Between the three of us, I have the hardest time with our pursuit of the Black Demon. Artr has the Scarlet Warrior’s armor and Merlin has magic to keep him from getting too tired. By contrast I’m just an out-of-shape, elderly—for that time period—conjurer’s assistant. If it weren’t for Beaux, I’d have probably dropped over a long time ago.
“I could carry you on my back,” Artr suggests.
“Oh, how lovely,” I grumble. “Carry me around like a pelt.”
“It was just a thought.”
“Don’t start thinking now.”
Merlin pats my shoulder. “There’s no need to worry. Beaux is safe.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have some assistance,” Merlin says. He points up at the sky.
“A god is helping us?”
“Not a god. A bird. An owl to be exact. I can see with his eyes. For now Beaux and the others are safe.”
“Wonderful, an owl says they’re safe. What happens when the owl goes off to eat a mouse?”
“It won’t.” Merlin gestures ahead of us. “Come, let’s keep going.”
“Couldn’t you make Marlin faster? Or lighter?” Artr suggests.
“Shut up,” I snap and muster the strength to run ahead of him for a few paces.
We have to keep going all through the night and the next day. Merlin’s owl continues its vigil, though it should have gone to sleep long ago. From what the owl indicates, there’s no danger for Beaux or the others. The greatest danger for Beaux is that she’ll anger the Demon enough he’ll decide to kill her before we can arrive.
“That must be some face you’ve got to keep it beneath that headdress all this time. How do you eat with that on?”
“I do not require food. Or sleep. Or conversation.” The way he glares at her should tell her to shut her mouth, but Beaux’s always had a problem with that.
“You must be very tough to take a bunch of women and children captive. You know what will happen when Merlin finds you.”
“I do not fear Merlin.”
“Is that why you’re running?”
“I will face him at a time of my choosing.”
“If you do not remain silent, I will slice open your throat.” He brandishes his claws for effect. Of course Beaux ignores this.
“Some brave warrior you are. You let half your men get slaughtered while you stood by and did nothing.” She raises her voice so the rest of the Demon’s minions can hear her. “He’ll probably let the lot of you die the same way if it suits his purposes.”
“They do not understand you, foolish girl,” the Dragoon growls.
“Girl? I’ll have you know I gave birth to a child.” She did many years ago, before she met me. The child died from a fever shortly after birth. Since then, Beaux has remained barren. Modern science would probably have an explanation; I assumed it was through sheer force of will she never got pregnant again to risk losing another child. Of course that might explain why she prefers to be around those sheep all the time.
“You try my patience. That will make it all the more glorious when I feed your heart to my master.”
“I’d like to see you try. If I still had my crook I’d teach you a thing or two.”
“Your puny weapon would not hurt me.”
“We’ll never know, will we?” Beaux stomps ahead a few paces. Though she’d never admit it, I’m sure she thinks of me and hopes she'll see me again.
Night falls by the time they finally stop. The owl stops in a tree. It’s still there when we arrive. We huddle in the darkness to stare down at the Demon’s camp. Artr and Merlin can see in the dark while I can only squint and make out a few vague shapes in the light of the Demon’s army’s fires.
“They’re down there,” Merlin says. “They’re still alive.”
“So let’s go down and rescue them,” I say.
“What about the Demon?” Artr asks.
“He will need distracted,” Merlin says.
“I’ll do it,” Artr says without hesitation. “You and Marlin can rescue the prisoners then.”
“A very sound strategy,” Merlin says. “First we must locate the Demon. Once we do and you have his attention, Marlin and I will rescue the prisoners.”
“What about the rest of his soldiers?” I ask. “They could kill Beaux and the others.”
“I can deal with them,” Merlin says.
With a hoot, the owl in the trees takes off. It swoops down over the Demon’s camp. A couple of the ruffians make note of it; one even tries to hit it with a spear. The owl glides away to search through the camp.
Through its eyes, Merlin locates the Demon. Though he doesn’t require sleep, the Demon is in a tent. He has a prisoner in there with him: Beaux, of course. She’s tied up at his feet. “It’s a pity I won’t get the chance to bring you to my master, but I can’t abide any more of your yammering. The time has come to put an end to it.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Monday is what you've been waiting for: the battle between the Scarlet Warrior and Black Demon begins!