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Golem in the Gears

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Golem in the Gears

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Author: Piers Anthony
Publisher: Del Rey, 1986
Series: Xanth Series: Book 9
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Comic Fantasy
Avg Member Rating:
(55 reads / 15 ratings)


A golem to the rescue!

Grundy Golem was the size of an inconsequence, and nobody had any respect for him--including Grundy! To prove himself, he volunteered to ride the Monster Under the Bed to the Ivory Tower to find little Ivy's long-lost dragon, Stanley Steamer.

After many adventures, he reached the Tower, to learn that the evil Sea Hag kept lovely Rapunzel imprisoned there, her body destined to be used to maintain the witch's immortality. Grundy managed to free the damsel, and they fled together.

As the descendant of Jordan the Barbarian and Bluebell Elf, Rapunzel could become any size, even that of any Golem's dreamgirl. But Grundy knew she was surely fated for someone better than he. Besides, the Sea Hag still pursued them to destroy him and get her back.

And he still hadn't found Stanley Steamer.




Grundy Golem stretched and bounced off his cushion. He looked at himself in the mirror, not totally pleased. He stood the height of a normal man's spread-fingered hand, and that was fine for sleeping on a cushion but not all that great when it came to making an impression on the Land of Xanth.

It was a nice new day. Almost, he was able to forget that he was the least significant of living creatures. When he had been a true golem fashioned of wood and rag he had longed to be a real living thing, supposing that he would be satisfied if only he could become flesh. At last he had won that goal and for a time he had believed that he was happy. But slowly the truth had sunk in: he was still only a hands-breadth greater than nothing.

No one took him seriously. They thought he had a smart mouth because he liked insulting people; actually it was because he was trying desperately to cover over his deepening awareness of his own inadequacy. When he used his talent of language to make some other person or creature feel low, he felt a little higher himself--for a moment. But now he knew that this was a false device, and that his mouth had mainly brought him the contempt of others. He wished he could undo that damage and make of himself a genuinely worthwhile and respected person--but he didn't know how.

Meanwhile, he was hungry. That was a consequence of being real: he had to eat. It hadn't been that way when he had been a true golem. Then he had suffered no hunger, pain, or calls of nature. But he liked it better this way, he decided, because he also felt living pleasures.

And living miseries....

He slid down the banister and scrambled out the window that was normally left open for him. He landed in a clump of toadstools that had sprung up overnight, knocking several over. Unfortunately, a small toad had been sitting on one.

"Clumsy oaf!" the toad croaked, righting himself. "Watch where you're going!"

"Listen, frogface," Grundy retorted. "This is my path! You have no business here."

"I was on a toadstool, as I have a perfect right to be," the toad protested. "You just came barging through!"

The creature had a case, but Grundy didn't care. His irritation with the situation--and with all of Xanth--caused him to react in the familiar way that he wished he didn't. "Know what I think of that? I'll bash all these stinky things to smithereens!" And he grabbed up a stick and laid about him, knocking over toadstools right and left. Grundy was no giant, but they stood only about knee-high to him, and were easy to dispatch.

"Help!" the toad croaked. "Berserker on the loose!"

Suddenly there was a stirring throughout the weedy region beside the castle wall. Toads appeared, hopping in toward the summons--small ones at first, then larger ones, and finally one huge one.

Grundy realized he was in trouble. He tried to scramble up to the window, but the monster toad oped his ponderous maw and speared the golem with his tongue. The tongue was sticky; Grundy could not get free. The toad retracted it and hauled Grundy in.

"Eat him! Eat him!" the massed toads cried. "Teach him to leave toadstools alone!"

Grundy clutched at a half-buried rock, managing to halt his progress toward the maw. But now the little toads hopped on him, pounding him with their feet, and one of them wet on him.

Disgusted as well as frightened, he grabbed that toad and heaved it into the maw of the giant toad. The maw closed. The tongue released Grundy and snapped back home. Evidently the giant toad didn't mind what he ate.

But the little toads minded. "Get that monster!" they croaked, and snapped at him with their tongues. They couldn't do him much damage singly, but as a group they might. He tried to dodge the snapping tongues, but there were too many.

In addition, the giant toad was catching on that it hadn't eaten the whole thing. It reoriented on him.

Then Grundy spied a hypnogourd. That might help! He ran to it and dived behind it, so that its peephole was facing away from him and toward the toads. As the giant toad opened its maw and lined up its terrible tongue, Grundy shoved the gourd around so that the peephole bore directly on it.

The big toad looked--and froze. Its gaze had been trapped by the gourd.

"So there, filth-tongue!" he cried. "Now you're stuck!"

But the little toads weren't stuck. They averted their gazes and came leaping at him. One landed on his head, bearing it down. Grundy shook the creature off, but in the process caught a glimpse of the peephole himself.

Suddenly he found himself inside the gourd. He was standing amidst giant wooden gears. The huge toad was there too, and had a leg caught between two of them. The gears were drawing it slowly but inevitably between them, crushing it.

"Halp!" it cried. "I'm gonna croak!"

"Well, you were gonna eat me!" Grundy retorted. But he didn't like this; it was too ugly a demise.

He tried to pry the toad out, but the gears were too strong. Then he saw a small, loose gear. He picked it up and jammed it next to the toad's leg. As the two turning gears ground together, the loose one was crunched. In a moment the moving ones shuddered to a stop.

Now a huge stallion appeared, virtually snorting fire. His hide was midnight black, and his eyes glinted blacker. "I should have known!" the Night Stallion snorted. "A golem in the gears!" There was a subtle flicker.

Then Grundy and the giant toad were back in the real world, out of the gourd. Grundy realized that they had been ejected. The big toad's leg was whole, but it seemed to have lost its appetite.

Grundy realized that he had suffered the ultimate indignity: he had been rejected by the hypnogourd! No one had any use for him!

He scrambled again for the window, and this time made it. Fouled with the sticky spittle of the giant and the wetting of the midget, he fell inside. What a mess!

But worse than the ignominy of his present condition was his realization that he was of so little account that even a toad could humiliate him. It wasn't just a matter of size; it was an almost total lack of respect. He was a nobody, socially as well as physically.

What use was it to be a living creature, if he was of absolutely no consequence?

He found a bucket of wash water left over from yesterday's scrubbing of a floor, and labored to get himself clean. While he worked, he came to a conclusion, an answer to his question.

It was no use to live without respect. But what could he do about it? He was what he was, an insignificant creature.

As he ran across the room, he heard stifled sobbing. He paused, for now he also cared about others. He was seldom able to show it in ways they appreciated, but he did care.

He looked about and discovered that it was a plant--a small green stem that looked rather wilted. Grundy's magic talent was the ability to converse with other living things, so he talked to the plant.

"What's the matter with you, greenface?"

"I'm w-wilting!" the plant responded.

"I can see that, potroot. Why?"

"Because Ivy forgot to w-water me," the plant blubbered. "She's so wrapped up with her mischief that--" It tried to squeeze out another tear, but could not; it had no water left.

Grundy went to the bathroom, climbed up on the sink, and grabbed the damp sponge there. He hauled this down, dragged it across the floor, and to the plant. Then he hefted it up and squeezed it in a bear hug, so that water dribbled into the pot.

"Oh, thank you!" the plant exclaimed as it drank in the moisture. "How can I ever repay you?"

Grundy was as selfish as the next creature, but he didn't see any way the plant could do anything for him, so he elected to be generous. "Always glad to help a fellow creature," he said. "I'll tell Ivy to give you a good watering. What's she doing that's so distracting?"

"I'm not supposed to tell..." the plant demurred.

Now Grundy saw what the plant could do for him. "Didn't I just do you a favor, wiltleaf?"

The plant sighed. "Don't tell I told. Ivy's a terror when she gets mad."

Grundy well knew that! Ivy was eight years old and a full Sorceress; no one crossed her without regretting it. "I won't tell."

"She's teaching Dolph to be a bird, so he can fly out and look for Stanley."

Grundy pursed his tiny lips. That was mischief indeed! Dolph was her little brother, three years old and a Magician who could change to any living form instantly. Certainly he could become a bird and fly away--but just as certainly that would be disaster, because, if he didn't promptly get lost, he would get eaten by some airborne predator. This had to be stopped!

But Grundy had promised not to tell. He had broken promises before, but he was trying to steer a straighter course. Also, if he told on Ivy, he would be in immediate and serious trouble. He had to find some private way to stop this.

He went through the motions of breakfast, but found no answer to his problem. He saw Ivy going to Dolph's room and knew he had to act--without admitting what he knew. So he pretended to encounter her accidentally, intercepting her in the hall. "Whatcha up to, kid?"
"Go away, you little snoop," she said amiably.

"All right--I'll play with Dolph instead."

"Don't you dare!" she said with moderate fury. "I'm playing with him."

"We can both play with him," Grundy suggested. To that she was unable to demur, because she didn't want to give away her secret by being too insistent.

Dolph was up and dressed and ready to play. He was a handsome little boy with curly brown hair and a big smile. "See--I'm a bird!" he exclaimed, and suddenly he was a bird, a pretty red and green one.

"Ixnay," Ivy whispered, but Dolph was already changing back, pleased with his accomplishment.

"Can I go out and fly now?" he asked.

"Why would you want to fly?" Grundy inquired as if innocently.

"He doesn't," Ivy said quickly.

But Dolph was already answering. "I'm going to catch a dragon!" he said proudly.

"No, he isn't!" Ivy cried.

"That's very good, Dolph," Grundy said. "What dragon will you catch?"

"No dragon!" Ivy cried.

"Stanley Steamer," Dolph said. "He's lost."

Copyright © 1986 by Piers Anthony


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