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.