Flight to the WildSands

 

The Second Battle of Glue Days & New Bread

 

The Do’s Series: Segment 22

 

© Grandpa Jim

 

 

“Gauge the distance.” LongLeap StarBreak speaks to his men. The FreeOne commander squints up the North Tradeway at the approaching column of BentOne lancers. “Draw and set your arrows.” The SandRunner archers pull and hold. “Steady. On my signal.”

– – –

“Lord FawnFizzle,” the officer salutes his superior.

Astride a roan charger, FawnFizzle turns from watching the troops and glances down with a frown. “What is it, UnderCaptain?”

“Sir, individuals have been sighted directly ahead on the tradeway. They appear to be dressed in some form of tight tan clothing.”

“SandRunners! This is our chance. Now they will face seasoned troops. Prepare our lancers to charge.”

“Yes, Sir.” The brown-robed officer lifts his head and cups a hand beside his mouth. “Lances down!” he yells. “Prepare to charge!”

– – –

“Fire!” LongLeap commands in a strong clear voice.

A flight of arrows lifts and speeds, drops and strikes. Brown forms stumble, cough and collapse.

– – –

“Charge!” screams FawnFizzle.

The BrownOne foot soldiers sidestep their fallen comrades and break into an ordered fast march down the tradeway, lances lowered, sharp black points forward.

– – –

“Draw and set.” LongLeap’s voice is unhurried. “Aim. Fire!”

A second cloud of deadly missiles rises and floats on the evening air, dips and pierces brown robes and BentOne flesh. Lancers stagger and fall, tripping their fellow fighters who struggle to regain their balance and maintain the pace.

– – –

“Faster!” FawnFizzle bellows, goading his mount.

“Faster! The underofficer yells where he strides beside the lead squad. “Catch them! Lance them!”

– – –

“Bows back.” LongLeap directs. “To the RoundAbout!”

As rehearsed, the tan-suited archers race unevenly down the tradeway, glancing over their shoulders with worried looks, dropping a travel pack here and there on the roadway, feigning frightened and uncertain escape.

– – –

“We have them!” FawnFizzle sings. He reins his horse to the side of the tradeway, stands in the stirrups and waves for the following ranks of BentOnes to close the gap with the sprinting first squadron. “This sand rabble will lead us.” FawnFizzle speaks below his breath. “To the rest of the Fair dwellers.” He smiles. “To Sir Richard’s raw recruits.”

– – –

Reaching the North Tradeway entrance to the RoundAbout, LongLeap points his archers to the right. Ahead, where Penny Lane flows into the RoundAbout, SandRunner warriors mill among a gathering of carts loaded with travelcases and housegoods. A few empty carts with ponies in harness and drivers seated at the ready stand nearby.

Despite their disorganized appearance, the SandRunner archers under LongLeap’s command have outdistanced their pursuers. They reach the carts when the longpole BrownOnes enter the RoundAbout.

– – –

The BentOne UnderCaptain swivels his head and catches sight of the escaping archers near what he sees as a crowded refugee train. “There!” he points. “Stop them!”

The BentOne ranks pivot right, utter a deep guttural cry and rush toward the carts at Penny Lane.

– – –

Hidden behind the gathered carts, LongLeap StarBreak commands, “Now!”

SandRunners tip and crash the loaded carts onto the road surface. Contents spill and scatter. FreeOnes jump into the waiting empty carts with their ready drivers, who launch the wagons, rolling erratically down the RoundAbout toward the entrance to the South TradeWay, the bunched occupants crying out and waving their arms. The remaining SandRunners straggle out from among the overturned carts, bend to pick up valuables and keepsakes, and rush haphazardly after their comrades fleeing in fear from the approaching lancers.

– – –

“Don’t stop,” FawnFizzle shouts with exasperation.

“But, Sir,” the UnderCaptain stutters. “We have their carts.”

“Carts are nothing. Where are the people of Glue Days and New Bread? Where are the traders and their families? Don’t you understand what’s happening?”

“Sir?”

“They’re escaping, idiot. We’ve routed the rear guard and some scavengers.” Lord FawnFizzle kicks a metal pitcher and watches it bounce across the roadway. “We must act quickly. Now is our chance to capture the main body of the merchants and tradesman. With their goods and families, they can’t be far and they’re running scared.” He pauses and stares south above the tents toward the South Tradeway. “We will increase that fear and disrupt their progress.”

“How will we do that, Sir?”

“Roll the cannon here.” FawnFizzle waves a hand at an open section of roadway. “Have the gunners aim south. Fire a cannonade toward the South Tradeway. Then launch our soldiers, our entire troop with the cannon, in fast pursuit. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Sir, I do.”

“Then do it!”

The UnderCaptain gestures to the artillery officer who signals for the cannon. Atop the pull carts, the drivers maneuver the horses forward and around so the guns face to the south. Gunners jump down and disconnect the artillery pieces from the carts. The drivers lead the horses back from the guns. Work crews smoothly align the cannon and prepare for the volley.

“Go for distance!” FawnFizzle shouts.

The artillery officer nods, motions for the barrels to be raised, waits for the settings to be adjusted and yells, “Ignite!”

Munitioners strike igniters, light fuses and rush back behind the safety of the pullcarts.

KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM!

The ground reverberates from the blasts.

“Launch the troops,” Lord FawnFizzle screams through the smoke. “Launch them NOW!”

 

* * *

 

“What was that?” WhiteHands BakeMuch jerks his head to the north.

Four columns of smoke straggle up from the Fair area to the west of the South Tradeway.

“Have those booths been evacuated?” WhiteHands surveys the people around him and points to a fellow baker. “Take some of our ovenmates and ensure that area is clear.” The bakemate nods and spins into the crowd grabbing some others to help with the reconnaissance.

The great baker stands on a narrow strip of gray rock between the South Tradeway and the WildSands of the BlindDesert. Behind him fighters and their families cover the surface of the tradeway and continue over and onto the grasslands rising to foothills of OverMountain. A collective nervousness trembles in the air.

WhiteHands sighs deeply. “There are many of us,” he speaks softly to himself as he stares out to the undulating sands lit bright by the blinding light of the lowering sun. “Many of us and no safe place to go.”

“Perhaps not so unsafe, my worried baker.”

WhiteHands spins around. “Nurse Hoadie! You’ve returned.”

“I have.” Her soft laugh carries and calms the gathered peoples. “And I bring friends.” Nurse Hoadie lifts a white hand to two tall young ladies who slide forward before the baker. “In green, the mistress of move, flow and prance, Ms. Angelina.” Multi-hued ribbons of forest and field green wave around the bare legs of the first dancer. “And beside her, the mistress of step, hop and swing, Ms. Katarina.” Yellows petal and float in swirling array about the sprightly figure of the second dancer. Each pretty young lady smiles bewitchingly, raises the fingers of her right hand to her lips and blows BakeMuch a kiss that floats across to touch his cheek.

The great baker blushes a deep red. “Honored. I am honored,” he stammers as his eyes move from one pretty lady to the other. “You are, you are . . . beautiful.”

The crystal clink of Nurse Hoadie’s laugh breaks the spell.

WhiteHands blinks and rubs his eyes.

“As you see, my dear baker, these two can be quite captivating. But it is not capturing that you need. You need escaping, and these dancers can help with that.”

“With our escaping, M’Lady?”

“Precisely.” Nurse Hoadie bends her head to the two Vila. “Your turns, my dear ones, your turns.”

On cue, Angelina and Katarina spin and spin and spin. Vortexes of green and yellow form and lift, dip and bounce across the narrow strip of rock and onto the WildSands. Touching the smooth graveled surface of the desert, Angelina’s greens fly and zip in line and angle, crisscrossing the desert. Katarina’s yellows pop, dot and punctuate to the sides of Angelina’s lines and angles. Discordant tones clash into the dry air, drift and follow the green and yellow patterns over the dunes and away to the northwest and the far sands of the wide BlindDesert.

WhiteHands BakeMuch leans forward to watch the departing lines of green and dots of yellow. “It is so strange,” he wonders. “Odd and . . . wonderful.”

Nurse Hoadie sighs. “It is the Vila way.” She glances to the west. “And now you have your way.”

“Is the path cleared, good Nurse?”

“For a time but only for a time.” Nurse Hoadie raises a hand and points toward the open desert. “You must be off.”

SandRunners appear from the waiting crowd to stand at regular intervals along the line where the grey rock meets the desert sands.

Nurse Hoadie smiles. “FreeOnes are so hard to sight and yet so quick to aid. I wonder if they are part Vila.” She turns to the baker. “Your SandRunner scouts await to guide your steps. Go so far that you can be seen from here. Stay beyond the skyreach of their fireshooters. Tempt our enemy to the chase. And once away do not bring your steps back this way.”

“It will be done, M’Lady.”

“Good. May The Do’s be your guide and safeguard. Give the order.”

WhiteHands BakeMuch stands to his full height and projects in a rolling resonant voice that carries through and across the tradeway, “To the Sands! Follow the FreeOnes!” The great baker spins with the move of a dancer. He swings a strong arm up and out, lowers the rolling pin to point the way, and takes the first step onto the WildSands to lead his people to safety and freedom.

 

* * *

 

LongLeap StarBreak pants to the Lady’s side and breathes deeply to catch his breath.

“Do they follow close, my fleet FreeOne?”

The SandRunner captain exhales. “They are faster than I would have thought, Nurse Hoadie. These BrownOnes are well-trained and well-disciplined.”

“You have learned something which may be of future use.”

“We will face them again.” LongLeap’s words form a statement, not a question.

“You make suresay.” She nods. “It is good to know your enemy.”

“Yes, M’Lady, it is.” LongLeap glances behind at the gathering SandRunners and over their heads up the tradeway. “And our enemy is not far. What would you have us do?”

“Does your farsight find the New and Free Peoples?”

LongReach shields his eyes from the glare of the setting sun. “They are there. Are they far enough?”

“Only The Do’s know this night, master of ClanRock. Our friends are where they need to be for the next steps.”

More SandRunners crowd behind LongLeap and the Nurse, forming a protective arc and standing at the ready.

“We must leave, good nurse.”

“You must. Make for the peoples of the Fair and WhiteHands BakeMuch.”

“And you?”

“I will wait for my dancers to return.”

“Will the nightcrawls follow your dancers, M’Lady?”

“They will not be far behind. You must be out and beyond their reach.”

Yells, the clatter of wheels and the sound of running feet reach them from up the tradeway.

“Go.” The Lady touches her SandRunner’s hand. “Go.”

LongLeap bows to his Lady, gives a headturn to his freefighter warriors and leads the SandRunners in breakstep pacefast onto the sands. The FreeOnes seem to float above the sandtops as they speed into the waste.

Lancers break from the turn behind the pretty Nurse. Finding their quarry already on the BlindDesert, the BentOne soldiers give a loud battle cry and increase their pace.

Above in the sky, fiery oranges fade to a red glow illuminating the western horizon and backframing the free peoples standing upon the sand.

Nurse Hodie lifts her head and intones a string of searching notes. The songform hangs suspended for a brief space. Then the chord breaks and flies soundless beyond her reach.

Far off on the open desert, a line spins over the sand and into view. Greens and yellows intertwine in the shape of a woven strand. The pretty rope lifts, drops and snaps above the dune tops. Following the flashing braid, disturbances ripple the surface of the tan sand sea.

Fixing her eyes on the bright twined colors, Nurse Hoadie whistles a sharp breaking cry. In response, the brightly colored strands separate, spin to glowing round balls of green and yellow, contract and, with a loud snap and blinding flash, disappear.

– – –

“Aaargh!” A BrownOne soldier lurches forward and runs his lance through the back of the robed figure standing at the desert’s edge. The cape drapes weightless over the sharp end of the pole. Confused, the BentOne shakes the lance and stares dumbfounded as the blue robe lifts off the pole tip, into the air and disappears.

To the sides of the mystified foot soldier, the front rank of lancers halts on the narrow strip of gray rock and glares over the dunes at the silent standing people.

Pushing his way through the soldiers, the UnderCaptain kneels and touches the warm sand. He lifts his head to the distant figures. A movement jerks his head and eyes to a streaking line in the sand. As he watches, the line rolls and an instant of shining black flashes and is gone.

“Why have you stopped?” Lord FawnFizzle bends down from the saddle to pat the neck of his sweating steed.

The UnderCaptain points to the human line on the horizon.

“I see them.” A puzzled expression crosses FawnFizzle’s face. “Pursue them.”

“Sir, there is something out there. In the sand.”

“Our quarry is out there. On the sand. Now, you will follow and capture that rabble, or I will relieve you and you will answer to the Dark Count.”

The UnderCaptain stands straight, salutes crisply and pivots briskly to face the gathered ranks of soldiers. “Up lances,” he barks. “We run to capture our enemy. Ready!” The lancers form ordered lines and columns, lances up to allow for fastpace. The UnderCaptain lifts his right hand and slices it down in a quick motion. “Go! For Sir Richard!”

“For Sir Richard!” roars from the many mouths and carriers over the open sands.

“UnderCaptain!” FawnFizzle demands his adjutant’s attention. “Stand here with me. Your sublieutenants can manage the charge.”

– – –

“They come.” WhiteHands BakeMuch hears the cries and sees the brown line move forward from the sandedge. The baker lifts the stained rolling pin and searches the sands. Running SandRunners crest a near dune. “LongLeap!” WhiteHands smiles a wide smile. “We will stand and fight with friends.” The great baker laughs a full deep laugh and waves his rolling pin in the air.

– – –

Slogging forward, the Lancers’ feet are unaccustomed to the slippery undersurface. The foot soldiers work for traction. The long poles further unbalance their efforts.

“UnderCaptain,” Lord FawnFizzle speaks to the officer standing beside the leader’s mount. “Direct the artillery officer to move the cannon farther out, onto the sands, for a better shot.”

“Sir, are you sure?”

“Are you questioning me?”

“No, Sir.” The UnderCaptain shouts and gestures to the artillery officer who first shakes his head and then, with a withering look from Lord FawnFizzle, slumps to the first cannon crew and points and talks.

The driver of the cannon wagon leaps to his seat. Cannoners climb aboard the back box. With a whistle and snap of the reins, the driver goads the horses forward and onto the sands.

Gesturing frantically, the artillery officer directs the other cannon crews to follow after the first.

“Follow them out, UnderCaptain. You’re in command. When the range is certain, align the guns and start the barrage.” Lord FawnFizzle leans back in the saddle. “I will observe from here.”

“Yes, Sir.” The UnderCaptain salutes and steps cautiously from the rock ledge onto the shifting sands of the BlindDesert.

– – –

WhiteHands cracks the roller into his curled palm. “We must leave. We must move farther into the desert.”

LongLeap lifts his head. Stars twinkle in a moonless sky. The SandRunner lowers his head. The BentOne lancers have halved the distance to their present position. Farther back, behind the advancing foot soldiers, the cannon wagons have stopped. The guns are being pushed into firing position.

“We must go,” WhiteHands pleads.

Placing a hand beside his mouth, LongLeap issues a long unbroken whistle.

FreeOne scouts jump to their feet and quietly urge the people to stand and begin to move deeper into the desert.

WhiteHands nods to his friend and turns to direct the march away from the lancers and their long guns.

– – –

“UnderCaptain,” the sublieutenant stands at attention. “The traders and their allies are leaving.”

Glancing back to the tradeway, the UnderCaptain can see Lord FawnFizzle standing in his stirrups, shaking his arms and pointing toward the departing peoples.

The UnderCaptain pivots toward the guns to shout to the artillery officers to prepare to fire when a loud rustling sound draws his attention to the ground around the first cannon. He bends closer.

A long thin black tail lifts out of the sand and stands high, waving menacingly in the dry evening air. Abruptly and with lightening speed, the hidden denizen of the deep whips the dark line out and over the surface. Two cannoners kneel. Their heads slide and drop to their sides. At the sight, the remaining crew members panic and run. The sands around them and their cannon stir, swirl and liquefy with the rapid movements of the creature circling below and out of sight. Screaming and wailing for help, the struggling soldiers reach their hands to the darkening sky and sink with their cannon toward the strange sucking noise pulling them beneath the surface of the sand.

The loud rustling sound circles the second cannon.

Without a sound, every cannoner in every crew steps down and begins to run back toward the tradeway.

The black tail lifts, strikes and slices three cannoners in halves. The second cannon shifts and disappears under the sand.

In shock, the UnderCaptain stands unmoving watching the remaining cannons slip from view. Behind him, a monstrous shape lifts soundlessly from the desert sands. An ugly dark shadow creeps over the officer and stains the ground black at his feet. Numbly, he turns slowly around and looks up. A huge worm hangs in the air. There is no head, no eyes, no face. On the ugly rough folded skin, a tight black spot opens and widens to form a gaping circle ringed with long white tearing teeth.

Shaking himself awake, the UnderCaptain views his paralyzed troops standing like toy soldiers holding their lances, eyes wide. “Drop your weapons and run!” he shouts. “Ru. . . .”

The dripping maw of the loathsome worm launches with frightening speed and engulfs the shouting UnderCaptain. Spinning snake-like, the creature lowers its cavernous mouth and ploughs the sands, sucking and swallowing the running lancers. The horrible form rolls and circles, expands the dark opening, and skims the sandtops scooping screaming soldiers into its undulating ringed orifice. Rearing up and back, a hollow vacant unnatural roar issues from the sandworm’s open mouth. Bodies hang wiggling and wailing caught on the tiers of jagged gleaming teeth.

More worms lift from the sand to strike, tear and swallow the fleeing BentOne soldiers.

Terrified screams of fright, screeches of agony and the ghastly roars of the worms rip the peaceful starlit night.

– – –

The New & Free Peoples of Glue Days and New Bread trudge westward under the dark sky. Tears fall and are swallowed by the waiting sands. No one speaks. The fighters lift and hug their sobbing children, holding them close, as they march with a new intent away from their lost homes and the hideous fading sounds of the nightcrawls of the WildSands of the BlindDesert.

– – –

A few exhausted soldiers crawl over the sandedge and onto the narrow strip of gray rock.

Above them, the lone mounted figure sits unmoving, his head bowed, his eyes staring inward.

A light wind blows over the surface of the desert and settles the dry sands into quiet drifts.