Chapter 9 Respite
A hasty tent was manufactured and erected in the center of the clearing, and a comfortable bed was created for Jen to rest in, as Ayla and her healing staff attended to her day and night.
Mr. Anderson and the Carter girls made their fire circle and their lean-to, but the clearing was like an oasis of loveliness in a desert of ugliness. The tall straight trees shed a dappled green light into the clearing, and Mowbry’s bird friends were constantly flying in and out with reports of the activities of the forest, most of them utterly benign. “A fish was found struggling to get up the stream, many trees away toward the evening sunward.” As far as intelligence value went, it was rubbish. They did find that the hograths returned to their cavern, and it was strongly suspected they were trying to make a new queen. An ordinary hograth larva was fed with a special substance called royal jelly, and when she emerged from her brood cell she would be the queen. So security was very, very tight around Princess Nallah, because it was widely known that she was the only Royal in the vicinity.
Mr. Anderson, despite his weariness from so much exercise of his new found talent, spent most of his time by Jen’s side, sitting on a stool that Bucspat created for him by enlarging a mushroom. She was breathing fine, and her heart rate was good. She had a good, strong pulse, but she remained unconscious. He held her hand and prayed, or he talked to her, telling her all of his thoughts, despite the presence of the healers.
“I shouldn’t have taken you into this realm. I should have left you behind, and your friends, too. I know that somewhere your mother is looking down at me and crying, because I put you in danger. If we ever get out of here, I promise never to put you in harm’s way again.” He said many other things, too, sometimes just babbling about home, about life when his wife was alive, about Jen’s first steps and all of the cute things she did as a baby.
He checked his phone periodically to see if Eric had sent him any new messages, doubtful that he would see anything, but hoping beyond hope that he would. He was ever disappointed.
“She will get better,” Julie assured him, as they sat by the campfire the next evening.
“She’s one of the strongest kids I know,” Gina added.
“Dame Jennifer is a very special giant. I recognized that long ago,” Princess Nallah also attempted to comfort Mr. Anderson. “And she is in the best of hands.”
“She’s had a tough time, but she is the only person I know who has been eaten by hograth larvae and lived to tell the tale,” Mowbry tried to be reassuring. “She is destined for greatness.”
Mr. Anderson reclined wearily on his mattress of leaves and space blankets, and closed his eyes for a moment. He felt so exhausted! He only wanted to take a quick wink of sleep so he could resume his position beside Jen’s bedside. He wanted to be sure he was right by her side, holding her hand when she finally awoke.
The fairies, as was their way, spent their time in the trees, making temporary nests where they could nestle down and sleep in safety and peace. It was twilight when Mr. Anderson heard a rustling in the bushes near the spring that did not sound like the wind, and he opened one eye to see if he could spot the source. His eye detected movement and he focused on that point, and a strange little goat appeared, standing upright, and looking around cautiously. Then, satisfied that the area was safe, he dropped his fore-hooves to the ground and took long, thirst quenching gulps of water directly from the spring. He gave a low belch and muttered “Excuse me,” under his breath, stood back up on his hind legs and wiped his mouth with the wrist of his fore-hoof.
“What are you?” Mr. Anderson asked, startling the poor creature into a dead faint.
Mr. Anderson stood up and walked over to the inert beast, and examined him closely. He looked exactly like an ordinary brown goat, with large ears and short horns, but he also seemed to have slightly misshapen hips. “That’s a faun,” Princess Nallah told him, coming out of a tree.
“Do they talk?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“Not usually,” she admitted.
“I find your homeland strange, Your Highness,” he said. “First the hograth queen and now this creature have both talked to me.”
“You spoke with a hograth?” Princess Nallah asked.
“Yes, and she wasn’t very pleasant.”
Budrick, Bucspat, Mowbry and Lefty all joined them, examining the little goat. Princess Nallah thought about it for a minute. “It seems that someone around here has the talent for rapport,” she surmised. “That’s the only thing that can explain it.”
“What do you mean by ‘rapport?’” Mr. Anderson asked.
“The ability to communicate with anybody or anything. It’s an innate gift, a talent, that when that person is nearby everyone within hearing distance can communicate. It is very rare. It is similar to Maylu’s ability to communicate with sea life, or Mowbry’s rapport with fowl, but it affects everybody.”
“Like Eric’s communicator?”
“Just so,” the princess nodded.
“Who could it be?” Julie asked.
“Where did you come from?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“We were only on the other side of that tree, Mr. Anderson,” Gina answered. “We didn’t want to wander too far, especially in this strange land.”
“Oh, please don’t hurt me!” the faun said, rousing out of his paralysis.
“We have no intention of hurting you,” Mowbry said.
“Why did you faint?” Mr. Anderson asked.
The faun rolled over and got to his feet, then pulled himself erect and upright on his hind legs, and straightened his posture to make him seem as tall as possible, which wasn’t very tall at all. His horns barely made it any higher than Mr. Anderson’s belt buckle. “Nervous condition,” he explained. “Family trait. My mother had it, my father had it, and all of my siblings have it.”
“A fainting faun,” Mr. Anderson marveled.
“Go ahead, make fun of me like all the rest. I can take it,” the faun said.
“Do you have a name?” Gina asked.
“Of course I have a name. Do you?” the faun retorted.
“My name is Gina. What is yours?”
“Bleat,” the faun said.
“That’s your name?” Julie snickered.
“Now you are making fun of my name! You are terrible, terrible creatures. I never meet anyone decent around here!”
“Then why do you live here?” Gina asked.
“It is my home. Yes, it is possible to hate your home, but still call it home. This hideous forest is where I was born, and probably where I will die.” The testy little faun was about as gloomy a creature as either of the Carter girls had ever met.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Julie asked, and Princess Nallah suppressed a giggle.
“Where are you going?” Bleat asked.
Julie pointed to the top of the black mountains. “We are going to fight the emperor,” she said.
Bleat fainted again.
“I really doubt that he would be much use to us,” Mowbry observed.
“I think you are correct,” Mr. Anderson replied.
“Actually, he might be a useful addition to our army,” the princess thought aloud.
“How so, Your Highness?” Budrick asked.
“Well, there is a story one of my tutors taught me, about how the giants would take a fairy in a cage down into dark mines, and if the fairy died, they knew it was dangerous to be there,” she recited.
“Canary, not fairy,” Mr. Anderson corrected. “Dangerous gases would kill the canary so the men knew to get out of there.”
“You giants have a very different view of history,” she said.
“We have a very different curriculum in school,” he replied.
The faun awoke again, “You are still here,” he muttered, as if he expected them to be gone – as any decent figment of his imagination should be. Again he pulled himself up to stand on his hind feet. “You would not believe what I thought I heard you say. I thought you said you were going to fight the emperor.”
“Are you with us?” Julie asked.
“Are you mad? The man is evil incarnate. He would kill the lot of you. I know your people don’t like killing, but killing is what has been going on, and a lot of it, too. He is rounding up dragons. Dragons! For what purpose I can only speculate,” the chatty little faun summarized.
“We saw that from the deck of the Scoundrel,” Mr. Anderson said.
“Why do you think he is rounding up dragons?” Mowbry asked.
The faun shook his head and blinked a few times at him. “I believe he wants to train them as weapons for his army.”
“You can’t tame a dragon!” Princess Nallah scoffed.
Mowbry shrugged. “I don’t know if anyone has ever been foolish enough to try. We’ll keep it in mind as we moved forward.”
The healer woman Ayla crossed the clearing to them. “Sir Dave?” she interrupted. “She’s awake. She’s asking for you.”
Mr. Anderson departed abruptly, walking stiffly to the tent. He felt a little ashamed of himself for not being there when Jen awoke. He had spent so many hours by her side, holding her hand and talking to her. It was the third day in the clearing, and despite spending so much time, she chose to come out of her coma when he was not around.
“Jen, sweetheart, how do you feel?”
“Bees!” Jen cringed. “I never thought I would be terrified of bees!” Her voice was weak, her hair was wet and she seemed to be running a low-grade fever, but she was alive and awake, and miraculously in one piece. “What did I miss?”
“Aside from a pretty exciting battle with the hograths, not much. We have been camping out in a quiet glade in the middle of the dark forest.” He pulled up his mushroom and sat next to her. He ran his fingers through her hair, and she appreciated it very much. “Everyone has been praying for you,” he told her.
“I thank them very much.”
“We’ve got an odd goat creature we startled trying to drink from the spring.”
“How odd?” she asked.
“Well, he tells us he’s a faun, but he’s really an upright fainting goat.”
“How do you know he’s a fainting goat?”
“Because he keeps fainting. He says its a family trait.”
“You are making that up,” she smiled.
“No, you can meet him if you like. His name is Bleat.”
Jen giggled weakly. “I don’t believe you at all.”
“Stay right here. I will be right back,” he smoothed her hair out and kissed her on the forehead, then stepped back out of the tent. He returned a moment later with a short goat walking upright next to him.
“Bleat, this is Jen. Jen, say hello to Bleat.”
Jen was amazed at the walking goat. “I am so pleased to meet you, Mr. Bleat.”
“Bah,” the goat bleated. The expression on his face was one of wonder and confusion.
“I understand you speak our language,” Jen tried again.
“Bah, bah.” Bleat was as confused at the communication issue as anyone else. “Bah, ...is so frustrating! I understood you just a minute ago, and now you sound like a group of monkeys!”
“Mind if we come in?” Julie asked, standing in the doorway.
“Not too many at once,” Ayla said.
“Just for a minute, please?” Gina begged.
“Only for a moment,” Ayla consented.
The girls stepped on either side of her bed, while Daddy resumed his position on the mushroom.
“Hey! I can understand you now!” Bleat declared.
“And we can understand you!” Jen responded. “You sounded like an ordinary goat when you first came in here.”
“Whoever has the rapport must be within hearing distance,” Daddy said.
“What are you talking about, Mr. Anderson?” Julie asked.
“Princess Nallah and Mowbry were saying that someone around here has a special talent for rapport, allowing interspecies communication.”
“I don’t follow you,” Gina said.
“So, according to the fairies, this talent only manifests itself when someone with the talent is nearby, within hearing distance. At those times anyone else within hearing distance can hear and understand, and even participate in interspecies conversations. We had no problem talking to Bleat over by the spring, but when we first came over here we couldn’t understand anything he said.”
“And these people sounded like a pack of baboons,” Bleat affirmed.
“How weird!” Gina exclaimed.
“So how long have we been here?” Jen asked.
“Only a couple of days,” Julie answered. “You were eaten by a maggot, you know. We thought you were a goner.”
“Totally!” Gina affirmed.
“Well, I’m still alive, let’s get going.” Jen tried to sit upright, but slumped back into her bed immediately with effort.
“You are not going anywhere, young lady,” Mr. Anderson put a hand on her shoulder and pinned her down into the bed.
“But the war,” Jen objected, trying – and failing – to get up.
“I think she’s had quite enough excitement for one day,” Ayla said, standing imposingly by the bed. “Perhaps you should leave.”
“It was a pleasure meeting you,” Bleat said, bowing politely before he stepped out.
“We won’t have a war without you,” Julie said.
“Get better or I will beat you up,” Gina clenched her fist threateningly, then patted her gently on the ankle.
“You should go as well, Sir Dave,” Ayla addressed Mr. Anderson.
“But I am her father,” he countered.
“And you need your rest as well. There will be precious little in the coming days,” the head healer advised. “Worry not. She is in good hands.”