They had their unicorns completely laden and packed before the first light. With the first rusty calls of the seaside sparrows as the sky turned deep blue, they wended between tussocks of marram grass into a landscape of sandburs and rolling sand dunes with Tramman, Obbree and Karl-Veur leading the way while Rose, Fuzz and Inney followed a rod or two behind. After tramping a good long way with no talking, Rose paused to shift her pack and to study the horizon.
“Young ladies were never meant to be pack animals, Rose,” said Fuzz. “I could take your bag for a bit.”
“And I suppose old bespelled bears are,” she said with her eyes dancing.
“Absolutely!” said Fuzz. “Going to find Gastro. That is indeed what it reminds me of, too.”
“What are you two talking about?” said Inney.
“We were once in a place like this when Fuzz was a bear,” said Rose, stopping short to share wide-eyed looks with Fuzz at what she had just said.”
“You were a bear?” said Inney. “Mister Fuzz! You’re not a skin walker, are you?”
“You mean, could I change myself into a bear? Not at all. I could not begin to do something like that, even if I had forever and seven days. I was trapped as a bear with no
hair until the witch who did it to me was killed and her evil faded away some years later.”
Everyone ahead had turned about to listen. “She must’ve been one powerful witch if it took so long for all of her magic to fade,” said Tramman.
“She was powerful, all right,” said Fuzz, “and made all the more so by having in her possession what we know as the Great Staff of Power. Your long lost brethren once called it Bata Millteanach. And it’s a very long tale that I can see needs to be told when we get to Balley Cheerey.”
“That’s a story I can’t wait to hear,” said Tramman, turning square about in the sand. “Let’s get on to Balley Cheerey.” And with that, the party resumed their tramp through the sand.
As the sun rose, the sand became unbearably hot, and since Rose, Fuzz and Karl-Veur had lost their shoes in the sea when the ship sank, they were forced to make emergency footwear out of a ripped kelp sack and strips of the skirt of Rose’s kirtle. By the time the sun was high enough for the sand to blister bare feet, they were underway again, listening to the endless calls of cicadas.
Grass was now covering most of the sand. Dickcissels called from the taller tussocks. Redwing blackbirds scolded from the air above their heads. “When the grass is all taller than we are, we’ll finally be in the Strah,” said Tramman. “Keep your eyes open for snakes.”
As Rose studied a particularly tall bunch of grass, she stumbled across a mound of sticks and grass. “Fuzz!” she cried, “Look! Huge eggs. The size of a baby’s head. Fuzz! This one’s hatched.” At once all three strike falcons dashed through the grass to peer closely at what she had found. “Are these strike falcon eggs, Inney?”
“Yea,” she said, picking up an egg. “These aren’t suppose to be out here, are they Tramman?”
“Not at all,” he said, letting go of his handful of reins to pick up an egg with both hands, “We thought we’d shot the last wild one maybe seven hundred years ago.”
“What’s wrong with wild ones?” said Rose. “What would happen if I picked up this one just hatched?”
“She’ll be your bond mate, if you want one,” said Tramman. “And wild ones? Really, really dangerous. They can take you out with one slashing kick. See Obbree a-stringing his bow? That’s what I’m going to do right now.”
“So what do I do if I want a bond mate?”
“Take her with you. Inney’ll tell you what to do,” he said as he strung his bow. “Fuzz? Take my sword. I see Karl-Veur has Obbree’s. And everybody pick up an egg. Put it inside your shirt. We have to go. Now! Those parents could show up and kill someone in the blink of an eye. Somebody will have to come all the way back down here and hunt them down and kill them.”
Ch. 2, The Reaper Witch
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps