Another Hero's Journey: Part Eleven
Melissa heaved as she carried a bag that held all of the clothes and things she had brought over while staying at Tala’s to recover from her shock of hearing that her older son had run out on her. The white Blumaroo followed her red Aisha companion, the healer named Tala, as they followed a meandering path through the woods at the base of the mountain range that cut them off from the rest of Meridell.
“What about those who were left behind?” asked Tala. “They’ll need my help!”
“They could have followed us, but they didn’t. For now, let’s mind our own skins,” replied an old blue Draik sagely, flying overhead to see if there was anyone following them.
“I see... I see a shadow Shoyru headed our way, and under him’s a little yellow Cybunny –”
“Is that my Cleo?” a rainbow Cybunny couldn’t help wondering aloud.
“And – hold on, Mel, you won’t believe this! I think they’re with your son!”
The white Blumaroo stopped in her tracks. “Ogden, you had better not be joking at a time like this. What would he be –”
“I see them! It’s Dark and Cleo!” exclaimed Jovan, the blue Ixi. His daughter, an orange Ixi named Joan, turned around and pointed upward at the Shoyru flying over them. Then they heard a loud, clear voice, a voice that Melissa had wanted to hear for several days, a voice that she never thought would hear at a time like this...
“Stop! Stop! Where are you going?”
“Mother – is that you?”
Melissa cut through the crowd, suddenly filled with renewed strength. She didn’t stop until she clasped her son to her chest for the first time in ages, tears streaming down her cheeks and onto Reuben’s ears. But the younger white Blumaroo couldn’t help crying a bit himself. He did miss his mother, but before the real waterworks would begin, there was some other work to do.
“Oh, Reuben... you had me worried...”
“Wait,” he said, breaking away from the older Blumaroo, “so you’re headed for the mountains because of the bandits, right?”
“Why else?” demanded Ogden the Draik, small irritable plumes of smoke rising from his nostrils. “Those guys are trouble. I’ve heard of them... they’ve gone through Meri Acres once, back when they were a slightly bigger gang. Even so, a small village like Trestin would –”
Reuben cut him off. “Don’t you understand? You can’t just leave our village like this! We have to protect it, because it’s our home, and they’re wrecking it for their own gains. There’s a group right now trying to hold them off, and they’re going to get the rest of the villagers to fight. If we all fight, then we can drive them away for good, because they won’t think about attacking a village with teeth!”
“We’ll make a new home in the mountains of Meridell, a quieter, more peaceful one,” Melissa assured him, patting his back. “I think he’s just had a hard time...”
“No, Mother,” he told her firmly, despite the many eyes and ears that followed him, including little Cleo, back in her parents’ arms, and Dark, who was urging him on. “We can’t run away like this all the time. What if something like this happens again in the future? Do we flee again, like the cowards we are now? Trestin’s got so used to the isolated life away from most of the danger, and this just goes to show that danger doesn’t handpick its victims.”
Jovan glanced down at his crossbow. “The boy’s got a point.”
“What if we all get killed and plundered till even the clothes on our backs have been stolen?” asked Cleo’s mother, the rainbow Cybunny.
“It’s an entire village against one group of mounted bandits,” said Dark, swooping down beside Reuben. “And I would be very saddened if I saw the Trestin that cared for me, a spy, torn to shreds.”
The white Blumaroo turned to his mother and said quietly, “And what if Rohane comes home and sees nothing but ruins? He’ll be disappointed... everything he’s done, in Father’s name and in our name, would be for naught. Even Father would be disappointed, and he’d be sad, seeing his family suffering and defenseless.”
“They’re mean,” whimpered Cleo. “I don’t like them stomping around Trestin. It’s not nice.”
“’Not nice’ doesn’t even begin to cover it,” commented the shadow Shoyru. “Do it for your real home, your family, your friends... your life. Do you really want to spend the rest of your days scrounging for food on the forest floor, making your homes in trees and ducking every time a wild Bearog comes around to feed?”
“And we’ll all do it together,” said Reuben. “Some will be on the sidelines, healing...” Here he winked at Tala and her daughter Liwanag – “some will be doing some real fighting...”
“It might even be fun,” said Dark, trying to inject a little humor into their situation. “So, what do you think?”
The refugees from Trestin began whispering among themselves. The blue Draik gathered up some of the elders and huddled, while the Shoyru and Blumaroo waited with bated breath. But Melissa couldn’t help whispering to Reuben, “I don’t want to lose you again.”
“If we help each other out, we won’t lose anyone,” he assured her. Not this time, he added mentally.
* * *
Back in Trestin, the battle raged on with Omar and his family against the bandits. But this time, the shoppers and sellers in the market had managed to grab wooden clubs, knives, axes and other things they could use as weapons. The just side was increasing very gradually in number. But it was still a challenge to take down a bandit mounted on a Uni, so they attempted the strategy of striking the Uni first and making sure that his or her rider would sustain a very bad fall.
Some of the bandits, all of them already injured in some way, were tied up by the more reluctant market folk, and Olivia helped by threatening them with her precarious vines.
“You have a way with words, Andrea,” Devin said with admiration as he picked up a bandit’s blade and brandished it menacingly.
“I’m glad to be of service,” said the red Kyrii. She glanced up and looked around her surroundings, ready to cast a simple hex. “Wait... they’re running away. Look, Devin, some of the bandits are already headed for the hills! They’re mounting and trotting off to those hills in the west!”
“Besides the ones we’ve already bound and gagged to make sure they couldn’t get away?”
“Yeah, and check out what made them so scared!”
Andrea smiled as she watched a huge crowd – the missing villagers – marching into Trestin wielding a variety of weapons from large fallen branches to bows, from stones to swords, led proudly by a shadow Shoyru and a white Blumaroo, both armed with knives. She didn’t know who the Shoyru was, but she didn’t have to look twice to figure out who his companion was.
“Reuben’s here and he’s got the party!” exclaimed Devin, wounding a bandit in the shoulder – the infuriating white Kyrii. The green Kacheek wasted no time in tying the Kyrii up.
The villagers poured into the heart of Trestin and headed for the marketplace as Devin dragged his captive away. Since many of the bandits had decided to stay and duke it out with everyone else, it wasn’t over yet. Reuben and Dark threw themselves into the battle, with several others following their lead. More of the enemy broke away and fled as well as the large group stormed the market, as many as eight or nine ganging up on a single bandit, mounted or otherwise.
But Trestin wasn’t about to let a single bandit escape. Some villagers surprised those who tried to flee, and instantly took them down.
* * *
With the entirety of Trestin armed and ready (and itching) for combat and helping out Reuben’s cave comrades and the market, it didn’t take long for the bandits to fall. As Reuben put back his knife, he felt something soft and velvety brush against his fingers. He drew a small faerie doll out from his pocket and remembered Cleo, hoping that she and her parents were still safe, but there was a big possibility of that.
“Did we... really do it?” asked Omar. “Everyone’s tied up in a market stall, and they’re keeping watch.”
Pocketing the toy and making a mental note to give it back to the Cybunny girl, Reuben followed the brown Lupe to a stall in the marketplace, where Olivia, Devin and Andrea stood guard. The purple Lupe seer looked up briefly and waved mildly at Reuben.
“I see you’ve probably found your destiny,” she remarked. “Indeed, it’s got strange ways of hinting and prodding at its disposal, not just nature.”
The white Blumaroo grinned. “Miss Olivia, you were too right. Guess I really wasn’t meant to run after my brother, ‘cause there were probably other things waiting for me here. And bingo – there were.”
While the purple Lupe and the green Kacheek conversed with four of the captive bandits, probably discussing their atonement, Andrea the red Kyrii, was pale in the face and looked extremely astonished.
“What’s wrong?” asked the Blumaroo. “Didn’t expect me to come back alive?” he joked.
“Not that,” said Andrea, watching the turquoise necklace shining from Reuben’s neck. “That Kyrii bandit... he’s my brother. He’s Ruben. We found him.”
The white Blumaroo and the white Kyrii gazed at each other for one lingering minute. He hadn’t noticed during the battle, but Ruben had the same thoughtful, solemn look that Andrea often wore when she wrote, or talked about something serious. Among the captured, he was the one who looked the most apologetic.
“Andy...” he rasped so softly that only Reuben and Andrea heard him. “Andy... forgive me. I was lost these years...”
“No... I’m sorry. I lost all hope of finding you,” said the red Kyrii, crouching down and embracing her brother.
“I promise to make up for all the things I’ve done for so long,” answered Ruben. “I promise...” He broke down and began to sob softly into Andrea’s shoulder, and Reuben couldn’t help but brush a tear away from his own eye, remembering his own younger brother.
And speaking of which...
“I have to find Dark,” he told the female Kyrii, who was patting a sobbing Ruben. “Dark said Rohane sent me a message. I have to know what it is.”
“Who’s Dark?” asked Andrea curiously. “I’ll be back in a sec, Ruben.” She brushed his disheveled mane away from his eyes before following the white Blumaroo as they searched for the shadow Shoyru spy around the village. The raid wasn’t as bad as expected, but there would be some repairs to be done, especially for houses hit by arrows, stones and stray magic spells.
Reuben was spared the work of finding Dark Hope, when the Shoyru swooped down beside him, clutching a piece of paper. He didn’t have to tell the Blumaroo what it was.
To: Mother and Reuben:
Written from White River
Sent to Trestin, Kingdom of Meridell
This entire message is in code.
Reuben recognized the code instantly when he read the sentence at the back, having known the code by heart.
My quest is for you and for Father.
“I’m not going to cry... I’m not going to cry... to heck with it!” Reuben felt his lower lip tremble and began to shake with suppressed sobs. Andrea put a reassuring arm around his shoulder as he opened the letter and began to read.
To be continued...