Lord Fred ate his meal in silence. His mind was too full to speak.
Fred felt as if control of his life had been taken from him. Here he was with no armour, no sword, and dressed in the second-hand clothing of a lawyer. He wanted to leave this place, to leave Malboncton and travel back home to the Great Kingdom. But he couldn't...not yet anyway.
He took a bite of his jerky and gazed upon Astra. Her faced seemed to radiate in the sun and he wondered what kept her here at the side of that wretch, Rift. Fred did not understand why she no longer searched for an escape. Yet he did know that he could not leave his comrade-in-arms in the grip of Master Rift. Fred had already decided to bide his time and wait for the appropriate hour to free her from his grasp.
Fred continued gazing and his eyes fell upon her growing belly. Anger flared within him. The consequences of that night in the woods so many weeks ago [#1563] seemed to ripple outward in time and Fred wondered when the nightmare would end. He looked upon Astra's belly and realized not for the first time that he did not want any children; not now and not in this manner. Where was the honor in begetting children outside of love, outside of a promise? Yet honor dictated he could not simply leave Astra without aid - and she had already made it clear that she would not undo the pregnancy, would not give the child or children back to the fates from whence they had come. Fred shook his head.
He took another bite of the jerky shifting his eyes to the lawyer. He suppressed the thought of shoving a twig up the man's nostril and into his brain. He knew the dwarf would kill him within seconds of that if not before. Fred felt an uneasiness in the fact that the lawyer had the conjuring stone. It had come from a dragon's lair and Fred was sure that only evil could come from a place like that. He could not leave this motley fellowship without first separating Rift from the crystal.
Fred thought again of how he came to be where he was: that damnable Dragon of the Southern Caves and King Emry's request.
Fred wondered how things were, now that the dragon was dead. The one thing he was sure of was that a hero's welcome awaited him back home. Fred closed his eyes and imagined the ceremony where he would kiss the King's ring pledging his undying loyalty, and where the King would bestow upon him the fiefdom that would bear his Family name. These would be new lands for the Family D'Honaire, yet lands ruled not by the Duke but by Lord Fred himself, Lord Fred the Dragon-Slayer!
But that would have to wait. Fred chewed his jerky shaking his head again. He was angry; he was angry at his own helplessness; he was angry at the lawyer's smugness; he was angry at the dwarf's advantage; and he was angry at Astra for going along with it. The closer they came to the Mountains of Goth, the angrier Fred became.
Then a yell cut through his thoughts; it came from Astra who was face down in the dirt! Her whole frame quivered and shook. Rift had jumped back from where he had been, his face an ashen gray. The dwarf stood with his axe in hand.
What transpired next was most incredible and most awful: the very skin of the warrior maiden seemed to bubble and swell, her hair stood on end, and her body entire glowed with an orange aura. Astra screamed, she spasmed, she tried to lift herself from the ground but could not. A coughing came forth from her lungs, followed by vomit from her stomach. Then it was over; her form became still and she looked up with sick eyes at the three men. The three men, for their part, gasped. Before them was not the flame-haired, tan-bodied woman they had come to recognize - instead they eyed a woman whose hair was the color of the night and whose skin was the same shade as blackberry pudding!
"What's happened to me!?!" yelled Astra.
"Uh oh," said Rift.
8/29/1999 3:17:52 PM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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