Forces Move, Gather & Wait — For the Rising of the Sun
The Do’s Series: Segment 12
© Grandpa Jim
“Have you mobilized your riders, Gil SpiderBack?”
“The deepdrums have sounded to the farstables, DeepDelve HuffSpot, DwarfMaster of TopHouse.” The tall long-bearded dwarf salutes. “The First Legion of SpiderRiders is atop the ridefight spiders of DropKells. They approach the downgate to the east tradeway.”
“Good. There may be time. Join your men and leave at once. Forcewalk to find Prince Lohengrin and his companions.”
“Who pursues them?”
“Perhaps. And others.”
“Of what manner are these others?”
“The BentOnes are accompanied by DarkClouds of Sir Richard’s making.”
“SCRUMPs?” The dwarf commander takes a deep breath, inflates his wide chest and exhales slowly. “We have not yet fought these SCRUMPs.”
“Few have and lived to tell of it.”
Gil lifts the heavy axe at his side with one hand and eyes its wide blade. “Then now is the time to learn, DwarfMaster.”
“Perhaps, SpiderBack. But, your mission is to bring the Prince and those with him here to safety, especially the two SandRunner girls. If you can avoid a fight, do so.”
“If we must fight?”
Gil SpiderBack laughs with a loud booming bass voice. “I would have you with us, TopHouse Commander.”
A grin lights DeepDelve’s face and fades to a sigh. “I would be there with you, but I cannot. Your task is great. BentOnes are difficult enough. SCRUMPS?” DeepDelve lifts a silver tube to his mouth and blows. “Do you hear a sound, Gil?”
“I do not.”
“Pray the SCRUMPS do hear and react. Our engineers say the sounds the tube makes should interrupt the motions of the particles that compose the darkclouds. This may confuse the movements of the SCRUMPS and buy you some time. I do not know how long.”
Gil steps aside for more space and sweeps the huge axe back and forth. “This will interrupt them more.”
“It may not the SCRUMPS. You must not allow those clouds to touch a living person. If you must fight, beat back the BentOnes, use the tubes, rescue those you can and run.”
“Sir, SpiderRiders do not run.”
“You will, SpiderMaster. By my order, you will do what you must to return with those you seek. The SandRunners must reach The Deep. Now go. Join your Legion and may fortune be with us all.” DeepDelve stretches out his right hand, palm open, fingers spread wide.
“Sir.” Gil salutes with his axe, turns and moves away down the tunnel.
* * *
The BentOne guard pulls open the tent flap and allows the officer of Sir Richard’s fieldforce to enter.
“WardBoss FawnFizzle.” The subofficer comes to attention in front of the small campdesk. A single candle burns among the cluttered papers. “The SandRunners are lost, Sir.”
“Really.” FawnFizzle pushes back in the folding chair and stairs up at the underling. “Please Explain, GroupLead DripTrip. Explain why your fightcrews have failed at their jobs.”
“The way from the roundabout was veiled. It was the nurse’s doing.”
“Vilas! The nurse and her sisters. Meddlesome fairies.” FawnFizzle stomps his feet and makes a face. “Where are the four traveling companions now?”
“They did not go to the sands and they are not on the northsouth tradeways. Our spies report no sightings at those locations.”
“Are they with Baker and his ovenmates?”
“No, Sir. The SandRunners did not return for the goods they left with the bakefamily.”
“So, our travelers are not crossing the GreatDesert. They are not on the northsouth roads and they are not at the fair. I wonder? What is left, GroupLead?”
“The east tradeway to OverMountain is closely watched. They are not upon it.”
“Of course not, DripTrip. They are not UPON it. So, where do you think they are?”
“Lost, mighty field commander. They are lost.”
“You are lost. Think. They are not ON the tradeway, because. . . . I see the strain I put on your wits. They are not ON the tradeway, because they are BESIDE it.”
“They go crosslands. Their path is through the roughlands?”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because they know we are watching the roads.”
“Why would they know that?”
“I pray, on my knees I pray, that you are a better fighter than you are a thinker. And you had better pray that our topboss, the mighty and unforgiving First Count of the Sweeping lands, has good reason to praise your actions, or you may find yourself floating in a vat in a dark tunnel who knows where. Do you understand me?”
DripTrip pulls his bent form straight. “Yes, Sir. I do, Sir. What is it you want me to do, Sir?”
“Good. Assemble all the fightcrews. All of them. Fan out. Sweep the roughlands. Find the four travelers.”
“Yes, Sir. It will be done.” The grouplead pivots and ambles unevenly away.
A dark shadow floats beside FawnFizzle. “You heard.” The WardBoss turns to the SCRUMP. “I know you understand. Follow the men where they join and search and wait. Do not show yourselves to them or the others. Be ready. You will know when.” The dark mists stretch thin and are gone.
“SCRUMPs!” FawnFizzle stomps his feet and makes a face.
* * *
“Try to get some sleep.” HirschTruss drops to one knee beside LoveJoy’s resting form.
The girl, her head propped on a hikepack, shivers and draws the travelcover to her chin. “And you? Do you sleep?”
“I stand watch. It is not long before the dawn.”
“Scouting. He’ll be back soon.”
“He has his staff?”
“Yes. The one you and DawnRunner helped him make. Like your own. I’ve watched the three of you practice.”
“He may need more than a small blade.”
“The StealthMouse is all ways surprising and a quickflash with his dagger. Yet, I see he appreciates your attentions. You three are well prepared.” Truss lifts his head and gazes up to the bright stars suspended in the black moonless sky. “I pray we have no need of your skills.”
“Yes. My mother taught me.”
“No more. She. . . . They both died during the blackfever.”
“I am sorry.”
“Now you are king.”
“Not until I come of age. For now, my teacher and advisor, MinneSinger HitBolt, holds the lands in trust and keeps me under his wing.”
“You travel far from those kindly attentions.”
“Truesaid. My world has changed.”
“Has it . . . for the better?”
Truss touches LoveJoy’s hand holding the blanket under her chin. “I hope . . . Yes. Whatever may happen. For the better.”
A rustling sounds behind them.
Truss stands, pulls his sword from its scabbard and points the blade at the bushes.
LoveJoy tosses the blanket aside, grabs her staff and jumps to a fighting stance. She pokes DawnRunner who rolls awake and up with her staff extended.
The branches part and TidBit stumbles among them. The Mouse bends, hands on his knees, breathing deeply. “BentOnes,” he gasps. “Not far.” He stands and surveys his companions. “They are many. We must reach Magdalene Fields. The ruins are across the open lands. It is our only chance.”
“Leave everything but your weapons,” Truss instructs. “Mount your ponies and follow TidBit. We leave now.”
* * *
The long column of SpiderRiders trails back and up the steep grade of the east tradeway.
At the front of the two hundred, Gil SpiderBack lifts in the saddle of his huge white ridefight jumpspider. He signals his second to bring the Legion to a breakrest.
Muffled shouts are heard up the line as the riders reignup, dismount and tend to their spiders.
Cupping a hand to an ear, Gil hears the many scrapes of spider feet approaching.
Lunging out of the dark, the lead scoutrider pulls the darkspider to a halt beside his commander. Behind him, four more scoutspiders sink to stop and rest, the mandibles of the mounts clicking from exertion.
“Report.” Gil leans forward and speaks softly.
“Eight columns. Fifty fighters each. Maybe more. Probably more. Converging below LastTurn, near the old ruins and the wide fields.”
“Yes.” Gil pulls at his beard. “The open lands narrow there and the steepslides begin. To reach the tradeway, the travelers must leave the cover of the roughlands. The BentOnes devise a trap.”
“Sir?” the second walks forward holding the reins to his spiderfigher. “Your orders, Sir.”
“We move quickly, young captain. We ride to the ruins to hold open escape for our friends. Provision the men. Ensure the mounts are watered and fed. We start soon for LastTurn and the rising sun. And, Captain, check personally that the boombox players on the spiderbuglers are fully piped and batteried. What is a charge without music?”
Gil SpiderBack lifts his bearded chin and breathes the quiet clean mountain air. He turns in his saddle and speaks loudly and clearly to his adjutant and all those within range of his words.
“This will be a fight day. Sharpen and oil. Limber and stretch. Mount and ride. Swing and batter. A bright morning for shield and helm. Music blaring to charge, battle and break. Film and song. Song and film. Our souls remember. Our foes await. Go, prepare them, young captain. The SpiderRiders of DropKells march to race and fight for right. A bright day. A fight day. A red day! Go and prepare them, young captain.”