We were all staring at the destruction before us. “What has happened? Another earth shaker?”
“No Lady,” Torm said in consternation. “We’d a felt something big enough to do this around here. Only thing that I can think of is that this came from upriver and was pushed here by the current.”
I nodded. “I agree with your assessment. My concern is how do we cross without falling into disaster?”
Giving it a quick thought Torm answered, “By going downriver. We’ve no choice. It’ll mean more time but this is nothing I’d trust to put a foot on. It stretches as far as I can see in both directions. It couldn’t have been here long – Kizzie and I were doing a looksee here day before we met ye. Yet look how the bit of water going around it has already tore up the island. Wouldn’t take much for one side to tear away from how ‘m so ever it be anchored and start moving again and no telling how fast.”
So we walked; only instead of upriver as we had planned, we went down. And we did it baring the canoe that Torm had secreted for just the purpose of crossing.
It took most of the morning and the early part of the noonday to hike to a point we could cross with relative sureness. It was exhausting and hot work and the bloodsuckers were thick and not averse to taking what they weren’t freely offered. Where we stopped the water was somewhat clear of debris. That isn’t to say it was without danger.
“Ooooo … lookit Torm,” Ropsy said, sounding as if he was sick to his stomach. “Giant lizards. We’ll never been able to loop and trap these uns. Never seen the like.”
“Alligators,” Torm and I said at the same time. We looked at each other and nodded, acknowledging there was plenty of danger ahead of us.
Slowly so as not to create attracting noise we placed the canoe in the river. Torm turned and gave the orders. “Listen you lot. This can be just as dangerous as the rushing water back in the Borderland. The currents ain’t always trusty and those giant lizards have the same bite as a deatheater and more teeth to do it with. Their tail is just as bad and it takes more than a poke to break through that hide they wear like armor. As fer their disposition … think of it the same as you would a dark priest with cancerous rhoids.”
“Now really Torm …” My face must have been something to behold as both Damsie and Rulie suddenly got a fit of the giggles. The others twitched there nose trying not to smile the same as a mouse twitches its whiskers. “Wellllll,” I said. “While I’m sure the descriptors are accurate, they wouldn’t exactly pass my comportment teacher’s test for polite company.” Then I winked. “Of course she isn’t around and were we in company of my grandfather … it is likely he’d be braying louder than Rulie here. Still, we’d best mind Torm’s cautions to use our heads for something other than a place to put a hat and do as he says.”
Torm nodded as he’d picked up on the fact that I was trying to calm the younger of the children. Even Hela and Ropsy were less frightened though they still showed a lot of caution. We put Kizzie in the middle holding Roj. There was some debate but eventually all agreed that it was best if Damsie went back in the carrier that I had fashioned and yet wore. Hela took Rulie and placed him behind Kizzie. Torm and Ropsy took the front. Then Hela and I had some disagreement.
“Hela, you’ve never piloted a water vessel.”
“And you have?” she asked angrily.
“Yes. Forests aren’t completely devoid of waterways and I’ve done my share of paddling. Plus you need your hands free.”
“What fo … oh.”
She understood what I was referring to but it was Torm who decided it. “Hela, behind Rulie. Lady if you can pilot while I plow it’d be best.” It meant getting my feet wet as I was the last one in but I barely had to push off from the bank the current pulled us in so strongly.
We were nearly across the wide section when trouble found us. “Torm,” I called calmly. “Best put your back into it.”
He cursed rather creatively but gave up trying to be quiet. I was somewhat hampered by Damsie’s position, she’d moved around a bit, but I too was using muscle and bone to propel us toward the shore. Then there was a slap against the side of the canoe and Kizzie yelped and grabbed the walls to keep her balance.
“Everyone for the love of all, keep your hands inside this instant!” Luckily my tone had enough of Sister Evelyn to it that they all obeyed for another a second later instead of a tail we got a head rcking the side of the canoe.
I said, “I think they are simply curious at the moment but …”
“But I ain’t interested in giving them any more to think on than what they’ve already got,” Torm snapped as he had to raise his paddle to keep it out of the grip of a playful gator. “Push Lady, give it all ye’ve got and aim us for that sandy bit over there. You others, as soon as we hit land you go to the front and head for that stand of trees and climb like adders.”
We hit the shallows just in time. There was a terrific lurch in our craft and amazingly we sliced several feet up into the sand before coming to a standstill. Torm started pulling everyone out and pushing them towards the trees. I had just put my foot on dry land when I made the mistake of looking back. Several gators were swimming our way at an amazing speed, even leaving a wake easily visible from shore.
I heard a cry followed by a curse and turned around to see that a gator had come from the reeds along the shore line and was taking aim at Kizzie and Hela. Yelling in fear I said, “Go! Help Ropsy! I have these two!”
I grabbed Rulie and started pushing him ahead of me. More gators were coming out of the reeds. For the beasties to be cold blooded water dwellers they could move faster than I had ever wanted to test. Certainly faster than I could run. One of the few good things I remembers from my time in Old Paduck was an old fisherman telling me that the story of running zigzag to get away from gators was a myth. “They’ll jes gets you faster thataways.”
I had to acknowledge I would never make the trees hampered by my weight loss, loose girdle, and skirts because though they were worse for wear and split up the side they still annoyingly clung to my legs and affected my stride.
“Run Rulie … Run!! Head for the trees!”
“Not without you and Damsie,” he cried refusing to do as I ordered.
“Blast you Boy!” I grabbed the scruff of his neck and nearly threw him up onto a short pile of boulders that appeared to be our only form of sanctuary close at hand. “You should have done as Torm and I told you!”
“I promised the old ‘un that I’d take care of ye.”
I looked at my would-be hero and could only see a small boy so thin his breast bone showed through his leather jerkin. When he pulled a knife with a blade no bigger than one that I used to snip yarn with I nearly cried. But I also determined I would not be what got this boy killed. I pulled my axe off my belt then told Rulie, “Take your sister.”
“No Lady, you keep her. I might need to run and lead ‘em off ye.”
The very audacity of that statement snatched the breath from my lungs. But there was no longer time to berate him and try to change his mind. A gator had reached the base of our small mound and was making its way up.
I gave the cry of the woodsman and brought the axe down onto its head. I felt it all the way up my arm – like striking ironwood or finding a piece of petrified wood hiding in the heart of a log. Unfortunately though the gator also felt it, he hadn’t suffered a death blow. It did however cause it to fall back. This only meant that one of its cohorts tried to take its place.
I swung and swung but all I could do was keep the animals at bay. And I was tiring. I lost my balance, Damsie screamed and I would have fallen if Rulie had not grabbed my waist band. I heard another seam giving and felt myself nearly ready to lose my dignity when thunder rent the air and the gator nearest me developed a red blossom where its foreleg had been but a moment before.
And with that the thunder rolled on and on. Rulie nearly hid in what was left of my skirts and whimpered, “Them’s boomsticks!”
“Yes they are,” I responded, nearly refusing to believe my eyes when steeds baring the livery of Linderhall ringed our refuge with their riders putting a period to the gators that had threatened us. Then those that had escaped the bloodbath disappeared under the waters and swam away as fast as they had attacked.
A man jumped from a steed that I well recognized and ran to me and took me so forcefully in his arms my feet left the ground. Kisses rained down on me and strangely enough I didn’t mind at all. Then he stopped and looked at me as if he’d never get tired of looking.
“Do you know Sheriff? I believe for once I am not at all averse to you being forever underfoot.”