Journey to the West

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 


Chapter XIX

The horses were waiting just outside the white tower.  Everything had been
prepared and the two travelers were ready to depart.  The only hold up was
that one of the travelers was unwilling to go.  "I can draw a detailed map
for you.  Surely you need no guide," Dannemel said.

"What, and allow you to miss all the adventure?" Rood asked with a crooked
grin.

"But the overseers will know of my presence.  They shall find us both
because of me.  You know them not.  They are evil and cruel."

"And they know me not," Rood countered.  "There is nothing to fear if we
are on guard.  These overseers cannot be worse than those I have battled
from the dark world.  I shall vanquish them with my eyes closed."

"As you vanquished the bouncer in the strip joint, or the police at the
drag club in New York?" Scott said as he walked up to his friend, having
heard Rood's last comment.

"I was only holding back for your sake," the big guard said as he smiled to
his human friend.  "We are ready to depart.  Comes not Robin to see us
off?"

"No," Scott said regretfully.  "He wanted to, but we thought this plan was
better.  He's summoning Lastel to meet with him right now.  On the surface
he plans to thank the old fart for his service to the kingdom and wish him
well on his journey.  No hard feeling and all that.  But actually, Robin's
delaying him and distracting his people so you two can slip out unobserved
and be well on the way toward the west before Lastel's party even leaves
the castle."

"A good plan," Rood agreed.  "We shall be in Lirsta or Marchinod before
Lastel is ever close to the western kingdoms.  We may hear valuable things
before the west learns that Lastel has fallen from power."

Scott reached out and gripped Rood firmly by the arm.  The captain returned
the hand clasp.  "Good fortune," Scott said to his old friend.  He then
turned to Dannemel who stood nervously by.  "Good fortune to you too, kid."

The boy reached out and quickly hugged Scott.  "I am sorry for all the
trouble I have caused, and because I tried to...to come between you and
Robin..." he stammered.  "Take care of Maggie.  See that she is well."

"I will," Scott promised.  "You two just find Sharon and Akuta and get back
as soon as possible."  The two fairies mounted their horses and were about
to ride off when Scott thought of something else.  He stepped close to the
boy's horse and smiled up at him.  "And please try to keep that fool out of
trouble," he said nodding toward Rood.  The guard grinned back at him, and
then with a slap of the reins, urged his horse into a gallop.  Dannemel had
to hurry to try to catch him.  The two dashed down the courtyard toward the
main gate while several pedestrians had to leap out of the way to avoid
being trampled.  "So much for quietly slipping out unobserved," Scott
muttered as he saw two women picking themselves up from where they had
landed at the side of the road.

* * *

There was no sign of the dwarf encampment at the foot of the stairway
leading up to the gateway into Turin Kareem.  Akuta had no idea how long he
and his unsavory companion had been wandering around in the darkness.  He
had no idea how long it had been since he and Pardoo had first entered the
hole that led into the underground passage through the mountains.  He was
sure that he had only spent the better part of one day in the other world,
but then Akuta knew how time was often different in different places.  He
might have been gone a day, a week, or many seasons.  He had no way to
tell.  In any case Sharon and the dwarves were not still camped at the foot
of the stairs.  Akuta wanted to head directly back to Esbereth to use his
precious charm on the body of his departed lover, but he felt guilty.  He
was responsible for bringing Sharon to this strange country.  It was his
responsibility to see where she was now, and he needed to obtain weapons
and food in order to continue their journey.  The two started down the
rocky trail back to the little box canyon where Korbod's village could be
found.

After a day and a half of trekking through the rocky terrain of the
foothills, the area began to look familiar.  Akuta was sure Korbod's
village was just ahead.  He stopped and looked back at his undead
companion.  The skeleton was definitely no longer a skeleton.  In the light
of day it took on the definite appearance of an animated dead body.  It
seemed to be rotting away in reverse.  There were blue-black pieces of skin
clinging to the pitted and pock marked arms and legs.  The veins and
muscles could be plainly seen through gaping holes in the flesh.  The skull
was now covered with rotting flesh as well, the blackened skin shriveled
tightly against the bones, and the lips peeled back to reveal the teeth and
jaw bone.  The creature still reeked of death itself, and Akuta had to hold
his breath when it approached too near him.

"I must go to the village just ahead," the fairy said.  "You stay here and
wait.  I shall return soon."  He hoped the creature understood his orders.
The superstitious dwarves would probably not react well when seeing a
living corpse stumble into their village.  "Wait here until I return,"
Akuta repeated.

The creature opened its mouth.  "Norah," it said in reply.  Akuta looked
into the glint reflected off the partly decomposed eyeballs, but had no way
of knowing if his message was understood.  He began to slowly walk toward
the village, glancing back occasionally.  The corpse stood as if rooted to
the spot, making no move to follow him.  Finally, relaxing a little, he
turned and quickly headed down the path toward the box canyon.

Dwarf sentinels had alerted the village prior to his arrival, so Akuta was
greeted by Korbod at the entrance to the canyon.  The little old man seemed
in awe of him, as if Akuta had risen from the dead, which wasn't far from
the truth.  "Great lord," the dwarf began, "we greet ye and bid ye be
welcome.  Come refresh in our village.  I will have food, drinks, new
clothing and bath water brought to ye dwelling."  He bowed and led Akuta
back to the same cave where he and Sharon had rested before.  The thought
of a bath and food seemed like heaven and Akuta quickly followed.

As they reached the cave his heart raced with new excitement.  He could
hardly wait to tell Sharon of his success.  Akuta quickly stepped inside
and then went to the back inner chamber but the cave was vacant.  He
returned to the outer chamber where Korbod stood.  "Where is my property?"
Akuta asked as he started to feel a sense of foreboding.

"We speak of this at evening fire after ye rest and clean," the little man
said unemotionally.  He then turned and left before Akuta could ask
anything further.  The fairy stepped to the entrance, but it was suddenly
blocked by a number of women carrying trays of food, bundles of clean
clothing and buckets of bath water.  The thought of food and a bath was
strongly appealing, so Akuta gave in to his physical weakness and returned
to the inner chamber.

Once the serving women were gone he stripped off his dirty, tattered tunic
and was soon naked.  Remembering the story of Gilgamesh and the water
sprite, Akuta held on to the tiny packet containing the ocean rose.  He was
determined not to let it get out of his reach for fear of some unforeseen
happening.  Slowly he slipped into the cool water and sank down in the tub
that stood in the center of the room.  He took a deep breath and sank
beneath the surface of the water, letting his cares and troubles float away
with the dirt and grime of his journey.  In a short time Akuta felt renewed
and alive again.  He carefully climbed out of the water, dried off on the
soft, cotton towels the dwarves provided, and then slipped on the clean
breeches and tunic.  Once redressed, he again tucked the packet containing
his hard won price into his tunic against his bare chest, and then sat
beside the fire that had been prepared in the little hearth and began to
ravenously work on the trays of food.

Relaxed, cleaned and his hunger and thirst sated, Akuta intended to slip
out of the cave in search for Korbod.  Just outside the cave opening he ran
into a short little man with a sword who appeared to be standing guard.
"Where is Korbod?" Akuta asked, but the little man either did not
understand his language or pretended not to.  He only looked blankly back
at the fairy who towered over him.  "Korbod," Akuta repeated and looked
around, trying to make his wishes apparent.  The little man grunted
something in reply and pointed back into the cave.  "I go to seek Korbod,"
Akuta said and turned to leave.  The little guard moved like lightning to
position himself directly in front of the fairy, his barbed sword pointing
at Akuta's chest and gleaming wickedly in the light of the rising moon.
Not wishing to provoke a fight until he knew more of what was going on,
Akuta shrugged and returned to his cave.

Shortly thereafter, Korbod came to see him.  The little dwarf entered the
inner chamber in the company of the guard from the main entryway.  The two
sat down by the fire and Korbod invited Akuta to join them.  "Where is my
property?" the fairy began without preamble.

"We would first thank ye for killing the westerner," Korbod began as he
ignored the question.  "How came ye to kill him and have ye brought us
proof of his death?"

"He is dead," Akuta responded.  "How is of no consequence.  If proof you
wanted then you should have killed him."  He was slowly growing angry at
the continual evasion.

"It is of no matter," the dwarf said.  "As to ye property, I hurt in the
telling.  She desired another."

"What say you?" Akuta asked in surprise.

"The female continually looked into my eyes and expressed her desire so."
Akuta groaned at the thought of the trouble Sharon must have brought upon
herself.  The little dwarf took the wound to be anguish and quickly went on
with his tale.  "I desired her not and verbally refused her."

"Where is she now?" Akuta asked.

"The late winter trading was upon us.  She insisted on joining.  She wished
to leave the sight of my rejection of her.  I saw no harm in taking her to
the trading.  But there she was stolen by another."

"Stolen?!" Akuta said as he stood.

"By a Brother of Senchal," the little man added.

Now Akuta knew there were lies being told.  "That is not the way of
Senchal," he said as he angrily faced Korbod.

The guard beside the old dwarf tensed, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
"It was a mutual act," Korbod added quickly.  "She left with the brother as
freely as he wanted her."

"I shall find this brother and question him," Akuta vowed.

Now Korbod became truly worried.  He had told a partial truth so the tall
one might not detect the lie.  But if Akuta tracked down the brother he
might find out about the slave auction.  "Worry not.  My tribe be fierce.
We fought the brother.  Unfortunately he stabbed ye property through the
heart before we killed him.  They both be buried this day."

"The brother of Senchal stabbed her?" Akuta asked calmly.  "With what
weapon?"

"He used a most wicket short sword that was hidden beneath his robes," the
dwarf said as he nodded, his long beard sweeping the floor before him.

"But the Order of Senchal requires a vow to leave all weapons with a
cutting edge of metal.  They carry no swords.  And know you their order is
protected by the high court.  Your murder of him would be punishable by any
of the guards of the high court."

"We killed him for ye," the dwarf said angrily.  "And there be no high
court guards near here to know of our favor to ye."

"I am a guard of the high court," Akuta said proudly, anger flashing in his
eyes.  Just then the little man with the sword lunged at him.  The quick
reflexes of his years of training went instantly into effect.  Akuta
sidestepped the dwarf, grabbing him as he rushed by and flipping him in the
air.  He landed heavily in the tub of water which had been prepared for
Akuta's bath, sending a big splash of water out into the cave.  At the same
time Korbod called loudly for reinforcements that were waiting just outside
of the cave.  Momentarily distracted by his fight with Korbod's bodyguard,
Akuta allowed the old dwarf to make good his escape.  The fairy reached
into the washtub to disarm the little man, and then carrying the barbed
sword, he headed after the fleeting older man.

The reinforcements the old man had called for were shouting in alarm and
running in all direction as if terrified.  Again and again Akuta caught the
word 'pordrah.'  Whatever the problem was, these people were mortally
frightened of this 'pordrah.'  Akuta looked about, and then spotted Korbod
as well as the source of all the commotion.  The old man had tried to flee
the camp, but his exit was barred.  A tall, shadowy figure stood directly
in his path.  It was the living corpse that had been following Akuta.
Korbod took a slow step backward and as he did the dead man took a much
larger step toward him.  "Aieee," the dwarf screamed and reached in his
wool vest to produce a dagger.  It looked remarkably like the one Akuta had
given to Sharon.  With a flick of the wrist, the dwarf tossed the knife and
it landed with a dull thunk in the chest of the corpse.  Akuta held his
breath, wondering if it could kill his unusual companion, but the corpse
only reached up a scaly hand and pulled the dagger out, and then continued
to advance on Korbod.  The dwarf's eyes rolled in his head and he fell
backward in a dead faint.

Akuta stepped quickly to his companion's side.  "Again I thank you," he
said.  "I was about to be held prisoner here if it were not for your
intervention."

"Norahf," the creature said, then held the knife out to Akuta, hilt first.

On a glance the fairy could tell this was indeed his weapon.  He wondered
how Sharon had parted with it and if she was dead as the little man had
told him.  If so he could be of no help and if not he might never find her.
The only solution was to return to Esbereth to report all this to Robin.
Once Alex was restored perhaps the two of them could go in search of the
truth.  "Let us continue our journey," he said.  The two turned their backs
on the dwarf village and took up their long journey back toward the east.

* * *

"Can we stop soon?" Sharon called to the mysterious hooded man who led her
horse along the wide dirt road.  "I think the child is hungry.  I'm not a
wet nurse.  We've got to find food."

The man in the lead continued on for a time until they reached a thin grove
of trees.  He then reined his horse to a stop and dismounted.  Once he had
secured the mounts to a nearby tree he turned to help Sharon.  She handed
him the basket which he carefully place on the ground some little distance
away from the horses.  He then returned to help her dismount.  As the
brother approached closely, Sharon lashed out with a booted foot aimed at
his face.  To her surprise the man moved with lightning swiftness,
deflecting her blow with the long staff he always seemed to carry.  Before
she could recover he had grabbed her food and applied just enough upward
pressure to topple her over the horse and onto the ground in a graceless
heap.  Once she landed he roared with unrestrained laughter.  That was more
than she could bear.  The girl came up swinging, but he just continued to
chuckle as he deftly dodged her poorly timed blows.  Often as not her
knuckles impacted with the hard wood of his staff.

"Had enough?" he asked as she started to stagger from the exertion.

"Yes," she gasped and leaned against a young sapling.  The brother came
close to her.  Just then the baby in the basket let out a thin cry.  Sharon
watched closely as the hooded man turned his head toward the waif, then she
swung her fist with all her might.  The punch connected firmly with the
man's jaw and he toppled over, momentarily stunned.  She quickly grabbed
the staff as he lost his grip and she stood poised over his prone body, the
hard wooden weapon ready to crack his skull.

"Think of the child," he said as he lay before her.  "If you kill me what
will become of him?"

A shocking realization suddenly struck Sharon as she stood there and she
almost dropped the staff.  She slowly took a deep breath to calm herself,
and then asked the questions that were racing through her head.  "Where did
you get this baby?  Whose is it?  And more important, how do you know how
to speak English?"  She realized he had spoken it when he said, "Had
enough."

"Let me up and I'll tell you," he said in her native tongue.  "But first I
think we'd better build a fire and heat some milk for little Roon."  Sharon
reluctantly stepped back and allowed the stranger to rise.  He quickly
gathered firewood and soon had a bright campfire burning as the stars began
to appear in the growing dusk.  Sharon found a gourd of milk and a flask
that had been converted to a makeshift baby bottle.  In thirty minutes the
child was fed and changed and the two adults were enjoying a meal from the
provisions the brother was carrying.

"You don't know very much about the Order of Senchal, do you?" he asked in
English.

"Nothing," Sharon replied.

"We believe in peace and life, and travel the land doing good deeds.
That's partly why I'm taking this child to the high court.  I'm hoping to
find him a home with your good friend King Robin."

"So how do you know my language?" she persisted.

"That's easy to explain," the man said.  "As a brother of Senchal we don
the robe and veil.  You see, that way each brother loses his individuality
because we can't be distinguished one from another.  Therefore no one is
more important than anyone else, and we are all equal.  The brothers are
all well respected and have a kind of diplomatic immunity in the land.  It
was decided that as a brother of Senchal I could pass unquestioned and
unharmed and take the child with me.  He and I would both be safe."

Sharon was totally confused.  "It was decided?  Who decided this?"

"The baby's father of course," the man said.  "This was part of his plan.
He knew he was dying so he came up with this way to get us both to the high
court in safety.  After all, humans aren't very popular in the outer lands,
as you have found yourself."

"Humans," Sharon gasped.  "You mean you're a human?"

"Yes, Dr. Gates.  I'm as human as you."  The man reached up to unfasten his
veil and then dropped his hood back.  "But now that I've answered all of
your questions how about answering some of mine.  For example, what are you
doing here in this world?"

"Well," she gulped.  "Among other things, I was originally planning on
looking for you, Dr. Strahan."

 

 

 

 

 

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