The Treasure of Mountainyville
by Gabriel Ertsgaard
Once there was a greedy and powerful monarch named Emperor Conquista-Villain, ruler of all his domain. (How big a domain? Well, it was the size of the whole thing, all of it, the entire domain — that big.) Now within this vast realm was a very high mountain, and on that very high mountain was a very remote village. It was so remote that the villagers had never even heard of Emperor Conquista-Villain. They didn’t know they were part of his domain. No one had ever climbed up to tell them.
However, a rumor about this mountain village reached the emperor’s ears. It held a special treasure, the best in the world. “A special treasure?” the emperor asked. “I must have it! I must have that treasure!”
The emperor gathered his army, and off they marched toward the mountain village. They marched and marched till their toes were tired, then marched and marched till their shins were sore, then marched and marched till their hamstrings hiccuped. The village was really quite far away. The grumpy soldiers finally trudged to the mucky bank of a wide river. “We will camp here for the night,” announced Emperor Conquista-Villain, “and continue our quest in the morning.”
The soldiers snuffled and snored all night; perhaps they slept too well. For when they woke the next morning they discovered that all their swords were missing. They searched through their tents, their packs, their socks. The emperor was livid. Then a brown-haired soldier with a twirly mustache pointed toward the middle of the river. “Are those our swords?” he asked. Indeed they were: stacked, piled, and woven together like some sort of abstract sculpture.
“Get those swords out of that river before they rust!” screamed the emperor.
The soldiers rushed toward the water, but suddenly dozens of furry, blue creatures streamed out of the woods to block their path. These creatures were about the size of human children, but with catlike ears and ropy tails. They chattered “teeka-teeka-teek,” so let’s just call them “teekas.” (If you ever see one, expect surprises.) The teekas leaped around, kicking their legs out, and clapping their hands above their heads. “Why, they’re doing jumping jacks,” said a red-shaggy-haired soldier.
“Just whack them with your shields!” growled the emperor.
“But they’re so cute,” whined the soldiers. (Most were farmers, tailors, or bakers and were only part-time soldiers.) Some soldiers whacked, while others nudged, but the teekas just grabbed away the shields and smacked them together like cymbals. One clever soldier started doing jumping jacks too, just to test a theory. As soon as he did, the teekas shifted out of his way. Soon all of the soldiers were doing jumping jacks over and into the water. There they finally retrieved their swords. Just when the last sword was back on the bank, the teekas vanished into the woods.
But now a third of the swords were rusted hilt to tip. “You can’t fight with rusty weapons,” declared Emperor Conquista-Villain. “Go find a blacksmith to polish those swords, then catch up with the rest of us.” Then he marched away with the other two-thirds of the army.
“Do you think he’ll notice if we just go home?” asked the brown-haired soldier with the twirly mustache.
“Probably not,” answered the red-shaggy-haired soldier. So all the soldiers with rusty swords scattered home to their families.
The emperor and the rest of his army followed the river upstream. They marched and marched till their tummies were tender, then marched and marched till their ribs were raw, then marched and marched till their elbows ached. The village was really quite far away.
The cranky soldiers finally reached the base of a large, craggy mountain. “We will camp here for the night,” announced Emperor Conquista-Villain, “and continue our quest in the morning.” So they piled their swords inside a large tent and set guards throughout the night.
Just as dawn peeked over the mountain, they heard a rumbling from high above. “Avalanche! Run for your lives!” shouted a gray-haired guard with a bushy unibrow.
“Maybe it’s just a small one,” protested Emperor Conquista-Villain, but he fled from the camp with his soldiers.
As the rumbling got louder, they also heard another sound: “Teeka-teeka-teeka! Teeka-teeka-teek!” Then they saw, balanced on wide wooden planks, the furry little teekas surfing down the avalanche. As soon as they reached the bottom, though, the teekas scampered off and disappeared; just flashes of blue into the woods.
“This is very suspicious,” muttered the emperor.
The army trudged back to the camp where the weaponry tent was buried under rocks. “Dig out those swords!” commanded the emperor, “Dig them out right now!” Although it was slow, sweaty labor, the soldiers finally retrieved every blade from the rubble. But now half of the remaining swords were badly banged and bent. “You can’t fight with banged-up weapons,” declared Emperor Conquista-Villain, “Go find a blacksmith to straighten those swords, then catch up with the rest of us.” Then he marched away with the last third of the army.
“Do you think he’ll notice if we just go home?” asked the gray-haired guard with the bushy unibrow.
“Probably not,” answered a sandy-haired soldier with saggy cheeks. So all the soldiers with banged-up swords scattered home to their families.
The remainder of the emperor’s army climbed up the mountain. They climbed and climbed till their shoulders smarted, then climbed and climbed till their jaws were jiggly, then climbed and climbed till their foreheads furrowed. They climbed past vultures, pythons, and bears. The village was really quite high up. Finally they reached a quaint, tiny village; wooden cabins flanked cobblestone streets. A cheerful old woman greeted the army. “Hello, strangers,” she said, “welcome to Mountainyville.”
“I am Emperor Conquista-Villain, ruler of all my domain,” announced the emperor, “and this is my army.”
“That’s nice, dear,” the old woman said with a friendly smile. “I am Mayor Oobly-Doobly. What brings you to our little village, Emperor Conquista-Villain and army?”
“I, Emperor Conquista-Villain, ruler of all my domain--”
“Yes, dear, you already said that,” Mayor Oobly-Doobly interrupted.
“—demand that you immediately, forthwith, sans delay, lest dire consequences ensue, surrender to me, Emperor Conquista-Villain, ruler of all my domain—”
“There it is again,” muttered Mayor Oobly-Doobly.
“The secret treasure cunningly concealed within and by this very village!”
“Marvelous!” replied Mayor Oobly-Doobly, “we will gladly share our treasure with you. The treasure, though, is under a very peculiar enchantment: those who would possess the treasure, must find it for themselves. Oh, it’s no use scowling, Emperor Conquista-Villain. That enchantment is older than the oldest person in the village, older even than your grandpa’s granny; it binds us all.”
“This sounds like a trick,” growled the emperor.
“Not at all,” the mayor replied. “In fact, you will enjoy the hospitality of Mountainyville while conducting your treasure hunt. Now let’s find beds for your poor soldiers. No doubt they’ve had some rather stiff nights during their long trek. It’s a good thing you didn’t bring thrice as many, or we’d never have found enough room.”
Emperor Conquista-Villain narrowed his eyes at the oddly specific remark. His soldiers, though, were clearly excited about sleeping in beds again, so he simply gave a sharp, regal nod.
Over the next several days, the emperor’s army searched the village top to bottom and inside out. The villagers opened up their cupboards and cellars, their attics and outhouses. One afternoon, they helpfully dug up their own flowerbeds. The following night, they pulled up their floorboards while the soldiers slept. “Mayor Oobly-Doobly thought this might help with your search,” the townsfolk explained the next morning. Yet none of the soldiers caught even a glance of pyrite, much less gemstones or gold. A few, though, thought they saw flashes of blue out of the corners of their eyes.
The villagers also offered the best hints they could, given the constraints of the enchantment. They made cryptic remarks like: “the treasure is all around; you just have to learn how to see it” or “The treasure is already yours; you just have to figure its worth.” The soldiers, though, couldn’t puzzle out these clues. They began to mutter about going home.
Finally, the furious emperor summoned his soldiers and the villagers into the central square. “This village has treated me terribly, quite terribly indeed,” declared Emperor Conquista-Villain.
“I beg your pardon!” Mayor Oobly-Doobly interrupted. “Ever since you first arrived, we’ve offered our constant friendship. Doesn’t that mean anything?” The stony-faced emperor didn’t answer. “Our friendship,” the mayor emphasized. Then she sighed. “It’s a tough enchantment, emperor. Even if I lay our treasure out at your feet, unless you find it for yourself, you’ll never see or claim it.”
The emperor snorted. He opened his mouth to argue, but just then a clever soldier with sparkly green eyes shouted, “Oh I get it! The treasure of Mountainyville is... friendship!”
“Yes! You finally figured it out!” exclaimed Mayor Oobly-Doobly. “Our treasure is indeed friendship.” The mayor was so happy that she started to dance a little jig of celebration.
About half of the remaining soldiers gently tilted their heads. “Awww, friendship!” they said.
The rest shrugged their shoulders and shared discomfited looks. “That’s a bit abstract,” they muttered. Still, after scouring every square inch of Mountainyville, they knew that it held no hidden hoard. If the locals wanted to call friendship their greatest treasure, well, that was harmless enough.
One person, though, took this revelation very, very poorly. “What!” screamed Emperor Conquista-Villain, “What kind of stupid treasure is that? Gold is treasure. Gems are treasure. Friendship is not treasure. Now give me the real treasure, or my soldiers will tear this village apart!”
But the clever soldier with sparkly green eyes threw his sword on the ground. “Hooray for friendship!” he shouted.
The head-cocked soldiers echoed, “Hooray for friendship!” as they discarded their own blades.
The remainder shifted awkwardly. Certainly, they didn’t want to harm the friendly townsfolk, but they feared their emperor’s wrath. All at once, though, they detected the same realization in each other’s eyes: as long the whole army was united, Emperor Conquista-Villain would lose his power to punish them. Down went their weapons. “Hooray for friendship!” they cried.
“What are you doing? Pick those swords up!” demanded the emperor. But the soldiers and the villagers had broken into a spontaneous dance, and they were too busy prancing about to listen to the emperor. Then the teekas streamed into the town square to join the soldiers and villagers. Some even did a few jumping jacks for old-times’ sake.
“You again!” shrieked the emperor. “Why you furry, little, blue, no-treasure monsters! I, Emperor Conquista-Villain, ruler of all my domain, demand that everyone stop dancing right now and give me my treasure!”
“Come join the party, dear,” said Mayor Oobly-Doobly. “Also, please be more polite to our little, blue neighbors.”
The emperor, though, didn’t feel festive at all. He felt miffed and unappreciated. “If no one will do what I say,” he huffed, “then I’ll just go home.” So, Emperor Conquista-Villain, ruler of all his domain, trudged away.
But nobody noticed.
Copyright © 2017 by Gabriel Ertsgaard