The Plan To Action
The Do’s Series: Segment 24
© Grandpa Jim
HammerHands, The Pugilist, leans his great form out the farsee window. The boxer stands camouflaged in a natural rock cleft on the snowy peak high above the Monastery of HighHill and the green valley hidden below. The mountain wind is an icy breath that pushes him back into the shelter of the lookout.
“It burns.” HammerHands pounds the rough stone balustrade. “Glue Days and New Bread burns.” His eyes stay fixed on the distant plumes rising from beyond the foothills of OverMountain.
“BoffWham BiffBuff’s report is confirmed.” The Abbott of HighHill squeezes next to his friend. The broad shoulders of the two fighters fill the view window. The older Abbot wraps his arms around his body and shivers. “I had forgotten how cold it is up here.”
“It is not cold down there, good Abbot.” HammerHands points into the distance.
“No, it is not, my young trainee. What we see is the mean work of the Dark Count’s hired thugs. Guppie Pirates and BlackFeather CheeseMakers. Traitors.” The Abbot shakes his gray-haired head. “I think even the BrownOne BentOnes from beyond the GreatWaste and OpenWild would not do such. Unless they were forced. I fear Sir Richard holds the BrownOnes in thrall. How? I do not know. I do know these pirates and blackfeathers are paid mercenaries, and they are a disgrace. They take, break and burn the goods, booths and homes of the New and Free Peoples, and they wreck the Fair of Glue Days and New Bread. It is a disgrace.” The Abbot raises a thick finger. “Queen Mary’s Head Gazookus, our friend BiffBuff the SailorMan, also brought good news. He tells us most of the peoples of the Fair, with the help of the Vilas and SandRunners, have escaped from their enemies onto the sands of the BlindDesert.”
“If that can be called an escape.” HammerHands shuffles his feet to keep them warm. “There are monsters under those sands.”
“The refugees are with the FreeOnes. The runners of the sandtops know the ways of even the WildSands. Pray the SandRunners guide their charges to a safe haven far from the spying eyes of Sir Richard.”
“Aye, I do pray that.”
“And now, you leave us, young HammerHands?”
“Is this your fight that you must join it?”
“I have always fought, wise Abbot.” The fighter lifts his large rough hands and keeps them raised. “TidBit McIntyre I have known only a short time, but he is a truefriend. The Mouse shared what the Dark Count had done to the TrueFind peoples of the Low Hills.” HammerHands takes a deep breath, curls the fingers of both hands and shakes his fists. “Sir Richard must be fought and stopped. With what strength I have, I will bring my hands to this fight.”
“Well said, master of the ring.” The Abbot slaps his protégé on the back. “Well said. If I were younger, I would join you. Now that I am older, you will be my hands. There is need for a pugilist of renown in this fight, and you are that man. Go and do. BiffBuff holds his deepboat at the underdock for you. Go and join our friends.”
* * *
LongLeap StarBreak and WhiteHands BakeMuch stand on the ledge overlooking the vast underground chamber.
“See there, great baker.” LongLeap points up. The rough rock ceiling hangs high above their heads. “See those wide white milky veins. Sunlight filters through the translucent white quartz there to light and warm this place here. That top is our glass ceiling, and this wide place we call ‘GlassTop.’”
“I had no idea such a marvel existed beneath the sands of the BlindDesert.” WhiteHands shifts his gaze from the ceiling to the masses of SandRunners and Free Peoples training below with long staff and short sword. “And I had no idea there were so many SandRunners.”
“Few know or suspect this, my large friend. During the day, we live here below the surface in the caverns of our homeclans. At night, when we are not easily seen or heard, we walkrun the sandtops for travel, harvest and hunt.”
“You hunt the nightcrawls!?”
“We avoid those dread creatures. If we must, we fight them. From childhood we teach our steps how not to be heard or found by the foul things of the deepsands.” The SandRunner commander pauses. “There is much else to hunt and harvest. The desert holds much sustenance and many secrets.” LongLeap bends his head back. “Here, you view one of its greatest secrets. GlassTop.”
“It is a wonder and a welcome safe place.”
“A safe place for now and for some,” LongLeap cautions.
“We must move?” WhiteHand’s tone holds concern.
“We SandRunners march to the West Desert and the East Ridge.”
“We attack the Dark Count?”
“If you and your fighters would join us, it will be ‘we’ and welcome.”
“Will be safe beneath the sands, here in GlassTop and in the other caverns of our homeclans which will offer them hospitality.”
“When do we leave?”
“Should you first ask your fighters?”
“Of course. I will and they will ask, ‘When do we leave?’”
LongLeap smiles. “Tell them we leave soon. Your fighters have new weapons, and they learn quickly. SandSuits we do not have for so many, but travel will be at night and hidden from the heat of the day. Still, the march will be long and it will be hard. Will you tell your fighters that?”
“Of course. I will and they will ask, ‘Do we attack the Dark Count? Do we take the fight to Sir Richard?’”
“We do. And we welcome you and them as friends and allies in this fight.” LongLeap StarBreak stands straight, takes a deep breath and exhales. “TrueFriend, WhiteHands BakeMuch, I must tell you there is little chance we will return. What we do must be done if there is any chance the Dark Count can be defeated. We are not alone. There are other forces at work. But we must keep Sir Richard’s eyes on us for so long as we can.”
WhiteHands rubs his chin. “Let me see if I have this right. We march across the desert with inadequate clothing, against an impregnable fortress, with little chance of success and a near certainty of death.” The baker nods his head and holds up a finger. “I will take this to my fighters, and they will ask, ‘What are we waiting for?’”
LongLeap StarBreak and WhiteHands BakeMuch laugh deeply and slap each other on the back. The mighty whack of the baker stumbles the seasoned SandRunner who laughs the more. Together they turn to join their fighters.
* * *
“We need an all-out assault on the East Ridge.” Minnesinger HitBolt moves his eyes to each of the other three faces and then back to his own green-capped visage on the foursplit facetime screen.
DwarfLord RhineHold HuffSpot of the GreenCountry speaks first. “The forest dwarves gather beneath the talltrees. Leather armor is oiled and rubbed. Longswing brightblades are honed and polished. Field rations have been distributed. Travelpacks prepared. We wait to march at your call.”
DwarfMaster DeepDelve HuffSpot of TopHouse at OverMountain pounds the tabletop shaking his image in its corner of HitBolt’s screen. “With helm, armor and hammer, the mountain dwarves will run the long tunnels of our kind and emerge to batter and smash our foe. With these of my close kin, I call to task the battle-proven SpiderRiders of DropKells under the able command of General Gil SpiderBack.”
With a slight bow of her head, Guppie Queen Mother Mary Plantagenet Pickford graces the screens with a charmingly intimate smile. “Deepdive troop carriers are finished and fully outfitted. At your signal, I will instruct the Head Gazookus of Marines to load and transport the fighting squadrons. DeepDive Captains are assembled to escort the fleet. Word has been sent to my field commanders to converge with their deepboats.”
Minnesinger HitBolt, Regent of the Region of Schwangau, reaches a hand to adjust his green cap. “The Knights of Schwangau are marshaling, each atop a sturdy warhorse and accompanied by a contingent of proven footfighers.”
“Will my girl be with your knights?” Queen Mary asks.
“Yes,” HitBolt responds. “The knights and their followers will provide escort and protection for LoveJoy KickStart and her friends, the SandRunner DawnRunner StarBreak and the StealthMouse TidBit McIntyre.”
“What of the other SandRunners?” DeepDelve scratches his forehead. “Those that fought with the Free Peoples of the Fair?”
“LongLeap StarBreak, the father of DawnRunner StarBreak, gathers the SandRunners. With them will be those freefighters who escaped from the burning of Glue Days and New Bread.”
“Their numbers?” DeepDelve inquires.
“From the Fair, those fighters who were saved and escaped to the sands. Of the SandRunners, more — perhaps many more.”
“Many more?” RhineHold HuffSpot questions.
“No one knows the numbers of the FreeOnes,” HitBolt states evenly.
“However many,” DeepDelve allows, “they are fearsome fighters.”
“True,” Queen Mary adds. “And welcome in our plan.”
“Others may join us,” HitBolt states quietly.
“Raiks?” RhineHold snorts.
“The NightRiders of the Circle Hills can be most dangerous,” HitBolt admonishes. “I would not diminish their value as an ally or discourage their aid to our cause. In need, a friend is a friend.”
“You are right, Minnesinger.” RhineHold’s tone is sheepish. “A friend is a friend.”
“Are there more, Regent of Schwangau?” Queen Mary asks.
“The Abbot of HighHill has released HammerHands, the Pugilist, who wishes to join us in this fight. HammerHands is truefriend to TidBit McIntyre. The Pugilist travels with his friend, the Guppie DeepDive Captain BoffWham BiffBuff.”
“My favorite Head Gazookus!” Queen Mary exclaims. “This is good news. I do not know this HammerHands, but if he is BiffBuff’s friend, he is mine also.”
DeepDelve breathes deeply. “Prince Lohengrin?”
“We know not if he lives.” The Minnesinger’s face is blank. “Or if he does, where?”
“Will the Vilas come to our aid?” Queen Mary words hold a worried note.
“We can hope.” HitBolt sighs. “The pretty nurse from the shelter in the middle of the roundabout was instrumental in the successful evacuation of the Free Peoples of the Fair. She enlisted the aid of other dancers of her kind to draw off the nightcrawls for the people to pass safely and then lead the monsters back to dire consequence for the BrownOnes who dared the sandtops with their cannon.”
“Fireshooters!” DeepDelve exclaims. “Will we face those?”
“Sir Richard delves deeply into the old ways,” HitBolt responds. “As do your mountain dwarves, DeepDelve HuffSpot, Chief Engineer of the Mines of DwarfSeek.” The Minnesinger pauses. “Yes, we can expect to face the fireshooters.”
“Will the Vila share their tricks?” DeepDelve leans forward.
“The Vilas know many things. Nurse Hoadie cares for our FarWay girl. The pretty nurse will help if she can, but she is not their leader. Queen Myrtha holds sway over the Vila. Myrtha does have a reputation as one expert in the technologies of the Old Days. She may. . . .”
“Who knows what a Vila will do?” RhineHold interrupts with a snort.
“A friend is a friend.” The Minnesinger states again, fixing his gaze on the forest dwarf.
“Oh. . . .” RhineHold huffs. “You are right again.”
“And you, RhineHold HuffSpot,” HitBolt speaks softly. “You have another friend who may be an aid to us in this fight.”
“I do?” RhineHold’s face holds a puzzled look. “Who is that?”
“Why, The Fonz and the Happy Days Band. By The Do’s, DwarfLord of the GreenCountry, you hold the right to their play. Will you lend them to our effort?”
“Of course, of course. I already sent them to you at Schwangau Castle. What more do you want?”
“Do you agree to amend your contract of agreement to allow the band to be brought into this fight?”
“Yes, yes, I so agree.”
“Then, in the Binding Words of The New & Free Peoples and in front of these your witnesses, be it so done, sealed and unilaterally agreed by you to do.”
RhineHold HuffSpot pauses and then intones in a deep full voice, “The space is closed and drawn shut.”
HitBolt waits for the dwarf to finish and then sings in a rich baritone, “It is done and newly fixed of you and for you bound.”
Queen Mary waits a moment and then asks in her polite manner. “I am curious. What is the value of a macaroni band to our efforts?”
“Perhaps we can talk more of that later, Ms. Pickford. For now, I would like to turn to our tactics.”
“Yes.” DeepDelve nods his head. “What forces does our enemy command and what is our plan of action?”
“Precisely.” HitBolt acknowledges.
“Who does our enemy hold in his sway?” Queen Mary’s question is delivered in a matter-of-fact manner.
“BentOnes.” Minnesinger HitBolt sighs. “BrownOnes in uncounted numbers. As the sack of Glue Days and New Bread demonstrates, these BrownOne BentOnes are well trained, well outfitted and well led. Their leader was duped by the SandRunners and Vilas onto the WildSands. Without that saving ploy, however, Sir Richard’s indentured servants would have captured many more of the New and Free Peoples of the Fair. Many more. The BentOnes are a force to be reckoned with and not to be underestimated.”
“But they can be fooled.” Mother Pickford states with emphasis.
“They can.” The Minnesinger pauses in thought. “They can be fooled. Which means we must use our resources wisely and cleverly. . . .”
“Who else does the Dark Count command?” RhineHold interrupts the Minnesinger’s muse.
“Right.” HitBolt jerks erect. “Let’s see. Pirate Guppies and BlackFeathers. And those in significant numbers.”
“Traitors and turncoats.” DeepDelve wrinkles his nose.
“Fighters still,” HitBolt replies. “Sir Richard pays well. The certainty of the money has attracted many, and it will hold the mercenaries to do their jobs.”
“There are others.” Queen Mary speaks softly. “Others that Sir Richard controls. Others we have yet to face in open battle.”
“The darkclouds.” DeepDelve stares at the screen.
“SCRUMPS,” RhineHold sneers.
‘You are all right.” Minnesinger HitBolt rubs his cheek. “We suspect Sir Richard has many of these created beings. For some reason, he has been reluctant to bring them to open battle. There is a mystery here. The SCRUMPS would seem an invincible weapon. One to which we have no certain counter.” HitBolt turns his head to DeepDelve. “We can blow whistles and try other technological gimmicks, but will these efforts be effective against the numbers we may meet? I do not know. But if we are to have a chance, we must meet these SCRUMPS. In fact, our plan of action must be so effective that Sir Richard fears he may be defeated and releases all of his SCRUMPS at us in order to finish us.”
“What?” RhineHold coughs and catches his breath. “Are you mad?”
The Minnesinger makes eye contact with the person in each of the four squares of the splitscreen. “I believe it essential that we meet these dark clouds on the field of battle.” HitBolt shifts his gaze to the Queen Mother. “And when we do, it will be important that the FarWay girl, LoveJoy KickStart, is there in the midst of the action where the fighting is the most fearsome and when the SCRUMPs are closest to victory for the Dark Count.”
DeepDelve lowers his eyes and is silent.
“Must this be so done?” Queen Mary asks evenly without pleading.
“It is the girl’s choice.” Minnesinger HitBolt tilts his head and blinks as a watery sadness fills his eyes. “And one we must honor.”
“So be it,” RhineHold HuffSpot speaks softly and swallows.
The splitscreens stand still for some seconds.
“Friends.” HitBolt lifts a hand. “We have much more to plan and to do. I will arrange that we meet again soon. For now, I bid you well. Think of what has been said. Queen Mary, if you would, stay for a brief time. RhineHold and DeepDelve, good leave until we speak again.”
Two splitscreens go gray, leaving Queen Mary and the Minnesinger to their thoughts and their plans.
* * *
“You don’t look much like a prince.” Sir Richard lounges in his royal throne chair, a talktome headset on his head, the squeezepart in the canal of one ear and the connectwire in front of his mouth. The Dark Count taps the speakwire, rises in his seat and speaks slowly into the receptor. “Do you hear me, NightShade LostLight?”
There is agitation in the dark cloud and quickflashes between the particles.
“I HEAR YOU,” sounds in the squeezepart in Sir Richard’s ear.
No audible sound travels in the air of the room from the SCRUMP to his master.
“Good,” Sir Richard begins. “I was hoping you would. I do hope you like your new name. NightShade LostLight. Your new SCRUMP name. This is what you are now, cousin, a shade of the night lost to the light. Do you like that?”
Nothing sounds in Sir Richard’s ear.
“Moody, are we? Well, no matter. You are the latest addition to my royal cadre. As you suspected, I hold the Lord of FarWay, the father of LoveJoy KickStart.”
The clouds pulses and expands.
“I see you remember your girlfriend’s name. Good, a little agitation is good for your nanoparticles. Exercise, you know. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. My captive royalty. I also have the leaders of your StealthMouse’s family. And here’s one you didn’t know. One of first of my newly made darkkind was the matriarch queen of the BrownOne BentOnes. They are a strict matriarchal society and they would do anything to protect their queen. Quite a wonderful threat and an effective leverage to ensure the loyalty of my BentOne troops and their leaders. But enough of me and my successes. How are you and your losses?”
“You speak. Excellent. Well, let’s see. Glue Days and New Bread has fallen to my loyal BrownOne forces.”
The cloud contracts and darkens.
“My, my, are we angry now? I am sorry that you can’t be there to see your pretty Penny Lane burning. I’m afraid my Guppie Pirates and BlackFeather CheeseMakers have stolen most everything and set the rest afire.”
“Thank you for that question. It’s one I never tire of asking myself. Because I can? Well, yes, but not really. Because I’m bad? Well, yes, but am I really bad? I mean deep down in my very essence? Probably not. Because I’m bored? Getting close. True. But is that really the answer? I don’t think so. I think the better answer, and I believe you can appreciate this – even in your altered form, is that there is something very fundamental about being bad. Once you start being bad, it’s really hard to stop and to be good again. Mrs. Potts would appreciate that. ‘To be human again.’ Or, to put it in another musical term, and you may want to remember this, ‘Cause no one wants a fellow with a social disease.’ It seems I have a disorder. That’s it! And I can’t break free of it – even if I’d want to, because now ‘this is the part of me, that you’re never gonna take away from me, no.’”
“A DISEASE YOU ARE MAD”
“Yes, you understand. Again, I do thank you. You flow right through the rhetoric. You can see that I’m just no good. I’m no earthly good. I have the disease of being bad and I can’t stop myself to be good. Thank you. Thank you for listening.” Sir Richard reaches under the arm of the chair and pushes the callbuzz.
The heavy stone door swings open and FawnFizzle enters. The BrownOne is bent over and dressed in a long dirty brown robe.
“Lord FawlFittle. Not so high and mighty now that you’re back home. I will use your truename for our royal guest so that he can see how low the mighty can fall when they do not please their master. Yes, FawnFizzle, I have always known who you are and how you try to deceive me. Perhaps, if you’re good, I will put you back in charge of your army of BrownOnes — after you’ve learned your lesson, of course. For now, take this royal SCRUMP back to his duties working like the slave he is in my fields to reclaim the East Desert, the Old Lands made new, the New Lands of the Rebirth.”
“Yes, Sir Richard Geoffrey Ingelger of JobSssss.”
“Enough with the fake lisp. Out. Out with the both of you. I have plans to make.”
The particles that are Truss shimmer, elongate toward the open door, flash and are gone.
FawnFizzle bows lower and backs out pulling the door after him. In his groveling, the demoted BentOne commander catches the tip of his robe on the portal. With a jerk, he rips the brown fabric free and falls backward, as the stone slab slams shut with a CRASH.
Sir Richard shakes his head and speaks aloud. “It is so hard to find good help these days.” Addressing the empty room, the Count of the Sweeping Lands asks, “Now, where will they attack? What is the plan to action? Will it be a west side story? Will they rise against the beast and his dark castle from the east? Or will it be both? I wonder?”