Journey to the West

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 


Chapter XIII

"I'm going with you," she said emphatically.  Akuta just shook his head and
continued to dress for his journey, pulling on the heavy woolen and leather
garments that had been provided by the dwarves.  It never occurred to him
to wonder that this race of little people would happen to have clothing
that would fit one of the 'tall ones' as they called his species.  He
finally pulled on the thick, fur poncho that covered him and turned to her.
"Take this," he said, holding out his silver dagger, the only one of his
weapons that remained.  "You may have need of it one day."

"We had a bargain," she said, stamping her foot like an angry child.  "You
said you would take me to see this western island of yours, and now you
abandon me with these...these dwarves!"

"Korbod has promised you safety," he repeated.  Then he turned to leave the
cave.

Sharon could see that no argument would change his mind.  She had never met
anyone so stubborn in her life.  "Look," she said, trying another approach
as she followed him out of the cave.  "I didn't get thrown from a horse,
almost eaten by a flying mountain lion, attached by leprechauns in a
forest, lost and almost drowned in a swamp just to sit here while you go
exploring caves.  I'll follow you, Akuta.  If you leave me here, I'll just
come after you."

The fairy suddenly turned on his heel, stopping so abruptly in front of her
that she collided into him.  "Listen to me and hear me well," he said in an
angry voice, his hands grabbing her by the upper arms, his tightly gripping
fingers bruising her.  "You will follow my instructions as I tell you."
Akuta then looked around, realizing they were arguing in the middle of a
crowd of dwarves who looked on in astounded and amused interest.  He
quickly drapped his voice to a wind whisper.  "Korbod will prevent you from
following me.  He shall keep you as a guest or a prisoner, whichever you
prefer.  Now you may come with us as far as the gateway of Turin Kareem if
you remember your place."

"Remember my place!" she shouted, white hot anger flaring her temper.

"You are my property in their eyes," he said calmly.  "Please act as such.
I know not how you may be treated in my absence if you act not as they
expect.  Now come, but keep your eyes down."

Sharon continued to glare angrily at him, taking slow, deep breaths as she
tried to calm her anger.  She wasn't afraid of him or these little people.
All she had to do was bide her time, then follow him.

"Our travel time is here," Korbod announced as he walked up to the two
giants, towering over his people.  "Be ye ready?"

"Yes," Akuta replied.

"Here be food for ye journey," the little man said, handing a full nap sack
to Akuta that one of the nearby women had carried.  "Let us go."  Korbod,
Akuta and Sharon moved off toward the entrance to the box canyon.  The
dwarf suddenly stopped to look at Sharon who dutifully dropped her eyes.
"Why bring ye this?"

"This?" Sharon said as her head snapped up and she made eye contact with
the little man.

"She comes to see me away," Akuta said as he quickly stepped in front of
the girl.  "She has deep affection for me."  Sharon responded with a snort
of derision.  The little dwarf seemed not to notice her attitude, but
merely nodded and turned to walk on.

Just outside the village was a group of little men waiting to accompany the
three on their journey.  In their midst stood a giant, a taller man, bound
tightly by thick ropes.  "This is the problem we wish ye to take away,"
Korbod said, gesturing toward the taller man surrounded by dwarves.

"Pardoo," Sharon gasped in recognition.

* * *

"There are but two solutions," Lorfana said as she addressed Robin as he
sat in the conference room just off the main throne room.  "The entire high
council is in agreement on this."

"I fear I know what you shall say," he replied as he dropped his head in
his hands.  He ran his fingers through his hair until they made contact
with the thick, gold band that he wore circling his brow.

"Nevertheless, let me say it," the old woman continued.  "We must produce
this servant boy which will prove Lastel a fool.  The others of the blue
tower will then follow your lead.  You may expel him and select another
from the west to rule the tower and sit at council."

"That was my plan," the king agreed.

"But it must be done now, before another day passes," she urged.

"I have my consort and the captain of the guard searching for the youth,"
Robin explained.  "They even have the help of the Keeper of Magic.  What
more can we attempt?"

"How difficult can this be to find one boy?" Lorfana asked.

"He has escaped to the human world," Robin finally confessed to the council
leader.

Lorfana's eyes widened in surprise.  "Then this explains the delay," she
said in a hushed voice.  "I thank you, my lord, for sharing this confidence
with me.  You are correct to keep this knowledge secret.  It could only
cause more harm than good."  She sat in silent thought for a minute before
speaking again.  "You must be prepared to take the second solution to our
problem."

"I fear this next solution most of all," the king said.

"You must prepare for war between our kingdoms and the west."

"Our kingdoms?"

She folded her hands calmly in her lap and sat back in her chair.  "I mean,
of course, the high born.  We may also be able to have an alliance with the
woodlings of the great forest.  I fear the merchants will wish to remain
neutral to protect their trade.  I cannot speak for the other tribes.  At
present Lastel has painted us as the aggressors."

"And shall I have the support of the high council?" Robin asked.

"No," Lorfana said firmly.  "The council is composed of all the tribes.  We
cannot support one tribe in warfare against another."

Robin shook his head slowly.  "This is very bad," he admitted.

"We can but hope your consort shall succeed in his task," the old woman
said softly.

* * *

"Good morning," Jennifer said cheerily as she and Caseldra joined their
companions in the hotel coffee shop.

"How can you be so damned happy?" Scott grumbled as he took a swig of
coffee.

"Uh oh.  Did somebody get up on the wrong side of the bed?" the girl asked,
looking at her friend.

"Is there an incorrect way to rise from those overly soft reclining
platforms?" Rood asked in surprise.  "Is that why he is so unpleasant
today?"

"Rood," Scott said, setting his cup down.

"Yes, lord?"

"Shut up."

The waiter came walking up with more coffee and two additional menus.  This
effectively stalled further conversation for a few minutes.  Jennifer
ordered for Caseldra as well as herself, then ordered breakfast for Rood
when she realized Scott only asked for coffee.  As the man quickly
disappeared toward the back of the restaurant Jennifer turned to her old
friend.  "If you want to grouse and starve yourself, fine, but don't forget
these friends of yours want to eat, and they don't know how to read a
menu."

"Sorry," Scott replied sullenly.

"I should think so," she said.  They all lapsed into silence.  Soon the
food arrived and the three began to enjoy their meal while Scott continued
to brood.

"My lord, you should eat something," Caseldra suggested.  "We may have a
difficult search today."

"You're telling me," the man answered sarcastically.  "How hard can it be
to find one little fairy in a city of seven million?"  This drew a nasty
look from the effeminate waiter as he happened to walk by just then.

"The poor guy," Jennifer said.  "Everything here must be pretty alien to
him."

Scott suddenly froze, his cup halfway to his lips.  "Alien," he repeated,
an idea beginning to form in the back of his mind.  "That's it.  He's an
alien."

"So?" Jennifer asked.

"So he's an illegal alien.  I bet the INS can get that drag club to give
them Dannemel's address."

"Now Scott, how is that going to help us?"

"You're going to work for the INS," he said.

"I'm what?" she asked in shock.  He quickly began to outline his plan to
her.

A few hours later a conservatively dressed woman in a grey business suit
and dark rimmed glasses, carrying a brief case was seated in Moe's office
at the Boom Boom Room.

"Well, Missy..." Moe began as he leaned back in his chair, pulling out a
cigar.

"The name is Miss Sloan, and would you mind not smoking," Jennifer said
coldly as she could manage.

"Look, lady," the fat little man said as he leaned forward.  "This is my
joint.  You're in my office and I'll do as I please."

Jennifer pushed her glasses up on her nose as she had seen her friend Troy
do many months ago when he was alive.  She always thought it was a perfect
gesture of impatient contempt.  "Well, I can see I won't be able to conduct
my investigation here.  I'll just have my office call the Justice
Department and they'll have to shut your business down for a couple of
months while we subpoena your files."  She stood up and turned to the door.

"Now wait just a minute," Moe said, jumping up so quickly he overturned his
chair.  "I'm willing to cooperate in any way I can."  Jennifer turned back
and gave him a cool stare, as if she were examining a bug under a
microscope.  She looked at the unlit cigar in his hand.  Moe quickly opened
a desk drawer and dropped the offensive stogey in it.  "What is it you
want?"

"To begin with, I need to see your employee records."

"My employee records?" he repeated.

"Your I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification forms to be specific."

"I-9?" Moe said.

"Yes," Jennifer replied as she sat down and reached into her brief case.
She pulled out one of the forms they had picked up at the office of
Immigration and Naturalization Services just an hour earlier.  "As an
employer in the United States you are required to keep one of these on
every one of your employees."

Moe looked blankly at the form.  "Oh, yeah?  Sure.  We got these," he said.
He stood up and crossed to the door, sticking his head out and bellowing.
"Sarah!"  A moment later a mousy looking little woman who served as
bookkeeper came in.  "We got these?"  He stuck the form in her hand.

"Well, yes on a few employees," she replied.

Jennifer slowly stood and began reciting the information she had memorized
from the back of the form.  "You are required to have this form on file by
Title 8 of the United States Code, Section 1324A.  If you cannot furnish me
with this evidence you may be in violation of the law and may be open to
prosecution in a civil court.  I guess we might have to close down your
operations after all."

"Sarah, go get the personnel files," Moe instructed.  The woman scurried
off.  "Now Miss...um."

"Sloan," Jennifer said icily.

"Miss Sloan.  Have a seat.  Can I get you a drink?  We have a complete
bar."

"No thank you.  Just the files please."

About this time the little woman scurried back into the office carrying a
large shoe box.  She handed it reverently to Jennifer.  Moe and Sarah
watched as the girl opened the lid and found a jumble of papers and forms.
She carefully dug through the mess, finding a couple of crumpled I-9's, a
couple of W-4's and lots of homemade resumes and job applications.  As she
looked at each piece of paper, she grew more frustrated.  It was obvious
that Moe and his bookkeeper were not the most efficient record keepers.
"Well," she said, looking up.  "I guess I'll just have to question each of
your employees personally since you obviously don't have the proper
eligibility forms on hand for all of them.  Where can I find a list of
addresses and phone numbers?"

"Get the payroll ledger," Moe said.

Again the woman scurried out and returned shortly with a big, black book.
Jennifer opened it up and almost squealed with delight.  There on the front
page was a list of employees with addresses and phone numbers.  Second from
the bottom was Danny Smith with an address but no phone.  Jennifer grabbed
a pad and pencil from her brief case and quickly copied down the
information.  She handed the ledger back and stood up.

Moe practically fell over himself trying to be cooperative.  "I'm not
really gonna be closed down on account of some dumb forms, am I?"

The girl reached into her case once more and pulled out a pad of the I-9's
the people at INS gave her when she told them she was opening a business.
"Here," she said, handing Moe the pad.  "Have one of these completed on
every one of your people by next week.  I'll be back."  She turned and
quickly left the club.

On the street below Scott, Caseldra and Rood waited anxiously.  Jennifer
came out of the door with a smile on her face.  "How did it go?" Scott
asked.

"Easy as pie," she said as she handed him the address.  She then took off
the clear glass spectacles.  "See what eight years of community theatre can
do?"

"You remembered not to over act as Scott says you always have on stage?"
Caseldra asked innocently.

"Let's get a cab.  Taxi!" Scott shouted as he jumped for the street.

* * *

The group traveled all day, finally stopping for the night in the shelter
of an overhanging stone shelf.  Sharon was exhausted, and after a frugal
but filling meal she curled up near the campfire and fell into a deep
sleep.  Akuta sat beside her for a time, and then decided to take a walk in
the starlight.  Just a little way from the warmth of the camp he came
across a couple of dwarf guards and the western elf as their prisoner.
Pardoo looked up at Akuta and smiled.  "Welcome to the camp for the
prisoners, reversal," he said.  Akuta stared warily at him.  "Oh, fear not,
my man loving friend.  These little people speak not our language."

"How came you to this?" Akuta asked the other tall man.

"If you mean the station of a prisoner, I am an innocent victim.  These
little ones have a quarrel with the western kingdom so I suffer."  Akuta
nodded in sympathy.  "And now I ask you a question," Pardoo said.  "You
seem to have a part in this journey.  Know you where they are going?"

Akuta thought for a moment, but could see no reason why the prisoner should
not know.  "We go to Turin Kareem," he said at last.

Pardoo looked frightened for the first time since Akuta had rescued him
from the griffin.  "Turin Kareem," he repeated.  "Is this your punishment
to me for leaving you in the marsh?"

"Heard you not the stories?" Akuta admonished with a smile.  "Turin Kareem
is full of color crystal.  You may retrieve much wealth there."

"I may retrieve my death there," the elf returned.  "That cannot be it.
You seek not the color crystal.  You are not that much of a fool.  Know you
we shall die in the darkness?"  But Akuta simply turned around and headed
back to the main camp.

Korbod sat by the fire, waiting for the fairy.  "I would speak to ye," he
said as Akuta drew near.

"Speak," the guard said as he sat down next to the dwarf.

"On the morrow we reach ye destination.  Before we journey on I must have
ye pledge."

"If it is mine to give," Akuta responded.

"Ye must kill the other tall one.  He must not return from the dark.  In
such ye shall eliminate our problem."  The dwarf gazed into the fire.

"Why must he die?" the fairy asked.

"If he returns to his land and they hear of our treatment of him, our
location and strength, it will be all they need to begin the war they have
prepared for all these past months.  They wish to kill us all and seize our
stones and crystals."

"Cannot you kill him yourself?" Akuta asked in disgust.

"If he dies by our hand his people shall hear of it," the gray bearded man
said.  "If he enters the darkness with ye, no one shall ever hear of him
again."

"I shall do as you ask if again you pledge to keep my property safe," came
the answer.

Korbod smiled and agreed.  "Ye property shall be safe with me," he said.
Akuta nodded, and then rose so he could draw apart from the others to
meditate.  Korbod took the opportunity to gaze across the flames to where
Sharon was sleeping.  His smile widened perceptibly.

Dawn finally broke, and the men of the camp began to prepare for the trip
again.  Sharon barely had time to gulp down a meager breakfast of bread and
honey before she was hurried back to the trail.  The sky was a gloomy grey
overcast which made the dull grey and brown of the rocks around them seem
even more depressing.  Around mid-morning the trail suddenly widened to a
large, flat paved roadway that wound through the foot hills.  The little
group was able to make much faster progress now on the smooth surface.  In
no time at all they came to the base of a steep mountain that thrust up out
of the rocky plateau like a giant phallus.  The paved roadway ended in a
wide stairway that ascended about ten feet to a flat pavilion butting up
against the mountain's side.

"Behold, the steps of Turin Kareem," Korbod said.  He and his men began to
busy themselves in preparing a camp at the foot of the stairway.

"This is where I leave you," Akuta said to Sharon.

"Please," she pleaded.  "I want to go along."

"No," he said firmly, then gave her a tight hug.  "Thank you for being my
friend," he said.  "I shall return as soon as I find the secret I seek.
Then we may go back to Esbereth and live in happiness as before."

"We go no further," Korbod said as his men dragged Pardoo to the base of
the steps.  "Ye have the food and water I give ye.  Now take my sword as
well.  Ye may have need of weapons."  The little man held out his short
sword in its scabbard to Akuta.  The fairy took the jeweled weapon and
strapped it on.  "Fare ye well," Korbod said.  "We shall await ye return
for a time.  If ye return not soon, ye may find us in our village."  With
that he nodded.  At the signal his men cut the bonds that had held Pardoo
as a prisoner, and they gave him a shove.  Slowly the two men mounted the
stairs.

At the top of the steps was a smooth, square, wide expanse of unbroken
stone.  On one side was the mountain.  On two other sides the plateau
dropped down to a deep gorge.  The fourth side was the stairway.  "What
now, reversal?" Pardoo asked.  "I see no gateway."

"It must be here," Akuta said, fear slowly rising in him.  Perhaps it had
all been a wild goose chase after all.  He crossed the pavilion to the rock
wall of the mountain.  "It must be here," he repeated as he ran his hands
across the stone.

"You fool," Pardoo taunted.  "They sealed up that cavern long ago.  The
little people have tricked you in bringing me here.  There may have been a
doorway once, but no more."  He slowly started to cross the flat, stone
floor to where Akuta stood, running his hands again and again over the
wall.  "What asked they of you?" the westerner continued.  "That you slay
me?  They only brought you here so you would kill me and then they will
kill you.  And they have your woman, the one female willing to bed a
man-loving reversal like you," he continued.

Akuta turned, his anger flaring up.  His sword hand reached instinctively
to the jeweled hilt.

Pardoo took another step toward him, and then suddenly disappeared.  The
stone floor beneath his feet gave way with a thunderous groan and the fairy
plunged down into a hole that now gaped in the center of the floor.  Akuta
ran to the edge and looked down into the gloom.  The westerner was lying on
his back, covered with dirt and debris from the cave in, but most of the
larger rocks had missed the spot where he landed.  The sand covered floor
of the interior was ten feet below.  Akuta took one last look at the tall
mountain beside him, reaching up into the grey cloud cover, and then he
dropped lightly down into the hole.

 

 

 

 

 

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