“What do you mean you were seen again?!” Questioned the deep voice.
Speaking quickly, Woody explained the events that took place in Oracle Fay’s room, “Honestly, I don’t know how it happened. That assistant woman was in the dining room and I flashed into the Oracle’s room. She was in soaking and I made it in the room with no problem. I was about to hide in a corner when she opened the refreshing room door. I turned to look at her and that was when she yelled. It made me jump. She shouldn’t have been able to see me. I had my cloaking up. I don’t know how she saw me. Please, don’t kill me.”
“How could you mess up again? I can’t let this go unpunished Woody. And do you know why?” Taunted the voice.
“N-no,” Woody replied, cowering and taking a step back.
The voice answered menacingly, “Because, if I were report this incident to the boss and tell him I did nothing to rectify the situation, what do you think he would do to me?”
“T-tell you not to let it happen again?” Woody suggested hopefully.
“Hahaha, foolish pixie. He’d make an example out of me. Maybe feed me to an Ogre for the pleasure of seeing me ripped apart. Got it?”
“Oh! Please, no! Please, no! I sorry….please?” Begged Woody.
“I’ll tell ya, what, kid. Since, you’ve been able to get good information, so far, I’ll give you one final chance. But mark my words one more foul-up and it’s the end of you. Got it?”
“Got it. Thank you, thank you, you won’t be disappointed. I promise. Thank you.”
With a kinder note to the voice, it instructed, “Yeah, yeah just let me know when she is on the move again or if she finds the child.”
The presence owning the voice left the darkened room. Every time the voice departs, it left Woody with feelings of all the power being sucked out of the room. He always feels tired and drained after a meeting with the voice.
The rest of the night passed without incident. Mina was the first to wake the next morning, when the sun burst through the window, banishing the last vestiges of the night. To her dismay, she realized a headache has set in as soon as she sat up. Moving carefully, so not increase the pain in her head, she slowly swung her feet over the edge of the bed. She eased off the bed only to land squarely on Ky’s chest. He let out a strangled moan. Surprised she hopped back onto the bed, “I’m sorry, Ky. Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine but what did I do to deserve that?” He asked, rubbing the spot on his chest she just vacated.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were there. Are you sure you’re ok?”
“I’m fine, I told ya, don’t worry about it. I think you only collapsed one lung,” he said trying to lighten the mood.
“Are you saying that I’m fat?” She questioned accusingly.
“I’m not calling you fat but you’re no feather either standing in the middle of someone’s chest.”
“You’ll pay for that! Ow! Oh, that hurts,” she said grabbing her head. The throbbing grew more intense.
“Could you both manage to keep it down? I’m trying to sleep,” reprimanded Fay. “You two bicker like a married couple. Will you kiss and get it over with?”
“Mistress!” exclaimed Mina, shocked not only by Fay‘s statement but also by her observation. “I didn’t mean to wake anyone and if this oaf wasn’t sleeping there I wouldn’t have bothered a soul. I’m going to clean up in the refreshing room.” This time she stepped quickly but gingerly on him as she rushed to the refreshing room.
“I don’t know why she won’t admit it but she likes you,” Fay stated.
“Oh, but she did last night,” taunted Ky.
“She did?” Fay asked intrigued with the new turn of events.
Mina forcefully opened the refreshing room door and exclaimed, “I said no such thing! And if you think I did, it was under duress and I never meant a word of it.” She slammed the door closed again.
“Well, she’s a cranky beast in the morning. Ky, I’m going to get dressed then get some breakfast. You will wait in the hall while I dress.”
“Mistress if I may offer an alternative?” Ventured Ky.
“Mmm, and what might that be?” Oracle Fay inquired disinterested.
“While you’re here getting ready, I could run to my room freshen-up, meet you back here and we could get some breakfast together,” Ky answered.
Oracle Fay took a moment to consider his proposal before answering, “That would be an acceptable idea. Alright, meet me back here in five minutes. We have a busy day ahead of us so you mustn’t dawdle.”
In the refreshing room there was an oval soaking tub, toilet, a wash bowl and hanging on the wall above the wash bowl was a mirror. Mina turned on the water by removing a carved cork stopper and began filling the soaking tub for a hot bath. While the tub filled, she found herself standing at the wash bowl, looking into her reflection. Mina studied her face noticing subtle changes. She had always been regarded as a graceful beauty but today she looked tired and warn. Her color has paled slightly from not being in the sun for a few months. She had the faint hint of purple under her eyes from a restless nights sleep. The events from the previous day ran through her dreams like a bad tune you can’t stop thinking about. “Oh Mina, what were you thinking? I can’t believe I told Ky I liked him. I mean sure he’s good looking, finger licking good looking, no one can deny him that. But, when it comes to sense and sensibility he is seriously lacking. He is crude and crass and warm and strong and I’m hopeless. I will just have to convince him last night was caused by the drinks. I’ll have to convince him I don’t find him super yummy. I’ll have to….I’ll have to convince myself too. Ugh…I better get on with it before someone comes looking for me.”
Mina disrobed and climbed into the deliciously warm tub that was big enough for three full sized Muridae. She inspected the variety of soft soaps shelved along the wall. There was every flavor anyone could want: apple blossom, lilac, rose, peony, hibiscus, fresh cut grass, mint, lavender, and honeysuckle. The Muridae from flower city were experts at making beautifully scented soaps among other items that require floral essences.
Mina chose her favorite, lilac. She poured some in her water and lathered some on her hands and began to wash. The instant the smell hit her senses she was transported to a warm spring day in flower city, during the Beltane festival. She closed her eyes and let the memories take her back to last year’s festival. She felt the sun warm on her skin and heard the sounds of the festival. Muridae singing and dancing around May poles. Women wore flowers to honor Flora the goddess of flowers, while celebrating all that Beltane symbolizes for them. It was also the time of the dew gathering. Dew collected from flowers and herbs during Beltane contains the most potent magic. It’s used as a main ingredient to the fairy dust the Muridae create. Mina revealed in those memories until her water turned cold.
Feeling relaxed, refreshed and ready to take on whatever the day had in store for her, Mina caught up with Oracle Fay and Ky just as Peaches brought breakfast to the table. It smelled heavenly in the dinning room as they ate and discussed the day’s schedule.
“We’ll be very busy each place we travel. Everyone wants to pay you homage while you‘re visiting. At mid-morning today, you’re scheduled to open the winter festival. There are all kinds of events. I only wish we could enjoy some, like the sculpting events. There are a couple of categories: icicle carving, where they carve the icicles into things, snow sculpting, where snow is used to create different things and some use magic to sculpt water into ice crystals simulating snow flakes. Then there are cooking events, plays and crafters selling wares,” informed Mina. “I’ve always liked browsing the open air stands. I never figured out why food always tastes better at the street venders.”
“I hate the cold. Can’t they start the festival without me?” Complained Fay.
Mina replied firmly, “They could; but you, being a servant of the Gods, are being honored and will oblige them. You will spread goodwill and bless the events and…”
“And tell everyone how pleased the Gods are with their celebrations and offerings. Yes, yes, I know I’ve been the Oracle since long before you were born. I know my responsibilities but that doesn’t mean I have to go willingly,” Fay interjected gruffly.
“We’ll be at the festival a short time, only an hour at most. We must focus our efforts on finding the child. Especially given recent events,” reminded Mina.
“While you two are at the festival I plan on doing a little looking around of my own,” Ky mentioned.
“What do you mean while we’re at the festival? Aren’t you coming too?” Fay questioned.
“I’ll be there but I plan to walk the crowd. I want to see if I can bump into the couple or any other suspicious beings.”
“Ky, do you really think someone might try something out in the open?” Mina asked.
“I honestly don’t know. I would have expected them to be smarter than to go flashing into the Oracle’s room announcing their presence. After that stunt, only the Gods can know who we’re dealing with,” answered Ky.
“The word about this visit has been kept fairly quiet. The colony officials didn’t even know when we arrived until I sent word,” Mina informed the group. “I think it’s safe to say, that if the couple is connected to this in someway they’re long gone.”
“How can you be so sure about that?” Ky inquired. “Every Muridae knows that Oracle Fay is looking for the next child. They also know that unlike past years she is traveling to the colonies. This has everyone excited.”
“Well, you have a couple of things right. They do know she is looking for the next child and that she is traveling. What they don’t know is how our travels are planned out,” informed Mina.
“Granted a Muridae or any being for that matter, might pick-up on a pattern to our travels. But that’s only if they know the Oracle history well enough to realize we are traveling by greatest to least birth occurrences. I highly doubt anyone other than Oracle Fay could put those connections together.”
“While I find all this speculation entertaining, we should get going. I want to get the opening of the blasted festival over and done with,” grumbled Fay. “You can add all the warming charms you like to my clothing but I still freeze in this weather. My old bones just hate the cold.”
Winter festivals are the most fun of all in Orchard Valley. The specialty store and fields are far enough from the main farm house that the festivals can be held outside. The humans stay away from the orchard in the winter and don’t return until early spring. This lets the Muridae celebrate and carry on with no worry of running in to any humans. The Valley is famous for the wonderful Winter Solstice celebration and the Apple Gate Inn is always booked up a year in advance.
Every able bodied Muridae in Orchard Valley turned out for the opening of the festival. It seemed that even the weather Gods were happy this day. The day was sunny and bright with no clouds in the sky. It was still cold but with the sun shining so brightly no one hardly noticed. The crowds buzzed with excitement awaiting the start of the fun. Most gathered around the stage vying for the best spot to see the Oracle.
Each colony is lead by an Elder; those Elders make-up the Elder Counsel. Elders can be of any age and are chosen by the Muridae living in the Colony. They are usually Muridae of great knowledge and influence. They serve the Counsel until they choose to step aside or die. There was only one instance when an Elder was forced to resign his post because of scandal.
A loud cheer rose from the crowd as Elder Roquefort walked across the stage. Elder Roquefort was the leader of Orchard Valley. He’s a portly yet stately male of average height. He can usually be seen wearing tan pants, a plain shirt with a matching tan vest, a pocket watch and brown boots. Elder Roquefort enjoys smoking his pipe and it is hardly ever far from his reach. Today, he was wearing traditional Elder robes, dark royal blue robes inlaid with a white swirling pattern along the edges. The pattern was supposed to symbolize the flowing of ideas like wind or water. On his head he wore the traditional headdress. The top was pointed with the front sloping down gradually until it leveled out on the sides and around the back. It was the same dark royal blue with the white swirls circling the top of the headdress.
“Welcome one and all to the Orchard Valley Winter Festival,” Elder Roquefort started. “I am thankful to the Gods for granting us what looks to be a splendid day to enjoy all that winter has to offer. Along with this terrific day, we have an extra special guest to open the festival. I know everyone is anxious to see her but before I introduce our guest, I would like to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this day possible. Thank you to all of the players putting on the street and stage plays, the venders for keeping us all well feed and loaded down with mementos, and thank you to those of you on security. Most of all thank you all for joining us today, without you there could be no festival. Now, without further a due let’s have a big, warm welcome for Oracle Fay Fontina.”
As he finished, a huge cheer rose from the crowd. Oracle Fay started up the three steps that led to the stage. She crossed the stage regally, waving to the crowd. Today she was wearing the Deliverance stone and chose to wear one of her more ethereal robes. Her robe was a warm pearl white that had an iridescence quality to the fabric, with every step she took the robe seemed to change in a rainbow of colors. She looked filled with light and glowing with the bright sunlight playing off of the iridescence in the robe.
Fay addressed the crowd, “Thank you, everyone. I’m honored to be here with you on this glorious day. The Gods are pleased with all of your hard work and dedication.” Hearing this, the crowd cheered uproariously. Fay continued when the crowd settled down again, “I see many new and wonderful blessing for each of you in the coming year.” The crowd roared again cheering the good news. “Keep in mind, there may be some hardships but know that those times will pass. The Gods are always testing us. They need to make sure we are worthy and ready to accept what they have planned for us. Today they have planned a wonderful day full of blessed sunshine, good food, fun and friends. I hereby declare the Winter Festival open.”
The crowd gave on final cheer that lasted until Oracle Fay exited the stage.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Mina asked as Fay joined her again.
“My ears are ringing and my hands are freezing. I want to go back…” Before Fay could tell Mina she wanted to go back to the inn, Elder Roquefort approached.
“I say well done…well done, Fay,” he said approaching them with arms out stretched and spread as wide as he was. “It has been too long since we last spoke. I see you’re doing as well as ever.”
“Elder Roquefort, how nice to see you. Thank you for that wonderful introduction,” commented Fay.
“Yes, and thank you for that wonderful opening. I was just about to walk around the festival, you know the customary meet and greet. Then I had a brilliant notion, I thought we could walk around together. I could introduce you to the more upstanding citizens,” said Elder Roquefort.
“Oh my, how unexpected. I don’t know what to say,” began Fay.
“Simply say yes,” Elder Roquefort answered confidently.
“I can’t refuse such a pleasant sounding afternoon,” Fay acquiesced.
While Oracle Fay opened the festival, Ky walked the crowd with Holly. Holly, the inn keeper’s daughter, agreed to join him throughout the day posing as a date. When Ky approached her about assisting him, Holly was taken aback. No one had ever so much as asked her to dance and here was the most handsome male asking to spend the day with her. It took her a few moments to overcome her astonishment before she shyly agreed with a nod of her head.
Holly was on cloud nine walking side by side with Ky. There was only one problem, she was so intimidated by his good looks that she was walking around with her head down. Each time he tried to engage her in conversation, she gave short answers leading nowhere.
Ky kept his demeanor casual and relaxed. He had never attended a Muridae festival before. It was exciting for him to see the street performances and the wonderful smells coming from all of the open air venders, left him salivating. Ky asked Holly to accompany him hoping she would unknowingly assist him in blending into the customs. So far, she has barely uttered an entire sentence.
The area where the festival was held was located just east of the specialty store. It’s in a small field that farmer Jenkins reserves for overflow parking and was hardly every used. The Muridae transformed it in short order. No less then ten stages were interspersed throughout the grounds. There were venders of every kind selling everything from hair decorations, to clothing, to home items, to potions and charmed artifacts.
The performers used glamour charms to portray different characters from famous Muridae tails. Some of the stories were classics dating back hundreds of years. Those were mostly carried out on the stages. The wondering performances were more contemporary and on the fly depending on the reaction of the crowds. They had a couple comedy shows. There were even some shows of strength like duels. There Muridae would test their agility in categories like spell casting, jinxing, and glamours.
The only bad thing about the performers was with the glamour charms some wore. Ky expected only Muridae to attend the festival. However, with some using glamour charms, he wasn’t sure who the true Muridae could be. There were many beings from different magical races represented including the various mushroom pixies. Ky found some comfort in that Holly knew what the couple looked like, who stayed at the inn. So far, there had been no sighting of them.
“Mina how is everything going with you and Fay?” Ky thought, checking in.
“Not so great. We’re still here.” Mina replied, telepathically.
“I thought the plan was to return to the inn? What happened?”
“Elder Roquefort, that’s what happened. He insisted on escorting us around the fair. He is such a pampas ass, acting all hoity-toity. Not to mention, I think he has a thing for Oracle Fay. He purchased quiet an expensive gift or two already. Don’t worry though we’re well protected. He travels with a few security guards. We’re a regular entourage. If I need you, I’ll yell,” finished Mina.
Only a little concerned with the change of plans, Ky decided to turn his attention back to Holly and enjoying some of the entertainments offered. “Hay Holly, why don’t we take in a show then grab some lunch?”
Holly still shy provided a tentative answer, “Um, okay.”
“Which one would you like to see?” Prodded Ky.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you have a favorite?” Ky tried again.
“No, not really.” Holly answered.
“That sounds to me like there is a possible favorite there somewhere. What is it? You can tell me,” Ky said, trying to get Holly to open up and feel more comfortable.
“Are you sure you won’t laugh at me?” She ventured.
“Of course not, on my honor, I would never laugh at a lady.” He answered.
“If you’re sure…” She started again
He encouraged her with a nod of his head and small smile.
Holly spoke so quickly that he almost missed what she said, “I do like to watch the duels.”
“Ah, a duel it is!” he said cheering her answer. “That was close, for a second, I thought you might drag me to watch a love story.” He winked to let her know he is only teasing.
Smiling, Holly looked down at the ground again, this time to hide the blush reddening her face.
At the Field of Honor, competitors duel to prove their cunning and strength. The field was a large rectangular area blocked off with a fence made of twigs. There’s nothing in the field except the two competitors. The magic used on the field has been known to miss its mark. To keep the spectators safe, an invisible magic barrier is engaged using spell absorbing crystals, located at key places along the fence. When a spell comes close to the crystals, it is sucked in, neutralized and sprayed back out as a shower of harmless multi-colored sparks. Surrounding the field on all sides are bleacher style benches.
Matches happen when Muridae challenge each other to a duel. Some duels take place to settle conflicts between feuding parties. Every once in a while, a duel takes place to prove the honor of suitors. However, most duels are for the fun of testing one another’s ability.
There are very few rules to a duel unless the opponents agree to amend them. The first rule is no leaving the Field of Honor until a clear winner is established. The second rule is no sending your opponent out of the ring. The third rule is no disappearing. The forth and most important rule is no cheating on the Field of Honor. The opponents decide on the conditions of the match and the trophy if there is one.
Ky and Holly managed to find seats close to the field just as a new match was starting.
“This should be a good match,” Holly said, as the competitors entered the dueling field.
“Oh, how do you know that?” Questioned Ky.
“Well, the two men entering the field duel at every festival. The one with red hair is Friz and the one with brown hair is Chuck. They’re brothers and Friz has never gotten over the fact that Chuck won the hand of Alice in a duel. Ever since that horrible loss, Friz challenges Chuck to a duel every festival. They’re fairly equally matched but Friz has never been able to find a way to best Chuck.” Holly informed him.
“Wow! That’s amazing.” Ky responded
“I know. She is so lucky to be cherished that much.” Holly said innocently.
“No, That is the most I’ve ever heard you say in two days,” said Ky, good naturedly.
Holly could feel the warmth rising in her cheeks again and she buried her head in her coat.
There came a loud cheer as the players took their positions on the field. Every match starts with the opponents back to back, then they count of twenty paces, turn and the match begins.
Friz and Chuck were back to back and starting to count of twenty paces when Holly looked back to the field.
A voice informed the crowd of the stipulations to the duel, “The legendary duel between Friz with the red hair and Chuck with the brown rides again. The winner is the one who jinxes the other into a spiney, wart covered, purple polka dotted toad. Can Friz finally get the better of Chuck?”
The announcer finished just as Friz and Chuck counted off twenty paces. Friz turned and fired a jinx at Chuck. When he did a purple ball of light flew toward Chuck. Chuck dived to the right, rolled and ended up back on his feet. The shot missed and hit the fence, a spray of multicolored sparks exploded to the cheers of the crowd. Chuck charged Friz running full force. Friz seeing this gave a high pitched yelp and turned to run away. That was when Chuck chose to fire back, hitting Friz square in the back. For a brief moment, Friz was outlined in bright purple light that seemed to swallow him in mid-stride. The light swirled around Friz lifting him off the ground. The light grew brighter as it swallowed Friz. When the light touched the ground again it dispersed leaving a large purple polka dotted toad that was covered in spikes running from its nose all the way down his spine. The rest of the toad was covered in oozing puss filled warts. Seeing Friz turned into the hideous toad sent the crowd into roaring cheers.
“That wasn’t much of a duel,” commented Ky.
“It always ends the same with those two,” informed Holly.
“Why do they bother to duel? I could do better then that. Chuck wouldn’t stand a chance against me,” boasted Ky.
“If that’s how you really feel, why don’t you try to best somebody?” Challenged Holly.
To her amazement Ky agreed. “Ok, I’ll do that.”
Before she could stop him, he was up and headed toward the field. He hopped the fence making it look easy; then proceeded to the center of the field, by the time he reached the center the announcer met up with him. A few words were exchanged between the two, followed by a couple head bobs before the announcer addressed the crowd. “We have a new challenger to our field. Ky Montrachet would like to challenge anyone who thinks they are smart enough to best him in a duel.”
Oracle Fay, Elder Roquefort and Mina arrived at the Field of Honor just as the duel of Friz and Chuck ended. They made their way to the special section designated for dignitaries. As they made their way to the seats, Oracle Fay noticed Ky walking across the field. As she listened to the announcement, Oracle Fay devised a scheme to make the afternoon more entertaining.
“Elder Roquefort, I bet you could beat that young whelp without breaking a sweat,” suggested Fay.
“Right you are my lady; it would be nothing for someone of my skill to beat him,” Elder Roquefort replied, smugly. “Why it would be a truly unfair fight. That’s why Muridae of our status wouldn’t engage in such a duel.”
“Mina, do you know what I think would be fun?” Fay asked with mock enthusiasm.
“No, mistress. What?” Mina answered, playing along.
“I would find it great fun if Elder Roquefort were to beat that strong, young mouse and teach him a lesson. He really shouldn’t be so bold as to challenge just anyone.”
The announcer called out to the crowd again, “Is there anyone brave enough to take-up the challenge? Ky here just told me he thinks everyone here is weak. Is there not one of you who’s worthy of his time?” The announcer egged on the crowd trying to insight a challenger.
Spurred on by Oracle Fay and the announcer’s remarks, Elder Roquefort announced, “I will take that challenge!” .
Hearing this, a hush fell over the stunned crowd. Elder Roquefort made his way regally to where Ky and the announcer waited in the center of the field. As he made his way there, the crowd buzzed a new with chatter of the coming match. It had been many years since a Muridae of such status entered such a challenge. Elder Roquefort met up with Ky and the announcer in the middle of the field to discuss terms.
Ky offered his hand in greeting to the Elder, “Greetings Elder Roquefort, my name is Ky.”
Elder Roquefort looked down his nose at Ky’s proffered hand. “Um, yes, nice to meet you,” he answered smugly, sliding his hands into his pockets. “This match will play out as such, in that we exchange a couple missed charms. You will run around distressed by how powerful I am. Then, I will hit you with a finishing blow turning you in to a lowly slimy slug. You, mister announcer, will declare me victor. The award will be a finely crafted Elfin white gold and diamond encrusted tiara that I will most generously offer. I will graciously accept the win and tiara that, I will then present to the enchanting Oracle Fay. Any questions?”
“Yeah one,” Ky responded. “What makes you think I would let you win?”
“Young one, what makes you think you can hold a candle to the awesome power I wield?”
“Why don’t we have a duel of wits and let the better spell caster win. If you really do wield some awesome powers, you have no reason for a fixed match,” challenged Ky.
“Are you insinuating that I am not as powerful as I think I am?” Elder Roquefort questioned with a note of anger in his tone.
“All I’m saying is, let’s have an honest match. I’m sure you will have no problem besting me,” Ky asserted.
“Right then do we have a match folks?” asked the announcer, before the conversation could get any more heated.
“Yes, we’ll duel for the Elfin tiara. The winner will be the first to out-wit their opponent,” Ky answered.
Elder Roquefort cleared his throat, calling attention back to himself. “I would like to set a few stipulations.”
“What would they be?” Asked the announcer.
“Animals only, no vegetable or mineral. Also nothing make believe like spiny, polka dotted, fire breathing toads. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Ky answered.
While the announcer gave the details of the duel to the crowd, Elder Roquefort ordered one of his attendants to purchase the tiara from the Elfin jewel vender. Everyone waited with growing anticipation for the duel to begin. It seemed to take the attendant an eternity to make the purchase and return with the prize. Just when it seemed like the duel might never happen, a cheer rose from the crowd as the attendant ran into sight carrying the tiara high over head on a satin pillow.
Elder Roquefort and Ky took their positions in the middle of the field. The announcer started to count off the paces but before he could reach fifteen, Elder Roquefort started to transform into a large raptor. The gasps of the crowd alerted Ky to the Elders antics. He turned as Elder Roquefort swooped down with sharp talons reaching for him. Ky fell to the ground and rolled out of reach of the great bird. Thinking quickly, Ky transformed into a large black leopard. He prowled the field watching the hawk circle above, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Elder Roquefort flew in to the sun, so it would be next to impossible for Ky to see him. Once in position he started to dive straight for Ky. Ky anticipating this move leaned forward on his front paws, lifted his hind quarters preparing to leap at the raptor as soon as it came within reach. Before Elder Roquefort came into sight, he turned into a large walrus. He landed so hard on the ground that everyone in the benches felt a jolt like they were hit. The ground trembled, while the field temporarily disappeared in a cloud of dust from the force of the hit. Ky was nowhere in sight. The crowd took a collective deep breath as they waited to see the outcome.
A few tense moments pass before any movement was seen. The walrus started to move in an awkward jumpy motion. It looked like something was trying to push the walrus off from underneath.
“Hm, hm, hm, that tickles. I’m surprised you’re still here,” Elder Roquefort said smugly.
Then all movement stopped again. The crowd fell silent wondering what would happen next.
“I must say that was definitely an easy win,” he started to say before all of a sudden, Elder Roquefort the walrus, let out a loud yell and jumped high into the air. Hanging from his blubbery butt was Ky in the form of a large clawed, bright red crab.
“That got you off you’re big bloated butt and just so ya know I’m not going down that easy,” challenged Ky.
While Elder Roquefort flew through the air he changed into a tough skinned, sharp toothed crocodile. The change caused Ky to loose his hold on the Elder. Ky landed on his back sliding across the ground headed straight for Elder Roquefort. Seeing this, Elder the croc, landed and spun around.
“Now, I’ve got you,” he said before opening his massive jaws preparing to crunch down on the seemingly helpless crab. Ky, ever the quick thinker, changed into a hard spiny shelled snapping turtle just as the croc’s jaws closed on him. The thick shell prevented the croc from biting him in two and the sharp spines bore into the roof of the croc’s mouth causing him immense pain.
Once free from the croc’s grip, Ky changed again. This time into a fast hair. Sprinting to the other end of the field, he called back, “That’s what you think, slow poke. Hey Elder Roquefort this is fun! Catch me if you ca-an.”
Elder Roquefort turned into a fox quick as a wink and gave chase. Ky, sensing him closing the distance, jumped high in the air and dove straight toward the ground. To all it looked like an insane move; he was diving toward solid ground. A moment before impact, he changed into a tiny mouse and disappeared down a hole. Elder Roquefort reached the hole a few steps later, panting heavily, fatigue starting to show. He circled the hole, nose sniffing the air and ground. After he took a quick inventory of the hole, he transformed into a slippery snake and slithered his way down. A brief hush fell over the crowd as everyone waited to see who or what would pop out of hole next. On the opposite end of the field, a mouse popped out of the ground, followed closely by the snake. To the surprise of everyone, the snake caught the mouse.
“I’ve got you now,” The snake coiled and prepared to take a bite, when the mouse bit first. It was enough of a distraction for Ky to get away, yet again.
“Not yet, you don’t.”
By the time Elder Roquefort recovered, Ky was half a field away. Elder Roquefort was so incensed by this time that he did the unthinkable and disappeared. Jeers from the crowd alerted Ky to the foul play. Ky stopped and scanned the field for his opponent but saw no one and nothing. He stopped catching his breath, trying to figure out what happened. A collective gasp from the crowd caused him to turn around in time to see a flying, fire breathing, green dragon appear. Elder Roquefort spit a stream of fire toward Ky. Ky took off running, once again, from Elder Roquefort. The crowd booed and yelled at the cheating their dignitary was committing; everyone knows that dragons either fly or breathe fire, not both. This angered Elder Roquefort and he aimed his fire toward the crowd. He turned spitting a steam fire all around the field. The crowd leaned back in their seats, covered their heads and yelled as they prepared for the fire to reach them. When the fire reached the fence it was transformed into a shower of harmless multicolored sparks. Realizing they wouldn’t be hurt the crowd cheered. As the firework display died down and the field came into view again, everyone was anxiously searching for Ky. They spotted him disbelieving what they were seeing, in the confusion Elder Roquefort had caught Ky, the mouse, and was holding him tightly in his scalely, clawed hands. Elder Roquefort was looking down at his catch, a smile spread across his face because he knew Ky couldn’t bite his way out of this one. Smoke leaked out of his wide smile as he started laughing, thinking he had finally bested the young fool.
“Now, you see the true magnitude of the power I wield.”
The crowd watched with baited breath. Many secretly willing for Ky to get away. Most continued to shout at the dragon for his cheating, not once but twice.
A light started to shine from Ky, catching everyone’s attention. No one knew what to expect. The mouse started to become misshapen, bulging and ballooning oddly, until finally he exploded in to a cloud of Spriggans. Enraged Elder Roquefort let out a yell as a whole hoard of Spriggan fey fell from the slowly deflating shell of a mouse. Elder Roquefort tried repeatedly, in vain, to contain the numerous Spriggan in his large hands. In no time at all, the Elder was surrounded by the itsy-bitsy, evil looking, green fairies with over sized heads, long gangly limbs and short stumpy bodies. The Elder was so consumed with trying to stop the tide of Spriggans flowing from his hands that he failed to notice the gossamer strands that they were quickly enwrapping him in. The strong gossamer strands, webbing around the dragon, were a special diamond filament created by the Spriggan fey; often used to subdue dragons allowing the Spriggan to steal the great treasures from them.
Only when the last Spriggan leapt from the hand of Elder Roquefort did he realize the trap had been set. When the Elder tried to take a step away from the hoard, a loud whirring sound, like that of a swarm of bees, could be heard and the great dragon came crashing down. Quickly, a few of the Spriggan tied closed the dragon’s mouth.
The match clearly over, all of the Spriggan ran together into a great pile. A mass of body parts towered higher and higher. They began to merge and meld in odd shapes until finally the mass took on the more familiar shape of Ky. Ky stood in the middle of the field taking a moment to feel his body whole again. He rotated his head and shoulders, shook out his hands and stomped his feet as if to resettle the wily Spriggans in place.
A large cheer erupted from the crowd when they realized Ky won the duel.
Elder Roquefort was so irate over the loss that he couldn’t change his form back to normal. A few of the healing Muridae raced to his aide. They surrounded him with their hands outstretched wide, chanting. A few tense moments passed and the Elder reverted to his normal self with a pop.
Elder Roquefort was getting to his feet with assistance from a few of the healers, when Ky stopped them before they could help him off of the field, leaning in close so no one else could hear, he said, “What just happened wasn’t even an ounce of the true power I wield. Isn’t it awesome!?”
Elder Roquefort incensed, at the humiliation, lunged at Ky who quickly stepped aside. The Elder missed and fell to the ground. The crowd watching the scene before them broke out into loud laughter. The healers helped Elder Roquefort to his feet and delivered him to his awaiting servants.
The announcer walked over to Ky raised his arm high and declared him the winner. Everyone stood clapping and cheering. When Ky was next presented with the tiara, he raised it high over head and the crowd gave one final cheer.
Ky left the field and made his way back to Holly. Everyone he passed congratulated him, many patted him on the back. His new found popularity made his progress slow.
Once he finally did reach Holly, she was still clapping and grinning from ear to ear. He stopped a step or two away from her knelt down on one knee, bowed his head and presented her with the tiara. “For you, my lady.”
She gasped in awe at his generosity. Completely speechless all Holly could manage in response was to shake her head no. When she didn’t say anything he looked up at her and smiled. “What’s wrong? You were doing so well.”
“I…I can’t possibly accept something so precious,” she finally answered.
“Of course you can. Without you I wouldn’t have won it.”
“But it’s worth so much…”
“I insist. Please accept it, my knee is really starting to hurt,” he pleaded, using the sympathy play.
“I…still don’t know what to say…,” she fumbled trying to find the right words.
“I’ve heard thank-you works really well,” he said with an enchanting half smile.
She giggled as he placed the tiara on her head. They then walked side by side off the field. Many in the crowd, including some of the actors, stopped them to congratulate Ky and talk about the exciting match.
“Not too shabby. You’ve really impressed Fay with that performance,” Mina said telepathically to him. “We’re going back to the inn now that you’ve dealt with that over blown jerk. Thanks, Ky”
“Don’t mention it. You can repay the favor when I get back, Poppet.” He answered her teasingly, knowing there was nothing she could do about the nickname.
“Oh, I’ll be sure to have something special planned for your return,” she replied with mock sweetness.
A short while later, after much of the excitement over the match died down, Ky and Holly decided to get a bite to eat. It was nearly dark, they’d walked the entire fair a couple of times looking for the couple with no success.
“What do you say we get something to eat?” Ky asked.
“That sounds good,” Holly answered.
“Great, lets find a table then I’ll run and get the food.”
“I see an empty one over there by the stage. Maybe we’ll get to see a show while we eat. I can check the map while you’re getting the food,” offered Holly.
“How does a steaming hot bowl of chili and cheesy bread sound followed by a tall mug of hot chocolate?”
“That sounds wonderfully warm and yummy. Thank you Ky. This has been the best day ever.”
“Don’t mention it. I’ll get the food and be right back.”
As he walked away, Holly sat down on the bench seating. She spread the map out on the table trying to figure out where they were and what stage they happened to be next.
“Let’s see, we walked down this path, past the pillow fight ring and the dueling field was to our left. Ah ha, I got it! We’re next to the Muridian renaissance stage. It says here they recreate famous plays from the great Muridian author Stilton Manchester. That could be fun.” Holly said to herself.
“Hey you!” Someone said behind Holly. She stopped reading the map and looked around to see what the person wanted. She suspected it was another Muridae who wanted to congratulate Ky on his victory. To her surprise it was a group of about five young ladies around her age. These girls didn’t look like they wanted to congratulate her. She swallowed and looked past the girls. She knew making eye contact with them would be nothing but trouble.
“I said, hey you!” the girl in the middle of the group said again in Holly’s direction. This time she had no choice but the make eye contact.
“A-are you talking to m-me?” Holly answered shyly, trying desperately to hide her growing anxiety.
“Ah yeah, I’m t-talking to you.” She continued addressing Holly in a snotty tone. “Just who do you think you are?”
“I-I’m not sure I know w-what you mean?” ventured Holly. Although she knew all to well what they meant. A girl Like Holly never stands a chance to land a guy like Ky because girls like them ruled.
“Don’t play dumb with me you round little twit. Just who do you think you are going out with that hot piece? You’re not fit to clean the dirt from his boots and yet here you are wearing that tiara, walking around like you own the place.” The girl challenged.
“I’m here with him so, I m-must be good enough. L-leave me alone. I’ve done nothing to you.”
“If you’re here with him then were is he, huh?” She said challenging Holly again.
She started walking closer the Holly with her friends on either side. She stopped a step away. Holly stood on jelly like legs, silently praying Ky would return.
“Listen, I d-don’t want to fight. Nobody has done anything here. Can’t you just g-go and we forget this ever happened,” Holly said, trying desperately to defuse the situation. Deep down she knew it wouldn’t work. Girls like this have plagued her, her whole life. They were out for blood and nothing short of that would call them off.
The other Muridae walking past and sitting around them stopped and watched the event unfold. Holly knew none of them would help her. The enveloping loneliness gripped her stomach twisting and turning it in knots. She felt like she was going to hurl for the anxiety of the situation. She swallowed hard her mouth dry as the desert. Her hands were clammy, hanging at her side, as she slowly opened and closed them.
Oh, something happened here alright. Do you know what that was?” Taunted the girl. When Holly didn’t say a word the girl reached out and pushed Holly back. Holly fell landing hard on the bench. Something deep inside her snapped and she stood right back up. Before she fully knew what she was doing, Holly had clenched her hand into a tight fist and let it fly straight at the girl’s cute upturned nose. There was sickeningly loud crunching noise when her fist connected with the girl’s nose. Time moved in slow motion, Holly saw her fist connect with the girls face and the girl fell backward hitting the ground.
Everyone was shocked, their mouths hung open as they looked from the girl to Holly and back again. No one was more shocked then Holly, who stood there with her eyes wide and hands covering her mouth.
A hand gently touched Holly on her shoulder snapping her back to herself. Time seemed to start again and others were up and moving to the girl. Holly turned slowly to see who was touching her. To her relief it was Ky. He was saying something to her but she couldn’t hear him. Shaking her head she cleared the last vestiges of fog before she could comprehend what he said.
“Holly, are you ok?”
Not trusting her own voice, the only reply she could offer was a nod of her head. Before she knew it Ky was holding her tight, giving her a big hug. Feeling safe in his arms she started crying. Ky didn’t say a word he just let her cry it out.
The girl’s friends helped her to her feet, one of them offered her a cloth to catch the blood falling from her nose. She snatched the fabric and held it in place, never taking her eyes from Ky and Holly. Ky shot the girl a menacing glance before looking away. The girl and her friends stormed off. The bystanders returned to their business.
Once all the attention was off Holly Ky tried to calm her down. “Shhhh, it’s okay. They’re gone, come on let’s sit down why you get yourself together,” he said easing her down to the bench.
“I-I-I’m so sorry,” she sobbed, trying to calm down. “I-I didn’t mean to hurt her; but she wouldn’t l-leave me alone.”
“I don’t think she will be bothering you again anytime soon. You should’ve told me about that mean right hook of your’s” Ky said trying to lighten the mood.
Holly gave a shy smile, looking at her hands in her lap and fidgeting with a tissue.
“Aww, don’t tell me we’re back to that. You were finally talking to me, don’t stop now.” Ky prodded
“Okay, come on you can say more then that. You were great by the way. I’m proud of the way you stood up to those girls.”
“You saw that. Oh no. How much did you see?” Holly said starting to return to herself.
“I saw the whole thing. The chili shack isn’t that far away.”
“Ugh! Really, the whole thing? You must think I’m horrible.” Holly said covering her face with her hands trying to hide her shame.
“Didn’t you just hear what I said? I thought you were great. That right hook of your’s is fierce. I’m proud that you stood up to them. No one should try to push you around or put you down just because you’re different. I’m sure there are those that think she is the ideal woman but I think she’s a hag. Beauty is more than skin deep. Beauty is found in personality and actions not shape and size. If you measure beauty by shape, size, and color you will be forever disappointed because those things are fleeting. Beauty should be measured by the measure of the being. The good they do and bring to others. To me some of the most beautiful beings are the most humble and unseen in everyday life.”
“Oh Ky, that was beautiful. Thank you, I feel loads better. You know my mom tells me the same thing but I never believed her.”
“Why not? She’s a very wise being,” Ky offered.
“I always assumed she was just saying that to try and make me feel better when the bullies picked on me,” confessed Holly. “I should’ve known she meant it when she let that couple stay at the inn. You know, the one we’re looking for. I was dusting the reception and mom was in the kitchen taking inventory when they arrived. Dad greeted them and at first he was his normal welcoming self until he learned they were a couple. The he flat out refused them a room. I don’t know how she heard it but the next thing I know mom was there boxing dad’s ears for being so rude to the nice couple. Mom set them up in the same room as Oracle Fay for the trouble. Later that night I heard mom and dad talking heatedly about it, again. She can be pretty forceful when she wants. And when that happens dad doesn’t stand a chance.”
“It’s good to have you back. Holly, can I ask you something?”
“I guess so.”
“Why are you so quiet? You are a great being and you should share that with others,” inquired Ky.
“Well, you know those girls just now?” She began.
“Well, they weren’t the first the degrade me. In fact most of my life I have been ostracized for being chunky. I can’t help taking after my father. Most of my female relatives are just like me. But that doesn’t matter to the so called pretty girls. They pick at me every chance they get. Putting me down, calling me names and making fun of me is their favorite past time. So to avoid them I keep to myself. I’ve found that being invisible keeps the hurt to a minimum.”
“That’s a shame. You have so much good to give. Don’t let them push you around. Don’t hide your light you need to share it. The world will be better for it. Use that killer throw of yours more often and you won’t have to worry about girls like them for very much longer,” encouraged Ky.
“You know you’re right. I feel so much better, Thank you again. I will never for get this day. Can I tell you something?”
“Sure, what’s on your mind?”
“The couple we’re looking for…well I over heard them talking,” she said hesitating looking for the right way to continue.
“You did? What did you hear?” Ky prodded, unsure where Holly was taking him.
“It’s just I trust you more now…now that we’ve talked, so please don’t get mad,” she ventured. “There are times when being invisible is good. I was cleaning in the hall when they went to the room. They closed the door but it didn’t close all the way. I guess neither of them noticed right away because they kept talking.”
“Holly, what did they say.”
“Well, mostly the girl was flirting brazenly with the guy. She called him a couple different names like Ugo and Huey. He called her Amy. They were talking about how much fun their trip would be. They seemed very excited about visiting the colonies. He must have quite a few relatives expecting because they mentioned visiting a lot of pregnant women.”
“Pregnant women?” Question Ky.
“Yeah, I don’t fully understand it myself. That’s the other reason I didn’t say anything before now.”
“Thank you, Holly this information really helps a lot. It’s getting late why don’t we head back to the inn. I don’t know about you but I could do with a long soak in a hot tub.”
“I agree, plus I should have mom look at my hand. I think I hurt it on that girl’s nose,” she said rising to leave.