Sunday, March 23, 2014


The fowl plowed through tree branches and bushes for miles. Finally, the misery ended and John William was pulled off the saddle. Nighttime brought a drop in temperature and chill in the air, numbing his fingers. He heard water sloshing up against a shoreline and raspy voices cursing at each other. “We must be back at the river.” He tilted his head in an attempt to listen.
“The river stretches for miles; we could be anywhere,” said Celeste. “My dad is going to kill me.” Rough hands shoved the two of them up a creaky, wooden ramp and then guided down a row of narrow steps.
The odor of musty wood and stale rum stung John William’s nose. The glare of a swinging lantern shined through his blindfold. The cabin they were in started moving and a bandit came thundering down the steps. “Okay, let’s get those blindfolds off.” The bandit ripped the blindfolds, taking clumps of hair with them.
“Ouch,” John William blurted. Straight across from him, a sack teetered on a table with the words, Captain Vic’s Supper scribbled across the front. The sack wiggled and twitched. “Did you see that?” John William stared. The sack split down the middle, and a bulgy eyeball poked out, followed by ten long fingers and a pair of lips tensed to an angry pucker. “Ferdinand? Is that you?”
“You better believe it’s me! I have a few choice words for you, young man!” The hopper vigorously waved his pointing finger about.
“Boy – am I glad to see you,” John William blurted, pretending not to hear the hopper’s agitation.
“Oh? I thought you were going to make your own way,” Ferdinand sneered. “This is a fine mess you got us in! Huh! Unbelievable, you’re in Azra’s pith for mere hours and you manage to get the princess captured by bandits. Not just any bandits, I might add – the Basswood Bandits – the worst of the worst!” Ferdinand paused to roll his eyes. “We’ll be down the river and out of sight forever before anyone notices we’re gone.”
“Wait a minute,” John William interrupted. “What are you doing here anyway? Were you following me?” He narrowed his eyes at the hopper.
“Well, of course I was. Did you think I was going to just set you free on the realm? Rules are rules; you must stand before the king! I had a feeling something like this would happen. Young whippersnapper thinks he knows it all!” Ferdinand shimmied out of the narrow hole in the sack, working his mouth as if preparing to yell some more.
“Quiet,” Celeste shouted, startling both of them in to silence. “Thank you.” She smiled.
Ferdinand did not stay quiet for long. “Celeste, your dad is going to banish me for this; I just know it!”
“Oh, no he won’t. I will just tell him the truth – that it was all my fault,” she said calmly.
John William sat quietly piecing everything together in his mind. “So, the bandits were right… you’re a princess?”
Celeste nodded, frowning. “I can certainly handle myself, though. I don’t need to be protected.”
“Fantastic, a fine impression I’ve made on the king – and I haven’t even met him yet,” John William mumbled under his breath.
Celeste stiffened her posture. “Here is the plan; one of you needs to help me free myself from this tie before the hatch opens again. I will take on my bird form and fly out of here. They won’t even know what happened. Once I tell my dad, the guards will come to save you.” Her tongue hovered over her upper lip as she strained to free her hands.
Ferdinand frowned. “That’s your plan, is it? Marvelous! You are just going to flutter off in the dark of night? You don’t even know how far away from Verhonia you are. Nonsense! You’re not doing it!”
“Why can’t you turn to a bird with your hands tied? Then you could free yourself and unfasten my ties.” John William wiggled around on the bench.
“I could break a wing or something worse. I’m not willing to risk it.” Celeste replied.
“A lot of good having your hands free will do when you are locked in a cabin surrounded by bandits and river rats!” Ferdinand huffed.
The boat jolted suddenly, throwing the three of them off their seats. Celeste’s eyes lit up. She waved her hands around. “I did it!” she shrieked.
The drunken slur of a bandit sounded off from the other side of the hatch. “I don’t want any foolery in there!” The hatch shifted and wiggled.
“Don’t worry,” Celeste whispered and smiled at John William. Within seconds, she was a beautiful red robin flying around the cabin. The hatch swung open and out she flew, nearly hitting the bandit in the face.
“Oh, great,” Ferdinand grumbled.
The bandit swung his arm. “What the – how did a bird get in here? Hey, you lazy lumps! Catch that bird; let’s boil it for dinner!” He laughed belligerently, nearly falling into the cabin. John William and Ferdinand exchanged nervous glances.

The bandit poked his head in and glanced around. “Hey! Where’s the girl?” He stumbled inside, knocking ship tools and other small objects around with his tail. John William and Ferdinand remained quiet.
 The bandit stood over John William, swaying with his hands on his hips. “Well, where is the princess, wart? Did you help her escape?”
John William cleared his throat. “I, I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Is that so?” The bandit pulled a knife from his belt with a taunting smile.
“She escaped,” Ferdinand blurted. “We tried to stop her, but she refused to listen. She went out the hatch and jumped overboard.”
“Impossible.” The bandit rubbed his fingers over his oily fur. “Wait a minute… who are you?”
“Um, I believe I am Captain Vic’s supper.” The hopper stuck out his pudgy belly.
“It’s true! I heard the splash, myself,” John William gushed, trying to take the focus off Ferdinand. The bandit examined their faces.
Plunk – it sounded just like that,” said Ferdinand with an anxious laugh.
“Plunk?” The bandit replied with a confused crinkle on his soggy, rum-soaked face.
“Yes, yes, that’s right… plunk.” Ferdinand’s voice squeaked.
The bandit stormed out of the cabin. “The princess escaped! Get up, you twits!” He ran around the boat, banging his blade on an iron pot, making as much racket as one drunk bandit possibly could. The other bandits stirred.
Ferdinand shook his head with terror in his eyes. “We’re in for it now, boy….”

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