Flying is for the Birds
Wasting no time, Brashani increased the heat to the canvas bag. In response, the basket rose higher. The figures on the ground released another boulder from their catapult. It flew through the air, grazed the bottom of the flying machine, and fell back to earth. Evan watched as the figures fired their weapon a few more times. Each attempt bore the same result: the rock they launched sailed high into the air but it never reached the flying basket. The flying contraption was higher in the sky now and out of range. Evan breathed a sigh of relief.
James wiped his brow. “Phew! That was a close call.”
“Yes,” said Evan. “How do you feel?”
“Surprisingly good. The unexpected attack from the ground seems to have done the trick. Or maybe the nuts Iriel gave me are finally working.”
Evan hoped it was the latter. He had seen it before: a sudden fright helped cure an ailment for a short time only to have the symptoms return later. But if James’s issues were resolved for the moment, Evan wasn’t going to say anything to spoil it. He pushed past James to stand next to Iriel.
“How are you holding out?” asked Evan.
“I am well,” said Iriel. “I know a few Qua’ril techniques to control the pain. But I could rest now.”
“All right. Rest your hands.” Evan took the magic stick from her.
“Thank you,” she said, and moved to the south side of the basket as Evan stepped over to the western edge. He squeezed the wind maker and propelled the craft forward.
Iriel put a hand on James’s arm. “Are you well? You worried me more than once.”
“Sorry, love,” the bard replied. “I didn’t mean to, but I wasn’t feeling myself.”
“Stay away from the edge of the basket.”
“That’s hard to do. It’s tight quarters in here.”
“I know, but …”
James smiled at her. “If you are worried about a relapse, don’t be. I don’t plan to look over the edge until we land.”
Iriel hugged James and whispered into his ear, “I hope we never experience an ordeal like that again. I love you too much to think about losing you.”
James kissed her lightly on the lips. “I love you, too. And I’m not going anywhere.”
Iriel smiled at James and hugged him again.
They flew on for several minutes, peaceful for the first time since setting a course east. James picked up his whip, coiled it up again, and affixed it to his belt. In the distance, they heard honking. Evan turned to look, but he recognized the sound before he even moved: geese were approaching.
Daniel confirmed Evan’s assumption a minute later. “There’s a large gaggle of geese coming this way.”
Now Evan saw them too. They were in a classic V formation and were pointed directly at them. Evan felt like cursing. Hadn’t they had enough obstacles to overcome so far on this trip?
“Increase the heat, Brashani,” said Evan. “Let’s try to go over them.”
“Okay, but I can’t add too much or the canvas will smolder again.”
Brashani concentrated and the basket rose higher in the sky. “That’s the best I can do,” claimed the wizard.
“Let’s hope it’s enough,” replied Evan.
They heard the geese flapping their wings and honking as they passed underneath the basket. James sighed in relief when the entire basket began to shake. Iriel and her companions fell on top of each other. Evan lost his grip on the wind maker; he heard it clatter onto the transformed wicker floor as he collapsed on top of Brashani. The flying basket came to a stop, hung in the air, and swung back and forth like an inverted metronome. Feathers sprayed up and into the basket next to Daniel. The teen pulled himself up using the side of the basket and looked over the edge. There, on the other side of the wicker, was a bloody smear and the carcass of a goose falling toward the ground. Hearing something above him, Daniel crouched down. Two geese had flown into the basket and were caught in the ropes.
The flying machine shook violently as the birds tried to free themselves. Evan and Brashani tried to stand and failed. The basket was shaking too much. Evan tried again and frustration turned his face red. Concern that the ropes might break grew in the wizard’s mind.
Iriel reached up from her position in the bottom of the basket and grabbed one of the geese. It turned its head and bit her hard. Instinctively, she snatched her hand back and rubbed it for a minute. She gritted her teeth and narrowed her green eyes on the bird before she tried again; this time she aimed for the goose’s neck. The goose squawked as Iriel seized it; she rose to a crouched position and tossed it out over the side. It floundered for a moment before it recovered and flew after its flock.
The other goose flapped its wings a few times and sprayed feathers over James, who withdrew into the southwest corner of the basket. Daniel, still crouching, moved past Iriel, Brashani, and Evan, grasped the goose from underneath, and stood up in a single, fluid motion. In response, the goose flapped harder and hit Daniel a few times in the face with its wings. However, the lad was not deterred. He pivoted, forced the goose out into the open sky, and then released his hold. The goose continued to flap its wings and, as soon as Daniel loosened his grip, it flew away toward the other geese.
The basket’s gyrations diminished and the goose feathers settled. Daniel returned to the eastern side of the basket.
Evan spit a few feathers from his mouth and stood. “Nice job, Iriel and Daniel. Let’s get moving again.”
“Yes, please,” said Daniel.
Evan grabbed the wind maker from the basket floor and squeezed it.
James brushed goose feathers from his shirt and trousers. “Now I know how a pillow feels.”
Brashani stood and examined the ropes for fraying. “I should have strengthened the ropes too.”
“Are they intact?” asked Evan.
“They appear to be. Guess we were lucky,” the wizard replied.
“You call that luck?” James asked. He spit out some feathers and eyed the fire mage.
“Nothing else but. These ropes have held despite all we’ve been through. They might have snapped.”
“Well,” replied Evan. “Lucky or not, let’s hope that other flying creatures will avoid us.”
“We’re high enough to avoid most birds,” observed the wizard.
“What about dragons and rocs and other large-winged monsters?” asked James.
“Dragons are extinct,” said Brashani.
“And most of the other creatures roam and hunt among the mountains northwest of here. They haven’t been seen in this area for centuries,” said Evan.
“Good,” said James. “I’ve had enough excitement on this trip for awhile.”
Evan agreed with that sentiment.
A wind from the east began to stir.
“We’re slowing down,” reported Daniel.
Evan noticed it too. Squeezing the wind maker harder didn’t help much. He needed a different approach.
Sailors, he realized, had the same problem when they tried to sail into the wind. Their solution was to sail at an angle to the wind. Evan didn’t know whether that would work, but it was worth a try.
“James, let me stand in the corner.”
“Sure,” replied the bard.
As Evan moved, the basket’s direction shifted and its forward movement increased. Soon they were flying along, heading northeast.
“You did it,” said Daniel, smiling. “We’re moving again.”
“Yes,” said Evan. “Until the wind shifts again.”
The priest tried to gauge five minutes and then he moved into the northwest corner of the basket. The basket slowed briefly and then flew off to the southeast.
Back and forth, from one corner to another Evan moved, tacking against the wind for half an hour; then, unable to hold the wind maker any longer, he let Daniel take over. The lad continued to use the same tacking maneuver until the east wind finally stopped. Then he resumed his position on the west side of the basket.
“Should we be sinking?” Daniel asked Brashani.
“No. I’m maintaining a constant heat flow.”
“Then why is the ground getting closer?” Daniel pointed.
Brashani and Evan looked over the edge and saw that Daniel was right. The ground was closer than it should have been.
“What do you think is wrong?” asked Evan.
“Well, since I’m heating the air at a constant rate, my first guess is there’s a leak.”
They both paused and looked up at the inflated canvas bag above them. It appeared to be as full of air as before. Brashani closed his eyes, concentrated for a moment, and listened intently. At first he heard nothing unusual; only a bird’s cry and the faint whirl of the wind maker. Then a faint hissing sound reached him.
It stopped. Then it repeated. Then it stopped again.
Looking up, Brashani examined the seams of the canvas bag and said, “Some of the stitching isn’t holding.” He pointed. Evan followed the mage’s finger and saw that some of the threads in the canvas stitching were loose.
“We are slowly leaking air,” said Evan.
“And if we don’t do something about the leak,” said Brashani, “we’ll crash.”
Evan heard the concern in his voice and shared it. “What can we do? There’s no way to stitch the canvas back together again while we are in the air.”
Brashani nodded his head in agreement. “True, but we could try to mend the fabric together.”
“Magically repairing the canvas would be better,” offered Iriel.
“Better, how?” said Evan.
“It’s permanent,” replied the elf. “Mending items lasts ten minutes. Twenty with luck.”
“But I don’t know how to repair items magically,” said Brashani. “I can only fuse things together so we’ll have to make do.”
“Can you repeatedly fuse the fabric together?” asked Evan.
“Of course,” replied the wizard.
“Then if the bag leaks again, mend the canvas again. We have to keep going or the gem is lost.”
“Understood,” acknowledged Brashani. “But each time I use magic, it weakens me. The more magic I use now, the less use I’ll be later.”
“That can’t be helped. If we crash, there won’t be a later.”
While they spoke, the ground loomed closer. They were near the treetops. Brashani concentrated and willed the canvas to stick together, as if glued. Then he began heating the air in the canvas bag again. Slowly they rose.
Evan looked doubtfully at the canvas bag above him and prayed that this repair would last long enough to find the gem.