Serial Story Part Six

Here’s part six of the ongoing serial story. In case you missed it, you can find the beginning here and the previous part here. If you’re enjoying it, please share it with others.

Chapter Six

            As soon as Dawn came through the portal, she turned around to see if Miriam had followed her. All she saw was an ivy-covered wall. It was as though the portal had never existed. Next to Dawn, Jeremy must have noticed the same thing. He dropped his defensive posture to whirl and stick his arm where the portal had been, like he thought he might catch it before it vanished completely, but he was left just waving his arm in the air. “Okay, how do we get back?” he asked.

“We don’t need to get back yet. We haven’t found what we’re looking for,” she said with a shrug.

“You mean we came here without being sure we had a round-trip ticket?”

“Well, somebody came from here to take Lucy away, and it sounded like Aunt Mariel intended to come back after she passed on a message, so obviously it’s possible to go back. I’m sure we’ll find a way when we need it.”

He looked for a moment like he was going to argue or get angry with her, but she gave him her brightest smile, the one that usually worked even on Aunt Mariel, and the anger faded from his eyes until he was actually grinning. “I guess since we’re here, we might as well get the job done,” he said. “What do we do now?”

Only then did she take stock of where they were. The garden was larger than it had appeared through the portal. Walls surrounded it on three sides, and on the fourth side was a building, with a long, covered walkway facing the garden. The plants in the garden didn’t look too unusual to Dawn. The grass and leaves were green and the flowers were normal flower colors. The air was full of bird song and chatter, which sounded slightly different from the birds at home, but not in a way Dawn could identify or even describe. It certainly didn’t seem like a threatening place, and she couldn’t imagine why the aunts would have stayed away if this was their home.

“I suppose we find out where we are,” she said. “There’s a woman over there we could ask.” She pointed to an elderly woman in a black dress who sat snoozing on a bench in the garden’s far corner.

“We’d better hurry. Miriam could be here at any second. She was coming after us.”

“If she didn’t come right away, she’ll take a few minutes. She won’t go without leaving a note for Matilda.”

Dawn struck off across the garden, Jeremy in her wake, heading toward the sleeping woman. She froze when a peacock fanned its tail and rushed toward them with a raucous screech. It wasn’t an ordinary peacock call. It was words. “Intruders! Alert! Alert!” the peacock cried out. The sleeping woman stirred, but Dawn was too startled about what she’d heard to be afraid of being caught.

She turned to Jeremy to find him looking at her with wide, alarmed eyes. “Do you hear that?” he asked.

“It’s talking,” she agreed. “It’s incredible!”

“Stow it, Mortimer,” another voice called out. “You can tell they’re not a threat.” The peacock paused and fluffed out his tail once more before lowering it and stalking away. The sleeping woman’s head dropped back onto her chest. “Don’t worry about her,” the voice continued. “She’s practically deaf, and nobody pays much attention to Mortimer, anyway. He’s such a show-off.”

Dawn turned to see who’d talked, but all she saw were birds. That was when she knew what had sounded odd about the birdsong: There had been human speech mixed in. Did all the birds talk here? As an experiment, she said, “Hello?”

A chorus of hellos responded. Jeremy’s eyes went even wider, and he took a step backward. “Okay, this is truly freaky,” he whispered.

One little red-breasted bird flew down to Dawn, and she held out a finger for it to roost upon. It tilted its blue-capped head at her and warbled, “You’re a girl!”

“I am.”

“And you came from a far away place!”

“Yes, I did.”

The bird chirped out a burst of song and shot up into the air, where it flew in loops while singing. The song included both normal bird sounds and words. Dawn caught only bits of it, phrases like, “It’s happened! In my time! I’m the one! She’s here!”

“You were expecting me?” she called up to the bird.

It flew back to her, resuming its perch on her finger. “Yes! All my life!”

Her hopes rose. “You know who I am?”

“You’re the girl from far away,” the bird explained with exaggerated patience, as though that much should be obvious.

Jeremy held his hand up in front of his eyes, studying it, then scratched at his skin. “Oh, good, we didn’t just turn into cartoons,” he said. “Now, if you’re through communing with your animal friend, we’d better figure out where we are and where we need to go. Miriam could be here at any second, and you know she won’t let you out of her sight once she finds you.”

“Maybe you can help us,” she said to the bird. “I’m looking for a friend. She’s my age, a bit shorter than me, and has curly brown hair. Have you seen her?”

The bird tilted its head, like it had to think about the question, then asked, “You’re looking for a girl? But I was supposed to look for the girl.”

Another bird perched in a nearby bush gave a trilling laugh and said, “No one your age has been here in years. We don’t get novices anymore. It’s not allowed.”

Dawn knew it couldn’t have been so easy that she could just step through a portal and find Lucy and learn who she really was, but she couldn’t hold back a sigh of disappointment.

“What is this place?” Jeremy asked.

“This is the home of the Sisterhood of Enchantresses,” the bird in the tree said. “Outsiders aren’t welcome here, especially those who come here by magic.”

The bird on Dawn’s finger took flight. “You can’t let them find you! Come on! This way!” it cried as it flew over the wall—a tall, solid wall Dawn and Jeremy didn’t have a hope of getting over, under, or through.

A lizard sunning itself on a protruding stone shook its head and said, “I knew I should have eaten that egg when I had the chance. I’d have done us all a favor.”

Dawn stared at the wall the bird had flown over, torn. Surely if Mariel had come here, and this was the place where the aunts had aimed their portal, she wouldn’t be thrown out as an intruder. But that bird had been expecting her and wanted her to follow it. The little bird was the only one who’d seemed to have any information, so she wanted to stick with it, and if she let Miriam catch her, she might not have another chance to learn anything. “Can you help us get away?” she asked the birds.

One bird flew toward a section of wall behind a row of blooming shrubs. “Back here!” it said. “There’s a door.”

There was, a wooden door so weathered that it blended in with the stone. “But can we get through it?” Dawn asked.

“It’s to keep people out, not in.”

“And apparently not too many people want out, not this way,” Jeremy remarked as he fumbled with the latch. “It’s pretty badly rusted.”

Dawn crouched behind the shrubs and watched anxiously for Miriam to appear. “Hurry,” she urged.

“Just. Give. Me. A—” Jeremy said, punctuating each word with a tug on the reluctant door. When it flew open, he stumbled backward into Dawn’s arms.

Once she steadied him, she saw Miriam step into the garden out of a shimmering in the air. The woman dozing on the bench finally woke as more black-clad women came into the garden, carrying gardening tools. “Go!” Dawn urged Jeremy with a shove. They slipped through the doorway and eased it closed, then ran down the sloping lawn, away from the garden wall.

They reached the shelter of a nearby wooded area, where they hid behind a tree and looked to see if anyone had followed them. The door they’d come through opened again, and Miriam and two other women dressed just like her came out and looked around.

“Oh, there you are! What took you so long?” a nearby voice chirped loudly. Dawn looked up to see their bird friend perching on a tree branch overhead.

“We don’t have wings,” Jeremy pointed out.

Dawn signaled him to hush and asked the bird, “What’s your name?”

“They call me Spink.”

“Hello, Spink. You said you were expecting me.”

“I knew a girl would come here from far away.”

“How did you know this?”

“My mother told me. And her father before her. And his father. And his mother. And her father—”

“Now, what about the girl from far away?” she interrupted before the bird went through its entire family history.

“She’s supposed to go to the castle as soon as she gets here.”

“What castle?”

There was a moment of hesitation, like the bird had to think. “It’s a castle on a river, in a town,” it said after a while.

Jeremy crossed his arms over his chest. “When we went to Europe on vacation last summer, just about every town on a river had a castle in it.”

The bird fluttered its wings and gave a distressed whistle. “It’s the castle, the important one. And I have to take you there.”

“Do you at least know where the river is?” Dawn asked.

“It’s very near. I’ve even seen it myself!”

“Would you please take us there?”

“Whoa, wait a second,” Jeremy put in, stepping in between Dawn and the branch where the bird sat. “Do you think that’s such a good idea? Do we want to get away from what could be our only way back home? And if your aunts set things up to come to this place, where they seem to belong to this Sisterhood, would they really leave it up to a bird to get you where you need to be?”

“Maybe Spink was sent by our real allies, the people my aunts took me away from.”

“Geez, you gave Lucy your necklace, and it seems like she gave you her imagination. You don’t know that they kidnapped you. Maybe you ought to try asking them questions before you run off. Now that you obviously know about the portal and the other world, they can’t hide everything from you. They’ll have to tell you the truth.”

“But how will I know it’s the truth? Once they know I’m here, I’m sure they won’t let me go off and learn anything else. But if we don’t learn anything elsewhere, we can always come back here and find them.”

“That’s if we can get back.”

“Jeremy, this is the right thing to do. I can feel it. It’s just like I knew I had to go through that portal.”

“But do we know we can trust this bird? You don’t know anything about this world. For all we know, there’s an evil coalition of songbirds running the place.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Jeremy!” Dawn realized that she was actually arguing with him. She’d never argued with anyone before. She’d had moments when she had to be persuasive, but she’d never raised her voice or had to think of something to counter everything another person said. It was almost as exhilarating as hearing applause onstage. But while they were arguing, the bird flew off. “Hey, wait!” Dawn called out as she ran after it.

“Dawn!” Jeremy shouted behind her, but she didn’t want to lose sight of the bird, so she kept running. Even though Spink was tiny, his dark red breast made him easy to follow through the woods. Dawn dodged trees and leapt fallen logs as she chased Spink. She wasn’t alone. Other forest creatures joined the chase, frolicking alongside her. There was a fawn on its delicate legs, along with a couple of cottontailed rabbits, and several more birds flying overhead.

Spink didn’t seem to notice the parade following him through the woods. “Spink! Wait for me!” Dawn called out, and some of the animals took up the call in human speech. One of the birds flew ahead, and soon Spink circled back.

“We’re going to the river, and then to the castle,” Spink chirped.

Panting to catch her breath, Dawn said, “Yes, I know, and I was following you, but remember, I can’t fly.”

“The lady can’t fly,” the fawn repeated with a giggle.

Dawn turned slowly around to see the cluster of animals gazing at her with adoring eyes. “Oh, you’re all so cute! And thank you for your help.” Jeremy caught up to her, and the smaller animals cowered behind her. “It’s okay,” she reassured them. “He’s my friend.”

“They talk, too?” he asked.

“Some of us do,” one of the rabbits said.

“They’re all friendly,” Dawn assured Jeremy. “They helped me catch Spink.”

“Thanks a lot,” he said, but he didn’t sound very grateful.

“Now we’d better go,” Dawn told the animals. “It was lovely to meet you, but I have to go now. You’re all so sweet, I wish you could come with me, but I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“I agree. They should all stay right here,” a voice growled. It was a voice that sent shivers down Dawn’s spine.


            “Go!” Larkin barked, adding a quick series of yips before he turned and ran back the way they’d come. Leila ran ahead of Sebastian and the princess. Sebastian squeezed the princess’s hand tighter as he started to run. Although her legs were far shorter than his, she kept up with him. Behind them came the sound of growls and high-pitched barks that reminded Sebastian of dogs fighting in the stableyard. Larkin must have been trying to delay their pursuers.

Leila returned, breathing heavily. “There is a safe house ahead,” she panted. “Hurry.”

The undergrowth was lighter there, so they were able to run faster. Soon, they came to a thatched cottage in a clearing. The blue-edged white handkerchief that signified allegiance to the Loyalist cause hung in the front window, and a woman emerged from the house as they approached.

“Long live the king,” Sebastian said.

“And his queen,” the woman replied. “Get inside, quickly.” Once they were inside, she pulled a rope ladder down from a beam overhead. Sebastian held the ladder steady while the princess climbed it, then followed her up, pulled the ladder up, and cut the ropes off the beam. The woman called to them, “Go to the back corner.” Crawling from one beam to the next, they got to an area where boards across the beams created a floor. Sebastian shoved the princess into the corner, positioned himself to shield her and pulled some burlap sacks over them.

He held his breath when someone pounded on the door below, and he could feel the princess stiffen in fear at the sound. He held her tighter so she couldn’t move. The boards under them weren’t nailed down, so even the slightest movement would be noticeable. The woman waited a second or two before opening the door and calling out cheerfully, “Good day to you, good sirs. How may I be of service to you? I have ale if you are thirsty.”

There was a slight hesitation, as though the witch’s men weren’t expecting hospitality and weren’t sure how to react, then one said, “We are seeking a boy and a girl. Every house in the forest must be searched.”

“You’ll not find them here,” the woman said, “but you are free to look. As you can see, there’s nowhere to hide in here, just the one room.”

The sound of a slap made Sebastian flinch inwardly. His every knightly instinct told him to go to the woman’s aid, but his first duty was to the princess. He hadn’t noticed much furniture in the room, but the guards were turning over every piece of it, from the sound of things. The noise seemed to go on forever, and Sebastian was sure that, as thorough as they were being, the guards were bound to discover the hiding place above. Finally, one of the men said, “They wouldn’t have stopped so soon, not if they knew we were right behind them.”

“Ah, let the others find them,” said another voice. “I’m tired of walking. Now, woman, you mentioned ale?”

The searchers were in no hurry to leave. They stayed there, demanding more and more ale, laughing, and talking. Were they going to stay the rest of the day? Sebastian wondered what he should do if they drank until they passed out. Would it be safe to sneak past them then, or would he and the princess have to stay hidden until the guards left?

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. The men finally had their fill of ale and took their leave with unsteady footsteps. The princess relaxed a little after the door shut, but Sebastian held her tight, hoping she understood from the pressure of his hand on her shoulder that she should be still and wait. He wasn’t sure how much longer it was when a familiar bark sounded outside. The door opened, and Leila’s voice said, “They are gone.”

Sebastian pulled the sacks away and slowly sat up, then helped the princess up. He retied the ladder to the beam and climbed down and held the ladder for the princess. She was trembling, either from the aftershocks of fear or from having to stay so still for so long, so he steadied her with a hand on her waist, then caught her and lifted her down, holding her until she was able to stand on her own. He wouldn’t have minded letting her cling to him tighter or longer, but he knew that was improper. She was a princess of the realm and he was a mere squire, he reminded himself, no matter how good it felt to have her in his arms.

She stepped away from him unsteadily, then gasped when she saw their rescuer’s face. Her lip was split, bleeding, and already swelling, and her face was stained with tears. “Oh my!” the princess said. “Look what they did to you. I’m so sorry.” She took the woman by the arm and led her over to the bench by the rough wooden table near the hearth. She took her healing supplies from her pack and tore open a small pouch. “Now, this may sting a bit,” she said before dabbing at the split lip. “That’s probably going to be pretty ugly for a day or so, but it should heal,” she said.

The woman looked up at her and went deathly pale as her breath caught in her throat. “Oh, forgive me, your highness,” she gasped as she slid off the bench onto her knees at the princess’s feet and grabbed her hand to kiss it. “I didn’t realize it was you.” The princess jumped back in surprise, her fingers going to the necklace at her throat. “To think, the princess is back, and in my home!”

“Please, you don’t have to kneel,” the princess said, helping the woman up and back onto the bench. “You got your lip split for me, and that makes us practically best friends.”

The woman flushed a bright pink and cast her eyes down. “Your highness is most kind.”

“Um, well, thanks.” The princess turned to Sebastian. “Sebastian, shouldn’t we be going now? I mean, the coast is clear, right?”

Again, he wasn’t sure what she’d said, but he thought she’d asked if it was safe for them to go. “I suppose it depends on which direction the searchers went and what amount of ground they’re covering.”

“If they’re smart, they’ll spread out,” the princess said, chewing on her lower lip in thought. “That’ll make it really hard to get by them. Maybe we should wait a while.”

“We don’t have that much time. We have a long way to go, and we have to be there by sundown.”

“And probably everyone between here and there will be looking for us, right?”

“I believe so.”

“Then maybe we shouldn’t be the ones traveling.”

Continued in Chapter Seven.

2 Responses to “Serial Story Part Six”

  1. Heather

    I see her costuming skills coming into play 😀

  2. Serial Story Part Seven - Shanna Swendson

    […] 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 […]

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