I’m not going to pretend sleeping on the cold and hard dirt floor is comfortable, but considering how little rest I’ve gotten in the past however long it’s been since that night at Agnes’ place, well, let’s just say it doesn’t take very long to pass out completely.
The men are already dragging me out of the tent by my shoulders before I wake up enough to realize I’m being moved.
“She sure is a whittle one, idn’t she?” I recognize Noll’s voice coming from the man to the left of me.
“Nuttin’ but a waif,” another man about the same size of Noll says from the right of me. “You’d fink royalty would have a bit more meat on them’s bones.”
They throw me onto the back of a wagon waiting on the road just outside of the tents. They disappear and return shortly with Griff, who appears to have woken up a bit more animated than me.
“Get your damned hands off me, you stupid gorillas!”
“You fink we even need to keep him alive to shows him to the king?”
“I dunno,” Noll answers. “We’s should probly ask Tenney befores we did somefing like dat.”
“Meh, probably ain’t worth the effort anyhow. Maybe we’ll get a good old fashioned execution out of the affair if we keep him alive.”
They throw Griff down roughly beside me. He jumps to his feet in an effort to leap from the vehicle, but Noll’s swollen hand appears on his chest and pushes him back onto his rump.
“If’ns you can’t sits by yer lonesomes, I’s gonna haves to sits on ya,” Noll says with a smile.
“Okay, okay,” Griff replies as Noll climbs into the back of the wagon. “I’ll play nice.”
“Fanks,” Noll sits. “You don’t look likes yous a comfy chair.”
“And you don’t look like you’d be too comfortable to have sitting on me.”
Noll laughs. Griff scoots away from the brute toward the front of the wagon.
“So, where are we going?” I ask.
“We’s going to see da king,” Noll answers simply. “Tenney says he’s certain he’ll be all too happy to see yous again. ‘Specially since he hasn’t told anyone you’re missing yet.”
“Why does that matter?” Griff asks.
“I don’t rightly know,” Noll answers.
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Griff scowls.
“What?” Noll shrugs.
“Never mind, I’d rather continue to be not-smushed.”
“So, Noll,” I begin, “what sort of thing are you boys up to? Are you from around here?”
“Oh, noes,” Noll frowns. “Ain’t no one from around here. We was hired by da king to help him build his city here. He says it’s gonna be a right paradise one day.”
“How’d the king find you?”
“Oh, well, da king didn’t find us. I’ve never before seen da man. It was you who found us, miss. You came into da tavern we’s frequent out in Loidis, stating youse was looking for some able-bodied men. A’course, you was looking a mite more well-dressed back den.”
“So, you’re here to help build?”
“Oh, no, miss. We’s here for trade.”
“For trade? You all look a great deal more rough-n-tumble than a salesman should,” Griff joins in.
“Ah, yous gotta be rough when tradin’ what we’s trading.”
“I don’t know if’n I’s should tells you dat. A course, youse might be finding out soons enough, dependings on what da king’s a wantin’ wif you.”
“I think he’s a trader of people,” I offer to Griff.
“Ah, see,” Noll grins, “I knows youse was smart.”
Griff scowls at me. “Are you trying to tell me that I become a king who buys and sells people?”
“I’m not trying to tell you anything. But if we hired him, it’s definitely possible.”
“I would never—“
“Come on, Griff, you seriously think I would be interested in treating people like that? Obviously something’s up.”
Griff looks up to where I’m looking and sees the top of the castle peeking over the gate on the other side of the bridge. The castle looks almost exactly like it did in the future.
“How long has the castle been here?” Griff asks. “Looks pretty old to me.”
“I don’t fink it’s been here all dat long,” Noll answers. “But it’s been here longer den I’ve been working up here in Avalon.”
“Avalon?” I ask, nudging Griff in the side.
The horse pulls the wagon over the bridge loudly and we enter the courtyard to find it looking almost nothing like the one we had almost been burned to death in. That courtyard was filled with life: trees, grass, flowers, beautifully manicured shrubs. This version is nothing but stone, filled with trinkets in every corner. It looks more like a disorganized basement than the courtyard to a majestic castle.
“Here we is,” Noll says as the cart stops. Tenney climbs down from the horse and comes in back to supervise the removal of his prisoners
“You three have sure been chatting up a storm,” Tenney says, giving Noll a disapproving look.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Griff covers. “Noll here was just telling us of all the horrible things that could happen to us if we don’t behave.”
“No I wasn’t, I was…oh, um, yeah, dat’s what I was doin’ Tenney.”
“It had better be,” Tenney growls. “This wouldn’t be the first time you’ve gotten us into hot water with your mouth.”
“I promise,” Griff lies. “He’s been nothing but terrible to us this whole ride.”
Tenney looks to me.
“What he said,” I agree. “I’m still not sure if I’ve wet myself.”
“Gross,” Tenney frowns. “Alright then, get on out and let’s get this over with.”
Noll steps down off the wagon, causing it to tilt heavily before slamming to the ground as his weight is transferred to the stone below. He picks me up and places me next to Tenney rather tenderly. He reaches in for Griff, who waves away the meat hooks.
“Actually,” Griff says, “if you don’t mind, I’d rather help myself down. I promise I won’t try running away or whatever.”
Tenney nods to Noll in allowance of this gesture. Griff jumps off the wagon and we stand shoulder to shoulder, staring at the large doors situated in the center of the extravagant building.
“You ready for this, kid?”
“At this point, I think I’m ready for just about anything.”
“You can’t say it’s ever boring with me, right?”
“Yeah.” I give a light chuckle. “I’m beginning to think I’m finally ready to head back home to Washington.”
“There’s no place like home,” Griff laughs.
“Yeah, too bad I’ve got this stupid sphere instead of some ruby red slippers.”
“Who knows, maybe if we paint the damned thing red, we’ll actually get home.”
Go to Chapter Forty-Two