Friday, October 06, 2017

Flash Fiction #271 -- Dusty & Friends/16

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."

"That's good."

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.

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