Journey to the West

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 

Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2010 06:13:16 -0500 (EST)
From: BertMcK@aol.com
Subject: Crystal Throne/Journey to the West chapter 10

Journey to the West
By Bert McKenzie
Copyright 2010

Chapter X

"This is stupid.  We could wait here forever," Jennifer complained.  "I'm
not coming to New York to spend the whole time sitting in a hotel room.
Let's go shopping or sightseeing or something!"

"But Scott and Rood told us to await them here," Caseldra answered, her
face a picture of concern.

"They'll be gone for hours.  We'll be back long before they miss us."
Caseldra was still unsure.  It would mean disobeying a direct command from
the king's consort.  This made her a little hesitant.  "Don't you want to
see New York?" Jennifer cajoled.  In a matter of minutes they were on a
subway rushing underneath the crowded city.  "We'll start at the tip of the
island with Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty and work our way north,"
the human told her fairy companion.

"'Scouse me, lady," a young Hispanic boy said, tapping Jennifer on the
shoulder.  "I heard what you was saying.  You ain't gonna' get to Battery
Park goin' this way.  You're headin' for Harlem."

"Oh, thanks," Jennifer said and grabbed Caseldra's hand.  "We're on the
wrong train."  The two women got off at the next stop.  In order to cross
the tracks and head south again they needed to go upstairs and back down on
the other side.  They climbed the concrete steps to the landing and were
just about to descend again when a young boy ran by, grabbing Jennifer's
bag and dashing off into the crowd.  "My purse!" she screamed.  "Hey, he
stole my purse!"

Without a moment's hesitation Caseldra darted after the kid and Jennifer
ran along after both of them.  The boy dashed up the steps and off into a
tree lined lane with Caseldra in hot pursuit.  Jennifer ran out of the
subway entrance just in time to see her lover disappearing into Central
Park.  It was just beginning to grow dark.  "Oh, great, two lesbians lost
in Central Park at night," she thought to herself, then slowly headed down
the lane.

* * *

 "I am hungry," Pardoo said as soon as he finally caught up with Akuta and
Sharon.  The two were making a meal of roasted fruit.  Akuta had built a
small campfire in a sheltered clearing and Sharon picked several of the
large, green gourds that were growing on a nearby tree.  When cooked over
the open flame they tasted remarkably light baked sweet potatoes.  "May I
not have a roast plurabee?" the westerner asked.

Sharon felt sorry for the man.  He had trailed along behind Akuta all day,
the tall guard stoically ignoring him.  The girl sarted to hand Pardoo one
of the cooked fruits but Akuta stopped her.  "A wild animal must fend for
itself.  Would you tame it and make it into a pet?"

"He's got to eat," Sharon said and handed the hot gourd to the hungry man.

"She is wise," Pardoo said as he broke open the peel and began to bite into
the pulp.  "She keeps me alive because she knows I am needed.  Without me
as a guide you shall not find the land of dwarves."  Akuta rose in disgust
and walked a few paces out into the woods.  "And perhaps she needs me for
another service," Pardoo added lecherously in a wind whisper only Sharon
could hear.  The woman rose and followed her friend into the forest.

"Akuta," she said as she came up beside him.  "I just wanted to thank you
for...for this morning."  The tall fairy turned to her and she could see
the tears glistening in his eyes.  "What is it?" she asked.

"I am confused.  I understand not how a man like that remains to hurt
others and a man like Alex would depart for the western islands."

Sharon reached out and hugged her friend.  "I know," she whispered softly.
"Death seldom makes any sense."

Slowly, Akuta straightened up and dried his eyes on the back of his arm.
"I must remember my quest," he said.  "Soon we shall put this all behind
us.  We shall return to Esbereth with the secret and everything shall be as
it was."

"I hope so," Sharon replied.

The two returned to the small campfire where the girl arranged a bed for
the night.  Akuta sat next to her and stared at Pardoo as he lounged
against the base of a tree.  The hours slowly slipped by.  Finally Pardoo
rose and started to walk into the forest.  "Where go you?" Akuta asked
quietly.

The man turned back with a sneer.  "I go to relieve my bladder, reversal.
Care you to watch?  It is likely to be your only chance to see my shaft."
Akuta dropped his eyes in embarrassment.

Morning was still some time away when Akuta saw lights in the distance.  It
looked like small candles moving through the forest and low to the ground.
He was instantly alert.  "Westerner," he called to Pardoo in a wind
whisper.  "See you that?"

"It is the wood sprites," Pardoo answered confidently.  "Let us go to
them."

"Sprites?" Akuta said in surprise.  "We cannot contact them.  Know you how
sprites feel about us?"  Sprites and fairies had never quite gotten on well
in the long history of Tuatha.  There had been a time in the far distant
past when they had actively fought each other, but now they just carefully
avoided one another's territory.

"I know how sprites feel about the lordly and pretentious high born,"
Pardoo replied.  "But with my people, they have an agreement.  The lane
through the forest to the west is of their making.  If you would reach your
destination you must trust me."

Akuta looked out again at the moving lights, then back to the western elf.
"I may follow you," he said, then put his hand on his sword hilt.  "But I
shall not trust you."

Pardoo stepped out into the forest in the direction of the lights.  "Bring
the human if you will," he called back over his shoulder.

Akuta gently shook Sharon to wakefulness and tried to quickly explain the
situation.  They then stumbled into the woods in the direction taken by
Pardoo.  The westerner was not visible ahead of them, but the path he took
through the vegetation was evident.  It soon led to a wide pathway running
east and west through the forest.  The lights that Akuta had spotted were
now gone as he and Sharon stepped into the lane.  "What now?" she asked.
Suddenly they were surrounded by a strong net made of thick, woven fibers
and dropped on them from above.  Before either could react they were
trapped, the net pulled tightly around them both and tied by small hands.
Once this was accomplished the lights came back.

Sharon was astounded to see dozens of tiny little people, perfectly formed
and no bigger than twelve inches in height.  They all appeared to be
dressed in materials made from leaves and tree bark, and looked like
rustic, living Barbie dolls.  Several of them carried tiny little lanterns
that appeared to be carved from acorns and that threw the dancing golden
lights Akuta had seen earlier.  Others carried miniature spears fashioned
from what looked like porcupine quills.  One of the little men jumped up
onto Akuta's chest and pointed his spear in the fairy's face.  "Why you
here?" he asked in a tiny voice that sounded like a cross between a mouse's
squeak and a cricket's chirrup.  The fairy remained silent which seemed to
infuriate the little man who jabbed his victim in the nose with the sharp
quill.  Akuta jumped more in surprise than in actual pain.

"Leave him alone," Sharon said angrily which drew attention to her.  She
was suddenly jabbed in the ribs by several of the little people.

They all began to make noise, sounding like a convention of tiny field
mice, but Sharon could not understand the sounds.  Finally the noise died
away at a gesture from the little man standing on top of Akuta.  He jumped
up and down, did some strange gesturing, and emitted squeaky little noises.
At this several of the little people disappeared into the forest, then
returned pulling on ropes.  Following docilely behind them was Pardoo, his
hands bound together and a long, thin rope trailing down to the sprites who
led him.  The little man spoke to him in the same squeaky voice.  "Why they
here?  Why you here?"

Pardoo dropped to his knees before the little man who still stood on top of
Akuta's chest.  "Great leader, I came to warn you of these two.  I am from
the western kingdoms and our two peoples have a special agreement for the
use of your forest lane."

"No recognize agreement," the little man said.  "All big folk bad."

"But we have been at peace for many seasons," Pardoo argued.  "I have come
to help you by telling you of this bad big man who travels with a human
female."

"This female human?" the little man asked, a measure of awe in his voice.
He then spoke to the other sprites in his odd language of squeaks and
accompanying gestures and movements.  Two of the little warriors ran
forward and jabbed Sharon in the back of the hand.  She flinched and jumped
as a bright drop of red blood appeared where they had pricked her.
Everyone stared at the wound and made little cricket noises.

"Kill you for bringing human here," the leader shouted in defiance.  Before
Pardoo could move a number of tiny warriors leaped on him, knocking him
flat, and then they swarmed on top of him like ants attacking a piece of
candy.  When they left him, the man was tightly bound by their small ropes
in such a way that he was totally unable to move.  They then turned their
attention on the two prisoners held in the net, swarming over them.  In
moments Akuta's bow, arrows and sword were removed.  He and Sharon were
then tied with their hands behind their backs and their feet trussed to
eliminate movement.  Then the leader addressed the three prisoners.  "We
go.  Big cat come.  You die.  No more trouble."  The sprites faded away
down the trail.

"What did he mean by 'big cat come?'" Sharon asked.

"Many of our forests have large hunting cats.  They are the worst enemies
of wood sprites.  I would guess they plan for us to be killed by these
cats," Akuta answered.

"Tied up like this we don't stand a chance.  Thanks a lot, Pardoo," the
girl growled.

"But our people had an arrangement, a truce," the western elf complained.
"They should not treat me so."

"We heard your deceit," Akuta said.  "You would deliver us to the sprites
to gain advantage for yourself.  You deserve this."

"But we don't," Sharon said.

"I have a plan," Akuta told her in a wind whisper.  "Can you move closer to
me?"  The girl wormed her way over until she was lying against him.  "Now
untie my breeches and reach inside."

"What?" Sharon asked in startled surprise.  Akuta quickly explained his
idea.

Pardoo watched as the girl backed up to her friend, and then carefully
untied the drawstring on his pants.  The westerner's eyes widened as he saw
her slip her hands down inside the clothing.  "What is this?" he asked.
"You have nothing but contempt for a real man, yet you fondle a reversal as
we are about to die."

"Shut up," she said as she struggled to move.  "I've got it," the doctor
said triumphantly.  Akuta moved to try to help her, and then drew a quick
breath in surprise.  "Sorry, did I hurt you?"

"Only a little prick," he said.

"Don't make me laugh," she returned, deciding not to explain the joke right
now.  "Okay, here it is."  Sharon carefully pulled her hands from his
pants, still clutching the silver dagger he had worn strapped to his thigh.
"Now what?"

"Hold it firmly," Akuta instructed and managed to roll over so his back was
to her.  Carefully he moved his hands up against the blade and drew them
tight against its sharp edge.  The cords separated and Akuta sighed in
relief as he gained the use of his hands.  "Now give me the blade," he said
taking the dagger.  The fairy quickly cut the cords on his feet and then
went to work on the net that was still tangled about them.  In moments he
was able to stand and retie his pants, then free his companion.  "Let us go
before the forest cats come," he said.

"What about me?" Pardoo whined.

"What about him?" Sharon reiterated.

"Cannot we leave him here?" Akuta asked in dismay.  He already knew what
the girl's answer would be.  She simply looked at him.  "This is against my
judgment," he said as he reached down with his knife, slicing through the
cords holding the western elf.  "Now let us make haste."  Akuta started
down the lane to the west.

"All the time we've been in this forest we've never seen any cats.  Why
should we now?" Sharon asked.

"The big cats hunt where they know they shall find game," Pardoo explained,
"such as along a wide lane where they may often find sprites."

"So we're traveling along their favorite hunting ground.  That sounds
smart.  If the cats don't get us those tiny little people probably will."

* * *

Jennifer had wandered down the tree lined sidewalk for quite some distance.
She was beginning to worry, but her concern was more for her girlfriend
than for herself.  She could envision all sorts of things happening to
Caseldra in the dark.  This was not the smartest place to be at night in
New York.  "Caseldra," she called.  There was no answer.  She walked on
wondering what she should do.  Should she call the police, go back to the
hotel, what?

Suddenly there was a sound and a movement in the nearby bushes.  Jennifer
froze in panic, her heart leaping to her throat.  The shrubbery parted and
a young Hispanic boy stepped out, followed by the little fairy girl.  It
was the same boy who told Jennifer they were on the wrong subway.  "Ow,"
the kid shouted as Caseldra pushed him forward.  "Ease up, lady.  I think
you broke my fucking arm."

Caseldra held the youth, one arm pulled up behind his back.  "I shall break
your other arm if you say it not," she growled twisting her grip.

The boy looked up at Jennifer sullenly.  "I'm sorry I took your purse.  Now
let go, lady."  Caseldra released the kid and he took off down the walk.
"Crazy fucking bitch," he shouted back at them as he ran.

"Here is your bag," Caseldra said, returning the stolen item to its
rightful owner.

"Thanks, but that was a really stupid thing to do.  Do you know how
dangerous that was.  He might have had a gun or a knife."

"He did," Caseldra said and held out a lethal looking switch blade, holding
it carefully by the handle so as not to touch the iron blade.

"You could have been killed!" Jennifer exclaimed.

"Not by him.  If this is your most dangerous warrior we have nothing to
fear."  Jennifer shook her head, grabbed the switch blade, threw it in a
trash barrel beside the walk and then grabbed Caseldra by the wrist.  The
two girls quickly headed for the bright lights of the street at the end of
the sidewalk.  They then managed to hail a cab to return to the hotel.
"What of your plan for shopping and sightseeing?" Caseldra asked as they
entered the hotel lobby.

"I think you've had enough adventure for one day," the human replied as she
approached the desk.  There was a message waiting for her.  She took the
slip and unfolded it.  "It's a phone message from Scott," she said.  "He's
upset because we aren't here like he asked, but he wants us to meet him.
Here's the address.  Let's go."

"Perhaps I shall have more adventure after all," Caseldra said with a
smile.  Jennifer had misgivings, but knew she would never be able to talk
her lover into waiting behind for them.

* * *

The small band of travelers was able to make good time in the wide, clear
pathway through the forest.  Sharon was apprehensive but Akuta set a rapid
pace and took no notice of the strange sounds that occasionally came from
deep in the woods.  She was sure their sensitive ears would alert them to
any dangers such as prowling predators or another band of sprites.  In the
middle of the afternoon the trees began to thin and the surrounding
underbrush seemed to grow less dense, and yet no sunlight seemed to reach
them.  Finally, the forest lane came to an abrupt end as well.  Where the
trees stopped, an almost solid wall of grey nothing began.  It took Sharon
a minute to realize that she was looking at a wall of thick fog.  "Where
are we?" she asked.

"This is the western march, the edge of the world," Akuta said, anger
slowly rising in his voice.  "What trickery is this, westerner?  You told
us we could reach the land of dwarves by this forest lane and instead you
bring us to the edge of the world."

"What is this edge of the world stuff?" Sharon asked.

"Foolish fears told by the brave high born," Pardoo replied with a
sarcastic sneer.  "Surely you believe not the tales of lost souls wandering
the mists."

"What I believe concerns you not," the tall man said quickly.  "How can we
travel further?  This forest lane has brought us to a dead end."

"The land of dwarves is directly west of us.  The westward roadway lies to
the north.  If you would reach your destination with any speed you need
simply plunge ahead."

"And be lost in the mist.  There is neither sun nor stars to guide us.  We
shall lose our direction and wander helplessly lost only to perish in the
swamp water.  Is this your plan, westerner?"

Pardoo tried to look shocked, but was unconvincing at it.  "You need
neither sun nor stars to guide you.  I am here.  My own people know the
paths through the marsh.  I can lead you safely across."

A low moan came to their ears from the grey mist.  "What was that?" the
girl asked as she felt the goose flesh rise on her arms.

"The voices of the lost," Akuta said.

"The sigh of the wind," Pardoo countered.  "You may return through the
forest and try to hide from the cats, sprites and griffins on the old
roadway, or you may follow me across the marsh.  The choice is yours."
With that he stepped forward and disappeared into the grey mist.  Sharon
looked at Akuta who shrugged his shoulders and stepped out into the fog.
She took a deep breath and followed him.

As the swirling mists closed around the doctor she felt her right foot sink
into soft mud up to her ankles.  She took another step forward and her left
foot sank up to her mid calf.  She tried to pull her right foot out, but it
wouldn't come.  Finally with great effort her leg came free, leaving behind
her boot still buried in the mud.  She tried to step forward, but her leg
sank up to her knee.  Now it was physically impossible to remove herself or
go further.  "Akuta, help!" she called.  "I'm stuck."

Something grabbed her from overhead and tugged.  Slowly the mud let go with
a sickening slurp, and she found herself standing on solid ground.  "Try to
stay on the paths, human," the western elf said as she looked up to thank
her rescuer.

"Where's Akuta?" she asked quickly.

"Here," came his voice at her side.  She could just barely make out his
tall shape in the thick mist.

"Let us be off," Pardoo said and turned away, again vanishing in the fog.

"Hold my hand," Akuta said, reaching out for her.  She gripped his wrist
tightly and followed him as he led her into the bleak grey nothingness.

Sharon walked along behind Akuta for what seemed like hours.  The ground
below her was soft and squishy on her bare feet, and uncomfortably cold.
Every now and then a low moan would come to them from out of the mist.
This sound gave Sharon chills.  She tried to tell herself it was only the
wind, but it sounded remarkably human.  "Akuta," she finally said, breaking
the quiet.  Her voice fell dully flat in her ear, as if they were
surrounded by a thick blanket of cotton.  "Can you see through this?  I'm
totally blind."

"I cannot see either," he answered her in a quiet hush.

"Then how are you following Pardoo?" she asked in concern.

"By sound," her friend answered.

"Pardoo, how much farther?" she called out, raising her voice in the thick
silence.  Akuta stopped moving.  "Pardoo?" she repeated.  Still they
waited.

"Westerner?" Akuta called, but no response came back.

"Where is he?" Sharon asked, fear mounting in her voice.

"He stopped moving just ahead," Akuta answered and slowly eased his way
forward.  He stopped suddenly.  "There is no one here, and the path ends in
water.  We must go back."

"Can you find the way back?" she asked anxiously.

"I shall try."

 

 

 

 

 

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