CHAPTER 10: Journeying on, Dangers, New Companions.
They slept late the following morning, but it appeared that so did Avinia and Felin and everyone else, because they were not disturbed. Hugh was fairly sure nobody saw his quick flit to return to his own tower.
After a quick bath/swim, he put on his self-laundered original clothes, took up the boggart-knife, and flew up and across to the balcony of the Queen’s bedroom, finding without much surprise that Tye was joining him there. This time the doors failed to open until after he had called out for a while.
The Queen was alone in the room, looking no less impressive than usual for being in fairly simple garments. ‘Along with not speaking until spoken to also comes not visiting unless invited,’ she said, but in rather a resigned tone, and flashing Tye a sweet smile. ‘I was going to summon you now, anyway, so that you could give your farewells and set off fairly early – or has …’ with a hint of sarcasm directed at Hugh ‘… something else urgent come up you want to tell me about?’
‘As a matter of fact …’ Hugh said, and related what had happened with the boggart.
‘You have the dagger?’ was her only reaction, and he produced it.
‘Leave it with me; I may be able to find something out from it,’ she said. ’Now, I have things to do, so I will wish you both … all …’glancing at Pip ‘… well on your way. Give my good wishes to your companions, too, and my respects to Aiennea.’
They both stammered thanks and farewells, and left.
After being taken to meet the others for a light breakfast (in a special palace breakfast-room, of course) they said their goodbyes to the princesses-in-waiting and set off again. They were walking so that, as Avinia put it, ‘… we can tell you what comes next. And you can get views of Glorianne Palace from the ground, the ground.’
In fact, both Hugh and Tye stopped so often to stare in wonderment at the palace that they dropped some way behind their guides. ‘I really like her,’ Tye remarked. ‘She’s lovely.’
‘What were you talking about so much last night?’ Hugh asked, but Tye didn’t even bother to respond. He shrugged, and remarked, ‘I see Felin’s clothes are back to tabby.’
‘Talking of clothes, it was too funny last night,’ Tye said. ‘I didn’t know how to get out of mine. When I asked for help, one of my princesses-in-waiting just ran a finger down - and I had nothing on! Then they actually took everything off themselves as well, just like that, and shared my bath – well, it was more like a big pond, actually.’
‘Same here, same here, and same here, with Tertia and Quinnie,’ Hugh laughed.
Tye’s face froze. ‘You mean, they took off all your clothes?’
‘Right,’ Hugh said.
‘And then they took off theirs and you went swimming with them?’
Hugh nodded, grinning.
‘Well, I think that is just … is just … disgusting!’ Tye said through her teeth. She flew ahead to join Avinia, who took one look at her face and left her with Felin.
When hills and trees obscured most palace views, the group came together again and Avinia said, ‘Time to fly, now; to fly. I don’t know what has held Lusi up, held her up. She’s still a long way away. Very long way away. We will have to go through the next Conjunction between Glit Ring and Safah Ring. About half a day from here if we don’t dawdle; don’t dawdle.’
So, dawdle was something they didn’t do from that time on. They kept their wings whirring with energy, and went at such speed that it was quite difficult for Hugh to see all he wanted to see before what he wanted to see of what he was seeing could no longer be seen. Tye was in full Tyrentia mode and taking little interest in matters below, even when Felin began pointing with increasing surprise at the number of creatures, animals and insects alike, straying near the path on the ground they were following.
He became agitated when he saw a group of beetles very near the path. They had elongated red front parts coming from a black, winged abdomen. ‘Bombardier beetles!’ he exclaimed. ‘They shoot boiling hot gas when disturbed, so if any one of our people comes upon them unexpectedly, there could be real trouble. What is wrong with the spell? We’d better try and move them away from there.’
’Maybe if we drop twigs on them …? Hugh suggested. Something in the back of his mind was trying to tell him there was a better idea, but he ignored it.
‘Good idea,’ said Felin, and all of them went for ammunition. ‘Don’t get too low; they have good aim,’ he warned as they started their bombing run at the Bombadiers.
Hugh missed, and the twig landed just behind his target. Immediately there was a ‘popping’ sound, and the stick was hidden by steam for an instant. Then the beetle spread its wings and took off. It was followed a few seconds later by the rest, who also objected to being attacked with twigs or were just joining in the general exodus.
‘Nasty magic, that!’ Hugh remarked.
‘That’s not magic,’ Tye said in a superior tone. ‘It’s a built-in chemical reaction. They do the same thing back in the real … that is, back in our world.’
Felin led the way in flying in a direction the beetles weren’t, and away from traces of a truly horrible smell the ammunition of the beetles had produced. Pip went through the edges of one of the clouds, and flew zigzag for a while.
Avinia came last, which turned out just as well. She glanced behind to see that no beetles had linked them to the disturbance and were coming after them with aerial combat in mind. ‘No you don’t!’ she yelled suddenly, pointing in what looked like a spell-making gesture, ‘Don’t even think it; think it!’
The subject of her scolding was a gigantic-to-them crowned eagle, which had been swooping down on them with lunch rather than combat in mind. It was now applying air-brakes and managing to look embarrassed even though such expression doesn’t show too well on a bird.
‘Just as well Avinia is a bird-brained princess,’ Felin observed, and got a frosty look from her. ‘Wonder why the spell on this route isn’t working? It should be permanent.’
‘That’s not an encouraging thought,’ Hugh observed, thinking of the recent walk-in wardrobe and his nose. ‘Anyway, there’s not much point in following the path, then. We may as well take the most direct route and hope for the best … where’s she going?’
Avinia had peeled off, and then looked as if she were communicating with the eagle in some way. She returned to the group looking pleased with herself, while the eagle began circling in a nearby thermal to gain height. ‘Intelligent, bird, that,’ she said. ‘As the protection spell has obviously gone wrong, I managed to get it into his mind that it would be a good idea to protect us until we get to the next Circle. He’ll go up to where he’s more comfortable, and watch us from there.’
In fact, had it not been for the sheer joy of flying and the unending fascination of the scene below, the rest of the journey to the Safah Ring Conjunction would have been quite boring. Only once did their bodyguard have to take any action, when a rather ambitious Black Sparrowhawk, which would normally feed on nothing larger than a dove, showed an interest in them. Simply a loud, ‘Ca-weeeeeee!’ from the crowned eagle far above was enough to make the other bird decide to be elsewhere.
Avinia and Felin commented with increasing irritation how far out of their way Lusi was taking them.
Finally, from quite a distance, they could make out another ‘bubble’ wall. They simply flew right through it and carried on. The sensation this time was only a slight tingling feeling. ‘Why is this a Conjunction and not an Interface? I don’t see any difference,’ Hugh observed.
‘Conjunctions are between Rings, and Interfaces are between different lands like Terra and Breena, or Darx and Terra, or Darx and Breena,’ Felin explained.
‘He’s followed us through!’ Avinia suddenly exclaimed, pointing up in some surprise. Sure enough, the eagle was still on escort duty.
This was just as well, because the ground they were now flying over had far more large (to them, very large) animals than those in Glim Ring. There were some kudu and eland, a group of rhino, and another of elephants. They swooped down alongside these for a closer look. ’These really make me feel tiny,’ Tye said a bit sourly.
With the increased traffic on the ground it was reasonable to expect more in the air, too, and indeed the eagle had to do quite a few swoops to discourage some of the larger flying snack-seekers. Even some of the smaller ones, actually, who tended to regard Pip as a tempting morsel.
‘This is great!’ Hugh enthused hugely. ‘What a wonderful way to go game-spotting!’ Tye showed no evidence of sharing his delight, even when a beautiful leopard was spotted - in more ways than one - up in a tree. Felin insisted on hovering for a while to admire the sight, and Hugh got a feeling of familiarity about something, but he wasn’t sure of what or why.
After many hours of flying, they rather abruptly came across another ‘wall’, but this one was different from the previous one in a way hard to define. The ‘feel’ of it was more like that of the original through which they had entered Glim Ring. They landed at the base of it, near to a ring of flowers of small mountain varieties. Felin and Avinia stared fixedly at this for some time. Then, together, they looked at one another and shrugged. ‘I’ll take a look; a look,’ said Avinia and vanished through the barrier.
‘Why all this secrecy?’ Hugh asked with some irritation. ‘Who are we meeting - or expecting to meet but not meeting, as the case may be?’
Felin shrugged again. ‘We don’t know – only that we would find Lusi by Trace Link somewhere between here and our route straight to the palace, and that she would have him with her after getting him used to being in Faie form.’
‘This is completely silly,’ Tye snapped, and wandered off to get a closer look at the eagle, now settled in the topmost branches of an acacia and looking agitated at no longer seeing Avinia. He looked extremely relieved when she popped back into sight again, but now there was another rather different-looking Glow with her. That is, her light was the same as theirs, even though her complexion wasn’t. She was dark-skinned, but in the African sense rather than the Darxen one. Her clothes were brightly coloured, and mostly made out of what looked like tiny beads.
‘He won’t come; simply won’t come!’ Avinia wailed, and then added, waving an arm to indicate each, ‘Felin, Hugh, and that’s Tyrentia over there; this is Lusi.’
Lusi had given a start when looking at Hugh. ‘You!’ she exclaimed.
‘Yes?’ Hugh responded, a bit bewildered.
‘You Hugh!’ she said excitedly. ‘You the other one! He know you; maybe he follow you!’ She grabbed his arm and yanked him towards the barrier. ‘Come Between; quick, before he run away fright again!’
Going through, he could sense that there was no option of returning to his boy form through this ‘wall’. Here, he could only remain Between. He found himself in another circle of similar flowers to those they had just left. This was high on a hillside, with what looked like some hazy huts lower down and in the valley, and rolling hills which reminded him of the area beyond Kranzton.
Another hazy thing was the large human figure staring down at him in a mixture of horror and fascination. It wasn’t hazy enough not to make out who it was, though. Dengana was quite clearly recognisable, and as he in turn looked more closely at Hugh his eyes and mouth opened even wider than they had already been.
‘He do know you!’ Lusi nodded. ‘You can show him come!’
It was obvious that Dengana had been able to recognise him in his present form, but was still uncertain and afraid. Hugh beckoned insistently a number of times, but the other boy simply shook his head. ‘He maybe think you tokoloshe pretend to be you,’ Lusi said. ‘What can do?’
Hugh had a sudden inspiration. He tried to break off a stalk from one of the taller flowers, but couldn’t get a grip on it properly while Between, so shot back and fetched one from the other side. It was somewhat stick-like according to his present scale, and he held it in the stick-fighting ‘ready’ pose Dengana had taught him when they had played together. Then he launched into the special war-dance the two of them had worked out, and ended up by making another sweeping ‘come’ gesture.
This time, after a long pause, Dengana gave a nod. When they passed through the ‘bubble’ again, they could see he was following.
It came as no surprise to them when he arrived with them on the other side in a form the same size as theirs. It was also no surprise that he was in the same sort of sensory overload state as they had been when first coming here.
‘Yie-yie-yie-yie! Hau! I grow down to small!’ he yelped.
‘No you haven’t; I can see you are High Prince size,’ Hugh laughed.
‘Highest Prince,’ Felin corrected
‘You haven’t really shrunk, as such; not as such,’ said Avinia, ‘You’ve simply taken on your Faie form.’ She and Felin between them then launched, almost word-for-word, into the lecture they had delivered to Hugh and Tye on their own arrival.
Tye had returned from the now relieved-looking eagle and was regarding Dengana with great curiosity. ‘Oh, so you’re the Dengana person who saw bad tokoloshes at Old Frogs,’ she said. This, from someone he had never set eyes on before, didn’t exactly help him to get to grips with his present situation.
When Avinia reached the part of her recital which ran, ‘Gradually, you’ll probably continue your Adapting. You’ll continue. Then you’ll sense things more as they really are …’ Tye decided to be helpful.
‘Of course, you won’t be understanding a word of all this,’ she butted in pompously. ‘You don’t need to. You can just see what you see and hear what you hear, and fly with wings even if you aren’t.’
Dengana blinked at her. ‘I understand good,’ he said. ‘You think I stupid? The way we see things now not quite right, but is best way we understand them.’ Tye gaped, and made some quick mental gear-changes. Pip sensed her discomfiture and snarled at Dengana, who jumped backwards in fright.
Meanwhile, to one side, Lusi was talking to Hugh. ‘I have happiness you thought of doing that with the stick,’ she declared. ‘I keep trying to get him to follow me days ago in this-side time, but he afraid. So now he not know all he should know about Breena by time we get to Highest Majesty.’
‘He’ll soon learn,’ Tye, on her way back to look at an eagle, said crossly to Lusi. ‘He’s a real smarty-pants.’
‘How did she understand Zulu?’ Hugh wondered.
Lusi looked at him in surprise. ‘Everyone talking Zulu here now, all the time,’ she said.
‘Oh, it must be one of those funny things about this land,’ Hugh said. ‘Everybody hears things in their own languages or the language you expect to hear it in, if you know it well enough.’ He stopped to think whether that made any sense, and added doubtfully, ‘Or something like that.’
After taking everything except Pip remarkably calmly at first, Dengana had a lot of difficulty with the concept of flying. His wings knew what to do, but his mind didn’t want them to do it. Every time he took off, he uttered horrified cries and came down again abruptly. So abruptly that a couple of times his end ended up on the ground – or, rather, down on the ground.
‘We need to be moving; moving,’ Avinia said impatiently. ‘Let’s walk until he settles in.’
They set off briskly, while a rather disgruntled-looking eagle took to following them in bursts between perches, as he had an apparent objection to settling on the ground. There was open, mainly grassy terrain, so he had to do some circling between trees.
‘If we’re going to have our aerial escort for any length of time,’ Hugh smiled, ‘maybe we should give him a name.’
‘Of course he already has a name; a name,’ Avinia said. ‘He is Katha.’ The sound came out to Hugh as ‘Carter’ without pronouncing the ‘r’.
‘Hi, Katha!’ he called, giving a wave, and the bird dipped a wing and responded with one of his ‘Ca-wee’ calls.
Lusi moved up alongside, looking from him to Dengana. ‘So near, for you both, with the big cat,’ she blurted. ‘Why you not see?’ Dengana gave another reaction like his Pip-snarl one. ‘I see tokoloshe tell leopard not eat me,’ he said.
Hugh gave a jump of his own. ‘I did think I saw something …’ he said. ‘You were there?’
She nodded. ‘It is part I visit when I go through Interface to Land of Big People. Dengana he see me but he afraid. You not see me, and I …’ she clapped a hand to her mouth suddenly. ‘I say too much. Queen want I must wait to tell you.’
‘Did you see the … bees?’ he asked. She nodded, but then would say no more. ‘Can I tell Dengana about that?’ he asked, and she nodded again.
Halfway through the bee recital, when it got to the ‘attack’ part, Hugh absentmindedly took off for a short flight, and Dengana was so enthralled that he followed without thinking. That meant that, not too long afterward, they were making good speed through the air again, now directly toward their meeting with The Queen of Queens.
They would have made even better speed, had they not needed to wait every now and again for an incessantly-chatting Lusi and Dengana to catch up.