Thursday, November 30, 2017
Dusty believed this was the best answer, but she found it challenging to ride forward in the mass of men and hope they reached the boat before the orcs saw her. She held tight to the bag with Blue and hoped she got him into the craft, even if she didn't make it. Fox would still see him to safety.
Dusty looked up at the castle and felt a wave of desperation that almost made her break down and cry. She just wanted to get home!
"Ready?" Fox asked. He dared to touch her arm, winning a look of shock from the oh-so-proper commander. "You can do this, Dusty. You're almost home."
They reached the edge of the bridge. There seemed to have been some problem with the owner of the boat and Dusty watched one soldier escort him off while the man complained. Dusty didn't like to see the craft taken from him, but they needed the boat. She could almost hear his shouts even over the orcs as they tried to move up on the bridge.
Rolad ordered his men to move. Dusty looked frantically at the canal. If they didn't have the person who owned the boat, how could they --
But the two soldiers were rowing it toward the bridge, and in a moment it would be in place. She had no more time to worry about it.
Fox went over the edge and dropped into the boat. Then he held up his hands. "Quick, Dusty!"
The orcs were getting frantic. They'd break through at any moment. Dusty wanted to let Blue down first, but instead, Rolad lifted her up and over the edge in one quick move, dropping her into Fox's waiting arms. It must have hurt him, but he caught her and put her down. By then the others were rowing as fast and hard as they could.
Fox and Dusty sat down.
The orcs were trying to shove their way through the line of soldiers and Dusty had to look away. People were going to die. It was her fault! She should have come up with a better answer. She should have --
She held Blue close and fought to get control again. Her mind went over everything she'd done. Dusty knew that she had done the best she could. Could anyone else have taken Blue from the Orcs? They wouldn't have even understood him!
"We're almost there, Blue," she told him through the opening. He looked up at her, frightened, probably by the sound of the orcs not far away. "We have good soldiers to protect us. We'll be to the castle soon!"
Telling him so made her feel better, too. She finally looked up at Fox. He'd been watching behind them with a scowl, but he focused on her and gave a nod.
"A couple orcs have broken through," he said. Dusty glanced back and felt a quick beat of her heart. "We'll get you as close to the Royal Road as possible and then you must run straight for the castle. Really run."
"Why don't they quit?" Dusty asked as she put the strap to Dusty's bag over her head and shoulder. "They must know --"
"They are beyond rational thought," Fox replied. "If they are thinking anything at all, it's that they'll need Blue for protection from the dragons. I don't think they've even worked that out. They just know they're losing and they've worked themselves up into a rage."
One of the soldiers who were rowing grunted agreement. They were both panting by now, and any pause in their work let the boat drift back toward the orcs again. Fox volunteered to take over for one of them, but they both shook their heads.
"Get her to the castle," the one on the right gasped, and they began rowing all the harder.
They made it all the way to the warehouse district -- a circle, Dusty thought. This was where everything had begun in that little square where another caravan had started to load up. It was not quite as far as she would have liked to be, but she let Fox swing her out onto the dock.
"Thank you," Dusty said to the two exhausted men. "I won't forget."
Then she and Fox darted up into the crowd of people who were already agitated, hearing the sound of the orc battle far too close.
"Clear out!" Fox yelled. "Get to cover! Spread the word!"
"Orcs!" a woman cried in dismay.
Dusty looked back to see three orcs had made it all the way to the dock. One didn't make it any farther, though. The two men who had rowed up the canal caught his legs in a net and pulled him into the water. He sank so fast he almost pulled the boat down with him.
"Two left," she said and began to sprint up the clear path.
At first, people cleared out of the way, but as they moved higher up the incline, it was apparent that people didn't know what was happening and began to come out to see. Neither she nor Fox had the breath left to warn them away, so she had to hope that they got wise as soon as they saw the real trouble.
Someone tried to stop her, but Fox, still in uniform, dissuaded the man. Dusty feared that if Fox hadn't been with her, she would not have made it this far.
The castle was no more than a mile away, but her legs had grown heavy, and she finally had to grab hold of a tall, thin tree before she fell. Fox had gone two steps more before he looked back and gave her a nod.
"I'm sorry," she gasped. "I need --"
"Rest. The soldiers are holding them back. We can't stay long, though."
She could hear the sound of enraged orcs and far too close. If she didn't move, they might still be caught!
Saturday, November 25, 2017
"Well, it could be worse," Rolad said. He didn't slow but he didn't race headlong into the situation, either. "The orcs are on the far side of the bridge so we won't have to fight our way through them and then cross the bridge. On the other hand, as soon as they see Princess Destiny there will likely be a brawl."
"There might be another way," Fox said. He stood in the saddle and seemed to be looking at something other than the mass of soldiers and orcs. "Sir, if we can get Dusty and Blue onto one of the heading up the canal to the river, they'll be safe at least that far. The orcs will not go into the water to get her."
"Then we hold the orcs here," Commander Rodal said with a slight nod. "Or at least harass them and hope we can get more soldiers gathered to fight them when she gets to the city. You, of course, will go with her, Fox. We'll try to keep the orcs back far enough that they cannot do any harm from the banks."
Fox gave a solemn nod and looked to Dusty. "Do you agree?"
"I like this much better than trying to just rush past them," she said with a nod. "Can we get a boat across the river and to this side?"
"That might be difficult," Rodal said and slowed. "Better if a craft need only come up close to the bridge and we lower you down to it. Stay out into the water as much as possible."
Fox and Dusty both nodded agreement. Rodal sent two of the soldiers on ahead and told them to get one of the boats in the area.
"Well compensate the owner. Just get the boat and get their quickly."
The two men nodded and rode on ahead. It probably looked only that they were going to find out what the trouble might be. Dusty had not been spotted yet, she thought. Fox had moved in close beside her, too. He looked worried again.
The idea of using the boat was a good one, though. Anything that would keep them out of the reach of the orcs for a little longer. From the canal docks to the castle was along way and most of it uphill, though. She feared it would slow her, but not Blue.
They moved closer. The soldiers, she saw, had already chosen a small boat, and were dealing with the owner. Dusty hoped that the man didn't argue much. Any moment now --
And it happened. An orc gave a different sort of shout and began to frantically wave his arms toward where she and the others rode.
"This is it," Fox warned. "Get to the edge of the bridge, Dusty. The rest of us will protect you."
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.