The Price of Faith: Part Six
The corridors seemed to go on forever. One right after
another, pushing us along down stairs and through doors when there was nowhere
else to go. All the while we hardly even breathed, stepping as though expecting
there to be land mines under our feet, jumping at every little noise. My heart
was beating so loud that I could have sworn Radom could hear it. After what seemed
like ages of walking, I was certain the bottom floor was approaching soon, and
so far so good.
But, of course, at one point we heard footsteps
behind us, steadily approaching. Panicking, the three of us dove into the nearest
silent room, and found ourselves in a large stone area with several wooden barrels
scattered about, filled with food. To my despair, the multiple footsteps were
still getting ever-closer, and so we all dove into the first barrels we saw
upon impulse. While Radom and Wira hid themselves in casks of their own, I slipped
into mine with much more difficulty, being bigger than them, and crammed up
inside, hugging my knees and bowing my head. I was submerged in fruit, and with
the top sealed I could hardly breathe.
Just as soon as I had settled myself into silence,
I heard the door open. My breath caught in my through as the murmur of voices
entered the room.
"You've gotta be kidding, man. He wants us to
take all of these down for that party?"
"Yup. King's orders. Gotta feed the guests somehow,
"Psh." I heard someone sigh and a barrel creak.
"Well, everybody take one and let's head downstairs."
I bit my lip, my eyes wide against the inky blackness
around me, and listened as several guards hauled up barrels and made their way
out of the room. Then, suddenly, I felt a lurch and heard someone straining.
"This thing's awfully heavy," someone mumbled,
and I had to bite back any noise as the barrel I was in was hoisted up. "Why
do I gotta get the heavy one?"
"Stop complaining, you ninny."
I started moving, and clung to myself with the
lurches of the barrel and stumbling of the fellow that was unknowingly carrying
me. "What's he have in here, bricks?" I heard him mumble, and heard the faint
drone of other voices as he made his way down the hall.
My mind was racing and I kept quiet with everything
in me. A party? Imagine all the people! I couldn't go down there! But I couldn't
get out now and let the guards see me, either! And what about Radom and that
Wocky? Had the guards taken their barrels as well?
Well, I'd see soon enough. The barrel creaked
and rocked for a few minutes, all the while making me more dizzy and jarred.
But then it was roughly lowered onto the floor, and I heard panting. "Let's
leave them here for the cooks," I heard someone say, followed by several other
full wooden casks creaking to a rest on the floor.
I willed myself to stay put for a few more minutes,
until I was sure the guards had left. Then I let out my breath in a long sigh,
my heart pounding, and hissed through the wood, "Radom? Wira?"
"I don't know about you, but I think this is
pretty comfortable. We ought to move in, don't you think?"
I offered a relieved smile at the familiar voice.
Radom. I shoved the top off my barrel and stood, taking a few deep breaths of
fresh air as I stood. "Well, you be my guest, but I'm getting out of here,"
I muttered in reply to his sarcasm, staggering out of the barrel and stretching.
I smoothed down my clothes and slung my knapsack over my shoulder once more.
"Mm. Tempting, but I think I'll pass."
"What's going on here?"
"Well... we're in barrels. That's the extent
of my knowledge," his voice came from nearby, and I looked to my side to see
Radom shoving his way out of a barrel one over from mine, wriggling out of loaves
of bread to hop lightly onto the ground. He shook himself off and looked up
at me with a faint smirk.
I looked around and found that we were in yet
another corridor, but this time it led to giant double-doors that no doubt led
into the main part of the castle. The walls were lined with a few smaller doors,
paintings, and various suits of armor on display. I looked back down with a
frown just as Wira was climbing out of his barrel.
"That guy said there was a party!" the Wocky
moaned, giving us a dejected look. "How are we supposed to get through there?"
If only we could get through this one room, we could get out of the castle right
through the front doors, no window jumping or wall scaling needed.
Radom's eyes scanned the room, and just as I
was looking helplessly at Wira, the Lupe grinned wryly. "I have an idea."
We pushed back the double-doors, and I squinted
into the abrupt shine of light that greeted my sensitive eyes. Once I had blinked
back the sharpness, my eyes began to adjust, and I could have fainted right
The king seemed to think one thing here. Invite
the whole world or it's not a party. The entire huge room was stuffed to the
gills with people, all finely dressed, most chatting or eating, all milling
about and enjoying themselves. There was a musicale in progress in the entry
hall. It was being led by a balding Gelert with a banjo who urged everyone to
sing along in a voice made breathless by his enthusiasm. And among everything,
King Skarl himself sat on his throne, watching it all with a sour look on his
face. Perhaps this was some attempt to try cheering him up, as he had been a
grump ever since the war, but it only seemed to be annoying him.
I looked to either side, taking in how utterly
ridiculous the two boys looked. They were both clad in the best fitting suits
of armor they could find, though the silver metal was far too big on the both
of them. Wira looked as though he were going to trip and break something with
each clumsy step, and right now wore a look of utter horror at all of these
people. Radom's suit was also far too big and anything but graceful, and with
his effortless walk he looked as though he would step right out of it at any
I had my coat and scarf on again, trying to remain
as covered up as possible, my head lowered and wings as concealed as I could
get them. Our hope was to slip through this crowd before anyone took too much
notice to us, and then we could make a break for it once we were outside. Guards
and a prisoner, perhaps? Whatever we were trying to pull, I didn't have much
faith in it.
My heart was doing pirouettes in my chest. Radom's
eyes flicked to me. I wanted to laugh for some reason. Or scream. He laughed
softly through his nose. "Right. I'm guarding you. I hope you appreciate that,"
the Brown Lupe muttered, smirking and standing tall in his goofy-looking armor.
"Let's just get out of here," I muttered, trying
to keep my voice low while still being heard over all the other voices, "and
I glanced at Wira, who returned my questioning
look with a slow, deliberate nod, and then the three of us started walking.
Wira clanked and stumbled with each step, and I had to keep myself from flinching.
I just tried not to be noticed, strolling along and keeping small, not meeting
Radom walked a bit ahead of us, slipping around
people and charting a path as though not at all worried that somebody would
notice how very strange he looked. I could hardly believe it. This was working.
It was actually working. We were steadily making our way through the crowd,
ever-closer to the doorway out of here, and with hardly more than an odd look
or a glance.
By the time the guards got suspicious, we'd be
long gone. Radom was brilliant. Or insane. Funny how those two went hand-in-hand
as far as that Lupe went.
Closer Closer. Almost there. And then---
I just about jumped out of my skin, whirling
around to find myself staring wide-eyed at Wira, who had tripped and stumbled
right into a table, knocking it over and shedding the loose armor he had just
barely been keeping on all this time. Heads turned, and people gasped when they
saw the dirty peasant of a Wocky.
There was a brief interval of silence. The next
thing I knew, Radom had shaken off his armor and was yelling, "RUN!"
He shoved Wira onto his feet with his snout and
took off, followed promptly by the blue Wocky, who was shrieking and flailing
in a most ungainly fashion after the flawless bolt of Radom. I shot after them,
holding my knapsack and coat as tightly as I could, catching people drawing
back in confusion, and a few guards starting to pursue us, the wail of their
whistles right on our tails.
The three of us practically flew out of the castle,
and I just about shouted with joy when I felt the dirt and grass pounding under
my feet, felt the cold rush of wind hit my face, saw the beautiful night sky
rippling with moonlight above us. I couldn't believe how much had happened in
Three guards were right behind us, spears brandished
and shouts ordering us to stop. Radom dashed right into the marketplace, now
nearly deserted for the night, with a few people left here and there gathering
up their goods to call it a night. "Split up!" he called, and I complied at
once, veering off to sprint in another direction. Wira scampered off in yet
another way, but I realized with a groan that there were three of us, and three
guards. One followed each.
I veered around stalls and tarps, the few people
that remained stopping to stare at this spectacle, but I knew I couldn't run
forever. So I veered to a halt and snatched up the first large rock I saw on
the ground, swerving around to face the guard, who was almost upon me. He swung
his spear, which I dodged with a yelp and staggered back, my eyes wide. I had
never had to fight like this before!
I quickly retreated at his forceful swings, and
when I was out of his reach, I braced myself and inclined my arm. Just as the
guard was rushing towards me again, I flung the stone as him as hard as I could,
hoping with everything in me that I would hit where I aimed. And, to my surprise...
It did. The stone hit him hard on the head. The
guard stopped in his tracks and swayed for a moment. Then he slumped forward
into a heap on the ground, knocked out. I staggered back a few paces, panting,
stunned. It worked! Well, that was one down. I could only hope it would be as
easy for Radom and Wira as it had been for me. I hastily stuffed my coat and
scarf into my bag to get them out of my way and held it close, trying to catch
my breath as I turned to see where the other two were, the cool night breeze
stirring my glossy hair.
I spotted Radom at once. As always, he was causing
He was running across the empty stalls, leaping
from tabletop to tabletop, occasionally knocking askew what few things were
left and calling back to stunned strangers, "Sorry!" The guard was right behind
him, racing across the ground after the Lupe, who was making his way across
any surface that could hold his weight.
Just as the guard was about to catch up to him,
Radom abruptly leapt up and onto a tarp hanging over one of the market stalls,
pausing briefly as it sunk slightly under his weight. The guard staggered to
a stop under it and lashed out with his spear, which Radom dodged, and it ended
up slashing a hole in the tarp and getting caught.
The guard struggled with his spear for a moment,
and Radom took this opportunity with a grin. He snatched the spear up in his
teeth and wrenched it away from the guard, then swung it around and right down
onto the guard's head. It clanked against the helmet sharply, and the guard
went slack at once. He, too, slumped over unconscious in the grass in a clatter
of armor. I was glad we didn't have to hurt either of them. But I knew they
wouldn't stay out forever.
Radom dropped the spear and hopped down from
the overhanging canvas, pausing to grin at the knocked-out guard briefly. "Sorry
about that, buddy."
I smiled weakly at his odd antics. But that was
quickly broken by a shriek, and Radom and I looked over in unison at Wira, who
seemed to be having much less luck with his guard than we had. Well, one left.
Wira was snaking all over the place in an attempt to get away, but the guard
was seconds away from catching him.
We both seemed to react at once. In a flash,
Radom and I had bolted over to the Wocky's side, and both stood in front of
him defensively, causing the guard to pause when he realized that it was now
one against three. Wira cowered behind us, but Radom and I held our ground.
Radom growled low in his throat, eyes fixed on the guard, ears back, wiry frame
poised for a pounce. I held both hands forward threateningly, concentrating
on the guard. I didn't want to wear myself out any more with magic, but of course
I would if I had to.
But the guard wised up. He took one look at the
both of us, and shot out of there like a bullet. I stared for a moment as he
retreated back to the castle, lowering my hands, before I let myself smile bewilderedly.
"Nerves of steel, that one," I muttered sarcastically, quirking a brow.
Radom laughed and relaxed, turning to face Wira
with a grin, who was staring in shock. The Wocky adopted his tough outlook once
he realized he was out of any real danger, standing tall and letting out a,
"Hmph! We showed them!"
"Mm. We being Radom and I," I added, rolling
Wira shot me a glare and snorted. "Hey!"
"Better to get hurt by the truth than comforted
by a lie," Radom mused, smirking faintly and shaking his head.
The Wocky just frowned and eyed us both for a
moment. "Those guys are crazy. I'll get them for this one day, you just wait!"
But Radom just arched his eyebrows and smiled
very faintly, almost in a puzzling sort of way. "And what will that prove? Then
you'll be no better than them." He shook his head again, his voice taking on
that soft and oddly wise tone I had heard before. "You want to change their
minds, not kill them for weaknesses we all have."
"But I want---"
"I should warn you, getting what you want and
being happy are two quite different things."
Wira just stared at Radom oddly for a moment.
Even I had to watch him for a moment there. It was so strange how he just came
up with such wise things out of the blue like that. I nodded slightly in agreement
and looked back at the Wocky, breaking the quiet that had fallen for a second
with my murmuring, "We've got to get out of here while we can. You should go
"Yeah..." He paused for a moment. Stared at us.
He turned to leave, but then paused again. "Hey, uh..." Wira hesitated, rubbing
the back of his neck uncertainly. "You're right. And thanks. For helping me
escape, that is."
Radom just smiled softly and nodded in reply.
Then Wira turned and fled off into the darkness. He wanted to go home on his
own, Fyora give me patience, the stubborn thing. But Radom and I had our own
way to go now, and so we turned and started in the opposite direction once Wira
had vanished into the darkness.
I hoped he would be alright. But I'm sure he
was. Radom and I hurried through Meridell and back into the forest, where we
were finally safe. Safe from all those people, that castle, those guards, safe
under the trees. When we were far enough from Meridell and deep enough into
the woods, the peaceful silence and still figures in the darkness, the leaves
rustling in the cool night breeze, all reminded me just how exhausted and starving
I really was.
We found fruit and berries to eat, and after
I had hungrily taken in my fill, I promptly collapsed under a tree. We had a
long journey ahead of us still. But three shards down. Four more to go. I just
wanted to sleep now. It had been one long day, I'll tell you that.
That evening went slowly, I was grateful for
that. Radom praised my display of magic and bravery and how I had taken out
that guard, and I told him how great he was for always being so brave and calm
in the face of danger like that. He had been the real reason I had made it out
of there in one piece, I was sure. We would keep moving in the morning. But
we were both so wiped out from that day, we talked a tiny bit and then practically
Curled up under a tree with Radom, lulled to
sleep by the soft night sounds, that night I dreamed.
I was walking across harvest lands that were
heavy with crops. It was all a beautiful red-gold, the soil flourishing with
a bounty of crops and plants, and overhead was a sky so clear and blue that
it was painful to behold. Dried wheat stalks whispered against my legs as I
brushed past, and I looked down to see that ripe fruits were scattering onto
the dirt with a sound like a sigh. I bent to pick them, one by one from the
earth, and place them in my gathered bag, but even as I did, the wind stirred
itself and began waving its hand over the fields, strewing the fruit. I tried
desperately to gather them all, but I couldn't, and the more I grabbed the more
weighed down I became.
Suddenly, paws touched lightly against the
packed earth beside me. Radom stood beside me, a bag held in between his fangs,
which were revealed in a grin. Now I could distribute the fruit so that he could
hold half and I could carry the other half. And suddenly, it didn't seem so
heavy anymore. So much easier to carry. When we shared the load, it would never
weigh us down.
To be continued...