Serial Story Part Seven

Here’s the next chapter in the ongoing serial story. You can find part one here and the previous part here. I just realized this weekend while watching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that I’ve written a portal fantasy with a heroine named Lucy. It really wasn’t meant as an homage to the Narnia books. I just happen to like the name “Lucy.” It seems like a good fit for a girl-next-door type from a small town, and I had a great aunt named Lucy. I also named Katie’s niece in the Enchanted, Inc. books Lucy.

Chapter Seven

            The animals scattered, and Dawn turned to see a big, gray wolf running its tongue across its fangs.

“Oh!” Dawn cried out, backing up. Next to her, Jeremy picked up a tree branch and brandished it like a sword.

The wolf just leered at Dawn. “Now, where did you come from, little girl?” he asked.

“She came from far, far away,” Spink chirped, flying loops in the air over the wolf. The wolf reared on his hind legs and swatted the bird with one paw. Without thinking, Dawn dove forward and picked up the bird before the wolf could pounce on it.

“Bad wolf!” she shouted.

“Yes, I am,” he replied in a voice that was almost a purr. “I see my reputation precedes me.” He stalked around Dawn, but never came close to her. In her palm, Spink trembled. Jeremy stood by with his tree branch.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” Dawn scolded the wolf.

“You are my size,” he replied.

“But you aren’t going after me. You’re going after this little bird, you big meanie.”

The wolf stopped pacing and stared at her. “You’re right. Why is that?” Dawn held her breath, realizing she’d practically invited him to attack her. He cocked his head to one side and asked, “Who are you? What are you, that I can’t bring myself to bite you?” His tail began wagging, and he whirled in horror. “No! What sorcery is this?” He turned and ran away, back into the depths of the forest.

“Not by the hair of my chinny chin-chin,” Jeremy muttered.

“What?” Dawn asked.

“I believe that may have been the Big, Bad Wolf. But is he the one who goes after girls in red capes or the one who demolishes pigs’ houses?”

“What are you talking about?”

“They’re fairy tales. Didn’t your aunts ever read to you or tell you stories about Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs?”

“No, I don’t think so. But what does that have to do with this?”

“Well, we’re in a place where animals talk, which is something that happens in stories. And that wolf was right out of a story. I’m just saying, it’s something to think about.”

“Don’t be silly, Jeremy.” She turned her attention to the quivering bird in her palm. “Are you all right, Spink?”

“The wolf is gone?”

“Yes, I believe he’s gone. Can you lead us to the river?”

He took flight again. “This way!”

“And remember, we don’t have wings,” Jeremy reminded him as they went after him.

They soon learned that following a bird was a real challenge. It had no concept of walking and easily flew over obstacles that stopped or slowed the humans. Almost immediately, it crossed a deep gulley that probably held a stream during rainy times. Dawn and Jeremy had to carefully pick their way down the steep slope and crawl up the opposite slope. By the time they reached the top, the bird was nowhere to be seen. “Good riddance,” Jeremy muttered, but Dawn worried about losing their guide.

They came to a road after about a half hour of walking, and it wasn’t long before a walled town came into view. The closer they came to the town, the more crowded the road became. No one was guarding the gate into the town, which was good, since Dawn didn’t have a passport, and she didn’t think it would do much good here. “Well, we’re here,” Jeremy said when they entered the town. “Now what?”

“We find out the situation, of course.” They followed the crowd from the road to the market square. It looked a lot like the farmers’ market back home, except with more live animals. “The market should be a good place to ask questions,” Dawn said. “People will be here from all around.”

“What question do you intend to ask? I mean, are you just going to walk up to someone and ask where the castle is?”

“Why not? We are from far away, after all. That seems like something strangers might ask.” Before Jeremy could argue, Dawn walked up to the nearest stall, where a bored-looking young man sat staring into space. “Excuse me,” she said, “but we’re strangers here, and I was wondering if you could help me.” She gave him her best smile, and he immediately perked up.

“How might I be of service?” he asked.

“Do you know where we might find the castle?”

“There’s no castle near this town, not unless you count the enchantresses’ abbey.”

“But isn’t there a castle on the river?”

“You mean the castle where the king and queen were? That’s several days downriver. I suppose you came for the coronation.”

Dawn was about to ask about the coronation when Jeremy stepped in and said, “Of course. We wouldn’t want to miss it. We came from very far away to see it. Thank you for your help.” He took Dawn’s arm and steered her away.

“I was going to ask him more questions,” she protested. “He was very helpful.”

“Yeah, I know he was, but us coming here for the coronation is a perfect cover story, and we don’t want to blow our chance to say we’ve come for the coronation by asking what coronation they’re talking about. Now, don’t you think it’s an interesting coincidence that there happens to be a coronation going on at the castle some bird was ordered to bring you to, right at the time someone kidnaps Lucy?”

“But what connection could there be?”

“Maybe we should ask your aunts.” Without waiting for her to reply, he took her arm and led her out of the market, back toward the town gate.

She didn’t have a logical answer, but the moment they started moving away, she felt that tug again, the one that had drawn her through the portal. Now it pulled her in another direction, away from where they were walking. “No!” she said, a little more loudly and forcefully than she intended. “This feels wrong.” Pulling her arm out of Jeremy’s grasp, she turned and let herself walk in the direction of the tug.

He came after her. “What’s going on with you?”

She wasn’t sure she could explain, not in words. “I feel like we need to go this way.”

“What makes you think so?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I just feel it. Maybe I’m connected to my necklace that Lucy’s wearing, and I’m drawn to that.”

He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You’ve got a magical link? Really?”

She put her hands on her hips and looked up at him. “We got here by walking through a portal in my garden shed, and the animals talk here. Is my being able to feel my necklace any weirder than that?”

He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, okay. So, where does your magical Spidey sense tell you to go?”

“I’m leading you there. Now, come on.”

She chose one of the side streets leading away from the market square in the opposite direction from the gate. Soon the smell of the area changed, taking on a damp, mildewed scent. They were approaching water: the river. Sure enough, the street led to the riverside wharf, where rows of boats were tied up.

“There you are!” a familiar voice said. Spink sat on a railing. “I knew you’d find the river.”

Jeremy groaned under his breath, but Dawn couldn’t help smiling. “It’s good to see you, Spink. But if you want us to follow you, you need to remember to wait for us.”

“The castle’s on the river,” the bird said.

“Yes, we know,” Dawn replied. “We understand it’s a few days downriver. So I guess we need to find a boat going downriver.”

“How?” Jeremy asked. “We don’t have money to buy passage. Somehow, I doubt they take dollars, and I don’t think even American Express has a currency exchange here.”

“We earn the money,” she said simply, leading him back to the market square.

“And how do you intend to do that?”

“I’m going to sing. I don’t suppose you have a hat or some other kind of container to collect money.”

He pulled his Scout cap out of his backpack and put it on the ground in front of her, and she tried to think of something to sing. She settled on one of her favorite solos from The Phantom of the Opera. It was nice and showy, with plenty of high notes and a bit of ornamentation at the end. Back home, it was considered a clichéd audition song, but here, no one would have ever heard it. She hoped they’d be impressed.

While she sang, she tried to watch the reaction of the people in the marketplace without losing her concentration. Some of the shoppers stopped to turn and listen. Others only paused before going back to what they’d been doing. At the end of the first song, a couple of people tossed coins into Jeremy’s hat. He picked up the hat and waded into the crowd. “Surely that was worth a little something,” he said. “Have you ever heard anyone sing like that?”

She launched into another song, and Spink landed on her shoulder and joined her, singing a descant in counterpoint to her melody. That brought more people over to listen and put more coins into Jeremy’s hat. After a couple more songs, she took a break to sip some of the bottled water Jeremy had brought.

“I think we’re doing pretty well,” he said, “though I don’t know what these coins are worth. For all I know, we’ve got enough for a cup of coffee—and the non-Starbucks kind, at that. But it does seem to be working.”

That gave her more energy to sing even better. She’d sung solos in the school choir and had played roles in musicals that gave her solo numbers, but she’d never had a solo performance—though she supposed it wasn’t a true solo with Spink there, unless he would be considered an accompanist. Whether or not she earned enough money for passage downriver to the capital, she was having the time of her life. The crowds around her grew, and they were an appreciative audience, aside from one sour-faced young woman who stood near the back.

“Ah, she’s nothing special,” the woman called out in the middle of a song. “Just another little songbird, and I’m not talking about the one with wings.” A few others in the audience laughed, but the rest turned to glare while those nearest the woman shushed her. Dawn forced herself to ignore the distraction and keep singing.

She got so caught up in her music and in the response from the people closest to her that she lost track of the rest of the marketplace until Jeremy tapped her on the shoulder between songs.

“Don’t make any sudden moves,” he whispered, “but look over there.”

She looked beyond the audience gathered around her and saw that a group of women in black dresses with white collars had entered the marketplace. The one in front made eye contact with Dawn and headed right for her. Her aunts had found her!


            Both Sebastian and their hostess looked at Lucy like she was insane for saying that she and Sebastian shouldn’t be the ones to travel. “But, your highness, you have to be the one to arrive at the rendezvous,” Sebastian said.

“I know that,” she said, trying not to snap. “But we don’t need to be the ones they see along the way.” He still looked blank. Then it occurred to her that he’d probably never gone on the run before, and he’d certainly never seen a movie about going on the run, so he probably had no idea that people who went on the run had to change their appearance to get past their pursuers. But if he hadn’t heard of that idea, then their enemies hadn’t, either, and that might give her an advantage. “They’re looking specifically for us, right? I mean, since you went missing at the same time I escaped, I’m pretty sure they’ve figured out that you’re the guy who let me go, and those soldiers were looking for a guy and a girl.”

“Yes, I’m sure they know to look for me.”

“Then look at us! You’re wearing livery, for crying out loud. You might as well be wearing your name on your back in giant letters. And I’m pretty sure there’s no one around here dressed like I am. You could spot us a mile away. But there are only a few people who’ve actually seen my face. I don’t know how well-known you are, but I bet that if I changed clothes and did something different with my hair, I could walk right past almost anyone searching for me without them knowing.” That was another benefit to this world being so backward: There weren’t any photos of her to distribute and no television or computer networks for distributing them. The searchers would have to go by vague descriptions, and the general public would know nothing at all. Based on what she’d seen so far, Lucy doubted most of the people would join in the search for the escaped princess.

Apparently, Sebastian caught on, for he immediately unfastened his belt and pulled his surcoat off over his head. “Do you still recognize me, your highness?” he asked with a smile.

“I might be able to pick you out of a lineup. But then, I know you pretty well.” She turned to their hostess. “I don’t suppose you have any old clothes you could lend us. Well, give us, since I doubt we’d be able to get them back to you, but if I live through this, I promise to pay you back.” She might not be able to live up to that promise, since she wasn’t the real princess, but she knew Dawn would be willing to carry it out.

“But of course, your highness. I still have some of my daughter’s old clothes, from when she was a girl, and I believe I have an old tunic of my husband’s that would fit you, sir. It is my humble duty as your loyal subject to give you anything you ask.” With several bows, she backed away to a chest at the side of the room. Lucy was really uncomfortable with all this groveling. She imagined this must be what might happen if Prince William dropped in on a random home in England, only without the paparazzi. And if the prince asked to borrow a pair of jeans.

Lucy found herself ridiculously excited as the woman brought out a carefully folded bundle of clothes. As dire as her circumstances were, costumes were sure to make everything better. This would be her chance to wear authentic medieval clothing. The woman handed Sebastian a roughly woven tunic and Lucy a larger bundle of clothes. He looked at Lucy, ducked his head, and said, “I will change outside.”

As soon as he was gone, she eagerly unfolded the bundle. The outfit was peasant garb—a long, loose light dress with tight sleeves and a heavier overdress that went on top of it. It was hard to judge the time period from the design—probably no later than Fourteenth Century, though with peasant clothing, it was hard to tell. And there was no guarantee that their time periods matched Lucy’s world. The design looked more like something from a storybook than like authentic period attire.

Come to think of it, a lot about this place—and not just the talking animals and the evil witch—was very storybook. For one thing, everyone spoke English, and in that vague British-like accent they tended to use for all Europeans in movies. Or else being Narniaed had done something to Lucy’s brain so she understood them if they weren’t speaking English. Things didn’t smell nearly as bad as she’d have thought they would in a real medieval setting, and Sebastian was not only tall, but he also had white, healthy teeth, which didn’t fit with what they’d taught in history class about that time period. Was she really in another world that was the source for the fairy tales she knew, or had she literally been carried into a storybook? It might not be such a bad thing if she had. In stories, good usually beat evil, and the heroine lived happily ever after. The real world wasn’t always so kind.

Lucy was normally a stickler for accuracy in costuming, and she complained enough about anachronisms in movies and television shows to make Jeremy groan, but after touching the dress, she decided it wouldn’t matter if she kept on her underwear. The fabric was awfully rough against her skin, and it wasn’t as though anyone would be seeing her bra and panties to notice anything unusual. Besides, the dress fit better with the help of a little padding in the chest area. She told herself it was important that people see the princess as beautiful, but if she was perfectly honest, she’d have to admit that she was more concerned with what Sebastian thought about her.

The bundle didn’t include any shoes, but the dress was a little long on her and covered her feet, and she didn’t think her ballet flats were too out of place, aside from being pink, which really clashed with the dark green dress. She stuffed her old clothes into her backpack. It wasn’t exactly period, being made of rip-proof nylon and covered with zippers, but at least it was a plain dark blue instead of something like Hello Kitty.

The witch and her people had only seen Lucy with her hair up in a ponytail, so she pulled off the ponytail holder and ran her fingers through her hair to loosen it so it fell around her face. It was hopelessly frizzed, but this was a world without conditioner and hair gel, so she suspected almost everyone with curly hair would look like that.

“I would never recognize you, your highness,” the woman said.

“Then this may work.” Lucy went outside to find Sebastian wearing a tunic that was a bit too big for him across the shoulders, which had the effect of making him look skinnier than he was, like a boy wearing his father’s clothes. This was the first chance she’d had to get a good look at him in decent lighting. It was hard to guess his exact age, since his life was probably pretty different from what she was used to, but he seemed younger than he had the night before. He had only the slightest hint of patchy fuzz growing on his jaw, and it would probably take him a few more days without shaving to develop a respectable five-o’clock shadow. The lines and planes of the face he’d grow into when he was older had been what showed in the firelight the night before, but in daylight there was still a bit of youthful softness blurring his features. A sprinkling of freckles across his nose and cheekbones made him look even younger. She guessed he wasn’t actually all that much older than she was, definitely still a teenager.

He was still holding his surcoat, which she assumed bore the crest of the lord he was squire to. With a glance down at it, he abruptly shoved it into their hostess’s hands. “You can take this as payment for the clothing and the help. It’s good fabric you may be able to use in some way.”

“Thank you, my lord. It is indeed finer than any cloth I own.”

The look of devastation on his face as he let the surcoat go was heartbreaking. Going from being a squire in the service of a nobleman to being a fugitive who had to pretend to be a peasant couldn’t be easy for him. Lucy put a hand lightly on his arm. “Thank you for that,” she said softly. “I know what you must be giving up to help me like this, but I’m sure you’ll be a big hero when you show up with me.” When he looked at her, the expression in his eyes made her legs quiver. No boy had ever looked at her that way, like she hung the moon and stars. She was the one to break the gaze when she couldn’t bear the intensity anymore. When she glanced down, she noticed that he’d put his sword belt around his waist over the tunic.

She shook her head. “That won’t do. Would a peasant boy carry a sword like that?”

He put his hand on the sword hilt and squared his shoulders. “I will not go unarmed.”

“I’m not asking you to, believe me. We just need to disguise the sword until we’re free and clear. What about those sacks up in the loft? Maybe if we wrapped some around the sword and strapped it to your back, it would look like you’re carrying a bundle.”

Wrapping the sword in burlap and twine made it a little less obvious. No one who was looking for a sword would be able to miss it, but with any luck, no one would look for a hidden sword on a lanky peasant boy.

Once she had Sebastian disguised to her satisfaction, she spread her arms and asked, “Now, how do I look?”

“You should hide your necklace. That identifies you.”

She reached up to touch her neck, only then remembering that it was the biggest clue to who they thought she was. Her cheeks burned with humiliation. Here she was, supposedly the master of disguise, and she’d forgotten that major detail. Unwilling to risk putting it in her backpack, she turned her back to Sebastian, unclasped the necklace, reclasped it around her bra strap and tucked the pendant into one of the bra cups. “Good catch,” she said. She then turned to Leila and Larkin. “What do you two think?” she asked the dogs.

“Your disguises would not fool us, as your scents remain the same,” Leila said, “but I do not think humans are as discerning.”

“Great! Now, we need a way to get out of the woods. Even in disguise, I’m pretty sure that the two of us will stand out when we’re in the sticks.”

She looked around the outside of the hut and spotted a wagon hitched to a pair of workhorses. “Were you on your way somewhere?” she asked their hostess.

With a bow and a curtsy, the woman said, “I was just about to go to the village with a load of wood when you arrived, your highness.”

“Perfect! We’ll ride with you. We can hide under some of the wood. In the village, we can get out and blend into the crowd.”

“It would be my honor to take you, your highness. I need a moment or two to prepare. Please excuse me.”

When she went inside, Sebastian said, “Where did you learn to plot like this, your highness? Have you had to work so hard to remain hidden in that other world?”

“What? Oh, no. I guess you could say I’ve seen other people have to do stuff like this.” She didn’t want to tell him that it had been in movies, which were fiction, so the ruse worked because the plot needed it to work. But, as she kept trying to reassure herself, nobody in this world had seen all those movies, so maybe this would be an entirely new concept. And if it was a storybook world, fictional ideas should work, even if they were from a different era.

While Sebastian and the woman rearranged the bundles of wood to create hiding places, Lucy turned to the dogs. “I guess we need to figure out what to do with you two.”

“We can make our own way to the village,” Larkin said. “There, we can watch you and track you without drawing attention. When you are safely away, we will rejoin you to lead you to the rendezvous.”

“Okay, then, see you on the other side.”

Lucy and Sebastian curled up in the hollowed spaces on the wagon, the woman placed a layer of wood on top of them, and soon they were off. The way was rough, and Lucy felt every bump. She was sure she’d be black and blue before they reached the village. The ride was smoother when they reached a real road, but that was only in relative terms. “Smooth” wasn’t an adjective she’d normally use to describe that road.

She wasn’t sure how long they’d traveled when a voice called out, “Halt!” and the wagon came to a stop. Lucy held her breath, wondering if these guards would be like their movie counterparts and not bother to search the wagon.

Continued in chapter eight.

4 Responses to “Serial Story Part Seven”

  1. Heather

    I am enjoying these chapters.

  2. Serial Chapter Eight - Shanna Swendson

    […] Here’s the next chapter in my ongoing serial story. You can find chapter one here and the previous chapter here. […]

  3. Carol

    cannot access the earlier chapters as there is no link to them…what I’ve read so far I really like!!

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