Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic

Chapter Forty-two

It took two days to cross the Grasslands. The quickest route to Central City led past Kiamoko and down the Vinkus River and would take a week to cover, while the garrison was a half-day further north. So they had split from the Scrowtown Base volunteers once the group had reached the Great Kells, and made camp at the ruins in the mountain peaks. Many annuals ago, their campground had been a village outside the fortress walls. Some of the stone foundations of houses that had disappeared were visible.

Cain finished caring for his horse and headed to the wagons. DG had pouted about riding back in one, and only agreed after he had pointed out the danger to the baby. "I hope you won't get hung up on me walking or climbing stairs or fixing my own food. I'm pregnant not helpless."

Miriam, the alchemist, sorted through the wagon's contents sitting on the ground. "You just missed the Princess. She pulled out this stuff and went exploring."

"Alone?" Cain asked.

"I needed to get the tent stakes and ropes ready for the soldiers. I don't know if she took anyone with her. Besides, what can hurt her out here?"

If only she knew. DG probably didn't have any idea of the history of this place, but she would go poking at everything. He strode off to look for his wife.

No sign of her at the portable kitchen.

No sign of her at the makeshift stable area.

No sign of her at their tent.

She wasn't with Sprite and her grandmother, but the young Viewer had a clue. "Castle." She pointed to the foreboding towers stretching into the sky above the jagged remains of the battlements.

Just where he didn't want her.

He found the dilapidated gate split apart inside the portcullis. The gouge marks in the remains of the iron oak were still visible where the decorative panels had been pried off. Grass and runt trees struggled out of the broken cobblestones covering the steeply pitched courtyard. What was left of the hall wrapped around the courtyard in a U with hardly any space between the long narrow wing and the defensive wall to the west. The remains of east wing and wall had slid inside the courtyard, the result of whatever attack the fortress had suffered. Three of the corner towers stretched to the peaks of the Kells above them. The southeast one had been knocked in half. All buildings stood open to the sky, missing whatever roofs had capped the stone structures. Cain doubted that the internal supports for the buildings had fared any better over the annuals. If she had gone into one of them and something gave way… he stopped himself from dashing into the nearest door and looked around first. DG sat on the western battlements.

The stairs outside the southwest tower were relatively free of crumbles. He made as much noise as possible, so not to startle her. She sat in a notch that had in ages past served as an opening for a pot of boiling oil. She had lodged her body into the space, back braced on one side and feet on the other so she wouldn't fall out. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"Enjoying the view now that I got the castle to shut up." She patted the stone next to her. "You were right. The Grasslands are a lot like Kansas."

Cain squatted beside her. "And you didn't think you needed to tell me the castle wanted to talk to you?"

She winced. "Sorry, it was distracting. Plus the soldiers seemed weirded out about camping here. I didn't want to add to the ghost stories."

"This place has a lot of bad history. Did they tell you about Kiamoko?"

"Home of the Wicked Witch of the West, one of the witches Grandma Dorothy defeated. I ran across the info." She looked over the camp and the Grasslands beyond as the wind tugged on her black hair. "They've all forgotten Dorothy lived here too."

Cain blinked in surprise. "It's not taught. The Mystic Man told me once when we were traveling through this area. The Royal Library has better records?"

"Kiamoko told me. She was the last one to take care of it." DG faced him again. "It wants me to fix it. I think I convinced it now is not a good time."

"No, jittery soldiers don't appreciate a castle appearing out of no where." He moved closer as he settled for a long sit. "Did Finaqua talk to you?"

DG shook her head. "There's magic here, but it's different. Grandma Dorothy must have loved it here." She leaned her head on his shoulder.

"I never understood why she'd want to make that statement, taking over the enemy stronghold. She didn't seem the type."

She chuckled. "Not that at all." Her hand waved at the Grasslands. "This is the only place in the O.Z. that looks like Kansas."

Cain felt he deserved a kick in the rear for not recognizing that. Dorothy's legend had become so huge, it was easy to forget that at its heart was a scared little girl, younger than DG or the Consort when they arrived, who couldn't go home. Of course she'd want to be somewhere similar. At least Dorothy had gotten it. No one thought her great-great-great-granddaughter needed the same. "Let's move here."

DG twisted toward him. "Say what?"

"Nobody told you that a married princess gets her own palace to run?"

Her bright blue eyes widened as she shook her head. "I thought I'd have to live with my parents or move to whatever my husband owned. But why here?"

"Central City Palace is the seat of government and home for the current ruler, so that leaves Finaqua and the Northern Palace. But both have such bad memories for you, I thought you'd prefer the fix-it-upper with the Grasslands view."

She blinked before squealing with delight and wrapping her arms around his neck. Her momentum knocked him back on the battlements and she went down with him. Her lips smashed into his as he grunted with surprise. "My Tin Man is so smart and good to me." Her happy smile dazzled him. "And handsome too. I got a great package deal."

"So good to see DG and Cain happy."

They both twisted and saw Raw standing at the head of the battlement stairs. DG rolled off Cain and to her feet and embraced the Viewer with another happy squeal. Cain climbed to his feet. "How is the world did you know to find us here?" he asked. DG lifted the glowing orb from Raw's chest while they hugged. "When am I getting one of those to find you, sweetheart?"

Raw's mouth fell open as he released DG. "Expected you and Cain to become mates. Not expect cub so soon."

DG smirked as she looked at Cain. "You want to tell him, Wyatt? Or should he wait for Jeb's I'm-smarter-than-my-father version?"

Cain grimaced. "Curse that runs in the family."

Raw nodded, looking amused. "Good that Cain waited."

"Waited?" Cain wrapped his arms around DG and pressed her back to his chest. She huffed. "What are you talking about?"

Furball was laughing silently again. "We were too busy hunting for the Emerald for romance," Cain answered. "And afterwards…."

"Afterwards doesn't matter," DG said. "But the baby is a secret until after we tell my parents."

"Good plan." Raw nodded. "Come see Kalm. He missed you."

They went back to the camp. Kalm had found Jeb, and was dodging his every step until Raw brought DG and Cain closer. "Princess!" He wrapped his arms around her waist. "Hi."

"Hi to you too. Learned anything new since the Harvest Ball?"

"Better at healing. You?"

"I talked to a mountain." They continued while DG chatted about their adventures on the You and What Navy?.

"We got a couple of Viewers for you to meet," Cain told Raw.

"Feel them. Hurt, happier now. Thanks to you and DG."

"I don't know if that's taking credit or blame. If we hadn't gone, everything would have stayed the same."

"Same is not always good," Raw pointed out. "I be Papay dinner if things stayed same."

He didn't add where Cain would have been if DG hadn't charged in to challenge a group of Longcoats. "Probably should warn ya, humans took Sprite in when she was five. For the past three annuals, she's been part of a pirate crew."

Raw's nose wrinkled. "Pirates?"

"Highway robbers on ships," DG answered, "but the bunch we were with had some ethics."

"Why DG bring all problems to me? Thought we friends."

"You could come back to Central City with us," she teased.

"No. Cain shoot someone, I have to heal. Not fair."

Kalm giggled while DG stared at Raw. "That better be a joke." Raw remained impassive. "Wyatt, you can't shoot my parents!"

Cain's lips twitched. "It's your showdown, Princess. I'm just guarding your back." They reached the fire pit between their tent and the Viewers'. Sprite's expression was suspicious as she moved the last rock to line the pit.

DG handled introductions. "This is Sprite and her grandmother, Honorea. This is our friend Raw and his son Kalm."

Raw nodded. "Must speak alone with Honorea."

"Okay, we'll stay here with Sprite and Kalm." DG plopped next to the fire pit. Kalm sat beside her, but Cain went into their tent for a folding stool. He had sat on the ground enough today.

Sprite stared after the two adult Viewers. Once Raw and Honorea disappeared behind the tents, she whirled to DG. "Don't want us to stay with you?"

"Hard for Viewers to be with humans for long," Kalm answered.

"I do fine." She scowled at him.

DG held out her arms. "Aw Sprite, come here. We're not getting rid of you." Sprite curled in DG's lap and accepted the hug. "Raw is part of my family. He and Kalm are heroes of the Eclipse, and they understand us humans."

"Grandmother afraid tribe not want us. Thought we'd stay with you." She burrowed against DG's chest.

"You have to give the tribe a chance. They know things to teach you. And you know things to teach them."

"Like what?" She lifted her bushy head.

DG smiled. "Your Johnny Jump-Up dance. I bet they have never seen anything like that."

"And if tribe don't want us?"

"Then you and your grandmother can come live with me and Wyatt." Sprite squeezed DG. "But I think you're worried for nothing."

"What is Johnny Jump-Up dance?" Kalm scratched his head.

"See, you can teach Kalm."

Sprite's grin was a copy of Betsy's as she scrambled off DG's lap. "I teach you." She pulled the taller Kalm to his feet. DG leaned against Cain's legs and helped them by singing the chorus.

Kalm stumbled finding the rhythm of the unfamiliar song. After about fifteen minutes, he at least had the movements of a jig down if not the right speed. DG begged for her voice and took the kids to ask if supper was ready.

Raw returned to the fire pit alone. "Honorea help with supper." He sat with a sigh.

Cain pushed his fedora back. "Are they going with you and Kalm?"

"Yes, tribe will accept. Should not meet Queen and Consort yet."

One of the soldiers dropped off the firewood with a salute, and Cain crouched to make the fire. "I agree. If the Queen does get as upset as we're afraid she will, Sprite will probably fight and fight dirty. More trouble your people don't need."

The Viewer stared at the flickering flame grabbing the kindling. "Need to observe Sprite more. Odd, she is."

"She was being raised by an odd bunch."

Raw shook his head. "Sprite too young to do what Sprite does. Kalm strong, will be best in tribe, but still apprentice now. Will stay apprentice for four annuals. Sprite almost at Master level." He shook his head. "Nothing wrong with Sprite's self."

Cain frowned. "You were expecting something to be? She probably has a few human habits."

"Humans not like Viewers. Stay with humans too long only hurts adults. Drives cubs mad." Cain's scarred eyebrow rose, and Raw gestured before Cain spoke. "Sprite not mad, odd."

"Maybe you should meet the Slipper who was raising her."

"Slipper?"

"Slipped over three annuals ago, but landed in the Nonestic."

Raw purred and tugged on his beard. "Maybe the difference. Viewers not around many Slippers."

"Are you two hungry?" DG called from four tents away. She carried a large platter holding four bowls level with her head. Sprite and Kalm skipped after her. "Otherwise, I'll leave these bowls here."

Raw chuckled as he waved them in. "DG has interesting way to warn."

"That she does." Cain ducked back into the tent for more stools.

Jeb joined their group for the meal. He slid a folding stool under him with his foot. "So did you have a good reason for poking around the ruins, Princess?"

"Kiamoko wants to hire me as its new decorator." The spoon froze in the air before it reached Jeb's mouth. "That's a job on the Other Side. If you have enough money, you can hire someone to make your house look pretty."

"Are you joking?" Jeb asked.

She rolled her eyes. "A place of power talked to me. Which helps you sleep better, Jeb?"

He stirred his stew. "So you get paid for buying furniture for someone else? I will never understand the Other Side."

"And how often do you think she feels that way about the O.Z.?" Cain offered.

DG leaned against him. "Aw, so sweet, standing up for me like that." Cain felt his ears burn. "But Jeb is one of the few who can make comments like that."

"So who else is on that list?"

"You, Raw, Glitch, and Az. And if I'm feeling really generous and haven't been insulted whoever asked about it." He chuckled at her reply.

They told Raw and Kalm about sailing on the You and What Navy? with commentary from Sprite until the Viewer children wound down. Honorea shooed them to their tent for bed, and Jeb left to check the status of the camp. Cain poked at the fire. "Glitch needs to be here too."

"Let's have a reunion camping trip." DG picked up Cain's arm and wrapped it around her shoulders.

"Before cub makes DG miserable," Raw added.

"Hey be nice."

"Pregnancy makes all females miserable."

Cain laughed. "He's got a point. It's a small window after morning sickness and before you need to stay put."

"You're both just jealous 'cause you can't do it." She stuck her tongue out. "But if you're serious about a trip, Azkadellia's the one to watch."

Cain frowned. "Why would she want to ruin our get together?"

"Not ruin, make better," Raw said.

"She would say, 'Why do we have to cook, we can bring someone for that. Why do we have to set up the tents, we can bring someone for that too.'" DG shook her head. "You think this is a lot of people? Az would have a caravan stretched back to Central City."

Raw nodded.

"That bad?" Cain asked.

His wife snuggled against his side. "I'm high maintenance because I attract trouble? Az is high maintenance just because. But Glitch loves her, and it's hard to separate them."

"So a camping trip at Finaqua." Cain's lips twitched. "Where we can camp in the middle of the woods and send your sister back to the palace when she's had enough roughing it."

"You are good at this planning stuff. It must be a gift." She snuck a kiss to his cheek.

Link to Previous story Link to Next Chapter