Behind him Stallywag kicked the ground with an iron shod hoof, nudging his head into Dusty. The knight reached over, giving the stallion a rub on the nose. He whispered, “It’s okay Stally, this is how most adventures I have heard about happen.” The horse nudged him again, harder this time. Dusty’s voice became stern. “Listen here Stallywag. I am the knight, you are the mount. I know what I’m doing.”
“Do you now?” Tindra’s voice dripped menace.
“I am a knight my lady. I have to know.” He spoke with a conviction that transcended his youth. Dusty noticed that they had stopped. Crix had brought them before two of the larger cells that Dusty had seen, one for the humans, the other for Stallywag. The pixie waved his hand before the cages, roots twisting away to admit their new occupants .
“Sure are a lot of cells,” Tindra said as Crix moved them into the roots.
He turned on them, a smirk crossing his diminutive features. “Lots of cells for lots of stupid humans.” He sealed them in their cages before heading back towards the pavilion. The trees bowed after him, their branches clawing the ground.
He was just out of sight when Tindra rounded of Dusty. “What were you thinking? You call yourself a knight, how bout a dim witted fool.”
“I’m not done yet. If you had kept your mouth shut when we were before the king they would have let us go.”
Dusty felt something swelling up inside him, something that had never happened before. He tried to warn her but she wouldn’t hear it.
“Now we are stuck in the middle of the forest, surrounded by pixies who would like nothing better than to see us rot here until we are old and useless.”
He thought he saw steam coming out of her ears but was distracted by that strange feeling getting closer to the surface. Dusty didn’t know how much longer he could keep it in.
“And it’s all your fault. You know I wonder who is supposed to be protecting who on this quest of yours.”
Dusty wished she would stop. The feeling was almost at its peak, surging through him. This is it, he thought.
“Well, what do you have to say-“
The burst of laughter came so sudden, so violently that Tindra fell backwards. Dusty was already on his back, rolling back and forth, clutching his sides to keep them from splitting open. Tindra sat up, an incredible look masking the shock on her face. Stallywag whinnied while he tossed his mane.
Dusty laughed for a long time. Finally the fit subsided. Dusty sat up, whipping tears from his eyes. He turned to Tindra.
“Well?” she said.
She looked to the side muttering something unintelligible under her breath before responding. “What was that all about?”
“Oh- you seemed to be so upset about being thrown into prison that you forgot that this is how adventures go.”
“I forgot- what are you talking about?”
“In every adventure I’ve ever seen the heroes always get captured by someone. Then they escape and continue with their quest.” A concerned look passed over his features. “We are the heroes aren’t we?”
“ARRRRGG, Of course we are Dusty. And what do you know about adventures, this is the first one you’ve ever been on.”
“That doesn’t matter right now.”
“Really? And What does matter right now?”
“Escaping this prison.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Try to stay focused Tindra.”
She stood there with her mouth agape, eyes unfocused as if she didn’t understand what Dusty had said.
The knight leaned closer so that he could get a better look at her. “Are you okay?”
She blinked, shaking her hard before answering. “Fine, Dusty, just fine.”
He sighed in relief. “Good because I’m going to need your help if we are going to escape.”
“You’re planning to escape?” Said a male voice behind Dusty.
The young knight turned to see Stallywag standing in his cell, head resting in the branches. “Stally… you can talk?”
“No, you idiot, behind the horse.”
Dusty moved to the edge of his cell to get a better look behind the horse; sure enough, in the next cell over stood a man. His cloths hung off of his haggard frame but the spark was still in his eyes; that was always a good thing. Dusty said the first thing that came to his mind.
“Who put you in there?”
The man went so far as to raise an eyebrow. He didn’t respond to Dusty’s question. “We can talk about that later, you said you had a plan to escape?”
Tindra cleared her throat. “Why should we help you out?”
He exchanged a look with Dusty. “I can’t see a reason not to. We do appear to have a common cause.”
“We all seem to be trapped here, besides, I know a way out of the forest.”
Tindra seemed to consider it as Dusty spoke softly. “Come on Tindra we could use his help to escape.”
She nodded slowly. “All right, but only because we don’t know the way out.”
“Of course.” The man said. He looked expectantly at Dusty, “now what was this plan of yours?”
Dusty looked between the two before speaking to Tindra. “Well, I was thinking that since these cells are only made from wood that we could use fire to burn a way out.”
She looked to Dusty with hope in her eyes. “You know Dusty, that’s not a bad plan. Maybe we could-“
“And what would you be using to make this fire?” Came the voice.
The two looked at each other for a moment, weighing whether or not they could trust the stranger. To Dusty, the answer was obvious. “We were going to use magic of course, oooff-“
The young magician shoved him in the ribs, trying to cover what the knight had said. It was too late.
“Magic? Where did you two come from.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Came Tindra’s indignant reply. She had stolen the words out of Dusty’s mouth, but since the wind had already been knocked out of him, he really didn’t mind too much.
“I mean, how is it that you get locked up by pixies and not know anything about them?” When he saw the looks on their faces he knew that he would have to explain. “Pixies are highly sought after for their magical powers, one of those being the ability to sense when other magic is being used. In this forest, their home, the effects are magnified; even the smallest amount would alert them.”
By this time Dusty had finally regained his breath. “I guess we need a new plan then.”
The man waved his hands, patting the air in front of him. “No need, it just so happens that I have my own plan. As you have probably guessed I have been here for a little while and I’ve managed to move some of the vines and branches. My only problem is that I need a knife to cut through some of the smaller vines.” He looked across hopefully. “You wouldn’t happen to have one would you?”
Dusty’s spare knife had already cleared its boot sheath before the man had finished his sentence. He was halfway into his toss when Tindra caught his arm.
“What are you doing?”
She ignored him, instead addressing the ragged man. “How do we know that you will help us escape?”
The man took off his floppy hat with a flourish, placing it over his heart as he said, “I give you the word of Pondorous Pendalin, master inventor.” With that he swooped into a bow. He looked up with an expecting look on his face.
The two companions only stared in silence.
Pondorous straightened with a puzzled look on his face. “What, you haven’t heard of me?”
Tindra shook her head. Dusty gave an enthusiastic “Nope”.
The inventors jaw dropped just a fraction of an inch. He quickly shut it. “No matter, no matter, you’ve heard of me now and that’s what counts. Now if you please.” He held his hand out for the knife.
Tindra and Dusty again exchanged looks. “He did give us his word.”
She sighed, “like we have any other choice.”
Dusty put a comforting arm around her shoulders, giving her a squeeze of reassurance before tossing the knife.
Pondorous deftly caught the knife with a smile. He raised it in salute. “Many thanks, my friends.” He bent out of sight.
The two friends waited for what seemed like hours while the inventor cut through the vines of his cage. Finally there was a great rustling crash. A second later Pondorous rolled out into view. He stood quickly, turning in a full circle to make sure that none of the pixies were around. Satisfied he walked over to his benefactors cell. He started pulling at the branches as he talked.
“These cages are really quite ingenious. All there magic prevents those inside from getting out.” He paused for a moment as he gave a tremendous pull, nearly sending him sprawling to the ground. “The magic doesn’t stop those who want to get in from getting in.” He laughed, “after all who would want to break into prison?” He was working on a particularly stubborn branch when they heard the voices.
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“I did, so we are going to check on prisoners.”
The second voice belonged to Crix.
Pondorous had stopped his work to stare through the trees. He licked his lips in silent thought. Tindra didn’t like it.
“Hurry up, inventor. They’re almost here.” She whispered at him.
He turned back, a quick jerk of his head. Dusty met his eyes. He didn’t recognize the look on his face. Tindra did.
“Don’t even think about it Pondorous. You gave us your word.”
He smiled as he got up. “I only said that I would help you escape.” He looked back through the forest. “I’m sorry my friends but I have important business to take care of. Sorry I couldn’t do more.” With a mighty heave he threw the knife into the air over Stallywag’s cage it hit a cluster of vines where the trunk of the tree met the roots with a thunk. Upon hearing the noise the two pixies stopped their conversation. They could be seen entering the grove of prison trees. Crix pointed to the escapee.
“Sound the alarm.” He screamed. Taking two running strides he launched himself into the air, bearing down his on his prey.
Pondorous was already running into the woods, making plenty of racket as he did so. Dusty and Tindra watched as the pixies poured into the forest after him. It seemed like everyone had taken up the chase. But the time the progression was out of sight, Tindra was fuming.
“I don’t believe this. First he promises on his name ‘Oh I’m the great inventor Pondorous Pendalin’ and then when he gets out he runs off at the first sign of trouble. He didn’t even have the decency to return your knife.”
As soon as the words left her mouth the knife fell out of the tree to land by Stallywag’s feet. With a cracking the whole cage fell outward, leaving the tree standing on only a handful of roots, leaving the stallion as free as he had ever been. More cracking ensued as the cages under each and every tree opened in the same manner, including their own. The two stood in stunned silence. It was Dusty who broke it.
“Do you think he meant to do that?”
Tindra didn’t waste any time, shoving Dusty forward the two ran at Stallywag, the knight pausing only long enough the retrieve his second best knife, before jumping into the saddle, Tindra right behind him. He wheeled the horse around, through the root strewn ground, searching for a way out of the forest. He looked over his shoulder. “I don’t know the way.”
She pounded his shoulder with her fist, the sound of cracking trees still around them. Desperation was in her voice. “Pick a way. It doesn’t matter, they could be back any minute.”
Stallywag reared, nearly sending his riders to the ground. He fought Dusty’s control, jerking his head back and forth. “I can’t control him.” He said in a panic.
“I think he’s trying to tell us something.”
“Maybe he knows a way out.” The horse reared again, this time giving a mighty whinny.
Dusty shook his head. Stally’s sense of direction has never been very good, he’s the reason why we were lost in the forest to begin with.”
“It doesn’t matter. Any direction is good enough so long as it’s away from this place.”
The knight looked at his horses muscled neck. “Okay Stally,” he said as he gave the stallions mane a scratch. “You lead the way.” With that he kicked his heels into Stallywag’s flanks, sending him into a gallop. The two never looked back as the left the heart of the forest.