It took all of Fuzz’s concentration to just hang on and to adjust to the speed at first, but soon he could see that Arwr was far more agile than any unicorn, sprinting between the trees without coming close to a single one of them. Somehow Arwr managed to anticipate their trunks as they came, so that he and Taflu were not thrown from side to side. Soon he could plainly see that even though he had never traveled through the woods so fast in his life, it was quite safe to not hang on tight anymore. As he relaxed, he saw that he was not being whipped by the twigs and branches of the underbrush, as he would be if he were astride a unicorn. Instead of rocking endlessly above a pounding gallop, Arwr seemed to glide, disconnected from the ground, as he kept up a steady, pat… pat… pat… pat… pat… pat… pat… over the leaves on the forest floor. “For a bird confined to the ground, he sure knows how to fly,” he thought.
Bounding along creeks and ridges and over hogbacks, the woods flew quickly by. They were not far into the afternoon when Fuzz realized to his astonishment that they were passing through Mary’s part of the woods. He wondered if she were still in her cavern with Myrtlebell and Edward, or if they had already started for the Dragon Caves. He was quite tempted to stop and see, but the need to reach the Heart before the Gobblers or Demonica’s spies found it would have to come first. He said nothing as he studied the trees, watching the countryside pass by. Suddenly he recognized that they had entered the Chokewoods. “The change isn’t so sudden anymore,” he thought. “In fact, there’s hardly any change at all. This is Chokewood, because I know the lay of the land. I didn’t even notice when we ran out of peppermint trees.” He gave a huge sigh, thinking of the changes taking place in the Peppermint. He doubted if there would be any difference at all between the Peppermint and Chokewood by the end of the year. In spite of all his years of despair from being held prisoner there, he felt a profound sadness.
Without warning, they were ringed by a chattering carpet of vermilion, pouring round them from the feet of the trees. Taflu took flight. “Smallies!” cried Fuzz at the very moment that Arwr came to a rigid halt.
“Ooo…ooo…oob!” boomed Arwr as he suddenly flashed the brilliant red and yellow which had been hidden in the flight feathers of his wings and tail. The smallies froze. “Oooooooff…vooov…vooob!” he boomed, snatching up the nearest smallie with his beak. With a furious swing, he dashed out its brains against the root of a choke oak, and with three violent gulps swallowed it whole as every one of his feathers stood out straight. With the sound of windy popping sheets, he flashed his fiery crimson wings as he lowered his head and glowered, snapping his beak.
For a moment, the smallies drew back and stood transfixed in utter silence. In short order, a rustling wave spread out through their numbers and the entire hoard surged toward them. “Fates!” cried Fuzz. “This is it!”
Ch. 12, Stone Heart (Click on Title or Book Image to Download from Amazon)
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps