NaNoWriMo Day 6 Part 1
posted at: 11/7/2014

Great grey walls rose around them and the sky was reduced to a distant pale blue strip. Gravel crunched under their feet. Monotonously. Continuously. Like the drip of a melting icicle. And Sugar Bell's slow, persistent hoofbeats drummed on the ground like an eternal rythym. The kid, marching in front, slouched his shoulders, then his head drooped and his feet began to drag and, finally, he said the words that Matilda had expected him to say: "I'm bored!"

Even a Queen Mother can get hot and tired and annoyed after a long day of travelling in the sun. So instead of responding rationally, she just snapped angrily, "Well, you'll have to stay that way."

Which may not have been a very pleasant way to address your only travelling companion. The kid was shocked into silence. He, too, was tired and cranky and hot. After a few minutes, it became clear that he had begun to cry. He was trying admirably to hide it, but the sniffling and the occassional wiping of his eyes or nose with a dangling sleeve betrayed all of his stealth.

Matilda sighed. If he had been an adult, she might have hoped that he'd forget about it or blame it on her age, but he wasn't yet an adult. She had three sons of her own and knew that he was probably thinking that he shouldn't have come along, the Queen Mother didn't want him around, he'd never be a hero, and a hundred other thoughts that boys of his age (at the time when they're still children, but only just) were bound to think, about heroism and their chances of achieving it. "Um, Kid?" He wiped his face, sniffed, and turned towards her. She continued, "I'm sorry. I'm glad you came along."

A grin appeared on his tear-stained face, "Really?"

"Yes, really."

Several hours later, when the sun was skimming the tops of the trees on the Western horizon, they emerged from the pass with a sigh of relief. Green grass appeared on every side and trees could be seen, retreating into the East. To the West was the castle and a sheer, deadly drop (which was accompanied by a lovely view).

The wizard's cottage lay just ahead. It was a low structure made of stone. Or, rather, it had started out that way. The original cottage looked as if it had been ordinary enough--a stone square that had probably had a thatched roof at one point. Since it's creation, however, wooden appendages appeared to have grown out of it like the limbs of a tree. They projected several stories up and then, seeming to walk on stilts or spider's legs, they burst out in all four directions. Upon those wobbly legs, the house became a complex web of rooms, hallways, open-air walkways and balconies--all suspended in the air and some, more literally suspended in the air, were even projecting over the edge of the cliffs. The kid was enamored. He forgot Sugar Bell and the Queen Mother. He dropped the reins and ran up to the fantastic structure--weaving between the (sometimes crooked) support posts and staring with his mouth open in wonder and delight. Sugar Bell toddered to a halt once she wasn't being led onwards, which gave Matilda an opportunity to scramble out of the cart and take up the reins herself. She led the donkey up to the front door while the kid explored the area around the homestead.

There was no response to her knocks and Matilda began to worry even more about her friend. Had something happened to him? Would anyone know if he had died? Reginald would. Reginald was Old Herford's familiar and certainly would have taken some action if Herford was gone. What he wouldn't do is wander around the yard, apparently following a large, brown rabbit.

But that appeared to be what he was doing. Matilda had seen the pair out of the corner of her eye after her fourth attempt at summoning the wizard by knocking on his door. The rabbit would make a few hops, and the pheasant scurried along behind it. Then the rabbit would hop again and the pheasant would scurry again.

While she was observing the dynamics of this strange duo, the kid came up behind her and tugged on the hem of her cloak. He was dancing with glee as he pointed at the rabbit and the pheasant and whispered, "Look! Do you want me to get them? We could have dinner!"

Chuckling at his obvious excitement, Matilda shook her head. "We have enough food for now. But maybe you should see if you can catch that rabbit. Be careful not to hurt it. I want to have a look at it."

After giving her a solemn salute, he crept away as quietly as he could. She watched as he ranged around behind the two creatures. The pheasant became aware of him almost immediately and, instead of taking flight, it gently pecked the back of one of the rabbit's legs and cocked it's head towards where the kid had just hidden. The kid stalked the pair for some time before deciding it was time to pounce. When he did, the two creatures lazily moved out of his reach. This spectacle was repeated twice more before Matilda decided it was time to intervene. She walked up to the rabbit and the pheasant, who seemed to deem her less of a threat than the pouncing child, and bent down to peer at the large, tawny hare. "Oh, there you are, Herford! When did you become a rabbit? You could have told me."

Unfortunately, the kid decided that the distraction was just what he needed to make a successful lunge for the rabbit. He was correct. He rolled a few times with the rabbit clutched in his arms and the pheasant chasing after him, pecking at his shoes and squawking, before he stood up with it squirming in his grip. "I caught the rabbit! Um. What did you say, Your Majesty?"

"I was just talking to our host. You may want to let him go."

The lad looked with horror at the rabbit, who was kicking at his chest and trying to bite him. He dropped the hare and took a few steps backwards, stammering an apology.