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Victory Won

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Silky dreamed of goblins and waterfalls, and of much worse things. She woke with the late afternoon sunlight on her face, and her clock standing beside the bed. “Ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong!” said the clock, rather insistently.

Oh. I was sleeping, clock!” said Silky, feeling startled and rather cross, blinking again and again as she focused her eyes on her room. There were her books, and there was her closet. Her heart was beating so fast she could hear it and she felt as though she had just run a race, but it was all a dream, and she was still in her little house in the Faraway Tree.

“Ding-dong,” said the clock quietly and sadly.. It turned away and wandered into the corner of the room, then settled down facing the wall.

That made Silky feel even worse! “I'm sorry, clock,” she said, shaking her head hard to clear it of all the things she didn't want to remember. After all, the sun was shining, the goblins were gone, and all was peaceful in the Faraway Tree. She wasn't going to be miserable. Not today.

Her mind made up, Silky got out of bed, put on her favourite blue dress, and got ready to face the rest of the day the only way she knew how. Moon-Face had once found her a hairbrush in the Land of Take-What-You-Want; it was made of silver and pearls and magic, and it was the thing Silky loved most in the world. She sat beside the window, looking out into the shadows of sunshine and leaves, and began to brush out her hair. One stroke, two strokes, three strokes – all the way to a hundred. That was how her mother had taught her when she was a young elf in a wood hundreds of miles from here, crying because she had caught her hair in bramble bushes or tangled it in the nettles her brother brought home for soup.

It usually made her feel better. It was like going for a long walk or taking a hundred deep breaths, but that day it did nothing to soothe her shaking hands. Silky counted to a hundred three times over, and then threw the hairbrush onto the bed. It ought to have been such a nice day. She and Moon-Face were going to go and visit Goldilocks and the Three Bears and have a picnic lunch in the woods, but it was too late for that now.

Well, she told herself, those goblins wouldn't ruin everything. She was tired of being alone with her thoughts and a sulky clock, and she missed Moon-Face. He could always think of something fun to do.

Silky tied her hair back with a ribbon, farewelled her clock, went outside and began to climb. She passed blueberries and toadstools growing in nooks and crannies of the tree, and the smell of cider wafting from Dame Washalot's windows. Here and there, she saw, the tree was scarred from the battle. Leaves were crushed, tiny branches had splintered, and something had gouged out chunks of bark. Silky had to turn her head away. She had spent her life living in trees, and to see one in pain made her stomach ache. “Drat those goblins!” she thought, and hurried onwards.

She let herself into Moon-Face's house without knocking. He was washing the dishes, and singing. “We defeated the goblins, hi-tiddley-hi!” He stopped when he saw Silky.

“You sound like Saucepan,” Silky said. She kissed him, which made her feel better and so she kissed him again, and again, and then they had to take themselves to the big curved bed. By time they could think again it was dark outside, and someone was knocking on the door.

Moon-Face finished buttoning his shirt and went to open it. It was Watzisname, with the Saucepan Man close behind. A delicious smell of sausages and bacon and mushrooms drifted in, which made Silky's mouth water. She hadn't eaten since they had had plums and cocoa after the battle. “Come and have dinner,” Watsizname said. “Saucepan cooked.”

Silky half thought that it might be nicer to stay quietly inside with Moon-Face, talking about everything except goblins. But she and Watsizname were old friends, even if they didn't always find the same things funny, and apparently Saucepan was a better cook than anyone in the tree. (Silky was better at baking than cooking, Moon-Face was always getting bored and leaving things to burn, and Watsizname used so much salt it made everyone feel ill.)

Silky looked at Moon-Face, and Moon-Face looked at her, and then they followed Watsizname and the Saucepan Man down the tree to a wide, strong branch that had always seemed to be made for gatherings. Around and above it were dozens of tiny lanterns that seemed to light themselves at dusk, to let people know the way up and down the tree and where it was safe to walk. Silky had had picnics there many times, just listening to the sounds of the trees whispering around her. Now they discovered platters of mushrooms and bacon and sausages, and plates piled high with bread-and-butter. Dame Washalot had brought a batch of the cider she made from the apples that grew below the Angry Pixie's window, and was sitting on the branch above, pouring out glasses for everyone. "Did the butcher call?" Moon-Face asked, climbing over the Angry Pixie to find an empty spot on the branch. He took a fork from a basket near the mushrooms, leaned over, and used it to pick up a sausage.

"Yes, but I think you were busy," Dame Washalot said. She passed a glass of cider to Silky and one to Moon-Face, and beamed at them.

Silky felt herself turning pink. Oh, dear! Perhaps they had got a little carried away, she thought, but Moon-Face was laughing with his mouth full. "My old friend the butcher," he said, "And I did want some steak."

"Lake?" said Saucepan, his pots and pans clanging loudly as he dished up a plate full of mushrooms. "What lake? Has the Land of Lakes arrived?"

"Steak!" Watsizname said loudly, from right beside him. "Steak, my dear Saucepan. Moon-Face wanted steak! But the Land of Lakes would be nice."

Silky settled in with her cider and her sausages and mushrooms and bacon and bread-and-butter, leaning against the trunk of the tree and watching the others. Moon-Face had pulled a pack of cards out of his pocket (Dame Washalot had made him prove that they weren't enchanted) and was playing Snap with Saucepan. Both of them were perched awkwardly on the branch, balancing plates and glasses and cards. They wouldn't fall. Inhabitants of the Faraway Tree never did; Silky thought it was part of the wood's magic.

Watsizname came over to sit beside her, quietly making a sandwich with his mushrooms and bacon. Silky watched Moon-Face as she ate, studying the expression on his face as he talked and laughed and as he won a round of Snap. She knew that beside her, Watsizname was watching Saucepan the same way, and wondered how she knew. It was all part of the same sort of thing that was making her feel better – friends and quiet and good smells.

"I wonder what those goblins are doing now," Watsizname said, after a while.

"Mighty-One will teach them a lesson, anyway," Silky said. She still didn't want to talk about goblins, because goblins reminded her of other things, and for a while Watsizname was silent. They sat there quietly, listening to Dame Washalot telling the Angry Pixie stories about her children and Moon-Face and Saucepan shouting "Snap!" from time to time, their voices startling the birds.

As it grew darker still, and things became harder to see even by lantern-light, Moon-Face and Saucepan gave up on the game,and Dame Washalot ran out of things to say. It began to seem easier for everyone to sit close together, because then they could pass the cider around without fear of dropping it. It was a large branch, but it seemed crowded full of people. Watsizname had to lean against Saucepan - he always did seem to find just the right parts of Saucepan to lean against, where there wouldn't be a frying pan in his ribs - and Silky found herself cuddled up against Moon-Face. It was getting rather cold, so she didn't mind. Moon-Face was always warm.

"Did anyone get hurt?" Dame Washalot asked, suddenly.

"Just a few bumps and bruises," said the Angry Pixie, as the Saucepan Man began inspecting his pots for damage again. "I bet those goblins are sore, though!"

"It was rather fun," Moon-Face said, with the gleeful look on his face that sometimes made Silky feel a bit wary. "Locking all those goblins up in my house and watching them slide down the Slippery-Slip!"

"No, it wasn't," Silky said, watching his face. She didn't quite mean to say it. She had felt a lot like a coward during the fight, even if she had helped Bessie to subdue a goblin, and she didn't like to call attention to it. But finally, suddenly, all the memories were too hard and too heavy to bear: the Elf Wars, the smell of blood on the ground, the cries of elves and trees calling out for loved ones. She had been young then, and had been old ever since.

“No,” said Moon-Face, quietly, looking at her. “I suppose not.” He put his arm around her shoulders and Silky leaned against him, feeling the darkness inside her lift slightly. “We all could have been hurt. The children could have been hurt. And we could have lost the Faraway Tree, and then where would we be?”

Silky knew that was a question that no one could answer. She knew that Saucepan's land had gone on without him, that Dame Washalot's children were all grown and gone, leaving her alone in the worn-out shoe, once belonging to a giant, where they had made their home. And she knew that the people in Moon-Face's village had called him cursed, and a freak, so that as soon as he was old enough he had walked away and never looked back. They had all had other places and other names, and they had all come to the Faraway Tree with nothing. She bit her lip. “Let's not think about it,” she said, looking around her at the faces she knew so well.

“No,” said Dame Washalot. “One more round of cider, anyone?”

They passed the glasses round, and Dame Washalot poured out the last of the cider. Beside Silky, the light of the lanterns gleaming on his face, Moon-Face cleared his throat and lifted his glass. “To the Faraway Tree. And friends. And peace.”

The sound of glasses clinking filled the air like the sound of magic. “To the Faraway Tree, and friends, and peace.” Silky drank her cider, with Moon-Face's arm warm around her. Tomorrow would be a good day.