Friday, November 17, 2017
Commander Rodal asked questions as they rode along the path. Dusty explained how she'd come to rescue Blue. "I had thought we'd just run straight for the castle," she said with a sigh. "Nothing has worked that simply."
Fox took over the tale. The commander was pleased with all the details Fox gave about the number of orcs, their equipment, and other things the military would be happy to know. Dusty listened as well and was even able to give a few more facts. In all, the first part of the journey went well enough.
They stopped by the oasis and Dusty gladly slipped from the horse to stretch. She also took Blue to the little pond and let him roll about in the water a bit.
"I don't like the heat much," he admitted.
"I'll wet the cloth in your basket and that will help."
"You really do understand him, don't you?" Commander Rodal said. He stood over them like a guard and she thought he looked amazed.
"Yes. That's why I heard him crying when no one else did," she said and gathered him up. He sat on her shoulder, a cool trickle of water running down her neck as she started to wet the cloth. "I didn't realize I could understand dragons until now. I have always done well with animals, though, so it must be related."
Commander Rodal nodded. Dusty got the basket ready for Blue with nice damp cloth. Then she went to where Captain Yend had dumped out the bag. The bits of food were all gone and even some of the cloth had been torn to pieces. She picked them up and put it all back into the mostly intact bag, then dropped it into the water as well.
"If I have to run, carrying Blue in the bag is easier -- and less noticeable -- than the basket," she explained as she pushed the bag into the basket as well.
"That's very wise," Rodal said and looked as though he took her more seriously now. "In fact, if things look troubling, give me the basket and I'll go one way while you take the dragon and go the other."
"Yes sir, that would be helpful," she agreed. They were getting ready to leave and after another long ride they would be at the river and the bridge. "I don't want anything to happen to any of us."
"We'll do our best to bluster our way through," Commander Rodal said. "And there will be more soldiers at the river, so we should have a good number if things get out of hand. You and Fox are to get through as best you can and ride as fast as you dare to the castle. Do not stop to find out how the rest of us do."
"I -- yes sir," she said knowing he as being wise. "I just don't want anyone to think I'm a coward --"
Rolad unexpectedly put a hand on her shoulder. Few people ever did that since she was a princess and she looked up, startled.
"No one would ever think you a coward, Princess Destiny," the man said and sounded far too serious. "Not after all you've done already and how you kept a clear head even through that mess with Yend. I will deal with him when everything else is cleared up."
"Oh, do let grandmother have a part in that." Dusty grinned. "I did warn him that my grandmother was going to be unhappy with him and he rather didn't take it seriously. I'm sure she'll want to have a few words with him about his rudeness to strangers."
Rodal laughed. "Oh, that sounds like a joyful end to this mess, doesn't it? Up you go, then. We'll be to the bridge at sunset. If we are very lucky, the orcs will have been pushed back and we'll be able to go straight through."
"Nothing as been that easy so far," Dusty admitted.
"I would like to hope for better," he said. "I don't look forward to fighting orcs."
"Shove them into the river if you can," Fox said. "That seems the only way to stop them."
In a few moments they were riding again. Even though the desert seemed endless, Dusty knew that soon they would be to the river and the canal, and from there she would be able to see home. The thought of it made her heart beat a little faster, but the fear of that last battle -- she hoped the last! -- filled her with dread.
Dusty was certain she never wanted another adventure --
Oh, but if she could go to see the dragons in the mountains and talk to them? Wouldn't that be an adventure as well? She didn't want to be tied forever to the castle, did she?
This wasn't the time to be thinking about that far into the future. Right now she need only think about getting Blue to the safety of the castle.
And then to sleep in her own bed tonight in quiet peace while others guarded and worked on how to get Blue back home. Oh, the idea of her own bed almost made her push the horse out ahead of the others, but she got her impatience in hand.
They ate some dried fruit and cheese. Fox pointed out where they had reached the path from the desert.
"Not far now," Rolad said. He paused his horse and the others all stopped with him. "You all know your duty. We must protect the Princess and her charge and make certain they reach the castle. Starkin, you ride ahead and warn the palace guard that she is heading their way. Say nothing of the dragon. We don't want anyone to get anxious to see him."
"Or to want to take him," Dusty added and won a nod. "I'll be careful."
They rode on. Soon she could see the green of the trees and the sparkling water.
And the orcs.
Friday, November 10, 2017
The captain yowled, the guards yelled, and Fox did his best to keep between them and Dusty while she worked recovered Blue who had leapt off the man and darted under the desk. At least the baby dragon didn't try to run from her and scurried to her hand.
By the time she'd crawled back out from under the desk another man had come into the room and looked rather startled at the scene.
"Captain Yend, what in the name of all the hells is going on here?" the newcomer demanded.
"Sir," the Captain said, his voice muffled. He had one hand to his nose, but it didn't appear to be bleeding. "This hussy has some sort of trained lizard. It bit me! Dangerous beast --"
"Do get up, young lady -- oh. Princess Destiny!"
Dusty hadn't been prepared to be recognized in this particular situation, and the man's sudden bow flustered her. A glance at Fox and his bright smile gave her back some courage, though. She stood up, holding blue in one hand as she nodded to the man.
"I assume that you are the Commander here? I am glad you came when you did. I'm afraid Captain Yend has been a great deal of trouble."
"People are looking everywhere for you! There's been some worry that the orcs took you, especially since they're acting so oddly -- that is not a lizard."
"No, sir. This is what the orcs really want back. I helped Blue escape, and with Fox's help we were trying to get back to the castle where I could talk to my grandmother -- to the Queen --"
Yend made a little sound of distress. He sat down. Dusty ignored him.
"Sir, after I was injured, I thought it wiser to head for the outpost and get more help so that Dusty -- Princess Destiny -- and Blue would have a good chance of getting past the orcs who would be stationed at the bridge, waiting for us," Fox explained. "They won't want the baby dragon returned to his mother where he can tell the tale of what happened. I suspect the orcs are panicked, sir."
"So they are," the man replied and still looked rather shocked. "What have you got to say for yourself, Captain Yend?"
"I didn't know Commander Radol," he said and sat up straighter. He had his hand away from his face. His nose was bright red but didn't look so bad. "They said they were runaways --"
"We said no such thing," Fox said, cutting short whatever tale the man meant to weave. "You decided what we were and forbade us to say anything at all. You threw us in cells -- put a princess of the line in one of those dark, dank cells --"
"I didn't know! She didn't say!"
"He's right about that," Dusty said. "I could tell I couldn't trust him, so I kept my name to myself and certainly didn't tell him about Blue. But let's not worry so much about what's happened. We need to get back to the castle. Blue's mother and the other dragons will be hunting him. There was already trouble in the north the day I disappeared. We need to let the dragons know that he is safe."
"Yes," Commander Radol agreed. "Gods, yes -- we must get moving immediately. Are you fit to ride, Princess Destiny?"
"Yes, sir," she said. "Fox -- if you are well enough -- I would like you with us. Blue trusts you."
He smiled brightly again. "I made it this far. I would be honored to go the rest of the way."
"Well then," Commander Radol said. He didn't look like a man who flustered easily. "I'll have the horses readied."
"I would like to clean up a little," she admitted. "And if you have a small basket with a handle so that I can carry Blue?"
"Yes, of course."
When Fox held out his arms, one of the guards quickly untied him. Then Fox went with them and acted every inch her guard, standing at the door to the guest quarters -- oh how nice that bed looked! -- while she cleaned up. Commander Rodal even sent her a lovely cotton dress and a pair of pants for underneath, knowing Dusty was going to be riding and not side-saddled. She also had a hat to block out some of the sunlight. There must have been some women here. Probably servants? Or perhaps the wife or daughter of Commander Rodal. The clothing was well made.
They brought Fox a clean uniform, and he changed with some help from one of the men. The entire attitude of people had changed, and Dusty was almost tempted to tell Fox he should remain behind. Except....
Dusty felt safer with someone she knew at her side. She could hand Blue over to him if she needed to, while the little dragon might not go willingly with others.
And besides, with Captain Yend back in charge, it was better that he go with her and Commander Rodal.
When they rode out of the gate, Dusty had a place beside Commander Rodal and with Fox riding to her right. Blue sat in a small basket before her, peeking his head out for a moment but then dropping back into the shadows. Dusty couldn't blame him once she saw the vast expanse of golden sand again.
"Well, at least I've gotten some sleep," she said as they headed out into the hot day.
"I thought about delaying until late tonight or early tomorrow," Commander Rodal said. He didn't look particularly happy about heading back out since he'd only gotten to the outpost a few hours before. "However, the trouble I saw at the Miru River Bridge makes me think the sooner we get back, the better. The sun will be mostly down by the time we reach that spot."
"Faster than walking," Dusty said and patted the horse on the neck. She tried not to think about the trouble they still faced.
Thursday, November 02, 2017
Late in the morning she heard noises out in the fortress and hoped that meant the commander had returned. There were a lot of shouts, but nothing that sounded dangerous. She even let Blue go up to the slit and look out.
"A lot of horses and men arrived," he said. "They just got in through the gate."
"That's good!" she said. He darted back down to her.
"They didn't look very happy."
"Those people just rode from the city to here. Maybe longer," she replied. "They can't have liked it any more than we did."
"I don't like the desert," Blue admitted. "I want to go back to the mountains and the snow. I want to go home!"
This was the first time Blue had admitted to being homesick. She gathered him up to her chest and held him like she'd held baby kittens. After a little bit, he sighed and relaxed.
"I want to go home, too, Blue," Dusty admitted. "And we're both going to go home and everyone will be happy to see us. We are going to stop a war, Blue. You'll be famous."
"Oh and you, too!" he said and grabbed hold of her arm. "But -- but if we go home, we won't see each other again!"
Dusty had not expected the little guy to admit that he'd miss her. She knew that she'd miss him.
"I'm sure we'll get a chance to visit each other," she replied and tried to make herself believe it. "My grandmother sends a group to visit with the dragons twice a year. I bet she'll let me go along!"
And there, finally, might be a job for her, as well. Dusty felt better at the idea and even Blue seemed to like it -- probably because he would be back home in the mountains and not doing the traveling.
A little later someone brought her food again. This man was surly though, and only grunted at her questions about the Commander. He did stop at the door though and looked back at her.
"Commander Radol got more important things to do than bother with a girl what led a good soldier astray. You be happy he bothers to feed you."
Then he slammed the door shut and the bolt went back into place.
"They don't sound very polite sometimes," Blue said as he came out of hiding in the blankets. "I don't know that I trust them much at all to help us."
"We'll see what Commander Radol is like," Dusty replied. "Well, at least we have some bread and cheese. Let's have a little picnic."
"I wish Fox was here," Blue admitted. "I want him to be safe, too."
"Me, too," she said.
They had a nice little meal and then Blue napped again. Dusty waited, but she soon realized that the man would have other things to handle before seeing prisoners.
Dusty napped as well, forcing herself to sleep because it helped to pass the time. She wished she could talk to Fox and find out what he thought she should do. They had done well together despite this last trouble. She trusted his good sense.
They hadn't fallen into the hands of the orcs yet. That thought lulled her back to sleep once more.
The door moved. Blue, wise little dragon that he was, leapt from her lap up to her shoulder and into her hair before the door fully opened. Two men stood there.
"You're to come with us now, miss," one said. She couldn't tell them apart there in the shadows, but she got quickly to her feet, glad the wait was finally over. "Come quick now. The Captain don't like to be kept waiting."
"Captain?" she said, faltering. "But I thought the Commander was to see me."
"He got better things to do then see the likes of you," the second man snarled.
Not someone she could trust, then. She was glad when they stopped and brought Fox out. He looked as though he hadn't slept nearly as well as Dusty and Blue and she felt badly for him then. He did look relieved to see her, though. Since he said nothing, neither did she.
The outpost wasn't very large and the high walls blocked off any view, making it seem smaller still. A few lizards darted here and there and startling her so that she almost patted at her hair to make certain Blue was still there.
They went into the one large building and into a small office where the Captain sat behind his desk. He still glared which meant there was no hope of this going better than the first meeting.
So Dusty decided she might as well be brave and strong.
"I demand to see the commander," she said, her head up as she faced the man. "I demand to see him right now."
She'd flustered him, if nothing else. She caught a hint of a smile on Fox's face though he made certain the Captain did not see that look.
"I don't know who you think you are, missy, but we don't take orders from runaway servants --"
"I am not --"
"Silence!" He got to his feet. Clearly the man was not used to anyone talking back to him.
Fox made a little sound of warning and Dusty would have backed down. Unfortunately, the Captain came around the desk, the better to intimidate her.
"I will have none of that behavior, young lady!" His voice grew louder with each word and his face turned a darker shade of red. "You and the deserter --"
"He is not a deserter!"
The captain reached out and caught her by the shoulder with a vicious shake --
Fox and Blue both took exception to that move. Fox, even with his hands tied, knocked the man back while Blue leapt from her hair -- taking a few strands with him -- and landed atop the captain's head.
Then he bent over and bit the man on the nose.
Friday, October 27, 2017
Dusty dared not move for a moment, afraid that her legs would give out and she would fall. Of all the things that might have happened, this was not something she had contemplated. The Captain should have been on her side! He wouldn't even listen --
"Can I come out now? Your hair tickles," Blue whispered.
Dusty smiled despite the situation. "Come out. I'm afraid this isn't a very nice room, though. And be ready to hide if you hear anyone at the door."
"I wish I weren't too young to grow my wings," he mumbled as he slid out of her hair and down to her shoulder. "I'd fly up and bite a nose or two!"
Dusty fought not to laugh since the little guy sounded so serious. He climbed down, and she did her best to keep track of him, not knowing what else might be in the room. There was a covered bucket with a drain through the floor. She used it and made certain the lid was on tight so that he couldn't slip in there and disappear. A bed of old straw and a ragged blanket sat on the opposite wall, and she settled with her head against the stone wall.
As angry as Dusty felt, she realized this was not the worst thing that could have happened. They were not out in the sunlight. They were not anywhere near the orcs, and while the Captain was a rude man with no good sense (which might be why he was out here away from everyone), she could still hope that the commander would be a wiser person.
Someone came to the door. Blue scurried into the straw as the door opened. Two men stood there, one with a tray. Food?
"Dinner, miss," he said and held the tray out. The other handed her a water skin and a blanket. "That'll get you through the night. The commander will be back before noon tomorrow if all is well."
"Thank you," she said and took the tray. The other man sat the additional material by the door.
"Blanket will help," he mumbled. Embarrassed, Dusty realized. They probably didn't often throw young ladies into cells here. And oh, if he found out she was a princess of the line -- but she said nothing. They were being kind.
Dusty was glad to see there was another tray outside on a rolling stand, and a blanket as well. Fox wouldn't suffer any worse than her, though she suspected his shoulder would keep him awake.
The guards closed and locked her door before they opened the one across the way. She tried to listen and thought she heard Fox say something -- but it was no use standing there while the food went cold. She took the tray back to the bedding and sat down, sharing with Blue. He was such a little thing that he really didn't eat much and afterward he curled up in her lap and napped.
Dusty slept off and on as well. Twice she awoke from nightmares about orcs, but she could hear nothing out of place outside the cell. The little sliver of light had disappeared, but there was a slight flickering around the door which meant a torch out in the hall. She found that reassuring as she gathered the second blanket and the water. Then she and Blue curled up to sleep through the night.
Now that it had gone dark, though, she began to feel more than a little restless. The stone walls creaking as they cooled sounded ominous, even though it was no different sound than she'd heard back at the castle. An occasional shout by the guards -- no doubt a common occurrence during the night watch, woke her with a start. By the first light of morning, she was growing bad-tempered and knew that would not help her case.
Dusty began to worry about when the commander might make it back, though. Hadn't the man said 'if all goes well?' If the commander was anywhere near the gathering orcs, it might not go well at all, and he might be forced to stay wherever he happened to be.
And the dragons -- they might be on the move by now as well, and it was unlikely anyone would know why. That thought got her up and pacing for a while. Blue stayed on her shoulder.
"Oh how I do hate waiting," she finally confessed when she realized that Blue had started to worry. "There is nothing worse wrong, you know. I just want to get somewhere we can do good. The Captain is going to have much to answer for by the time I'm done."
That made Dusty feel better, though she usually would not have been such a vindictive person. His behavior had been unreasonable, though.
They shared a few scraps of bread left over from the meal from the night before. Dusty tried not to think about the bag the Captain had emptied out, and the pieces of fruit and cheese left there in the sand. Mostly she tried not to feel sorry for herself.
So she paced a little more in the small room before she settled on the blankets to wait out the time. It couldn't be much longer, could it?
Blue played a bit with some straw, climbed up the walls --
"Oh please don't go out!" Dusty cried, startled to see his shadow fall across the floor. He stood in the slit of a window high up on the wall where she could not reach.
"I promise I won't go out. I just wanted to sit in the sun for a little while," he said and came back down. "It won't be much longer, will it? I don't think these are very nice people to keep you and Fox locked up like this. No nicer than the orcs!"
"It will be all right," she promised. "We just have to be patient."
But she hoped something happened soon.
Friday, October 20, 2017
I have not done a regular blog post in a couple of months. I have kept up on the Flash Fiction serial -- can't miss a week of that one! -- but I just couldn't think of anything else to write here. I got busy, I got ill, I got both busy and ill sometimes ... and I just ran out of energy. And now....
Now we are only days away from NaNoWriMo! The picture today is the cover for my main NaNo Novel. I am not entirely ready. The outline for the first novel (since I usually do more than one) is not done. I can see the end, finally, but I have this blank spot between a significant scene and how it all turns out. I can't even say how much is going to happen between the two spots. Nor can I say WHAT will happen.
But I have a great set of characters and an excellent plot up to that point. I know what my people are about to find and once I work out the implications, I will see where it goes. I might not 'see' that part until I'm actually writing the novel. Not a problem -- I have an outline to get me that far and I've never had a problem ending a story.
I realize that I have inadvertently borrowed the attitude of one character (a historical person) from one of C. J. Cherryh's stories. That made me laugh because it seemed so logical. I think she'll be amused.
It is amazing how many things affect our writing, and we don't always realize it. Just a little hint of this, a memory of that -- and suddenly there it is in a story. You might not even realize it. This one was just obvious when I thought about the character.
So, I have most of one outline ready for NaNo. I have a second outline all done, but it will be my second book since I already wrote about 2500 words on it. Once I get at least one complete (50k plus) novel written, then I can go to it if I have time. I'm not sure that I will. My goal is only 100k this year. I might do better, but I am not aiming at the 250k or so that I sometimes do. 100k is a calm NaNo for me. Since I've been ill, I don't want to push too hard.
But I do want to have fun! That's part of why I am less concerned with totals this year. Last year was kind of tricky because I was trying to hit an overall total for all the NaNo's I'd done through the years. I wanted 3,000,000 words -- and I made it. This is year 17 for me, and I have always won. I love the joy of finding all these writers in one place, and a good many of them having fun. (If you are not having fun, don't do it. Drop out. NaNo isn't for everyone, and it will not affect your career as a writer one way or another unless you learn something from it. NaNo is a good time to experiment, have fun -- and realize that you are not the only writer out there in the world who are dealing with one problem or another.
Have fun, NaNo or not!
Thursday, October 19, 2017
Some of the soldiers stopped at the oasis but four rode on, the man in the lead red-faced and looking annoyed. Dusty and Fox still walked forward, but the feeling of hope that she'd held only moments already disappeared.
"What's this then?" the man demanded as he leaned down from his horse to look at them.
He did not offer water. In fact, for the moment, he blocked the way to the oasis which annoyed Dusty.
"Captain," Fox said with a proper salute. "We were heading for the outpost. I'm glad to see you here so we don't have so far to walk."
"What's your company? You've deserted, haven't you? Taken this pretty little thing and thought you'd head out into the wilderness? Well by the Gods, you won't get help from us."
"That's not --" Fox began, appalled by the accusation
"I have not given you leave to speak. I suggest you keep your words to yourself and think up really good ones for the commander."
Dusty had been growing increasingly angry, but those last words calmed her again. This man was not fully in charge, then. Good. She stood straighter and met his narrow-eyed stare. For a moment she hoped he might recognize her, or maybe one of the others would.
He led them to the oasis rather than even putting her on a horse with one of her men. Fox was livid by the time they reached the water and had to wait until even the horses had been given their share. She thought some of the men looked upset, but it was clear that this Captain kept a firm hand on everything.
Dusty hoped he enjoyed the moment because when she got back to her grandmother, he was not going to be a Captain any longer. There had been no reason for this behavior.
Dusty sipped gratefully of the water Fox brought her and managed to get some in her hand and down to Blue. She did not bring him out. The fool would probably think Blue was a pet lizard and toss him away. TOh why did this fool have to make more trouble?
"Should I go to him?" she whispered when Fox brought her another cup of water.
He shook his head. So they were agreed on this one.
"What's that you are planning?" the Captain demanded. He stalked over to them -- a small man carrying too much weight and with the fire of anger in his eyes. "Give me that bag! What did you steal?"
"This is mine!" she said, panicked because Blue still hid inside. "How dare you --"
"Keep quiet, girl. You're in enough trouble already."
She stood and darted behind Fox as though for protection, but she huddled down and grabbed Blue out. "Hide in my hair! Pull your tail up!"
He scrambled up her arm and into her frizzy hair, his little claws like needles into her skin. The officer still yelled and she finally stepped out and threw the bag at his feet.
"There. Take it then. When my grandmother hears about this --"
"Oh, your old granny will come after me, will she?" He picked up the bag, turned it out into the dirt and kicked everything around. Then he caught Dusty by the arm and shook her.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
They hurried even though that wasn't wise in the desert. However, both knew they needed to put at least one rise between them and the flatter ground around the river. Dusty regretted leaving the water and the green behind, but she said nothing and only looked back once.
Fox moved steadily forward. He looked better now that they were walking. She suspected that the worry over what would happen if they had stayed by the river had been almost worse than his injury.
As soon as Fox could look back and no longer see the river, he began to slow.
"If this gets to be too much, we'll find a bit of shade somewhere and hold up until the sun starts to go down," Fox said. He sounded assured. "We might even get lucky and run into a patrol. I can't guarantee that one, but I hope for one."
"That would be nice," she said, already feeling the heat and the ache in her legs. "I'm sorry -- I'm just not up to this kind of travel."
"You have done wonderfully," Fox insisted. "This isn't a situation where I would have wanted to be with many of the people I know, even those in the army." He stopped to sip some water and had her and Blue do the same. "We don't have to rush."
"Unless the orcs figure out we went this way or take the path to make certain," she answered with a worried look over her shoulder.
"Even if they do, we couldn't get to the outpost any faster," he said. The calm finality in his voice made Dusty feel more assured. Calm also helped her consider what she could do if the orcs did arrive. She'd have to find some way to hide Blue.
Or would it be wiser to let the orcs have Blue rather than leaving him alone in the desert? They'd feed him, at least. She didn't like to think about the little guy lost in the sands and dying.
Dusty shivered despite the heat.
She and Fox spoke little as they walked on. Dusty found the feel of the stone path beneath her feet reassuring and far better than traveling across the unmarked sands. As long as she could see the track, she had no fear of getting lost. They were going somewhere, and each step without the orcs pounding up behind them was a gift.
"Look! Trees!" Fox said, startling Dusty.
She had been watching her feet and refraining from looking at the bright sand around them. Dusty looked up and saw a spot of darkness a few miles away. She could not make out what it was at first, but as her eyes adjusted, she saw a few palms -- a sure sign of water.
"That will help," Dusty said softly. She hadn't realized how dizzy she felt until then. How could she feel so cold --
And when had she sat down?
"Here now," Fox said. He rested on his heels and held out a water skin. "Drink some. Not a lot at first. Just drink it. We're almost to the water."
"Are we? It seemed so far."
"I can go ahead and get more water if I need to," Fox replied. He looked worried. "Rest."
He had placed himself so that his shadow fell over her. That helped. She sipped the water, made sure Blue had some -- he splashed a bit in her hand and made her smile again. She could not imagine the little guy growing more massive than most buildings she'd seen. He was happy to go back into his bag. Dusty was glad since she feared he might fall off her shoulder and she wouldn't notice.
So many things to fear.
"I'm sorry," she said when she looked back at Fox. "Let's see if we can get to the oasis. I think we'd all feel better resting there."
"Only if you feel well enough to walk," he said. "And you don't have to apologize. This has been unpleasant and difficult for all three of us. But we are getting there, Princess Dusty. We'll see Blue to safety."
She took courage and strength from his steadfast belief in their ability to handle even this unrelenting desert. She stood once more, sipped the water, and they started out again. Compared to how far they'd already traveled, this stretch to those lovely green trees did not seem so distant.
"I'd never been assigned to this outpost," Fox said. "But I thought I remembered some of the soldiers talking about a resting spot a little more than halfway to the outpost," he admitted. "I wanted to tell you, but I feared that I might be wrong and I didn't want to disappoint you."
"I'm glad you were right," Dusty answered. Part of her wanted to race toward that green, but she knew that even walking at this steady pace might wear her down again. She still felt lightheaded, but she tried to keep that from Fox. Nevertheless, the soldier stayed close by her. He even talked more. She suspected he wanted to be certain she wasn't going to faint again.
"I've some salt. We'll take it when we reach the water," Fox said. "That should help, too. Do you think Blue needs some?"
"I'll ask when we get there. I hope there is someplace I can soak my feet for a little while. I've never fully appreciated the wonder of water before, you know."
He laughed, and so did she. The Oasis was close enough that she could clearly see the palm fronds and even some fig trees. She wondered who had brought the trees to plant here years ago. This could not be natural.
And then something even better. When they were no more than a quarter mile from the welcoming shade, a group of a dozen soldiers appeared riding from the other direction.
Neither Dusty nor Fox expected the soldiers to cause more trouble.
Friday, October 06, 2017
Fox took care of the horses. Dusty curled up on the ground, Blue close to her, and closed her eyes. She slept and didn't care what happened.
When she woke, Dusty remembered the trouble and she sat up with a start.
It hurt to move. She moaned and looked around. Fox sat with his back against a tree and his eyes closed, but the moment she started to stand, he looked at her. They'd both needed the rest, and there wouldn't be another chance soon, she feared.
"Are you okay?" Fox asked and looked worried.
"Sore," she admitted. Her voice sounded hoarse, and her throat hurt. Fox looked in worse shape. He'd managed to make a sling for his injured arm and from the wince that came with a little movement, she could tell he'd been badly injured. "Will you be okay?"
"I think the shoulder bone is cracked," he admitted. "Not broken, though. We can't stay much longer, Princess --"
"Dusty," she corrected as she let Blue out of his bag. "Don't wander too far."
"I won't," he promised. "I learned that lesson."
Dusty watched him head to the tree and scamper up into the leaves. He didn't climb far. By then Fox had gotten to his feet. She would have helped. He looked unsteady.
"What can I do?" she asked.
"We have to make a decision," Fox replied and leaned against the tree. "I listened. Some of the orcs headed to the city, Dusty. The others must have gone in the opposite direction. I don't think we should go back to the capital. Not yet."
"Cross the river again?" She looked toward the turbulent water and shivered despite herself.
"No. I don't want to risk that again," Fox replied.
That relieved Dusty until she noticed that Fox stared off into the desert on their side of the river. She shook her head, unable to speak. It would be madness to head into that wasteland now that they were safe by the water!
But they weren't safe.
"There is an army outpost half a day away," Fox said when he finally looked back at her. "If we can get there before the orcs realize which direction we took, you'll have all the guards you need to get safely back to the castle and the queen. I've gotten you this far, but with my arm injured, I won't be much help if we run into trouble. The orcs have headed for the bridges we need to cross. None of our friends may have gotten through to tell the others about the baby dragon. Soldiers will be watching the orcs, but they're not going to be ready to help us. That would put Blue in danger."
"Oh." Dusty didn't want to go into the desert, but what he said made sense. Another half a day sounded like more torture than she could stand. She wanted to go home and never wish for an adventure again!
Fox was right, of course. They had to take the best way to save Blue. Running straight toward where they would find the orcs would not help if they still couldn't stand up to them.
"Do you think the horses can make it that far across the desert?" she asked. Both mounts looked worn.
"I thought we might walk," he said. "That is if you can send the horses home without us."
Dusty frowned and then considered his idea. "So that when the orcs get this far from the other bridge, they'll follow the horses," she said. "We'll need to make certain we leave no obvious prints, though."
"That will be difficult --"
"Maybe not. I think I can get the birds to help." She still wasn't fond of the idea, but it might be their best chance of surviving. "Let's get the horses ready to go."
"I'm sorry, Dusty," he said. "Maybe if I hadn't hurt my arm I'd feel differently --"
"I doubt it," she said and finally forced a smile. Her lips felt dry and cracked. "There's just the two of us to get Blue to safety. You would have realized we can't simply charge through a line of orcs waiting for us. Let's find your soldiers. How long on foot?"
"Half a day for marching men," he said. "I suspect it won't take us much longer than that to get there, especially since the sun will go down and we'll have cooler weather."
Fox went to get supplies from the horses. Dusty helped and wouldn't let him carry more than some extra water. Soon she found herself whispering to the horses and telling them to go the city -- to go home. They seemed reluctant to leave her, but eventually, she sent them hurrying away. Dusty regretted it immediately. Now there would be no choice but to walk.
First, they drenched themselves in river water and made certain their water skins were full. "Where is this trail to the outpost?" Dusty asked as she got Blue to settle on her shoulder.
"About three miles from here. It parallels the river for a while and then heads inland. We'll cut across the desert and intersect with it." He sounded more assured though his face looked pale despite his tanned skin. "It's easy to find since the mages laid it out with stone. The outpost is at the edge of the Griffin Lands. Lucky for us that it hasn't been abandoned yet."
There hadn't been trouble with the griffins for over a century. Dusty hadn't realized there was even still an outpost there. She looked at the desert with a hardly concealed sigh. "I guess we better go."
They walked away from the little camp they'd made. She stopped a few yards out and called to the birds. Soon they swept up and down across the sands and buried their footprints. Dusty bade them farewell and headed into the desert once more.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
They didn't have to urge the horses to move faster. Between the fear of the orcs and the longing for the water they could clearly see, the horses proved more than willing to run.
Dusty feared they wouldn't reach that safety, though. The orcs found more energy and their own horses were flagging. Hers stumbled, regained footing, and stumbled again. They were going down.
Fox leapt from his own horse and grabbed her out of the saddle while she held tight to the bag. Somehow he pulled her free of the floundering horse and all but tossed her up on his own. She barely caught hold and didn't fall off the other side. He slapped the horse hard on the rump, and it took off again.
She didn't want to go on alone!
The river couldn't be more than a quarter of a mile away, and the orcs were no more than half a mile back. Dusty had feared Fox was going to try to hold them off, but instead, he'd gotten her mount back to his feet and leapt into the saddle. The horse moved, though with a slight limp that she feared would get worse very fast.
Just get to the river!
The water had been higher recently, and the edge of the slope came to her suddenly -- and was slick. The horse gave a cry of surprise and fear as the animal started to slide, and in a moment they were in the current, the horses flailing. Blue gave a cry of fear in the bag, but she held him up and tried to direct the horse to the far bank though that seemed too far away. The icy water spraying over her was such a shock that she feared she would be ill and pass out. Everything seemed out of place, and the horse could not be doing much better.
The sounds of the orcs grew too loud, and she looked back in fear, expecting them to be coming for her --
No. They would not climb into the water. In fact, even as Dusty watched, one got caught on the slippery edge just as she and the horse had and slid down into the water with a scream of fear and dismay. Fox had been not too far ahead of the doomed orc, and the horse made a frantic dash farther into the water to escape the clutching hands.
The orc went underwater. It hadn't been that deep, she thought -- but there had probably been a lot of mud, and the orc was very heavy. She felt sorry that it would die there but glad that no others would leap into the water as well.
"To the far side!" Fox yelled.
And for a good reason. The orcs were drawing out their weapons, including slings and they had plenty of rocks on hand.
"To the far shore," she told her mount, gently brushing a hand over his right ear. "Go, my friend. We must get clear. We can rest when we are out of range. Are you all right, Blue?"
"Y-yes," he said. He sounded more frightened than injured, and this was not the time to bring him out. Dusty had a good hold of the bag, and the horse was trying to reach the other bank, though they seemed to be going more downstream than across. The orcs were trying to pace them, but they were staying back from the edge of the water now. More shrubs and even a few short trees were growing in the area, too and they helped to keep the orcs back.
Fox somehow caught up with her. He took hold of the bridle, though he moved with a wince of pain and his face had gone white. He must have been hit by one of the rocks. Many of them were falling around them in the water. One hit her horse, and she almost fell.
And then birds flew up from the bushes, screaming in protest -- and swarming the orcs so suddenly that some of them dropped their weapons to protect their faces and eyes.
"Good birds!" Dusty cried out. "Be careful, little friends!"
"Curve -- ahead," Fox gasped. "Head straight if you can."
The river curved to the right but if she went straight, she'd be on the far bank. Fox unexpectedly let go, but only to move to her right and help keep the horse heading for the dry land. The animal was well tired of the water by now, so it didn't take much of a push to keep going where they wanted.
And by slow steps, with the orcs yelling and screaming, they made their way up out of the water and onto the land beyond -- more desert, but a line of green close by the water. Grass of some sort. She hoped it was good for the horses. She hoped....
One step. Another.
They were out of the water. The horse stopped and stood there shivering while rocks flew into the river, splashing close by, though none seemed able to send the rocks all the way across. Just the same, Fox dismounted, took hold of both horses, and headed toward a small stand of trees no more than a few hundred yards away.
It could have been miles. By the time the leaf-covered limbs covered her in shade, she could barely still sit up.
"Down now," Fox said. He only lifted his left hand to help her. "Come down and rest. There is nowhere for them to cross for fifty miles on either side of us, you know. We're safe for now. We need to rest and then head toward the capital as fast as we dare."
"Yes." She handed the bag over, and he took it carefully in hand. She slid down mostly on her own, but her legs didn't want to hold her. She went to her knees and hoped he was right about the orcs. She couldn't go on.
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Riding for so long in the desert heat left Dusty half-ill by mid-morning. Fox made her stop and poured water over her -- a shock of cold across her face and hair, but she felt better afterward.
"Oh, but we might have needed that water!" she protested once her thoughts cleared.
"We'll be fine. We aren't that far from the river," Fox assured her and sounded so confident that she decided to trust his words. The water was drying on her too fast, though. She knew that she'd be just as miserable as she had been before too long.
When Dusty looked back, she could see a broad line of billowing sand.
"We've gained about ten miles on them," Fox said as he looked, too. "They can make that up pretty fast if we don't work at staying ahead."
"I don't mean to slow us down," she said. "I've just never ridden like this before."
"You haven't slowed us down at all!" Fox protested and sounded sincere. "We can't run the horses much harder, you know. I only noticed you were not doing well after we slowed. But that's alright. You have done far better than I would have expected from someone raised at court."
"I only spend part of the year there, you know. And I never did fit in well."
"Not being like all the others isn't such a bad thing, is it?" Fox asked. He sounded sincerely concerned and interested.
"Before all of this stated, I should have told Grandmother -- The Queen -- what path I wanted to take in my life. All my cousins knew what they wanted, but I couldn't come up with anything," she admitted and felt that wave of dejection retake her.
"Oh, I know what you should be," he said and smiled brightly when she looked his way. "Mistress of the Horse and Keeper of All Things Wild."
He made her laugh -- though maybe there was something to what he said.
At least he gave her something to think about while the cool water evaporated from her face and clothing. She focused on what such a job might be like, and in that way let her mind wander away from the heat and the trouble following behind them. Dusty trusted Fox.
"We've gone over halfway," Fox said sometime later. "I fear we are going to have to ride hard again, Dusty. They're gaining ground."
She looked back with a start and saw that he was right. All thoughts about caring for horses and walking the woods disappeared, though she found that the images had refreshed her. She could see something for the future, and even if it wasn't true, it gave her hope.
When she looked back, she could see that the orcs were moving faster again and were far closer than she liked. She checked on Blue, but he was asleep and didn't seem to be any worse for the heat. He'd ate part of the apple slice, which at least gave him some liquid. He was also not in the direct sunlight, but it still could not be comfortable for him. Blue did not complain, just blinked sleepily at her, stretched a little, and then curled up in a ball.
"We have to ride faster again," she said. They were already starting to gain speed, her horse matching pace with Fox's mount. "Be careful in there."
"I will," Blue muttered, but she suspected he was mostly asleep. She hoped he stayed that way and didn't suffer too much.
She could suddenly hear the grunts of the orcs behind them. So did the horses and they'd rested just enough that they were eager to run again and get ahead of the enemy again, though they could not run far. The land looked flat here, and she hoped to see the river -- but the glare of light on the sand made looking too far ahead painful.
They rode faster and then slower, and then faster again, though not for long. The orcs did fall behind once more, though not by very far.
Dusty considered giving Blue over to Fox and telling him to ride on without her. She trusted that he would do his best to get the baby dragon back to the castle if he was able -- but then she realized that no one there would understand Blue anyway. Oh, they would figure things out, but she could help settle everything faster. Besides, if something did happen to Fox, Blue would have no one to turn to.
She held the bag more protectively, leaning forward a little --
"Is that -- is that green ahead of us?" she whispered, her throat almost too dry to speak.
Fox stood up in his saddle as though he could see better that way. Then he turned a dusty faced smile to her. "It is! And I think the horses smell the water of the river. They're starting to move faster. There should be a dock at the end of the trail. There might be a boat, and maybe even a small fishing village, though it moves."
"Moves?' she asked, squeaking out the one word.
"The river changes with the seasons. The villages along the edge shift to the better places for fishing. Right now, early in the spring, they'll likely be upriver closer to the mountains where they can get the most fish coming down from the mountain thaw."
"I didn't realize," she said, surprised by the lack of knowledge. She tried to learn everything she could about the people around her. "I knew they went fishing upstream, but I didn't realize the whole village --"
A sudden roar of sound from behind startled her, Fox, and the horses. She thought Blue even moved in his bag.
"They know the water's there now as well," Fox said. They could both see the orcs starting to move faster. "Hold on tight again, Dusty. This is it."
Friday, September 15, 2017
Dusty looked back and slowed -- the orcs looked confused. That would not help.
"I need you to be brave again, Blue," she said and reached her hand into the bag.
Blue grabbed hold, scurried up her arm and to her shoulder. She stopped, Fox beside her, though he looked worried.
"You will never have the baby dragon again!" she shouted. "And you had better hope his mother never catches you!"
The orcs shouted in dismay and maybe fear. With no doubt that they had their attention, Dusty turned her anxious horse and started away again. However, before they had gone more than a yard, the horse Dusty was riding became frightened by the growing roar of sound behind them. Blue gave a cry of dismay and darted back into the bag. Dusty feared she would be thrown, and wrapped one arm tight around the bag with Blue while she held tight to the reins with the other.
"Calm, my friend!" she shouted over the roar of angry orcs, the yells of people, the cries of dozens of birds, and the barks of every dog in the town. "Calm! We will get away!"
The horse calmed, took on a long-legged gait, and ran steadily toward the end of town. Fox's horse did the same.
"Well done!" Fox yelled. He'd probably thought she was going to end up on the ground, bones broken.
Dusty gave him only a nod and held tight still. The horse would sense her own fears, and she needed to get control or else this would end badly. It helped that the sounds of the village were already less loud. She dared to look back. Two soldiers rode with them, but behind that group, she could see the turmoil the others had created. The orcs had not yet gotten past them.
She hoped no one was hurt.
They sped past the edge of town where crumbling old buildings were slowly crumbling back into the sand from which they'd been born. Fox still rode close beside her, the horses almost neck and neck as though they raced for fun. Dusty wished to make the ride a game, but she knew that a long, hard journey stood between her and the dubious safety of the river.
Fox pointed out the trail just ahead, and she prepared to turn, daring one look back. Somehow, the townspeople were still holding the orcs at bay, though she didn't think they could do so much longer. As soon as they took the turn, she and Fox both let the horses run full out down the road, around a curve, and down a hillside covered with fig trees and small plots of crops. Before Dusty stretched nothing but desert hills now, golden in the growing light.
How far to the river? She couldn't see it from here, but the land rose and fell in low lying hills. She could see no line of green, which would be a sure sign of water. Would they dare ride through the heat of the day? It wasn't bad now, but soon the sand would reflect as much heat as the sun beat down on it.
Daring one glance back, she knew they had no choice. The orcs had gotten free of the townspeople, but now the few troops they left behind had started to slow them.
"Hold on and ride fast!" Fox shouted.
Fox clearly did not intend to ride off without her, and the idea that he might put himself into danger on her account worried her enough that she stopped looking behind and pressed the horse forward again.
The shouts and yells behind began to fade as they went down one hill and then up again. Fox looked back, so she did as well. The soldiers, though few in number, had held the orcs. One of the massive creatures might even be dead.
"Down fast and then slow on the next incline," Fox said.
Her horse panted badly, but he liked the down hill rush. He didn't mind slowing on the next hill, which had been a little steeper and higher. At the top, Fox stopped finally.
"Rest for a little while," he said. "We need to be careful of the horses, and I think the orcs will have trouble on the hills. We're going to hit the flatlands soon, though. We'll want to keep a good distance as long as we can."
"Yes," she said, barely catching her own breath. "Are you all right, Blue?"
"It was kind of fun to bounce up and down on the fluffy stuff in here. And I landed on a piece of apple."
She laughed and related what he said to Fox. The soldier looked at her with a touch of wonder on her face. They started away again, though not very fast. The orcs hadn't even made it to the first hill yet, but she knew they dared not go too slow.
"What will we do at the river?" she asked.
"I hope to find some sort of craft. The current is with us so we can float down stream to the canal. We're sure to find some help to reach the capital from there. The orcs are found to follow the river bank. We have to hope that it doesn't narrow too much that they might be able to reach us."
"I always wanted an adventure," Dusty admitted. "This is not what I thought it would be like, though."
"Adventures are always better when you can tell about them after they're done," Fox replied.
"I suppose so. They do make good reading. Have you had adventures?"
"Oh, a few," he replied and pressed to go a little faster. Dusty stayed with him, grateful that she did not need to make this journey alone. "We'll have to sit down and talk about adventures sometime."
"I would like that very much," she said.
He looked startled, but she smiled. And then they moved faster once more.
Friday, September 08, 2017
"I think we're ready to go," Dusty said as she came back out. She put Blue in the bag. "You need to be safe, my friend."
"They'll need to see him," Fox reminded her. "Unless we try to truly sneak away, which is not entirely a bad idea."
"That would leave the orcs destroying things here," Dusty protested. "We'll have to let them know, but we should get to the edge of town first. If I can get some obstacles in the way, that might help."
"We might manage to upset things a bit as well," one of the men said.
"Carefully," Fox replied. "Confusion will help. Shouting. Pointing that we have a baby dragon. Since they haven't said what they're looking for that should get their attention."
Dusty put the food Happy had gathered into the bag with Blue. He sniffed appreciatively. "We better go. The longer we wait, the more damage they'll do, and they might find us."
"True," Fox agreed. "The horses are at the stables half way through Goodwater on the main road."
"I really don't know this town at all," she admitted. She'd remember the name, though. These people had helped her. "I'll have to follow you."
Fox dared to put a hand on her shoulder. "If anything happens to me, you must ride to the end of town and take the first trail heading for the river. It is the best chance you have of getting away."
Dusty thought of how dangerous this would be and how she did not want to go on alone. She gave one nod to Fox and dared not say anything aloud for fear she might, finally, break down into tears.
Just going to ride a horse, she thought. Race the horse. She had out ridden her brothers on more than one occasion, much to their chagrin. Horses responded well to her.
Like birds, dogs ... baby dragons.
Did that make her special? No one else had heard Blue's cries as anything more than some creature upset somewhere in the mass of people and orcs. She didn't understand birds, dogs, cats, and rats -- but the more Dusty thought about it, the more she realized how they'd always obeyed her and even came to her aid when she needed help.
So maybe she was special. Being able to do something no one else could made Dusty feel strange. It also gave her responsibility, and she held tighter to the bag.
Happy gave Dusty the sort of hug her mother did whenever Princess Destiny headed to the capital for her stay with Grandmother. It was what she'd needed just then, and she whispered her thank you to the older woman.
Then Dusty, Fox, and another soldier went out the door and into the brisk morning air. Dusty tried not to shiver, and that feeling didn't come from the cold anyway. She could hear the orcs far too loudly out here and didn't want to think about what would happen to her or Blue if they were caught now.
Fox sent the other soldier on to get two horses ready. The man frowned slightly but then nodded.
"He wants to come with us," Fox said softly. He helped Dusty over a fence, letting them stay out of sight as they hurried past the backs of buildings and through gardens. "But I want the soldiers to do all they can to help slow the orcs and then to help the others."
"Should someone go to my grandmother?" she asked. She could hear the horses. They'd soon be riding as hard as she ever had in her life.
"There are only six of us," he said with a bit of worry. "Four of those are going to follow us and try to harass the orcs and slow them down enough for us to get across the river. Once we're there, it's hard to say what the orcs will do."
"Probably head for the nearest bridge," she said. "Even if they don't like bridges, I would think they'd head that way in this case."
"Yes, that's true," he said and offered her a smile. "I'll tell them that if it's possible, one of them should head back to the capital. Otherwise, you and I on the river might get there faster."
"Oh, that's true," Dusty said and felt pleased with the idea. "I am eager to get back home now."
"I imagine so," Fox replied.
"And Blue wants to go home, too. Poor little guy. I hope we can get this settled soon. The first step is getting back to the palace and finding someone who can send word to his mother."
Fox nodded, looking worried again. She didn't know if that was because they were nearly to the horses, which she could see saddled only a few yards away, or if he considered the damage that a full grown dragon might do if she didn't get her son back soon.
"Are you ready?" Fox asked.
Dusty took one deep breath. "Yes. Let's hurry before anything else happens here."
"I'll help you on your horse. You start riding immediately. Head down the street," Fox pointed in the direction opposite of from the orcs. "I'll follow. There will be a lot of yelling about you having the dragon. If it is safe, bring Blue out for a moment -- but don't stand still for very long."
"I won't. Thank you," Dusty said. She hoped that nothing happened to Fox. She didn't want to ride off into the desert by herself. This was not the sort of thing that should be entirely in her hands.
Dusty knew she had done well so far. Time to move on and start heading for home. That thought gave her hope again. So she hurried over to the horses and Fox helped her quickly up on one. She grabbed the reins and started away, even as she heard the first shouts from the orcs.
Time to ride!
Friday, September 01, 2017
Orcs shouted louder again, and something crashed to the ground. Dusty feared a building had been destroyed. Her heart caught with a combination of fear and anger.
"They have no right!" she shouted. Blue sat on her shoulder, observing the others. Dusty stood straighter though despair tried to make her feel helpless. "We have to get Blue away, but we also have to make certain the orcs realize that he's no longer here in the village so these people will be safe."
Everyone in the room nodded, but she didn't see hope or help there.
"You need travel food," Happy said suddenly. She got up and began moving. "No matter what you do, you need to be prepared."
"Yes, thank you," Dusty agreed. "And a piece of fruit for Blue would be nice right now."
Happy got him a nice slice of apple and seemed to have gone from afraid to enchanted, which Dusty appreciated far more. Dusty turned to the soldier who had recognized her and gave an embarrassed shrug. "I'm sorry, but I don't know your name," she apologized.
"Well, of course, you don't!" the young man said. He couldn't be more than a year or two older than her. "There are several hundred of us at the castle. I'm Fox, Princess Destiny."
"Fox," she said with a nod of her head. "And please call me Dusty. Just Dusty. I've always preferred it."
He looked troubled by that idea, but then they drilled etiquette into everyone who came anywhere near the royal family. Dusty couldn't be certain he would stop calling her princess, but she thought it might help the others.
"The orcs are fast," Fox said with a frown. "And they have more stamina than a horse. We might ride fast enough to get away from them for an hour or so, but that wouldn't get us nearly far enough, and we couldn't count on finding another horse."
Orcs yelled again. The ground shook. She feared they were closer and they had little time. "Is there anywhere we can go? Somewhere we can reach --"
"The river," Blue said. "The river can't be too far away."
She looked at him in surprise and then back at the others. "He says to go to the river."
"Oh yes!" Fox agreed and smiled so brightly that she almost wasn't afraid again. "He's right! Orcs are scared to death of water, and they won't even cross a bridge if they can avoid it. It's because they -- well -- they sink like stones."
"How far?" she asked.
"A couple hours of hard riding," he said and looked her over. "How good are you on a horse, Princess -- Dusty?"
"Better than my brothers," she admitted and won a slight smile. "I'll need something else to wear."
"I'll find you some clothing!" Inis said and hurried off. Dusty wondered if the young woman wanted to help or if she was anxious to get Dusty and her friend away from here. It didn't matter; Dusty appreciated the change.
"The orcs are out in the streets, and they'll see us get to the horses and leave," Fox said with a shake of his head. "They might overtake us before we can get more than a few yards since we'll need time to mount. Then there's the problem of finding a spot where we can cross the river."
Another building crashed to the ground. Dusty winced, but then her anger grew. "Tell the others not to despair. My grandmother will make good on the ruined buildings. We just all have to be wise and get Blue free from here."
"We need a diversion," Fox said and looked at the people around them.
"I think I can do something," Dusty said. "I've done it before by accident. Birds, I think."
She went to the door, Fox close beside her, and peaked out. A single sparrow sat on a spindly tree. Dusty gave a nod to the bird and thought about how much she would like to see others --
They started coming immediately. A dozen, then two dozen, then other birds as well, many that would not usually share a branch, all of watching Dusty with anticipation and being uncommonly quiet. Even a hawk took to the top of the building
"Ah. I didn't know you had the gift, Dusty," Fox said. He sounded pleased and surprised.
"Neither did I. I never knew I had anything special, even though creatures of all sorts have always taken an interest in me. Well, at least now I know I can help! But I do hope the little birds are careful. I don't want to see them hurt, either. Oh, maybe another diversion? Dogs, I think. Though they'll have to be careful as well."
Somewhere close by a dog barked, as though she knew exactly what Dusty wanted. She heard the sound repeated elsewhere. By then Inis had brought her a riding skirt, and they went to her mother's room to change.
"I'm sorry for the way I treated you," Inis apologized. "I shouldn't have, not matter who you are. I'm just so frustrated, living in this little town."
Dusty thought it must be much like living in the castle, though she didn't say so. Still, they were both small worlds.
"Maybe when this is done, you can come and visit me in the castle," Dusty said.
Inis looked at her with her eyes large and shock on her face. "Oh, I would like to see the city, at least once. Do you think mama would let me?"
Odd to be thinking about such mundane things right now, but it made Dusty feel better as she picked up Blue. "I think so. But maybe you should help her for a while."
"I should anyway," Inis said. "I'll try not to be such a brat. Thank you."
Inis hugged her as though they were equals and friends. Inis would never know how much that meant to Dusty as she headed out into danger.
Monday, August 28, 2017
On August 1, I started the rewrite of Singer & St. Jude 1: The Lost Cause. This book has already been published by Double Dragon, but I asked for the rights back because I wanted to move the story about a hundred years into the future and use the series (there are several more that have not been published) as the starting point for the Inner Worlds Council Universe. The books introduce two important factors for many of the later works. The first is the introduction of the psis and their powers, as well as the fear that moves a lot of humans against them. The second is the start of the organization that later becomes the Old World Morals Society, a group much like the Far Right of today with their insistence on people living in ways they have decided are correct.
So I started the work. The rewrite has been going very well, in fact, at least on one level.
But something kept bothering me. Really nagging at me every time I sat down and started typing. I could not figure out what the problem was, however. So I kept working. I changed things, I nudged this and that. I liked a lot of what I got, but I felt something essential was missing.
Missing is the important word. What the story missed was a sense of the future. I had a few terms and a couple gadgets. I had a reason why this particular area of the world would not be as advanced as other places, but even so, the story lacked a feel for the hundred and some years that had passed. I had, in fact, not done any real world building for the new version.
This is embarrassing. My favorite author wrote a lovely quote for me: A talented author with a gift for world building.
She said that about me. And here I sit with a story that might as well be taking place right now, except for the ruined city.
I am finishing out this rewrite to fix the rest of the plot problems. Then I will put the book aside and start thinking about how I might change things. I don't think I'll work on the novel again until next year -- which isn't that far away. I will, however, start looking at the world building aspects that I ignored.
Next up is the final run through on Tales of Grey Station 9. And outlines. Having trouble there, too.
But at least I finally figured out the problem with the current novel. I can deal with problems I see even if they take me a while to fix. The ones you simply can't find are the ones that will drive a writer crazy.
Friday, August 25, 2017
Dusty gave a cry of despair, the sound lost in the shouts from the others. She held the bag close and could feel Blue trembling. She wanted to reassure him. Even if he went back to the orcs, they would keep him alive. He'd be safe.
"There's more trouble. I don't know what it is, but a couple soldiers arrived and said they'd be talking to everyone. One was only a little ways behind me," the soldier said and looked at the door. "Shouldn't be long."
"More excitement than we ever had here," Happy said with a shake of her head.
Others had wandered back in again, the sound of voices growing louder. They wanted the person who had brought this on them. They would give back what was stolen. They would --
Someone knocked at the door. The soldier went to it, a hand on his sword. Dusty had turned to see, but at the same moment someone caught hold of her shoulder and began to viciously shake her.
"It's you!" Inis shouted. "You're the one! What did you steal, you little fool! What have you got in that bag!"
"Don't do that!" Dusty cried out in dismay as Inis grabbed the bag away and turned it upside down, shaking vigorously. Dusty gave such a cry of despair that the guards both pushed their way to her.
"Here now," the first guard said and took hold of Inis. "Let's take this calmly, shall we?"
"It's her!" Inis shouted. "She showed up right after the orcs left and she holds that ratty little bag like there's something in it. It's her that's caused us all this trouble!"
Blue must have held on tight inside the bag since he didn't fall out. Dusty tried to grab the bag back, but Inis held it out of reach. The guard looked sternly at Dusty now.
"Is this true, girl? Are you --"
The second guard had pushed in beside the man and gave a cry of surprise. "It's you! Your grandmother is sick with worry about you, Princess Destiny!"
Silence fell across the little room. Inis let go of the bag which fell to the floor with a thump. Dusty quickly knelt and grabbed it back. Time, she realized, for truth all the way around. She and Blue needed help.
"I hadn't meant for there to be this kind of trouble," she said as she stood. "We'd hoped that the orcs would go on for a few days before they noticed," she offered.
"We?" the new guard said. She recognized him from the castle and felt a huge welling of relief to see someone she knew. "Is someone helping you, Princess --"
"I --" Happy said and looked faint. One of the men took her by the arm and settled her on the stool by the table. "I -- I made a princess wash dishes and sleep on the hearth -- I --"
Inis went pale and looked as upset as her mother.
"You helped me," Dusty replied. She stood straight and tried to seem like a princess rather than a homeless child. "And if I'd told you I was Princess Destiny, you would have laughed at me. And rightly so."
Happy looked a little less frightened and more intrigued. Inis, though, apparently realized the sort of trouble she could be in for the way she'd treated Dusty. Under the circumstances, Dusty could hardly blame her for getting carried away.
"How did you come to be here?" the palace guard asked. "Did the orcs take you? We feared as much."
"I was in their wagon, but they didn't realize it." She looked around and shook her head. People stared at her, and she'd never liked to be on show. Dusty felt small, dirty, and far too unimportant for this much to be in her hands.
This was her responsibility. She'd made it so when she went to help the crying child. That seemed, in fact, a good place to start.
"I don't know why no one else heard the child crying," she admitted now. "He sounded terrified. I thought I would get to the cart, see if he really was in there, and then call the guards. The orcs, though -- they made so much noise and started moving almost immediately. I had to hide inside. There was no way to escape until we reached this village. We'd hoped that the orcs would go on for another day or two and by then I'd have found someone to take us back to the capital."
"Us?" the guard asked.
Dusty opened the bag and looked inside. "It's all right. We have help now. Are you okay, Blue?"
"Afraid," he whispered. "So many loud people!"
"You are safe." She held her hand down to him, and he took hold, his little fingers tight as she pulled him back up.
"Is -- is that --" Happy said softly.
"A baby dragon," Dusty said. "The orcs trapped him. So I had to get him free and back to his mother before she came looking for him. She'll track him you know and grow more frantic. There will be trouble if he isn't returned soon."
"Already trouble in the north," the guard admitted. "We didn't know why."
"I want to go home," Blue cried and scurried up to nestle near her neck She felt little dragon tears flowing against her skin.
"You will go home now, Blue," she promised. "We'll do our best to make you safe."
"Do you promise?" he asked, looking into her face.
"Yes, I promise," she said and even offered a smile.
"Ummm, Princess?" the palace guard said leaning a little closer. "Do you understand what he's saying?"
Dusty looked at the others in surprise. "The rest of you don't?"
She knew the answer from their startled looks. That changed things. Dusty dared not hand Blue over to someone to get him away as quickly as possible. He needed her. They must move carefully -- and quickly before the orcs found them.
Friday, August 18, 2017
Dusty had hoped that the orcs would go for at least a full day, maybe two, before they realized they were missing their most prized possession. Blue cried in fear and burrowed back into the bag even before she could say anything.
Which was good since Happy came out of her room, pulling a tunic into place and her hair in disarray. People began making sounds all through the building, but Dusty grabbed her bag and cowered back against the stone by the fireplace.
"You're safe, Dusty," the older woman said and even stooped to pat her shoulder. "I don't know what brought those monsters back, but I'm sure the others will sort it out."
Inis rushed into the kitchen, crying and hysterical. Watching her, Dusty realized she had to stop being so afraid. The fear made her want to run and hide, and she even wondered if she could get the door open and run before any of the others stopped her.
And that would be a very stupid thing to do.
Looking at the faces, though, she realized that telling everyone about Blue and what the orcs wanted wouldn't be a good idea, either. She saw desperate people, and she'd seen those types in the castle. They were apt to act on the moment and not think about the consequences of what would happen later. There would be dangerous consequences if Blue did not get back to his mother. She had no doubt the mother dragon could trace her child --
And that made sense out of what the orcs were doing! They wanted the dragon to rampage through the human lands, following the trail to her son. Humans might kill the mother dragon, but that would be even worse for them. Then the entire dragon empire would descend on the lands.
Dusty feared she'd already wasted too much time.
"Are the soldiers back do you think?" she dared to ask in a moment of silence.
"Good question, little one," a man said. "I'll go see what I can learn. Let me out the back and lock up again, ma'am. Not that the door would stop the orcs, you understand, but who knows what else might be going on? I'll knock three times when I return."
Happy had to pry Inis off of her, and Dusty feared the daughter would begin wailing again. Something told Dusty that Inis liked the attention. However, Inis must have started to realize the seriousness of the situation. The orcs still yelled, their voices alone shaking walls, though they'd stopped stomping their feet.
Did they really know this was where they'd lost the little dragon or was it a guess based on the last time they'd stopped on their journey? She had the feeling they didn't know, and better yet, she suspected they had no real way to track him. Dusty wished she could ask Blue what they might do to find him, but right now she moved back to the corner and sat while still holding tight to her bag.
"I don't care why their back. They wouldn't dare attack us, or they'd have all the good Queen's soldiers on them before they could get home," another man said. A trader, Dusty thought. He had that look about him. "Whatever brought them running back here must be important, though."
"Well, if they'd stop yelling we'd probably just give it to them," Happy replied. She'd begun to walk around the room, looking at the larder and her horde of spices. Dusty doubted so many people had ever been allowed in the room before and it clearly made her nervous. "Go on out to the main room -- go on. I'll wait for our friend to return and make up a bit of tea and some cheese and fruit --"
"Oh, how can you even think of such things?" Inis wailed. "We'll all be killed --"
"If they wanted us dead, we'd be dead already," Happy said with a sigh. "We might as well be practical. Go out and light the lamps, Inis. Or shall I have Dusty do that for you, too?"
Inis glanced around the room until she found Dusty. She glared, but Dusty didn't note quite so much anger there as contemplation. Maybe she thought she had to win her mother back over. Dusty wouldn't stay, but Inis couldn't be entirely certain of it, could she? So she lit a taper and went out to the other room, the rest of the group trailing along behind her until only Happy and Dusty remained in the kitchen.
Dusty had hoped that Happy would go out with the others for a moment, but when that didn't happen, she reluctantly put her bag carefully into the corner where it wouldn't get pushed into the fire. A mouse came out and grabbed hold of her hand, panic in his face. She carefully brushed a finger over his head and set him back in the shadows hoping that Happy didn't see. Dusty doubted the woman would take kindly to such a creature in her kitchen.
Then she went to work with Happy, which did help. Dusty calmed as she worked. The orcs only yelled now and then. Dusty thought they might not be able to do anything except to yell.
While she diced fruit and bits of cheese, Dusty tried to figure out a way to get her and Blue out of the town -- but not leave the orcs here to make trouble on their account.
Three quick knocks on the door. Happy still looked uneasy as she pulled it open. Two men hurried in, one in the gray uniform of the guard. Dusty gave a sigh of relief to see him.
"We have a serious problem," the guard said. "The orcs say we stole something from them, and they'll tear the town apart looking for it. We have to find what they want and give it to them right now or people will die, and we'll have a war."
Thursday, August 10, 2017
"Do you do it all yourself usually, ma'am?" Dusty asked during one little break where they both sat on stools and sipped cool water from the well out back. A dull sound of many voices came from the tavern area, but the man who worked out there -- Gus -- kept everything calm.
"Most days. My daughter seems to have far more important things to do." Happy gave a weary shrug. "I keep hoping she'll realize that she wants to learn this job so she can run the place, but I suppose when I'm gone she'll just sell it off."
"But you've worked so hard!"
"Yes, I have. But I suppose once I've left this life, I won't much care what happens to the tavern, will I?" A whisper of bitterness touched her words, and her eyes narrowed. Then she shook her head. "Well, never mind. That's a long ways off. You have taught me one lesson, though, Dusty."
"I have?" she asked, surprised.
"I need to stop thinking about how Anda should be helping me and hire someone to help out. I can afford it. I don't need to do everything by myself."
"Oh yes, ma'am. That would be good."
Later -- much later -- a woman came into the kitchen. She dressed well, Dusty thought, and felt embarrassed by her newly borrowed clothing. The woman frowned and looked over at Happy who had just brought back an empty tray.
"Who is she?" the woman demanded with a lift of her chin toward Dusty.
"She's the person I've taken on to do the work you won't do," Happy answered -- and she didn't sound very happy, either. "If you want some dinner, there's still some rabbit stew left and some bread. You know how to serve yourself."
"You gave her my job?"
"It would only be your job if you did the work," Happy replied. She took a deep breath and then let it go. "It's no matter, Inis. Dusty will only be here a few days. I do think I am going to hire someone, though. Just having this child do the dishes has given me time to sit down and rest sometimes. I never realized how much a little help would be."
Inis stared at her mother, her face gone red. Then she turned and rushed back out of the room. Dusty heard her heading straight up the stairs.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," she said when Happy came to dry a few of the newly washed cups. "I didn't know what to say."
"Best not to have said anything," Happy said and unexpectedly grinned. "And don't worry about that confrontation. I learned years ago that Inis is too much like her late father. You couldn't tell the man what to do, but sometimes you could embarrass him into the right actions. Inish also realized that if I hire someone else, I won't be paying her for the few times she decides she wants a few coins."
"Oh." Dusty could not imagine that kind of relationship, but Happy didn't seem to mind. She supposed that after so many years, Happy had learned how to handle her own child.
The place got busy again, but after another hour it seemed like things were starting to get quiet again. Happy took food up to her daughter, and since she didn't bring the tray right back, Dusty thought there must be some understanding between the two. Finally, with the last of the dishes washed and everything put away, Happy brought her a blanket.
"I can't give you a room, I'm afraid. Booked up tonight. I'll make sure the doors are all locked. We have a couple people in the common room, but they shouldn't bother you. If they do, you just yell out. I sleep in the room under the stairs. I'll hear you. Unless you want to sleep on the floor in there--"
"No, ma'am. This is fine."
As much as she didn't like the idea of sleeping alone in such a strange place, she also wanted some time with Blue. By the time Dusty curled on the hearth to sleep for the night, she thought she'd washed more dishes than they had in the entire castle. Her hands ached, and she'd cut two of her fingers on the sharper knives.
And she'd never been so tired in her life.
She'd only had a couple chances to look in on Blue. Once she slipped him a piece of apple that had fallen on the floor, but Happy came back soon afterward so they couldn't say much. Happy worked very hard over the hot stove and Dusty thought she had the easier of the jobs -- but it had been hard work.
Dusty pulled the little bag closer to her and laid her head down on the crook of her arm. They had light enough from the banked fire, and she thought the blanket might make a better pillow since she was so warm.
"Blue?" she whispered.
The little dragon darted to the edge of the opening and peeked out, his head turning nervously to the left and right. "Safe?" he asked.
"Safe for the moment, but be ready to rush back in if anyone comes close. Are you okay?"
"Yes, yes," he agreed. He even sounded happy. "Much better than the orc's wagon. It bounced so much all the time that I could barely sleep. I rested all day. And the food was better, too!"
"Are you still hungry?"
"No," he said. He put his little long-nailed hands on her arm. "You worked very hard. I could see through part of the cloth where it had worn thin. You should sleep."
"You stay hidden. We'll have a chance to leave soon," Dusty said. She yawned and closed her eyes....
She thought of nothing until she awoke again to the building rumbling and shouts. And earthquake! She looked around, frantic --
No, not an earthquake. The yelling was not from humans.
The orcs had returned!