Goldrun, Revisited: Part Four
Ellie and Victor were led down into the native camp. Around the various campfires, at least two dozen small tents had been pitched up. The curious tents were of a design Victor had never seen before, almost looking like small canvas Gebmids like the ones he had seen in the Lost Desert on his way there. The party of natives stopped outside one of the tents, and the Tonu disappeared within.
A moment later, he emerged, followed by a yellow Moehog. She didn’t wear the same feather headdresses as the other natives; a simple pink flower was instead pinned to her hair.
A wide smile spread across the young Moehog’s face as she saw Ellie.
“Ellie!” she gasped, rushing forward and hugging the Kau. “You haven’t visited in so long!”
“You two know each other?” Victor asked.
The Moehog pulled back from Ellie and regarded Victor with curiosity.
“This is Victor, he’s an outsider,” Ellie explained. “Victor, this is Desert Flower, daughter of Big Chief Not Around. She often sneaks into town.”
Desert Flower supplied Ellie with a meaningful glare.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“We need to speak to your father; Jonas has escaped and is in the mountains,” Ellie explained.
Desert Flower nodded, and turned to the Tonu.
“Tell Big Chief Not Around that he has two guests,” she instructed.
The Tonu nodded and rushed off through the camp as the others proceeded at a more leisurely stroll.
“This is the third time this year, Ellie,” Desert Flower noted. “You really should get some better bars in your cells.”
“If only it were that simple,” Ellie replied. “Someone let him out this time. We’ll find out who once he’s safely back behind bars.”
At the centre of the camp was the biggest fire of all. Sat behind it on a lavish rug was a large yellow Moehog with the most extravagant headdress Victor had seen in the entire camp. Feathers of all colours and sizes exploded from his mane.
“Big Chief Sitting Down,” Ellie greeted him, bowing ever so slightly.
Victor copied her, while hissing, “I thought you said his name was Big Chief Not Around?”
“It was,” Ellie whispered back. “Names work differently here; you’ll pick it up.”
“Sheriff Ellie,” the Chief grunted. “What business have you in our lands?”
“Jonas Hemmity escaped my jail,” she explained. “I have reason to believe he’s in the mountains.”
“Here?” the Chief asked, standing up suddenly and beginning to pace. “You bring bad man to my lands?”
“Please, Big Chief Pacing Nervously, I will find him and take him back to Goldrun,” Ellie told him. “I believe he’s heading up into the forests, and we will pursue him, but there is a chance that he may double back on his tracks. If he does this, I need someone to be waiting at the bottom of the mountain trail to force him back upwards.”
“You would use my braves?” the Chief demanded. “You would put my people in danger?”
“Please, father,” Desert Flower interrupted, putting her hand on the larger Moehog’s arm. “The man they are hunting is dangerous, if we do not help them now, he could find his way into the camp one night and...”
Her voice trailed off, allowing her father to fill in the blank himself.
“Very well,” he conceded at last. “I will place braves on the mountain trail.”
“Thank you, Big Chief Reluctantly Agreeing,” Ellie said, bowing once more.
“It is late,” Desert Flower announced. “Won’t you stay in the camp tonight? You will be able to search better in the daylight.”
“No,” Ellie replied, shaking her head. “Like you said, he’s dangerous. The sooner we catch him, the better.”
“You will be seen back to the valley mouth,” the Chief instructed.
The Tonu guard that had led them there stood to attention, and hurried Ellie and Victor back towards where they had been found.
“He seems a little... brash,” Victor commented.
“Trust me, he’s positively charming compared to some of the people that were in charge before him,” Ellie replied.
Back at the valley’s mouth, Ellie recovered her gun belt and strapped it around her middle. Victor observed as the Tonu guard once more melted into the darkness as if he wasn’t even there.
“The moonlight should give us a little light to see by,” Ellie observed.
She paused, as if thinking of something, before taking one of the cork guns out of her holster and handing it to Victor.
“Jonas is dangerous,” she explained. “If you see him, shoot first and ask questions later.”
Victor nodded and took the weapon, putting it in his trouser pocket.
They traced their route back to the mountain trail, and Ellie once again located the set of footprints. She checked their direction before setting off up the mountain.
When Victor had heard it referred to as a mountain trail, he had expected a dirt path of some sort. It soon became clear that he was entirely mistaken. There wasn’t even the hint of a path, and the two of them were stalking through the undergrowth of a pine forest for the most part. Several times they crossed mountain streams, and Victor’s shoes were quite soaked, making grip difficult to come by on the sometimes rocky slopes.
Victor could sense nothing, other than the chill of the night air and the occasional howl of a nearby Petpet. Yet, somehow Ellie was able to keep track of this Jonas Hemmity through broken twigs, Petpets scared into flight, or the odd scuff mark on the ground. Victor finally came to understand why Ellie was the Sheriff; she was unbelievably skilled at her job. Perhaps this was why there was only one person working in the office in Goldrun – the town only needed Sheriff Ellie.
Victor had lost all sense of time, but figured it would have to be well into the early hours of the morning, when Ellie suddenly called a stop to their progress.
Ellie crouched down low, pressing herself against a large boulder.
“There’s someone on the other side,” she whispered almost silently.
Victor nodded obediently, and as if by instinct he took the cork gun out of his pocket. Ellie meanwhile began to climb the boulder, hoping to surprise the person on the other side from above. As she neared the top, she readied her gun and straightened up slightly.
Ellie seemed to have miscalculated slightly, and the dampness on her boots from the river caused her to slip. She fell from the boulder, hitting her head on the ground nearby.
“Ellie!” Victor called, rushing over to her. “Ellie, are you alright!?”
He shook the Kau, but she didn’t respond.
From around the corner the sound of rustling came, Victor’s voice having disturbed whoever it was they were intending on ambushing.
A figure emerged from around the boulder, silhouetted against the moon.
Victor instinctively held out his cork gun, shaking with nerves.
“You are you!?” he demanded.
“Names are not important,” the figure rasped, moving closer.
“I’ll shoot!” Victor screamed.
He pulled the trigger, but his shaking hands caused the cork to fire madly into the air.
The gun fell from his hands as the figure moved closer still.
“You’re going to come with me,” he ordered.
Ellie awoke to the sound of a crackling fire. The headache was the second sensation she was aware of, even before she opened her eyes.
“Lie still,” the voice of Victor said gently from nearby. “You had quite a nasty fall.”
Ellie groggily opened her eyes and pushed herself up in bed. She appeared to be in some sort of log cabin, though couldn’t remember how she had got there.
“It’s a good job you didn’t shoot him,” Victor commented. “He carried you all the way here.”
“Who did?” Ellie asked.
“He wouldn’t give his name,” Victor explained. “He’s a hermit, says he’s been living on the mountain for years. Apparently he does a little hunting, and some gold panning in the streams. I’d love to see him do it; maybe I’ll come back once we find Jonas.”
“Where is he?” Ellie asked.
“Oh, he went to get some more logs for the fire,” Victor told her, pointing to the rapidly dying embers in the fireplace. “The one thing I never understood about log cabins is why you set fires on the inside of them. Seems like a disaster waiting to happen.”
“Did ya see any sign of Jonas on the way here?” Ellie questioned, pushing herself out of bed.
“You don’t listen, do you?” Victor sighed. “I said to lie still.”
“I’ll be fine,” Ellie replied, trying successfully to stop the room spinning slightly.
“We didn’t see anything, and the hermit says he hasn’t heard anyone come up the mountains but us,” Victor added.
“Maybe Jonas circled back and met the natives,” Ellie considered. “We could have been following this hermit’s tracks all night for all we know.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t know him,” Victor observed. “You seem to know everyone in these parts.”
“Not this far up the mountain,” Ellie replied, shaking her head and immediately regretting it. “There’re loads of hunters and prospectors that live up here. They keep mostly to themselves, and it’s not as if many people venture past the native encampment.”
The door to the small log cabin opened, and Ellie’s benefactor entered, carrying a substantial pile of logs which he deposited in the rack near the fire. He threw one into the fireplace for good measure, and then turned to greet his new guest. He was a Lupe, grey in colour but covered in thick fur coats of many shades.
But he was something much more to Ellie. Her eyes widened as she recognised him.
“You’re a dead man!” she gasped.
To be continued...