The East Ridge
There Is Hope
The Do’s Series: Segment 31
© Grandpa Jim
“The door is open.” Sir Richard Geoffrey Ingelger of Jobs, First Count of the Sweeping Lands, lounges in his padded high-backed thronechair. “All the help has left,” he yells, his voice bouncing off the walls of the empty throneroom. “It may have been something I said . . . or did.”
The Great Mother enters first and takes a position on Sir Richard’s right. Her attendants file in and group behind their Mother.
“I am honored, Great Mother of all the BrownRobe peoples from beyond the Great Waste and Open Wild. You and your little birds are my most prized and valued guests. I must say the lot of you have been busy bodies. I assume that piercingly annoying cry your warblers made explains the traitorous behavior of my once loyal BrownOne troops.”
Minnesinger HitBolt follows the Great Mother and her court into the ThroneRoom. The Minnesinger places himself across from the Mother and her attendants, to Sir Richard’s left.
“The bug meister.” Sir Richard sneers. “I do hope you enjoyed watching my little shows on your hidden cameras. As a New Days wizard, you could use a course, I think, in the uses and applications of the Old Days technologies.” A hint of amusement lifts the corners of the Minnesinger’ mouth, but he makes no response. The Count notices the smothered smile. “I see that look. You don’t fool me. I suspect you go further back than even the Old Days, much further back. . . .”
LongLeap StarBreak and DawnRunner StarBreak enter next and interrupt Sir Richard’s musings. LongLeap stands to the Minnesinger’s left and DawnRunner to her father’s left.
“Father and daughter. SandRunners. How nice.” Sir Richard’s tone is flat with disdain. “It is not often that worm herders come in and get out of the dirt. What a noble profession that is, sandrunning. Is it hard on the feet?” Sir Richard stretches out an elegant black-booted foot in their direction.
TidBit McIntyre strides calmly to DawnRunner’s left side, reaches his right hand down and takes her left hand in his.
“Lovebirds? How nice. Don’t forget to say hello to your uncles and aunts from the Low Hills — if they survived. I doubt your kin will approve of a TruthSeeker of the TrueFind Tribe dating a SandRunner of her kind. Does she know, StealthMouse, that you stole their most precious treasure? Does she?”
The mighty roller thumps in the hand of the Great Baker. He stomps his feet and stops with a glare at the Count to the StealthMouse’s left.
“My, my, my. You are in a huff. Did you bake a cake for the occasion, WhiteHands BakeMuch? It is a pity that the fair of Glue Days and New Bread and your spacious baketent with all those banners waving overhead have been reduced to indistinguishable piles of ash. No sweettreats now for the fair ladies. Isn’t that right, my ponderous short-order cook?”
DeepDelve Huffspot hefts an axe, RhineHold HuffSpot holds a sword and Gil SpiderBack swings a hammer. The three dwarfmasters form in a line to WhiteHands’ left, extending toward the door.
“The triumvirate of short. With utensils, no less. Are you going to dinner, or did you finally decide to beat, hack and slice off those wildly ugly beards?”
Lord Commander FawlFittle and Prince PridPirt, the Captain of the West Watch, stride through the open cavedoor and march to stand to the Count’s right, at each side of the Great Mother, FawlFittle on his Mother’s left nearest the Count’s chair and PridPirt on her right close to the Mother’s attendants.
“Traitors. WardBoss FawnFizzle and GroupLead DripTrip. I promoted the both of you to positions of trust. Bad judgment on my part.”
GangleLegs PruneFace, BoffWham BiffBuff and HammerHands, the Pugilist file in and shift to stand to Captain PridPirt’s right, on the Count’s right.
“Rabble. I’m still not sure whose side you are on, PruneFace. And you other two, a singing sailor in a Halloween costume and an over-the-hill boxer from a lost valley. It is an embarrassment to me to have ever allowed such comic characters into my home.”
The Fonz and the other Happy Days Band members — Richie Cunningham, Potsie Weber and Ralph the Malph – enter with the kilted William Wallace in their wake. The Happy Days Band members position themselves to the Count’s right, at HammerHands’ right hand, stretching toward the open door of the throneroom. The BraveHeart, William Wallace, steps to Sir Richard’s left, and stands on Gil SpiderBack’s left, near the cavedoor.
“You outdo even me, Minnesinger HitBolt — if that is your name. Where did you find these? They can’t even stand together.” Sir Richard fakes a resigned sigh. “I suppose if I must be outdone what better way to finish our remaining time together – short as it may be – than with a nice hot steaming bowl of overdone pasta. . . .” He glances to Richie and the Band. “I see the worry on your face, Richie Cunningham. And, of course, our pasta would be served on TV trays while we all watch a really old movie about men in skirts. . . .” He smirks at William. “You, the so-called BraveHeart, should be brave enough to try on a pair of pants. Really.”
StrongHeart KickStart draws everyone’s attention away from the Count’s caustic comments. The ChieftanKing of FarWay steps strongly to stand directly before Sir Richard. Without taking his hard gray eyes off the Dark Count, StrongHeart backs slowly to the Count’s left and stops to Minnesinger HitBolt’s right near the thronechair.
Sir Richard sighs deeply. “How could you, DarkCloud StillReach? I will use your proper name, the one I gave you myself, your SCRUMP name. You were the chief overseer of all my particled creations. You were the big cheese, the hot tamale, the Big Kahuna. I gave you everything — a vat, a cloud, unlimited float time. You were at the top of the totem pole. It could not get any better. I ask you, where’s the gratitude?”
Aligned in a wide circle, along both walls, stretching from the thronechair of Sir Richard at one end, to the cavedoor entrance to the ThroneRoom at the other, the Allied and BrownRobe leaders stand unmoving. No one speaks. As one, their heads turn to the open door.
“Is this what we’ve all been waiting so patiently for?” Sir Richard follows their eyes. “What could it be? The piece de resistance? Please, please, proceed. I am holding my breath. The suspense is killing me.”
Truss enters holding LoveJoy in his arms and stands in the center of the group facing Sir Richard in his thronechair.
“How touching. The dying maiden reunited at last with her lost prince. The timing is lousy, don’t you think? Honestly, for the both of you. Prince Lohengrin, SchirmerSchutzen HirschTruss, my ancient and lost cousin, and the one who was so recently my newest darkcloud, by name, the SCRUMP NightShade LostLight. With all those names and titles, you would think you could have protected your date for the victory dance. That pairing may be fated not to be. LoveJoy KickStart would have been the girl. Is that your real name? LoveJoy KickStart? That is an odd name. Didn’t you know, young lady, that my program would be well protected?” Sir Richard sits up in his chair and leans forward, surprise playing on his face, as he looks into the girl’s eyes. “You did know! You knew my programming could kill you.”
The Count sits back and rubs his chin. “This puts things in an entirely different light.” He slowly scans the room, stopping briefly at each face. “You sacrificed yourself for these? You give them this gift? You do surprise me, LoveJoy KickStart. I would very much like to spend more time with you. From the looks on your friends’ faces, however, it appears that my time here may be shorter than yours. And you — amazing girl though you may be, and I have no reason to doubt that you are not — you are now on death’s doorstep. . . .”
“ENOUGH!” DeepDelve HuffSpot strides forward, past LoveJoy and Truss, and swings his axe up in one strong hand to surestrike Sir Richard. “It is time to end this.”
“No.” LoveJoy speaks in a clear strong voice. “He must not die.”
DeepDelve stops the axe above Sir Richard’s head. The dwarf’s arm shakes to hold the sharp edge short of its mark. He turns his face to LoveJoy’s. “What would you have us do, sweet girl? He cannot live here.”
“He must not die.” Her voice fades to a whisper.
DeepDelve heaves his great chest and lowers the axe to his side.
“I will take him.” In a tattered yellow-green overcloak, a thin tanned figure steps from behind Sir Richard’s thronechair. “I will take him with me.”
“You again.” Sir Richard wrinkles his nose. “And what do you mean, Mr. Mysterious Stranger, by barging in here when I’m about to be executed unjustly in front of all these witnesses. You are nothing but an opportunistic Drifter. Drift away, will you? You interrupt the proceedings when I was finally being shown mercy. Something I am sure I do not deserve, but something I have waited a very long time to experience. Does mercy always pierce evil? Can it truly redeem? There can be no better candidate than myself to test that proposition. Sacrifice is a gift, but mercy is a much greater gift. Will I resist mercy, squander it and continue to be bad; or will mercy slice me to the quick, and I be changed for the good? You have no idea, my hobo interloper, how infrequently an opportunity of this nature and magnitude arises, and how difficult it has been to arrange this very moment. So, bug off.”
“I will take him with me right now.” The ragged individual restates his offer to the room.
“Magician, do you know this person?” The Great Mother directs her question to Minnesinger HitBolt.
“In his way, Great Mother, the Mysterious Stranger is one of us. I have not interacted directly with him before this moment, but I have seen him before – in passing at a friend’s garden party. It is complicated, but I believe I do know who he is, and I believe he can be trusted with his words.” HitBolt fixes his gaze on the Stranger. “Can you guarantee that the Dark Count will not return here? Sir Richard will not enter this age again?”
“I can and I will ensure that he does not.”
“By The Do’s, do you so contract to do this?”
“Yes, by my bound words, this I do contract to do.”
“Great Mother, do you agree?” HitBolt leans toward the matriarch of all the BrownRobes.
“I do agree.” The Great Mother makes a sign in the air.
“Do any here object to this oral agreement that in its doing will bind us all in ours?”
The dwarves “hmmm” but voice no clear and articulate objection. The rest of the room is silent.
“It is made and done.” The Minnesinger turns to the Stranger. “The Count is now yours to take.”
With that, the Mysterious Stranger lifts the folds of his tattered cloak and throws the ends over Sir Richard where the Count, arms tightly folded, sits in the thronechair. The Mysterious Stranger backs around the chair pulling the fabric after him. The last frayed length of cloth trails over the arm of the chair and drops away. An empty chair remains.
DeepDelve HuffSpot hefts his axe and moves to the side of the thronechair. The dwarfmaster of TopHouse disappears behind and emerges on the other side of the chair. DeepDelve shakes his head. “There is no one here. They are gone.”
* * *
“Please lower me to the floor.” LoveJoy’s voice draws every face to her.
Truss kneels on one knee and gently places the thin form of the white-robed young lady on the throneroom floor. Falling to both knees beside his FarWay girl, the Prince carefully lifts LoveJoy’s head in his two hands. Long chestnut hair spills over Truss’s hands and forearms. StrongHeart touches the young man’s shoulder and kneels beside the Prince, taking his daughter’s left hand into his own. On the other side of LoveJoy, DawnRunner and TidBit kneel together and hold their friend’s right hand in theirs. The Minnesinger and Great Mother stand behind and over LoveJoy and Truss. The others draw close around.
“It is time. . . .” LoveJoy coughs. “For me . . . to. . . .” Her eyes reach to those around her. “I will miss you . . . old and new friends.” Her gaze lifts to HirschTruss. “And you most, dear boy.”
Truss bends closer, touches his lips to hers and slowly parts to see her face.
“Until we meet again.” LoveJoy smiles softly to her swordguard.
The pretty gray eyes widen and close.
For moments, no one stirs. Breaths are held. Eyes fill with tears. Hearts grow heavy with grief. Ears wait and wish not to hear what they pray will not be said but know must. . . .
“She has drifted from this time and place.” The Great Mother closes her eyes, traces a finger in the air, bows deeply and whispers, “No longer does she take breath among the living.”
“Dear Friends.” Laden with sadness, the Minnesinger’s words guide those who remain in his care. “There is work to be done, lands to resettle, homes to rebuild, wounds to heal and the dead to bury. We mourn and weep the parting of our dear one. And, at her parting, we now take our. . . .”
“I will take her.” The voice fills the room and settles near Truss.
The clear white hands of the pretty nurse rest lightly on the bent shoulders of Prince Lohengrin.
“Dear swordguard, I will care for her. You carried her this far. I will guide her steps from this place.”
Through the blur of his tears, Truss’s eyes find the familiar soft folds of the blue robe. He eases LoveJoy’s head onto the floor, touches a strand of her chestnut hair, stands and backs away, joining the others, who by the quiet urgings of their hearts have moved aside to allow the Vila’s arrival.
Nurse Hoadie Ilsalund Carmichael inclines her head to HitBolt and the Mother who lower their heads in agreement.
The pretty nurse kneels and takes the hands of the FarWay maiden in her own. Ilsalund Carmichael sways and hums. The soft melodies of a spring night in a wooded glen weave a sweet haunting tune of youth and love and hope. Nurse Hoadie’s long blue robe swirls, wraps around them both and draws them up together, the young girl and the pretty nurse. The fabric folds and rolls, spins and twirls, floats and rises. In twinklings of starbright light, nurse and girl fade to gossamer shades in blues and whites. In the blink of an eye, a single perfect note rings free and the colored mists are gone.
Truss lifts a finger to his ear and hears a sweet soft voice. “Have faith . . . there is hope . . . and love. . . .”