“Good going Glue Pot,” Digitalis smiled. “Alright. We’ll go with you.” She sheathed her wooden spoon.
“Thank you for seeing it our way.” The man bowed and the other five searches followed suit. “You may call me Withers.” His coal gray eyes sparkled with jovial amusement. “What an honor to guide guests to the Queen!”
The search party brought three animals for Gabbie, Digitalis, and Silverskin to ride. They also brought an array of food and large skins of clean, cool water.
“What are these things?” Gabbie asked as she patted the animal carrying her at a gentle canter. It wasn’t a horse or a deerne. It had shaggy yellow fur that was smooth to the touch and two very long ears that stuck straight up. If she had to guess, the animal was closer to an equestrian than anything else. Was it shaggy because it was colder up near Crat?
“These are Snogs. “ Withers scratched the elongated muzzle of Gabbie’s mount. It closed its black eyes with pleasure and began to purr. Gabbie felt the strong vibrations rumbles through her rib cage. A pale ache from her barely bruised ribs echoed faintly, but not enough to incapacitate her. Gabbie had wondered why her injuries had just…disappeared. Digitalis and Silverskin’s, too.
“Doesn’t the word snog mean kiss?” Gabbie chuckled. She ran her hand over the patch of fuzz on the animal’s head. It purred even louder.
“Exactly! Snogs were named by humans because these beauties are so—“
Gabbie’s Snog craned its neck to plant a sloppy kiss on Gabbie’s cheek.
“It’s fine. I know why they’re called Snogs now.”
A day passed. The search party eventually arrived at Crat.
“We’re taking you directly to the Queen,” Withers said. “Your friends should be there by now instead of Crat.”
“Do you think we should stop to make sure Ginger, Alastair, and Tipper were found?” Gabbie asked Digitalis.
“If Tipper sticks to the plan, then he should be heading to Crat anyway. And this Grawr is aware of the situation, right?” Digitalis aimed her question at Withers.
“Yes. Even if he wasn’t new people nowadays usually draw enough attention to stop a parade.”
“We should get to Queen Inana as soon as possible,” Silverskin added.
With their path decided, the search party passed by the golden city of Crat. What should have felt like another long stretch in a journey that had lasted for a month zipped by. One moment they were watching the golden spires and archways of Crat as its people bustled around and the next they had arrived in the capitol city.
“The Capitol is said to be almost three thousand years old,” Withers said. He had bequeathed himself as their personal tour guide. He talked about the founding of Crat by three sister goddesses for the better part of the last leg of the journey. As soon as he ran out of steam, he immediately charged onto the topic of the Capitol. Gabbie had grown so accustomed to his buttery low voice that the topic change barely affected her. She felt like she was in history class back in school. Sure, she liked history, but it did feel kind of redundant at times.
“The Capitol was founded by the Great Queen Tuxten. She was the child of one of the very last sane Goddesses in the country. There may have been a few left in Soielle…in any case, she was said to have been ruthless in her magic and reign, but fair to her people.”
“Queen Tuxten constructed the palace herself, right?” Silverskin said.
“Yes! She drew the plans and helped build a good portion of the Grand Palace.” Withers grinned like a loon. His head and arm feathers buzzed with approval.
Gabbie tuned out their conversation.
The Capitol city had to be at least ten times larger than Crat, and Crat was as big as Chicago. The Grand Palace proudly towered above a city she would have expected to find when watching a medieval fantasy film. Buildings ringed the foot of a lone mountain and circled in tight bunches up to the perimeter of the Palace. There were smatterings of bunched farmsteads around the Capitol housing yellow patches of fields and farm animals. Snogs, Deerne, and other animals grazed on the fresh green and purple roots covering the ground.
“I feel like I need a lute and a good singing voice when we get into the Capitol,” Gabbie said. She had interrupted Silverskin and Withers in a heated discussion about a war one thousand years ago.
“I don’t have the lute, but I do have a good singing voice,” Withers offered. “Would you like a song?”
Gabbie never particularly understood the reason for bards until she spent an entire month without a lick of music. She missed drums and guitars. And so Withers’s offer became highly appealing.
“Sure. I’d love a song.”
“I have a good set of pipes, too,” Digitalis said. “Which song are we singing? And remember, jack of all trades,” she added after seeing Gabbie’s and Silverskin’s expressions of disbelief.
“The Lost Boy, since we were talking about the Pinnacle War,” Withers replied.
“Going for a happy theme, huh?” Digitalis said with unconcealed sarcasm.
Listen, listen one and all
About his rise and his fall
About the boy turned to man
The one who thought he’d take our land
Gabbie closed her eyes and listened as the two’s melody and harmonies melted together. They didn’t need an instrument to make their music enchanting. With Digitalis’s baritone and Withers’s falsetto, there was no song they couldn’t sing.
His family killed and people gone
The thirst for vengeance good and long
He trained magic
He trained his mind
He trained his body
The battles he fought took back his honor
But he couldn’t stop getting stronger
He at last killed his foes
But he couldn’t dash his woes
He wanted more
He couldn’t stop
Until all the world
Tears and anguish shook
The land from their defeat
For with his magic
No one could compete.