Thursday, December 14, 2017

Flash Fiction #281 -- Dusty & Friends/26

Where was Fox?  She suspected he was still trying to lead the orcs away, but then she saw another two join the rest of them and thought those might be the ones who had been following them.  Dusty feared that they had hurt Fox and she didn't know how to find him.  The best idea seemed to go back to where she'd last seen him, so she grabbed the bag back up and hurried away from the square.

A shame she couldn't scurry across the shadows and up the walls as readily as Blue had and be safely inside the walls, though that shelter might be an illusion from the way the ground shook.

Dusty slid around the corner of the building --

And ran right into someone. They both yelped.

Fox.  He looked a bit more disheveled, and there was dust in his hair, but he caught hold of her arm and grinned.

"You're all right," she said, though she wasn't entirely sure.  He looked shaky and pale.

"Well enough," he answered.  "Sorry you couldn't get into the castle.  I saw the other orcs arrived.  Soldiers are coming, too, but I don't know what they're going to do.  We have to find another way --"

"I sent Blue in.  He climbed the wall and went over the other side.  So he's safe for now."

"Good work!"  His hand tightened on her arm.

"I just fear that he'll come back out and look for me," she admitted.  "I told him to go to the mages or the Queen if I don't arrive, but I don't think he will trust them."

"We need to get you inside.  Let's get to the soldiers.  They might be our best chance."

She gave a weary nod.  There was no telling what they were going to do now, but she supposed it wouldn't take long. That was her best hope now -- well that and the idea she could soon take a bath and sleep in her own bed.

Fox kept hold of her arm. She had been a little woozy there, and maybe a bit lost.  However, before too long Dusty got her senses back and helped to make certain they did not run into any other orcs -- because there seemed to be even more orcs out searching now.

There were also soldiers, and the one on the horse in the lead was her brother, Donid.

"Dusty!" he cried out before she could even greet him.  He leapt from the horse and threw the reins to one of the soldiers.  He grabbed her into a surprising hug. "Where have you been?  We thought the orcs had you --"
"They did, sort of.  We've been running from them for days.  I have to get inside, Donid.  I have things grandmother needs to know."
"Fox," Donid said to her companion and gave him a slap on the shoulder -- luckily not the injured one.  "You're with her?  Good.  We'd just gotten orders to charge and scatter the orcs at the gate so more of the soldiers could get out.  I suspect that will be your best chance to get in -- if we can get you close enough without the orcs realizing it."

"Just charge through," Fox said.  "Get Dusty on the horse --"

"I want you with me," she said and surprised them both.  "Fox has been smart and gotten us through the orcs so far."

"Then up you both go.  Don't argue, Fox.  Just get her inside."

There was no time to say anything more.  The orcs were bound to figure out the soldiers were coming up behind them.  Dusty let Donid help her up and then Fox got up behind her.  She had already whispered some calming words to the horse who stopped fidgeting. 

"We're going to go in a wedge up to the orcs and see if we can't break a path through.  I think, Dusty, that you should stay back until we get to the gate and it opens.  There's no use coming with us if we can't get that far."

"He's right," Fox agreed.  "I need a spear or something else I can use to shove them back.  Dusty, you just lean over the horse's neck and keep him going straight."

"Yes.  Yes to all of it.  Be careful, everyone."

Donid gave her a distracted nod.  He was directing the soldiers, and before she could say more, they formed up and began to jog forward.  One had given Fox a spear and drawn his sword instead.  They had shields, but she thought those wouldn't be strong enough to hold back the blows of orcs.

Where were the mages?  They had to be preparing to attack -- and with that thought, she realized that moving fast before the mages struck was the best idea.  No time to think.  No time to worry about anything except getting in, finding Blue, and sending word to his mother.

The soldiers were already up to the orcs and were doing an excellent job of knocking them back and knocking them down.  The opening appeared all the way to the gate, but it wasn't open yet.

Then she heard a worse sound still.

"More orcs are coming behind us!" she warned.

Fox turned to look back, and she heard him mutter a curse.  The gate was still not open.

"No choice. We have to go now and hope the gate is opened by the time we get there," Fox said.  "We don't dare get caught here with orcs at our backs and in front of us."

"Yes," Dusty agreed. 

She leaned forward and urged the horse to be calm one more time as they headed out into the mass of fighting men and orcs.  The gate had not opened.  Donid, his cheek bleeding, darted toward them with a look of worry.

"More orcs!" she called out as soon as he was close enough to hear.  "More orcs coming behind us!  We couldn't stay!"

"Get to the gate!"

And the battle closed in around them.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Flash Fiction #280 -- Dusty & Friends/25

Frantic birds had begun to gather in the tree above her.  Several dogs and even a few cats came at a run.  Dusty thought she saw rats and mice scurrying along the edge of the buildings.  They had all come to help her, but she feared they could do nothing more than the humans were doing.

"Go," she told them.  "Go and be safe!"

They didn't want to scatter.  As Dusty started away, a few of the braver one stayed with her.  Fox looked at them with a nod of appreciation, but he didn't suggest that she send them against the enemy.

The two of them had slowed; they could not help it.  Fox held a hand to his wounded arm which he must have bounced and tested a few too many times in the last hour.  Dusty limped along at a sort of jog. They'd abandoned the main road.  Without saying so, they'd both realized the orcs would have no trouble on that broad expanse.  Instead, they went through back alleys, warning people away when they saw them.  The narrow paths would at least slow the orcs --

But not stop them.  Dusty had begun to hear the sound of buildings coming down.  Oh, there would be so much destruction!  She only hoped that no one was hurt.

The orcs came closer.  Dusty could hear their grunts and growls.  Shivers ran through her body, and she feared she would fall.

Fox caught her arm and pointed to a tiny crevice between buildings.  "Beyond -- beyond that another row of buildings and then you'll be at the square outside the castle gates.  Not far Dusty.  Go."

She nodded as she gasped and started for the opening -- and then stopped when she realized that he was not coming with her.

"Fox --"

"Go.  I'll just slow them down a little by making them think you went a different way.  I'll see you in the castle."  He even smiled and waved her on.

She couldn't stand there and argue, but tears came to her eyes now as she slid sideways through the opening and into the shadows.  Blue made a soft, worried sound, still hidden there in his bag.  She held him close and tried not to sniff.  She didn't want him to know how scared she was for him, Fox, and herself.

By the time she got out of the little crevice, she could hear the orcs in the area she had left behind.  Fox had seemed to lead them elsewhere, and she needed to take advantage of the extra time he gave her.  Not far to the castle.  Not far to home and safety.  The orcs would not get into the castle. They had magic there, and he imagined that the mages were preparing to deal with the orcs even now.  That gave her strength.  The castle really did mean safety.

But she still had to get there, and as she finally reached the edge of the square, Dusty found she had more trouble than she thought.  The two orcs who had been following them were not the only ones to break through into the city.  A dozen more stood outside the gate, their enormous hands starting to pound the ground so that everything trembled.

She'd never get Blue in that way.

Dusty slid back into the shadows again, and this time she opened the bag.  Blue looked up at her, his eyes huge.  She feared he trembled as she pulled him out.

"You are a brave dragon," she said. "And now you must show me how wise you are."

"Mama says I need to learn wisdom," he whispered.  "I don't know how to be wise."

"Oh, I think you learned a lot of it on this journey," Dusty replied.  She knelt there in the shadows and feared she would have trouble getting back up.  "Do you see where the shadow of the castle crosses the square?"

"Y-yes," he whispered.

"I want you to run through that shadow, up the wall, and into the castle grounds.  Then get to the building and wait for me.  If I don't get there in an hour -- or if the orcs do break through -- find the queen or the mages. They'll likely be together."

"I don't want to leave you!" he cried and wrapped his little legs around her three of her fingers.  "I don't want to be alone again!"

"If you do this for me, we'll be able to call for your mother all the sooner.  Imagine how happy she'll be to see you!  You are going to help me by getting inside so that if I have trouble, you can warn the others."

"They can't understand me."

"The mages can," she replied.

"Oh."  He blinked and looked at the shadow and the wall.  "What if they see me?"

"Run faster."

He gave a little giggle.  Dusty just hoped that this was the right choice.  Getting Blue into the castle seemed the wisest decision just now.  She couldn't fight orcs, but she could -- like Fox -- lead them away from the baby dragon.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes."  He leaned up and forward until his little tongue gave her a kiss on the nose.  "I'll be brave."

Dusty put him down on the ground.  He gave a little stretch, and then, without any more urging, Blue darted out along the edge of the building and then into the darkest part of the shadow.

Dusty watched him, glanced at the orcs, and then back to him.  She thought it took too long for him to reach the wall. The orcs began to yell louder, but they did not seem to be looking his way. 

Up the wall -- he climbed it so swiftly that for a moment she lost track of him.  Then she saw the shape of him, tiny and distant, on the upper wall.

He disappeared.

Blue would be safe.

Now she had only to worry about herself and Fox.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Flash Fiction #279 -- Dusty & Friends/24

Dusty believed this was the best answer, but she found it challenging to ride forward in the mass of men and hope they reached the boat before the orcs saw her.  She held tight to the bag with Blue and hoped she got him into the craft, even if she didn't make it.  Fox would still see him to safety.

Dusty looked up at the castle and felt a wave of desperation that almost made her break down and cry.  She just wanted to get home!

"Ready?" Fox asked.  He dared to touch her arm, winning a look of shock from the oh-so-proper commander.  "You can do this, Dusty.  You're almost home."

They reached the edge of the bridge.  There seemed to have been some problem with the owner of the boat and Dusty watched one soldier escort him off while the man complained.  Dusty didn't like to see the craft taken from him, but they needed the boat.  She could almost hear his shouts even over the orcs as they tried to move up on the bridge.

Rolad ordered his men to move.  Dusty looked frantically at the canal.  If they didn't have the person who owned the boat, how could they --

But the two soldiers were rowing it toward the bridge, and in a moment it would be in place.  She had no more time to worry about it.

Fox went over the edge and dropped into the boat.  Then he held up his hands.  "Quick, Dusty!"

The orcs were getting frantic. They'd break through at any moment.  Dusty wanted to let Blue down first, but instead, Rolad lifted her up and over the edge in one quick move, dropping her into Fox's waiting arms.  It must have hurt him, but he caught her and put her down.  By then the others were rowing as fast and hard as they could.

Fox and Dusty sat down.

The orcs were trying to shove their way through the line of soldiers and Dusty had to look away.  People were going to die.  It was her fault!  She should have come up with a better answer.  She should have --

She held Blue close and fought to get control again.  Her mind went over everything she'd done.  Dusty knew that she had done the best she could.  Could anyone else have taken Blue from the Orcs?  They wouldn't have even understood him!

"We're almost there, Blue," she told him through the opening.  He looked up at her, frightened, probably by the sound of the orcs not far away.  "We have good soldiers to protect us.  We'll be to the castle soon!"

Telling him so made her feel better, too.  She finally looked up at Fox.  He'd been watching behind them with a scowl, but he focused on her and gave a nod.

"A couple orcs have broken through," he said.  Dusty glanced back and felt a quick beat of her heart.   "We'll get you as close to the Royal Road as possible and then you must run straight for the castle.  Really run."

"Why don't they quit?" Dusty asked as she put the strap to Dusty's bag over her head and shoulder.  "They must know --"

"They are beyond rational thought," Fox replied.  "If they are thinking anything at all, it's that they'll need Blue for protection from the dragons.  I don't think they've even worked that out. They just know they're losing and they've worked themselves up into a rage."

One of the soldiers who were rowing grunted agreement. They were both panting by now, and any pause in their work let the boat drift back toward the orcs again.  Fox volunteered to take over for one of them, but they both shook their heads.

"Get her to the castle," the one on the right gasped, and they began rowing all the harder.

They made it all the way to the warehouse district -- a circle, Dusty thought.  This was where everything had begun in that little square where another caravan had started to load up.    It was not quite as far as she would have liked to be, but she let Fox swing her out onto the dock.

"Thank you," Dusty said to the two exhausted men.  "I won't forget."

Then she and Fox darted up into the crowd of people who were already agitated, hearing the sound of the orc battle far too close.

"Clear out!" Fox yelled.  "Get to cover!  Spread the word!"

"Orcs!" a woman cried in dismay.

Dusty looked back to see three orcs had made it all the way to the dock.  One didn't make it any farther, though. The two men who had rowed up the canal caught his legs in a net and pulled him into the water.  He sank so fast he almost pulled the boat down with him.
"Two left," she said and began to sprint up the clear path.

At first, people cleared out of the way, but as they moved higher up the incline, it was apparent that people didn't know what was happening and began to come out to see.  Neither she nor Fox had the breath left to warn them away, so she had to hope that they got wise as soon as they saw the real trouble.

Someone tried to stop her, but Fox, still in uniform, dissuaded the man.  Dusty feared that if Fox hadn't been with her, she would not have made it this far.

The castle was no more than a mile away, but her legs had grown heavy, and she finally had to grab hold of a tall, thin tree before she fell.  Fox had gone two steps more before he looked back and gave her a nod.

"I'm sorry," she gasped.  "I need --"

"Rest.  The soldiers are holding them back.  We can't stay long, though."

She could hear the sound of enraged orcs and far too close.  If she didn't move, they might still be caught!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Flash Fiction #278 -- Dusty & Friends/23

"Well, it could be worse," Rolad said.  He didn't slow but he didn't race headlong into the situation, either.  "The orcs are on the far side of the bridge so we won't have to fight our way through them and then cross the bridge.  On the other hand, as soon as they see Princess Destiny there will likely be a brawl."

"There might be another way," Fox said.  He stood in the saddle and seemed to be looking at something other than the mass of soldiers and orcs.  "Sir, if we can get Dusty and Blue onto one of the heading up the canal to the river, they'll be safe at least that far. The orcs will not go into the water to get her."

"Then we hold the orcs here," Commander Rodal said with a slight nod.  "Or at least harass them and hope we can get more soldiers gathered to fight them when she gets to the city.  You, of course, will go with her, Fox.  We'll try to keep the orcs back far enough that they cannot do any harm from the banks."

Fox gave a solemn nod and looked to Dusty.  "Do you agree?"

"I like this much better than trying to just rush past them," she said with a nod.  "Can we get a boat across the river and to this side?"

"That might be difficult," Rodal said and slowed.  "Better if a craft need only come up close to the bridge and we lower you down to it.  Stay out into the water as much as possible."

Fox and Dusty both nodded agreement.  Rodal sent two of the soldiers on ahead and told them to get one of the boats in the area.

"Well compensate the owner.  Just get the boat and get their quickly."

The two men nodded and rode on ahead.  It probably looked only that they were going to find out what the trouble might be.  Dusty had not been spotted yet, she thought.  Fox had moved in close beside her, too.  He looked worried again.

The idea of using the boat was a good one, though.  Anything that would keep them out of the reach of the orcs for a little longer.  From the canal docks to the castle was along way and most of it uphill, though.  She feared it would slow her, but not Blue.

They moved closer.  The soldiers, she saw, had already chosen a small boat, and were dealing with the owner.  Dusty hoped that the man didn't argue much.  Any moment now --

And it happened.  An orc gave a different sort of shout and began to frantically wave his arms toward where she and the others rode.

"This is it," Fox warned.  "Get to the edge of the bridge, Dusty.  The rest of us will protect you."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Flash Fiction #277 -- Dusty & Friends/22

Commander Rodal asked questions as they rode along the path.  Dusty explained how she'd come to rescue Blue.  "I had thought we'd just run straight for the castle," she said with a sigh.  "Nothing has worked that simply."

Fox took over the tale. The commander was pleased with all the details Fox gave about the number of orcs, their equipment, and other things the military would be happy to know.  Dusty listened as well and was even able to give a few more facts.  In all, the first part of the journey went well enough.

They stopped by the oasis and Dusty gladly slipped from the horse to stretch. She also took Blue to the little pond and let him roll about in the water a bit.

"I don't like the heat much," he admitted.  

"I'll wet the cloth in your basket and that will help."

"You really do understand him, don't you?" Commander Rodal said.  He stood over them like a guard and she thought he looked amazed.

"Yes. That's why I heard him crying when no one else did," she said and gathered him up.  He sat on her shoulder, a cool trickle of water running down her neck as she started to wet the cloth.  "I didn't realize I could understand dragons until now.  I have always done well with animals, though, so it must be related."

Commander Rodal nodded.  Dusty got the basket ready for Blue with nice damp cloth. Then she went to where Captain Yend had dumped out the bag.  The bits of food were all gone and even some of the cloth had been torn to pieces.  She picked them up and put it all back into the mostly intact bag, then dropped it into the water as well.

"If I have to run, carrying Blue in the bag is easier -- and less noticeable -- than the basket," she explained as she pushed the bag into the basket as well.

"That's very wise," Rodal said and looked as though he took her more seriously now.  "In fact, if things look troubling, give me the basket and I'll go one way while you take the dragon and go the other."

"Yes sir, that would be helpful," she agreed.  They were getting ready to leave and after another long ride they would be at the river and the bridge.  "I don't want anything to happen to any of us."

"We'll do our best to bluster our way through," Commander Rodal said.  "And there will be more soldiers at the river, so we should have a good number if things get out of hand.  You and Fox are to get through as best you can and ride as fast as you dare to the castle.  Do not stop to find out how the rest of us do."

"I -- yes sir," she said knowing he as being wise.  "I just don't want anyone to think I'm a coward --"

Rolad unexpectedly put a hand on her shoulder.  Few people ever did that since she was a princess and she looked up, startled.

"No one would ever think you a coward, Princess Destiny," the man said and sounded far too serious.  "Not after all you've done already and how you kept a clear head even through that mess with Yend.  I will deal with him when everything else is cleared up."

"Oh, do let grandmother have a part in that."  Dusty grinned.  "I did warn him that my grandmother was going to be unhappy with him and he rather didn't take it seriously.  I'm sure she'll want to have a few words with him about his rudeness to strangers."

Rodal laughed.  "Oh, that sounds like a joyful end to this mess, doesn't it?  Up you go, then.  We'll be to the bridge at sunset.  If we are very lucky, the orcs will have been pushed back and we'll be able to go straight through."

"Nothing as been that easy so far," Dusty admitted.

"I would like to hope for better," he said.  "I don't look forward to fighting orcs."

"Shove them into the river if you can," Fox said.  "That seems the only way to stop them."

In a few moments they were riding again.  Even though the desert seemed endless, Dusty knew that soon they would be to the river and the canal, and from there she would be able to see home.  The thought of it made her heart beat a little faster, but the fear of that last battle -- she hoped the last! -- filled her with dread.

Dusty was certain she never wanted another adventure --

Oh, but if she could go to see the dragons in the mountains and talk to them?  Wouldn't that be an adventure as well?  She didn't want to be tied forever to the castle, did she?

This wasn't the time to be thinking about that far into the future.  Right now she need only think about getting Blue to the safety of the castle. 

And then to sleep in her own bed tonight in quiet peace while others guarded and worked on how to get Blue back home.  Oh, the idea of her own bed almost made her push the horse out ahead of the others, but she got her impatience in hand.

They ate some dried fruit and cheese.  Fox pointed out where they had reached the path from the desert.

"Not far now," Rolad said.  He paused his horse and the others all stopped with him.  "You all know your duty.  We must protect the Princess and her charge and make certain they reach the castle.  Starkin, you ride ahead and warn the palace guard that she is heading their way.  Say nothing of the dragon.  We don't want anyone to get anxious to see him."

"Or to want to take him," Dusty added and won a nod.  "I'll be careful."

They rode on.  Soon she could see the green of the trees and the sparkling water.

And the orcs.