If you have arrived in the middle of the adventure, you may start at the beginning by going HERE.
Erik chooses the righthand path (after meeting the woodcutter)
Benton trotted willingly along the snowy forest path and Erik kept his eye on the two sets of hoof prints. They continued side by side, uninterrupted except where they were crossed now and then by deer or rabbit tracks.
The path narrowed as it dropped down between two walls of granite, the cliffs rearing up high on either side, then widened as it leveled out into evergreen woods again. As they crested the rise, Erik spied a small log cabin with smoke curling from the chimney. Behind the cabin was an even smaller barn. The attached pasture held two sturdy brown farm horses. They raised their heads and nickered a greeting to Benton who nickered back.
Erik sighed with disappointment. If he needed any more evidence that the hoof prints did not belong to the black horse, the tracks churned up the ground at the cabin gate and did not continue. They clearly belonged to the two brown horses. Oh, well.
He was about to turn back the way he had come when he noticed that just beyond the cabin the evergreens clustered together so thickly that little snow had managed to penetrate. The path was a soft carpet of pine needles that wouldn't hold a hoof print for long. Although it was unlikely, it was possible that one set of tracks leading up to the cabin belonged to one of the brown horses and the other set of tracks belonged to the mysterious black horse, who had continued on to the pine-needle path alone.
He had come far enough that he thought it was worth investigating, so he urged Benton forward into the deep woods.
It was surprisingly dark. Like the snow, light had trouble penetrating the dense boughs of spruce and fir. Erik pulled Benton to a walk, not wanting him to stumble over something he couldn't see.
They came around a sharp right-hand bend and Benton planted his front feet - BAM! - and shied violently into the underbrush where he stood, head up, ears pricked, muscles trembling.
Erik managed to stay on, but only just.
"Benton!" he chided. "What's wrong with you?"
He peered ahead into the dimness and saw what had spooked his pony: a tiny wizened man standing smack in the middle of the path. His long hair and beard were snowy white, and fluffed out around him like a cloud. His back was hunched and he leaned on a gnarled stick, but the brown eyes looking up at Erik were bright and quick.
"None shall pass!" said the old man in a high quavery voice which was nonetheless determined. "Who goes there?" he demanded.
"'Tis I, Erik," said Erik. "Who are you?"
The old man shook his head sadly. "Do you really have to ask?"
"Uh.., yeah," said Erik.
The little man sighed. "No one knows me anymore. I used to be famous. Knights the world over feared to cross my path. And now... now! you don't even know who I am. What is the world coming to?"
"I don't know," said Erik, "but you still haven't introduced yourself."
"Oh! Right!" The hunched figure bowed even lower and said to his own ankles, because that's where his face was pointing by now, "I am Berwyn. Berwyn The Bamboozler!" He straightened up and pinned Erik with his bright brown eyes, waiting for recognition.
"Nice to meet you Berwyn," said Erik.
"It is NOT nice to meet me!" said Berwyn petulantly. "No one is supposed to want to meet me! I'm a danger to be avoided at all costs!"
"Uh, okay," said Erik doubtfully. Really. The old man didn't look like much of a threat. "If you'd be so kind, Your. uh, Bamboozlerness, I was wondering if I could ask you a question?"
This sent the little man into a frenzy of howling and stamping in circles and tugging at his wild beard. "No! No! No! No! NO!" he shouted. "I ask the questions!!!"
Erik was thoroughly confused by now. "Fine," he said. "You ask the questions."
"That's better!" said Berwyn, calming down slightly. "Now. You stand over there." He indicated a spot on Erik's side of a dark line drawn across the forest floor which Erik hadn't noticed before. Obediently, Erik rode Benton over to the the spot and stood on it. "That's right," said Berwyn. "Now. I stand over here." He took his place on a mossy rock on his side of the line. "And now, I ask the questions."
Berwyn straightened up as best he could, drawing himself almost up to his full height of 3 feet 6 inches and said in a dramatic voice, "He who wants to passeth me must answer true these questions three!"
"Oh," said Erik. "You're one of those guys."
"Shush! Impudence! Question 1: what is the king's mother's sister-in-law's middle name?"
"Betsy?" guessed Erik, who had no idea. "Gladys? Edwina?"
"Wrong!" said Berwyn triumphantly. "You shall perish in the fiery pit!"
"What fiery pit?" said Erik. "We're in the middle of an evergreen forest."
"DRAT!" shrieked the little man. "Double drat! How am I supposed to do my job when they don't supply the fiery pit? Management will be hearing from me about this, I can assure you. I mean, budget cuts are all well and good, but you've got to have the basics. How is anyone going to take me seriously if there are no consequences for wrong answers? I ask you?!"
The old man continued to dance around and yell, so Erik guided Benton carefully around him and continued down the path until Berwyn's ranting faded in the distance.. After a few minutes he said, "You know, Benton, this looks awfully familiar."
And sure enough, they were back at the woodcutter's clearing.