Monday, July 14, 2008

21: Voyages and Trails

Despite the constant bustle that marked the City of Tears , the place was eerily quite as The Cock and his men moved through the city, away from the main traffic. He had been in the city numerous times over the years and knew that the sound, or rather the lack thereof, was common to the city. Ever since Horatio had taken the throne, the place was terribly void of the many beautiful things that once marked it: laughter, friendly arguments, braying animals, and so on. Now, though, the taxes stripped everyone of all but the bare essentials to survive. The result was a broken economy and unhappy citizens. It simply wasn’t fair; these people were unjustly deprived of the products of their labor, things that were rightfully theirs. They deserved better, they deserved better security, better freedoms, a better king. The Cock clenched his teeth together. It took all the control he could muster to keep from attacking the nearest guard. With great difficulty, he reminded himself that now was not the ideal time, place, or method for such deeds. There were more efficient and effective ways to humble King Horatio. Besides, he reminded himself, there was something greater at stake here. Sir Edward was up to something, and The Cock did not appreciate the knight using him as a cover-up. He unrolled the cryptic map again and glanced at the one name that held at least some pertinent information: Jard. “He is a knight in training,” one of his informants had said, “was rumored to become the next great warrior of Nuvanderim, but the skills he initially displayed had diminished.” It had not been difficult to find Jard’s dwelling, but the boy himself was another matter. They had traveled from Jard’s dwelling to the cottage of his esquire, Peter, spoken with Jard’s blacksmith, Charles, and eventually learned that Jard was recently seen leaving the city with two companions. One, presumably, was Peter, but nothing was known of the other. “Leaves ze city vis two men,” The Cock murmured to himself, “Vy does he need zese men. Ver is he going, and vy is he going zer?”
“Pardon me,” Maximiliano’s voice interrupted his thoughts, “we have been informed zat Fabio, our man from ze castle, has been forced to abandon his position in haste.
He vas nearly executed.”
“Ze whoopee cushion-smith?
“Failure to perform duties, apparently.” Maximiliano shifted uncomfortably,
The Cock remained composed, “Continue.”
“He is hiding in ze old mill as ve speak, but he brings important news.”
“News?” The Cock’s eyes narrowed, “He better have important news; ve cannot lose many spies of his status like zis.”

“Of course,” Maximiliano replied, “He wishes to tell you zat Princess Edith escaped ze castle and ran avay to ze desert several days ago.
She has not been found yet. Also, Fabio has found rooster and peacock feathers in ze mill, and footprints of two men in armor.”
“and he has provided us vis two missing pieces of our puzzle, Maxi.” The edges of The Cock’s lips curved up in a small smile.
It wasn’t proof, but both his intellect and his instincts told him that Jard had left in search of Edith. The boy had almost nothing to lose, but everything to gain by finding the princess. As for the feathers, it was now definitely Edward who was framing him. The map proved that Edward and Jard were connected somehow and, (judging by the fate of Methuselah, the other recognizable name on the map) it probably wasn’t a very friendly connection. The only option at this point was to find Jard; he would surely know more about Sir Edward and, better yet, lead them to Edith. The Cock never spoke of his affection for the girl. Despite all of his criminal deeds against Horatio, he actually had a secret soft spot for the Princess and pitied the life she was forced to lead. He shook the thoughts away and nodded to Ermegildo, who was standing close by, “Ermegildo, you may inform Fabio zat boz of you may return to Hahn Nacosto at once. You have served us vell.” He turned to the rest of the group, “As for ze rest of us, ve vill be traveling into ze desert. Ve must find zis, Jard, quickly.”

Bruce leaned against the rail of the Fair Gwenllian, breathing heavily. It was not the first time he had lost the contents of his last meal during the voyage, and he doubted it would be the last. He was adjusting to the life of the sailor, that was for sure, but he still woke up with a disgruntled stomach every morning. The first mate Puck walked by, “Still having a rough go of it, yer knightship?”
“Oh, you have no idea,” Bruce moaned, “Up and down, up and down.
Every wave seems to drain away my strength.”
“I’m sure ye’ll grow accustomed sir.
Give it a few weeks and ye’ll be right as rain.”
“I do hope so, but even if I don’t, twill just be all the greater challenge!” The knight responded, still enthusiastic about his quest.
“It will make for a grand tale: how the valiant Sir Bruce, after weeks of sickness and starvation, defeated the Leviathan and claimed the Golden Isle in the name of the Desert of Dreams !” Suddenly his eyes widened. Putting his hand over his mouth, Sir Bruce quickly leaned over the side and heaved. Puck was still there, standing with a wry smile when Bruce finally turned back to him.
“Aye, twill make a grand tale for sure.” The first mate replied sarcastically, “but first, ye’d better wipe off that armor again.”
Bruce looked down at himself, turned beet red, pulled out a handkerchief, and removed the bit of half-digested substance.
Attempting to remain dignified, he replaced the kerchief, puffed out his chest, and calmly walked down the deck. “Well done, sailors,” he called to the crew, “keep it up, lads. We’ll be at the Golde--er, our destination before you know it. I like that knot sir…that is a splendid knot…”
Puck could only shake his head and chuckle as Bruce’s booming voice trailed off down the ship. He had met many interesting men during his voyages with Captain Gottfried, but this Sir Bruce was one of a kind.

--Andrew C

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