Fuzz was exhausted. He had struggled futilely for hours against the sinews the Gobblers had bound him with. His wrists and ankles had been quite raw for a good long while. He was desperately worried for Rose and Lukus, and in spite of his years as a decorated soldier, he was in a losing battle with panic. At last, weariness came on him in such a way that he had no grasp of his passage into a fitful slumber.
He was writhing and rolling about in the throes of a nightmare about the Gobblers returning to enslave him. They wrestled and kicked him and cut him up with jabs from their spear points, loading him into one of their carts. As the terror became unbearable, Fuzz heard someone amongst them call out his name over and over. "How do Gobblers know my name?" he bellowed, rolling face up as he opened his eyes. "I can't see!"
"That's because it's after dark, Fuzz."
"I'm Spark, Fuzz. You know, Spark!"
"Oh! Thanks be! We're delivered! Could you be so kind as to...?"
"Loosen your bindings? Absolutely. Pardon me, it's so dark, I'll have to..." said Spark as he conjured a bright green mage light between the palms of his hands. He set to at once, gnawing and picking at Fuzz's sinews. "Ah. Got that one. You'll have to roll over."
"You know Spark, it's been so long, I'd nearly forgotten that you could do that sort of thing," said Fuzz, as he licked at a freed wrist.
"Oh, it languishes. I was born with it, but I'm so feebly endowed, I don't fool with it for much of anything. Actually I don't remember having done anything with it in front of you before. Say. How'd you end up out here? Gobblers, I'd reckon, but I can't imagine you allowing yourself to get caught. Can you stand?"
"Whoa!" said Fuzz, pitching forward onto his knees. "Like a round bottomed bucket. I don't have any feeling in 'em yet, either. Yea, Gobblers! I..."
"'Scuse Fuzz, there's a little chocolate creek right here. Let's get you a drink. So. You were saying about the Gobblers? What were you doing out here?"
"Taking care of unfinished business in the service of the crown as Captain of the Royal Guard of Niarg, would you believe. And I still don't have it taken care of."
"I was escorting the very prince and princess of Niarg to the sea to escape Ugleeuh, when we were waylaid by the sticky little curses."
"And they captured the prince and princess?"
"Almost certainly, but we were separated by my trying to divert them. They got me too quick. Rose and Lukus couldn't have had enough time to escape."
"Rose and Lukus. I'll bet they're the two Ugleeuh had with her this last spring when the Chocolate Volcano blew. She brought them along when she came up the mountain to insult and threaten me."
"They're her niece and nephew, would you believe?"
"No kidding. Why, they're nice looking kids."
"Well Queen Minuet, who's quite lovely, is Ugleeuh's half sister. And I've lost her kids for her, unless I come up with something immediately," said Fuzz as he rolled off his haunches and picked up an ankle to lick. "And I surely don't know how I'm going to do that. A thousand to one, they've taken them straight to the Gobbler castle, and that place is a fortress, quite a bastion indeed, bristly with little pike men all over, and a moat full of chocodiles. I couldn't have managed by myself back when I was a man at arms, let alone now that I'm a bear without arms. I've nothing with me, not even my miserable little dress dirk which is in a trunk in my den."
"Gobblers are nasty critters, all right," said Spark as he carefully enlarged a mage light and set it upon the ground between them to glow like a campfire. "Their young highnesses will never escape without help."
"So, will you help me rescue them? It's either the two of us or nobody."
"I hate Gobblers. They've taken over all the very best chocolate licks. I've always got bruises all over from their slings and rock candy."
"Then let's get 'em!" said Fuzz with a crackle of unexpected ferocity, as he smacked his paw with his fist. "Let's fix 'em! Let's get 'em back for the rock candy and for my awful nap, all tied up. And most of all, help out two splendid young people."
"She stood up to Ugleeuh for me, the princess. 'Rose,' you say she is? Oh, it was nothing really, but right nice of her all the same."
"Then you certainly wouldn't stand to have her abused by those sticky varmints."
"Never!" declared Spark, suddenly straightening upright.
"So what about this magic you never use? What can you do with it in a pinch?"
"I just really don't much."
"Yea, but could you get into the castle with it? Shot 'n' Stop said you're good. He said you disguised yourself as a tree, once. You might disguise yourself as a minstrel or a trader of some sort."
"Well thank you, but you need to keep in mind that my magical ability is quite small, scarcely more than that of a hedge wizard. I could go into the castle under cover of a glamourie, but I've not the power to maintain it for long. It would be risky."
"Can you think of any other way at all?"
"Well no Fuzz, but whatever it is, it's got to be good enough that I don't have to maintain it very long at all. I'll be lucky to manage going straight in and straight out. If I were just a minstrel, I'd have to take forever and seven days to argue my way in and back out." He paced back and forth for several long moments. "You have an awful lot of confidence in me to think I could actually get away with this."
"Ugleeuh!" woofed Fuzz.
Spark looked up with a jerk and rolled away into the brush, as his mage light went out with a pop.
"No, no! Good grief, Spark. I didn't mean that she's here. I mean, what about you making yourself look like Ugleeuh? That would cause the Gobblers to let you in and out right smart. Don't you think?"
Spark eased back to where he'd been sitting and let another large mage light come to life from between his cupped hands.
Fuzz saw that his hands were trembling. "You all right?
"Do you have any idea what Ugleeuh will do to me if she discovers this little ruse?" said Spark, holding his hands still by clamping them between his knees. "I'll be lucky if she seals me up inside my cave until I rot."
"Sure thing. And me with you, no doubt. But we can't just leave Rose and Lukus in the hands of those marshmallow suckers. You know how Gobblers treat captives, Spark."
"I know you're absolutely right," said Spark with a great shudder. "Yeap, yip! Me as Ugleeuh. That's the best we're going to get. Just give me a bit to get used to the idea. I don't suppose you've ever heard of Lizzie? She was one of my clan and had a passion for marshmallows. Greedigut had his fat little slugs capture her and then he killed her slowly by forcing her to slave endlessly on next to no food while they made a routine of beating her senseless. No one should be thrall to a Gobbler," he said, as his voice went shrill and rasping.
Fuzz jerked back with a gasp. Before him stood Ugleeuh. "Wow! Mercy! My very word! Excellent, Spark. If I didn't know it was you, I'd know old Dungbag was standing right where you are. The Gobblers will never know it's you."
"I was hoping you'd say that." he said, and with an odd wavering of the air about him, he resumed his normal visage. "Being Ugleeuh really saps my zip. I'll have to get as close as I possibly can to the Gobbler castle before casting my illusion. Then, maybe I can keep it up long enough. Besides, that way there'll be less chance that the real Ugleeuh will soar overhead and see me. Well. I see no reason why I shouldn't be underway."
"Good thinking. Hey, thank you. And good luck. I'll be right here until you're back."
"Ta-ta!" said Spark with a flutter of eyelashes, as he flashed Ugleeuh's Face for his own, before vanishing into the dark in the direction of the Gobbler's fortified keep.
Ch. 22, The Collector Witch (Click on Title or Image to Download From Amazon)
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps