Thursday, July 06, 2017

Flash Friday #258 -- Dusty & Friends/3

Dusty felt better as she stepped past the castle gate.  The castle sometimes seemed stifling, filled with so many people and all their rules.  As a princess, Dusty had to know the correct way to treat anyone she came into contact with, but out here people saw her tanned skin and wild hair, and never realized her rank.

The Queen had a plethora of grandchildren, and as when they turned ten they came from their parent's keeps to spend the spring and summer at court.  The boys complained because they had to give up riding and hunting, but the girls loved to dress up and go to the fancy balls.

Dusty had never been one of those types of girls.

The breeze blew upward from the palm-covered oasis to the top of the escarpment where the castle sat.  Dusty couldn't imagine a prettier place, though she thought the smaller homes cascading downward to the lower hillside had a charm of their own.  When she reached the first town fountain and the square around it, she looked back to see the castle glittering like gold in the morning sun.

With Master Stuart's help she would find some position that worked for her, and in a couple of days, all this awful pressure would pass.

A few little birds played in the water beside her, but they flew off when some of the local women came to take water back to their homes.  Dusty didn't recognize any of them, so after polite greetings, she went on her way again.

Despite all her attempts to consider something serious for her future, Dusty still found herself drawn down to the area where the caravans gathered before they headed out across the desert or took the canal that linked to the Miru River.  Some were getting a late start since most left at dawn.  These were the people who had adventures.

Dusty looked around at camels, sheep, and crates loading onto barges to head to the river.  Last summer the Queen had arranged for all her grandchildren to take a barge to the Miru and down to the oldest temple in the land.  That had been as close to an adventure as Dusty had ever experienced.

"Stop thinking such things," she muttered to herself.  "Think about practical stuff.  I need to --"

Whatever she'd meant to say died in her throat. 


No one had mentioned that one of the rare caravans of orcs had arrived in town.  Dusty openly stared at the group of twenty or so creatures who stood around guarding their massive carts.  She wasn't the only one who watched, so she didn't feel terribly rude.  Orcs had to be used to seeing humans stare at them.

Dusty had never seen one in real life, and the drawings in books didn't do them justice.  They looked like various huge boulders had suddenly decided to get together and become animate.  The bodies had unlikely bulges everywhere beneath their speckled gray and white skin.  They wore no clothing, but then you wouldn't expect to see a rock in court attire, so it didn't bother Dusty.  Their dirt brown eyes were small and deeply recessed between rows of more rock-skin.

All of them held massive wooden clubs with metal spikes embedded in the upper half. They swung those menacingly, but they didn't seem very interested in the humans.

The orcs didn't stand very tall, but they were massive, both wide and deep.  When they spoke, the air seemed to tremble, and when one shouted, the ground and the nearby buildings shook.  Other people backed away in haste, but Dusty moved a little to the side and took over at the corner of one of the human trader's tents where she could still watch.  She could see they prepared to leave.

Orcs didn't use beasts of burden, not even to pull the carts.  Most pulled up packs that rested on their backs, but teams of four moved to pick up the harnesses to the wagons, and they all prepared to leave.

"Mama, mama -- I want to go home!"

The cry had been faint and pitiful.  Dusty looked around with a start, expecting to see a young child in his mother's arms, but she found no one close enough that she could have heard.  How odd --

And then she heard the child crying, the most heartbreaking sound she'd ever heard.  The yells and grunts of the orcs nearly buried the sobs, but she could hear --

The sounds came from the orc camp.  In fact, she feared it came from the smallest of the orc carts.  Dusty looked frantically around for a guard, but none were in sight.  Should she run to find one?  What if she was wrong?  Better to check before they left, right?

Oh, part of her knew she was foolish, but the crying child moved her beyond reason.  Strange -- the area had suddenly filled with birds who swept around in a frantic display as though the crying bothered them as well.  They distracted the orcs, and that helped her.  Dusty slid along the side of the tent, away from where anyone would see her, and then darted forward to the cart. The orcs had just started pulling up the harness for that one.  She didn't have much time.

The hide covering the cart had been tied down with huge ropes and knots, but the spaces between those knots were wide enough for a young human girl to squeeze through. The cart wasn't very high, either, since the orcs were short.  She had no trouble getting inside -- though she tumbled over a couple of boxes as the orcs began a monotonous chant and the cart started to move.

No time to do anything more than look and get out!

"Are you here to help me?  Did mama send you?" a small voice whispered.

And Dusty realized this was not a human voice after all.

To Be Continued....
993 Words

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