily, and the sound of it resounded among the rocky cliffs. ‘Very well then, Mr. Gobble. I accept. Reach up now, if you will, to my belt, where I keep a good copper blade. And hack at these vegetal ropes which bind me. Or I fear it may be my end…”