Follow that Hippopotamus by Zhie

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Written for the HL Writing Challenge: Prompt 10. Follow That _______ Dedicated to my ‘Ada’

“...and I shall title it ‘Follow that Hippopotamus.”

Haldir, who was lounging on the couch, shook his head at Orophin. Rúmil was giving his brother an equally unenthusiastic look, having paused in his sketching. It was a chilly afternoon, and the three brothers and their sister had made the decision to spend the day indoors. Haldir and Celebrían had been reading as Rúmil worked on his drawings. Orophin, as usual, had bored of the usual quiet activities very quickly, and was now practicing an art that Haldir often said his brother excelled at: Being annoying. “Oro, beyond the fact that it scares me to think of you penning books for younglings, there is a huge flaw in what you have just suggested.”

“Are you saying that you do not wish to see me use my talents to help teach the youth of our community how to read?” countered Orophin.

“No, not at all. Actually, yes,” Haldir corrected almost immediately. “The young should be taught to read, but not by you.” To this, Celebrían giggled and nodded in agreement with her brother. “Even more glaring a problem, Orophin, is the title of your proposed work.”

“I think ‘Follow that Hippopotamus’ is a fabulous and brilliantly original title.”

Haldir sighed. “Be that as it may, you are proposing to use a word completely unknown by elflings. I would wager that nine of ten elven children have never and will never see a hippopotamus.”

“Twenty-nine of thirty,” amended Rúmil. “Hippopotami are not all that frequently seen here.”

“Not all that frequently seen?” Celebrían put her book down and shook her head. “In nearly two millennia, I have yet to see one romping across the lawn.”

“Romping?” Haldir gave Celebrían a questioning look. “I doubt hippopotami romp.”

“Romping, frolicking, you know what I mean.” Celebrían leaned over and hit Haldir on the shoulder with her book in true sibling fashion, despite their ages. “Either way, I have yet to see one.”

“Minor detail.” Orophin unfolded a large sheet of paper and then paused. “Wait... Follow that Frolicking Hippopotamus... no, too much. Follow that Frolicking Frog? Nah,” he decided, smoothing the creases out of the paper. “Let me show you the basic story idea for the book. Here, we have a battle with some dragons,” he said, pointing to the first series of boxes he had crudely drawn, complete with stick figure dragons and stick figure trees. “Next, rescue of the prince by the princess—“

“I think you mean the princess by the prince,” interrupted Haldir.

“Sorry, is this your story or mine?” Orophin sniffed and harrumphed and said, “In my story, the princess heroically rides across the countryside on her trusty unicorn Buttons, and rescues the prince.”

“Here, here!” agreed Celebrían, who was giggling at the obvious simplicity of her brother’s work, despite the fact she knew him to be a much better artist than he let on.

“Thank you, m’lady. I knew SOMEONE with good literary taste would understand.” Orophin bowed to his sister while Haldir rolled his eyes. “Finally, the climax of the story – the slaying of the wolf pretending to be the invalid grandmother, and the happy reunion of the little girl, and her granny, all having tea with this nice hunter here, who just happens to be the dragon slayer.”

“There is no way you can write that, Oro.”

“Why not, Halli?”

Pointing to the second part of the story, Haldir explained, “Over half of it has been plagiarized. You stole the ending from a nursery tale.”

“Untrue. In mine, the grandmother is a vampire. That changes everything. Especially after she turns the dragon slayer.”

Haldir narrowed his eyes. “And you think this is a children’s story?”

“Of course it is! You must have missed the unicorn. Children love unicorns.”

Rúmil cocked his head to the side. “Where is the hippopotamus?”

Heaving a heavy sigh, Orophin rolled up his plans. “You are missing the point.”

“There is a point to this?” wondered Celebrían.

“The POINT is to FOLLOW the HIPPO,” announced Orophin with exasperation.

“But WHERE is the HIPPO?” insisted Haldir.

Orophin opened his mouth, and then stood, thinking, one finger raised, brow furrowed. “Ohhhhh...”


“Alright... I will just change the princess to a hippopotamus, and make her the dragon slayer as well... there. All better.” Looking around at his siblings, Orophin saw three odd looks directed toward him. “What?”

“Maybe I am not the best literary critic,” said Rúmil, “but that... that just sounds wrong. First, your unicorn is going to get crushed.”

“Buttons is a very sturdy unicorn,” Orophin assured Rúmil. “His parents were badgers.”

There was a long silence before Rúmil dared to ask, “Is the prince a hippopotamus, too?”

“A hippopotamus prince? Of course not, Rúmil. What sort of children’s stories do you read?”

“Considering I have not been a child in some time—none!”

“Precisely. A hippo prince... how bizarre...”

Again, Haldir shook his head. Realizing Orophin would not leave them alone as long as he had something to argue about, he said, “I think you almost had something the other way, but not with a hippopotamus princess. Just change it back and come up with another title.”

“Fine. But the title stays!” Orophin clicked his tongue. “You just have no taste. None of you. Just wait until this becomes the number one book of all time. Then... well, then... well... you just wait, all of you.” Tucking his scroll under his arm, Orophin left the room.

“We are really fortunate he never had any children of his own,” mumbled Celebrían after Orophin had left.

“And let us hope it stays that way,” added Haldir, rubbing his forehead. “His wife has enough trouble dealing with one child as it is...”

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