Thursday, March 29, 2007

Abaddon XVI

Out of habit, Eluned awoke early the following morning. But, when she saw the dull grey light, she rolled away from the window pulling the comforter over her head. She had no idea what time it was but it not only looked early but cold. It didn’t take her long to doze off again.

When she wakened again a few hours later, the light hadn’t changed. Pulling the comforter around her for warmth, she crossed the narrow space to the window and peered out. The sky was steel grey with a low-hanging clouds. She put her hand to the leaded glass of the window and pulled it back quickly as if stung.

Starting to shiver, she groaned. There was no way she was going to head out on a day like this – cold and gray and threatening snow. She hoped she could talk Jabb into staying one more night. She wondered if there were any other clothes available in this town. Hers were filthy and she couldn’t bear the thought of putting them back on.

She scanned the room, looking for the pile of dirty clothes she had so unceremoniously tossed on the floor the previous night. They were no where in sight. Her brow creased in perplexity. Had she really slept so hard that she hadn’t heard Bonpo, or someone else, for that matter, enter her room to gather them up to wash?

Or, she sat down on her bed with dawning realization. Had they even been here when she returned from her bath? Of course, that was it. Jabberwock or Bonpo had entered her room while she immersed in her hot tub, soaking away the miles and the cold.

She remembered thinking as she finally pulled herself out of the rapidly cooling water that she had soaked in all the warmth and transferred her cold to the water. Even her marrow finally felt warm. And she had pretty much run straight from the bath, diving into bed and scrambling beneath the covers before she had a chance to get cold again.

But that still didn’t solve her problem. What clothes was she supposed to change into?

She peeked out into the upper hallway. It was empty. She tiptoed down the hall to the next room where Bonpo and Jabb were staying. She knocked, somewhat timidly, on the door. Listening intently for sounds of movement or even snoring, she was disappointed to hear absolute silence.

The feather comforter still clutched around her thin shoulders like a royal robe, she stamped her foot in irritation. She was hungry. Starving, actually, as she had fallen asleep before she had a chance to eat.

“Damn it,” she said aloud, heading toward the staircase that would lead her down to the kitchens and great room. As she reached the foot of the stairs, she could hear voices and when she turned the corner into the great room, she saw Bonpo, Jabberwock and Gwrhyr sitting comfortably around a small table and talking animatedly.

Bonpo saw her first and stood up so fast he knocked his chair over with a crash.

“Plincess!” he blurted.

Eluned’s eyes flashed in anger and Gwrhyr gave her a calculating look. She decided to ignore it but she wasn’t about to forget that she’d heard Jabberwock’s voice. He had told her it was too dangerous to speak here. She would definitely be speaking to him about that. But at the moment, there were more important things to worry about.

“Where the hell are my clothes?”

“Dey are being creaned,” Bonpo said, apologetically. “I tought dey dry by now, but too corl.”

“Is there anything else in this God forsaken place that I can wear? This is a trade route. Surely someone sells clothing.”

“I imagine that something can be pulled together,” Gwrhyr spoke.

The Princess was torn. On the one hand, she was really angry that this man had so seemingly easily wormed his way into Jabberwock’s good graces; so much so that the Bandersnatch was speaking. Yet, she really preferred not to spend the rest of the day, stuck in her room because she was wearing only a night gown. Once again, it looked like she was going to have to be indebted to him, a complete stranger and Omni knew what else. He could be a horse thief, for all she knew, and besides, she found not being able to be self sufficient truly irritating.

She blushed, more in anger than humiliation, “Would you mind going with Bonpo to find me something? Unfortunately, I can’t exactly wander around like this.”

She blushed again as Gwrhyr made of point of scanning her from the top of her bare head to the tips of her bare toes.

“I kind of like it,” he grinned in such a way that her blush deepened a shade or two. Tears pricked her eyes at the humiliation. If she had been looked at that way in Zion, her father would have punished the malefactor.

“Thank you,” she managed to choke as the two headed out. She pulled out a chair and said, “Is there anyway I can get something warm to drink around here?” while staring accusingly at Jabberwock.

He had the good grace to look chastened, but nodded at the hand bell that rested on the table. “Just ring that, and someone will be here shortly.”

True to his word, a youth arrived from the direction of the kitchen.

“Can I get you something miss?” he asked in Draconian.

Eluned almost cried in relief. “Yes, please,” she said in Draconian but with a heavy Zionese accent. “Coffee, please? And something to eat?”

“Yes, miss,” he said, staring at her as if she were a vision.

“Thank you,” she prompted. He reddened and backed toward the kitchen.

“I’ll be right back, miss.”

“Thank you,” she said, again, turning to look with amusement at Jabberwock when the boy had disappeared back into the kitchen.

She shook her head, “You’d think he’d never seen a female.”

“Oh I would guarantee he’s never seen a female as beautiful as you. He probably thinks you’re an angel.”

Eluned laughed, but then remembered she was angry with the Bandersnatch. “Did I hear you talking with Gwrhyr?” her tone became accusing.

“I apologize for not being able to discuss this with you, first, but Bonpo and I were negotiating with the man. We feel it would be really helpful if we paid him to serve us for awhile.”

“Serve us? How?”

“Not only is he fluent in many languages,” Jabberwock explained, “but he knows horses and pack animals, and it would definitely look better for you to be traveling with at least one more person. Although, I can’t believe I didn’t think to hire a maid servant to travel with us. We’re really going to have to come up with a cover story.”

“Does he know who I am?”

“Well, thanks to Bonpo’s little slip, I’d imagine he has a few questions. It is up to you to decide whether to entrust him with that information.”

The door to the kitchen opened again, and the young scullion entered carrying a tray laden with coffee, cream and a typically Draconian breakfast – thick creamy yogurt, brown sugar, dried fruit and nuts.

The Princess’s stomach clenched at the sight of it. She had had no idea that she would spend so much time during this journey nearly faint with hunger. She set about eating the meal slowly though so that her empty stomach wouldn’t rebel.

Once the boy was gone and she had managed a few, blessedly warm, sips of coffee and stirred some of the sugar, fruits and nuts into her yogurt, she began to ponder whether or not to let Gwrhyr know who her father was.

“Do you think he’ll try to take advantage of us if he knows?” she asked.

“Take advantage? How?”

“Well, we don’t know what kind of person he really is. Just because he has been helpful doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have some sort of ulterior motive,” she responded.

“A good point,” Jabberwock mused, “but I tend to believe him.”

“Believe him?”

“His story.”

“What’s his story?” she asked, dubiously.

“Ask him your self,” he retorted as footsteps could be heard approaching the dining room. She turned to look over her shoulder as Gwrhyr and Bonpo appeared.

“I solly,” Bonpo said, depositing a parcel in her lap, “onry fine men crove.”

Eluned surveyed him blankly.

“He means that we found only clothing suitable for men,” Gwrhyr interpreted.

An expression that was a cross between consternation and intense curiosity crossed the Princess’s face. Mens clothing, huh? She had never had a chance to wear pants. And you never knew when the opportunity might arise again, she began to smile, and as a disguise . . . well who would think to look for a princess in pants.

“Thank you,” she said, standing up. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go get dressed.” She readjusted the comforter and walked toward the stairs. The impression was regal, to say the least. You almost didn’t have to imagine the tiara perched atop her shining black curls.

“If you’re trying to hide a princess,” Gwrhyr addressed Jabberwock with a crooked grin and raised eyebrow, “you might want to teach her how to act less uppity.”

Bonpo flushed. If only he hadn’t called her princess. But there was a mischievous sparkle in Jabberwock’s eyes as he watched the princess leave the room. She was definitely going to have to let Gwrhyr in on the truth. Not only did he already suspect, but it would more than likely be advantageous to them all for him to possess that knowledge.

The Princess returned to her room, which was still just as chilly as when she’d left it, and ripped open the package Bonpo had dropped in her lap. Her anticipatory smile widened as she withdrew a pair of leather pants, a rough spun wool sweater and a leather jerkin.

The comforter slid to the floor as she pulled her night gown over her head and hastily replaced it with the sweater. Sitting down on the bed, she pulled the close-fitting pants over her feet and up, fastening them with the leather laces that criss-crossed up the front. She pulled the jerkin on over the sweater fastening the toggle buttons. She wished she had a mirror in which to survey herself.

Bonpo had taught her the trick of sleeping with her socks rather than in them so that she would wake up to warm and dry socks in the morning, and she searched under the sheets for her only pair. She should have asked Bonpo and Gwrhyr to purchase her another pair or two; but she had forgotten that just as she had forgotten to bring more than one pair on the trip. Her nose wrinkled at the smell as she pulled her only pair on yet again. She was definitely going to have to venture out with Bonpo or Gwrhyr to find some more socks! These were in desperate need of washing and she really couldn’t continue to go around bare foot.

After pulling her boots on over her pants, she suddenly experienced a moment of trepidation. She had never dressed as men dress in her entire life; her parents would have never allowed it. And she felt some guilt as she strode over to the door. And what if she looked like a fool? What would she do if they all burst out laughing when she returned to the great room?

She took a deep breath, shot an arrow prayer and opened the door.

“There’s only one way to find out,” she muttered under her breath as she started down the stairs.

But she saw nothing but appreciation in the faces that turned her way when she entered the room. A variety of expressions, actually, now that she was closer. Jabberwock, as always, managed to look both approving and mysterious at the same time. There was always a lot going on in that tiny little head of his.

Bonpo looked both surprised and proud. He had done well at guessing her size.

Gwrhyr wore the oddest expression. She could have sworn there was a small flame of desire burning in eyes but he somehow seemed disgusted or angry, even, as if it was beneath him to desire her? She wasn’t sure, but his reaction intrigued her.

Despite the look on his face, he said, “You wear men’s clothing very well.”

“Thank you kind sir,” she responded with a tinge of sarcasm. He grimaced but stood up and pulled out a seat for her.

Sliding into the chair, she once again surveyed the faces around the table and was for the first time, the full realization that she was surrounded by males hit her. Albeit one of the males was a Bandersnatch, Janawar or dhami dhole, whichever one preferred to refer to him as; and another was a giant Dzironian or what had Jabberwock called him? A dzu-tch?

Finally, she looked at Gwrhyr. His hazel eyes looked teal today and were boring into her own. She held his gaze, studying him. He was the wild card. Or was he? Had he been thrown into this odd mix just as Bonpo had? Had Omni set her up with this unusual trio for a reason? And why was she the only female?

“Jabberwock tells me he asked you to help us out as we continue our journey,” she said.

“That’s true,” his gaze shifted to fox-like mammal.


“And?” he repeated.

“Have you agreed?”

Bonpo and Jabberwock turned toward him, questioningly.

“Well, I must admit, it’s truly tempting, and possibly a lot more exciting than my current option,” he began.

“Which is?” Eluned interrupted.

“Hooking up with the next caravan that passes through . . .”

“And that would be mostly likely what this time of year?” it was the Bandersnatch’s turn to interject.

“Most likely coal from Annewven heading north toward Muskroe,” Gwrhyr answered, not sounding particularly thrilled by the prospect.

“Oooo coal,” Eluned couldn’t keep the sarcasm from her voice, “that sounds so exciting!”

“Oh, and you think traveling with an arrogant wench such as yourself would be preferable?” Gwrhyr drawled, leaning toward the Princess menacingly.

“Wench!” Eluned shouted, leaning toward him and grabbing his short beard in her fist and twisting it. “How dare you speak to me thus. By Omni, I would rather walk every step of the way than . . .”

Gwrhyr grabbed the curls on either side of her head and pulled her face closer. Eluned’s eyes flashed, dangerously. But before the palm she was raising could reach its mark, Gwrhyr kissed the Princess soundly on the mouth before letting her go and pushing his chair away from her.

Eluned jumped up, tears springing to her eyes from both fury and shock. “You can’t do that!” she screamed, launching herself toward him like a catamount defending its territory.

But he easily seized her fragile wrists in a steely grip and before she knew what was happening, he’d knocked her feet from beneath her and she landed hard on the dirty flagstones that tiled the great room’s floor.

The tears that now overflowed her lids were from pain and humiliation. She had never been treated like this before in her life! Who, or better, what, did this man think she was? Women had never been misused this way in her father’s kingdom.

“Women?” a tiny voice in her head asked, “or was the King Seraphim’s daughter an exception?” The room around her blurred as she picked herself up and dusted herself off. Bonpo already had Gwrhyr’s neck in a vise grip and Jabberwock was noisily telling him to let go and for every body to just calm down. But, the princess was a thousand miles away.

As she slumped back into her chair, she tried to remember how things were in and around the castle, but she had been so protected, so coddled. Everyone had always known where she was and while their tongues might occasionally slip around her, the tempers seldom did.

The tears spilled down her cheeks as she stared down at her hands. But, she admitted to herself, there had been those rare occasions when she had dashed into the kitchen for a snack just as a scullery maid was receiving the back of the cook’s hand to her face; or wandered into the stables just as a stable boy was fielding off the angry blows of the ferrier. She supposed if she thought about it, she could raise dozens of such memories. But they had been, she hiccupped, servants.

“No,” her conscience scolded her, “they had been humans.” And why shouldn’t Gwrhyr expect her to be any different than any other woman he’d encountered in his life? After all, she really was just some strange ‘wench’ who had appeared out of the blue demanding all kind of assistance from him. Her eyes began to clear and she noticed that Gwrhyr was holding out a handkerchief. She accepted it with a murmured thank you and wiped her face.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “That was completely out of line.”

“No, I probably deserved it,” Eluned sighed. She stood up, “Will take a walk with me? There are probably some things I need to tell you before you can make a decision. Besides, I need some socks.”


“Obviously, I’m not used to packing for myself,” she said, self-deprecatingly. “I neglected to bring more than the pair I was wearing when I set out on this journey.”

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Abbadon XV

The light was rapidly fading as they left the track that had lead them over the mountains for the wider road that led into the small desert outpost of Mjijangwa. They had taken the quickest route through the mountains rather than the wider and better-traveled trade route in an effort to keep the princess safe. The further they traveled away from the Kingdom of Zion without the whereabouts of Eluned being known, the safer they would be.

She had been so protected during her childhood that very few were aware of her appearance other than the fact that she was rumored to be quite beautiful.

Jabberwock glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. Yes, definitely still beautiful but the reddened and chapped cheeks, constantly dripping nose and shuffling walk would, at first, earn her nothing more than a passing glance from the ill-mannered types they were likely to find in this trade station.

But once she’d had a bath and warmed up . . . he sighed, loudly, and Bonpo and Eluned, each ruminating on their own worries, sighed in response.

As they approached the inn, they saw the torches being lit to ward off the coming darkness. Their pace picked up a bit and as the last torch was ignited, it was as if the sun’s fading red light was snuffed out as surely as a candle.

They hobbled the last fifty yards to the inn in darkness and the dim light provided by the torches. Soon the moon would be up and the sandy soil would reflect some of its light back toward it, but as yet they could keep their eyes only on the beckoning flames.

Eluned shivered suddenly as the thought crossed her mind, “come toward the light.” Images of death and destruction and the open gates of Heaven followed and she shivered again.

“Are you all right,” Jabberwock asked, his forehead creased in worry.

“It’s nothing,” she assured him. “A rabbit just ran over my grave.”

“You do realize I’ll be unable to speak publicly while we’re here,” he whispered as they neared the steps.


“Too dangerous.”

She cursed under her breath. Hopefully, between herself and Bonpo, they would be able to speak to the proprietor. Her Draconian was rusty. If she were lucky, whoever they needed to arrange rooms with would speak Zionese. After all, it bordered Draconia and this was an inn on the western trade route.

She glanced up as she mounted the stairs and saw the first star of the evening shimmer into view. “Star light, star bright,” she began to whisper.

“Planet,” Jabberwock coughed as they crossed the porch to the wide door of the inn.

“So much for luck,” the Princess sighed.

Bonpo heaved open the heavy door and they stepped into a wide hallway that led to a larger room with a fire roaring in a huge stone fireplace and well worn tables scattered about the room. Three men with weather beaten faces sat at one of the tables nursing their ales or wines or whiskeys. They barely looked up as the odd trio entered.

A single man sat at a smaller table on the far side of the room and close to the fire staring into the wildly dancing flames. If he noticed them, he didn’t show it.

Eluned looked around with trepidation. Certainly she hadn’t been expecting a warm reception like the one she’d received the first night of her trip at the Golden Phoenix (not that she’d noticed any gold at that particular inn but the badly peeling paint that highlighted the mythic bird on the inn’s sign, she mused). Nor was this quite as bad as the fear she felt upon first entering Crossroads Inn (‘how imaginative, Bonpo, ‘she chided him in her head). But this utter indifference . . .

“Ello?” Bonpo suddenly shouted, voice booming. One of the men at the nearer table jumped and sloshed his ale. His two friends began ribbing him for it but continued to disregard Eluned and her companions.

A door opened behind him, and a cranky looking man with a shock of black hair, the front tumbling into his eyes but the rest pulled away from his face with a dirty piece of cord stepped into the room wiping his hands on an even dirtier towel.

He grunted something that could have meant “what the hell do you want?” but neither Eluned nor Bonpo recognized the language, only the intonation.

“We need a couple of rooms,” Eluned began in her native language.

The man stared at her, uncomprehendingly.

She tried again in her broken Draconian. But, he continued to shake his head. Her Adenese was much better and she attempted that.

He said something in his language and it was Eluned’s turn to shake her head in incomprehension. She looked to Bonpo and he tried his Dzironese.

Still nothing. Damn, Eluned found herself cursing under her breath yet again, what language did this fellow speak and what the hell was he doing working at a trade route inn if he couldn’t understand any of the languages that she and Bonpo spoke.

Jabberwock looked amazingly unperturbed.

“Excuse me,” she spoke to the three men at the table, but they just shrugged their shoulders and looked down at the table. She wanted to cry. All she needed was a clean room, a bath and some real food and she might start feeling human again, but instead she was stuck with someone who obviously worked in the kitchen and hadn’t dealt much with travelers.

She turned toward the man who was still gazing unseeingly into the fire. He seemed unaware of what was going on. She took a deep breath and began to walk toward him.

“Excuse me,” she said when she was a few feet away.

Reluctantly, he pulled his gaze away from the fire. He raised his eyebrows, questioningly.

“Do you speak Zionese?” He nodded in reply and she nearly wept in relief. She had to bite her lower lip to stop the flood that threatened to issue forth from her tear ducts.

“You don’t, perchance, also speak whatever language this fellow is speaking?” she asked, indicating the cook or dishwasher or whatever he was.

“Annewvenese?” he finally spoke, standing. The hood that had been covering his head slipped away and she was pleasantly surprised to find a nice looking young man staring down at her with clear hazel eyes.

“Is that what it is?” she found herself blushing, much to her chagrin. The way he was looking at her made her feel very uncomfortable. He was tall, more than six feet, she was sure of it. His hair tumbled to his shoulders in dark brown waves and there was a mysterious glint in his eyes she couldn’t identify. She wasn’t sure because of his facial hair, but was that a dimple at the corner of his mouth? He seemed to be studying her with secret amusement.

“Yes, Annewvenese.”

“Could you please help us? We need a couple of rooms and,” she stuttered to a halt as she saw his face harden. “What?”

“A couple of rooms?”

She was confused. “One for myself and one for Bonpo. I don’t understand?”

“That’s not your husband?”

“Hus…?” she nearly guffawed, but clapped a hand over her mouth, coughing instead.

“A guide then?” but he said it in such an insinuating tone that she found her self outraged when she realized what he was implying. Cheeks flaring and fists clenched, she wanted to stomp off and sleep on the porch. She didn’t have to put up with that! She was a princess! But, one of the reasons she was on this so-called adventure was to live life like a “real” person. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath.

Exhaling, she said, quietly but coldly, “My guide, yes, and cook. And bodyguard,” she said, arching an eyebrow.

He laughed out loud at that, but added, “so, you’re traveling alone, so to speak, with a guide who doesn’t speak anything but Dzironese and Zionese?”

She looked down at the snow-stained and soaking tips of her suede boots. The truth was, she had thought the Bandersnatch would be responsible for all that. She supposed that in the eyes of a stranger, their little trio seemed particularly odd. Thank Omni for Bonpo, the thought chilled her to the bone. If it hadn’t been for the giant, she would appear to be insane traveling alone in this day and age with nothing but a small and wiry “dog” to protect her.

There was no way to explain her situation to him without telling him the truth. Or, alternately, without coming up with a cover story first. Blast that little Bandersnatch for not thinking about this ahead of time. She glanced over at him and was shocked to see him with a smirk on his face. Her eyes widened.

“You little jerk,” she started to say, but then realized her mistake. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she continued, bending over to pat the top of his head.

Then to man she still hoped would help them, “I thought my dog,” a sliding glance at Jabberwock and she was happy to note the disappearance of the smirk, “was crouching to relieve himself.”

“He’s not house broken?”

“Oh, yes, quite, but we’ve had such an exhausting trip over the mountains, I thought he might have forgotten himself.”

“You came over the mountains?”

“Yes, and the last two days in nothing but snow and cold.” She suddenly swayed and the young man reached out a hand to steady her.

“Are you all right?” he asked, worriedly.

“Just oh so very tired,” she said as the exhaustion of the past few days finally caught up with her.

Bonpo pulled up a chair and gently pushed her into it.

The scullion, if that’s what he was, said something unintelligible.

The young man answered in the same language. The scullion disappeared behind another door.

Eluned gazed at the young man, hopefully.

“He’s gone to get you keys for your room,” he said, flatly. Eluned pushed herself out of the chair and stood up, extending her hand.

“I’m Eluned,” she said as he took her small hand into his grasp. “And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“Gwrhyr,” he said, squeezing her hand, gently. “And I intend to discuss this more tomorrow. Understood?” His hazel eyes, looking more blue than green, bored into hers.

“I promise,” she said, collapsing back into the chair.

The scullion returned with the keys and Gwrhyr instructed him to have meals sent up to their rooms and a warm bath drawn for the woman.

“And make sure they are not disturbed before noon,” he added.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Abaddon XIV

She awoke the next morning to Bonpo’s hearty guffaw. It seemed to echo through the snow-covered world. The fire was still blazing merrily (or so she assumed; at least it looked as if had been tended throughout the night) and she could see wisps of steam emanating from the spout of the coffee pot. It took her perhaps of full minute to realize that it had stopped snowing. She craned her neck and could see an azure sky through the boughs of fir above and the sunlight reflected off every icicle and was mirrored by every particle of snow. It was chilly, yes, but it felt more invigorating than the previous day, which had been a miserable and mind-numbing cold.

“Good morning,” boomed Bonpo, happily.

“It certainly appears to be,” she replied with a radiant smile. Jabberwock and Bonpo couldn’t help beaming back.

“Yesterday, it seemed like the end of the world,” she reflected as she crawled from beneath the tarp, and then stood, releasing herself to one of her patented feline stretched. “Today, it feels like we have been given the hope of a new life.”

“Sounds like a Paschal sermon,” Jabberwock chuckled.

“Well, I guess death and resurrection are a constant in this world,” she mused, sipping the coffee Bonpo had handed her. “From death comes life.”

“Sounds like you were paying attention in Chapel,” the Bandersnatch teased her.

“Not enough apparently,” she frowned. “My mind seems to get stuck on the ‘dying to self’ bit.”

“Give yourself time,” Jabberwock advised, gently, “you’re only eighteen, after all. And isn’t that part of the point of this trip? To experience life? To grow?”

The Princess smiled a bit self-deprecatingly. He was, of course, always right.

In spite of the horror of yesterday’s hike and even the physical pain involved, not to mention the thought of each step taking her closer to the desert she so desperately desired, Eluned was reluctant to leave the hastily made (but sun painted) camp behind. And, of course, her feet were still aching terribly. If they already hurt this bad, she grimaced, how would they feel by the end of the day?

But, a mile or so down the trail (which was taking forever because they had to slog through a couple of feet of snow), the pain began to fade. Or maybe it was just because she had to be so vigilant over every step she took. Until she stepped, she couldn’t see or feel what her foot was landing on and she didn’t want to take another tumble. It helped that Bonpo was leading. His height and weight significantly reduced the trouble she had to go through. But, his stride was much bigger than hers. About the time Eluned’s pain began to recede (to be taken up by the dull ache of frozen digits), Jabberwock suggested to Bonpo that he try a sliding step so that he would clear more snow.

Yikes! Eluned glanced, guiltily at the Bandersnatch. She had been so caught up in keeping up with Bonpo and making sure she didn’t fall that she had entirely forgotten Jabberwock. The snow was nearly as deep as he was tall. Poor little guy!

Before they finished the next mile, they happened on the final Misrule Pass campsite.

“By Omni!” Eluned cried in awe. “I thought I walked my feet off yesterday. I can’t believe that we not only passed the second site but got this close to the last.”

“It does seem nearly miraculous,” Jabberwock observed. “That means we hiked . . .”

“Nealy tirty mire,” Bonpo interrupted.

“Not bad for a beginner!” Jabberwock grinned at Eluned.

“You know, I don’t know why this is just occurring to me, but is there any particular reason we aren’t riding horses? I mean with horses and a pack mule, I might still be able to feel my feet. I mean, just for example.”

“A horse couldn’t take Bonpo’s weight,” Jabberwock stated.

“Yeah, but we didn’t know he would be traveling with us. Or did we?” she looked, accusingly at the Bandersnatch.

“No, that was definitely kismet.”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I vote that when we reach Draconia we invest in a horse and a pack mule. Bonpo walks twice as fast as we do, anyway.”

Bonpo grunted and shrugged his shoulders, “Fine by me.”

“You’re right,” Jabberwock agreed. “I’m afraid that I just don’t think along those lines, but it makes sense.”

“Well, we can’t stay here despite how tired we are,” Eluned glanced around the snow-covered campsite. “It’s just too early in the day, and there would be all that extra work maintaining a fire. I say it’s better to go on and see how close we can get to the first campsite down from the pass. The sooner we get to Mjijangwa, the better!”

Once again, the trio pushed on to near-dark and stumbled into their last campsite (before town!) nigh on exhaustion. Even Bonpo was moving slower than usual. A half-hearted fire, which mostly smoked because of the wet wood, did little to push back the darkness and it seemed an eternity before the water boiled for tea. Cold beans were reheated to lukewarm and eaten mechanically.

The wind that night seemed adept at ferreting out any chink in the armor of her blankets. The three of them tossed and turned; even in their troubled sleep they fought to keep warm. Eluned checked the night sky numerous times as the stars arced their way through the bowl of heaven. This was worse than the night she had waited for dawn to arrive so that she could begin this hellish journey. Her worry and discomfort made it harder for her to doze off and it was with great relief that she saw the lightening of the sky.

Apparently, Bonpo and Jabberwock had had just as bad a night. All awoke grouchy and instead of the beatific faces of the previous day, three faces scowled into the barely flickering flames of the fire as they once again awaited boiling water.

“Darn it! It is so true,” Eluned groused as she huffed off into the woods. “A watched pot NEVER boils.”

As they started out on their final descent toward the desert border town of Mjijangwa, no one ventured to break the thick silence. Even the birds opted not to sing until the glowering, and exhausted, trio was out of range.

Finally, about noon day, they had dropped enough in elevation that most of the snow had disappeared, laying mostly in the crevices of rocks or in shadows not yet touched by the sun. Despite their fatigue, they began to feel a glimmer of hope. Mjijangwa didn’t seem such an impossibility. Perhaps they would sleep in beds and eat at table that night!

“O come, thou Key of David, come,” Eluned began in her clear contralto. Bonpo and Jabberwock joined in, bass and tenor. “And open wide our heavenly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.”

“Can I hear an ‘amen’?” Eluned asked when the last note faded.

“AMEN!” Jabberwock and Bonpo replied, heartily.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Abaddon XIII

When she awakened the next morning, she was surprised to find a coating of frost covering her blanket and the ground. She glanced up at the sky and shuddered. If she was right, there would be snow before the day was out. As if in response to that thought, one delicate (but icy) flake promptly landed on her nose. Her first impulse was to snuggle back beneath the blankets. That, and cry. But, after all, she was the one who couldn’t wait to leave her father’s kingdom behind. Gritting her teeth (again), she eased her way out of the blankets and was soon shivering despite her cloak, two cotton and one flannel blouses, and her cotton and wool skirts. Brrr . . . when would Bonpo ever have that coffee ready.

Rationally, she knew that once they started walking, her body would begin to warm up, but she was too cold to think rationally. And, if the cold wasn’t bad enough, a fine mist of snowflakes had begun to fall. If they didn’t get moving soon, she would be soaked from the sticky flakes. Her toes and fingers and nose already felt frozen. Eluned sniffed and began to stamp her feet. She needed to make a trip into the woods but the thought of raising her skirts even a fraction of an inch. Not that she actually had much choice, she grimaced. She eyed the woods in disgust, then looked longingly back at the fire that was roaring happily once again thanks to Bonpo’s ministrations. Jabberwock was sitting there, apparently carefree, as he seemed to be watching her quandary with great amusement. She glared at him and he barked with laughter.

“Valdaree, valdara, valdaree, valdara ha ha ha ha ha,” he started singing. If looks could kill, Jabberwock would have been silenced immediately. As it was, Bonpo, missing entirely the fact that the Bandersnatch was pestering the Princess, took up the song as well:

“A knapsack on my back,” he sang , lustily, is his rich bass. The Princess shrieked and stomped off into the woods. “What?” he asked Jabberwock, much taken aback by Eluned’s response. “What I do?”

“Not a thing,” he was assured. “Not a thing.”

To give the Princess some credit, she returned to the fire seemingly embarrassed. “I am sorry for my outburst,” she apologized, formally. “I don’t know what got into me.” And I don’t know why Jabberwock has become so short-tempered with me, she thought. But, if she had really thought about it, she would have realized that both Jabberwock and Bonpo were as uncomfortable as she was with the dropping temperatures. The flakes were beginning to fall more quickly, and they all continued to glance at the sky as they gulped their hot coffee and bolted down some oatmeal. They left their camp barely an hour after first awakening and not a one gave it a second glance when it disappeared from sight as they turned the bend in the trail.

The snow was falling so thickly that the trio could barely see a few yards ahead of themselves. Because Bonpo’s stride was so long, Eluned was leading and both Jabberwock and Bonpo nearly fell on top of her, when she tripped over a root hidden by the snow and tumbled head first along the path. The curse she bellowed would have sent the Queen into shock. Jabberwock was dumbfounded, but only because the Princess had obviously spent more time with the castle’s various servants (who would have cursed like that? The stable hands? The domestics?) than she had let on. Bonpo was caught so off guard, that he brayed laughter. Eluned righted herself, brushed as much of the wet snow off her clothing as possible and continued to march. But it wasn’t just the cold that made her cheeks red. And, every time Bonpo snorted with laughter (it took a good mile and a steady ascent to calm him down the first time) as he remembered her outburst, the hue in her cheeks would deepen. They hadn’t stopped for lunch yet, and she wasn’t sure she could make it the rest of the day. Not only was she frozen and tired, but she had humiliated herself, and that, along with the fall had taken a lot out of her.

As a matter of fact, when it came time to stop for lunch, she started shivering so quickly, that Jabberwock suggested marching rations. Despite the fact she was tired of walking, she wanted to stop even less. She gratefully accepted the pemmican Bonpo offered her and gnawed on it as they continued their climb to the next campsite. She was sure they would arrive early. They had been walking steadily all day.

It must have been the snow, but about the time they figured they should be reaching the campsite, they could find nothing that resembled a flat spot with a permanent fire ring. Three pairs of eyes squinted through the falling snow and bluish light over the course of the next few miles, seeking anything that even slightly resembled a spot to camp. They had long since given up on finding the actual site, and Eluned was at the brink of despair—her feet were throbbing and cold, her nose ran constantly and was chapped, as were her lips and cheeks, and she couldn’t remember the last time she had felt her finger tips. Where, oh where was the site. And precluding the actual site, why, oh why couldn’t they find at least a half-way flat spot in which to camp for the evening.

The bluish light was beginning to fade to grey and still the snow came tumbling down. Eluned was the first to voice their fears, although she tried to make it sound lighthearted, “This must be the Snow of Misery,” she laughed (or was it a sob), “because I sure am miserable.”

“I imagine this is the prelude,” Jabberwock answered. “If this were the actual Storm, we wouldn’t even be able to walk.” Bonpo grunted his agreement. This snow was bad, but it was a spring shower compared to the hurricane that was the Snow of Misery, which had been very aptly named.

“What happens if we get caught in the storm?” Eluned asked, quietly. Neither Bonpo nor Jabberwock responded. How to tell her it meant certain death? Not only because of the amount of snow that would be dumped on the mountains and block the pass from either side, but because they were carrying only a few days rations—enough to get them comfortably down the eastern side of the range and to the village that sat on its lower slopes. Presuming they could build themselves some sort of shelter to last them ‘til the worst of the snow melted, they would run out of food (even if they rationed it) long before that happened. The Snow of Misery could easily keep the passes blocked for up to a month, depending on how much snow fell. They would be lucky if they made it a week if they were unfortunate enough to be trapped. At that moment, Jabberwock could not think of a more dismal death.

Eluned had begun to moan softly, as if every step brought her insufferable pain. No doubt her feet were nearing frostbite in those relatively thin-soled suede boots. If Jabberwock had thought about it, he would have made sure she was better outfitted for the trip. He had known they would be crossing these mountains, and yet he hadn’t thought of warning her about either the potential for severe cold nor the fact that if she weren’t used to it, the hiking might cause her feet to feel as if they were being struck continuously with a baseball bat.

It hadn’t occurred to him because he always trotted around on four legs. He eyed her, guiltily, and started looking harder for a spot to camp. Obviously, they had passed the site. “All right,” he barked, “I give up. Let’s just camp in the middle of the trail!”

Bonpo and Eluned stopped so suddenly that Jabberwock ran into the giant’s left leg; it was like running into a tree trunk.

Bonpo didn’t waste any time. Setting down his load of food and blanket, he tromped off into the woods to gather wood for a fire. Unlike the previous day when she had to force herself into the woods to gather wood, this time she took off quickly after Bonpo. The idea of standing still for even one minute in the constantly falling snow made her shiver uncontrollably. So, despite her throbbing feet, she scavenged with Bonpo, pawing away snow and numbly picking up fallen branches.

Back on the trail, Jabberwock was kicking aside snow in an effort to get as firm a base as possible for the fire. He sighed. At least they wouldn’t have to worry about setting the woods on fire. Bonpo returned with wood, and with what seemed like magic, soon had a fire blazing. Eluned followed shortly with more wood and began pacing the perimeter of the blaze, passing behind Bonpo and Jabberwock as she made her circuit. In some ways, she was afraid to stop, fearful that her body temperature would drop too much if she stilled herself for even a second. Eventually, exhaustion won out and she wrapped herself in a blanket, and sat as close to the fire as she dared.

Using snow for water, Bonpo elected to make a soup for dinner. The more hot liquid he could get into the Princess, the better off she would be, he decided.

All things considered, it didn’t take long for the soup—just a matter of rehydrating the vegetables and meat (and several more forays into the woods to gather an overnight and morning supply of wood). Once they had savored every last drop, Bonpo pulled out a tarp and rigged them a covered space close to the fire. They had to suffer the occasional blast of wind blown smoke, but at least they were free of the snow (although Jabberwock worried whether the tarp would withstand a night’s worth of the precipitation).

Bonpo saw him eyeing the roof of the tent, and offered to occasionally wipe it clear during the night should the tarp begin to sag. There was a collective sigh of relief from both Jabberwock and Eluned; the latter snuggling down into her blankets and drifting off to sleep to the sounds of the crackling fire and the murmured conversation between her two companions. Oddly enough, she felt content.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Abaddon XII

The last of the logs had died down to coals. Next to him, wrapped around his small body for the meager warmth it provided, the Princess slept soundly, peacefully, the sleep of innocence, youth, and exhaustion. But not so for the Bandersnatch. He was far removed from the Misrule Pass. The Vale Vixen bloomed lushly around him. He inhaled the scent of tropical flowers, hummed to the symphony of birdsong and falling water, the sweet music of Kamali’s laughter; and remembered a day when immortality and the immensity of time were something to look forward to. For eternity was not questioned in paradise. It simply was.

Since the slaughter, he had worried the question of time like a bone, gnawing it incessantly, unable to break through to the marrow. He and Kamali had once spent a perpetuity staring into each other’s bottomless eyes. There he had known heaven, the answer to life and life everlasting. The glyphs of all great questions spiraled and danced, revolved and whorled in the depths of Kamali’s eyes, and Hiurau had no need to ask for explanations. He had known.

But. The slaughter. It had changed all that. As they fled heaven, their haven, like Adam and Eve exiled from the Garden of Eden, all knowledge disappeared. Survival. That was all that mattered. All unknowing they had entered Gehenna—the Devastation—and suddenly Hiurau was plunged into his own private Hell.

How long had he been alive? How many years had he spent in the bliss of Vale Vixen? Had he ever been a child? Surely? He could no longer remember. Time after the slaughter had been counted, painfully, second by second. Eternity measured by the slow burn of the sun across the sky, the cold light of the moon that gleamed off his silver fur. Sometimes he wondered if he even slept but he knew that he must for surely the nightmares that ravaged his mind only snaked their way into his unconsciousness when he closed his eyes? And, the serpent, his nightmare, was time.

He sighed, and Eluned stirred. He had long ago come to terms with time. At least, that it was a matter that needed to be dealt with. His views on it varied constantly. One day, he was perfectly at peace with the concept of a nonspatial continuum; the next, silently raging over the need for it; the next, pondering the apparently irreversible succession of events from past to present to future that marked his time. He wished he could freeze Eluned’s time, suspend her in ageless innocence—virginal, na├»ve, guileless. An Angel. But he could no more stop her from aging than he could prevent her from having her heart broken or from recognizing her purpose in life. For, contrary to their earlier discussion, he did have an inkling although it was still true that he was a pawn, albeit a willing and important pawn, in the great and secret show.

Freewill not withstanding, much was preordained. From the rise and death of prophets, false and true, to the tossing of a golden ball (not maliciously) into a forest where it rolled silently across a carpet of moss softer and more richly green than the velvet cloak that swung from the ivory shoulders of a certain queen, and across the moss and into a clearing filled with flowers (none more lovely than a certain princess) where it bounced with a gentle dinggg! against a wonderful tabernacle of granite and quivered to a halt precisely in the center of a fairy ring of toadstools.

Perhaps he should close his eyes and attempt some semblance of slumber, but he feared the flickering figures that would play upon the screen of his eyelids. Since the previous eve when suddenly reminded of the atrocities of the Devastation—first the Barrow Wight, then the Dzu-tch, Bonpo—he had been unable to banish them from his thoughts. Indescribably horrible—the suppurating flesh, the oozing craters of their eyes, craggy teeth in the lipless caverns of their mouths and the odor, fetid, rotting, putrid as if they were actively decaying. He shuddered. Would he ever forget? Was he supposed to? He felt a hand heavy against his ribs and his heart stopped for a moment before he realized it was only the Princess, comforting him even while she slept.

He wished he could delay the trip. They would make it through the pass in a matter of days. And then she would fall in love. And have her heart broken. And learn quickly how harshly cruel love, and life, could be.

Jabberwock was moving in his sleep, skinny legs jerking and muffled squeals issuing from his chest. Once again, Eluned put out a hand to calm him, but this time she awakened completely. The nightmares again. He seemed to experience them almost nightly.

A log in the fire popped and Eluned froze. Surely it would have died out by now? She had already been dreading getting it going again. She sat up and looked around and her movement awakened Jabberwock.

“What is it?” he grumbled. A twig snapped in the woods behind them and Jabberwock and Eluned scrambled to their feet, hearts pounding.

“Who’s there?” She squeaked. A monstrous hand pushed aside the branches of a fir that stood at the edge of the small clearing they had camped in. A giant body followed it, ducking under some of the higher branches.

“Bonpo!” The Princess wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. “You scared me to death.”

“I solly,” he dumped an armload of logs next to the fire. Da fire was out. You want me . . .”

“To explain just exactly what you’re doing here?” Jabberwock interrupted, sarcastically, but there was a peculiar glint in his eye.

A huge grin split Bonpo’s face. “What? You haf to ask?” Jabberwock rolled his eyes and flopped back down the fir needles. “So, what’s for breakfast?”

Bonpo chuckled and turned to his huge pack. “What? What?” Eluned asked in frustration. “Why do I always feel like I am not even present when you two are having a conversation? Would you care to explain to me why you’re here?” She glared at Bonpo’s wide back as he measured some coffee into a pot. He turned and settled the pot firmly into the coals before answering.

“I rearize when you arrive dat I was meant to be wit you,” he said, simply. “O’course, Jab have dat feerin’ too.”


“I no know reason. Jus know it meant to be.”

She looked to Jabberwock for further explanation. He only stared back, unblinking, eyes reflecting the oranges and yellows of the jumping flames between them.

“Omni.” A statement.

“Likely as not.” His skinny rear ascended as he stretched. Absolutely no doubt as to why they called that particular stretch “downward dog,” she mused. He shuffled off into the woods as Bonpo was removing a heavy black frying pan from his pack. The woods beckoned to her as well. She couldn’t complain about having him with them on their journey, she thought, crouching behind the ubiquitous fir, certainly they would be much safer and she was far from an experienced cook!

As she stepped back into the clearing, Bonpo was expertly cracking some eggs into the pan alongside some bacon that was already beginning sizzle. Her stomach twisted in on itself and she realized that the few bites of bread she managed to swallow before slipping off into an exhausted sleep the previous night had done nothing to nourish her fatigued body.

There was no cream for the coffee (guess he couldn’t carry every possible concession in his pack) but it tasted marvelous anyway. Of course, hunger was a great spice and the eggs, bacon and leftover bread renewed her energy, considerably. Yes, it was definitely going to be an advantage having Bonpo along, especially considering their former breakfast prospects had been only the leftover bread bread and water.

They spent the next few hours in silence. The clearing had long ago been leveled out as a camping spot for those traveling across the mountains. Not a hundred yards down the road and they began to ascend once again. It would be nearly noon before they made it to the pass, and nightfall before they reached the campsite halfway along the pass.

It wasn’t true, but it had seemed that every step they climbed the temperature had dropped a degree. OK. Maybe half a degree. But, it had definitely gotten colder the higher they climbed toward the pass. At one point, she had begged to stop, and pulling out her blood-stained (all right, it was grass-stained) blouse, pulled its soft and warm flannel over her two cotton blouses. Hmmm . . . maybe she should pull her cotton skirt on; but then what would she have to keep her warm between stopping for the night and getting the fire going? Sigh.

Bonpo waited patiently, but Jabberwock looked disgusted at the waste of time. Although, it was probably more a matter of standing still and his body cooling off than her procrastination.

Even with stopping for a cold lunch—leftover bacon and eggs between rapidly staling bread—and the Princess adding more layers to her frigid body, not to mention those “necessary breaks” and the not-so-necessary (I can’t walk another step! Dramatics indeed.), they made pretty good time and arrived at the pass campsite a good hour before sundown.

All Eluned wanted to do was sit, but she gritted her teeth and wandered into the woods to gather some blow downs to keep the fire going. She had no doubt that Bonpo would have it started and roaring by the time she returned! Well, she rationalized, not only am I cold (she couldn’t even feel her fingers), but I am not used to this type of walking. Gee, Jabb had four legs to walk on and she couldn’t imagine Bonpo ever getting tired. Besides, they both seemed acclimated to high altitudes. But, as far as she was concerned, it felt as if her feet were trying to push their way through the soles of her boots. But, heaven (and Omni) forbid that she be thought of as weak! She was just as capable. She just didn’t have as many miles on her yet.

She stumbled back to the campsite with an armload of wood and Bonpo nodded approvingly as he lifted it from her outstretched arms. She wanted to stick her tongue out at Jabberwock as if to say, “See, this isn’t a waste of your time.” But, she knew that was a juvenile reaction and that she really needed to refrain from doing that again, if possible. She was growing up, after all. Eighteen years old. She relished that thought for a moment. Eighteen years old and on the adventure of a lifetime. She tried not to feel too smug. But, but . . . well, she couldn’t keep her mind from drifting to that knight-in-shining-armor; her Prince Charming. As she huddled by the fire (She was right. Bonpo had gotten the fire going.), and she was enjoying its warmth, her exhaustion led her mind in directions she preferred it not go. Like: what would he look like, this man who was to sweep her off her feet? She tried to imagine. She wasn’t really sure what kind of hero she was looking for, but she knew that as soon as she saw him she would know. Her knees would go weak. Her breath would be taken away. Eye color, height, hair. Well, she had nothing to compare those to. She would just know.

She guessed it was bizarre if she actually thought about it, and she was, despite part of her telling her not to, but she had never found any man within her father’s small realm (well, even smaller than normal because she was talking just within the castle walls; technically they were within her father’s realm for another five miles) attractive. She was distracted. She stood to see if she could still see the castle from this point on the pass but there were too many trees not to mention clouds and miles.

Had she known that even on the best day she wouldn’t have been able to spot the walls of her father’s castle from this viewpoint, she might not have strained her eyes so hard. Or, had she known that from this particular vantage point, she was taking not only her last (for quite a while), but most comprehensive view of her father’s kingdom, she might have paused a moment longer. But that was yet another piece of knowledge she would remain blissfully ignorant of.

Anyway, she thought as she returned to the fire disappointed but not knowing why (she didn’t recognize homesickness because she had never left home before), she was beginning to wonder if attractive and exciting men existed solely in the few novels (belonging to Queen Fuchsia, of course) that she had chanced upon and devoured time and time again.

Certainly there weren’t any likely suspects in her father’s kingdom, or at least what she had seen of it, and believe me, she had looked, more than once. Tantalizing smells were beginning to issue forth from the cookpot over the fire and she was easily distracted.

Once again Bonpo worked his culinary magic. No actual meat this time (well, maybe some salt pork) but the beans tasted as good as any gourmet meal. How did it come to be that she was always that hungry; that thoughts of food and filling her belly could surpass thoughts of men? Who would believe it! On the other hand, as she was drifting off to sleep, snuggled warmly in her wool blankets, she couldn’t help thinking of soft lips pressed to hers, yielding warmly, and sparking a fire in the depths of her belly. With a nearly inaudible moan, she drifted off to sleep.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Abaddon XI

“What’s your problem, anyway?” Eluned asked when the inn had disappeared from view. She already missed the comfort and company it had offered.

“Problem?” he asked.

“You seem to be suffering from a bad attitude,” she complained.

“So, you’ve discovered another side of me.”

“I don’t mind seeing yet another side of you, but if I were acting the way you are you would want to know what is wrong with me.”

He was silent for a moment. “That’s true,” he admitted. “I owe you an explanation although I am surprised that you don’t have the faintest idea.”

“Actually, I do. I’m sure it has to do with meeting Bonpo and stirring up memories of the past. How come you never told me about Kamali?” her voice rose, accusingly, “and the destruction of your kind, the flight out of Dziron, the horrors of The Devastation?”

“It is a long story and to be perfectly honest there hasn’t been a time in the past eleven years that I felt you were mature enough to understand my past nor handle its ramifications.”

“I think I am ready now.”

“I concur.”

They continued to walk in silence while Jabberwock gathered his thoughts.

“Mine is a long and sad tale said the Mouse,” Jabberwock began, then replied to himself, “It is a long tail, certainly, said Alice, but why do you call it sad?”

The Princess held her tongue. The Bandersnatch was trying to explain, even if it did seem a most unusual way!

“My given name is Hiurau,” he continued, sighing, “and I was born of the Janawar in the Vale Vixen.” The silence continued for another ten minutes before Jabberwock spoke again, changing the course of his focus. “When Kamali died, I spent the next two hundred years trying to find a reason to continue to live. I became involved in mysticism, cabalism, shamanism. You name it. I studied it. Maguses abounded and I drowned myself in their teachings. But I could never seem to fill that empty space in my heart. But, I continued to read and read and read . . . anything about any subject . . .

“. . . and one day I picked up a children’s book by Lewis Carrol. But that wasn’t really his name. It was Dodgson, Charles Dodgson.” He stopped, abruptly, and the Princess almost spoke but thought better of it. His story was coming out, twisted and irrelevant as it might seem.

Through the Looking Glass was the name of the book,” he continued. There was a poem in it.” He cleared his throat and recited in a voice scratchy with emotion:

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!’

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

The tears ran down the Princess’s face in a steady stream. Oh, her poor Jabberwock. His family, his friends, his people, well, his Janawar, so cruelly hunted down and slain. It was too much for her to bear. How could humans be so inhumane? She often wondered if Omni had created humans imperfectly on purpose. Perhaps It had still to perfect creating. Maybe next time around humans wouldn’t be so cruel, selfish, greedy . . . next time around, if there was a next time around, if humans didn’t destroy themselves first. The Oral spoke of a great battle, the Har Meggido, to be fought by the forces of good against evil. Where those forces were to come from, she had no answer. She wondered, particularly, about the great warrior who was prophesied to lead the forces of good. She knew of no man worthy in this world, although admittedly she knew very little of the world outside of Zion other than what she was taught by her teachers, Jabberwock and Brother Columcille.

She took a deep breath. She was allowing her mind to wander. Anything but dealing with the problem at her feet. Impulsively, she knelt upon the rocky track and hugged the small mammal to her. For hundreds of years he had wandered this world, and others, searching for a reason. How had his travels brought him to her? Were they really so important? There had to be a larger purpose.

“There is, but do not ask me what it is.”

“Why? Because you don’t know or because you cannot tell me?”

“I’m just a pawn . . .”

“Is that what life is? Some cosmic chess game? Omni making move after move. Is It playing against something, someone? Or is It just amused by the consequences of Its actions?”

A delighted grin parted Jabberwock’s grim muzzle. “Whoa, whoa, slow down. I spoke rashly. I should have said, ‘I am a willing pawn.’ Don’t forget free will. I only meant sometimes when we are open to Its will, we must follow a path we do not necessarily wish to travel, be led in a direction we may not necessarily wish to go. But, I am happy to say that there appears to be hope for you yet, my dear. Hope for you, hope for this world and perhaps others.”

“In other words, ours is not to ask just to do.”

“You betchum Red Rider.”

“You say the oddest things. Who is Lovecraft?”

“Another writer.”

“One who has seen the horrors of the soul?” It was a statement. She wondered if Lovecraft had seen the execrations of the Devastation. If the Bandersnatch could find entrance to other worlds, surely others could as well. How many worlds were there?”

“If not here, perhaps in another world,” Jabberwock said, musingly.

“So, the only reason the Janawar were destroyed is because the Dzironi were afraid of your magic?”

“Humans need very little reason to commit genocide. Have you heard of the Gaeans?”

“The goddess worshippers?”

“They were very nearly wiped out several hundred years ago.”

“But they were strong.”


“Always religion,” Eluned sighed. “Always over which God to worship and how. And power. Who can be dominated. Possession. Greed. Men.” She glared at him.
The Janawar are not human and therefore are not guilty of human weaknesses. We lived in peace, always . . . “ he trailed off, remembering what prompted the discussion.

“I’m so sorry,” she hugged his tiny head. “It just makes me so tired. So tired.”

“There are many who wish to save the world.”

“I don’t pretend to think that I am the one. To be perfectly honest, I am not even sure it’s possible.”

“That’s entirely up to You-Know-Who.”

“If It is there. Sometimes I wonder.”

“Breaking Faith, Princess? I am shocked.” But his tone of voice said otherwise.

“Father would kill me.”

“And it would break your mother’s heart.”

“Well, they need not worry. Faith is there more often than not. When I argue with myself I always find Omni in the end.” Omni, as It was crudely and commonly called, was derived from the fact that It, the Supreme Being, was omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, or so it was said. A trinity of powers for the three-in-one.

“Do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you mean?”

“Omni,” she faltered. What did she mean? How do you explain faith? She looked at Jabberwock, oddly. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“What?” he asked, all innocence.

“Don’t give me that. You know exactly what I mean.”

“You are absolutely positive, in your heart of hearts, that there is a God?”

She pondered for a moment before nodding her head, vigorously. “Yes, Jabb, I’m sure of it. A god. A supreme being. I guess . . . I guess I just wonder why?”


“What is this being’s purpose for us?”

“Purpose? Other than to love It, love one another? That’s not enough?”

“No. There has to be more.”

“Spoken like a true teenager. Perhaps there is no other purpose.”

“Don’t say that. It’s unconscionable.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I cannot believe we were put here as some experiment or some vast diversion . . . “

“Ah, the cosmic chess game again . . . a satire, tragedy, melodrama.”

“Satire,” she sighed. “No, I cannot believe that.”

“And once again I ask, is love not enough?” They reached a steep stretch in the road where it climbed out of a switchback. The Princess felt the muscles in her calves and thighs tighten; the exertion stole her breath. She was going to be sore tonight. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet, and she wasn’t sure how high the Misrule Pass was, but she knew they had a lot of climbing left to do before they reached it. On that thought, she began to look forward to lunch—just a moment to sit down, catch her breath. What was she doing here, in the Mountains of Misericord, with this strange little creature, the last of his kind, asking herself rhetorical questions?

She was on the quest of a lifetime, but would she find any answers? After all, what on earth did she know about love? How could she know if love was the answer to her questions? Yet another question she couldn’t answer. Best now just to clear her mind, question Jabberwock more thoroughly later, when she could breathe again.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Abaddon X

“What’s the real reason you left Dziron?” Eluned asked, testing her coffee with a tentative tongue. It was still too hot. She set it gently back in her saucer and looked Bonpo in the eyes.

“I terl you, too corld.” He couldn’t meet her eyes.

“It’s not that much warmer here,” she insisted. “There has to be another reason.” Jabberwock was watching her with wonder.

She waited for Bonpo to answer, unbuttoning her skirt to relieve the pressure on her overfull belly. Bonpo had filled her with an exquisite soup of stuffed dumplings, rice and stir-fried vegetables, lemon mousse and shortbread. She tried her coffee again. Almost.

Bonpo sighed and his chair protested, loudly, as he resettled his weight. “I no know how say dis.”

“You killed someone.” The Bandersnatch stated it for him. The Princess was startled.


“Dhami Dhole know all,” Bonpo acknowledged.

Her eyes searched the Yeti’s face. Fire burned along the high cheekbones, the dark, tilted eyes danced across the table searching for distraction, anything but the face of the beautiful princess.

“Well,” Eluned asked, “are you going to tell us why? Obviously, it’s not something you’re proud of. Was it self-defense? You must have had a good reason. I don’t think you’re a murderer.”

“No. Not kirrer. Ret me exprain. I kirl not forl me. I kirl for sao.”

“Sao?” Eluned asked.

“Snow leopard,” Jabberwock defined.

“You killed a snow leopard? I don’t understand.”

“No. No kirl sao. Kirl for sao.”

“You killed a man? Or another animal?”

“Hunter. Sao arlmos extinck. Dis man, he poacher. He kirl many sao. Mus stop.”

“So you just killed him?”

“I cause avaranche so he die.”

Eluned laughed. “It’s not funny but it is. Sounds like justifiable homicide to me.”

“The ‘he needed killin’ defense? I wish I’d had Bonpo around 300 years ago,” Jabberwock groused. “We could have used his help when we were being exterminated by the Dzironi.”

“No. You no unnerstan. Never right take rife.”

“I still don’t understand why you had to leave,” Eluned prodded.

“Big mistake kirl dis man. Big man, big name. Search party t’reaten udder Dzu-tch. I tol’ reave.”

"The other yeti ran you off!” Eluned was aghast. “How could they do that to you? Wouldn’t it have been easier to hide out for awhile?”

“You no unnderstan. I bleak ancien’ raw. No bring ‘tention, danger, to home of yeti. I know dis yet I kirl man anyway.”

“You should have broken his neck and carried him to a lower elevation,” the Bandersnatch said, coldly. “At least that way he would have been found right away and perhaps you wouldn’t have suspected. Certainly it would have kept away the search parties.”

“Yes, better sorution,” Bonpo concurred, “but I did not want touch dis man.”

“We learn from our mistakes,” Jabberwock chided the giant.

Bonpo laughed. Eluned was glad the yeti had a good sense of humor. She glared at the Bandersnatch. Why was he being so contemptible?

“Is it always this empty?” She indicated the inn’s dining area.

“Vely quiet ‘cep on res days.”

“It’s been very relaxing,” she yawned, “and the wine, the food, and the company have been outstanding.”

“Yes, thank you,” Jabberwock said.

“You mos’ werlcome. I have queshuns forl you, but dey wait ‘terl morning. I show you your rooms.”

“Please.” Eluned stood and stretched. “I am exhausted.” She arched an eyebrow at the Bandersnatch. I’ll talk to you later, her look plainly said.

Once more they ascended the creaking stairway. The room Bonpo opened for her impressed the Princess. She took in the large feather bed with its fluffy down comforter and the cheery fire in the fireplace and felt her lids growing heavier. Bonpo produced a flask from his vast pockets and set a snifter of brandy warming on her bedside table. She idly wondered if she had not actually died earlier that day and this was heaven.

As his back retreated down the hallway, Jabberwock tagging along at his heels, she called, “You’ll probably have to wake me in the morning, Jabberwock.”

“Oh, I wake,” Bonpo offered. “What time you want get up?”

“At dawn,” the Bandersnatch answered. “We stopped short today. We have lots of time to make up.”

“Why are we in such an all-fire big hurry?” Eluned asked.

“Tell her,” Jabberwock ordered the yeti.

“If you no closs mountains nex’ few days, you be trap in Snow of Misely.”

“Snow of Misery?”

“Yes, rate winter snowstorm come same time each year.”

“Satisfied?” Jabberwock asked.

Lacking a better retort, Eluned extended her tongue, “Phooey on you.” What was his problem, anyway?

But, in the morning, Bonpo didn’t ask any questions. Eluned wondered if they had had further conversation that night—in Jabberwock’s room or down by the fire or even somewhere else. Certainly, it seemed as if the two shared a deeper connection than one could see on the surface. She wondered what they had talked about while she was drowsily sipping her brandy and enjoying her own fire, daydreams and warm comforter. She had even wondered, if idly, whether Bonpo had helped her drowsiness along . . . a little secret something slipped into the flask? But, of course, she was extraordinarily exhausted—both physically and emotionally. Either way, it didn’t take her long to slip off to a most restorative and dreamless sleep.

When Jabberwock awakened her at the crack o’dawn the next morning, she was sound asleep and it took her more than a few minutes to fully awaken. But, once she did, she felt re-energized. She did regret sliding out of bed. The fire had died out during the night and the room had grown chilly.

She debated re-starting the fire but decided against it because by the time it actually had any effect on the room, she’d probably be a mile or so down the road.

As she dressed, she began to regret her decision to bring only warm-weather clothes. Instead of gaining the warmth she desired, she seemed to be losing it. And, it appeared that there would not be an opportune moment any time in the near future to not only wash her clothes, but to allow them to dry. Only two days into the trip, and she was ending each night completely exhausted! And now there were intimations of being trapped in the Snow of Misery. That was definitely a feeling she wanted to avoid at all costs. Misery. Even saying the word made her feel miserable!

Instead of donning the flannel blouse she had worn the previous day, she opted to layer. She just couldn’t bear the thought of putting on that blood-smeared blouse despite the fact she could only barely discern a grass-stain or two (at the most) on the front of it. But she had felt that blood soak through her collar!

She put on a couple of lighter blouses and her wool skirt (again!) before plaiting her hair, surveying the room (she had even somewhat made her bed) and treading lightly downstairs.

Bonpo (Bless his heart!) was ready with a hot, but not too hot, cup of coffee and cream. She sipped it, eagerly, relishing the sensation of the hot liquid as it made its way down her throat and warmed her belly. Bonpo set a plate of fresh-from-the-oven turnovers in front of her. She watched, nearly mesmerized as the steam wafted from them. Finally, she picked one up and tasted it and she remembered Jabberwock harassing her about the food the night before last. She could feel herself salivating even as she took a bite. Apple, flaky, cinnamon . . . mmm. She nearly shuddered. Too bad Bonpo had a job, she’d hire him as her personal cook!

As Eluned enjoyed her breakfast, Jabberwock sat grimly on the bench opposite her. She purposefully ignored him. She had had a wonderful night’s sleep, she was not about to let him disrupt her digestion with his grumpiness. She thoroughly enjoyed her turnover and coffee and decided that she wouldn’t even ruin things by talking about serious matters. She made small talk with Bonpo and left Jabberwock to his own thoughts.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Abaddon IX

The hills had closed in around them, many of them topped with barrows and standing stones, when the first drop of rain landed, splat, on the top of Eluned’s head. She was surprised by its warmth and reached up to touch the sphere of precipitation that was now trickling through her hair to her scalp. It didn’t feel right. It had too much texture for water. And, not only that, it was warm! When had rain, except maybe in the most tropical of climates, or perhaps in the desert (well, she could hope) been warm? She withdrew her hand and stared in horror at her fingers. Blood! She lifted her face to the skies as if she expected to see ruby red clouds raining garnets of blood. She saw nothing but the ashy clouds above her; felt the warm, unpleasant smack of another drop against her forehead. She wiped it away in disgust and turned to see Jabberwock watching her, eyes mirroring her fear and repulsion. His hairy brow wrinkled in perplexity.

A large drop splattered his moist, black nose, and he shook his head, spraying droplets of blood all over the white roadbed. Eluned began to moan and picked up her pace in an effort to avoid the rain. But, the faster she ran, the harder it fell. The soft clay of the road was soon a sticky red paste. Blood dripped from the Princess’s ebony curls and slowly soaked her shoulders and insinuated its way inside of her wool cloak, staining the collar of her white blouse.

As suddenly as she started running, she stopped. Eyes rolling, wildly, she searched for cover. Panting, the Bandersnatch finally caught up with her.

“What is wrong with you?” he gasped, scrawny chest heaving.

Eluned stared down at him as if she were talking to a madman. His gray fur was matted with blood. Even his eyes reflected the bright, dark red that coated the landscape with its evil smell.

“Take a deep breath,” he ordered, “and calm down.”

The thick, metallic smell was asphyxiating. Gagging, she continued to search for cover, mumbling, “out, out, out.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Jabberwock barked, frustration and fear echoing in the rising octaves of his doggish voice. His precious princess was losing it in front of his very eyes and he had no clue as to why the rain had prompted this insane behavior.

She was now mumbling, “blood, blood, blood,” while simultaneously scrubbing the slimy liquid from her carnelian lips with a blood smeared fist.

The short, bristly hairs on the Bandersnatch’s neck stood at attention. Ears pricked and alert, tail ready to march, he carefully eyed the hills around them. A phantom was at work, a Wight, a creature of the barrows, home to the dead, had spotted the Princess and was spinning its evil web . . .

Out of the corner of his eye, Jabberwock saw a flash of gray wool and mud-stained suede as the Princess suddenly turned and sprinted up a barrow. His eyes widened in terror when he saw where she was heading. A door had opened in the barrow where heretofore none had existed. And Eluned was running toward it as fast as her lithe young legs could carry her. Using all the power available to him, Jabberwock screamed with his mind, “STOP!”

The Princess reacted as if struck by lightning. Hands to head, and back arched, she briefly resembled a bow before her feet began to slip from beneath her and she rolled, ungracefully, back down the wet, grassy slope.

She had barely reached the bottom before she began scrambling back up the hill again. Pupils large, lids heavy, she looked drugged, or, perhaps, hypnotized. With only a modicum of regret, Jabberwock sunk his razor sharp teeth into Eluned’s hand as it sought purchase in the slippery turf of the barrow.

She screamed in pain, but her eyes cleared and she looked in disbelief at her friend. Blood was trickling from his narrow jaw but he retained his grip until he was sure the Wight had lost its grasp on the Princess’s mind.

Eluned looked around her in dismay. The door at the top of the barrow had disappeared, and the blood was gone, replaced by a cold drizzle. Tears slowly cleansed the mud and grass from her face. Unconsciously, she wrapped a linen handkerchief around her wounded hand.

“A Barrow Wight,” Jabberwock explained as they stumbled the last few feet to the road.

“A . . .,” she whispered, face gray with shock.

“An apparition,” he muttered, “the putrid, dripping, eidolon of unwholesome revelation.”


“H.P. Lovecraft.”

Eluned buried her face in her hands, shuddering. “There was blood . . . everywhere. It was raining blood. I was walking in a stream of blood. The hills were red with blood . . . blood . . . blood.” Her hand ached, terribly, and she was shivering with shock and cold. She began to cry again. “I’m sorry,” she managed when the sobs had finally subsided, “I just didn’t expect our journey would be so . . . so . . . uncomfortable.”

“I always told you you were too much a romantic,” Jabberwock chided her, but kindly. “If you can hold out another half hour or so, we’ll reach the last inn before the mountains. We’ll call it an early day. You need rest and warmth . . .”

“Mulled wine,” she interrupted.

“Exactly,” he agreed.

“Warmth,” she continued. “The desert. Heat. Sun. Sand. Blue Skies.” The last mile disappeared beneath her feet as she chanted a mantra of and for comfort.”

They came to a crossroads. Straight ahead, the Mountains of Misericord towered above them so high Eluned could see only the lower slopes, shrouded as the mountains were in billowing robes of cloud. An ancient sign creaked and twisted in the breeze. The archaic lettering, a remnant of the Great Demesne, was weathered beyond legibility. Tracing the indentations with a finger yellow with the cold, Eluned discovered the track led north to Muskroe and south to Seagirt. She looked at the Bandersnatch, eyebrow raised. Would they be heading north or south or would they continue their journey to the east?

“We’ll be traveling so far east we’ll be west,” he answered her unspoken question.

“The desert?” she asked, hopefully. Didn’t the Draconian Desert lie beneath the eastern slopes of the Mountains of Misericord?

Jabberwock only smiled and inclined his head toward the inn. The slate roof was covered with mosses and lichens creating the effect of a natural patchwork quilt. Smoke curled from the chimney, dipped and swirled with the currents of air before settling on a path to the heavens. Golden light brightened the windows and beckoned cold and weary travelers. With a sigh and a groan, the Princess and the Bandersnatch set their stiff muscles in motion, leather soles and sharp claws slapping and tapping the cobbled path to the door.

Except for the crackling of the fire, the inn was blessedly silent. It was also empty.

“Hello!” Eluned called, shutting the heavy oak door on the cold air outside. “Hello?” She tried again, making her way over to the fire.

Silence, and more silence. Eluned and the Bandersnatch shared an uneasy glance.

“I don’t like this.” Jabberwock whispered.

“You don’t think . . .” The Princess looked over her shoulder, nervously.

“There’s no telling . . .” A door slammed somewhere above them and they both jumped. Eluned screamed. She clapped a slender hand over her mouth in case another shriek should try to erupt. Her eyes rolled, wildly, in their sockets, for the second time that day. The throbbing in her hand reminded her of what had happened the last time she lost control. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath.

“Ello!” Basso profundo. “Ello? Body dere?”

“Hello,” Eluned squeaked, cleared her throat and tried again, “Hello! Yes!” What sounded like an elephant was lumbering down the stairs.

The largest man she had ever seen appeared at the bottom of the staircase. He had to be at least eight feet tall, Eluned estimated. But he wasn’t just tall. He was large. Not fat, exactly, but he appeared to be carrying a couple hundred pounds of muscle, alone, on his barrel-chested torso. He had to weigh at least a quarter of a ton, she thought as she unashamedly gawked. Thick, shiny (he was clean, that was a plus!) and straight blue-black hair framed a face as broad as China. Dark, slanted eyes, a squat nose, and a full, smiling mouth seemed somehow out of place on this giant.

“Yes, can I help you? Yes?” His hair, poorly cut (as if someone had stuck a bowl on his head and chopped around it), swung around his face as his head bobbed up and down. He was making Jabberwock dizzy.

“We need.” Eluned stopped. She didn’t know what she wanted more—mulled wine, hot food or a warm bath and bed.


“We need a room and food and bath and wine and,” she bit her full lower lip, thinking, “well, I guess that about sums it up.”

Their host was staring at the Bandersnatch, wonder in his Mongol eyes. “You,” he addressed Jabberwock, “You da Dhami Dhole.”

“Historically speaking,” the Bandersnatch sighed, and then smiled, wickedly, “and you must be the Dzu-tch.”

The giant bellowed laughter. “Teoleticary speaking, yes. I eight-feet tarr. I eat beef.”

“Dami? Dole? Dzu? Dzu?” Eluned sputtered.

“I get wine,” their host left the room, chuckling.

“Explain.” The Princess ordered.

“I hate it when you get imperious,” Jabberwock kvetched, but he was actually enjoying himself.

“Exprain, prease,” Eluned amended, sitting on a bench in front of the snapping fire. “He recognized you. What’s a dami dole? What’s a dzu-, a dzu-whatever you said? How did he know you could talk?”

“Are you quite finished?”

Eluned rolled her eyes.

“It’s Dhami, d-h-a-m-i, Dhole, d-h-o-l-e.”

“Yeah, so?”

“A dhami is a sorcerer or necromancer.”

“A ledgerdemainist, thaumaturge or magus? Her look was cold. If Jabberwock had been capable of blushing, he would have done so.

“I told you the truth. So I’m a living legend, what can I say?”

“I still don’t understand. What’s a dhole?”

Jabberwock muttered something unintelligible.

“What did you say?”

“I said a dhole is a doglike mammal.”

“A calnivole, too, no?” Their host rejoined them with a steaming jug of mulled wine and two, thick, clay goblets. He poured for himself and the Princess.

“Where I come flom,” he said, “Dhami Dhole myfrical cleatures wif many powers. Didn’t know Dhami Dhole stirl exist.”

“Like telepathy and prescience?”

“Yes, terepafy. Know future, too. Tought Dhami Dhole ting of past. Can’t berieve Dhami Dhole here, fole my eyes.”

“Wait a second. Did you say creatures? Plural?”

“Prural, yes.”

“I have reason to believe I am the only Bandersnatch in existence,” Jabberwock explained.


“That’s Bandersnatch, you oaf,” Jabberwock was miffed. It was important that the Princess never doubted his word.

“Jabberwock the Bandersnatch,” the Princess indicated the grouchy Dhami Dhole. “I am the Princess Eluned of Zion.”

“Bonpo,” he introduced himself, extending a hand the size of a hamhock. Eluned clasped it, tentatively, but Bonpo was surprisingly gentle.

“So,” she eyed the Bandersnatch, “I thought you were immortal?”

“Unless killed. I don’t die of old age.”

“Kind of like a tortoise, huh?”

“I suppose that’s an apt enough comparison.”

“Are you sure you’re the only Bandersnatch in existence?”

“Vely rikery,” Bonpo said, “In Dziron, onry myf, regend.”

“Which reminds me,” Eluned turned to Bonpo, “What’s a Dzu-whatever Jabberwock said?”

“It is Yeti.”


“The abominable snowman,” Jabberwock helped him out. “A creature about eight feet tall that eats cattle.”

“Abomneral snowman!” Bonpo’s laughter clapped like thunder. “Vely good, vely good!”

Eluned was edging away from the laughing giant. “Sounds like a pretty good description to me.”

“Eat cow, not human,” he was still laughing.

“So why did you leave the Peaks of Vulpecula?”

“Too corld.”

Eluned shivered but she was no longer listening. Vulpecula. Didn’t that have something to do with the word, fox? “Why Vulpecula?”

“Vely qrick, dis woman,” Bonpo’s face was flushed with admiration.

“What else is hiding up there in those mountains?” She asked the Bandersnatch. “Dragons, unicorns?”

“Too corld.”

“I heard you,” she snapped.

“I meant too corld for dragon.”

“Oh.” She blushed. “Solly, I mean, sorry.”

Bonpo sailed off into gales of laughter. Jabberwock was grinning, too, in his usual way—teeth bared, tongue lorring, uh, lolling.

Eluned shivered and moved closer to the fire. Bonpo refilled her cup with hot wine and stood.

“I fix hot baf.” He shambled back up stairs, steps creaking loudly beneath his weight. In the ensuing silence, they could hear his continued chuckles muffled by the sound of splashing water as he filled a tub for the Princess.

“How come there are no more Bandersnatches?” She sipped the soothing, deep red liquid. Somehow, she just couldn’t compare it to the similarly colored liquid that had nearly made her lose her mind only hours earlier.

“Genocide. About 300 years ago, we were considered warlocks. We were hunted down with dogs,” he spat the latter word, “spitted and burned.”

A cold chill insinuated its way once more through her body. She shook her head in denial. She didn’t even want to imagine. “No wonder you despise dogs,” she said, quietly. “Were you the only Bandersnatch to escape?”

“No, there were others. We scattered to the four winds.”

“I assume you can reproduce.”

“Most certainly, but only if we have a mate.”

“You didn’t have a mate?”

“I did.”

Eluned’s heart sank. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what he was about to say.

“She was killed when we crossed The Devastation of Pelf.”

“You crossed The Devastation! I thought, I thought . . .”

“Thought it was impossible?”


“Very nearly. But there is life there, the most repulsive,” he shuddered. “Lovecraft, himself, would be hard put to describe the terrors, the monstrosities in that wasteland.”

Lovecraft again! She’d have to ask him about that later. “She wasn’t . . .”

“I couldn’t save her,” his voice cracked. Nearly three hundred years later and it was still like it happened yesterday. “It was hiding beneath the sands. It’s fiendish claw tore into her flesh.” He stopped and took a deep breath. “Suffice to say that Kamali did not suffer long but I carry the anguish of that moment for eternity.”

The Princess was stunned into silence and tears stung her eyes. She had been meeting with Jabberwock almost daily for eleven years and she had never had the slightest clue. Not an inkling or intimation, not even an indication that he had once loved as she might never even hope to love.

The yeti was pounding down the stairs. She wondered how long the staircase would last beneath his weight.

Jabberwock stared, morosely, into the fire remembering a time more than three hundred years earlier when love was life; and life was a hidden, verdant valley in the Peaks of Vulpecula. A time when there was little to fear; when the Janawar (for Bandersnatch is what the Jabberwock chose to call himself in his new life) coexisted peacefully with the yeti, yak and snow leopards; where lotus bloomed in cerulean pools and snow never fell; and why was a question that did not require discussion.

Eluned quietly stood, leaving Jabberwock to his memories and tears and still-aching heart. She followed Bonpo up the stairs and the gentle giant did his best to climb silently.

Easing her sore body into the hot, scented water, the Princess inhaled the fragrance of honeysuckle and roses and slowly her muscles began to relax. But, her mind was racing. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems; everything always takes a lot longer than you think it ought to, and that seemed to particularly apply to her at this point. Had she really been so self-centered that she had never pressed Jabberwock on his past? Why had it taken her eleven years to find out about her great-grandmother? Kamali? How long had she been taking things at face value? She was beginning to scare herself. Eluned vowed to look deeper—at herself, the Bandersnatch, at everyone and everything she came in contact with. Surely the climate was not the only reason Bonpo had ventured here from Dziron. This was a cold land, too. The Mountains of Misericord towered above the inn and brought snow and storms nearly three seasons out of four. Surely if he had desired warmth he would have journeyed farther south. There were many warm lands in the south—the Desert of Tarshish, the Favonian Islands, the Kingdom of Adam, to name just a few.

She resolved to question him further after her bath. Jabberwock, too, for that matter. She sipped at her wine as she contemplated her new self, or at least what she hoped would become her new self. She chuckled. Perhaps, she would turn out all right, after all.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Abaddon VIII

Dawn was stretching her golden limbs when the Princess was awakened by Jabberwock. “Oh, I slept terribly,” she complained.

“You don’t have to tell me,” snarled the Bandersnatch. “I had to listen to the rustle of straw as you tossed and turned all night.”

Eluned padded over to the washbasin and splashed cold water on her puffy face. “I feel like I slept in the dragon’s lair last night.” She poked, tenderly, at the tired flesh beneath her eyes. “I must look like a dragon,” she croaked and bared her teeth at Jabberwock.

“Sorry, my dear, but I am afraid you couldn’t even frighten a mouse. You always look beautiful whether you are mad or sad or even when you are tired.”

“Well, thank you,” she pulled a wide-toothed comb through her tangled curls. “I’d hate to meet my knight in shining armor and look like a fiend.”

“Not to worry,” Jabberwock yawned, waiting for the Princess to get dressed and idly wishing he could see the expression on the face of the first man to see her undressed. Uriel, preferably. She was something to behold.

“You’re holding out on me,” she said, with a laugh. “You know who my prince charming is, don’t you?”

“I mean only that when you finally meet him, he will be enraptured despite your appearance.”

She studied him for a moment, comb raised half-way to her hair. Her eyes narrowed for a moment. “I assume that’s all I am going to get out of you?”

His eyes broadened in mock innocence, as opaque as the dark wool of her long skirt. “All I can say is that you’ll know him when you meet him.” At least, he hoped so.

“Hmmpf,” she snorted, tossing her comb into her satchel. She opened the creaky wooden door of their chamber. They tip-toed downstairs, but Zelda was already up and insisted on pressing a mug of hot coffee into Eluned’s fragile hand. Her long fingers curled around the cup, thankfully. Her fingers were numb with the cold. She sipped, greedily, at the strong brew, relishing the sensation of the hot liquid as it slid down her throat and began to thaw her insides. She usually preferred it with cream but heat was priority and it wasn’t long before the warmth in her belly started to spread to her extremities.

Biscuits, warm with melted butter and thick honey, were wrapped in a red-checked cloth and shoved into her tapestry bag. The two backed out of the inn’s massive front door, which had been standing open the previous evening in order to dissipate not only body heat but body odor. Today, only Eluned’s eagerness to hit the road gave her the strength to shove the door open with her back. Although she would pay for that later with a bruised shoulder blade. With the Princess stating the necessary good-byes and thank-yous to the hovering Zelda, they finally made it to the wide white track that led toward the mountains.

“Be yer sure yer dersn’t be wantin’ bread an’ cheese fer yer lunch?”she chirped.

“We’ve made plans,” Jabberwock spoke, leaving the poor woman leaning against the door jamb, mouth agape.

Eluned sent him a reproving look but was soon choking back the laughter that threatened to explode from her throat.

It was her turn to be eyed, sternly, and she tried to apologize. “I guess I . . .”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, “we’re both tired, and,” he grumbled, “we have a hell of a long way to go today.”

“Hell?” The Princess raised an eyebrow in mock (aw, what the heck) shock.

“You’re a bad influence, my dear.”

She leaned down to kiss the soft hair on top of Jabberwock’s small and round skull. “But you love me anyway, right?”

He rolled his marble eyes. “Indubitably. It looks as if we’re in for a storm.” He changed the subject.

She watched the roiling, boiling clouds gathering over the snowy peaks to the east—the Mountains of Misericord. The jagged mountains were hidden beneath a cinereous, churning mass of clouds. She looked, worriedly, at the Bandersnatch. They, well she, at least, was not prepared to travel in the rain. She shuddered as the wind picked up, buttoned her wool cloak. Head forward and bowed against the wind, she tromped, determinedly, ahead, and Jabberwock had to trot to keep up with her.