And now for something more light-hearted. This is for Intisar who requested: Puss in Boots/Pinecones.
A Sackful of Treasure
When Puss finally made it to the Valley of Jewels, he discovered that it was sadly misnamed. It would be far more accurate to call it a ravine, for it was a narrow cut between the shoulders of pine-tree-caped mountains.
It was also full of poisonous snakes, each capable of swallowing Puss whole and aggressive about defending the sparkling gemstones that lay strewn about their territory.
Puss looked thoughtfully down at the newly renamed Ravine of Jewels and Poisonous Snakes, an empty sack over his shoulder. He thought that his thick leather boots could withstand snake bites, provided the snakes confined themselves to his ankles.
He didn’t think that was very likely.
There was another adventurer already in the ravine, a muscular sort who leapt with indefatigable energy and nimbleness among the snakes. Puss watched admiringly as the man scooped up a sapphire as big as his fist, thrust it into his sack, and decapitated the snake who hissingly protested the theft. Two other snakes, sneakily slithering up behind him, were similarly dispatched.
The man’s sack bulged with his findings. He seized one last gemstone, a diamond with star fire at its heart, then bounded for the ravine wall as the irate snakes gathered for a final strike. He swarmed up the side with the snakes in pursuit, grabbed a waiting rope, and hauled himself up an overhang. A determined reptile attached itself to his ankle. He beat it off with the flat of his sword.
Puss looked around. Something sparkled nearby. Strolling up to it, he beheld a ruby hidden in the brown carpet of last year’s pine needles.
An idea occurred to him.
As the adventurer trotted up the path, Puss made a great show of pouncing on the ruby. He picked it up, made a disgusted face and a disappointed noise, then hurled the ruby into the ravine. It flashed red as it fell back among the snakes.
The adventurer stopped and stared.
Puss scrabbled among the needles and came up with pawfuls of pinecones. These he stuffed gleefully into his sack.
“Wh-why?” stuttered the adventurer. “Why did you do that?”
“Hmm?” said Puss, still looking down.
“A ruby!” The adventurer windmilled his arms in agitation. “And you… you… just threw it away.”
“Pshaw! Who needs rubies? It’s these pinecones that are the real treasure.” Puss picked up another one, examined its rough brown surface, and placed it in his bag.
“What do you mean?”
“There are hundreds of ruby and diamond and emerald mines. But this is the only place in the world where Vitalis Coniferous grows.” Puss waved a paw at the pine trees.
“These pine trees. Life Trees, they’re called.” Puss held up a pinecone. “And these are used in the making of the Elixir of Life. The ultimate cure.”
The other’s eyed widened. “I’ve—heard of it,” he breathed. “Not even kings can afford it. An Emperor might.”
Puss beckoned the man closer. The adventurer bent down, till they were mouth to ear. “Drink enough of it, they say,” Puss whispered, “and you might even gain… immortality.”
The adventurer straightened. His face hardened with resolution. He slung the sack off his shoulder and dumped its glittering contents at Puss’ feet. Then he went on a mad hunt, hurling pinecones into his sack, showering the cat with old needles and dirt.
Puss shrugged. He went back to work, slower now.
When the adventurer left, his sack stuffed with pinecones, Puss sauntered over to the carelessly-left gemstones. Whistling softly, he shook the pinecones out of his own bag and replaced them with jewels.
Then he left the misnamed Valley, thinking he’d better start for home. Now. And fast.