Petpet Adventures: Mistress Maxie's Marvellous Circus - Part Three
"No, you have to life your paws up like this," Eva said, her voice exasperated.
She demonstrated, lifting her paws delicately and high enough that her back paws touched her belly. Harro let out a frustrated growl and began a strange staccato jog that lifted his paws up high enough, but was jerky enough that it made her eyes hurt just to watch. She also wasn't sure if he could keep it up without simply toppling over.
"Pretend you're swimming," she suggested.
He looked horrified by the very idea. She sighed and stopped, observing the other Noils who were now on their third run of the routine, leaping over the obstacles and through rings that Tamir held for them. The Yurble was perched on a battered wooden stool the Noils liked to gnaw on.
Every time she felt like giving up teaching Harro she would feel the jewel warm against her chest, and it prompted her to try again, but now she was getting frustrated.
"Let's have a break," she said, leading away from the Noils and their perfected routine.
It had been the unanimous decision of what seemed like the entire circus that because she had brought the stowaway, she was completely responsible for training him. Which was fair enough. But although Harro hadn't been lying about being about being able to do amazingly high and long leaps, he just didn't look graceful enough. It didn't help that Karnu and Az, the two other male Noils, were snubbing him rather badly.
"You're so lucky you got away with that," Labez had muttered after Maxie had left them two days before. "If Max hadn't called her back she probably would have decided otherwise."
"Who's Tamir?" Harro had asked at the same time, looking so happy and bouncy that Eva wondered if even tying rocks to his paws would slow him down.
So Eva had led him towards the Noil Tamer's caravan, and introduced him to the spotted Yurble. At first Tamir had looked extremely confused, counting the Noils three times before coming to the conclusion there were indeed seven Noils in front of him. Then he had picked Harro up, inspecting him.
"Well, what have we here?" he had muttered in Pet, stroking Harro's mane and then holding out his legs. "Hmm, you look like you might be good enough to perform."
Then he put Harro down, and Eva had breathed a sigh of relief. They had switched over to Kaulisa's wagon after that for the rest of the journey, as the other Noils were doing a very good job of ignoring both Eva and Harro. Although Eva had noticed a few covetous glances at her necklace from the females. It had been miserable in the smoky, strangely-scented wagon, but eventually they had reached their destination.
She had sat next to Harro as he gazed at everything around him with amazement. The convoy had stopped on the stretch of rocky grass that lay between Faerieland and the Haunted Woods. It was a bit of a relief, not having to camp inside the Woods again, as it always gave Eva the chills. Ringleader Max had obviously decided he could profit from both places at the same time, and within an hour a bustling camp had been set up, complete with a hundred metre in diameter area full of roaring fires just for cooking, and dozens of tents and wagons in a circle around it.
The foundations of the Grand Tent had been laid down and the arena cleared when Eva had decided that Harro's training should begin.
"Not that I'm expecting you to be ready in less than a week," she had informed him. "It takes months of practice to perfect the moves."
Now they left the area that had been cleared beside Tamir's caravan, and headed towards where the Grand Tent was. Within the last few hours poles had been set up, and now metres and metres of cloth were being hauled out of carts, at first bright red, then emerald green, then all the colours of the rainbow. The two petpets easily entered into the arena within, as the walls had not been completed yet. But usually it was easy for a petpet to slip under the fabric anyway.
"Children! You must relax! Let your body feel the music!"
Mistress Maxie was hovering anxiously, her voice high over the sound of the single violin being played by a grey Cybunny in the centre of the arena. For their performance a dozen pets would be playing accompaniment music, but as now was just a practise, there was only the one musician.
In front of the Floobix were four Faellies, each one trailing ribbons of a different colour – blue, pink, yellow and white. They were trying to weave them together to make shapes, as well as do their flying dance routine that involved a lot of twisting and somersaulting through the air.
"I can't see what they're doing wrong," Harro commented after a minute of observation.
Eva watched a bit longer. "Me neither," she said. "But Mistress Maxie is a genius. She's been with Max since he started the circus. Her and Oscar are the only two petpets that have been here since it began."
"Who's Oscar?" Harro asked, then gasped as Mistress Maxie demonstrated a manoeuvre for the Faellies. Eva also watched in awe as she glided through the air, barely flapping her wings. She looked effortless.
"Okay, now I see what you mean about her being a genius," Harro said in a hushed tone. "What type of petpet is she? I've never seen one before."
"She's a Floobix," Eva replied. "They're extremely rare. Apparently they can only be created by some sort of lab ray that zaps them." She shuddered at the thought. "But all of us petpets at the circus have a bet on what she used to be before she was zapped. I think she must have been some sort of flying petpet, probably an Airax. I've heard they're amazingly graceful in the air."
"You're wrong," said a voice behind them, making both of them jump.
"Don't do that!" Eva exclaimed.
Labez shrugged. He was holding a vial of blue powder in one paw, while another containing green powder was clutched in his tail. He turned to Harro and said confidentially, "She definitely used to be an aquatic petpet. The way she moves is like she's moving through water."
"No," said Armac, who was only a metre away. The Cyodrake was juggling five petpet-sized clubs in his claws, but he still managed to turn his one-eyed gaze at them without dropping a single one. "She was neither," he said decisively.
"Then what was she?" Eva asked, curious. Armac was incredibly smart, even though he usually hid it behind a taciturn exterior.
"Don't know," he replied.
"So how are you going to find out?" Harro asked.
All three petpets shrugged; Armac amazingly still managing to keep his clubs in the air. "It's just some fun we like to have," Eva explained. "No-one would ever actually ask her. But if we ever find out, you are so going to be wrong!" This was directed at Labez, who snorted.
"Remember the deal," he said. "If you're wrong, I get to shave off your mane."
Harro flinched, instinctively reaching up to stroke his own reassuringly. Eva grinned.
"But if you get it wrong, I get to put you out with a bucket of water," she said gleefully.
Labez grinned right back. Harro looked from one face to another, horrified at the very thought of what they were suggesting.
All the petpets looked up at Mistress Maxie. She was staring straight at Harro, who tried to make himself smaller by huddling into a bundle of fur.
"Have you practised your routine yet?" she demanded. "Show me!"
The Noil looked embarrassed, but he did what she asked, and immediately launched into the first few steps Eva had taught him. He had seen the other Noils do it enough times to vaguely remember most of the routine, but forcing his body to do it was another matter. But he hadn't been lying to Eva about being about to leap and run; he had lived most of his life as a stray and knew how to scarper.
"No, stop!" Mistress Maxie said after just a few seconds. She alighted on the ground right next to him and lifted one of his paws. "Hold it like this," she instructed. She carefully lifted a paw and pressed it up to his chest. Then she indicated the grass in front of him with one wing. "Forget about us, and just imagine the ground is hot, like it is stone in the noon sun. Only you must cross it gracefully."
Harro tried again, imagining one of the many times he had fled from one of the more aggressive strays in the city, or some pets. He kept her words in mind, and found that his paws lifted themselves automatically high. He only stopped after he forgot what move came next, panting from the three huge leaps he had done through an imaginary ring, his leg muscles aching strangely from holding his paws in that strange way when he ran. He looked back at Mistress Maxie, who was nodding. Eva looked immensely relieved.
"You'll do," the Floobix said.
She looked away as a sound soared over the violin. It was a deep, rich humming, and heralded the arrival of a simply enormous faerie Grarrl. A black top hat was perched on his head, and in his claws was a black staff, a huge contrast to the dazzling brightness of his scales. Mistress Maxie immediately took off and flew towards him.
When the Grarrl caught sight of her, he emitted a deep chuckle that Harro thought he could feel rumbling through the ground towards him. The Grarrl held out an arm, and Mistress Maxie alighted on it, pressing her face against his, her bright ears matching the pink feathers on his wings. Then she began trilling lightly. He joined in with his deep hum, creating an ethereal harmony that left Harro open-mouthed.
He quickly snapped it shut when he felt a burning hot paw on his chin. He jerked away from Labez, rubbing his slightly singed jaw.
"What was that for?" he growled.
"I was just helping you shut your mouth," the Magmut replied amiably. "I'm guessing that's the first time you've seen Max?"
"Well, I saw him at the performance," Harro said. "But I didn't expect him to be so..."
"Large, right?" Eva interrupted.
"Well, I was going to say impressive, up close," Harro replied. "Just... wow. He has this presence about him."
"Speaking of large, has Eva taken you to see Oscar yet?" Labez asked.
"Oh," Eva said. "I haven't spoken to him for days. I've been too busy training." She grabbed a pawful of Harro's mane and proceeded to drag him out of the tent, despite his protests. "You have to meet him!"
"Okay, just please let go," Harro said desperately.
Eva let go and stared at him. "Pick up your paws," she instructed. "From now on you have to practise that every time you go somewhere."
"Or what?" Harro demanded. "OW!" he exclaimed in the next second as Eva yanked out one of his mane hairs. But he kept his paws up as he walked, just to be safe.
They rounded a few wagons as the sun began to set. Harro saw a huge silhouette over the top of them, and he thought it must have been a giant boulder. That was until he came closer and the form resolved itself into a petpet. A giant petpet. In fact, he was so large that he could have fit a dozen pets on his huge round back comfortably. Well, assuming they had hand holds. That shell looked very smooth and slippery.
"Ah, Eva," the giant Turtum said, his voice deep. "I wondered when you were going to visit me."
In fact, Harro could actually feel a rumbling in the beneath his feet when the Turtum spoke, as his huge chest was lowered to the ground. Behind him was a simply enormous wagon full of huge metal poles and fabric, probably for the grand tent. A giant wooden frame lay nearby, and Harro guessed it went over the Turtum's back when they travelled so he could pull the wagon.
"I'm sorry, Oscar," Eva said. "It's just that I've been training the new Noil."
"Ah, the stowaway," Oscar replied. "Yes, Tarla told me when she found out, but of course I was attached to a wagon, so I couldn't come and see for myself. Is he here?"
Harro was offended. He was only a few metres away. But, as he watched the Turtum squint this way and that in the fading light, Harro realised that he must just have extremely bad eyesight. He came a few steps closer, and Oscar caught sight of him.
"Oscar, this is Harro. Harro, this is Oscar. He's amazing. He fought for Meridell in the Meridell-Darigan War, but then Max took him into the circus." She addressed Oscar. "Why were you going so fast back on the Endless Plains?" she asked. "I couldn't have kept up if I tried."
Oscar yawned, his jaws gaping so wide that Harro took several hasty steps back. The Turtum could probably have swallowed him easily.
"Well, the scenery was rather boring," Oscar replied. "So I decided to speed the trip up a bit. All that endless grass. On the other foot, if we had been travelling through Terror Mountain, or Mystery Island..." He smiled to himself dreamily.
It was impossible for a pet, or anyone for that matter, to control a petpet the size of Oscar, so when the troupe travelled, he was always up the front, and set the pace from there. Every step he took was two or more for a pet, so even if he moved at a glacial pace a lot of ground could be covered. And there was simply no other way of transporting him.
"You should tell Harro a story about the War," Eva said, but then she was interrupted as Labez came jogging up, vial free.
"Hello, Oscar," he said to the Turtum, who had dipped his head into an oversized basket of brightly coloured berries, and was now eating them, one mouthful of several dozen at a time. Oscar nodded at him, and he turned to Eva and Harro.
"You know, it's the strangest thing," he said. "I swear we saw Maxie and Max head off to the cook fires, but when I went to drop some potions back to Kaulisa, I think I saw him come out of her wagon."
Eva shrugged. "You probably saw one of the other Grarrls, trying to get something off her so they can work on their tough pet act."
"And how many other Grarrls are there with wings in this circus?" Labez demanded.
"None," Eva replied. "Okay, I see your point, but maybe Max changed directions."
"And Kaulisa was sleeping when I came in. She never sleeps before dinner. In fact, she never sleeps until several hours after dinner."
"Maybe she was tired?" Harro put in.
Labez shrugged. "Anyway I'm going to the cookfires to see if Max is there."
"We'll come," Eva said, feeling a rumbling begin in her stomach. "Goodbye, Oscar."
Oscar nodded in their general direction, chewing contentedly with eyelids half shut. They hurried to the bright flames of the cooking area that could now be seen more clearly as the sky darkened. In the flickering shadow of a dozen fires Max stood chatting with the head cook. They both laughed at something he said, the cook for once not looking peeved (which could be completely explained by him having to feed hundreds of hungry and demanding pets and petpets). Mistress Maxie was perched on one of Max's horns, feathers fluffed up and head tucked under her wing.
Labez looked around and finally spotted a line of Beekadoodles perched on the roof of one wagon.
"Hey, Tarla!" he shouted.
One of the Beekadoodles said something to its companions and then fluttered down to perch on the steps of the wagon.
"Yes?" she asked.
"How long has Max been here?" Labez asked.
She shrugged. "Who keeps track of the pets?" she asked carelessly.
"You." Labez replied dryly. "You keep track of everything that moves in this camp. And he's the Ringleader after all."
"True." Tarla carefully preened a wing feather, then looked thoughtful. "He came here about an hour ago. Him and Mistress Maxie were singing together. It was amazing. You should have been here."
"We heard a bit," Labez said. "Thanks."
When Tarla had rejoined the other Beekadoodles above, the Magmut turned to Eva.
"Ha!" he said. "I was right. That wasn't Max in the wagon."
"Well, we're camped next to Faerieland," Harro put in. "I don't think it's impossible that a faerie Grarrl could have snuck into the camp. I mean, I'm sure a lot of pets are desperate to see the circus for themselves."
Eva stared at him. She couldn't have put it better herself. She looked at Labez. "There you go," she said.
"But he shouldn't have been in Kaulisa's caravan!" Labez objected. "And besides, I've never heard of a Grarrl being able to just sneak into anywhere. I think there's something strange going on."
"There's always something strange going on," Eva said. "It's a circus. Now let's get some dinner."
To be continued...