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Foundering Valley – Chapter 43, June 25 to noon June 26 – Goodbyes

Chapter 43 – June 25 to noon June 26 – Goodbyes

            The next morning was Wednesday the 25th, the last day before the Buccaneer was to return.  The performance troop finished building the last causeway, and were impatient to have Rufus fire the clay surface so that the wagons could leave before the ship arrived, but Rufus had another mission to perform, so the job fell to Grace.

 Grace could perform the necessary fire magic, but she lacked any enchanted item in which to store up magical energies, like a wand or staff.  So, she fortified herself with a potion from Olivia’s Apothecary and General Store, and gave it her all, knowing that she would be wasted the rest of the day.

 Everyone was very pleased with the result, and she got more hugs and cheek-kisses than she could count in her fatigued state.  Tinker in particular was ecstatic, and told her that any of the equipment he was leaving with Olivia would be available to them, but she fuzzed out as he explained the complicated terms.  She just needed to get back to her bed in the inn.

 Rufus meanwhile was busy acquainting the dwarves with their new friends, the razor dogs.

 Flash and Thunder would trade off wearing the snail and the shark tooth amulets, that gave protection against fire and water, respectively.  The one wearing the snail amulet would be charged with herding the tendrils of the fire elemental down from Monolith Mountain and into the glassworks.  The one wearing the shark tooth would guard the works from the crab-men in the lake, and occasionally help hunt one for meat and chitin to trade. 

            The dwarves were given the lodestone that would protect them from close contact with the razor dogs; they would pass it around to whoever was watching them.  Rufus was confident now in his own personal immunity, and quietly informed the dogs that their first allegiance had to be to the safety of the people in Founder’s Valley.  If they hurt anyone with their lightning coronas, they would lose their home and be driven away.  This was all Flash needed to hear, but Thunder was a little less convinced until Rufus told them he would never come play with them again, if the worst were to happen.  The two razor dogs solemnly agreed that they would watch to make sure the dwarves’ operations were safe.    Once Rufus was assured that everyone understood what to do, he spent time playing with the razor dogs on the side of the mountain, then bid them good luck.

 Cleo was approached that day by the not-so-super-heroes, whom had been summoned by the Earl in a misguided attempt to deal with the threat of the Elementals.  Finally admitting that they were only the actors that had made the fictional characters famous, they were following the advice Flummox had given them.  They informed her that they were leaving with the performance troop the next morning, to follow their calling as actors, and had a problem they hoped Cleo could help them with. 

 It seems that they had taken over caring for the stone-age trio the Earl had summoned earlier, in a similar botched job.  They were going to The City now, where cavemen and women would have an even worse time fitting in.  They hoped that Cleo would take them under her wing, and introduce them to the Trogs, who they understood were also cave dwellers.  Perhaps they could take all three in?

            Cleo agreed to see what she could do, and spent most of the day getting acquainted with them, and learning the meanings of their grunts and monosyllabic communications.

 Sapphire was sitting in the inn late in the morning, as alone with her thoughts as possible.  An argument at the next table caught her attention.

 “What do you think you’re doing, stealing half of my customers?  I’m not going to have enough people to drive my wagons!”  It was Tinker, yelling at someone whose back was turned.

 The dulcet tones of Mr. Larsen that responded left no doubt as to the other’s identity.  “Scuse me? Are youse tellin’ me yer retinkin’ yer position?”

            “Hunh?  What are you talking about?”

            “Are you plannin’ ta sell da rest of yer merch through my offices?”

            “I told you it’s a done deal.  C.K. already promised my stuff to Olivia.”

            “Is he yer partner now?  Full shares and all a dat?”

            “Of course not.”

            “Employee then?  He takes orders from youse?”

            “Yeah, that’s how it is.”

            “Den it’s really yer call, ain’t it?  Now, if we ain’t partners, and I ain’t your employee neither, but we’s in da same business, dat makes me yer competitor, right?  So, why in Bog’s name should I give a flip whether youse got enough drivers for yer Bog-stinking wagons?”

            “Oh, so it’s like that, is it?”

            “Yer pitiful liddle wagons can’t never match da cargo capacity of a sailing ship, or even that liddle schooner out there when dey get it all fixed up, so after you pack it all up tomorrow, don’t bother comin’ back.  You can’t compete.  Go find yerself a land route to cover, like runnin’ stuff back ‘n forth between The City’s sewer and a pig farm or somethin’.  This route is mine.”

            Tinker stood up.  “Why you, I ought to…”

 “Gentlemen, please, remain calm.”  Gin-Tzu appeared out of nowhere and stepped between the two, his hand on the hilt of his curved sword.  “There is no longer a reason for you two to be at odds.”

            Tinker waved his hands wildly.  “Oh really?  His Bog-eating idea of a dinner theater in the castle has stolen half my drivers!  And on the eve of our departure, no less!”

            Larsen smiled smugly.  “Not my fault!  Blaze ‘n Flora is always fighting, ‘n da Earl needs a better kitchen staff.  And, ya can’t argue that this ain’t gunna be a better opportunity fer all concerned.  The break-up of such a big troop was, what do youse guys say, inevitable.”

            “Inevitable my saddle-sore…”

            Gin-Tzu showed eight inches of blade.  “Gentlemen!  This argument is unnecessary.  The Asian delegation will be rejoining the caravan on the return journey to The City.  Tinker, you will have your drivers.”

            Tinker dropped his fists, and his jaw.  “What happened?  I thought you were going on.”

            Gin-Tzu looked in Sapphire’s direction with a piercing gaze.  “It turns out, the way is not as open for us as we had hoped.”

            Tinker nodded, smiling.  “Very good.  I’m sorry, of course, but you’ve saved me.  I can’t afford to lose wagons, not after this disastrous trip.  Speaking of which, I’ve got to get back to the planning and loading.”  He looked at Larsen.  “…and unloading of unsold cargo.  Unlike some, I don’t have a ship full of hungry thieves to help me.  No, I don’t have dozens of expensive, profit-eating, untrustworthy, unruly, dangerous, thieves helping me mind my store, and bringing along a hugely ruinous overhead, not to mention hunger.  Some people understand business better than others.”  He hurried off, and Larsen made a rude gesture at his back.

            Gin-Tzu turned to Sapphire.  “Madam, we have much to relate.  Perhaps you would be so kind as to meet me at the Town offices?”

            “Sure.  Now?”

            “You have time to finish your ale while I round up those in my service.  If it pleases you.”

            “O.K.”  Sapphire nodded, and Gin-Tzu hurried off.

            Larsen slid into a chair at Sapphire’s table and jerked his head at Gin-Tzu’s back.  “What was all dat about, ya suppose?”

            Sapphire looked at him.  “You’ll hear.  You’re still camped out at the Town offices, aren’t you?”

            Larsen shook his head.  “Nah, I’ve moved over ta be closer to my stuff in da castle.  Movin’ up in da woild, ya know?  Besides, it was all a misunderstandin’.  Not my fault.”

            Sapphire smiled.  “So, Flora and Blaze couldn’t stand each other another minute, and split up the troop?”

            Larsen got out a cigar.  “Those broads?  Nah, dey wouldn’t know what ta do wit demselves if dey wasn’t fightin’ each other.  It was Sunny couldn’t take it any more, says they ain’t actin’ professional enough and goes and kicks ‘em out.  Me, I think she’s actually takin’ a shine to Garcia and he, he wanted to get way from the catfight.  One nasty lady is better than two, in my book.”  He lit the cigar and puffed at it.

            “So now we have a dinner theater and what?”

            “Every Saturday night after da market closes, ya can come to da Great Hall in da castle, eat, and witness da Castle Dinner Theater.  The rest of da losers is goin’ back wit Tinker an are gunna be da Sunnyside Circus, and good riddance to dem.”

            “So most of the singers are staying?  The clown and juggler are going?”

            “Not exactly.  Da clown, yeah, and all dem wit da colorful costumes and capes and viking helmets and all.  Sunny has an angle she’s workin’ on.  But not da dwarf.  I tink da local miner’s union offered him a job.”

            “Doing what?”

            “Takin’ care of some dogs, or sumpin.  I dunno – I haven’t cracked into dere organization yet.  Dem dwarves are really clannish, ya know?”

            “Very interesting, and not a little disturbing.”  She was thinking how safe that would be, having a professional fool monitoring the razor dogs, but Larsen took it another way.

            “Yeah, I don’t feel good not knowin’ what all dey’s up to.  Well, looks like youse finished wit dat ale.  Don’t be late for yer meetin’ – I ‘spect you’ll let me know ‘bout anyting happenin’ dat I need to know ‘bout, right?”

            Sapphire stood and smiled sweetly.  “There is no secret I could keep safe from your charming guile, Mr. Larsen.  Have a nice day.”  Not safe enough, that is.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 When Sapphire got to the Town offices, Rita was blocking the doorway.  Gin-Tzu and two of his followers seemed unsure about what to do, and looked relieved when Sapphire arrived.

 Sapphire put on a smiley face and stepped right up.  “Hi, Rita.  What seems to be the problem?”

            Rita scowled.  “These sorts want to talk to the Chief, but I’ve told them, he’s indisposed.”

            Sapphire adopted a look of concern.  “I know he’s quite ill, but he should be starting treatment tomorrow, or maybe Friday.  In the meantime, these good folks have some information the Chief is really going to want to hear.”

            Rita looked doubtful, but stepped aside.  “If you say so.”  She led them to the central table, amongst the office cubicles, and then went to fetch the Chief.

 Chief Grief looked nothing less than terrible.  His skin was greener than ever, he drooled, he sweated, and he shook.  Nonetheless, he drew himself up with dignity.  “You have information I need to hear?”  He slid heavily into one of the chairs around the table.  Rita sat next to him and patted at his chin with a handkerchief.

            Sapphire gestured to Gin-Tzu.  “Lord Gin-Tzu has a report to make.  I’m actually as eager to hear it as you should be.”

            Gin-Tzu cleared his throat.  “Actually, the story belongs to Darter and Yuan.  I heard from the word about town that you and your friends had dealt with the elementals and that the area above the dam might be clear.  Those of your party who were away had returned from the burnt barrens, and you seemed content with the state of affairs.  So, five days ago, on Friday, I sent Darter and Yuan to scout the road past the dam, to see if we could leave westward over the mountains, per our original plans.  The news they brought back is, to say the least, disturbing.  Darter, give them the story as you told it to me.”  Gin-Tzu also sat.

            Darter opened his mouth, then jerked, convulsed, and twisted around.  He reached into his robe and extracted something brown and wiggly.  “Sorry, Slick want see what going on.”

 He handed the ferret to Yuan and tried again.  “We three – Yuan, Slick, me, left town Friday morning, 20 June, after you return with your injured ones from burnt barrens.  Mid-day, we above dam.  Valley behind dam quiet, water rising, but road hooks round lake east side strewn much debris.  Took us rest of day pick way through rock and rubble, skirt round lake where road heads up mountains west.  Valley had watchful tension in air, we decide cross mountains in dark, rather than camp under shadow.  There only thin crescent moon — only eyes of ferret allow us get other side pass safely.  We came to oldpermanent camp site head of stream, rest there rest of night, and most Saturday morning.  Had scrapes, sprains take care of.”

            Chief Grief shook his head and croaked.  “That is usually where travellers stop the evening of the first day’s journey.  First wayside stop.”

            Sapphire tilted her head.  “So the debris on the lake road would prevent your carriage from passing that way?”

            Yuan squeaked.  “Ouch!  Hold still, Slick.  Sorry.  No, with plenty hands, muscle, wagon could get through.  Road cut into lava, seem okay.  There lot of loose debris.  We still happy getting carriage through, so head further Saturday afternoon.”  Darter glared at her, and she bowed her head, clutching the ferret to her chest.

            Darter cleared his throat.  “By Saturday evening, we descend trail short way edge higher lake, other side mountains, follow road around right, and approach wooden palisade water’s edge.”

            Grief nodded.  “Fort Fisher.  Used to be a fishing village, then a military checkpoint.  Now some guy with money, named Harby, has taken it over as some sort of artist colony.”

            “Yes.  Site good for military block; road squeeze between palisade and steep spur mountain that jut down lake.  Did not wish be seen, though place seemed deserted.  That change quick when night fall, place come alive, if that right word.”

            Sapphire groaned.  “I don’t like the sound of that.”

            “Yes.  We venture water, circle around by docks.  Palisade not stretch across lake frontage, we go right up village.  There no active boats, and we able see one, two dozen people move around, also two four-foot beasts.  When morning come, only three people and beasts still active. We approach look closer not seen.” 

 Yuan spoke up.  “One beast gray wolf – like you told about.  Other was mangy hound they call out name ‘Fido’.  Two men wore uniform like him and her.”  She pointed at Grief and Rita.  “Number three…”  She looked at Darter furtively.  “You not like this – wore formal suit and flat top hat.”

 Sapphire put her head in her hands.  “Oh Bog, The Visitor.  So he made good his escape and made it through the mountains, and now infected the locals and corrupted the police.  I don’t suppose you happened to assassinate him while you were there?”  She gave a rueful grin, as if she had made a joke.

            Darter glanced at his partner.  “Actually, we try.  Poison dart he thought was mosquito bite.  Knowing about werewolf healing, we try silver throwing star, but again no good.  Now he see we there.  He become wary, look for us.  We sneak off, lie low Sunday night, avoid larger number inhabitants.”

 Yuan took over.  “First morning, we did observe one big policeman, wears helmet over face, slip away from palisade for hunt.  He wild like beast, tore into animals with teeth.  Think he have wolf sickness.  Others maybe zombie sick, or like him.”  She pointed again at Grief.

            Sapphire sat on the edge of her seat.  “And then?”

            Darter nodded.  “Monday morning again quiet.  We talk through night what to do.  Decide only one us risk self defeat enemy, other must return, report Gin-Tzu.  Honor was mine.  I drop Visitor from rafters, took head off with katana sword, as did with fire witch on Monolith Mountain.  But horrible magic, he pick up head, put back on shoulders.  My shame then, I run.”

 Darter briefly covered his face, then stood erect again.  “Outside, I encounter other policeman, officer with hat like Chief Grief here.  Ran through him with katana.  Bad – sword stuck in chest.  He laugh me as I run away.  Last saw he pull sword from chest, swing around head, laugh, laugh, laugh.  Only last night make way back here with shameful news of failure.  We very sorrowful.”

            Sapphire shook her head sadly and reached out her hand.  “No, it I who should be sorry.  I wish we had shared more of what we had learned on the barrens.  You could only have killed him if you had given him a critical wound using a silver weapon, or other metabolic poison.  Neither alone would work because of what he has done.  He has given himself both the regenerative power of the werewolf and the mind-over-matter powers of the undead, who persist when their bodies fail them.  You could not have known; the fault is not yours and there is no shame.  The shame, if any, is mine for withholding what we knew.”

            Gin-Tzu stepped forward.  “And now we have shared what we know.  We will be departing with Tinker in the morning.  My charge is to deliver the prince safely to his destination on the far side of the continent, and it seems we must go around the long way.  This is the town’s fight, not ours.”

            Rita stood up, rage turning her face red.  “How can you abandon us?  The chief here is in no shape to battle monsters, and of all the useless help the Earl has summoned, I’m the last one here, and I was only trained to hand out bloody parking tickets!”

            Grief put a hand on her sleeve.  “It is true, the castle guard will not venture beyond the walls and my deputies are gone; three dead and two gone farmer and starting families.  On top of that, we expect a shipload of buccaneers to land here tomorrow.  I will be entering hospital soon.  But all is not lost.  We still have one group we can count on.  Sapphire, you and your friends, you are the last hope of this town.  I am asking you — would you consent to become Deputies of Founder’s Valley?”

~~~~~~~~~~~

            The silence at dinner that night was nearly as thick and prickly as Spamwich’s cream custard.

 Finally Sapphire put down her fork with a glare.  “So tell me how you really feel about being deputized.”

 D-Stract puffed out her cheeks.  “Feels like somebody has finally noticed the good we’ve been doing, and rewarded us with the crappiest job in the world.”

 Flummox nodded.  “You didn’t even ask for anything in return for our help.  If you think we’re getting some kind of power or authority from this, think again.  He or the Earl can pull the plug on us in the wink of an eye.”

 Animus sneered.  “One more Bog-eaten problem after another.  When is it going to stop?”  He started to stand up.

 Rufus held out a restraining hand.  “Slow down there, Ani.  But Sapphire, you really should have asked us before you agreed to help Grief.  I was planning on taking the Charles up to the old mine tomorrow and introducing them to the yetis.”

            Sapphire looked around the table, searching for a friendly visage.  “Come on guys, I really don’t like the idea of facing the crew of the Buccaneer and their new mercenary company all alone at the dock.”

 Grace shifted uncomfortably.  “Oh, I’ll be there, Sapphire, you know I’ll stand by you.  I’ll help out in the clinic until the late afternoon, and then I’ll join you at the dock.  Although… I don’t know how much good I’ll be.”

 Cleo smiled.  “You two won’t be alone.  Achilles at least would be game to support you, and probably Caesar.  You could ask Eastwood and Palance to join you too, if you’re really worried.  Maybe the tin man and the lion and some of the rest.  I’ll be up with Delft talking with the Trogs of course, or I would be with you at the dock.”  She looked at Sapphire’s woebegone face and chuckled.  “Oh brighten up, of course we’ll all be there.  We just pulling your leg.”

            Rufus nodded.  “Yeah, didn’t want you to think you were leading this circus or anything.  But actually it might be a good idea at that, to recruit a few more hands, just in case.”

            Flummox cut in.  “Too bad we’re losing so many tomorrow to Tinker’s caravan.  Hey, what about the crew of the Narwhal?”

            Sapphire shook her head.  “I imagine they have plans to guard their own ship.  They won’t want to antagonize anybody by putting themselves forward too obviously as being in opposition to the Buccaneer.”

            Rufus stroked his beard.  “Well, the dwarves will defend their own too, but probably won’t help out anybody else.  What about those two hobbits, Aster and Bramble, was it?  Will they help.”

            Sapphire bit her lip.  “I dunno, but they wouldn’t be very intimidating figures at the dock.  In any case, I haven’t seen much of them.  Anybody know where they’ve gotten off to?”

            Everybody shook their head except Flummox.  “I have an idea about that.  Let me look into it.  I need to talk with Sherlock.”

            Animus coughed.  “You know, I think you are all missing the big picture here.  These are all distractions.  The Monk said something big was coming, and we needed to be ready.  How are we going to do that if we keep chasing rabbits through the field?  He surely wasn’t talking about anything as mundane as a pirate ship.”

            D-Stract’s went wide.  “You mean even more elementals?  Bigger ones?  Oh no!”

            Grace shook her head.  “No, we could handle that.  No, he’s talking as if something sensed the unleashed power of the elementals, and was being drawn to it.”

            “You mean something that feeds on elementals?  Didn’t you say we spirits are here to feed on elemental energy?  Oh Bog no!  Something big is coming at us from the spirit planes?  Maude, can you tell, do you see what’s coming?”

 Maude snorted.  Don’t look to me, dearie.  I’m here with you; I don’t know what all is out there.

            Grace held out a hand.  “Calm down, D-Stract.  We’re talking about spirits, yes?  They can’t actually come here.  Like the angels, they can only talk, persuade, or maybe deceive us if we’re not on our guard, but in the end, they have no physical being here.  They can’t hurt us.”

            Flummox sat up straight.  “Um, Maude, is there any way you can do a little reconnaissance for us?  Talk to the beings on near-by spirit worlds and see if any of them know what’s brewing?”

            Maude gave a mental huff.  Well, I suppose I could try.  Don’t want to risk getting lost out there or anything.  But I’ll try the nearer planes, if Grace helps.

            Cleo huffed.  “How are we supposed to prepare to defend against an enemy that has no physical being?  That can’t touch us, and we can’t touch them.  My bow would be useless against such a one.”

            Flummox nodded and held up a finger.  “To prepare against a mental attack, you make strong bonds with the other minds around you for mutual support.  Build up a common gestalt to lend each other strength.  To do that, we must bond with the locals, insinuate into their lives and win their trust.  What we must do is…”

            Sapphire interrupted.  “… exactly what we’re doing already.  Carving ourselves a place of honor and responsibility in the community.  Like for instance, adopting an official position as deputies and solving people’s problems for them.  Keeping the peace.”

            Rufus gave a big sigh.  “Okay, Parrot and I will keep abreast of the approach of the Buccaneer.  I expect to sight them on the lake tomorrow afternoon, and they should dock before dark.  I’ll keep you all informed.  I do believe that leaves me time to get to the old mine and back tomorrow.  Where will everybody else be?  Grace…”

            “I’ll be helping set up the clinic.  We’re starting on Grief and the werewolves tomorrow night.  Sorry Cleo, Delft isn’t going anywhere.  You might want to wait for one of us that speaks Goblin, unless you trust Snipe to translate.”

            D-Stract looked at Flummox.  “If you’re heading uptown to talk with Sherlock, I’d like to come along.  Maybe Master Tomes has a book that would help me care for this lizard egg I’ve got here.  As you pointed out, I have no idea how long this is going to take to hatch, or what to do when it does pop.”

            Cleo shifted uncomfortably.  “I really need to broker a deal with the Trogs on that film tech, and offer to take along those human cave dwellers.  I was actually going to take the straw man too, but I guess that’ll have to wait.  I will need to take that trip real soon though.”

            Animus smiled and nodded.  “Fine, so we two elven archers will be backing up Sapphire as she prepares to receive the Buccaneer.  I gather there is some trouble brewing between Larsen and Olivia and we want to impress on them both that they’d better tow the straight and narrow.  That suit you, Sapphire?”

            Sapphire smiled broadly.  “Music to my ears, Animus.  And Cleo, thanks for offering to help with the cavemen.  Let’s all get some rest.  Tinker’s caravan leaves at dawn.”

~~~~~~~~~

{Stay tuned for the next chapter.}

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