The League of Homunculi Book 3: The Isle of Glass
The Legend: In the days of good King Arthur, the magician Merlin summoned to Britain a collection of the smallest individuals known to man. These he offered to the king as spies, a secret network of miniature heroes undertaking missions against the Round Table’s enemies. Merlin called this strange menagerie…the League of Homunculi.
Tom Thumb: Arthur’s court dwarf, an honorary Knight of the Round Table.
Thumbelina: The smallest woman in the world and Princess of the Flower-Faeries.
Issun-boshi: An inch-tall samurai from the distant East.
Thumbling: A tiny tailor seeking his fortune in a very big world.
It was a dark time for Camelot. Arthur’s patron Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, lay dead at the hands of the treacherous knight, Sir Balin. Taking her place was the Avalon priestess, Nimue, a beautiful maiden that the League’s mentor Merlin was utterly besotted with. The League was not certain whether to trust this new advisor, believing her to have ulterior motives.
But there were more pressing concerns facing our heroes. Arthur’s shining, civilized kingdom was beginning to show signs of unrest. As the Round Table’s enemies multiplied, the League sought to strengthen its numbers with a recruitment drive.
The League’s founding members (Tom, Thumbelina, Issun, and Thumbling) were assembled on a tabletop in Merlin’s chambers in the highest tower of the castle. They were an odd assortment – a plainclothes knight in doublet and hose, a beautiful red-haired lass in a shimmering faerie gown, a stoic samurai warrior, and a Germanic peasant with a mischievous glint in his eye. The tiny team sat upon thimbles, poring over the resumes of potential recruits.
Looming above them at the table was the towering presence of Lady Nimue. Clad in a simple green gown, her short black hair framing her disarmingly lovely face, the High Priestess of Avalon was grinning from ear to ear. This was the first bit of League business she had been invited to participate in and she was eager to begin.
“The summoning spell is complete, my love,” Merlin said, leaning on his crooked staff and kissing Nimue’s hand. “All potential candidates are now assembled. I regret that I shall be unable to assist you with the interview process. The king has need of my counsel.”
“Worry not, darling,” Nimue told him. “I am certain the wee ones and I can handle it.” She reached out a long, slender finger and tickled Thumbling’s side, nearly toppling him from his thimble.
“I’m sure you can,” agreed Merlin. “Do remember to watch your step though.”
Nimue smiled at the wizard’s advice, for indeed, the floor of the room was covered by over a dozen tiny figures. Most were no bigger than three inches high. They had been summoned by Merlin’s magic from every corner of the globe, from the exotic Orient to darkest Africa, from the cold marches of Russia to the Saracen desert lands. When they first began appearing, the League was astounded. They had only recently learned of each others’ existence and to see so many more beings their size was quite startling. Though each thumbling had felt freakish in their homelands, they now realized they were not alone.
Merlin turned towards the door. Before disappearing down the long staircase, the old enchanter looked back and called to his lover again.
“Oh, and one more thing…don’t let Archimedes out of his cage.”
Archimedes, Merlin’s educated owl, puffed out his feathers indignantly. “Hoo! Caged! Hooo! Imprisoned! I’ve never been treated so shabbily!” he lamented. “I had the run of this place before these pipsqueaks arrived.” He turned his back on the little people in a huff and curled up to go to sleep.
“Let the first applicant come forward,” Tom Thumb called to the crowd below. A tiny man began to clamber up the makeshift ladder that Merlin had attached to the table leg. He stood stoically before them, a broad-shouldered manikin the size of Nimue’s thumb. He was dark of hair and heavily muscled, his simple tunic’s sleeves rolled up past his elbows. He appeared to be a miniature approximation of a simple peasant farmer.
“Good afternoon. Your name, sir?” Thumbelina asked the man.
“I am Lipuniushka,” he answered in a thick Russian accent.
The League shuffled through their papers and reviewed his information. “It says here that you were born to a childless couple out of a fluff of enchanted cotton,” Tom mentioned.
“Da,” said Lipuniushka.
“And that you outwitted a wealthy baron to whom you were sold as an oddity, allowing your parents to claim his gold,” Tom continued.
“Da,” said Lipuniushka.
“Is that right?” Thumbling asked, perking up. “My pops and I pulled a similar trick once. Pretty sly, Lippy.”
“Da,” said Lipuniushka again.
Thumbling frowned. “Don’t talk much, do you?”
“Nyet,” Lipuniushka answered.
“Oookay,” said Thumbling. He turned to his comrades and made a slashing motion across his throat, signaling to cut the interview short. “This guy’s a wet noodle,” he whispered. “I vote no.”
“I like him,” said Issun-boshi.
“You would, Mr. Silent-But-Deadly,” Thumbling teased the little samurai. “The two of you could have all sorts of fascinating staring contests.”
“He’s crafty and he looks pretty strong for his size,” Thumbelina offered. “Could be an asset.”
“What are you mites whispering about down there?” Nimue asked, leaning down until her giant face was inches above the tiny group. The League felt the heat of the priestess’ breath on the backs of their necks and sensed the ground quiver when her ample breasts touched down on the tabletop.
“Nothing, m’lady,” insisted Tom nervously. “Lipuniushka, if you will indulge us, please take up that javelin near you and throw it as far as you can.”
The “javelin” in question was in fact one of Merlin’s quill pens. Unfazed, the tiny farmer hoisted the quill (which was several times as tall as he was) with one hand and with a grunt, flung it off the side of the table. The feathery projectile shot across the length of the room at incredible speed and buried itself in the far wall, many feet from its point of origin. For a full-sized athlete, the equivalent distance would have been remarkable, the length of a jousting green at least.
The League and the enchantress blinked in surprise. “Definitely strong,” Thumbelina whispered to her teammates.
“Thank you. We’ll keep you in consideration, Lipuniushka,” Tom said simply.
“Spasibo,” the little farmer answered with a nod of his head and descended down the ladder.
“Next, please,” Tom called.
A handsome cavalier dressed in a fine silk coat, a feathered hat, brown breeches, a cloak, and a pair of fancy boots was the next to climb the ladder. He strolled confidently up to the group, stealing a glance at Nimue overhead and blowing her a kiss.
“Bonjour, mes amis,” the little man said with a bow and a flourish. “My name is Le Petit Poucet, roughly translated to Hop o’ My Thumb in your tongue.”
“Tell us about yourself, Hop,” Thumbelina requested.
“But of course,” he said. “I am ze youngest of seven brothers and, as you may guess, ze smallest. Yet, we all know it is not ze size which is counted, it is how you use it.” He winked mischievously to Nimue, who suppressed a giggle.
“My primary claim to fame, among others,” Hop continued, “was ze outsmarting of a wicked ogre. I stole from zis brute ze magical seven-league boots which I now wear. Very stylish, no?”
“And what are seven-league boots, Hop?” Tom inquired.
“I am glad you have asked, monsieur,” said Hop. “Allow me to demonstrate their wonders. Ze seven-league boots can carry a person to any destination with only a few steps. For example, if I wished to visit that window ledge…”
Hop took a step to his right and, instantly, he vanished, only to reappear on the windowsill on the other side of the room.
“Holy cats!” Thumbling cried. “Did you guys see that?!”
“Or if I desired to travel to a far distant meadow…” Hop stepped towards the outdoors and disappeared once more. A moment later, he rematerialized on the table bearing a rose blossom larger than he was. He offered this to Nimue, who reached down to take it from the tiny man.
“Or if I sought to know a beautiful mademoiselle a bit better…” With another step, Hop vanished and was transported to Nimue’s shoulder. “Enchantée,” he whispered, leaning forward to kiss the vast wall of her cheek.
“Thank you,” Thumbelina blurted in annoyance. “I think we get the idea.”
Hop skillfully slid down the smooth skin of Nimue’s arm and over the fingers of her hand, landing back on the tabletop. “Jealous, ma petit belle?” he asked Thumbelina.
“Hardly,” she told him, showing her wedding ring. “I’m married.”
“Zat has never stopped me before,” Hop said with a grin.
“Thank you, Mr. My Thumb, I think that will be all,” said Thumbelina.
Hop bowed courteously and disappeared one final time.
“That is amazing!” Thumbling said excitedly, throwing up his hands in astonishment. “He just—but he was—how did he DO that?!”
“It is a useful gift indeed,” Issun-boshi added. “Most wondrous.”
“What a charming little fellow,” said Nimue.
“He’s arrogant and clearly a womanizer,” Thumbelina grumbled. “I don’t like him.”
“Those boots would be helpful to our operation,” Tom argued. “You wouldn’t have to carry us around with your faerie wings, ‘Lina.”
“I suppose,” she reluctantly allowed. “Well, who’s next?”
“Greetings, worthy friends!” a voice bellowed below. Fairly bounding up the ladder was a little man clad in animal furs and bearing a toothpick-sized spear. He was dusky of skin and his eyes had an exotic slant. He jumped up to the table and stood, spear in hand, in a battle-ready pose.
“I am Niraidak! Tough Little Niraidak of the Evenki people!”
“I am not familiar with the Evenki,” Tom admitted. The others looked around with similar confusion.
“We are from a distant land called Siberia, not far from Lipuniushka’s homeland,” Niraidak explained. “Cold as a witch’s tit but a beautiful country!”
Nimue touched a hand to her bosom, feeling it experimentally. “Cold as a what now?”
“I see,” said Tom. “And what are your qualifications?”
“I am the finest huntsman and warrior of my tribe! You see this coat I wear? Forged from the pelt of two sables! And this hat? The skin of a mouse! A vicious creature it was too!”
“My, my,” Tom mused. “Two sables and a mouse all by yourself?”
“Mere peanuts!” Niraidak bellowed. “I also fought a giant!”
“A giant-slayer?” Thumbelina asked. “Now that would be an asset to our team.”
“Indeed, fair one!” said Niraidak. “But I should note that I let the monster live. Gave him a stern talking to and a few pokes from my spear to make sure he got the message!” The tiny hunter jabbed his toothpick-weapon through the air several times, fighting imaginary enemies. He gave a high-pitched battle cry.
“And that is not all!” he continued animatedly. “My steed is a mighty enchanted stag and my wife the most beautiful woman in Siberia!”
“Got a lady waiting for you back home, eh?” Thumbling asked.
“Yes! Or, well, I did. She left me our first night of marriage. Was not pleased by the catch of minnows I brought home for supper. I believe her exact words were, ‘Such a husband! I would get more nourishment eating you than these meager fish!’ Another few nights and I think she would have too! But Niraidak is too crafty to be eaten!”
“Is that so?” Nimue asked with a smile. In moments, her pretty hand shot down and scooped up Niraidak between two fingers. She dangled him by the back of his coat before her thick, pink lips.
“You look rather scrumptious to me…” A huge tongue slid out from between those fleshy gates and rolled slowly back and forth. She opened wide, giving the little warrior a glimpse into the abyss of her mouth, and tilted her head back to accept him.
“Unhand me, sorceress!” Niraidak shrieked. He struggled in her grip as hot breath washed across his skin. “Think not to consume Niraidak or he shall slit thy throat! From the inside, if need be!”
The other League members had jumped to their feet and were watching this spectacle with alarm. They were about to spring to Niraidak’s aid when Nimue began laughing melodiously. She pulled her hand away and let the little man drop back to the table. Niraidak landed in a heap and Nimue reached out to tickle his chin.
“Peace, noble huntsman,” she said. “I was merely teasing you.”
“Um, thank you, Niraidak, you can go,” Tom stuttered. “We’ll notify you of our decision.”
And so it went throughout the afternoon. Thumb-sized champions from all around the world offered their services: Digit the Midget, three-inch trickster of Ethiopia; Hasan the Heroic Mouse-Child, an anthropomorphic rodent from Turkey; Cecino the Little Chick-Pea, an inch-high lad from the Romans’ homeland; the Hazel-nut Child, a nut-sized explorer from the Carpathian Mountains; Three-Inch, a hideous, long-haired imp from the Indus Valley; and many more.
With each applicant, Nimue became more daring and hands-on, often scooping them up or playing with them in some way. She dangled Hasan by his tail to get a better look at him, chased Digit across the table with her fingers, blew on Cecino with the force of a hurricane, and teased that a Hazel-nut Child sounded like a delicious snack. The priestess’ behavior was becoming most disconcerting for the League.
When the interviews had concluded, Nimue stood up from the table and stretched. She crossed the room, hoisting her gown and stepping carefully over the assembled clusters of tiny people, who were waiting patiently for Merlin to transport them back to their homes. Ever the free-spirited child of nature, Nimue was barefoot and couldn’t resist nudging or picking up a few of the little men with her toes as she passed.
“A most fruitful and amusing afternoon!” she declared. “Well, I’m off to, uh…make my report to Merlin. Do keep me informed of your decisions, little ones.” With that, she disappeared down the stairwell, unaware of poor Cecino still trapped between her big and second toe. Several other little folk chased after her, seeking to assist him.
Tom Thumb watched her go, a pensive look on his little face. When he was certain she was out of earshot, he turned to his teammates. “I don’t trust her.”
“Why, because she treats us like toys?” asked Thumbling. “That’s nothing new. Queen Guinevere did the same when she was in charge of the League. Of course, now she prefers her larger ‘boy-toy,’ Sir Lancelot.”
“Nimue toying with us is not what bothers me. Well, not entirely,” Tom said. “It’s her relationship with Merlin. Don’t get me wrong, I love Merlin like a father. He created me, for God’s sake! But he is no spring chicken. Why would a young lass like Nimue be drawn to him when she could have her pick of handsome suitors?”
“Love is strange, Thomas,” Issun told him. “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
“Maybe she has daddy issues,” Thumbling suggested.
“This betokens ill,” Tom said. “I think she’s after something, manipulating his emotions.”
“Tom, don’t forget, Merlin can see the future,” Thumbelina added. “If something were amiss, he would have seen it. Right?”
“I don’t know,” Tom muttered. “I think we should watch her.”
To be continued...
Another adventure with my team of tiny heroes, inspired by fairy tales, legends, and crossover fiction.
All characters are (to the best of my knowledge) public domain. If not, well...bear in mind I'm not making any money from this.
The League of Homunculi Book 3: The Isle of Glass