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Jabberwocky Part 11

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The final battle sound echoed through the clearing and the gaping head fell severed from the body.

The echo died and was replaced by Elora's hushed sobs. Tjaden held her, willing to comfort her as long as she needed, for he knew she would be the only one to mourn the mighty Jabberwock.

Elora didn't cry long and they resumed their attempted escape. As they suspected, the path was blocked five paces beyond the clearing. A wall of vines, roots, and branches intermingled where he'd ignorantly entered the day before.

His sword was useless against the fibrous tendrils that barred their way. With effort he was able to cut through some, but for every length he cut, two more came from the forest to take its place. The wall grew thicker with each slice, and roots emerged from the ground, moiling toward their attacker. Tjaden had to retreat to avoid being caught.

"We haven't come this far, only to be trapped like Darieus planned," Elora announced. "What's our next move?"

"Is there any way to escape back by the spring?"

"No. I spent an entire week searching it."

"Can we follow the spring underground?"

She shook her head. "I tried, but the water comes out of a crack in solid rock that's not even big enough to fit my head through."

Back in the clearing, Tjaden looked around, hoping to find something he'd missed. He walked to the edge of the clearing and studied the trees. They were a mixture of aspen, oak, elm, and others with mere inches between each trunk. He handed his sword to Elora and said, "I doubt it will work, but I'm going to try climbing over that wall of vines."

Choosing a thick aspen near the entrance of the path, Tjaden began to climb. An abundance of branches made it easy, but before he was halfway up the tree, the unrelenting vines appeared. He had to scurry down to avoid being trapped.

Back on firm ground, he retrieved his sword and considered their options. It still irritated him to waste time thinking through a problem because he couldn't solve it with his sword.

The way into the clearing was blocked. With the path barred, the only way out of the Tumtum tree's clearing was into the tree and down through the root. But he was confident in Elora's a.s.sessment of the glade being sealed tight.

That's why the Jabberwocky has to fly here, he can't fit...

"I have an idea," he said and led Elora around the Tumtum tree. Back in view of the dead beast they saw root-like tendrils already emerging from the ground where the Jabberwocky's blood flowed from the exposed neck. The tendrils slowly churned the earth, mixing blood and dirt into a thick paste.

As they skirted the gore, Elora said, "The Jabberwocky told me the Tumtum feeds on prey only at night. But I guess it's not going to pa.s.s up an easy meal."

"At least no one will be able to display its body like a trophy," Tjaden said.

The broken rim of the circle where the Jabberwocky had whiffled into the clearing lay ahead of them. It wasn't a very clear path, but it afforded a break in the interlaced wall of vegetation more than wide enough for the two of them. They carefully climbed through the rough gap the Jabberwocky had created, making their way over fallen trunks and around branches. Though Tjaden held his sword ready, the vines didn't appear.

The trees lining the makeshift corridor were entwined as closely as the wall of trees around the clearinga"until they reached the far end of the uneven pa.s.sage, the spot where the Jabberwocky crashed.

The Jabberwocky had caught the corner of the true path when he collapsed into the trees. Just as Tjaden suspected, the dark path did not lead in a straight line from the Harbinger Spoke to the Tumtum tree, but wrapped in a tightening coil to its perilous center. Before his death, Tjaden's enemy had unwittingly created a means of escape.

Wasting no time, Tjaden and Elora returned to the clearing. Taking only what was necessary, Tjaden prepared his pack and situated it on Elora's back. Then he walked to where the Jabberwocky lay.

Even though most of the blood had drained, the head still weighed as much as a small man. The stringy tendrils that hung from the Jabberwocky's face made satisfactory straps, allowing Tjaden to carry the head like an oversized backpack.

Elora refused to walk behind Tjaden, not wanting to stare at the monster's hideous pose, so side-by-side they returned to the break in the trees. After crossing the corridor of flattened trees, they entered the cave-like path and began the long road home without another sign of the tendrils and vines. They had escaped the sinister Tumtum tree.

They talked little as they walked along the dark path, afraid that drawing attention might bring on the tendrils and roots. Even when the pinp.r.i.c.ks of light faded from the canopy, Tjaden continued to lead Elora, one hand tracing the wall of the trees and the other entwined in hers. Neither of them was comfortable sleeping in the carnivorous forest, but rest breaks became more and more frequent as the burdensome head seemed to grow heavier with every step. Only when lights reappeared above did they dare stop to sleep in turns.

After each had slept a few hours they resumed their trek. Water was plentiful in the rivulets that crossed the path, and Tjaden was glad he brought so much food. But by the time they reached the end of path on the afternoon of the third day, their food supply was gone.

After traveling southeast for five miles on the Harbinger Spoke, they left the road to enter a small town. With the trophy Tjaden bore, the townsfolk of Silhaven were proud to provide horses and supplies to the heroic couple. They would accept no payment and offered lodging for as long as the heroes desired to stay. The townspeople begged the pair rest and tell how they had slain the Jabberwocky, but Tjaden was anxious to arrive at the capital before news of their success reached Darieus.

After a welcomed meal, they prepared to continue on the road. However, every time they approached one of the horses with the severed head, it bolted. They had to wrap the head in canvas before either of the horses would accept it. Even then, the animal was skittish. They left Silhaven as soon as the head was secured.

When they made camp two hours later they placed the severed head apart from themselves and the animals. Under the canvas, it was still frozen in the same threatening pose. Tjaden built a fire and after eating, the two sat close and stared into the flames. The unpredictable flames were not as soothing to watch as water flowing, but with Elora by his side, Tjaden didn't complain.

With the strain of the heavy head gone, conversation was easier and Tjaden and Elora had a chance to tell each other more about their individual adventures.

Tjaden was anxious to tell her about Olliea"his dedication to archery, the praise from Darieus, the broken leg, and how proud he was to stick two arrows into the Jabberwocky.

"Didn't I tell you some day that bow would save your life?"

Tjaden nodded. "And Ollie told me the same thing at least a dozen times. Between the two of you I don't expect to ever hear the end of it." He continued in a more serious tone. "I hope he's safe."

"What do you mean? Lying in his bed in the barracks is much safer than what we've been through."

"That's not what I mean. Darieus was very selective about what he told us, but he revealed a lot of secrets by the time I left. Enough for me to figure out who was behind your kidnapping and the death of King Barash. And I know he doesn't expect us to make it back."

"So Ollie would be the only one who could expose him. Do you think Darieus will do anything to him?"

"Not yet. Ollie can't do much harm lying in bed. But I'm sure there'll be a guard nearby making sure he doesn't talk to anyone. Probably an Elite. I wonder how many of them know the truth about the Jabberwocky."

"Why?"

"When Darieus killed the first Jabberwocky he had a hundred Elites with him. Half of them died, but that leaves fifty that know the truth, and soldiers tend to confide in each other."

"So why didn't he send one of them? Why send a new recruit?"

"They must also know the truth about the Tumtum tree. Maybe he saw too many possible complications of trying sending one of them on a suicide mission. He had great confidence in the female's scent and knew one determined recruit could succeed."

"And that's why he kidnapped me and left me there with the map. The Jabberwocky kills King Barash and you kill the Jabberwocky. Then you and Ollie get trapped, all three of us die, and no one ever knows."

Tjaden nodded. "No one would be able to confirm the death of the Jabberwocky, so Darieus could keep those lies going as long as it kept him on the throne."

"But how did the soldiers that put me there escape the Tumtum tree?"

"If I had half a dozen soldiers I'd spread them out near the entrance. The tendrils would probably not appear until all the prey was in the clearing. Even if the vines did come, I think four or five men could prevent the wall from forming while the other one or two planted you and the map. But I still have no idea how anyone ever lived to tell about the tree in the first place."

"With that many soldiers maybe they overwhelmed it," said Elora.

"Maybe," said Tjaden. "And it's possible they took heavy losses learning its secrets. I have no doubt Darieus wanted both of us to die there. And Ollie too, before he broke his leg. Darieus will probably send a company to find out if I succeeded. He really wants that head."

As Tjaden told her about the morbid collection of animals, she snuggled close and rested her head on his shoulder. She dozed off and Tjaden let her sleep there for a while before helping her into her bedroll.

Two days later they reached the fork in the road where Tjaden had encountered the grinning Cheshire Cat. He told Elora everything he could remember about the conversation. But the cat was nowhere to be seen so they rode on. After fifty paces, Tjaden turned to take one last glance and thought he saw the outline of a wide grin above the branch where the cat had been. It faded as he stared until he couldn't make it out.

Pala.s.siren came into view the next day. Before getting close enough to be seen by the guards, Tjaden and Elora stopped to change riding arrangements and rest the horses. They had been riding double, leaving the other horse to bear the severed head. But as they approached the walls of the city, Tjaden rode with the head secured awkwardly behind him and Elora on her own horse at his side. Their plan hinged on making a noticeable entrance.

Tjaden allowed the horses a slow pace until they had a clear view of the guards at the gate. As soon as he was close enough to be recognized, he urged his horse to gallop, but ended up galumphing with his unwieldy cargo. A cry went up before they had entered the city and by the time they reached the market-lined streets, people were gathered to see the cause of the commotion.

As Tjaden and Elora pa.s.sed the crowds with evidence of their victory prominently displayed, the people erupted in cheering and encouragement. Children hid in their mothers' skirts, terrified by the beast's gaping maw. Grown men and women cheered and shed tears of joy as they waved the happy couple through the streets. The applause got louder and the crowds grew bigger as they neared the city's center.

They didn't slow or waver, but rode straight for the large plaza inside the inner walls of the city. Instead of stopping in the center of the square in front of the palaces, Tjaden galumphed in wide circles around the plaza, allowing the surging citizenry time to gather. Thousands swarmed into the common squarea"cheering, crying, rejoicing.

PART VI.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"

He chortled in his joy.

Darieus, his military garb replaced by a royal robe, soon arrived with a sizeable guard. A hint of surprise showed on his face as Tjaden slowed his mount and reined in. Before he got within ten paces of the king regent he was cut off by Elites.

They aren't even going to let me near him. Their reaction confirmed what Tjaden already knew. But he had planned for such a reaction.

Leaving the trophy and his sword tied to the horse, Tjaden dismounted and immediately bent to one knee. Faint blood stains still showed on the cobbles and he realized he was kneeling where the Jabberwocky had wrought so much carnage.

One more, thought Tjaden. One more death will end it all.

The cheers from the crowd started to die down, but Tjaden remained in the same position with his head bowed. Darieus was stuck. He had no choice but to push past his guards and approach Tjaden.

Darieus paused, looming over Tjaden. When he spoke, his voice was formal, and loud enough to carry through the crowd, "And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?"

Tjaden rose, looking as proud and innocent as possible.

"Come to my arms, my beamish boy!" He embraced Tjaden theatrically.

Turning back to the audience, he announced, "Behold! My champion has slain the Jabberwocky!"

Ear shattering applause filled the plaza. Darieus basked in the adulation, and Tjaden attempted to remain calm as nervous sweat dripped down his chest and arms. As the cheering continued he watched Darieus' vanity mount.

When Tjaden had arrived with Elora and the head, Darieus had been cautious. He had no way of knowing how Tjaden would act or if he would make accusations. The humble pretense had worked, Darieus was at ease.

Standing there soaking up the ovation, Tjaden heard him chortling, "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I've done it. They're mine. It's all mine." The noise of the crowd kept Darieus' words from all but Tjaden.

As the applause died down, Tjaden returned to the horse and untied the detached head then placed it in front of Darieus. That was it, his whole plan. He had followed the Jabberwocky's instructions, but was unsure what to do next.

Beast and despot faced each other. Threatening grimace matched by satisfied smile. The Jabberwocky's heavy eyelids were closed and the upper lip was frozen in a menacing snarl, jaws opened as wide as possible. It didn't have fangs, but oversized, flat front teeth which, in their current position, were level with a man's shoulders. The smell was horrible, but no worse than when the creature was alive. The color had faded slightly. Instead of the intense green-black the Jabberwocky exhibited when alive, the lifeless skin has become dull, like a rotting lime just before being covered with mold.

At full attention, Tjaden stood at the king regent's side. Shouting to be heard by the still growing crowd he proclaimed, "My king! I present to youa THE JABBERWOCKY." With a sweep of his traveling cloak he made a theatrical bow.

Darieus turned to face Tjaden, leaving the gaping jaws to his right. Not to be outdone, Darieus declared, "On behalf of the people of Maravilla, I accept your trophy!"

In an elegant gesture the king regent fanned his cloak wide and returned the bow, his right shoulder inches under the upper jaw of the Jabberwocky.

As the wind from the flourish reached the Jabberwocky's flared nostrils, the eyes twitched under the closed lids. Darieus' scent triggered some reflex and the jaws snapped shut like a bear trap. There was no time to dodge or retract, and the teeth clamped down directly on his chest. His cautiousness had been discarded and his arrogance brought him into the beast's reach. The jaw was locked in death, Darieus' flailing body firmly clenched within.

The surrounding soldiers, including Tjaden, rushed to free their king, but it was hopeless. By the time axes and sledges arrived to batter the skull, Darieus' death rattle had come and gone. In time they extricated the king regent's corpse, but the Jabberwocky's skull was smashed beyond recognition in the process. The festive atmosphere had turned mournful and the citizens watched the crushed corpse of their beloved leader shrouded, then carried away.

For the people of Pala.s.siren, and all of Maravilla, it was a day of rejoicing and a day of grieving. Tjaden and Elora, however, felt only relief. As he looked at the Jabberwocky's mangled head, Tjaden was glad the skeleton would never be complete.

Vengeance is ours, he thought.

Elora came to him and slid under his arm into his embrace. She looked up into his eyes and they both knew their future had opened up again. The Jabberwock was slain, the traitor dead, and vengeance served.

PART VII.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves.

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Despite the full sun it was a chilly day. The residents of Shey's Orchard gathered with antic.i.p.ation on the wabe. Tjaden stood waiting in full military attirea"dark blue uniform emblazoned with the Circle and the Sword. Though only fifteen months had pa.s.sed, he appeared years older than the last time the townsfolk had seen him.

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Jabberwocky Part 11 summary

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