Keep Your Friends Close, Your Anemones Closer: Part Five
By the time the sun saw fit to drag its weary self up over the horizon, I was already awake and preparing for the challenges the day would doubtlessly throw at me. I felt dry and flaky, the intensifying heat already sapping me of the moisture I so desperately needed.
I drew back my coat and saw that Chloe was curled up on her side, her little trunk of a nose unfurling and refurling with each gentle snore. Deciding it was safe to leave her for a while, I ventured out to the well and drew up a bucket of water. The first one got emptied out over the top of my head, as did the second one. The third I stopped to gulp from, before fishing up a fourth to take back with me to Chloe.
When I got back to the hole, I found her attempting to climb out. Snarhooks really weren’t designed for climbing either, her stubby arms virtually useless as she tried to claw her way up the sides. Admitting defeat, she flopped onto her bottom in the middle and sat looking up at me. Not wanting to give her her freedom back just yet, I decided to leave her there until I was ready to set off again.
I scooped a handful of water out of the bucket and offered it to her. I wasn’t sure whether to aim for her nose or under it, so I just held it in the general region of her face and let her do the rest. She rolled out her nose and sucked it up, then bent it under and squirted it into her mouth. Then she reached back out with her nose, patting the palm of my hand in search of more, and looked deeply upset when she found none. I refilled my hand and held it back out, and once again she lapped it up eagerly.
Once she was adequately watered, I got out the bundle of sausages I bought the day before and dropped one down into the hole for her to eat. It was rather amusing to watch, as I sat there eating my own breakfast. She tried picking it up by curling her trunk around it, but no matter which side she tried to attack it from, all she succeeded in doing was to either roll it closer to or further away from herself.
Then she did something which absolutely amazed me. Instead of trying to pick it up as she had been, she placed her trunk around one end of it and sucked, creating a vacuum so that she was finally able to pick it up. She then sat there, happily munching away now that she was able to reach her mouth with it. I smiled to myself. Maybe you’re not as dumb as I thought.
The all too short distraction of breakfast over, it was time to think about how I was going to get out of a city designed purposefully to make such a task difficult, if not impossible. First I had to reduce my baggage; I’d never make it if I tried to hold Chloe the entire time. So I took a handkerchief out of my pocket and used it to fashion a kind of sling underneath my coat.
With her in position nuzzled into my chest, I crept towards the city, careful to try and keep rubble between me and the parameter wall in case there were guards up there on the lookout for me. As predicted, there was a much greater population of Elephante Guards mingling amongst the usual crowds at the market stalls and, alarmingly, they seemed to have spent the night drawing up wanted posters of me and were alternately pasting them on walls and holding them under the noses of random shoppers.
This was going to be impossible.
Pulling my hood as far up over my head as I could, I stepped out of the shadows and joined the bustle of living traffic. I felt my heart move up closer to my throat and pound harder against my chest each time I had to pass close to a member of the Elephante Guard, but thankfully they didn’t seem to have heard it as I was able to slip by them. Until the inevitable happened...
“You, thief!” A nasally voice trumpeted at my back, then I felt the guard’s thick trunk grip the peak of my hood and wrench it off.
Everybody in the marketplace turned to stare at me, and suddenly the Elephante Guard thundered into action. The ground began to quake under the force of their trampling hooves and innocent members of the crowd were knocked flying out of their path as they hurtled towards me.
Snatching myself from the guard’s grip, I turned and ran for the main gate. People dived out of my way, desperate not to get caught up in the unfurling drama, but still staying close enough to watch in shocked awe. After just a few steps I felt my lungs begin to burn with the effort and struggled to gasp in my breath. My tail snaked out from under my coat and thrashed at the sand, flicking great piles of it up into the faces of my pursuers.
But still I heard them chasing, their booming commands to each other just falling together and merging into one unending noise. The air by my ear was suddenly ripped apart as something flew past me; once it landed I was able to pick out that they had started catapulting rocks at me.
A few steps further on and one glanced off my shoulder. I sucked air in pain and tried to ignore the sudden spaced-out sensation that was beginning to swell inside my head. I couldn’t keep going much longer, I could already feel my legs losing their stiffness, becoming weaker and starting to fold underneath me. But the gates weren’t that far away now; I could make it.
The air was suddenly filled with the sound of creaking machinery, and I realised with horror that they were attempting to close the gates. I scanned the stalls as I ran past them. Fruit, no. Pottery, no. Battle supplies... that could work.
I snatched up a spear in my tail and hurled it over my shoulder with the deft aim of somebody who has spent many hours practicing with a dart board. The spear shot up through the air towards the main gate, landing first in the midst of the chains, then slipping and wedging itself in the gears that controlled the opening mechanism. But my success was short lived, as a catapulted rock connected with the back of my left knee and made my whole leg buckle underneath me. There was nothing I could do. I was going down.
My momentum continued to carry me forward as I fell; I tried my best to protect Chloe from the impact and rolled with it as I went sprawling. I skidded to a halt in the sand, various parts of my skin stinging from the abrasion and my arm aching from absorbing the force I’d hit the ground with. As I lay prone and in pain on the floor, the Elephante Guard caught up and encircled me.
“End of the line, matey,” said one, whose decorated armour singled him out as being of a higher rank than the others. He reached out to clamp a hand on my shoulder, but recoiled in shock as a furry, pink ball rolled out from inside my jacket and smacked his hand away with a trunk that shot out from its midst.
Chloe, fully unfurled, stood between him and me. Her chest was puffed out and I caught the flash of anger in her eyes. The Elephantes stood in silence for a moment and then broke out laughing. It was the sort of over exaggerated laughter you find amongst bullies in a playground, lots of slapping one another on the back and holding of aching sides.
“Oh, who’s your little friend here?” the captain asked mockingly as he stooped to pick her up. I tried to pull her back away from him but he was too fast, planting a foot on my sore arm and pinning it to the ground as he lifted her up.
He held her up to his eye line and then said in the babied tone you’d use to speak to a young infant, “Aww, are you his widdle sidekick?” This prompted another outbreak of laughter amongst his men, and he turned to the one beside him to share a wide grin.
This proved to be a mistake, though, because as he turned back to face Chloe, she reared up her trunk and poked him square in the eye. Shocked by the move, the captain dropped her and covered his face with his hands whilst yelping, “My eye, my eye!” like a scolded child.
Chloe landed on her feet, then drew in a huge breath and blew it out of her trunk with enormous force for such a little thing. The sand around her suddenly exploded into the air, pluming up into great clouds that blinded the guards and sent them all flapping around wailing about their eyes.
Seizing the opportunity, I snatched her up in my arms and made a staggered run towards the gates. As the commotion behind me died down, they collected themselves and I heard a definite order to give chase.
Meanwhile, the guards posted atop the city walls were still bumbling about with the gate mechanisms and yelling at each other when I burst through the open gateway and out into the desert beyond.
Stumbling on legs of jelly, I finally made it to the river and made a pathetic attempt at a dive that ended up being more like a belly flop. As I fell through the surface, I realised that I had to get deeper if I was going to stay out of the guards’ reach. But my legs were spent, so I had to rely on my tail to propel me down into the depths.
The river wasn’t all that deep, but sitting on the bottom of it I could finally stop and catch my breath. I put Chloe down beside me and then leant back onto my elbows, opening up my chest so I could push as much oxygen as possible into my aching lungs.
Looking up through the slow current above me, I could see the outlines of Elephantes peering down after me. I few spears raked at the water, sending them into a blur of ripples and reflected light.
I looked at Chloe, who was stood close to my side, still looking up at me with those huge eyes. I couldn’t really tell because her mouth was obscured by her trunk, but it looked as though she was smiling at me. I smiled back, a brief passing of gratitude for the joint effort that had been our escape.
Once I had recovered, I struck out for Maraqua. The journey home was long and tiresome, poor Chloe was worn out after a few miles and so I took down my hood and let her ride in that. Snarhooks didn’t particularly seem designed for swimming either; she could flap her feet and drive herself along all right, but every few yards her nose began to dip towards the ocean floor and she’d have to stop to correct herself. Maybe she was a unique case because of the sheer size of her trunk, but either way it was still funny to watch.
Just as I was beginning to wish I had more of those sausages from breakfast, the distinct shape of Maraqua appeared in the distance. Just as had happened the first time, there was a foursome of Peophins to escort me to the palace. Only this time there was a lot less fight in me and I didn’t even have the energy to mock them silently inside my head.
Kelpbeard, instantly spotting the raw skin on my cheek and the weariness in my expression, reconsidered his attempt to shake my hand and instead just asked where Chloe was. Too tired even to speak, I turned around and revealed her nestled in my hood, fast asleep.
Word of my arrival had obviously spread rapidly, as Ms. Nemoné suddenly burst out of an upstairs bedroom and swam down to me whilst exclaiming her joy at having her ‘precious, little cupcake’ back. She scooped Chloe up out of my hood and began cooing over her. Chloe, who was now awake, along with anybody else in the palace who might have been having a lie in, gurgled with glee at being reunited with her owner.
As I stood watching them, a lazy smile coiled across my lips, but I only indulged it for a moment before wiping it off into a neutral look. King Kelpbeard swam up to my side and put an hand on my shoulder, then without saying a word, held a sack up in front of me. I put out my hand and he dropped it into it, then said simply, “Are you sticking around at all?”
Remembering that I had the reputation of a reckless rogue to uphold, I shrugged off his hand, pocketed the bag and snorted, “As if I’d stay a second longer than I have to. We done here then?” Kelpbeard sighed and nodded, silently giving me his permission to leave; then he went over to join the celebrating pair and I turned to leave.
As I swam off, I suddenly felt something cold being pushed into my hand. I stopped to look down and realised that it was Chloe’s trunk; she’d swum after me when she saw me leaving. I tried to pull my hand free of her grip, but she squeezed it tighter, then tugged me slightly back towards where Anna and Kelpbeard stood watching us both. I looked over to the pair of them observing me, then looked back down at Chloe.
Her big eyes now had a lingering sadness to them, and that same feeling twinged in my chest for the countless time over the last few days. Unable to ignore her, I stooped down to her level and whispered something into where I presumed her ear would be. As I pulled away, she giggled and then stroked the side of my cheek with her trunk; this time she was definitely smiling. Then she turned around and swam back to her owner, who was still stood by Kelpbeard, both wearing masks of shock and confusion.
I felt their eyes on my back as I left, and heard their muttered gossiping to one another. For once, I was glad that Petpets can’t speak.