Chapter 35 – Saturday, June 14 – Weddings on the Beach
Cleo wolfed down Spamwich’s breakfast offering, then followed Rufus to the market in search of more predictable fare. The hawk rode on Rufus’s shoulder, and seemed nonplussed by the bustle of people. The market was a model of fast efficiency this morning, as everyone seemed eager to get down to the beach for the much-anticipated islander luau.
Everyone except Woody, Eastwood, and Palance, that is. They had obviously escorted some of the farm families into town, and were now huddled by the stable, conversing in anxious tones.
Cleo strode over, followed by her companion. “What’s up, guys?”
Woody turned to her with a frown. “We thought you had cleared up the werewolf problem.”
Cleo looked stricken. “There was this one, a regular wolf that was bitten by the dire wolf, that got away. It must have been infected. Did you find it?”
Eastwood tipped his hat. “Well, ma’m, more like it found us. Woody was telling us about raid after raid on the livestock, so he got Palance and me to come help stand guard. We staked out a goat and lay in wait for it. I think at least two of us hit it, but it got up and ran off. That was no normal wolf.”
Cleo slapped the fence rail. “Oh bog! I was worried about that. You hear that, Rufus? There’s still one werewolf loose.”
Rufus nodded. “And where there is one, there will be more.”
Palance coughed. “Maybe, maybe not. We’ve pretty well cleared out the wolf population. If it weren’t for that last bad-un, it would be pretty peaceful out on the range with nobody yammerin’ at me, and only the lion for company. When we get that wolf, I think I’ll stay out there.”
Rufus turned to Eastwood. “What about you? Does the farm life suit you better than this in-town guard duty?”
Eastwood blushed. “Would be, if I could get a certain young lady to follow me. I’m workin’ on it.”
Cleo looked disgusted. “Humans. Anyway, try a pit trap next time — unless you can shoot silver out of those missile weapons of yours. Catch it, and you can take your time dispatching it.”
Woody nodded. “I was thinking we needed to catch it, but was worried if it might just gnaw through a rope. You’re right; a pit should do the trick. I wish I did have the tools to make silver bullets.”
Rufus stroked Parrot’s feathers. “Seen any sign of those lightning creatures?”
Palance nodded. “I seen ‘em at a distance, high up the mountains. Found some burned-up wildlife too, but so far they’ve not come down to the pasture lands.”
Rufus looked away from petting his bird. “Well, I will wish you gentlemen luck in the hunt then. Keep us posted on your progress. We’d better be getting down the beach now. Looks like the crowd is thinning out here.”
The Chief’s daughter, Shelly seemed to be organizing things. “Eve, did you get the pig?”
“Yes, m’am. Billy Sky has it on a rope, ready to butcher.”
Gorbag whipped out his cleaver. “I’ll help with that! Don’t want to get out of practice.”
“Crystal, did you bring the fish?”
Crystal set down a huge basket. “Of course, this is Rip’s wedding too, but better than that. Look what Sister Flo brought.”
Flo set down a second huge basket. “Clams. Rip is bringing a pot to steam ‘em, but we’ll need a few more. Dutch ovens are best.” A few townsfolk volunteered to fetch their pots and cauldrons, and hurried off.
“How about fruit?”
Dawn spoke up. “We’ve got it covered. Hound got the church people to trade for some apples and oranges from their trees. They’ll be along soon.”
Shelly looked around with her hands on her hips. “Wonderful. Now we need to dig a fire pit. A big old pit, six feet across, right here in the sand. And we’ll need a spit for the pig. Somebody find Whittler, he said he’d build that.”
The two dwarves volunteered to oversee the digging, and started in with such fury that everyone else stood back. Rufus came as close as he dared. The dwarves seemed to be chuckling about something, and stopped to examine the sand.
Gnosh let a handful trickle back into the hole. “Good volcanic alluvium here.”
Grog nodded. “It bodes well, cousin.”
Rufus took the opportunity to slip into the growing pit during the lull in activity. “You two sure know how to dig.”
Gnosh looked up. “Of course, it’s in our blood. Dwarves have always had to dig for what they need. This place is no different.”
Rufus looked puzzled. “You don’t have to dig to make ale. Do you have to dig for your glassworks?” The two dwarves just exchanged silent glances.
Suddenly it dawned on Rufus. “Your alternative energy source. You’re planning to dig for it. You can’t do that. It’s not safe.”
Gnosh shook his head. “Not dig — drill. Stuff and nonsense, Dwarves have been doing this sort of thing for thousands of years.”
“What, tapping into fire elementals? You don’t understand. That thing under the mountain has been supercharged.”
“All the better for us. More power.”
“You can’t control it.”
“Nonsense, I said, and nonsense it is. We’ve been dealing with Earth and Fire for our entire history. Stick to your own knitting, and leave us to ours.”
“What about the creatures living on the mountain? What about the yeti family in the cave?”
“What, the old vent? We’ll be going more directly to the fire, at the base. The yetis will be fine. Now excuse us, we have more sand to move here.”
Sand began to fly again, and Rufus hurried out of the way, muttering. “Things just keep getting better and better.” Soon, wood was piled in the pit, and a fire began to roar.
Suddenly, Maggi and Goldilocks raised a cry. “Look across there! Strangers, coming down the causeway! They look terribly bedraggled. Maybe they lost their boat, in the rains yesterday.”
Several people ran out and brought the strangers to warm themselves by the fire. They were a rather hairy man and woman, dressed in Viking garb. When Rufus got close, he thought they looked awfully familiar.
When the lady winked at him, it clicked – these were the Viking mouslings in human form. “Thank you for the warm fire. It feels awfully good after that cold night in the marsh. I’m Brunhilda and this is my husband, Beowolf.”
The man nodded. “Yes. We lost our boat in the rains yesterday.”
Goldilocks looked at him in exasperation. “Yes, that’s just what I thought.”
Rufus stepped up. “Welcome, welcome. I bet two mariners like you are eager to get back to sea. The Narwhal is still being refitted, but I’ll bet Captain Flang would be glad of two more experienced crew members.”
Beowolf nodded again. “Yes. We lost our boat in the rains yesterday.”
Brunhilda cut in. “Thank you, that would be great. We’d be very happy to join the crew of your ship.”
The pair fell quiet and huddled by the fire, attended by Maggi and Goldilocks, who produced cheese and ale. The crowd quickly lost interest in them.
Rufus sat down beside them and whispered. “Well done. I think you’ve slipped in quite smoothly there.”
Beowolf nodded yet again. “Yes. We lost our boat in the rains yesterday.”
Rufus laughed. “Loosen up, Beowolf. Nobody has any reason to think you’re anything but a couple of shipwreck victims. This is a party – live a little!”
It was later in the day, with the tantalizing aroma of the roasting pig covering the beach, but hunger held at bay with a luncheon of fish, clams, and fruit, that Chief Conch got Rufus alone. “Need speak-y you.”
Rufus smiled. “Big day for you, today. Are you really going to go back home when this is all over?”
“Yes. Need me islands. Hold back dangerous powers – Air, Water, Fire. You like me this way. You face big fight here.”
Rufus looked alert. “What do you know about it?”
“See you. You one with Air, Fire — but young. You face creatures from Air world, like lightning above. You need — this.” Chief Conch held out a cord from which hung a black stone.
Slowly, Rufus held out his hand and the old man laid the stone in his hand. It covered his palm. “What…?”
“Lodestone. Make you safe from lightning. Give me staff.”
Puzzled Rufus held out his staff. “You want to trade? It’s almost depleted, from my fight with Bloody…”
The Chief shook his head, but took the staff. He closed his eyes, lowered his face, and spoke a prayer. Then, he looked up and returned the staff. “It good now.”
Rufus felt renewed energy in the staff and looked up with wonder. “You are being such a big help. How can I ever repay you?”
The old man looked deep into his eyes. “Look after daughter, friends. Will miss her.” He turned away, but not before Rufus saw a tear run down his cheek.
Flummox found Duncan staring hungrily at the pig, turning on the spit. Scarecrow was sitting a respectful distance away from the fire, holding his combustible extremities in tight. He was staring morbidly at the licking flames, but looked up when Flummox approached. “Captain Flang has six working for him now, on the Narwhal. He oh so gently thanked me for my help and suggested that someone else might be needing me. If only.”
Flummox rushed forward and put an arm around him. “Absolutely, you are needed. Come with me, I have some people you should meet.” He raised his voice and called to the boy. “You too, Duncan, come with us!”
Flummox carefully avoided Woody and Dorothy, who were sitting together on the beach, and led his group a short way further up the beach.
They came to a spot where the town hall crew was in deep conversation. Flummox pointed each out as he spoke their names. “Roddy, Plunkett, Whittler, I’d like you to meet Scarecrow and Duncan. Scarecrow has been helping Captain Flang on the Narwhal, and he’s full of good ideas. I think you’ll find him very helpful. And Duncan here will handle the heavy lifting.”
Roddy and the others looked askance at Duncan. “A little small for that, aren’t you?”
“Duncan here is the handler for Trixie the elephant, and your liaison with Tootsie the ogre and Strong the troll. Tootsie and Strong are going to load rock on Whittler’s sled, up at the old mine, Strong will escort them down out of the mountains and then he and Tinker will unload and place the rock. They’ll also be collecting the stone slabs you needed from the various estates, and the Withers will be generously providing some wood planks for temporary worker bridges. Sunny promised labor from the acting troop – not ideal, I know, but work with them. You can use them to start collecting the clay for resurfacing the road. Keep ‘em in groups, I don’t need to tell you guys that the marsh is dangerous. One thing, don’t try to bake the clay, or do anything else with fire, when Trixie is around – she’ll panic.
Plunkett nodded. “Impressive – you’ve been busy. What about sand?” He picked up a handful of the stuff and let it trickle through his fingers. “Are we going to use this here?”
Flummox shook his head. “Only as a last resort – there would be political problems with the dwarves. Trust me, we’re working on it, but it will take some time.”
Whittler looked up. “I heard the dwarves need it for glass making, but not for a good while yet. Maybe we can work a swap – this sand now for that other later.”
Flummox smiled. “Great idea. Sell that and you can get right to the final stages instead of just gathering materials.”
Whittler smiled. “No problem. They need some other help from me.”
Roddy nodded. “It looks like we’re in business then. Thanks so much for your help. We can take it from here – but that other sand will come none too soon.”
Flummox touched his forehead. “Gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me.”
Roddy held out his arms. “Come here, lad, and tell me about this elephant. I know you’ve always been good with the big horses and such, but this must be another thing entirely.”
Flummox moved off, smiling.
The pig tasted wonderful with an orange and apple glaze that Shelly made. Everyone ate their fill, then the entertainers broke out instruments and the music began. Those who could still move, with their bellies stuffed full, danced in the sand as the sun sank slowly towards the hills.
Grace and D-Stract walked along the beach in their bare feet, feeling the gentle waves of the lake wash over them. Grace focused her thoughts inwards. Maude, are you sure the crabs are keeping their distance? The lake is very dark.
Sure — they’re lined up all along the beach, about fifty feet out. They’re not going to bother anybody — they’re afraid.
“That’s weird. I wonder what they’re afraid of. Sapphire, you hearing this?”
Sapphire lifted her head from her knees. She was sitting drowsily on the sand, further ashore, listening to the music and trying to shake off the effects of her share of the tasty pig. “Yes, I’m awake. I was just resting my eyes.” She stretched and yawned.
D-Stract chuckled. “Sure you were. What do you think scares a crab-man?”
Sapphire looked up and down the beach. “Well, parties of armed men, maybe. I think the beach bum adventurers used to make sport of trying to catch and torment them. Caught a few and ate them, too, if those shells down that way mean anything.” She pointed down the beach, away from the fire pit.
“Do you suppose you could conjure up an illusion of them, to keep off the crabs?”
Sapphire got up and dusted the sand off her robe. “Now there’s an idea. But I’d have to conjure something that got down in the water, if we’re going after that sand.” She did some muttering and waving, and a series of ferocious sea creatures made an appearance out on the lake. An image of the Nessies caused a stir, but none of the crabs left their positions. Finally the back and fin of a giant shark cruised the lake with no effect at all. “This is no good. I can’t really cast an illusion where I can’t see, down under the water. All I can make is the topmost, visible, part of the shark.”
Grace frowned. “But, Sapphire, you have water magic. Can’t you summon a nymph and use its eyes?”
Sapphire shook her head. “Might work, but it’ll take a lot of practice. Uh-oh, look who’s coming.”
Downsie Ironborg came running along the water line in bare feet, laughing and dodging the tiny waves. Madam Ironborg trudged along behind, clinging tightly to Upsie.
Maude’s voice rang in their heads. The crabs are noticing her. Their hunger is growing. She’s not safe doing that.
Sapphire nodded. “I’ve got this.” She conjured illusions of larger waves that made Downsie dance further from the water, squealing with excitement. Then, she conjured a phosphorescent crawdad that scampered across the sand, catching Downsie’s attention. It darted here and there, even between Downsie’s legs, who fell in the sand, giggling. Sapphire, Downsie, and Madam Ironborg drifted slowly down the beach, but at the same time gradually further and further away from the water. Grace and D-Stract stood watching them — Grace in admiration for her friend, D-Stract thinking about children.
“Beg pardon.” The two ladies turned to find Chief Conch bowing to them. They returned his bow. “Been watching play water. You both feel strong Water. Know water magic?”
D-Stract glanced at her companion. “We both love to swim, but we can’t here – not safe. I don’t do any kind of magic, really. I’m not sure about Grace’s particular…”
Grace cut in. “I was attracted to water magic early on, but only developed an affinity for Fire and Earth. The pagans I was with were good teachers for those — not so much for water.”
Conch nodded, and pulled some leaves from a pocket in his feather robes. “Is good. You chew, see, speak Water like friend.” He gestured toward Sapphire, playing with Downsie on the beach.
Grace took some leaves gingerly. “You want us to eat these?”
“No, not eat. Chew, swallow bitter essence. I say prayer. When done, spit out leaves.”
“Is that prayer part of the magic?”
“No, is timing. Give proper dose.”
“What if we get too much?”
“You hear Water too much. Go live there. Forget friends. Sing sailors onto rocks. Eat them.”
“But with the right dose…?”
“Dream tonight. Hear voice of sea in dream. When wake, can talk water. You do?”
The ladies looked at each other, then nodded. “We trust you.” They chewed the leaves, and the essence was indeed rather vile and bitter, but they swallowed as instructed, then spit out the leaves the moment Conch stopped his low rumbly prayer.
Conch smiled and bounced on his feet. “Good. Now give gifts.”
D-Stract frowned. “You want something particular in return?”
Conch laughed and shook his head. “Silly. No. Help you balance elements. First for dark lady.” He took a pendant from around his neck and handed it to D-Stract. It was made from the largest shark tooth they had ever seen. “This tooth killer whale. Breath air dive deep. Eat sea monsters. Hold breath long, long time. Wear this – never fear water again. Never can hurt.”
D-Stract held it, eyes wide. “I can breath under water with this?”
Conch smiled and nodded. “Yes, yes.” He produced another pendant and gave it to Grace. The cord pierced the center of a pearly opalescent shell, like that of a medium size snail. “My island Fire kisses Water. Make hot plume. Snail friend Fire, hide plume. Enemies no eat. You wear, you friend Fire.”
“Are you saying fire won’t burn me if I wear this?”
Conch nodded. “Smart ladies. Fix valley. Make safe daughter, friends. Is good.”
The ladies looked up from their treasures and started to thank him, but Chief Conch had already turned and was walking back up the beach.
D-Stact traced the swirl on the shell with her finger, then called out to his back. “You’ve given our party protection from three of the elements. Do you have anything for us against Earth?”
Conch laughed without looking back. “Silly. Earth friend. Hold back others. Smile you. Helps.” He raised his voice. “Where daughter?! Give big hug! Sing! Dance! Marry when Sun sleeps!”
As the sun sank to the top of the hills to the west, everyone gathered around the area that had been cleared for the ceremony, just above the fire pit. Meanwhile Cleo and Animus carried on the argument they’d been having all afternoon, but in whispers now.
“Cleo, you can’t do both. Rufus is going to lead a party up the valley to deal with the elementals. Maybe they’ll see wolf tracks. Sapphire is going to the burnt barrens to find Caboose. You can’t do both, and they’ll each need an elven archer for protection. You have to pick.”
“Well, the wolf escaping is my fault, and he’s definitely lose in the woods up the valley. But on the other hand, I really hate The Visitor and all he stands for. He is vile; his kind sickens me.”
“There’s the heart of it. If you were to catch The Visitor, what would you do?”
“Kill him at once.”
“Even if he had information that led you to rescue Caboose.”
“We’d find him later anyway, somehow. I’d kill the vile monster.”
“You couldn’t stop yourself. That settles it. You need to stay cool and in control in battle. You should go with your good friend Rufus, and keep him safe. I will escort the others into lizard territory, and deal with Caboose’s abductors.”
“Hush. It is settled, and the ceremony is about to start.”
Chief Conch took the center of the clearing, raised his arms, which spread his feather cloak out like wings as he gave a great shout. Everything he said was in a language that the people of the valley did not understand, but the meaning was clear. Each couple came forward and he gave them his blessing in the red blaze of the dying sun.
Crystal, from the frozen lands far from Conch’s island, was first. She was joined with Rip. People whispered that she would make a good addition to the Marsh family.
Dawn, the castaway raised by islanders, was joined with Hound. Everyone commented on what a lovely couple they made, and wondered if the pair would settle down and help his mother run the Market offices.
Eve, the Chief’s niece, was joined with Billy Sky. People whispered, wondering if she would calm him down, insist he stop his firebrand protests at the castle, and draw him back to the Sky family farm for good.
Finally, the Chief’s daughter Shelly was joined with Sienna Autumn. People could not help pointing out that they were made for each other, as either would crush a normal sized mate in bed.
As the last edge of the sun disappeared behind the hills, the Chief circled the fire twice, crouching over and sweeping his feather cloak behind him. With the dark backdrop of the lake, he looked like a great illuminated bird flying through the night sky. He cast something into the fire and a huge gout of sparks flew into the air. Raising his arms, he gave a great shout and shot into the air, surrounded by sparks with his feather cloak spread wide. In an instant he had disappeared into the eastern sky, far beyond seeing.
Flummox turned to D-Stract. “Now if I could do that, the marks would pay more attention to my magic tricks.”
D-Stract rubbed up against his shoulder. “If it’s attention you want, don’t look any further.”
Couples drifted back to the shelter of town, while others kept the party going on the beach, late into the night.