The Lava Lizards
They spent the whole next day getting everything ready to go. Gevin somehow managed to get three horses which wouldn’t be missed for them to use. Matthew agreed to cover for his absence providing Gevin paid him back in two fold. “Anything t-t-to g-g-get over this ch-ch-chattering,” he told Anya.
Taika rounded up dozens of empty vials, sacks, and anything else she could think of to collect ingredients and make the potion. Otis just nodded at Taika’s telling him she would be gone and promptly fell back asleep.
The next morning, Gevin greeted Anya with a yawn as she left her house. It was earlier than they were used to, so they weren’t quite awake yet. They walked in silence, which was fine for Anya, because Gevin’s speech impediment was starting to give her a twitch.
Taika was waiting for them when they arrived at the stables. She had their horses ready and their saddle-bags bulging. “Dad couldn’t come with us. He and my brothers had already planned a hunting trip elsewhere.”
“But my mom thinks he’s going with us,” said Anya.
“Do you want to run make sure it’s OK?”
Anya chewed her lip for a minute and looked at the horses, then Taika, and then at Gevin. If she had to listen to his chattering one more day… Besides, what if her mom said no? And she probably would say no. She turned back to Taika. “No. Not really. I mean, we’re not doing anything dangerous are we? And you know what you’re doing, right?”
Taika gave her a look that dared her to question her abilities.
Anya turned to Gevin. “You ready then?”
He nodded. They all three mounted and began the journey. The sky was beginning to turn from black to early morning grey. Gevin led them around the western wall of the courtyard and castle. When they reached the flat grass between Cupola and the forest, he broke into a trot. The others followed.
Nearing the edge of the woods, they slowed their horses back down to a walk. The dark forest looked ominous compared to the familiar grassland of Cupola. Anya asked, “I wonder if there’s another witch on this side of the forest?”
“Th-th-that’s not even f-funny!”
“I wasn’t trying to be funny. Does anyone know what’s in these woods here?” She pushed a low branch out of the way.
Taika spoke up, “My family has hunted here several times. The woods are much denser than where your witch lives. The game is more plentiful. It’s safe as far as those things go, but there are predators.”
“Predators?” The idea of running into something that might enjoy having them for dinner was not a pleasant one for Anya.
“You have your usuals: bears, coyotes, mountain lions, wild boar. But don’t worry, I can handle them.” She smiled as she patted her quiver and bow hanging next to her right leg.
They trotted when they could and walked the rest of the way. Around midday, they ate lunch in a small clearing. Gevin complained about the horses not having any water since they had left. Taika assured him there was water further in.
After lunch, they rode deeper into the woods. The canopy covered their path in shadow. It finally got so dark they couldn’t see anymore. Gevin said, “We n-n-need to st-stop and let the h-horses rest. Are w-we near th-that water yet, T-T-Taika?”
“There’s a creek and a camping spot ahead.” Taika led them to an area that had obviously been used several times before by others. A circle of stones surrounded a dead fire. Someone had erected a small spit on top of it, and the nearby land was cleared of debris.
Gevin led the horses to the water and then set up a bag for each of them filled with grain. Taika passed out food for the three of them.
“How much further?” Anya asked through a mouthful of sandwich.
“Several more miles. I’d say we’re about halfway there. If we stop now, we would have a very long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
“B-but if we keep g-going, we might get hurt. The horses c-c-can’t see anymore and aren’t c-comfortable traveling any f-further with as d-d-dark as it is. They might t-trip and throw one of us or b-b-break a leg themselves. We n-need to stay here.”
Taika thought about it. She surveyed their surroundings and calculated silently. “Alright. But we need to leave as soon as the horses are able, Gevin. OK?”
He nodded. Taika went to unload her father’s extra tent. “This is old and worn, but it should cover us well enough for tonight.”
Anya went off to collect firewood while the other two set up their shelter. It was getting cold, and she was starting to shiver. The forest got darker every minute. Its features began to blur into a splotched blackness forcing her to squint to focus. At last she found a few sticks and bent over to pick them up. A tingling sensation rose up her back. She froze. Her breath became shallow and ragged. Slowly, she righted herself and turned around. Seeing no one, she slinked back towards camp, making as little sound as possible.
The prickle on her back grew. Something was following her. She could hear it rustling in the dry leaves behind her as it moved closer and closer. She dropped the wood and screamed, sprinting until she ran into Gevin and knocked him back. “There’s something out there!” She turned and pointed. “I was getting wood when—. You know that feeling you get when someone’s behind you, watching?”
Gevin grinned back a snort and started walking where she had come from. He motioned with his arm for her to follow. She hesitated, until she realized she was going to be left alone, and then ran to catch up with him. And that was when they saw it. A small rodent sitting on its hindquarters and holding out its paws as if begging for food.
Gevin roared into laughter and leaned against a tree for support. “A g-g-gramwhat? HA HA HA! Y-you’re a-afraid of a- of a-“
Anya punched him in the arm. “I didn’t know what it was! I just knew it was following me!”
“Ha ha ha!!”
“Oh … Shut up!”
Gevin laughed even louder.
She marched back to where they had run into each other and picked up her dropped wood. She then made her way around the camp site until she found enough for the fire. Meanwhile, Gevin gained control of himself, gathered some sticks of his own, and caught up with her. He smirked but said nothing. She walked ahead of him with her nose in the air, refusing to speak to him.
Back at camp, Taika had the tent set up with furs and blankets inside. When she heard them return, she looked up and asked, “What happened out there? You almost had me worried until I heard Gevin laughing.”
Anya glared at him with pure hatred. Gevin bit his lips together and snorted. Anya said, “I found a gramwhat.”
“Oh.” Taika twitched her lips and cleared her throat. “Well it probably heard us and just wanted some gold. You didn’t give it any did you?”
“Of course not! I didn’t have anything with me anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”
Taika bit her lips when she looked over at Gevin holding his hand over his mouth and shaking with silent giggles. “Well, we need to get a small fire started,” she said. “That will light up enough for us to be able to find more wood. We’ll have to keep it burning all night to keep the predators away.”
With the word “predators,” Gevin guffawed again.
Anya sighed and rolled her eyes. She marched over to the stone circle and began getting it ready. It eventually got to burning enough they could see a small ways into the deep forest. She said, “I’ll tend the fire. I’m good at that.” The others went off in search of bigger logs.
Taika offered her a dagger before leaving. Anya took it. She asked Taika, “You really think I’ll need this?”
Taika shrugged. “Better safe than sorry.”
When her friends left, Anya’s bravery went with them. The longer she sat there, the more scared she got. She clutched the hilt until her fingers went numb. She had never used a knife before, unless you could count cutting up potatoes, and she wasn’t counting that as experience against a giant pair of fangs with glowing eyes jumping for her jugular.
As she stared into the darkness praying for the return of her friends, her eyes drifted to the fire. It was hypnotizing, beautiful. But as it warmed her front, it made her back cold and creepy. She kept glancing at the tent behind her, trying not to move, trying not to breathe, trying not to do anything to let whatever was out there know she was here and alive. And quite possibly tasty.
When Gevin and Taika finally emerged from the woods, dragging a hefty branch behind them, Anya jumped up and back, ready to scream again. Upon seeing who it was however, she immediately pretended to be cool about it all. “What is that?” she asked them.
“This is a night’s worth of firewood,” panted Taika.
They dropped the branch on the ground. Gevin pulled a hatchet out of a saddle-bag and chopped the branch into manageable pieces. All the noise and movement made Anya feel much better. She helped stack the wood, too happy to have him around to still be mad for him laughing at her.
Once the fire was fed and happy, they went on to bed. The tent was invitingly warm and fuzzy. They crawled into the furs and instantly started to fall asleep. Gevin yawned, “H-how do we keep the f-f-fire going?”
“I’m a light sleeper,” said Anya, very sleepily.
“And I’m wide awake. I’ll check it before I go to sleep.” Taika waited for a response. “Is that OK, Gevin?... Gevin?”
“Well at least you’ll talk to me a while, right Anya?... Anya …”
Anya heard Taika sigh, but fell asleep before she could force her mouth to say anything.
Anya awoke to find Taika’s arm and leg on her, and Gevin’s elbow in her ear. As she saw the light come through the tent, she jolted awake, scrambling to get untwisted from the blankets and her friends’ limbs. “Taika! Gevin!”
“Wha?” Taika sat up stiff as a board. She drew in a sharp intake of air as she became more awake. “On no! What time is it? We need to go.” She rushed out of the tent, leaving Anya and Gevin behind.
“Seriously?! Gevin! Gevin!”
“Get UP!” She pushed him.
He slowly opened his eyes and rubbed them. “Fine.” He jerked off the blankets. “Fine.” And then he crawled out of the tent, leaving poor Anya all alone.
She rolled up the bedding and packed it all away, while Gevin fed the horses, and Taika made sure the ashes were cold. They set off at a slow walk while they ate their breakfasts. “We c-can speed up once the h-h-horses have warmed up a b-bit.”
The woods transformed into prairie again by midmorning, so they entered a gallop. Anya had never ridden that fast before. She remained stiff the whole time, but she managed to keep up with the other two and not fall off. She was grateful when they neared a gorge and slowed their pace.
Taika shouted, “We’re here!” They trotted up to the white rock that abruptly ended in a haze of smoke rising from below.
“I don’t see any lizards,” Anya said while squinting into the smoking crevice.
Taika dismounted. “They’re at the bottom.”
Anya and Gevin slid from their saddles and followed her to the edge of the cliff where she pointed them out. “There they are.” Down below were hot, steamy white rocks surrounded by burnt soil. Each had at least one glowing lizard sitting upon it in complete serenity.
“D-down there? How d-do we g-get them from d-down there?”
“We don’t.” Taika went back to her saddle-bags and took out a cauldron about the size of a pumpkin and a very long chain.
“We were carrying those this whole time?” Anya gawked at the items with wide eyes.
Taika looked at her with complete innocence. “What?” She masterfully mixed the ingredients for Gevin’s melting potion into the cauldron like she did before: first the hot coffee, then the lily water, stirring this way, then that.
Taika said, “We don’t have any of the ice this time, but since we’re only trying to get rid of his stutter, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
As Anya watched her mix the potion, it occurred to her they weren’t going to be bringing the lava lizard back with them. She had wondered how that was going to work. While relieved not to have to deal with that potential catastrophe, she thought of something else. “How did you get all those ingredients?” she asked Taika.
“Before we left the kitchen, the night of Gevin’s demise, I placed several in a bag for future use. You never know when you might need things again. I’m starting a collection in my library.”
She attached the chain to the cauldron and ensured it was secure. She then lay on her stomach and lowered it to in front of one of the lizards.
“Um, Taika?” Anya crouched next to her. “How do we get them to fire the—” WHOOSH! A huge flame, three times the size of the lizard itself, shot out and under the cauldron. Anya jumped in alarm and fell backwards.
“Lava lizards automatically shoot out fire when they feel threatened. And a giant metal bowl falling from the sky in front of their face tends to do that.” Taika said in her matter-of-fact voice.
Every now and then, Taika would raise the cauldron, stir it a bit, look at it, smell it, sometimes add something, and then lower it down in front of a different lizard. The job was tedious and hot. The bright red, yellow, and orange reptiles would each fire for a short while before wobbling off in other directions.
At last, Taika raised it and added the gunpowder. “It’s done.”
Gevin blew on a spoonful, made a horrible face, and then swallowed the potion several times. “Man! I feel warm! Hey! I’m not chattering anymore! Oh this is great! I can talk again! Dumb dragons danced delightfully down dung domes. Dumb dragons danced delightfully down dung domes. Dumb dragons danced delightfully down dung domes. No more chattering. No more chattering.”
Gevin hopped around and belted out more tongue twisters while Anya helped Taika pour the rest of the potion into several vials for future use. Anya gritted her teeth and moaned to Taika about how annoying he was.
He was still resounding with his newfound joy after they had packed everything away and started eating lunch. Anya threatened to throw him into the lizards’ gorge. Then he chatted the entire lunch with his mouth full. By then, Anya was ready to jump into the gorge herself.
They galloped their way back to the woods where Gevin continued singing at the top of his lungs. “Gallant guards gave Gerty ghosts. Gallant guards gave Gerty ghosts. Gallant guards gave Gerty ghosts.”
Anya gritted her teeth and pulled her hair down around her eyes. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. “Shut up!!” she screamed, causing her horse to stumble. “Gevin. I know you’re happy you can talk and all, but please. Be quiet.”
Taika seemed completely unflustered by Gevin’s newly found tongue. “We need to travel the rest of the way tonight if we’re going to get back before sunrise. We’re still going to get home pretty late. Gevin, can we kip in the stables when we get there?”
“Probably. I’m sure I can find a place where no one will notice us.”
They stopped at their old camping spot, let the horses drink and gave them the last of the grain. “It’s almost dark. Do you think we can make it before it’s too dark to see?” asked Anya.
“Shouldn’t be too much of a problem.” Gevin shrugged. “We’re going back now, so the horses ought not to be as skittish about traveling at night.”
“Before we go,” said Taika, “there’s one more thing we need to do.” She handed a thick leather pouch to Anya. Her hands were covered in work gloves of the same material.
Anya took the pouch. “What’s this for?”
“We have to harvest some mushrooms for the healers. Remember?”
Anya remembered alright. She wasn’t looking forward to gathering an ingredient that “she didn’t want to know about.” “Is that why you’re wearing those gloves?” she worriedly asked.
Taika began to lead them through the thick leaves of the forest while reciting, “The cap of a red hornet fungus is covered in a slime of an acidic nature. Caution should be used as touching it with bare hands will seriously damage one’s skin. It has been known to numb fingers for days, making them swell and stiffen until the victim’s hands become unusable for weeks at a time.” They reached a dark and dank region of the forest. “We can find some over there.”
The trees here were covered with moss. Anya had trouble walking on the slick, green rocks. Taika shouted from up ahead, “Here they are!”
She entered an area surrounded by thorny bushes. Giant worms munched on bright red mushrooms with pulsating puss laden yellow bulges. Anya watched as every now and then, a worm would expel a short spurt of explosive gas in a burst of sparks. She backed away. “What’s the ingredient, the worms or the mushrooms?”
Taika took the bag from her. “Red hornet fungus.” She expertly broke a stalk off from the ground and then ever so carefully placed it into her bag. “An excellent ingredient with many useful properties.” She grabbed another one, shaking the fizzling worms from its cap. After tying the bag closed, she grabbed a handful of worms and placed them into a smaller bag she had been carrying. “These spitfires are a good item to have on hand as well.” She pulled hard on the strings, tying the bag as tightly as possible. “I just hope they don’t burn through the leather before we make it home.”
So did Anya.
They returned to Gevin and readied to leave. Traveling through the evening, the pitch darkness of the deep forest began to encompass them. Gevin started caterwauling again.
Anya’s fists competed with her jaw over who could clinch the hardest. “Is this going to be a permanent problem with him, Taika?”
“I don’t think so. I think he’s just excited about being able to talk again.”
“For the love of gramwhats, I hope so!”
They made it almost back to the grassland near the castle when Anya started falling asleep. After jerking her head up for the fourteenth time, she asked, “Can we please camp here and put the horses up in the morning?”
“No. We might oversleep again.” Taika answered. “We’ll be there before long anyway.”
When they left the forest, they pushed the horses as hard as Gevin would allow them and soon arrived at the stables. Completely exhausted, they helped Gevin put the horses up for the night. Anya leaned against the stable walls and said through closed eyes, “It’s too late to go home. My mom’s got the door barred for sure by now.”
Gevin asked, “Why don’t you just sleep in the kitchen?”
“I would, but I don’t have my uniform with me. I’d still have to go home and get it … in the morning,” she yawned.
“Oh. Well, like I said, we can kip here.” He walked down to the middle of the stables and opened a door to a small room. Inside were five small beds and a pot bellied stove.
“Who stays here?” asked Taika.
“Anyone who wants to really. Someone said they were originally for satyrs that took care of the horses. But what’s a satyr?”
Taika was sitting on one of the beds, taking off her shoes when she abruptly sat up and quoted, “A satyr is a creature whose upper half is human and whose lower half is equine. Although, unlike a centaur, they only have two legs.” She then continued to take off her shoes as though nothing had happened.
Gevin looked at her with a confused expression. Anya was getting used to it, but it still unnerved her when Taika would use her memory like that.
Taika pulled back her blankets. “They probably took care of the horses before the Field went up. Like the elves took care of the kitchen.”
Anya nodded in understanding. “About that Field, do you think it’s harmful? We must have passed through it today. Is it invisible or something?”
“First of all, don’t worry. It’s not harmful. We’re just normal humans. But to a purely magical creature, it would be deadly. Secondly, yes, it would have to be invisible.”
She lay down and thought for a moment. “Why didn’t it change Gev back when he entered it bewitched?”
“The spell had already worked its magic. If the spell were required to keep him frozen, then he would have melted, which he did. But once the transformation has taken place, magic has left the body, so the Field isn’t just going to change someone back. You still have to have counter magic for that.”
Gevin gazed at her completely baffled. Anya was too tired to respond.
“It would be like cooking a roast and then poof the roast is raw again. The fire has already left the roast, but it’s still cooked.”
A muffled, “Oh,” escaped Anya’s bed.
Gevin said, “Yeah, well, whatever. I’m going to sleep.” He rolled over and went to sleep.“And I’m left all alone, awake again, aren’t I?” Taika sighed.