BONNIE & GEORGE (& MAC)
|by Van © 2021|
Mac didn't know if it was actually after midnight when she next opened her eyes, but it was full night and she decided she was rested enough to continue. The road at the base of the grassy slope was quiet... totally quiet. She gulped some water from one of her canteens (noting that it was nearly empty), secured her pack, then silently (she hoped) crawled out from under her bushy hide... and darted across the road to the very base of the incline. Still no midnight road traffic, so she began to climb.
It wasn't a difficult journey, no more difficult than the previous day's trek upwards through the cedars to the mountain. In something like two minutes she found herself at the top of the open slope and the base of a waist-high stone wall.
Mac peeked over the top of the well-maintained wall. Immediately to her front was another road, then a grassy slope more modest than the one she'd just climbed. It was only about fifty yards, and when the grass ended the forest resumed. To her right, nearly around the curve of the mountain, was a cluster of small buildings dimly illuminated by flickering lamps. To her right were more dimly illuminated buildings, but they were considerably closer. All appeared to be built with dressed stone, some were rectangular, and some were round, like giant beehive domes. Given that Elsewhere was infested with gigantic dragons, maybe the domes were beehives... for giant bees. She hoped not. The buildings had windows, but every one she could see was dark or shuttered.
By incredible luck, Mac had climbed the slope to find herself at an unoccupied stretch of the plateau. She wouldn't have to deal with negotiating the streets of a town or village. In both directions there was no sign of amazons, armed and armored or otherwise. She closed her eyes and ...Mmmm... detected the mysterious voice. It was still guiding her up the mountain, and it might have been Mac's imagination, but she thought it might be a little louder... suggesting she was getting closer.
So... time to continue the climb.
Mac rolled over the wall and quickly crossed the road. As she'd done at the base of the grassy slope below, she was careful not to dislodge any dirt as she started up the new slope. She didn't want to leave behind any signs of her passage to be noticed by curious amazons after sunrise. She reached the trees (more cedars, not to her surprise) and continued climbing for two hours, pausing to take two short rest breaks. She could barely see the cedar trunks surrounding her. She could barely see anything, but as her destination remained "up," it hardly mattered.
Suddenly, the trees opened on a field of jagged, sharp rocks, most the size of her skull or fists and some larger. It was what she believed geologists classify as a "talus slope" of "scree," rubble that had eroded off a rock face, shattered into pieces, and found the natural angle of repose. She looked up and, sure enough, a massive, craggy, more or less vertical wall of stone glimmered in the starlight. She'd have to go around.
But first, Mac sat on the ground and listened. ...Mmmm... Turning her head, she decided that maybe the source was ever-so-slightly off to her left, so she went that way, skirting the base of the slope—and thank goodness! Climbing directly up a talus slope is difficult under the best of circumstances. Climbing on shifting scree in the dark? She'd be lucky not to get halfway up, then slide back down, breaking an arm or leg, and Mac liked all her arms and legs.
Good one! the voice chortled.
Mac blinked in surprise. "You can hear me?" she said quietly.
Yes. You're closer. There isn't so much mountain in the way.
"Oh." But... I'm not dreaming. This was the first time Mac had heard the voice while fully awake. "Uh, can you see me? Can you tell me which way to go?"
Don't be silly. How could I see you? Hurry. You're closer!
Mac heaved a sigh and worked her way to the left side of the slide... and continued climbing. It took her half an hour to come even with the top of the talus slope and the base of the vertical rock face. She closed her eyes.
The voice was definitely louder. She looked to her right, across the rock face, and... it was difficult to be sure, but she thought she could just make out a small cave opening, about fifty yards away.
"Are you in a cave?" Mac inquired.
OF COURSE I'm in a cave. You're being very silly tonight. Come to me! Hurry!
"Anything else you should have told me hours ago?" Mac demanded.
Oh.... I'm sorry darling. Really. Don't be mad at me. PLEASE don't be mad. PLEASE come. PLEASE promise me you're coming?
Mac rolled her eyes and smiled. "Of course I'm coming. Hang on." She decided the cave was definitely, a cave, and it was the under the overhang of a massive, sloping slab of stone. ...Mmmm... and reaching it was almost certainly Mac's immediate goal. Also... Thank goodness... it looked possible. The tilted slab stretched nearly into the trees, and there was enough of an overhang that she was confident she could carefully make her way to the cave. She was sure of it.
Mac was right. She picked her way to the start of the massive slab... continued until she could duck under the overhang... then carefully made her way forward. The cave opening was roughly circular, about four feet in diameter. She ducked down and cautiously ventured into the inky darkness beyond.
The cave opened up until she could stand upright. The floor was flat and level, and Mac was hopeful she was not entering the den of a bear, lion, or other predator.
Don't be silly, darling," the voice chuckled. Nothing bigger than a bat or a rat would nest this close to the Labyrinth.
Our home," the voice explained (sort of). You're close now! Very close! I can almost smell you... I think. No, that's one of the girls. Never mind. Just come. Hurry!
Mac had many questions, but, if she was as close as the voice said, it was probably best to ask them in person. "I'm coming." She shrugged out her pack, extracted a small electric torch from a side-pocket, and (after a silent prayer) switched it on—It works!—and its bright light illuminated several feet of exactly what she'd expected to find: the floor, walls, and ceiling of a roughly circular cave, sloping downwards. And unless it was Mac's imagination, the cave wasn't entirely natural. She detected several patches of obvious tool marks on the walls. The passageway might be largely natural, but it had been shaped and enlarged. It was easy going. Mac continued forward and gently downward... the cave leveled out... and a gate of vertical iron bars came into view.
The bars were thick and closely spaced, about two inches wide and four inches apart, and were either wrought iron or something like it. And under the light of the torch, the metal looked peculiar, like it was glazed with a dull patina of mottled browns and grays. The gate was secured by a heavy, built-in lock. Mac swung a metal cover aside and beheld a cylinder and key-slot, and it was no crude affair banged out by a smithy at a forge. It had been made with modern machine tools to close tolerances.
"Oh no!" the voice wailed in distress.
Mac smiled. "Not to worry." She opened a tool-pocket sewn onto her leather coverall and pulled out a set of lock-picks. Actually, they were "blunt probes," but could just as easily probe a lock as free a stuck gear assembly. She made quick work of the lock, swung open the gate—"Screeeeech!"—and winced. She hoped there were no amazons within earshot. She stepped through the gate, closed it behind her—"Screeeeech!"—pocketed her probes/picks, and continued forward. The cave started sloping downwards again, but remained more or less the same size.
She continued for another thirty yards... then came to another gate of metal bars, only this one was much lighter and its lock less hefty. Mac used her probes/lockpicks to open the gate, and this time the hinges were nearly silent. She stepped through and found herself in a large, irregular cavern with a great many side openings, all protected (however poorly) by more gates. The air was moving, and she detected the very faint scent of... things that were not dry stone. Also, there was a thin layer of sand or rock dust carpeting the floor, and it showed signs of regular traffic. Footprints stretched in both directions.
This might be some sort of maintenance corridor, Mac decided, and used the probes to lock the gate behind her. Best not to leave open gates behind me. Somebody might raise the alarm. So... which way? ...Mmmm... "Oh, that way," Mac chuckled, and made her way to the gate indicated.
Once again Mac used her probes/picks to let herself through... and again, she locked the gate behind her. The way forward sloped downward, as before.
Mac continued for about 100 yards... then 200... and came to yet another gate, only this time it was covered by a curtain of loosely woven cloth draped across the far side. Beyond the curtain was a dim, flickering light, but she could see nothing through the fabric. Mac listened closely for several seconds... and heard nothing. Hoping she wasn't about to enter a barracks full of amazon warriors, Mac pulled out her probes and unlocked the gate. She put away her tools and torch, pushed on the gate, and this time, thankfully, it opened on well-oiled hinges. She then slowly parted the cloth drapes... and—"Oof!"—was grabbed by a pair of very large, very strong hands, with talons, and was jerked into the chamber beyond!
At last! At Last! You're here! You're here!
Mac found herself being enthusiastically hugged by a big, scaly, reptilian, roughly-the-size-of-a-young-T-rex-with-wings, DRAGON!!
TRANSDIMENSIONAL PORTAL HUZZAH!
|| Chapter 7
George awoke to find herself still in Dierdre's bed, still naked, and still in chains. At the moment she was alone in the warm bed. She pulled back the covers, sat up, combed her tousled hair from her face, and heaved a deep yawn. This made a little noise, of course, mostly in the form of the tinkling and clattering of steel links.
Dierdre was nowhere to be seen... but then, the two students from last night—the young, the tunic-clad teenage gingers who had helped the Head Mistress undress—entered the bedroom/bedcave. Giggling and chattered in their largely unknown language. They wished George a good morning (she assumed), helped her climb from bed, stumble to a chamber pot, and relieve herself. Then, they gave her a thorough and refreshing sponge-bath, pouring water into a wide basin and using damp cloths to wet and scrub her naked body. Apparently, George's chains weren't much of a challenge. Next, one used a brush and comb to bring order to George's sleep-tousled hair while the ginger not grooming her hair used her hands to slather George's skin with a light coating of oil with a pleasing floral scent, then work it in with gentle caresses, and she was very thorough... intimately thorough!
The smiling teens continued chatting as they worked. George could follow nothing they were saying, but suspected they were discussing her brown hair, all of her brown hair, on her head and elsewhere, as well as her peculiar brown eyes and exotic lack of freckles.
Needless to say, George was mortified by all of this intimate "assistance," but it would be impolite to make her groomers/handlers tasks more difficult than was necessary. She could and did blush, of course. In fact, her cheeks felt like they were glowing red hot. She was sure her expression and manner telegraphed her discomfiture, but she didn't physically fight. The teen with the busy, oily hands used a clean, soft cloth to polish George's glistening body. Her efforts removed most of the oil, but left a glimmer behind on George's skin, and now the floral scent was no more overpowering than a properly applied perfume.
Morning ablutions complete, the teens led George from the bedcave. Their destination was the main chamber with the dining table and huge anatomical charts. A few of the older gingers were sitting at the table in small groups and enjoying breakfasts of some sort of hot tea—Yes, please!—and bowls of what appeared to be oatmeal with slices of fruit. Dierdre arrived, greeted the other gingers, and was greeted in return. She helped George settle into the chair to the left of the head of the table, then settled into the head chair herself, the same place she'd sat during last night's dinner. A different pair of smiling, tunic-clad students brought George and Deirdre steaming bowls of fruity mush and poured them cups of steaming tea.
All the gingers were being very nice to George (and very hands on), and she appreciated it (except for the hands part). Anyway, the mush was delicious (whatever it was, which wasn't oatmeal), and the tea was glorious (whatever it was).
After breakfast, Deirdre's language lessons resumed. That is, the smiling, gorgeous, 40- or 50-something redhead drilled George on the name of objects, and she slowly started mixing in verbs and adjectives. George was good with languages and always had been. In fact, she was fluent in the seven major tongues spoken in the Grand Alliance and its immediate neighbors. In addition, she had a working knowledge of perhaps a dozen more, as well as a couple that were extinct and only read or spoken by scholars (like Latinic, the language of the ancient Romæn empire).
Anyway, for the next few hours, George followed Dierdre around as she padded from chamber to chamber, spoke with what George assumed were other members of the faculty, and went about her day. The other elders also participated in the language lessons, but Deidre was George's principal tutor.
At one point they entered a quiet cave with rows of beds, perhaps a quarter of which were occupied by gingers of various ages. A few were elderly, with pale, strawberry-tinted hair, wrinkled features, and were frail of limb. The rest were middle age or younger, many with physical injuries suggested by neat, white bandages or splints. George could only guess what might be wrong with the bedridden gingers without bandages.
A senior ginger was introduced to George as "Aislinn," and then, with George tagging along, Dierdre and Aislinn padded from bed to bed, smiling at each occupant and exchanging a few words. Many of the patients (and obviously they were patients) were openly curious about George (who was introduced as "Georsh"). A very elderly woman weakly lifted one shaking hand and reached towards George's brown hair. George smiled, leaned close, and gently helped the women caress her brown locks. Dierdre and Aislinn smiled at George, appreciative of her kind tolerance. George blushed. One is always courteous to elders, she thought.
A handful of younger, tunic-clad gingers (students?) were shadowing Dierdre, George, and Aislinn, and now and then Dierdre or Aislinn would ask one of the gingers a question and would receive a brief answer. And sometimes, one of the junior gingers would be called forward to fully participate in the discussion of and with the current patient.
George had long since reached the conclusion she was in a hospital ward, Dierdre and Aislinn were doctors, and the junior gingers were medical students or interns. And the ward, together with the anatomical diagrams in the main cavern, were making George more and more confident that she was the naked and chained captive of a medical school... something she assumed rarely happened in similar institutions in the Grand Alliance.
After making her rounds of the ward—and taking their smiling, polite leave of Aislinn and her students/interns—Dierdre continued her stroll through the warren of caverns and George continued tagging along and learning Gingerspeak. She was beginning to suspect the language had much in common with Hibernian. Time would tell.
TRANSDIMENSIONAL PORTAL HUZZAH!
|| Chapter 7
Bonnie was allowed to retain her tunic and belt, as well as her guard detail of three ginger amazons in boots, tunics, wrist bracers, belts, and armed with clubs. If her escorts were anything near as capable as the company of gingers she'd just exercised with at the Practice Cave, she suspected she might be able to take one of them in a fight, and with a great deal of luck, two, but there was no way she'd overcome all three without suffering a traumatic nap, followed by a splitting headache when she woke up. Bonnie graciously allowed herself to be politely guided through the corridors and caverns. At least I'm not box-tied and naked, she mused. I hope George can say the same. Bonnie smiled. I know that's how she'd prefer things... although she'd probably think these short tunic-dresses show way too much leg.
Their destination was the brightly lit chamber with the table holding the array of weapons and tools looted from The Spirit of Skywoman. There was no sign of the ginger brat with the gold headband and inadequate temper control, but there was a trio of gingers waiting at the table. One was about Bonnie's age and the other two were in their early twenties. All three were wearing boots, tunic-skirts dyed rust-red, and full-length brown leather aprons with thin straps that tied behind their necks and incorporated leather waist-belts with pouches and holsters holding what appeared to be a few simple hand-tools. They reminded Bonnie of the tools Mac habitually wore on her person. Bonnie tentatively classified the apron-wearing trio as "artisans."
The senior ginger smiled, introduced herself as "Hiolair" and offered her hand. Her grip was strong but polite, the skin of her fingers and palm a little rough, and Bonnie noted a few minor, old scars on the back of her hand. She definitely works for a living, Bonnie surmised.
Hiolair had a nice smile and seemed friendly enough. She was also gorgeous, curvaceous, and fit, as were her two younger assistants, the three club-carrying guards, and every other ginger Bonnie had encountered on the mountain, from the queen down.
What followed was what George soon realized was a technical debriefing, with Hiolair asking the questions, mostly with gestures. It was also a language lesson, like last night's dinner at Dierdre's School for Hot Gingers. Hiolair would point at something, Bonnie would name it, and the redhead would translate to the equivalent noun in "Gingerspeak."
Bonnie considered herself pretty bright and had an ear for languages, but unlike George's scholarly linguistic knowledge, Bonnie's was more practical. She was fluent in the languages spoken in and around the Grand Alliance, but could converse using pidgin or trade-speak versions of about a dozen more languages commonly used across the globe (back home). It was usually enough to conduct simple business (like convincing a Tonganese Air Pirate not to feed George to his pet crocodilians), but couldn't be called fluency.
Bonnie and Hiolair quickly established that most of the items on the table were "tools" ("uirlisí"), but some, like the handguns, rifles, and knives, were "weapons" ("airm"). One of Hiolair's assistants was taking notes with the local equivalent of a clipboard and pencil.
Bonnie had made the decision to be as open with her captors as possible. She was in the middle of a subterranean city of gingers, many if not all of whom had had at least some military training, and at the moment, she was separated from George. (Also, Mac's location/fate remained unknown.) Reassembling the entire crew, sneaking away from Cave City, returning to Sky Woman, making repairs, and then somehow returning to the sky above the Wiltshire they called home wasn't likely to happen. It was best to gain the trust and friendship of their captors.
It soon became obvious, despite the language barrier, that Hiolair was sharp as the proverbial tack, and by her hands-on approach, Bonnie surmised she was very interested in the workmanship and composition of the items on the table. She compared the metal surfaces on the various tools (uirlisí), even delicately sticking out her tongue and tasting the various alloys. She also pulled a magnifying eyepiece from a pouch on her apron-belt and examined the tight tolerances where the various parts fit together.
It soon became obvious Hiolair was as frustrated by their inability to communicate as Bonnie and was equally invested in the ongoing learning effort. Establishing meaningful communication was going to take a while. Bonnie and Hiolair heaved simultaneous sighs of frustration... then laughed. Even the guards were smiling.
The slow process continued.
TRANSDIMENSIONAL PORTAL HUZZAH!
|| Chapter 7
Mac had never been so terrified in her entire life! Mac had never been so filled with rapturous joy in her entire life! Simultaneously! Both! At the same thing!
She was being hugged by a dragon! Scales! Talons! Teeth! Piercing (absolutely gorgeous) golden eyes! The dragon was far and away not the biggest dragon Mac had seen since coming to Elsewhere, but she was big enough! That was for damn sure!
And she was beautiful, the most beautiful creature Mac had ever seen! Heavenly angels weren't this beautiful! The creature's body was perfectly proportioned, and strong! Her talons were delicate and gleaming, like polished, dark brown porcelain. Her wings were smooth and translucent (a little). Her underside was a creamy, pale blue-gray, including her wings, limbs, neck, and body. A broad band of mottled tan, rust-red, gray, and dark-jade ran down her flanks. Her dorsal surface was the same colors, but with dark-jade predominating. Her reptilian features were pleasing and symmetrical... and above all beautiful! They seemed that way to Mac, anyway.
And she was definitely a she. There was no question, although Mac had no idea how she knew the dragon's sex.
And she was The Voice! There was no question about that either.
A wave of pure love washed over Mac's mind... and all thoughts of danger were instantly extinguished.
"I'm Mac," Mac said, returning the dragon's hug with all her strength.
I know, the dragon said... or thought. I'm Una.
"Una," Mac sighed. "That's so beautiful." Suddenly, she frowned. "You... you're telepathic," she whispered. Why am I only realizing that now?
You think a lot of new words, Una replied, but yes... THAT word. All dragons are telepathic. You really didn't know that. You really aren't from Na Cruinne (The Universe), are you?
"I'm not from around here," Mac confirmed, "but I don't understand the physics."
Another new word, Una purred. She also literally purred, sending a low frequency, vibratory thrill through Mac's entire body. I'm so glad you're finally here. I've been waiting such a VERY long time. Somehow... I knew you'd come, that none of the others were right, that none of the others would do. Mother has been SO angry with me, but now she'll see that I was right all along."
"I... I don't understand," Mac sighed.
You are my Rider, Mac. You are the one. You and I will go to many new places together and have MANY grand adventures. And if necessary, we will help defend Sliabh Baile (Home Mountain). It's going to be WONDERFUL!
An image flashed through Mac's mind of herself strapped to a saddle attached to a harness buckled around Una's beautiful body... and they were soaring through fluffy white clouds thousands of feet above snowcapped mountains, green forests and shimmering blue lakes. "It'll be wonderful!" Mac sighed. "Oh, Una!"
My Rider! Una sighed in return. My lovely an duine (human) friend!
Mac and Una opened their eyes (green and gold, respectively), and beheld a teenage ginger maiden standing in the human-sized portal set in the dragon-size timber door at the far end of Una's... lair?
Bedroom is just fine, darling, Una whispered in Mac's mind.
"Oh, thanks," Mac whispered back.
The ginger newcomer continued staring at Una and Mac, who were still hugging. She was barefoot, wearing a tunic-dress of undyed linen with a brown leather belt buckled around her waist. She'd just dropped a large terracotta jug of what had probably been water to the stone floor. It had shattered, of course, but the maiden's wide, horrified eyes were on Mac and Una. There was the proverbial pregnant pause... then she spun on her bare heels and fled the chamber.
That was my face washing water, Una whined.
Mac stared at the open door, then up at Una. "Time to rig for heavy turbulence?"
Una's toothy smile returned. You and your new way of speaking, she beamed. But yes, stand by for trouble.
|| Chapter 7