Tarragon, sitting on a wide bench before the ship’s hatch door, bent low and tugged a new boot onto his three-toed foot. He grunted with the exertion, but as it finally wiggled into place, he grinned with satisfaction. “There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” He lifted his foot and eyed it carefully. “A little snug, but I can—”
A sudden blur rushing past his face followed by a thud shook him to the core. He yelped, “Sheesha!” Then he looked down at the body lying at his feet. A scantily clad woman. He frowned. “I know you.”
Groaning, the woman rubbed her face and opened her eyes. Amid exclamations of pain and irritation, she struggled to sit up. “You wouldn’t be interested in helping me to my feet, Cresta?”
As if to wake himself out of a dream, Tarragon shivered and thrust out a tentacle. “Mauve?” He peered at the ceiling. No hole. He glanced around. The bay door remained closed. “How did you get here? And why didn’t you use the door, like everyone else?”
Climbing to her feet, Mauve’s eyes widened as her gaze traveled along her nearly bare body. Only a lightweight, shimmering tunic covered her body from shoulders to calves. “That blinking Mystery—What happened to my clothes!”
Tarragon recognized that he was not being asked a question so he declined any attempt to answer. Instead, he lifted his second boot and shook it in her direction. “Since you are here, I’d appreciate your help.”
Mauve slapped her forehead. “I fall into your ship, literally, and all you can think about is your boots?”
With a shrug, Tarragon made his priorities clear. “The sooner I get this on, the sooner I can help you solve your mystery.”
Mauve swept her hand over herself and instantly appeared in a long red dress with wide sleeves, purple slippers, and a black belt. Her hair, arranged on the top of her head in a series of ornate braids, glistened in the garish light. She glared down at him, marring the perfect symmetry of her face. “I found him already. Who do you think did this?”
With a disgusted harumph, Tarragon tugged on the second boot. It slid into place, and he stood, testing his balance. Once secure, he pointed to the door. “Shall we? These beings not only have power but a sense of humor as well.”
The bay door opened, sending light rays into the ship.
Mauve scowled. “If you think this was funny, I can find ways to tickle your insides.”
Alarmed, Tarragon stepped outside and lifted all four tentacles in an attitude of surrender. “I see where you might be annoyed, but still, you must admit, it was clever. He could’ve killed you. Instead, he merely humbled you.”
Mauve scampered down the incline and pounded across the wet sand to the mouth of the cave. She stared at the ripples of an incoming current. “He’ll have to try a lot harder than that!”
Tarragon plodded up beside her, his tentacles wrapped behind his back.
“They acted like a father and son. The boy is a fool. The father only plays one. I’d like to know a whole lot more. They could be useful.”
The sunlight sparkled over the water, glorious to Tarragon’s eyes. “I doubt you can bargain with them.”
With a thoughtful look, Mauve replaced her dainty slippers with tall boots and plodded forward. “I’ll kidnap the son. That’ll show oh-so-powerful-one who he’s playing with. The fool probably thinks that I’m as weak as a human, stupid as an Ingot, or as single-minded as a Cresta. He has a lot to learn.” She slogged toward the shoreline. “Hurry up if you want to watch me take the Mystery Being down a peg or two.”
Slapping a tentacle across his face, amazement shivered over Tarragon. He watched her scramble up the beach and stomp in the direction of the Widow’s castle. Of course, I can always offer my services to the winner. Perhaps there could be an exchange—once I save his son…
Sterling stood beside Nova in a shadowed corner of the Widow’s great hall and watched the spectacle, entranced by the crowd’s childlike joy yet disgusted by their easy manipulation.
Abbas stood before the great fireplace and juggled three plates before a breathless crowd. To their amazement, he added a fourth plate. He grinned at Cerulean who, in common peasant garb, stood beside the high table. “Toss me that golden vessel!”
Hesitant, Cerulean glanced away from the Mistress’ gorgeous place setting and grasped a clay mug instead.
Scowling, Nova shoved past him, plucked the golden goblet off the table, and tossed it into the whirling mix.
Without missing a beat, Abbas caught it and juggled all four objects faster than ever.
The watching throng roared approval.
Sterling stepped behind Cerulean and gripped his shoulder. He spoke in an undertone. “Now toss in the mug.”
Cerulean threw in a perfect arc, and the mug whirled beautifully before smacking into the goblet, breaking the spinning cycle. The plates and mugs fell to the floor, smashing into uncountable splinters. The goblet rolled to the wall and stopped.
Abbas locked eyes on Sterling who grinned in return.
A disgruntled woman aired her disappointment, “Good plates ruined. For what, I ask?”
Quickly pulling a colored scarf from his sleeve, Abbas then ceremoniously flung it over the mess. He grabbed a tray off the table, scraped the mess on, held it aloft, and chanted, “Heza, hiza, meza, miza! Be renewed!”
He snapped the scarf away, and all four plates and the clay mug all appeared in perfect shape on the tray.”
Loud exclamations met his astonishing feat.
Smiling, Abbas placed the tray on the table. “The hand is quicker than the eye. You didn’t see what you thought you saw!”
He then bowed backward out the front door into the cool evening air.
Sterling followed with Cerulean and Nova trailing along behind.
Once well away from the well-lit hall and stepping into the long shadow of the curtain wall, Abbas turned and waved his followers along. He snuck inside the doorway of a flanking tower and climbed the steep steps at a faster rate than his apparent age suggested possible.
Anxiety tightening his chest, Sterling’s skin chilled in the evening air. How human. He lifted his hand, halting Cerulean and Nova in their tracks. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
Nova challenged, “But what if you’re not?”
“Then Cerulean is in charge. Now be a good changeling and obey a direct order from your superior.”
Her hands clenched, Nova stomped forward.
Cerulean gripped her arm, shaking his head.
Relieved, Sterling raced up the steps after the only person who had ever made him feel afraid.
Omega meandered along the edge of the cliff well aware that the Luxonian woman trailed twenty feet behind him. He had a lot on his mind. His father seemed easily annoyed of late, and that puzzled him. His father adored him. As did his mother. He was a perfect son. How could he not be? Yet, this evening, his father had told him to “go away” for a bit. What did “go away” even mean?
“Hey, you! Boy! Wait a moment. I need to talk to you.”
A strange sensation filled Omega. The sun had set and an evening glow still showed over the water’s edge, yet darkness filled him. He turned around and faced the nasally high voice.
Mauve trotted forward, heaving gulps of air. “Stay put a moment. I had to lose that stupid Cresta to have a private word with you.”
Omega peered over her shoulder. There, in the far distance, the Cresta plodded along, stumbling like a newly-hatched bird. “What’s he done that you should leave him behind?”
Mauve stopped before him, a fierce scowl marring her otherwise pretty face. “He’s nothing. Don’t bother about him.” She repositioned her face and attempted an ingratiating smile. “I’ve got a proposition for you—if you’d just allow me—”
“You’re the one who plays with the men?”
Mauve snorted, a grin replacing her smile. “I play with them as likes to play.” She shrugged. “Makes life meaningful—to experience everything while I’m here.” She sauntered closer, her hips swaying invitingly.
Omega stepped to the very edge of the cliff.
Her eyes glinted as she slid her hand along his chest.
Repulsed, Omega said the first thing that came to mind. “Father says you’re a leech.”
Her face contorting, Mauve lifted her hand. “I was going to be nice but—”
Suddenly Mauve’s body recomposed from flesh into clay, her face frozen in rage.
Heaving a long sigh, Omega appraised the life-like sculpture and patted the stiff cheek. Then nudged the composition over the cliff.
As waves crashed ashore, the clay figure whirled downward, then smashed to pieces on the wet rocks below.
Omega leaned over the edge. He clapped dust off his hands and turned away.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
“With its combination of genre and its swath of characters in both plots, OldEarth Melchior features many of the best aspects of both historical and science fiction.” ~Reedsy/Discovery Review