Saturday 27 September 2008
27/09 : The Unfortunate Frog: Chapter Four
The trio hurried on through the remaining night. Martina complained quietly to the Princess as they trudged through the forest heading north. Merlin felt ill at ease with the two young women. Gustav had always said that, “One woman is trouble enough for an entire army, two is impossible.” Merlin began to think that perhaps Gustav had been wiser than he was given credit for being. Kazim slept in Merlin's pocket, waking at intervals to check progress. By dawn they could no longer smell the fires of Sarina's army.
They paused to rest by a thin stream, filling their water skins and bellies with the cool water. The girls freshened themselves with splashes of water to their faces. Kazim jumped in full on to enjoy the water his current body missed so badly. He was floating on his back spitting fountains in the air, when he sounded the alarm with, “Um...Merlin?”
The bulky soldier stepped out of the trees and up to the stream. He splashed water on his face. The girls who jumped back with fear and horror screeched as they scrambled up the short bank. Kazim swam and hopped back into Merlin's pocket. Merlin just stood stock still staring at this new addition to their challenging journey.
“Mornin', yer magesty.” said CD after he'd stood and bowed. “I thought you was bein' kidnapped at first, but I see yer not now.” The soldier stood to his full height, belly hanging rotundly over his belt. “What is it yer doin'?”
Once Princess Sarina recovered herself, the other two in her party stared at her, waiting for her to fix it. She stood up to her full height from the opposite side of the creek. “I am not being kidnapped. I am...” she faltered.
“Going to help me heal a very sick man. This is his messenger, Merlin. We're trying to get there as fast as possible. Did you bring any food?”
The princess glared at Martina. Merlin remained stock still. The soldier stood thinking. He stood for a long time before he dug in his pouch and brought out enough rations to feed the four of them.
“Ya shoulda brought a guard, yer highness.” said CD with a hurt voice. “That's all we're doin' is tryin' to protect ya from danger.” he said as he handed out the hardtack. “I've watched you leave the camp. I thought they was tryin' to kill you at first, but then I saw it was you.”
“I'm fine soldier. I'm just on a mission.” said Sarina carefully biting into the hard breakfast. “You can leave.”
“No he can't,” whispered Merlin without moving his lips. “If he goes back and tells your army, they'll all be in hot pursuit of you. We will never make it to our destination. If he stays, he will protect you as your royal guard.”
“I don't need a royal guard.” protested Sarina quietly. “I just want to...”
“Help that nice man who is very ill.” interrupted Martina. “Look Sarina, Merlin's right. Give the soldier a field promotion to being your guard. It will be helpful to have someone of his strength along.” she said while admiring the plump soldier. She looked up to CD's face and saw that his blue eyes glimmered from his leathery tanned skin. What hair he had left was dark and tidy. “Would that be okay with you...What's your name?”
“My name is CD. It's short for Collin something. I've been in the army for so long, I don't really remember what I used to be called.” he said sheepishly while staring at Martina. “I wouldn't mind stickin' around none. I can guard ya. Not yet though. We need to get movin'.”
“CD's right, if we don't get moving, we're going to get caught. I mean we might not make it in time” said Merlin as he winced from the sudden elbow that Martina had jabbed into his side.“If he can find us, so can someone else.”
Princess Sarina's face fell as she realized the truth. She felt the urgency. She glanced at her handmaid Martina who blatantly was staring at CD as if she were under a spell.
“Let's move.” stated CD simply. “We'll go help this ailing man, then get back to the army.” He picked up the satchels that the princess and Martina had been carrying while staring at Martina dumbstruck by her interest but very pleased.
The four people moved north quickly in a tight group. Martina kept dropping back just enough so she could walk near the bulky soldier. He sped up a bit and she would as well. He liked this attention, but was painfully aware that he wasn't home anymore. He missed the sounds of the army he'd known as his life for so many years. He felt tears well up in his eyes from homesickness. He paused and released the hardtack breakfast back into the earth. Martina was at his side immediately.
“Are you okay?” she asked gently.
“I guess so. I ain't never been away from the army since I was a young pup. It's all I know. I don't know what to do. Nobody is here to tell me.” sniffed CD. He dropped back from Merlin and Sarina a bit. His blue eyes shimmering with tears. “I know I'm supposed to protect her, but I ain't never been the one to do it. We all did it in the army.”
Martina placed her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. “It will be okay. I promise.” she said quietly. “I'm here. I won't let anything happen to you.”
The princess and Merlin were quite a bit ahead of the two before they realized half their party was missing. They stopped and witnessed CD and Martina in an embrace. They both looked away embarrassed. When they checked on the absent duo again, they saw that the two were walking hand in hand back to join them. They glanced at each other with baffled looks and continued their journey.
By midday, the sun was removing the morning mist with a vengeance. The trees were becoming more sparse, but it still qualified as forest terrain. They paused by a small meadow to eat the last of CD's hardtack, then continued on through the heat of the day. Martina had notably quit complaining about the journey, but her difficulties took second hand to the appetite CD wasn't expressing. His stomach growled loudly and echoed when they reached a small canyon with a rushing river below them.
“We're going to have to camp for the night.” said Merlin. “I don't want to risk that canyon in the dark.”
“Don't be a baby, Merlin. We can make it before dark to the other rim. The more ground between us and the army, the better.” Sarina stated.
CD winced at her remark. Martina squeezed his hand reassuringly. They watched the stubborn princess start down the gravel strewn side of the canyon. With a deep sigh, they both followed leaving Merlin standing on the edge of the canyon.
“You need to stick with her kid.” said Kazim, popping his head out for the first time all day. “She's got the most protection with her so far. All you have is an unwieldy magic that you can't control yet. Sprinkle some water on me, would you? This pocket is making me too dry.”
“Kazim, I don't know. They're going the same way we are, but are they going to the same place? What good is it to have them with us?” Merlin pondered while he poured a small bit of liquid from his waterskin onto his tiny companion. “I'm wondering if we're doing the right thing.”
“Kid, you worry too much. She wanted to escape, you helped her. In the mean while, you got some other people to take care of as well.” said Kazim as he luxuriated in the water. “Just get going. You really don't want to get stuck in the canyon at dark. Who knows what lives down there.”
“I guess so. But what if...”
“Just go. Follow them to your destiny!” croaked Kazim with a sputter.
Merlin set off gingerly stepping on the loose gravel. His traveling companions were about a third of the way down. They were stopped debating something, when Merlin finally caught up with them at the half-way point. He breathed heavily when he arrived.
“I'm gonna go hunt up some food.” CD informed Merlin. “The princess has turned her ankle and Martina said she will be good as gold in the morning.” CD scratched his head, hoisted his sword and wandered farther down into the canyon where trees grew along the banks of the river.
Martina sighed with longing as she watched the overweight soldier trudge off. She returned her attention to the wincing Princess only after Sarina had whacked the back of her head with her hand.
“Pay attention to my injury. You are still my handmaiden.” frowned Sarina. She was certainly snippy when she got injured. “Is there anything else you can do?”
“Short of building you a litter and carrying you down the canyon edge, no. You'll just have to rest.” said Martina, handling Sarina's ankle a bit rougher than was necessary.
“How did you twist it?” asked Merlin.
“It was silly, really.” said the princess. Martina giggled at her choice of words. Sarina frowned and winced before continuing. “I was trying to get to the bottom before the sun dropped down over the horizon. I was looking up and didn't see the crevice that tried to eat my foot. That's all that happened.”
“That is NOT what happened.” contradicted Martina. “She saw a lizard. She's scared of lizards as all good princesses should be. She jumped back and caught her foot in the crevice.”
Sarina glared icy daggers towards her healer. “If I hadn't known you since you were a babe, I'd swear you were out to sabotage me!” she said, swinging wildly as she attempted to stand. She fell back instead with a whimper of pain.
Merlin watched this exchange while Kazim poked his head out of Merlin's pocket to watch as well. Merlin dragged his hands over his face while checking out their surroundings. To the south there stood the side of the canyon they'd just traveled. To the west there were many jutting rocks with the river turning sharply to the south about a half mile or so away. When he looked to the east, he saw the river making a sharp turn from the north to the stretch they now lorded over. The north promised cool water at the bottom of the canyon.
“I think we should move her down farther into the canyon.” said Merlin. Kazim agreed by croaking his embarrassing ascent. “Between the two of us, we should be able to at least get her to the cover of the trees down there. Out here, we're sitting ducks.”
“CD will be back soon. We can leave when he gets here.” said Martina, relaxing on a smooth rock.
“I'm with Merlin. We are really exposed out here.” agreed Sarina. “The farther down we get, the better our cover, which in turn makes it less likely of us being discovered. It is even less likely that I will have to marry Prince Percival.” she shuddered.
“Hey Merlin?” asked Kazim cautiously. “What if you tried to do that thing again. You know.”
“What thing?” said Merlin absently as he surveyed the view.
“That thing you did when Gustav had you in his clutches. You know, before you disappeared?” prodded the frog.
“What is he talking about Merlin?” asked Sarina.
“He can levitate things.” replied Martina. “I thought I told you that part of the story.”
“Well, not exactly...” started Merlin.
“Yes, exactly.” finished Kazim. “Come on Merlin, all you have to do is concentrate. If you can do it when you're scared out of your wits, then you can do it when you're not. You have to try.”
“That was just a fluke thing.” said Merlin. “I have no idea how I did it.”
“Think. Concentrate.” said Kazim. “What did it feel like just before you poofed?”
“I don't know how I did it. I just very much wanted to be somewhere else. I don't know how I managed it precisely.” lamented Merlin.
“Just try Merlin. Think of wanting me to be somewhere else, like...down on that rock right there.” said the healer. “Try to imagine me standing there, then want me to be there as much as you've ever wanted anything.”
“I'll try.” said Merlin lamely.
“Concentrate Merlin.” said the princess and Kazim at the same time.
Merlin cleared his mind as if he were going to daydream. The lights around him faded and he allowed his mind to drift away on the warm afternoon air. He peeped his eyes open to see the urgent faces of his companions watching his every move. He took a mental picture of Martina then imagined he wanted her somewhere else. He pushed with his mind as if he were picking her up and moving her to the rock below where they were waiting. He pushed harder. Martina screamed a high pitched squeal. The princess and Kazim gasped loudly. Merlin opened his eyes to see Martina dangling from a rock farther east down the canyon, barely hanging onto it.
“Horrors of handbags!” screeched Merlin.
Martina and Merlin scrambled across the slippery gravel in a mad attempt to save their friend. Sarina was kicking her feet trying to catch purchase, but her twisted ankle was the only one that made purchase. With a shriek of startled pain, the princess disappeared down the steep incline, out of view of her desperate companions.
Shortly after, Merlin and Martina stood above where the princess had fallen. Martina's dark eyes were wild with panic. “Sarina?! Where are you?” she hollered over the edge.
A blast of smoke and heat met them as they peered over the edge. “She is quite safe for now.” said a deep resounding voice that, oddly, didn't echo. “That is until dinner time when I eat her brains with a spoon.”
When the smoke cleared, Merlin and Martina stared into the silver eyes of a great blue dragon who held the fainted princess in its golden claws.