Title: Prince of Penance
Category: Cartoons » Gummi Bears
Language: English, Rating: Rated: T
Published: 02-16-07, Updated: 04-20-08
Chapters: 25, Words: 69,846
Chapter 1: Prologue
REVAMPED! PLEASE RE-READ the story IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY!
Salty winds churned and tossed across the sea through a gale of rain that pelted down as sharp as dagger slashes upon a lone ship, her masts whipping violently in the blustering winds. It threw freezing waves of water over the bow, soaking the loan blue furred Gummi bear within, who was trying with pointed desperation to keep his rather unsturdy little ship afloat. A rope of lightning crackled and hit the tallest mast, sending it falling to the deck of the ship in a cascade of falling sails.
With nothing much to go on but blind sight and his own sheer determination not to get killed, the Gummi Bear turned the steering wheel as if for his very life, putting every inch of his sweat, blood and tears into it, feeling the muscles of his arms strain to near breaking under the pressure. Before his eyes he saw nothing that could help his cause; waves rocketed him back and forth, their frothy curtain leaving him soaked and shivering with each unfriendly smack across the deck.
This storm will kill me!
A sudden cracking and lurching and he was thrown forward over the steering wheel. He had run aground; the ship had crashed right into an island, which had mostly been hidden beneath the waterfall curtain of rain that had blinded his vision and soaked his skin to the bone. The shrieking of breaking wood pulling out of joints, the straining against nails before finally snapping and cracking, signalled that the ship was starting to fall apart.
Its all their fault! Have to hound my steps everywhere I go! I swear if they were in front of me I'd...
Suddenly the Gummi was thrown forward from the vessel onto solid sandy ground. He covered his head protectively just as the boat did a cartwheel over him, flung by the violent tossing of the waves across the clearing into the trees. It seemed to hang precariously just short of hitting a tall heavy tree trunk before coming to a halt.
Mercy of the Angels, I'm alive!
A crash of lightning hit the nearest tree and he jumped to his feet and turned towards the beach just as something massive, something dark and violent beneath the water tried with much determination to follow him ashore. But the monster was just to large and too unfocused in its efforts to succeed. A chill of horrible apprehension filled the Gummi's brain and he ripped at his shirt in despair, stumbling backwards from the shadow beneath the rocking waters that was now reassassing, calming, looking for solutions...
No, not me too!
He raised his hands, tapping into the power of the black stormy air and hit the beach before him with a magical ring of electric fire.
"Get BACK!" he snarled, sending lightening upon the beach, rain, violence sheets of ice daggers, driving the shadow shape away from the shoreline.
It snarled and howled its defeat and rage beneath the waters. Its churning cry frothed the waters around it into a bubbling mass. It was not content. It would not rest until it finally had him in its jaws!
But then suddenly something else was happening. The Gummi stopped in its spell casting to listen with an ear cocked. Then at once he felt something strange. He was shaking. No, the island was shaking. The sand beneath him was rumbling and trembling and a great roar filled his ear.
The monster was burrowing beneath the island, trying to make it sink!
He countered with yet another spell, throwing an energy barrier around the island just as the beach collapsed beneath him, sinking deep into the waves. The tide was pulling back and the coast line seemed to collapse within itself. Water rolled around the island in great tsunamis, dropping perilously down in cascading waterfalls as a great hole opened in the ocean, taking the beach and all chances of his escape with it...The energy barrier was not only protecting him from the monster, it was not the only thing keeping the island afloat.
The monster seemed to realize this, and in triumph turned from the island, fading into the dark waters as it moved away from the island, dissappearing off towards the distant darkness in an unspoken promise; it would return one day, and they would have it out again at last.
The chattering of the forest birds and creatures crept up upon the Gummi bear from behind and he turned, staring deeply into the unknown darkness of the forest. He looked up through the trees and the ominous and unmistakeable presense of a volcano towered above him, rumbling ominously and echoing with the sounds of his self created doom. But then he sighed with momentary peace; the volcano, with its craggy precipices and curling plumes of smoke, seemed like a slumbering dragon, ready at a moment's notice to spout fire and take flight, a sure sign that his safety was well placed here. And then, a twinkling of inspiration began to dance within his eyes.
That's it! I've got it!
Nearby, a parrot was squawking its humored song broke his concentration and he turned to scowl at it, eyebrows darting together in consternation.
"Bad day?" The parrot squawked in inquiry.
"Shut it polly, unless you want a cracked beak."
The parrot wisely shut its mouth. Exhausted, the Gummi bear paused to take a deep breath, staring deeply into the unknown darkness of the forest with its hidden mysteries, its potential enchantments and probable dangers.
"Trapped..." He sighed and pushed his hair away from his head again, disgusted suddenly by the threadbare state of his once princely robes. "Well Augustus, I suppose I'll have time enough here to carve my soul a permanent place on the map. But first...clothes..."
"What was your first clue?" The parrot squawked suddenly. "You're buck naked bucko!"
Augustus chuckled ironically in defeat at the realization that he was trapped with a sarcastic talking parrot, shook his head, then pushed forwards resolutely into the trees towards the remains of his boat. And much to his displeasure, the parrot soon followed, a fact which later, when the long years of his inprisonment had past, he would greatly come to appreciate.
The smoke curled, the ocean shimmered in its jewelled beauty, and as the turning of the seasons passed by a dragon took shape in the mountain face; the embodiment of all his rage, hate, and in a small part of soul, his future fears.
One day, he knew, he would have to face the kraken again. One day...
Chapter 2: Memories Boxed
REVAMPED! PLEASE RE-READ the story IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY!
Prince of Penance
1. A punishment willingly undergone in token of absolution for sin.
Chapter One: Memories Boxed
Gruffi Gummi resolutely pounded away at the peg with his mallet, even though he knew the peg was probably the wrong size. There was no hope for it now, the peg was half way in and trying to remove it at this stage would definitely ruin his work. At worse the wood would split, but for the most part that wasn't a concern yet. The wood was doing what he wanted it to, and the form was taking shape. That is, until he banged his thumb with the hammer.
"OUCH! Darn fiddlin' peg! Gah! Gnnng!"
"Do you want me to get Grammi?" Cubbi jumped up immediately, as if he had been waiting all afternoon in the workroom with Gruffi for any excuse to leave it.
"Mmm, ow, no, I'm almost done, no blood," Gruffi bemoaned his banged thumb, stuck it in his mouth and picked up his hammer again, resolute that he wasn't going to show any weakness in front of the kid.
Years could change a person, man or Gummi, Gruffi knew this very well. As a child he had been as rambunctious and mischievous as Cubbi with absolutely no sense in his head. Liberal application of a switch to his own hide had brought about change. Discipline and order where chaos had been. With proper application discipline could calm the unruliest of hearts and bend the most stubborn of wills. Discpline could teach order and order, in turn, gave stability.
These thoughts wound their way around his head as he observed Cubbi nearby, who was probably rather bored with having to help Gruffi today, but knowing that the rain outside prevented him from his usual play, or going to visit Calvin, had no other choice. Cubbi was undergoing a stage of life that must have been unbearable to the boy.
The friendless stage.
Sunni was going to soon be a young woman, of age to be courted and maybe married, if she could find a Gummi bear of suitable age around her to court her. She no longer felt the draw towards childish games that Cubbi still felt. And he had no other friends. Tummi would participate to a point, but mostly he worked along with the other adults, when not snacking on pies. Cubbi, in his small little way, reminded Gruffi painfully of his own turn as the 'only child left' and he decided he would make it less painful for the kid somehow.
"Can you hand me that box of nails kid? I should be done this soon, I just want to secure this with a nail or two..."
"Those nails you use to put pictures on the walls?"
"Yep, those are the ones."
Gruffi really had to pity the boy, if he was so bored at being stuck in the rain that he was willing to help Gruffi with his work. Then an idea struck him.
"Do you want to help me paint it?" Gruffi asked the boy, holding out a clean brush. "I know I am not exactly an 'artiste'," he said largely, eliciting a giggle from the cub, "But since we can't ask our resident artistic genius for help in painting his own present, I think we'll have to do it."
"He's really going to like this box you've made for him. He can store all his art stuff in it..."
Gruffi didn't have the heart to tell Cubbi just how much 'art stuff' Gusto had stored all over Gummi Glen. It seemed to be in every place they looked. No matter where he went, signs of Gusto Gummi were there.
The chaos in my ordered world, Gruffi thought with a mental pang of pain. Somehow I doubt he'll be using this box to reorder his world. At most he'll store his brushes in it.
But Gruffi had to admit he was feeling a little inspired himself right now. He even made the effort to paint a few swirly designs on the box, and let Cubbi paint clouds and star shapes on it before starting with the sealant.
"This'll make it waterproof..."
"It's been a long time since Gusto first came to live in the Glen," Cubbi said, wrinkling his nose at the smell of the varnish. "I think this party is really going to surprise him."
"Course it will," Gruffi said smartly. "Every year we throw him a party counting down the years since he came into our life since he can't, for some reason I can't fathom, remember his own darned birthday! But he forgets also forgets the party every year and is always late!"
"So we make it a surprise party this year, and then the surprise will be on purpose at least."
"You can go help Grammi bake the cake now if you want, maybe she'll let you lick the icing bowl. I've got to put this away somewhere safe until the party. And I have to find Tummi. I really hope Sunni didn't go out in this rain..."
"She hasn't been able to decide what to give Gusto. I'm giving him those weird shells I found by the water."
"Good idea. Maybe she'll sew him a new darned hat!"
"I like his hat."
"Its all holey and threadbare."
"Maybe cause he likes it so much, he wears it all the time."
"Yeah maybe. Certainly doesn't care about his clothes the way she does.
The Gummi girl in question swirled into the work room, already in her party clothes, which consisted of Grammi's old favorite dress and a hat that looked to be one of Sunni's own creation. At almost sixteen years of age she was well passed the age where Grammi's old dress was too baggy on her, and Gruffi was seriously considering having Grammi knit her some big bulky sweater thing to cover her up with. It was painful to see her grown up so fast.
"What is that smell?" Sunni asked in remorse. "Eww!"
"Its paint sealer," Gruffi explained. "You best get out of here before you get any paint on your good clothes."
Sunni was quick to grab Cubbi and pull him resolutely from the room. Gruffi sighed and watched his two fosterlings run down the hall, all a chatter about the 'surprise' party that Gusto, who was sleeping in the bedroom nearby, wasn't supposed to know about.
Or at least he thought Gusto was sleeping there right now. He hoped his hammering hadn't woken the bear if he was. It was hard to keep track of him lately. One day he decided he would sleep in Gummi Glen when it got cold, but other days he changed his mind and resolutely trekked back to his comfortable waterfall.
I'd question his sanity in wanting to live somewhere so cold, if I hadn't spend those three days out there with him in January fixing his plumbing. It really is peaceful and quiet there. But why has he kept switching places all week as if he can't make up his mind anymore? Artistic streak run amok?
Gruffi chuckled and started cleaning up his work room. A polite cough at his door signalled that his hammer pounding had indeed woken up his next door neighbour and he sighed and rolled his eyes, turning to look at the blue furred bear around which everything else seemed to turn.
"I'm sorry, Gruffi, but could you help me out? I've got a serious problem."
Gusto looked dreadful. He hadn't been sleeping well lately, none of them had really. The storms, the rain, the constant pouding of water on the roof, it was enough to drive anyone batty. Gusto might have been better off at the waterfall, if he hadn't also caught that cold that had laid up Zummi and Sunni for more than a week. Grammi wanted all potential sick patients living here at the Glen where she could care for them with ease. Gruffi had the feeling that Gusto was currently suffering a four alarm headache that his own hammering had probably not helped in the least.
But it couldn't be helped. The party was today and that gift had to be finished. Just in time too, for Gusto leaned upon the door jamb and heaved a dramatic sigh.
"Sure, what can I do for you..."
"Well, you see," the blue bear minced around his words for about a second then sighed. "I already know about the party, and I really don't want to ruin the surprise, but I don't think I'll be able to handle it..."
Gruffi looked at Gusto directly, no sympathy or remorse in his bones.
"You are going to the party."
Well maybe a little sympathy. His furry blue friend looked like a dead bear walking with the ice pack on his head and the quilt around his body. Gruffi didn't for all the world want to catch this virus and kept his distance as he made himself perfectly clear.
"Every year for the last six years we've thrown you a party, and you always try to find an excuse to skip it. Well you aren't skipping it. Sunni and Zummi have been just as sick as you and they're going. And furthermore everybody has been working very very hard to make sure this is a surprise for you..." he stalked forward a foot per word. "So...you...aren't going to ruin it, are you?"
Gusto shook his head and laughed.
"No, guess you're right. Its just...I hate being this old..."
"Old? You're a young scamp!" Grammi said, poking her nose into the work room. "If I ever hear anybody younger than me call themselves old again I'll take a spoon to their heads!"
Both bears jumped at the unexpected intrusion, and Gusto laughed.
"Sorry Grammi," he said. "I must be pushing thirty. I swear I must be. I wish I could...remember when...but the years just sort of..."
"Yeah, we know, you forgot when your birthday was. You were on an island for twelve years!"
"Just go back to bed," Grammi put a hand to his forhead and shook her own head with a sigh. "We'll call you out when its time for dinner. Nothing extreme, just the normal gifts and cake."
Gusto thanked her profusely, commented brightly on the paint stain pattern on Gruffi's work clothes, then went back to his room. The two bears could hear him sneezing, coughing and groaning in the next room.
Why he had to have the room next to me is beyond me...He's kept me up all night with that racket!
"Grammi," Gruffi said, following her to the kitchen annoyed. "Why did you say that? After I went to all the trouble of promising him to come to his own party, you practically let him off with a song!"
"I'm worried about him," Grammi said, grabbing a spoon and slapping it into the bowl of cookie batter on the counter. "He's pale, he's healing more slowly than Sunni or Zummi, and he's got that fever. Neither of them had a fever. I think that waterfall of his is colder than he's letting on!"
"Maybe..." Gruffi said. "Artie and I can go check the fireplace, so he can stretch his feathers..."
"Oh blast it," Grammi ran to the stove just in time to keep her pot of soup from boiling over. "Every year you try to convince him that the waterfall is just too cold for him to sleep in through winter, and every year he argues with you, and ends up coming here of his own accord, without any help from us. Dissappears for most of fall and then just shows up one day in the dead of winter. You think he was hiding from the world in that place!"
Gruffi shrugged, and moved out of the doorway, which he hadn't realized he'd been standing in, to make way for Zummi.
"So lets see," Zummi said, clearly ignoring whatever argument Grammi and Gruffi were involved in as if on habit. "Grammi is making a cake for Gusto, like she does for everyone on their birthday. Tummi is making a model boat, like he does every year. Cubbi is giving him something he found, as usual. Sunni is taking her time, like always. You've built him yet another box..."
"You want to put it that way, its a storage chest, and he needs them!"
"...as always. Who am I missing?"
Zummi went cross eyed.
"Oh right! The paints I always make for him!"
"Which always explode!" Grammi complained, and took his list right from his hands. "Well get to it! I haven't got all day and all you bears pounding around in my kitchen will flatten my poor cake more than it already is no thanks to Tummi opening the door every ten minutes to look at it!"
"But it smells so wonderful Grammi," Tummi said, suddenly having appeared seemingly out of nowhere already at the stove in question. "Just one more peek?"
"Tummi Gummi! You leave that poor cake alone! I swear if you open that oven again I'll put you on another diet!"
Gruffi decided that it was better to make a hasty exit before she decided to extend that diet to the entire clan. Grammi's kitchen was her domain, and his workshop was his, and so he resolutely returned to it. Though he finally closed the door to the workshop, he couldn't shut out the noise from the kitchen of arguments, or the sounds of the rain pounding over head making its migraine inducing presence known. Nor could he shut out the sneezing and coughing of Gusto in the next room, Zummi in the hallway, and Sunni down the hallway in her bedroom.
This is going to be one hell of a party. If we can all drag up enough energy it to even show up for it!
Chapter 3: Birthdays Are For Children
REVAMPED! PLEASE RE-READ the story IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY!
Chapter 2: Birthdays Are For Children
As Gruffi predicted, the party didn't go as well as was originally planned. But Gusto alleviated everyone's fears by appearing not only at the party, surprised as drilled, but in good spirits and seemingly better health. Grammi did have to waive Gusto's right to blow out his cake and Cubbi did it on his behalf instead. No need to spread his sneezing germs to the entire Glen.
To make manners worse, Gruffi could feel a headache of hiw own creeping up and he hoped, prayed it wasn't the same cold that Gusto had. Tummi wasn't eating half as much cake as he normally did, so Gruffi wondered if he was sick as well, or whether Grammi had scared the fear of diet right into him to the point where he was doing it without thinking about it.
Like the 'birthday' boy he was, Gusto immediately opened the biggest present first; the box from Gruffi.
"Wait...wait...oh wow!" he opened the package, and within... "A box! No need for unwrapping! Its the gift thats always wrapped! Gruffi, you're a genius!"
"Very funny!" Gruffi complained. "You can at least use that to clean up the mess of your stuff around here."
"Sure thing Gruffimundo!"
The sea shells from Cubbi were well recieved and Gusto immediately decided to use them in his art. Tummi's ship model, a replica of the boat which they rescued Gusto in, complete with sails, brought a tear to Gusto's eyes. "Six years and counting..."
Zummi presented his box with a flourish and Gusto put a hand to his forhead.
"No wait, don't tell me, let me guess. Paint?"
"Well, yes, in fact," Zummi looked a little deflated. "No explosions this time!"
Gusto laughed, and was very grateful for the paint. Despite what Zummi said, Gruffi wasn't completely convinced the paint wasn't in any way magically enhanced and decided to steer clear of Gusto when he was painting for the next little while.
Sunni's gift produced a sort of gasp of shock from almost the entire room, and Gusto's jaw dropped right to the table.
"Um...surprise?" she said bashfully.
"Sunni!" Gusto said in awe. "Its...I don't believe it!"
It was a stuffed dragon. A little stuffed green dragon in jewelled velvet cloth with a forked tongue that spouted red and orange ribbons of flame. It had button eyes and wings and brought very real tears to Gusto's eyes.
"Well," Sunni coughed. "I knew you liked dragons, and Gruffi told me about that stone dragon you carved and I thought it was a good idea...do you like it?"
"This is the best gift anybody has ever given me EVER!" Gusto said, astounding the group by hugging the dragon to his chest tightly. "I had a dragon just like this when I was a cub, though mine was a wooden one on wheels...Thank you Sunni!"
Now that intrigued Gruffi. Gusto never said anything to anybody about his childhood. In fact for a long time Gruffi had been convinced that Gusto had lost his memory when his ship crashed and...
Now something came back to Gruffi's head that he hadn't thought of at the time when they themselves crashed on the island. As Gusto put away his presents into the box, Gruffi thought back to Gusto's words about how the island came to be floating in the middle of a hole in the ocean.
"Well one day I came here to paint on the beach, the next day the beach was gone..."
If Gusto had only been on the island to paint, how did his boat end up all the way up on the island where it was with a big hole in the middle of it?
But these questions had to remain for another time. Right now Gusto had put all his gifts but the dragon into the box Gruffi made, instead flopping the dragon right down on the top of his head.
Better than a hat I suppose. Darn, and I was hoping he'd use that box for other things. The more junk we give him the more stuff he has that piles up everywhere!
"I'm going to have to start building you boxes on a weekly basis, where are you going to put everything I wonder..."
"Don't worry Gruffi, I'll start cleaning up my stuff soon," Gusto said immediately, helping himself to some cookies. "And my waterfall too..."
"Oh really?" Gruffi said sarcastically. "And just why is that?"
"Because," Gusto said, with a soft sad sigh, like inspiration had hit him, and passed, without any art to show for it. "I've decided I'm moving out of the waterfall permanently. I'm getting into my late thirties you know. Now's as good a time to do it as any."
"Well its about time I say!" Grammi said starkly. "You nearly freeze to death every winter in that stupid cave. About time you settled down like a regular Gummi Bear."
But there was a sadness in Gusto's eyes that Gruffi couldn't quite place. A sort of yearning, as he looked around the room. And something dark, lingering, as if a shadow stood in the back of the room in some dark quiet corner waiting.
"This is the best party I've ever had. You are the best friends a Gummi could ever ask for!"
"Aw, Gusto, you know we love you," Sunni said coyly, and kissed his cheek.
Cubbi went 'bleh' and threw a cookie at her, which Tummi promptly caught in his mouth. This started a game in which Tummi had to catch food objects thrown in the air, and whichever Cub threw the most successful catches would be the winner. The winner was Cubbi, who continued playing the game even after Sunni got bored with it.
"Can we have some music? And maybe some dancing?"
"I think I'm going to bed soon," Gusto said, and then sneezed. "I'm not feeling too good."
"You and me both," Gruffi grumbled, pushing his gummi berry pie towards Tummi. "All this crazy weather has given me a headache."
"Oh not you too!" Grammi complained, putting a hand to his head. "Well I guess there's no help for it. To bed both of you. In fact I think its time everybody cleaned up and retired, its getting late and I still have to clean the kitchen!"
Only Cubbi argued, he liked staying up late for parties because usually he had to go to bed before everybody else. But Gusto promptly grabbed his gifts up and headed off to bed.
Gruffi couldn't believe how tired he was as he crawled into bed. His bones ached. The things he did for his family. At least Gusto would be coming to stay with them at last, no more going back and forth.
Now why of all things did this very thought suddenly bring butterflies to his stomach?
Must have got that bug...Gruffi decided, rubbing his belly, and curled up to go to bed.
Gusto rolled over in bed, and blinked. He couldn't sleep. The party had brought about mixed emotions in him and thoughts that he couldn't quite keep from rolling around his head.
How old AM I?
Something about the party today had triggered memories from his past. Sometimes his memory was as clear as crystal, as when he had been given the dragon by Sunni, and remembered being a cub. Others, such as his birthday, were obscured. But why?
Am I really almost forty years old? Or maybe in my thirties still?
Time had been something he had counted almost to the exact day on the island; in fact his calenders were works of art. Yet none of his calenders showed any signs of a birthday, or any other dates of any import.
Maybe I never celebrated birthdays...
But that was preposterous. Totally. He could remember as a child having parties. Cakes, ice cream, gifts, dancing, The Family all around him laughing...
The Family. He remembered them. He could remember his mother, her perfume that floated around her in a cloud of lavender, and his father in stately attire, and his sister...
His sister...How he remembered her.
"Faster Rosy faster!" cried the cub, running on fleet feet down the hallway after his sister.
"Any faster and I'll outrun you Gusto!" she called back to him, her dark hair in its pony tail whipping around her head as she turned to laugh at the cub chasing the little wooden dragon she was pulling. "Come one Gus!"
They ran on quick feet through the garden towards the castle, but they were stopped at the stairwell by a dark imposing figure.
"Princess. You shouldn't be playing out here in the wet grass, it isn't lady like. And you are fifteen now."
Princess Rose stopped in her running to look up at the dark figure in front of her. Gusto came up behind her, grabbing the wooden dragon toy from the ground before anybody could take it from them.
Sir Janka was tall and bony in appearance, with a hard lined face and a jutting jaw. His dark hair fell over his eyes in limp clumps and his left eye socket was covered in a patch. The crimson robes of a courtier that he wore did little to cover up the fact that he really didn't suit his station. He was a bear inclined towards battle and the wild colonies from whence he came. He looked down upon the two young ones in consideration, then chose the Princess for his sole attention.
"Well, it looks like your almost old enough to be wed," he said, giving the girl a most slithery smile. "I wonder who the Council will choose to wed you."
"You forget sir," said Rose boldly. "My father art still living and breathing. And may God will it he shall continue to breath and rule along side my honored mother as King and Queen."
"Of course, of course," said Janka with a husky laugh. "But you know, young lady, that there must be precautions, especially now with your father taken ill. A marriage of duty is nothing to be afraid of. If its duty to the Crown."
"Fie scoundrel!" Gusto suddenly cried, jumping out from behind his sister's knees.
"Oh Gusto," said Rose, taking him by the ear. "That isn't polite. Say you're sorry."
But he was already gone, having made his point and having completely ignored Gusto as if he didn't exist...
But she had been wed to Janka, against her wishes. He had been bound to her upon their father's death, the soil from his grave not yet freshly turned. He remembered it all now. The times his sister would come to him crying, begging him not to tell their mother and father, showing him the bruises, and the binding marks on her body that could only be magical in nature, evil magic of Janka, evil magic that hurt her, bent her to his will...
Magic that Gusto had sworn he would discover the secret of himself, and summon it to destroy his brother. Magic he had sought in every book and every library.
How...how am I remembering this now? Is it cause of the dragon? Because my sister gave me that wooden dragon so many years ago?
Gusto could still see the dragon in his mind as if he was looking upon it with his own eyes. Then he remembered a real dragon, the dragon he had slain to gain his Knighthood. The sorrow of his sister for the death of the beast, which brought pangs of pain and remorse to his belly. The sword that his dying father had Knighted him with under the scowling nose of Janka, only to have them ripped from his hands a year later when he was banished forever from Monteray as punishment for the the death of Janka...and the monster Gusto had summoned to destroy him...
"If you ever return, we'll feed you to your own monster!"
This memory woke Gusto upright, and he broke out in a cold sweat, tears and shaking that would not subside. He had thought seeing his sister's body covered in those painful marks of bondage had been horrific. But nothing had ever prepared him, could ever have prepared him, for the horror of the kraken; his worst nightmare, his greatest fear in true physical form personified. A creature that only he himself could ever destroy.
I'll never be rid of it! Wherever I go it'll find me! It laughs at me! Always it laughs!
He curled up in a ball, but the night terrors and the memories had broken through his brain like lightening bolt to his skull. The migraine would not subside, the illness from yesterday and the fever were apparant; the Monster had finally grown stronger than him, and being unable to get to him physically was affecting him psychically, ghosting through his memories with searing joyful vengeance.
I'll have to leave, thought Gusto sadly, feeling the tears in his eyes even now. I hate to leave here, hate to do this to my friends but I can't...I can't let it find me! No...I won't even take Artie with me. No, I have to leave, alone. Like the coward I am!
He knew that sleep wouldn't come tonight. Not now. He reached for his stuffed dragon and held it to his chest, wanting the days of his childhood back more than anything. Wanting for all the world just to be 'Gusto' and not Prince Augustus the Third. As Gusto he was safe in Gummi Glen. As Gusto he was free.
I'll stay for a little while longer, then I'll move. I have to at least give them all a chance to say goodbye. That's the least I owe to my friends who have given me six whole wonderful years of peace.
This helped lighten his heart and he laughed, wondering what Gruffi would think if he knew that threadbare, bag-of-bones artist Gusto was really a Prince.
And why suddenly was the thought of Gruffi knowing this so vitally important that it brought butterflies to his stomach?
Must be Grammi's cooking. Or this flu. Ugh. I need some tea.
He got up, brushed off the feeling in the back of his mind that there was something else he was forgetting, and made his weary way to the kitchen.
This was going to be a long night.
Chapter 4: Strange Visitors
REVAMPED! PLEASE RE-READ the story IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY!
Chapter Three: Strange Visitors
Gruffi woke to the sounds of somebody in the kitchen; probably Grammi cooking breakfast, which smelled suspiciously like pancakes. He could hear the motions of other Gummies moving around the glen now, waking, groaning, moaning and in the cases of those who were sick, coughing and sneezing. Morning had come upon Gummi Glen, and Gruffi, head pounding and stomach churning, was not ready to meet it. He was sick.
Oh boy, I am definitely not going to enjoy today, Gruffi thought, trying to sit up.
If he was one thing, it was stubborn. He refused to be laid up in bed with a cold when he had so much work to do. He was the patriarch of this household and if he wasn't there then it would fall apart, he just knew it. But the most he was able to do was climb into his clothes and stumble into the kitchen.
Gusto was already there, with a mug of tea in his hands and a bleary sleepless look in his eyes. Grammi was hovering over the frying pan on the stove, making sure the pancakes didn't burn, while trying to keep Tummi away from the muffins cooling by the stove.
Gruffi said a fond hello to everyone, and then stumbled towards the kettle.
"I didn't get a wink of sleep," Gusto said piteously. "Can we maybe do something about the howling wind and banging shutters?"
"Its gotta be those vents," Gruffi moaned. "If you're up to it we can go have a look at it today..."
"Tummi your hands will burn!" Grammi suddenly said shrilly, and smacked Tummi's hand with a spoon. "Goodness child at least wait until the muffins are cooled!"
"I'm sorry Grammi..." said Tummi, rubbing his hand. "Maybe I should I go wake up Zummi..."
"Yes, please, you do that. I need to give everyone their medicine."
At the sound of the word 'medicine' Gusto tried to beat a hasty retreat, but Gruffi blocked him at the door.
"Lets get it over with kid, I for one would prefer to get rid of this cold any way I can."
Gruffi couldn't blame him though, Grammi's potent potions were enough to strip all sense of taste right from somebodies tongue. Sunni was the last one into the kitchen and she whined and groused about the potion until she took it, declared 'it wasn't that bad' and then pranced out to the dining room to set the table.
"She's doing chores without being asked to," Gusto chuckled, after taking a rather long chug of his sweetened tea. "She must be sick."
"WE had better get to ours," said Gruffi firmly. "We'll take some of those muffins with us for breakfast."
"Too late," said Tummi, finishing the last of them. "Yum."
Grammi smacked him. Hard. With her spoon. Gruffi wisely decided to skip the rest of breakfast.
Gusto glared up at the offending window.
"That's the one, right over my head," said the bear, making gagging sounds. "Can you nail it shut or something?"
"Seems like the latch is loose," Gruffi said, and leaned from his spot on the ladder carefully while observing the problem. He pushed his hat back from his forehead with a sigh and wiped his brow on his sleeve. "I feel like I've been working all day."
"Fever? Coughs? Yeah," Gusto nodded. "Don't worry about if Gruff. Which tool do you need?"
"None of those, I think I should replace these shutters all together. The slats are loose and they're missing screws. I'll board up the window for now. Lets go to my workshop, gotta have a piece of board that will fit over this. Just let me take a quick measurement and we'll see..."
"Whatever you say Gruff, I'm too tired to do any art, just lead me along."
"At least the weather is nice enough that Sunni and Cubbi can get outside and out from under our feet for the day. Though I don't know if this is good with Sunni just getting better and all."
"I think she's hamming it up just a tad," Gusto surmised. "Just so she can get all Grammi's attention."
"Well, if she thinks she can get away with that for much longer she's got another thing coming. Grammi's going to need every bit of help she can get. Gummi berry juice day; Grammi getting ready for the winter dry spell when the Gummi Berries don't grow. Today and tomorrow she'll be cooking like crazy. I wouldn't want to be Sunni for all the world."
"Oh right, I forgot!"
Gusto watched as Gruffi found his way down to the ground. The ladder wasn't that high and Gusto rolled his eyes.
"You're sick Gruffimundo. Face it. Maybe we should forget about doing chores today."
"Yeah, maybe you're right. But lets board this thing up first or it'll be banging all day and nobody will ever get to it."
Gruffi's workroom was as organised as a workroom could possibly get. When Gusto thought 'work room' he conjured up images of organised clutter, half finished projects lying around everywhere.
Not so with Gruffi. A place for everything and everything in its place. Even the unfinished projects had shelves dedicated to them, and an area for the larger projects as well. Everything seemed entirely too organised to be healthy.
While Gruffi went looking through his scrap box for a proper piece of wood, Gusto examined every inch of the workshop. Gruffi was in the midst of repairing Sunni's dresser, which had a broken drawer, so the drawer, painted green with flowers, sat on his workbench ready to be worked on. Gusto quickly located a project he had asked of Gruffi; an easel specially for painting round paintings or plates. He fingered it gently and sighed.
"One second, I think I found one," Gruffi had now reached down deep into the scrap box, and..."OUCH! Sliver!"
Gusto winced at the bear quickly pulled his hand up again to suck on a thumb that looked entirely too bruised and beaten up for comfort. Gruffi quickly found the board in question, and then went over to the work bench to measure it.
"Um...about that easel..."
"Not done. Don't worry about it..."
"Actually, well um...yeah thanks, its not needed any time soon, I finished that project ages ago but um..."
"No problem," Gruffi huffed, and then went looking for his saw.
Gusto watched Gruffi work as if he was looking at the bear through water. He was drowning in his misery at the thought of leaving. He was far too much enjoying Gruffi's company at this very moment to even think of his plans.
I can't leave him...I can't leave the Glen...
He knew he could put it off for only so long. But Gruffi smiled when he discovered the board was exactly the right, which stirred something inside Gusto that he hadn't felt in over eighteen years. The way Gruffi just put a quick plaster over his sore thumb and huffed in that Gruffi way about his injuries was causing the strangest sensations to Gusto's midsection that he hadn't felt in ages.
Damn, thought Gusto, as he correctly identified exactly what the problem was. If I had known I was going to feel this way about him...
Oh sure, after twelve years stranded, and having Gruffi come to the island, he had been fanatically lusting for company of any kind. But he hadn't made any move past friendship, the feelings of sickly loneliness had eventually died down and he was able to form a friendship with Gruffi that could hold up through all adversity.
But if he was really honest with himself all he really wanted to do right now was strip all his clothes off and rid himself of his fever in the only way he knew how.
"One second Gusto, I just want to make sure I have all the tools I need now before I go and start working..."
Gusto swallowed, heart beating.
If I leave the Glen, I may never have another chance to...do what Gusto? Do what?
Gusto realized he was moving automatically to stand by Gruffi's side. He was enjoying the way Gruffi stuck his tongue out to the side of his mouth as he worked, the little pained lines around his eyes from not getting enough sleep, the eyebrows, ever furled in consternation. His hands, large and calloused and ready to handle any task.
"What IS it Gusto...er...ack!"
Gusto had managed to get right into Gruffi's personal comfort zone, right up to his nose, so that when the bear turned he was greeted with the unexpected presence of his friend right beside his head. Gusto took advantage of the situation to swoop down, as quickly as possible, to kiss Gruffi on the lips.
It was as if something in the back of Gusto's mind, the voice that had been nagging him for days, finally said, "I TOLD you, didn't I?" and he sighed. This was nice. But...
Gruffi wasn't moving. Gusto pulled away, and looked at Gruffi, whose eyes were pin points of shock and he was standing like a Gummi caught in an ogre trap with no escape. Gusto took several steps back.
"Maybe...maybe I shouldn't have...um...I should go get the rest of...my clothes...from the waterfall...so I can get cleaned up...I haven't changed my clothes in days, I think...yeah..."
"Yuh," Gruffi was still standing there, breathing in and out and staring off into space.
Gusto walked backwards out of the work room, their eyes never leaving one another.
"Okay, um, I'll go..." he said, taking a step out into the hallway.
"Yeah...um..." Gruffi coughed. "Yeah, uh, thanks..."
"Er, for the compliment. I appreciate it. Okay, I'd better get to that shutter..."
Gusto nodded, then turned and fled. Fled for safety.
Well, one good thing about my leaving the Glen, Gusto thought glumly, shutting his eyes back against the pain that was now burning a fiery hole in his chest. If I just ruined my friendship with Gruffi forever, I won't have to stick around long enough to worry about it. Or be scorned for it.
Sunni was now enjoying the outside world after a week of being sick, and even longer being stuck inside because of rain. She wanted air to breath and sunshine and...
"Cubbi stop!" She shouted. "Stop poking me with that stick!"
"Its not a stick its a sword! Why won't you play with me?"
Sunni threw up her hands in exasperation.
"Because I don't want to sword fight with you! I'm a girl, girls get saved by handsome Knights from the horrible dragons!"
"Well than I'll save you fair damsel!" said Cubbi, standing between Sunni and a twisted stump that was nearby. "Fie evil dragon! Sir Cubbi, Knight of Gumadoon is here to free the fair Princess!"
Sunni giggled and decided to play along, if only to keep Cubbi out of trouble. And in a not-so-secret part of her heart she was longing for the day when a handsome Prince would come and ask for her hand in marriage. She had always wanted to be a Princess, always.
"Oh Cubbi, do you think I'll ever find myself a real Prince?" she asked, standing atop the stump now as Cubbi did combat with it.
"Well sure, what about Gusto?"
"Grammi says he's too old for me," Sunni pouted. "There aren't enough people my age around here!"
"Same," Cubbi said, and climbed onto the stump. "Don't worry, Sunni. Gruffi says that if they can't find you a boyfriend they'll take you around everywhere looking for somebody. Maybe go talk to the Barbics, they might have somebody around your age for you to...uh you know...go on dates with."
Sunni giggled and poked Cubbi on top of his head.
"Princesses don't go looking for their Prince silly, its the other way around!"
Cubbi whacked the stump with his toy sword.
"Well," Cubbi shrugged. "Grammi says you could, what's the word...take initiation?"
"I think you mean initiative," Sunni said, though she was flattered her family was thinking of her so much. "I think she's right. I SHOULD go find a boyfriend when I'm of age!"
"Well, until then, avast dangerous sea beast!" Cubbi darted around the tree stump now to attack its few remaining branches. "Release the fair maiden or suffer the consequences!"
"Oh how sweet," a haughty voice drawled behind them. "The peasant children are playing grown ups."
Sunni whirled around, as Cubbi did, to confront whoever it was that interrupted their game, whether a human foe or ogre or some other nasty menace, they were ready for anything.
"Gummi Bears!" Cubbi gasped. "You're Gummies!"
Sunni wasn't ready for that. Standing before them were two adult bears; a male, with white fur, black forlock and a black goatee. The other was woman with white fur and black hair in a fanciful coronet of braids upon her head. Twins. They were looking rather bored, yet amused, and wore clothes that were more at place in the jewelled Courts of Dunwin Castle than in the middle of a forest.
"Very observant of you," said the woman with a brow raised. "I'm sorry to disturb you children, but perhaps you might tell us just where we are in this Gummi forsaken forest and how we can find the nearest Gummi settlement, and we'll be on our way."
"Well this is Gummi Glen," said Sunni brightly. "And this is it. Just us, and our family, and we live in our house, that way, only Gummies for miles and miles are us."
"Sunni don't show them where we live!" Cubbi said hotly. "They could be weirdos disguised as Gummis to steal all our secrets!"
"Oh Cubbi, really, mind your manners, they're obviously important people!"
"Well," said the male bear, who had taken of his hat with a flourish. "I suppose we'll have to prove our identities to these young ones. Ready sister?"
They pulled from their pockets two bottles of Gummi Berry juice, pulled out the corks, and drank down. Then they bounced.
It was weird to Sunni to see these fancifully dressed Gummis bouncing around in the forest, but they did, and came to a stop before Sunni and Cubbi with a flourish.
"You are Gummies!" Sunni said brightly.
"Now, will you show us to your home?"
"Sure! But who are you, and why did you come all the way out here in the middle of nowhere?"
"Well I'm Melli Bella, and this is my brother, Felli Bella, we're twins," said the woman impishly.
"That's right," said Felli Bella mildly. "We've come to this Gum forsaken backwater, if you'll forgive the expression, in search of a Prince."
"A Prince?" Cubbi said with awe.
"A real Prince?" said Sunni in excitement.
"Yes," Melli smiled largely, looking down at Cubbi with droll eyes. "Perhaps you can help us. He has been missing for almost eighteen years..."
"We don't know any Princes," said Sunni, with disappointment. "I suppose Gruffi will know if there's been anybody around here before who's a Prince."
"Gruffi's our foster dad," Cubbi said. "Here it is! Gummi Glen."
"Excellent," said Felli, and they both went in without the least bit of hesitation, before Sunni and Cubbi could even show them how.
Well, at least they knew how to enter the trap doors!
Chapter 5: Suspicions
REVAMPED! PLEASE RE-READ the story IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY!
Chapter Four: Suspicion
Gruffi felt a little out of sorts. It was only a few moments ago he had been enjoying a cup of tea, and wondering where the kids had gotten to, when the kids arrived with two strange Gummi bears in tow. He couldn't fault them for being suspicious enough to make the visitors prove their Gummi bear status before bringing them here, but one look at them and the clothes they wore and Gruffi immediately placed them as the upper curst of Gummi society. He would not ever have questioned their status the way the children would have, simply out of honour of being around such noble travellers. But he was glad the kids weren't so prejudiced towards the ruling class, which hadn't bothered itself with Dunwyn or its inhabitants since he himself was a young bear. They COULD have been human wizards disguised as Gummi bears, it had happened once before.
After brief introductions, Gruffi sent Artie to go find Gusto, and then the travellers were safely ensconced at the dining room table, soon being served tea by Grammi, who was awfully polite to them. She knew to which class they belonged as well.
"Have you travelled far?" she asked kindly.
"All the way from Monteray!" Felli said grandly with an unnecessary flourish of his hand. "And not another large Gummi settlement between here and there that we've seen! Our race are really dwindling if this is all we have to show for our search efforts!"
"Yeah this is it," said Gruffi, taking his own mug and sipping from it longly. "The Barbics live all the way in Ursalia, but thats just a small group, city's been empty for years."
"The Great book has something about Monteray," said Zummi softly. "I think I remember, an island of Gummis. But I thought you were all driven out by the humans years ago?"
Zummi didn't think as highly of the upper class of Gummi society as Grammi did. Probably because he was considered a simple hedge wizard by the upper crust before obtaining the Gummi medallion, and probably wouldn't be seen as anything more now. He didn't see the difference between himself and others, really, and that was the way Gruffi knew he liked it.
"We managed to re-establish ourselves," Melli explained over her mug of thistle tea, which she was hardly sipping from. It seemed to not agree with her palette. "Does not help that the current ruler of Monteray is only nineteen years old. But we've got a sea monster whose legend has basically kept any human sailors from attempting to step foot nor ship anywhere near our island."
"A sea monster?" Cubbi said wide eyed. "Wow!"
"But doesn't that effect you too?" Sunni asked, highly curious.
"Yes and no," Felli said pertly, running a dark finger around the rim of his cup. "It only resurfaces every fortnight that we've seen, and it attacks any ship it can get its grasp on, then goes back to the bottom of the ocean from whence it came. But it doesn't eat anyone! It just tears apart the ship, leaving the few survivors to recount the horror and bring back the bodies of those who drown. Its quite confounding."
"Oh that's horrible!" Grammi said, nearly dropping her teapot.
"Yes, and that's why we're here," Melli said sadly, looking at her brother briefly, before turning back to the group. "We're in search of the only one who can destroy the monster. Our Prince!"
"A Prince!" said Sunni, eyes turning misty. "A real Prince!"
"We're, um, old friends of his," Felli said with an indecent blush. "We've got orders from the Crown, and an unlimited purse, to find him and bring him back to Monteray forthwith!"
"You see, our current ruler is only nineteen," Melli said, looking sorrowful. "And for all the good Prince Bryton is doing as a ruler, he's not much of a fighter, and not a Knight like his Uncle was. We need our Prince back to take the throne and set things right. And that is what we have sworn to do. Bring him back."
"And we shall not return home until we do!"
"Well you are welcome to stay at the Glen while you search," Gruffi said immediately, awed and humbled by the loyalty that these two fancy people were showing to their cause. "Its not as grand as a royal hall or a palace, but its a traditionally Gummi household so you won't want for the ancient traditions. And it has all the quick car tunnels you could ever hope for to carry on searching with."
"And an ample library!" Zummi piped up excitedly. "I've been keeping all the old texts up to date!"
"We are very flattered I'm sure," Melli said brightly. "We don't want to inconvenience you."
"No inconvenience at all," Grammi said softly. "I'll have to clean out one of the guest rooms..."
"No imposition, we're wizards after all. We can manage a bit of a cleaning spell."
Zummi looked longingly as if he wanted very much to witness this cleaning spell and master it himself.
"Excellent, now I have an important question for you," Melli said immediately.
"And that would be...?"
"Is this your entire family? There isn't anybody else?" she let the question draw out pointedly.
"Well there's Tummi and he's sick so he's in bed," Grammi said forlornly. "Poor dear got that cold of Gusto's, whatever it is..."
"Our resident artist is in the process of moving in," Gruffi huffed, trying hard not to blush at the mention of Gusto. "Used to live just North of here. We're all a family now really. Too few of us left to be scattered around the map."
"Oh..." said Melli, rolling her head back to look at the skylight as if frustrated. "We'd be happy to meet everyone, really we would..."
"Not that we mind at all that you are peasants," Felli said immediately, at their confused looks. "But you must understand. Our runaway Prince has been missing for many years, and could have integrated himself well into any family. Especially if he was trying to protect himself from danger."
"Well the way you described this person your looking for, it can't be any one of us. We're traditional but we're not fancy. And Zummi here is our only wizard. Aren't Princes supposed to have magic?"
"Yes, thats true," Melli sighed. "Well..."
Both visitors cocked their heads up in sudden alarm as Artie sailed in through his usual entrance and landed with a thump on the back of Grammi's chair.
"Well?" Gruffi said, more than a little annoyed. "Is Gusto coming? Or are we going to have to drag him in here to meet our guests?"
"Nothing doing," said Artie, appraising the two strangers suspiciously. "He's not feeling well, and well, you know what happens when he gets the mood to paint!"
Gruffi sighed and pushed back from the table.
"My fault really," he said apologetically. "We had a...problem earlier. I'll go find him."
"No wait...you there," Melli suddenly stood to her feet, and went over to Artie, as if she were approaching an honoured King. "Travel very far strange bird? This isn't your normal territory."
"Nope," Artie squawked. "I'm a parrot, tropical, and your dress clashes with your eyes, who taught you how to dress?"
Rather than be offended, Melli smiled. Gruffi coughed out an appology.
"Sorry Ma'am, that beak with feathers belongs to Gusto and neither of them have any manners whatsoever."
"I see..." Melli had a tricky look on her face.
Gruffi recognised that look. It was the look of somebody who was piecing together the clues to some puzzle or mystery.
"Strange to see a parrot, native inhabitant of our own region, here in the cold North, and inland. Strange indeed..."
"Not that strange," Artie quipped. "I can fly you see!"
Melli laughed and clapped her hands together.
"What a delightful bird!" She said, picked him up and began to stroke his rainbow feathers. "Do you have a name friend bird?"
"Artie Deco at your service!" Artie said, then flew off again to wherever his owner was hiding.
I've never heard of the upper crust being so curious over a bird... Gruffi thought suspiciously.
He wasn't the only suspicious one. Cubbi was eyeing Felli with obvious distrust, for the bear hadn't spoken a single word to the boy since entering the warren, no longer concerned with having to speak to children since their parents were right there. Zummi was looking very off put by the way the strangers were brushing them off as nothing more than simple peasants. But Sunni seemed to be completely unaware that anything was wrong, and more than once forgot her manners in order to ask her excited questions about the high fashion at court, possibly prompted by the comments of Artie.
But...where is Gusto?
By nightfall there was no sign of Gusto, and Gruffi ended up sitting by the fireplace in the main hallway with yet another cup of tea. The cold was creeping in on them fast and his bones were feeling the ache of winter more and more with each passing day.
Melli Bella had plead tiredness and had gone immediately to bed after a light supper. The kids were already tucked in, and Tummi had come out briefly for some tea and then went back to bed, not wanting to share his cold with the visitors, (maybe that's why Gusto was hiding away...maybe.) Zummi had gone to the library, probably researching Monteray, since their guests were too tired to give anymore descriptions of their native homeland. He would probably be up all night studying the great book, especially if he was in one of his grumpier moods. Grammi had wanted to finish up one more batch of berry juice before bed, so only Felli remained in Gruffi's company, seemingly not the least bit tired, though there seemed to be no end to his complaints about how horrible the weather and the journey had been.
"You seem pensive about your missing friend," Felli prodded gently, stirring his mug. "Perhaps he simply needs space from whatever argument you incurred."
"It wasn't an argument, it was more of a...thing. Nothing big. I don't know why he's holding himself up in that cold damp waterfall after telling us he was gonna move in here. It really wasn't anything important, I wasn't offended or anything."
"Well, maybe if you told him that...?"
"Maybe..." Gruffi sighed. "Its just well, I'm not completely old fashioned and all, but, its not every day your best friend kisses you. I'm kind of...embarrassed to talk to him."
"Ah, I see. No you are right, that would be awkward..."
For a moment, Felli seemed polite, almost eager to be helpful, to be a friend. He was looking at Gruffi in a rather kindly and sympathetic manner. Perhaps even more so now that Gruffi had made this startling confession.
I guess the upper class folk do have hearts.
"I'm sure things will work out, if you're honest with your feelings and with him. If you aren't attracted to him in the same way then you must let him know, before things get any worse. But if you are, then don't let things sit too long or he may take that the wrong way."
"Oh. I see. Well I suppose you are right."
"Well, it is getting late, I think I shall retire," Felli suddenly said whilst rising. "Good night."
Gruffi wanted to go to bed too, but couldn't. In the back of his mind he was restless and confused. He wanted to sleep, but was wide awake, and knew that sleep would not come for him by the simple fact that Grammi went to bed before he did. She stopped to ask him if he needed anything, then told him not to snuff the candles in the hall before he went to bed in case the visitors needed to find the loo in the middle of the night.
But the middle of the night came of its own accord without a sound. Three cups of thistle tea and Gruffi still couldn't rest. He could not stop thinking about Gusto.
Gusto had kissed him. Had broken an unspoken barrier between them as to their relationship to one another, and took things a completely different direction. And those butterflies from yesterday which he hadn't been able to figure out were back with a vengeance now. He settled himself to drinking tea to settle his stomach, if that was even possible, and contemplating how he could fix this thing before it got out of hand.
Gruffi jerked up his head at the voice, which had totally caught him off guard.
And he stared. Gusto looked like a ghost in the moonlight. He was pale, his fur was standing up on end, and his eyes were like twin pinpoints of pure white fear. He stumbled forward with a 'whoops' and then sat in the chair across from Gruffi that Felli had left earlier, curling his knees up to his chest. He looked so lost and beautiful that Gruffi felt his heart complaining wildly in his chest.
Something to the tone of, Why him, why this and, by the Great Gummies, why NOW?
"So..." Gruffi said, but couldn't think of anything else to say. He had a feeling that Gusto was going to share something with him, but he was afraid to break the spell that the other bear seemed to be holding over his heart.
"V-visitors still here?"
"Sleeping. You...should have been here to meet them, they're curious about you..."
"I..." Gusto looked down at his knees. "I was painting."
"I was planning, you see, to run away," Gusto said, startling Gruffi completely. "To go away as far as I possibly could. To leave the Glen forever."
"You...were going to leave?"
"I can't seem to feel normal anymore," Gusto put a hand to his face. "I went to the waterfall, thinking I just needed air and space, and, well it was just cold. Its just so cold. I just can't get warm, no matter if I'm in the Glen or in my waterfall. Nothing can keep me warm anymore. This always happens. I don't know why, but it does."
"Well of course," Gruffi said rationally, putting down his mug. "You lived on a tropical island for twelve years, and now you're in a place where winter brings the snow. Course you feel cold. Your body isn't used to this yet as mine is."
"But after three years?"
"Could take as many as ten. Were you...raised in a tropical area?"
Gusto nodded vigorously.
"Well then there you go," Gruffi said, consciously aware that Gusto was being more open with him now in this few minutes that he had ever been in the three years he had known him. "This isn't what you're used to. Just like Artie, you gotta adjust, is all. Being inside the Glen should help. Its always warm in here."
"Yeah," Gusto said. "I know I can stay warm here. I feel safe, I shouldn't, but I do."
"Why shouldn't you feel safe?" Gruffi asked, consciously aware that he had risen, and had moved towards Gusto like a ghost towards a startled human it wanted to spook.
"I...don't think you want to know the answer to that question, Gruffi. It might..." Gusto's breath hitched when Gruffi put both hands on the arm rests on either side of him and bent down so that they were nose to nose. "...destroy you."
"Destroy me?" Gruffi smirked, and then kissed Gusto before he could answer.
Ah, I see, this is what my stomach wanted me to do! I thought so!
Gusto's lips weren't cold, but warm, and parted in panic at being encroached upon by another pair. It was a few warm moments later before Gruffi pulled away, proud of himself for being brave at trying the kissing thing out for himself, then pressing their foreheads together so that their noses touched.
"Don't leave the Glen..."
"I'm not gonna," Gusto said, eyes damp for some inexplicable reason. "Nothing can scare me away now..."
"Not even your worst fears, Augustus?"
Both bears jumped in total shock and fright at the voice that had intruded upon their romantic interlude. Gruffi took several startled steps back and fell into his chair, staring.
Felli and Melli Bella stood before them now, candle holders in their outstretched hands and dressed from head to toe, as if they hadn't been sleeping at all, in their finest aray, their hands flourished above them in a most gaudy fashion.
"Well Great Gummi's, we've found him!" said Felli, turning to look at his sister. "We housed ourselves with peasants, and caught ourselves a Prince!"
"You sure have!" Gusto choked, standing to his feet.
"So now what do with him?" said Melli, shrugging grandly.
"Don't look at me, I've never done this before!" Felli protested.
"Well, I do believe this is the part where we're supposed to arrest him..."
"Arrest me?" Gusto shouted. "What do you mean arrest me? I outrank you both!"
"G-Gusto?" Gruffi stammered. "What...?"
"You do outrank us!" Felli said with a boisterous laugh. "I'm really not sure how we're supposed to pull rank here, but thats why the Council sent us. To bring you back willingly, or if you won't come willingly, to arrest you. But you are right; wizards we may be, but neither of us has sufficient rank to arrest a Prince."
"Prince?" said Gruffi, looking at Gusto starkly now. "But...?"
"What in the name of Gummi is going on out here?"
Everybody jumped suddenly as Zummi poked his head out of the library, looking quite cross that his late night study had been interrupted. Grammi poked her head out of her bedroom, complaining about the noise, then stopped short at seeing the strange events unfolding in the hallway.
Felli's comment was broken by Melli putting her hand stiffly on his mouth. Grammi was about to say something when Zummi likewise put a hand over her mouth.
Silence. Not a pin drop.
And then Gruffi heard it...no felt it. Somebody or something was trying to enter the Glen. Something magical. Silence reigned supreme for several deep breaths. Then Melli stretched a hand and suddenly the sounds and tingling feeling os magic was replaced with something much more solid. Gruffi found himself unable to even speak.
Magic! A spell!
"I've magically surrounded this place with enough barriers to keep whatever has followed us here out. But its clear something has followed us here to try and get to Prince Augustus before us."
"Will they get in?" Grammi said, biting here teeth.
"No," Felli said, thought he didn't sound sure. "I think there is only one wizard out there, Apprentice level at best. We four magic users can keep the intruder magically controlled I think, at least for a few days."
"Four?" said Zummi, looking at the group as if counting heads.
"Yes, four," said Felli, regaining his composure. "You're included of course, Master Zummi."
Zummi was still dumbfounded. Gusto was ghostly and just a little bit angry. Grammi looked furious.
"I'm sure we won't risk anything by getting a bit of sleep," Melli suddenly said. "But one of us should stay awake to maintain the spell?"
"Oh let me sister, I've slept ever so much already," Felli chittered, and clapped his hands together. "The rest of you get yourself some sleep, and we'll talk in the morning. I feel we all will have much to discuss and a good nights rest will help give us the energy to do it!"
Gusto gave a jerking chuckle that broke the tingling air of magic around them and shook his head with a very characteristic laugh.
"We really should tell them whats going on..."
"No," Melli said softly, and Gruffi could feel the manipulating tendrils of the spell strengthening around them all. "We'll wait until dawn, and risk that nobody can overhear us."
"And the children can join in on our discussion. It wouldn't do for us to spirit off their beloved friend into parts unknown without any explanation as to why. And the sooner we leave, the sooner we can evade the one following us."
Gusto didn't say a word, just looked as if his whole world had just collapsed. Gruffi looked over at the visitors, who were now whispering at one another and smirking like the proverbial cats that had caught the mouse.
Then Grammi finally came back to her senses.
"Suffering succotash, I'm going back to bed!" she yelled. "And we had better settle this nonsense in the morning, I've got sixteen batches of Gummi Berry Juice to make!" she added as she disappeared down the hallway. "If it isn't one thing its another!"
Zummi likewise went to bed, but Gusto didn't move an inch.
"Well?" Felli said happily. "Going to sleep?"
"No...Since its obvious you'd padded this place out with so much magic I won't be able to. I'm too sick with a cold to argue right now..."
"And you, what about you then, Gruffi? Are you going to bed?"
"I wasn't planning on it to begin with," Gruffi said, and looked over at Gusto, who was looking anywhere but at him. Gruffi took a deep breath. "Mostly I'm going to stand watch so nothing horrible happens to my best friend in the middle of the night while he sleeps. I take care of the people in this family, you see, and I may not have any magic, but that doesn't mean I won't try to stop something from hurting him!"
"We won't let him be hurt," said Felli with a yawn. "Oh goodness, maybe I'm more tired then I thought!"
"Too late!" Melli said with a giggle. "Well its off to bed for me at least!"
"Bother, well you have your sleep then," Felli said dryly. "Well, I'm off to make my rounds. I dare say I'm curious about what Gummi Glen is like. I've only had a short tour, and this is a place of great historical significance..."
"You and your studying!" Melli countered wryly.
With that both wizards sauntered down the hallway in opposite directions. Once they were gone, Gusto turned to look at Gruffi, his eyes wide.
"You...don't seem surprised at all, that all this magic is going on..."
"I know wizards. And I know they like to toy with magic-less folk, and I've come to expect it really. Its how my own parents died. Are you really a Prince?"
Gusto sighed and nodded.
"Yeah, you could say that."
"Yeah, I think I'll go try and sleep now."
"I don't know how anyone could sleep," Gruffi said, knowing he had a billion questions now he wanted to ask, and not daring to ask them. "I wouldn't."
"Well, I've been waiting for eighteen years for the courage to deal with all of this. And I meant what I said; I want to stay with you. I couldn't bring myself to leave now."
There was a moment of silence, then Gusto got up, walked over, and kissed Gruffi chastely on the head.
Gruffi watched him leave, and then stared at the dying candle in despair. A place in his heart that had long been frozen since the death of his parents now throbbed with an agony he couldn't put words too. It was too much for him, and he finally dragged himself to bed and closed his eyes, and prayed to the Great Gummies that daylight would come and bring to him the answers that would restore the order and balance in his world that he so craved.
Nothing would ever be the same.
Chapter 6: Interrogations
REVAMPED! PLEASE RE-READ the story IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY!
Chapter Five: Interrogations
If Gusto had thought he would be getting any sleep tonight unmolested he was wrong. His two worlds had collided, and the situation was spiralling out of his control. Melli and Felli Bella entered his bedroom after he did; clearly they had waited for everyone to go back to sleep before confronting him again. This time in a place where they could keep him from running away in panic. But he wasn't going to run. He wanted to know why he was being arrested.
"So here you are," said Melli, sitting down in one of Gusto's 'thinking' chairs by the window and crossing her legs daintily. "We really weren't expecting to find you here."
"So what do we do now sister?" said Felli. "Are we really going to arrest him?"
"I don't know. The Council was very clear that Prince Augustus must be brought back. If he'll come with us."
"Maybe I will and maybe I won't!" Gusto said archly. "I didn't expect the Council to send my best friends to arrest me!"
"Forgive us, my Prince," said Melli softly. "We were hoping that it if were us, you'd be more willing, so we volunteered to come. But if you will not come with us willingly, we may have to use force. Our orders from the Council are quite strict on that matter."
"I'm not going!" Gusto said. "I promised Gruffi I would stay with him! They can't possibly mean to hold me accountable for something they've already banished me for!"
"I don't think they see it that way," said Melli, putting her pretty chin in her hand. "The Council wants to control Monteray as much as any single member of the Court or the Knighthood. The only person who doesn't want to rule is Prince Bryton himself. And wouldn't it be convenient for them if the only challenge to their power, the noble exiled Prince Augustus, were brought to Monteray on charges of murder and black magic?"
Gusto stared at Melli. She was right of course.
"I think we should talk to his family about this first," said Felli, scratching the end of his nose with a rich laugh. "Certainly they deserve your explanation as to why we are here. Mayhaps they can think of a different way of proceeding that does not make our dear Prince out to be the crimnal the Council wants to make him into."
"I doubt anything my friends could say could convince the Council either way," Gusto laughed, but it was a weak laugh at best. "But you're right, we owe them an explanation. They've had a Prince in their midst all this time and didn't know it!"
"Well, you can't be much of a Prince without a Kingdom to rule," said Felli sadly. "You really should be the King, but for the time being your nephew is in charge..."
"My...nephew," said Gusto, looking down at his hands. "Is he...?"
"Young, handsome? Yes," said Melli with a laugh. "A fighter, strategic thinker or a Knight? No sadly. He's a scholar. Books and paper are his interests, and though that makes him a good government official, it makes him a poor military commander."
Gusto gave another weak chuckle, at best a smile, and then yawned despite himself.
"We shall have need for you to rest," said Melli, standing to her feet. "The magic spell we used on this place packs a wallop, and took all of our energy. You will feel just a bit light headed when you sleep, and will probably have a four alarm headache when you wake up."
"Great," said Gusto with a moan. "I'll probably get little sleep tonight anyways."
"We can help you with that..."
The spell rolled from their fingers, surrounding him in soothing rest. Yes, despite the official capacity in which they had come to arrest him, they were still loyal to him and his family. He could trust them.
But their magic sleeping spell could do nothing to block out the nightmares that were always with him, the ones that consumed his thoughts every night as they had for the last eighteen years. He fought against the dreams, his screams dying down into helpless whimpers. He knew this nightmare, the monster's firey brain merged with his, he understood! It should not hurt as rawly as it did, as if the bond to this monster had just been newly forged! Could nothing, nobody free him from the horrors of this nightmare?
As if on cue his sleeping thoughts turned to Gruffi, their conversation, and the kisses they shared.
At once all nightmare was broken, and the monster was gone from his mind, just a memory of the nightmare still lingering in the dark dust.
There was no doubt in his mind that he wanted Gruffi with him by his side, no matter what tomorrow held. If their friendship and relationship was so strong it could even block out the monster's presence, then it had to be real! It had to be right! If only Gruffi felt the same!
Light. Morning dawned on Gruffi like a hammer to his brain. As if a bubble popped, the magic that had kept him sleeping through the night, while the ragged screams of his beloved friend had bent and twisted their way through his dreaming brain, was gone. He really hoped the others didn't know what he did. He could feel Gusto's pain even still. The nightmare washed over him and left tendrils of itself within his brain; somehow he had connected with Gusto last night. Somehow, Gusto had reached out to him from the torment of his nightmares to latch onto Gruffi as if for dear life. He could tell. The magic was still there, and was entirely Gusto's.
Gruffi stretched and groaned, laughing ironically at the normal aches and pains that a cool fall morning could bring about. It was almost strange that this felt like morning, like a regular morning.
A knock at his door, and Grammi poked her head in, looking as if for all the world as if she were just as tired as he was, even though they all must have gotten a night's sleep.
"Ready for breakfast, and get this nonesense over with?"
"I for one don't trust those uppity bears. Whatever they say about Gusto I don't believe it."
"I think, I want to hear what Gusto has to say more than anything else," Gruffi admitted, pulling on his shirt. "He didn't seem afraid of them, only the bad memories they seem to have brought with them."
Years with Grammi had prompted little embarassment from him at seeing him without his kit on. They were practically siblings, fostered together as they had been, though both different ages. She was like his big sister in many ways.
"Same here, and I want us all to have some food first, because who knows what'll happen, or what those two poncy buggers will do once the story is all out."
Gruffi didn't know what else to say. She had basically spoken it all.
The feeling in the dining room was rather subdued as they had breakfast. There was no sign of their two 'guests', and Cubbi for all the world looked like he understood something was wrong, but wasn't sure yet. Sunni was half in tears; she was so sick and tired from her cold that the spell they'd put on the Glen to keep it protected had just stressed her body out even more. Grammi swore oaths as she souped them all up on a second dose of her medicine and served the oatmeal.
Gusto finally joined them for breakfast, and every inch of his body showed the tired strain and the agony of his nightmare plagued sleep. His eyes looked gray and sunken, his fur was tattered and he was layered with sweat. Grammi took one look at him and stuck a spoonful of her potion right into his mouth without a word.
"Sit, eat, drink tea...I swear I'm going to stick you in a hot tub and scrub every inch of your fur if you don't!"
Gruffi wanted nothing more at this moment than to go to him, to just hold him and remind him of their friendship, their lives, that he was a part of that no matter what.
But he wanted the answers to his questions, and he knew, somehow, that it wouldn't help them any if he showed any over arching signs of their newfound affection in front of the rest of their Gummi clan. So he muddled over his thoughts while he stirred his oatmeal, trying not to wince as Gusto crawled into his usual seat, withdrawing into himself and not touching a bite of his food.
"Eat!" Grammi declared. "Really, you'd starve yourself over a ruined painting of yours!"
So she didn't know about last night. Somehow the magic spells floating through the Glen had covered up his screams of pain. Gruffi looked at Gusto squarely, and he looked back, and their eyes connected for a moment. Gruffi nodded, and Gusto, for some reason, looked even more morose than before.
"I'm sorry Grammi," he said, pushing down the tiredness. "I really think its cabin fever I've got. And not just those sniffles and coughing."
"Possibly. You could probably due with a bit of that thistle tea then, drink it down, we'll be stuck with dried nettles and that Barbic coffee for the rest of winter so enjoy the good stuff while it lasts!"
Gruffi smiled. At least something was normal; Grammi was thinking of winter, and being exceedingly prepared as she was had already started a simmering batch of Gummi Berry juice.
Everything seemed to be getting back to normal. Until of course the two Bellas walked in, dressed immaculately and looking as if for all the world their dreams had been quite jovially pleasant. As soon as they entered the room, however, Grammi advanced upon them with a spoon.
"Do you see what your magicking did to my family?" She shouted at them, causing everyone in the room to wince. "Look at Sunni! She's sick enough as it is without your meddling!"
"Yes, and we appologize," Melli said formally, unlatching her robe, and taking a formal place at the head of the table, much to Gruffi's dismay right next to him, and on the other side of her sat her brother. "A magical spell such as that will often bring about headaches in the morning to everyone, but there could be no help for it. If we hadn't, then whoever was outside last night would surely have gotten in. This situation is much too delicate to risk any other people interfearing."
"It is quite cumbersome and exhausting really," Felli said. "Having to work magical spells over a large place such as this. I didn't realize it was quite as big as it was. I promise you that the reaction headaches we'll have when the spell finally fades will be just as horrid, it really is more like a fortress down here then a warren."
"Gummi Glen used to be the Gummi center of learning and knowledge here in Dunwyn," Gruffi said, not wanting Grammi to go on another rant. "But the plague came around, and the wars, we're all that's left."
"I see..." Felli crossed his legs, and ignored the thistle tea. "Got any good coffee, my dear lady? I am in need of a good shot. I think that headache I mentioned creeping up on me now."
Grammi reluctantly poured him a mug, and minding her manners offered Melli some honey to sweeten the tea she knew was turning to the lady's stomach.
Fancy people aren't used to our backwater recipes I suppose, their palatte is too delicate... Gruffi thought sarcastically.
"So then," Melli said out right. "A good breakfast, and then we can all have a talk about what's going to happen next. I'm sure as a family you want to discuss your options."
"Options? As in, we have any choice?"
"Certainly you have a choice," Felli pointed out haughtily. "One way or another, we found what we've come here for..."
"You mean you found the Prince?" Cubbi said, looking wide eyed and completely unware.
Gruffi, and most of the adults in the room, winced.
"Well, yes and no," Melli said delicately. "We found the Prince. But we've also found a loving and caring family who is just a little uneducated as to who their friend really is."
"But we shall remedy that," Felli said. "Gusto, maybe you had better start."
"I...yeah..." Gusto looked like he wanted to be anywhere else. "Maybe this isn't a good story for children."
"They're old enough to hear it," Melli stated. "And its better than leaving everyone in the dark."
"I suppose," Gusto sighed, and closed his eyes... "Well, to start with, I'm not really just Gusto. I'm actually, a...Prince. Prince Augustus the Third."
Gruffi had been told last night, of course, but the other Gummis stared. Gusto sighed and nodded his head, then ran a head through his hair.
"I was younger than my sister, so when my father took sick she was betrothed to a bear named Janka, who was much older than her. But the problem with being the King of the country is that a King must be a Knight, must graduate from his wizarding and literature studies, and must have the fealty of at least three other Knights before he can make a claim for the throne. Despite being married to my sister, Janka could not be a King, had only one of these requirements; Magic. But that wasn't enough for him to be a King so the Council made a law that a Prince could rule in place of a King until a true King was ready to rule. That is what happened. Janka ruled on the throne for many years, and I was slowly being trained in Knighthood and statesmanship in order to become the King."
"Very slowly," Felli said, sipping his coffee with great appreciation. "The Council didn't want you to become the King, so they made sure your education went at a crawl. I say, this Barbic coffee was quite delicious," he added, a smile spreading over his features. "Remind me to visit the Barbics next chance I get."
Grammi chuckled, and offered him some more, the first sign that she had forgiven him and Melli Bella for their magic spells.
"Go on Gusto," said Zummi. "You were talking about your education?"
"Yes," said Gusto, swallowing. "Well the three requirements are Knighthood, Acolyte level magic skills and formal literature studies. At that time I was aprenticed to a wizard to learn spells and incantations, and the Council and Janka both secretly gave him instructions to keep my education back so that I couldn't get out of Apprentice level. Just long enough for Janka to finish his Knighthood."
"So you're a Knight too?" said Cubbi with delight. "Why didn't you ever tell us?"
"Well," Gusto sighed, looking not the least bit happy about this. "I'm not very proud of what I did as a Knight. In order to earn my Knighthood I slayed a dragon that had decided Monteray would be as good a place as any to settle down and hatch her eggs."
"Oh," said Cubbi, looking stricken. "It wasn't really a bad dragon then was it?"
"No, she was just nesting, but the King had ordered it to be slain, and you have to obey order when you're a Knight," said Gusto. "Knighthood is acheived by risking your life to protect an innocent citizen of Monteray. Or by killing an enemy of Monteray in fair combat. Killing that creature was as natural to me back then as breathing...but one look at my sister's face after bringing the head back to the city made me change my mind about ever, ever wanting to live the life of a Knight. You're bound to obey the Crown. Not an easy life."
Cubbi made a soft sound of dismay, and Gruffi turned to look at him briefly. Clearly Plucki and his pals hadn't let him in the know about that particularly unfortunate little detail.
"Anyways," Gusto continued. "I had no clue at the time that Janka was a Dark wizard, practicing the evilest magic, and that he was keeping my sister under magical spells to force her into bedding him. He was so old that he eventually needed dark magic in the end just to get her pregnant. Anyways, I decided that the only way to get rid of Janka was for him to disappear completely, and went looking for a spell or magic to do. If there was no body there was no victim and therefore no murder charge. But I was a bit clueless at the time as to what I was getting into, the magic I was learning."
"Only a bit?" Felli said, eyebrow raised.
Gusto stirred his porrige, and pushed the bowl away from him helplessly.
"I wanted Janka dead. I wanted him to suffer the way my sister suffered. I didn't care as long as I had revenge against him. So I did it; I kidnapped Prince Janka, and used a spell summon my worst fears from my brain and give them a physical form. I...I summoned the kraken."
A moment of silence followed this.
"Oh Gusto you didn't," Zummi said, putting his hands to his cheeks. "Tell me you didn't."
"Well, technically it isn't the real kraken," said Melli pointedly. "The spell, the magic that he used, just gave physical shape to a nightmare."
"Well its more than that," Gusto sighed, sinking down further and further into his chair with every word. "Its a spell that takes the things I fear the most and puts them into a physical form, usually some sort of monster shape."
"It eventually got confused with the real legendary kraken by pirates and sailors and since that helped to keep them away from Monteray nobody ever educated them on the matter," Melli said impishly. "At least we aren't being plagued by pirates."
"No, just my own dark fears..."
It must have been a horrible thing for Gusto to be reminded of, for his hands started to shake so bad that he spilled his tea on himself and knocked over the milk service reaching for a napkin to clean up the mess.
"Here," said Grammi sharply. "Let me."
Gusto nodded, shaking, and Felli put a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Go on. Get to the reason why we are here."
"What happened after that was quite simple," said Gusto, looking bereft. "The real truth was that the monster, the nightmare spell, creates a monster that can only be destroyed by the one whose nightmare it sprung from. Me."
"The creature's ultimate goal is to get to Gusto," said Melli sadly. "Every person it consumes gives it information and energy."
Its been haunting and plagueing me for years," Gusto admitted, voice hollow. "Trying to goad me into fighting it. Because of that the Council decided the ultimate way to deal with the monster was to banish me. They thought that it would follow me away from Monteray and that would be the end of it..."
Silence followed this. Nobody dared say anything, for the tears on Gusto's face spoke a thousand words into the gloomy atmosphere of the room.
"The monster did follow me for awhile," Gusto said, and covered his head with his hands. "I could not find a way to destroy it and ultimately ended up stranding myself on an island just to keep it from going off and causing damage elsewhere. It was the hole in the ocean, the hole over which my Island floated for twelve years. It was all the magic I could manage to keep my island from being swallowed into that abyss, as I tried to work on a way to end it...destroy it..."
Gruffi and Tummi both said 'WHAT' at the same time, and Gusto laughed.
"Gruffi! When you came on the island all gung ho about getting us off again, it was all I could do not to shake you silly and say, 'You idiot! If I leave the monster will swallow us, boat and all!'"
"Then why didn't it?" said Gruffi, feeling suddenly like a whole host of questions he didn't know he had been wanting to ask had been answered in a single sentence.
"I don't know," said Gusto. "I really don't know. But we didn't have much of a choice. With your arrival I started getting weaker. I don't understand, but having you both there was weakening my spell on the Island. I...I decided that if we were doomed, I would keep it all a secret," Gusto shook his head, eyes wet and damp. "I just wanted you to put down the hammer Gruffi and just enjoy the last bit of life we had, but I couldn't bare the thought of it. The thought of being stuck on a tropical island forever only made you miserable, and I realized that there was only one thing I could do. I had to get you both off the island, and if necessary give myself to the monster to keep it from swallowing all three of us...but...it didn't...I don't know why..."
Zummi seemed to be thinking about this the whole time and then turned to look at Melli Bella.
"Has the monster ever swallowed more than one victim at a time?"
Melli squeaked, and then she started thinking about this. Clearly SHE hadn't thought of that.
"You're right! The deaths related to the kraken attacks haven't been from it actually swallowing anyone but by sinking and destroying their ships! Maybe it can't swallow more than one at a time!"
"Or...maybe it can only swallow me..." Gusto said, eyes white, skin white as a sheet. "Maybe that's the only way it can be destroyed..."
"Maybe," said Melli, looking down at her hands. "Certainly the Council believes this is true. Maybe thats what they are planning; to test that theory. And use Prince Janka's murder as the excuse for killing Prince Gusto. He's to be the scapegoat for all of it."
"The only problem now was that there was never a body, so they can't prove that Janka is dead! Unlike every other monster attack, Janka's body was never found. Unless they decide to prosecute you for all the deaths the monster has caused since your banishment."
Silence followed this pronouncment. Sunni was hugging Grammi and crying softly. The rest of the family stood there, confused, and feeling just a little betrayed by Gusto's story. Gruffi stood up, pushing his chair from the table and coughed.
"I don't believe it. I don't believe it."
Gusto seemed to withdraw into himself, but Gruffi raised his hands.
"I don't believe he should be made to suffer anymore! He's already been punished enough! By the Great Gummies he doesn't deserve that after everything he's been through!"
"Gusto has risked his life for this family more times than I can count on my hands," Grammi said. "Whenever we're attacked by ogres, or whatever crisis, he's been there! Gusto is a good Gummi bear!"
"Yes, that's right..." Gusto said, finally sounding more like himself than he had all morning. "I can try and stop the kraken before it does any more damage, and try to face it and destroy it if its possible. Maybe then the Council will let the matter rest...and let me come home again."
"You won't have to face it alone," Gruffi said immediately. "No matter what you decide we're coming with you. And we'll be there with you to tell that Council what we think of you. We're your family now and we won't let them feed you to any monster."
"I can't ask you to come with me..." Gusto said in a pained voice.
"Then don't ask, we're coming anyway whether you want us to or not," Gruffi responded, smirking in his usual way. "You're stuck with us kid."
"Thats right!" said Zummi. "We're family!"
A chorus of agreement went around the room, Sunni was so happy to have actually known a Prince in person that she forgot immediately anything horrible that Gusto had spoken. Cubbi wanted to go fight the monster himself.
"Well then," Melli said. "I think that settles it. We shall help you start making travel prepartions to leave."
"I'll do a letter sending spell to let Prince Bryton know what is happening," Felli said grandly, getting to his feet.
But the whole group was suddenly jolted to their senses by a loud sob. Finally unable to handle the stress, Gusto had fallen to the floor in tears.
Melli and Felli both made sounds of distress, but Gruffi was finally able to hold Gusto as he lifted the bear into his arms.
"I'll put him to bed. He can sleep in my room away from the usual kitchen noise. Grammi, some clover tea if we have any left. Sunni maybe you could help the Bellas with the packing preparations? Zummi we'll use those quick tunnel maps of yours to figure out how we're going to get to Monteray. Tummi you can help him. You two Bellas can make yourselves useful and help Grammi clean up around here with that magic cleaning spell you keep teasing Zummi with. Maybe you can teach it to him."
Everyone was used to being given orders by Gruffi and so immediately got to it. Everyone except the twins, who stared at him for a few moments in consternation until Gusto laughed weakly.
"Gruffi, Melli and Felli Bella are nobles and acolyte wizards. They outrank you, you do realize?"
"Yuh, but I'd still like to think this house is my castle and therefore I am the King of it."
Melli actually giggled!
"Well, in that case, King Gruffi, consider ourselves at thy royal command!"
"Verily we shall make this warren castle fit for royalty!" Felli added in chorus.
The twins shared impish looks of laughter; their eyes danced, their noses twitched, and they raised their hands. A whirlwind of sparkling magic flew from their fingers through the warren in a laughing cyclone. It not only dusted and polished, but also scraped about six hundred years of old stains dirt and grime from every floor, wall and surface. Gummi Glen had never looked so bright and warm! The Gummis all stared at the two Bellas with multiple expressions of dumbstruck shock and delight.
"Well that was easy," said Melli, wiping her hands together as if they had dust on them. "Oh, Augustus, one more thing. We're Adept wizards now, not Acolytes. You're not the only thing that has changed in the last eighteen years."
They danced from the room giggling as Gusto stared after them, his surprise taking up every inch of his face.
"Well bear's fur," said Gusto with a laugh. "The last time I saw those two they couldn't even make a teacup float. Now they're better than me!"
"Just goes to show you," said Grammi, smiling. "A little effort goes a long way."
As he brought Gusto to his bedroom to sleep Gruffi had to admit, he couldn't have agreed more.
Chapter 7: On Being Comfortable
RE-VAMPED! AND ADDED BITS IN! The whole story has been refreshed so please go back and re-read it. Most of the text has remained intact, but some of it has changed. Sorry folks!
Chapter Six: On Being Comfortable
It wasn't until late in the week that Gruffi finally got up the courage to go find Gusto. For all their talk of wanting to help him and support him, the Glen Gummies had been very quiet on the subject. The business of packing up their wagons, Calvin finding and renting ponies small enough for their use from humans, and getting the last of the Gummi Berry juice in proper storage, took up most of the week. Gusto had quietly helped with all of this, but for the most part he just boxed up as many of his paintings as he could and stored them away in the basement.
Didn't help that he started making new paintings halfway through the week with the darn paints that Zummi had given him, which didn't explode but DID flash unpleasantly bright colours for anyone who was unfortunate enough to pass by. Gruffi had expressly declined helping to put these paintings in storage, or find an appropriate place for them.
But then Tummi had a thoughtful moment where he thought the flashing paintings would be great to light the quick car tunnels, which they couldn't use for their journey. Turned out the quick car track that went in the direction of Botanon Bay was caved in and couldn't be used. So they rented the ponies.
But deciding what to bring with them had been difficult, for they didn't know exactly how long they would be in Monteray, and whether or not they would be provided for upon arrival or whether they would have to fend for themselves in any way.
"If the Court is as stuffy as I remember it," Gusto had told them. "The Crown and Council put you all to work in the castle somewhere rather than honouring you as guests. But they may provide you with rooms in the palace..."
The Bellas had not brought much more than a pack for themselves, something that the two wizards seemed to be entirely upset with themselves over.
"If we'd known we've be gone from Monteray as long as we have been we would have brought a carriage and clothes enough to last a season or two."
Eventually they all agreed to travel as light as possible, as the Bellas had, taking only clothes, Grammi's cooking supplies and Gruffi's necessary tools, and enough food to last them the week it would take to get to the harbour.
But Gruffi couldn't just leave things as they were between him and Gusto. He needed to clear the uneasy air that had settled over the Glen on the subject of Gusto's coming troubles. So on the last night of their stay at Gummi Glen before setting out, Gruffi went to knock on Gusto's bedroom door, only to find it unlocked.
He knocked. No answer. He peeked in.
Let's hope he didn't run for it...
What he had thought he'd find, an empty bed and a note, turned out to be completely false, and he cursed himself for ever believing Gusto would abandon those in need. Instead he found his friend, curled up in a ball on his bed, choking down bitter sobs of grief, his face buried in a pillow. It seemed Artie, his dear feathered friend, had been trying to console him, but was having no luck of any kind, and gave Gruffi a look that said 'Do something!'
Gruffi did. He took a step into the room, and then another, and then sat on the bed and put a hand on Gusto's head.
"Oh," Gusto gulped and swallowed and rubbed his eyes. "Gruffi, I was just...I'm sorry, so embarrassed, I..."
"Cleaning out the emotional cupboards huh?" Gruffi surmised, keeping his hand behind one of Gusto's ears as the bear sat up. "Mum used to say there was nothing better for cleaning out the old closet than a good cry. Of course I stopped crying the day she died," Gruffi took a deep breath. "And look at me, all bitter and grumpy. You're better off crying, nothing to be embarrassed about."
"I...I'm just so...so..."
Gusto gasped and swallowed hard, eyes brimming over. He nodded, head jerking up and down violently. He was shaking so badly that Gruffi had to take his head in both hands and kiss him to calm him down.
That brought Gusto back to the present, and he stared at Gruffi in shock.
"I meant what I said, Gusto. I'm here for you."
It was a momentary pause, in which Gusto searched his eyes deeply for the validity of his comments. Then the bear threw himself into Gruffi's arms sobbing, and buried his head in Gruffi's shoulder.
"Don't wanna go, don't wanna go, don't, don't, Gruffi, oh Great Gum save me!"
"Oh Gusto," Gruffi took a deep breath, stilling the pain in his own chest and just holding Gusto tight as he vented his fear. "I promise, I won't let you get hurt. I'll protect you."
"I...don't think you can..." Gusto covered his face in his hands. "I've been dreaming of this awful moment for eighteen years and here it is. I'm on my way back back there again. D-do you know why I can't control my own monster Gruffi? Do you?"
Gruffi shook his head, and looked at Gusto with deep sympathy, feeling the waves of anguish rolling off his shivering body like a waterfall.
Gusto was drowning and he, Gruffi, didn't know how to save him.
"I can't control it because I can't even look at it! I freeze; my body goes numb. I fainted the last time, and that's how the council found me and caught me! Half conscious on the ground because I couldn't bear to look upon my own creation long enough to ride it to safety. I had control of it, but I couldn't even bear to see what I had summoned."
"Well, if it's your greatest fear, can anybody blame you?" Gruffi said. "I couldn't imagine facing my greatest fears in such a horrible way."
Gusto nodded, and just clung to Gruffi for long moments, letting the emotions and shivering pass.
"I'm scared but...I know I have to do this. For my sister. For my family. I can't shame myself by running away, by being a coward. I need to do this for those nameless people who died whose now live in my brain whether I wanted them to be or not. I haven't any choice anymore."
"I know hon, I know."
They enjoyed a silent moment of just sitting there together, and then Gusto broke the pained silence by chuckling.
"What?" Gruffi asked, feeling for some reason annoyed.
"Hon, heh, you called me 'hon'," Gusto snickered.
"Oh! Well, I'm getting used to this...thing...relationship...yeah..."
Gusto smirked, and reached up to kiss Gruffi and pull the hat from off of his head.
"You know, I may never come back to Gummi Glen..."
"You're not going to die..."
"..So..." Gusto was still smiling, and leaning ever and ever closer. "I want to remember my last night here forever..."
It didn't take long for Gruffi to figure out just what Gusto meant. He decided afterwards that he'd probably remember it forever himself.
When morning came Gruffi found himself wrapped around a ball of blue fur. Gusto was sleeping so peacefully it was as if the terrors from the night before had never happened.
Mine...Gruffi decided covetously, snuggling up closer. Just let those stuff shirt council members try and separate us! I'll give 'em the old one two punch in the nose!
There was a startled squeak at the door, followed by a giggle as Gruffi quickly pulled the covers over them both.
"Should I come back later?" Grammi said coyly, holding out her basket of laundry through the door. "Or did you need a clean change of clothes?"
Gruffi growled at her and she left the basket in the door, skipping off to the kitchen whilst humming a merry love song that soon filled the house with its romance. Gruffi rolled over in disgust at her womanly vapours and punched the pillow. But Gusto apparently couldn't help himself and started chuckling uproariously.
"Well there's one down. When shall we tell the others?"
"When I'm a gray old bear," Gruffi complained, climbing out of bed and pulling on a shirt from the basket. "You have to finish your packing you know, we're leaving after lunch."
"Yeah, I'm not taking much with me..." Gusto said. "I want there to be stuff here waiting for me. As the old saying goes, 'If you pack everything for a trip you might as well move to New Gumbrea while you're at it.'"
That made Gruffi chuckle, and he threw a clean shirt at his 'lover', hitting him directly in the face with it.
"Come on...I can smell Grammi's blueberry pancakes already, may be the last good home cooked meal we have in a while."
Gusto didn't need to be asked twice, quickly pulling on shirt hat and sandals, and tying his hankerchief around his neck, before zipping off to the kitchen.
Some things never change, thought Gruffi with a smile. Thank the Great Gummies for that.
Chapter 8: Over The River And Through The Woods
RE-VAMPED! AND ADDED BITS IN! The whole story has been refreshed so please go back and re-read it. Most of the text has remained intact, but some of it has changed. Sorry folks!
Chapter Seven: Over The River And Through The Woods
It was hard saying goodbye to Gummi Glen. They were nervous and edgy, and in the case of the kids, excited. Gusto sent Artie up into the sky as an aerial guide to when humans were on the road so that they could pull off the road and hide quickly and not be spotted by them, which made the journey much easier by and large, and saved them several potential headaches when Artie spotted an entire caravan of Dunwyn knights camped out around a turn in the road in order to oversee the building of a new bridge. The Gummies had wisely pulled off the road for the day, then pulled on brown robes to make them look like peasants and just rolled on past during the night, and neither the men nor their horses gave them or their covered carts a second look.
Strange how humans and Gummies use all the same roads, and yet have one group be completely unaware of the other, Gusto thought, one they had passed safely.
Sometimes things got a little precarious, having to wait for the humans to pass them by, which could take hours, and the trip was slowed down by having to stop to refill their water supply at various handy rivers that Zummi pointed them to from his map.
"Up here is where our route diverges from the human settlements," he finally said at one point in the journey, and stretched his hand to point. "Its an old road, looks like its just around the trees."
The road they discovered was as muddy and nasty as Gusto would have thought an unused path would be after weeks of cold and rain. The Bellas had complained constantly about the rain, and now they complained about the mud on their feet and clothes. It took pushing the ponies through the mud to get them higher ground, and at points rolling along through the trees diverging from the road completely, before they were onto dryer territory, large expanses of empty grass and the ocean stretching out around them for miles. Rocky cliffs echoed with the sound of sea waters crashing against the shoreline, and the air had a distinct salty smell to it.
"Smells like home," Melli Bella had said, pointedly cheering up by this.
The group paused along the way at a river that fed out into the ocean, in order to wash the ponies and themselves thoroughly. Tummi recognised, with a pang, the river spillway that they had been washed out from when they first set out on their sea quest that would eventually lead them to discovering Gusto in the first place.
"I can't imagine a more horrible road!" Gruffi ranted. "It took us nearly seven days to go down that road by cart, twisting and turning like an old hose pipe, but it took less than an hour for you and I to get here by boat!"
"I told you there were good uses for that boat!" Tummi argued back. "But you didn't listen!"
Gruffi had been in a foul mood from that moment on and Gusto had a sneaking suspicion that Tummi had been hiding the boat away just for such a possibility, but that Gruffi had expressly forbid its use.
He can only blame himself for not making use of the resources that were open to him... Gusto thought with a chuckle.
But the bad mood of Gruffi didn't help Gusto any, for it meant sleeping in his tent alone, because an angry Gruffi didn't sleep much at all.
Though Grammi hadn't shared their secret, she had even told them as such with a coy fluttering of her eyelashes, Gusto had a suspicion that everyone knew. Somehow. In fact when Gruffi had told them in no uncertain terms how everyone would bunk up, Zummi had looked stressed, even uncomfortable at being told everyone had their own tent, but Gusto was going to share Gruffi's.
"I'm still not convinced that intruder isn't following us, ready to grab him at a moment's notice!" had been Gruffi's excuse.
"He...or she, is not anywhere near," Gusto had said, startling them all, "I can't feel anyone near us of magical ability."
Every night after that, Zummi and Gusto would get out of their tents each night to 'search' with them for signs of wizards of all sorts, just in case. They eventually dragged Melli and Felli out of their tents to help. Both Bellas were now sniffling with colds and had complained that they missed their warm beds back home. But Gusto seemed much more proficient at it than the other three put together, much to the older bear's dismay.
"And you say you don't have any powers!" Zummi chuckled. "You should be using this medallion!"
"No way," Gusto had said immediately. "I'd rather not start into that all over again. Its better this way, really...Less magic for the monster to feed on if I don't exercise the skills..."
But Zummi had only shaken his head sadly, sharing a pensive look with Melli Bella. Gusto decided that Zummi was only feeling a bit bereft without the Great Book of Gummi and was looking for any excuse to test out his magical abilities.
Regardless of all their feelings of protectiveness over the book, they knew it would be safer at home then with them on the roads, and had given Cavin express instructions to check in on the book and the Glen, to protect the Glen and to make sure nothing untoward happened to it.
Since Cavin was working on gaining his knighthood status now, he was only too quick to accept the work. Gusto suspected that he would be sneaking Cala off there at night to court her against her father's wishes. Gusto really really hoped that was all they were doing. Didn't need any baby Cavins and Calas just yet thanks.
But the sea cliffs and the ocean spill water eventually gave way to the coastal shore, to the little Gummi village of Dunberry.
"Not many Gummis here," Zummi said, looking around, and then gasped, "Is that a human?"
"Probably a pirate," Gusto said, thinking back in his head. "Back before I left, their was a problem of Gummies and human pirates sailing the same areas and coming to a clash over...hiding places. I think there was some sort of agreement that the pirates and Gummies could both use the same routes, but couldn't divulge each others activities to outsiders. So yeah, a pirate probably. Its been eighteen years. I wonder if the...monster...has kept the pirates from being so open around Gummi bears. Its only one really..."
The man turned out to be the only free holding stable for horses on the coast, and they ended up having to leave their ponies with him for their return journey when they came back from Monteray. Cavin had made sure they had enough to pay any fees for the service, but it seemed that things in Dunberry just sort of happened without any transaction of money.
"No paying until you get your fillies back safe and sound, that's how I does it."
Though the Gummies had been alarmed by the human stable hand, they were soon distracted by the Gummi ship, which was the only vessel in port and was the home to some very loudly singing sailer Gummies, one of which was very familiar to the Glen Gummies.
"Chummi!" they cried, at seeing a very familiar face pounding away with a hammer on the main deck.
Gusto felt a bit out of sorts, for even though he had heard of this Gummi Bear from his friends, he had never met him, and it was an awkward feeling just hanging at the edge of the group while they caught up with things.
"So you didn't make it to New Gumbrea after all!" Cubbi said.
"That's right," Chummi said, laughing and putting down his hammer. "My airship crashed again and thought there were as many Gummies as I could ever hope for Monteray, might as well stick around awhile and see how I can be of use. Now I'm a Captain in His Majesties Royal Navy. Which means no whit much more than I usually have to do, but I have to wear this weird hat so people can recognise me. You're on passage to Monteray?"
"That's right Captain," said Melli, suddenly striding forward in order to pull some rank for a change. "We can pay for all their travel fair if they haven't enough. Party of nine. There won't be any problems with provisions will there?"
"They seem to have brought much of their own," Chummi agreed, looking down at them with their packs on their shoulders. "S'not a worry, but if any of you get sea sick easy you best be staying in your cabin, these be choppy waters."
"Sure," Gruffi said, suddenly looking not the least bit happy to be there at all. "Just get me on the dang boat."
Gusto felt bad for Gruffi's sea sickness, and he felt bad for his family, having to load all their stuff onto the boat themselves, though Chummi did them give a hand, with the sailors introducing themselves even as they started singing a merry sea jig along with the Gummis as part of their leaving ritual.
Oh the Council won't like this one bit! My family will be so popular with the sailors and travellers on the ship by the time we reach Monteray that they'd never be able to push down their good reputation; news travels fast and the city will be all a buzz about the 'friendly visitors' from Dunwyn. Can't use their peasant status against them if everyone is so enamoured by them.
But there was nothing more to say on the matter. The gangplank was raised, the whistle was blown, and the next leg of their journey was underway. There was no going forward and no turning back.
From this moment on he was stuck again, stuck and the decisions surrounding his fate were once more out of his hands.
Chapter 9: The Humming Compass
RE-VAMPED! AND ADDED BITS IN! The whole story has been refreshed so please go back and re-read it. Most of the text has remained intact, but some of it has changed. Sorry folks!
Chapter Eight: The Humming Compass
It wasn't the most pleasant trip over the ocean Gusto had ever experienced, although Chummi was able to keep him and his friends up in merry banter most of the way through. But Gruffi's sea sickness had hit him so hard that Grammi had salted him up on seltzers and was now keeping a stern watch over him wherever he went. Gusto watched Gruffi, hanging over the side of the ship with his nausea, from a safe distance, feeling his stomach twist in sympathetic pain.
Gusto had no working experience to go upon to heal Gruffi, nor could he offer any consolation. He had been born on an island community and was quite comfortable on the sea, whether it be a ship or a port he was well versed in the ways of the ocean. Which is probably why he'd chosen a waterfall, instead of Gummi Glen, as his home. There was something about the sound of the water that was comforting. Even as he stared over the side of the boat into the choppy frothing waters, he felt at peace and comforted by the rocking motions of the waves. He was going home.
But those waters held hidden dangers in their immeasurable depths. Gusto wanted to enjoy the return to his comfortable island homeland, but nothing could pry from his heart the ache of fear that lingered just below the surface of those waters, somewhere in the murky deep. Would the monster show up? Was it following them even now, unable to attack the ship due to its fast speed? Or was it biding its time...waiting...sleeping?
"A Gummi Berry for your thoughts?"
Gusto looked up, and gave Chummi Gummi an inscrutable look. He didn't quite understand the way of a sailor to just sort of be friendly to anyone and everyone they met. For example, Chummi had introduced them to the crew of his ship the Persephone and afterward, once they were well out on the endless ocean, had taken Tummi to the top deck of the ship and had given him leave to steer for the next couple of hours while he chatted with the rest of the group. Of course this was a treasure of an opportunity for Tummi, and the other sailors didn't seem to mind this; their Captain knew the new Gummies and they were friends, and therefore welcome on the boats as if they were sailors themselves. This was just as Gusto had predicted would happen and he was glad.
But Gusto was a stranger to Chummi and therefore, by extension, his crew, which is why Gusto couldn't fathom what the mariner would want with him. Did Captain Chummi know who Gusto was?
"I was...just contemplating throwing myself in..." Gusto said honestly, turning to watch the waves pass him in their endless patchwork of blue and green hues. "Sparing everyone the trouble I cause."
"I see," Chummi coughed. "Well, we'd probably just pull you back in. When the wind dies down, and the sails are a tad limp, we men like to lower anchor awhile and go for a good swim. When the water is calm enough for it anyway. So we're all fair swimmers now."
"Isn't that dangerous?" Gusto asked astonished.
"Well sure," Chummi laughed, and scratched the back of his head. "But that's what makes being a sailor so grand. Sure there are dangers, but that's a part of the sailor's life; waiting on the edge of a knife and finding adventure in every journey."
"Wouldn't want to be a sailor then."
"Nay, that there's a good way for any living, whether sailor or landlubber. Life isn't about waiting for death to come get us. Look at cubs; they'll play anywhere, in the water, in trees, on rocks or by the sea shore. In every unexplored territory they'll go. They aren't worried about the future beasties that could get them, but just the fun in the here and now. They live their lives as if life is worth living. That is the Gummi way, the way I see it. Always has been for as long as history has recorded."
Gusto thought about this seriously. It seemed what Chummi was saying was true; it was coming from his heart, a sailors heart. But this advice couldn't have been given to a worse Gummi Bear.
"Say you knew, without a shadow of a doubt, without any argument, that your ship would sink tomorrow and your life would be over. Would you still say that?"
Chummi coughed, and nodded without even a pause to think about it.
"I'm a sailor; every day my ship could possibly sink. But I've learned to live with it. Life is too short to worry about how short life is."
Gusto nodded, but was finding this conversation, for all its honesty, a little smothering. A complete stranger trying to pry into his head and pick his brain, about a topic that in all honesty was far too close for comfort. It felt as if Chummi knew more than he was letting on, or at least was trying to get as much information about Gusto as he could but still be as polite as was possible about how he went about getting that information.
Chummi suddenly smiled and gave a chuckle as something quite audibly, in the region of his pants, made a ticking sound.
"Well well well, seems I have something here for you," he said, pulling out what looked to be a compass from his pocket and handing it to Gusto. "There, it'll stop ticking in a minute, once Mister Tummi there changes back on course."
"What...is this?" Gusto said, eyeing the moving needle inside with suspicion. "It isn't like any compass I've ever seen."
"Probably never will again; its a hearing compass, for when storms are so bad that you can't see left from right. It makes little ticks when you head towards the north, and a strong humming sound when your on track, heading west. Monteray is always west, so if your compass isn't humming, than you're going in the wrong direction! You'd never need a map with a humming compass!"
Gusto eyed the instrument, quite confounded that the delicate little device could give that much information! He smiled fondly and reached out to hand the compass back to its owner, but Chummi shook his head, waving his hand.
"No, you keep it," Chummi said firmly. "Any sea born bear who spends as much time thinking of death as you seem to do is probably gonna need it worse'n I do."
Gusto was astonished by this thoughtful gift.
"How...how did you know I was born by the sea?"
"Simple; you've got sea legs. You've taken well to the ship. I've been watching you moving around on deck as if it were home. I bet you could sail her too, without even a crew. You seem like the type..."
"I hate to ruin your estimation of me," Gusto laughed. "But I'm just an artist..."
Chummi raised his eyebrows, shrugged and said, "Maybe, but you also look every inch the twin of your young nephew on t' throne there. Could'a been his brother, but I'd never have known the difference. Not many on board as wouldn't recognise a Prince of Monteray when he's standing right in front of his nose, even in rags."
Gusto gaped at this pronouncement, but couldn't respond as the Captain of the Persephone had already left his company to head up to the top deck to redirect the singing Tummi as to the right direction they should sail. Gusto held the compass in his hand for a moment, listening to the ticks die down into a hum that he could feel in his hand all the way through his body to his head.
Unable to take the invasive sound and touch sensations of the device any longer, he stuck it into his pocket and then went to go find Gruffi. Life was too short not to spend time with his loved ones, even if one of them happened to be too seasick for company. At least they would be together, if only for a while.
"Gruffi's seasickness isn't natural."
Melli lifted her head pointedly to stare at her brother, who had come into their cabin with Gusto in tow, both of them with pensive expressions on their faces.
"Oh, then what is it?" said Melli, face pensive.
"A spell of some kind," said Gusto. "It might be that the monster is able to get at Gruffi through me somehow, it feels very much like one of my nightmares, only I'm awake. Its using my friend to get at me."
Melli was momentarily horrified, and then felt a tickle of an idea form in her head as to how it was possible that he monster could reach another person so easily through its magical link to Gusto.
Physical contact, she thought, as the pair started going through Felli's personal stores of magical healing hervs in search of a possible cure for the fever. Or something more intimate, otherwise everyone Gusto had touched would be likewise affected.
"Perhaps there is another way," said Melli, reaching over to pointedly take Gusto by the hand. "You have a bond to Gruffi, and therefore that bond is what connects him to the monster..."
"If you're saying I should break that bond then..."
"No no," Melli sighed, shaking her head. "Use it to your advantage. Touch him. Hold him. Use your magic to protect him. Physical contact will strengthen him and help him fight the magic. Meanwhile those herbs," she pointed to the ones in question, "Would help with the physical symptoms. Put them in his bathwater."
"Ah ha!" said Felli brightly, unscrewing the cap of the jar. "Excellent choice. Fresh too, I had Grammi help me make this up just before we left Dunwyn. Mistletoe and nutmeg."
"Perfect," said Gusto, catching on immediately. "Nutmeg for his stomach and nerves, and mistletoe for its magical effects."
"So its agreed?" Melli said, putting a hand on Gusto. "You'll have to be the one to give him the medicine and care for him forthwith?"
Gusto nodded, an embarassed blush spreading through his face.
"Ah my Prince, nothing to be ashamed of," said Felli, catching on immediately. "Gruffi Gummi is a lucky bear to have you. I'm almost jealous."
"Well don't be," said Gusto, taking the jar of medicine from him. "You are better off without me. I take up the bed, I snore..."
"Better then my current partner, who insists that we sleep in only the itchiest wool blankets because he insists he can't keep the chill from his bones with silk."
"Tchah! Both of you out!" said Melli, not wanting to hear this conversation between her two friends. "If you think you're jealous, at least you two aren't single, depressingly single!"
Felli laughed, and kisses her daintily on her cheek before prancing out of the room, followed by the more pensive, and less fluttery Gusto.
I should never have set him up with someone so old, Melli thought with a sigh, still chuckling merrily as she returned back to the book she was reading. But at least that hidebound oldster is keeping my brother a little more grounded and stable now. I can't imagine what would have happened if Felli had still been single before we came here. Probably would pine over Augustus day and night. No, sir, a stable romance was just what the doctor ordered. I can finally trust those two alone together, for the first time in years..."
And with that momentary thought she turned back to her book, a long droning tome about sea beasts and the noble valiant knights who fought and died to destroy them.
Its a shame reality isn't as easy as the books make it out to be.
Chapter 10: Earth Angels
Chapter Nine: Earth Angels
Gruffi felt like he was going to die. The sheets beneath his body were damp with the sweat and vomit his exhausted body had been unable to keep under control. Beneath him the boat rocked back and forth, the sound of waves crashing against the tiny ship echoed through the little cabin. He bit back the seventy six oaths he was holding deep in his chest and tried not to lose his stomach.
Grammi would come in soon to wash him, clean his sheets, and dose him up with another round of that weird tonic mixture that Chummi had suggested would be a better antidote to the sea sickness than the seltzer.
"Land of goshen Gruffi, I've never known you to be this sea sick before!" Grammi had cried, when the tonic she had fed him had immediately made its unpleasant reappearance.
Neither did he. He had known he might get a little sea sick if they had taken Tummi's boat, which is why he declined the idea. But never had he thought his sea sickness would be this horrible.
"Never seen a bear with such wobbly sea legs as him," Chummi had declared.
Gruffi could believe it. Even now in this place between asleep and awake he couldn't stop the rocking, the back and forth, the waves tossing his stomach to and fro, pushing back and forth. And somewhere in the back of his head he could hear someone, or something, humming with steady vibrations that caused him to jerk awake and blink.
Darkness, and a cool damp cloth on his forehead. His whole body was slick and damp, and not from sweat, but from the soapy luke warm water which was being applied to his fur with a washcloth. It may have been warm water but to his fever depressed body it felt like a nice cool glass of gummi berry cider on a warm spring day.
But the arms that were under his back and legs supporting him, lifting him out of the tub were not Grammi's arms, and the voice that was speaking to him in hushed tones soothingly to him was not Grammi's voice. No, the voice and arms were distinctly male, and distinctly familiar.
"H-hon..." his voice was hoarse at best, and the endearment totally weak and not very Gummi, but the soft appreciative chuckle that followed it was worth all the weak kneed endearments he could utter.
"Shhh, Gruffi, you're going to be all right now," Gusto said, and started drying him with a soft towel. "Fever's broken..."
"D'snt matter," Gruffi moaned. "Just wanna get to shore...land...solid ground..."
"I know," Gusto smiled. "At least it gives me an excuse to be with you alone for awhile..."
Gruffi just let himself be dried, and dressed, let those nimble expressive hands care for his sickness tired body, wrap him in blankets, and hold him close. Those artist's hands, which were more expressive and smooth and strong than he had ever noticed them being before. It was like another sort of fever had broken and he could see Gusto right in front of him. A fever not created by his body, but simply from his ignorance and lack of understanding.
Gruffi could see, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the nobility in Gusto, the confidence of body and poise that could only have come from one who had been born into a life of honor and bravery, a life of Gummi Knights and Kings.
Gusto had told him that Kings weren't born, they were made. Very likely the next King in a line would be the child of the previous ruler. But in the absence of a Prince any noble child, one not born from inbreeding or a disease prone family, might be chosen by the Gummi wizards as a potential candidate for Kingship. All those seen as has having that potential were trained up as Knights, from their birth, for the distinct possibility of being a King. Gusto was a Knight of Monteray...
Gruffi would love to see how well Gusto could handle a sword.
"A Gummi berry for your thoughts?" Gusto said, finally pulling himself under the sheets with Gruffi and curling up beside him.
"Yeah," Gruffi griped, pulled one arm free of the blanket to put on his aching head. "What in the name of the Great Gummies is that humming noise!?"
"Oh, you can hear that?" Gusto looked suddenly guilty and embarrassed. "Its this darned compass that Chummi gave me. I can't quite figure out how to turn it off. It hums if we're going in the right direction...West..."
Gruffi took the thing, looked at it a moment, and in no short second located the 'peg' for stopping and starting the humming.
"Oh!" Gusto blushed and stammered. "Hah, see, I'm not good with gadgets. You can keep it if you like, I don't need it."
"Yeah," Gruffi smirked, and put the thing on his bedside table. "Well, lets just see what you are good at..."
"Well, if you insist."
Aftwards, Gruffi felt strangely better, as if Gusto's hands had some magical healing powers he didn't know of. Maybe he did. He was an acolyte wizard after all.
Well, fancy that...
Prince Augustus Bryton the Fourth sat on his throne pondering the chattering groups of young elites and old pudgy pompadours crowding around the doorway, waiting in figeting anticipation for the peasant guests from Dunwyn to arrive.
It wasn't every day that peasants were allowed to enter the Court, and even rarer that they should come to address the Crown Prince directly. But Bryton had gotten a message spell moments earlier that the Persephone had docked in port, and that the peasants would be coming directly to the palace, along with the Bella Twins and their...charge.
Bryton thanked the Great Gummies once more that his mother, though traditional to a fault, had at least given him a name in addition to the one given the previous three male members of his family. The youngest Augustus would have an identity all this own, rather than be an avatar for a King long dead whose name once had more sway and import than the last twenty monarchs rolled up together in one lump. Bryton would have his own unique identity, and would be seen for his own deeds, rather than having to be a replacement for Augustus the First once crowned. There would be no question as to who he was; Prince Bryton, soon to be King Bryton.
If all goes well...
But of the third Augustus, Bryton was not sure of. He was a wild card in this hand of poker whose fate and ultimate destiny could either usurp Bryton's authority or strengthen it. Assuming that the stories Felli had written to him of his uncle were true, then things could get pretty hairy either way. The fey wizard was rather maudlin in his memories of the Prince, but was also more prone to tell the out right truth than his more devious minded sister. Because of this, his warnings had more of an effect on Bryton than the Council's missives ever could.
'Poor Prince Augustus, stuck as a peasant all these years! Ragged clothes and disease, ill health and the horrible food! Remind me though, to send a group out to Ursalia to ask the Barbics living up there about their most excellent coffee...'
Bryton rubbed his head and tried to push the letter to the back of his head. Melli and Felli were usually on opposite ends of the spectrum on the matter of peasant behaviour. But in this they seemed to be completely reversed, which made this even more complicated.
Melli Bella, ever aloof and mistrusting of poor folk, had cautioned that the peasants were of a good honest people and that too harsh a response to his uncle's arrival could cause them to be swept up into a conflict and painful situation that they didn't deserve. But Felli, usually the most jovial around the poor, had called the peasants sickly and cautioned Bryton to have his strongest healers to examine and treat them all in order to keep their land bred illnesses from spreading to the island people.
As if we need another plague...
But on the matter of his Uncle the two Twins were pointedly split: Felli thought that Augustus could very well be the solution to the monster, but Melli believed something else was in play here and that somebody else was the cause of all this. Between Melli and Felli, he was torn in twain. Which of them to believe? Even further complicating matters was his mother, who suggested he make no decisions or Judgment calls on the matter of his Uncle until she was with him to guide him. Bryton was the Crown Prince, it was true. But she was the one who had raised him and trained him, she had been ruling the throne by proxy in his stead after the death of his father and she knew more about Court, Crown and Council than all the previous monarchs combined, including Augustus the first.
Dangerous this situation. If he didn't keep his hands on this, if he couldn't handle himself and make a wise judgement call, all could go to ruin.
Not much he could do about it, but at nineteen years old he wanted nothing more than to go crawl to his mother's rooms and weep. He only hoped she would be in good health and up to this visitation from their long lost relative. He couldn't do this alone, and with Grandmother's current unstable condition...
At last the doors to the Grand Hall opened and a burly herald entered to announce that their guests had arrived. Bryton sat up high in his throne and found himself shaking.
Where is mother?
The peasants were wearing what could only be the humblest and most out of date clothes that had ever graced these hallowed halls, but for them must have been their finest attire. First to bow low were a male and female pair, who were foster siblings, according to Felli's letter, and the matriarch and patriarch of this family.
"Announcing Gruffi and Grammi Gummi, of Gummi Glen!"
An older family then, if they were still using the traditional Gummified naming scheme. The male he didn't have to think twice about. Gruffi Gummi was a burly growling bear, whom Felli had warned was severely sea sick and was quick to temper. Best that he was kept away from the genteel manners of the Court and set to working somewhere below the main palace amongst the common folk, in the stables or as a repairman. The Palace was under going restoration of the east wing, which had burnt down several years ago, and a handyman, well any hands really, were always needed.
Grammi Gummi was a handsome woman and obviously a peasant. Round as a bubbling cauldron of the Gummi Berry Juice she surely must be a master brewer of, she smiled in a manner of a wise woman that would put up with no nonsense. Already in his head he was thinking of the possible places in the castle where she could be of value and use; the kitchens were always in need of help and Gummi Berry Juice cookers in high demand. But there was the other possibility too; these peasant women were strong brewers of rums and tonics, and the healers were always looking for apprentice doctors to pass on their knowledge to.
I'll let Mother decide about her...
Both bowed before him in a manner that suggested that they were well acquainted with the nobility in some manner, then moved to the side to be replaced by the next pair.
"Announcing Master Wizard Zummi Gummi, and Tummi Gummi, of the Glen!"
Next to be introduced were the the eldest and youngest adults in the clan, the only two related entirely by blood; the elderly purple bear could only be the wizard Zummi, and the round one was his nephew Tummi, certainly.
Melli had given the suggestion that Zummi would need to be given into the care of another Master wizard, in order to prevent a magical accident from occurring in some form or another, but that his researching skills were second only to the skilled scholars of this court. And he had studied the Great Book of Gummi, which automatically by law gave him the title of a Master wizard, even though he wasn't more than an adept in skill. He had a Gummi Medallion and could use a spell automatically with its use, without years of study and research or external sources of magic.
How a small band of peasants came to ownership of such an important book and a medallion I'd like to know!
Bryton decided to take the Twins' advice on Tummi Gummi; put him immediately under Captain Chummi's leadership, get some of that weight off his middle with hard work and some spit and polish. Could always use handy sailors, and he already had some self-taught ship building skills. Useful that.
"Announcing, um...Sir?...Cubbi Gummi?...and Lady Sunni Gummi, of the Glen..."
'Sir' Cubbi? A knight?
But the last two of this bunch introduced were the children, a young boy and an adolescent girl. The boy Cubbi, who had apparently earned himself the honorific of 'Sir' in his young lifetime, was a bright rambunctious child. Melli had suggested that he could use some education and put that energy to good use; perhaps he could be apprenticed to a Knight to train as a Squire. The lad certainly had courage enough to rise above his peasant status.
And then Bryton's breath hitched in his throat. His stomach twisted and his heart knotted his belly, and he stopped breathing.
By The Great Gummies!
An angel had just appeared before him in his Court, at this fine hour, and plucked at his heartstrings as if they were an instrument crafted soley for her use.
Sunni Gummi was breathtakingly beautiful at sixteen years of age, and she walked in a manner that suggested she knew as such. She was adorably sweet and coy and she bowed to him, her eyelashes fluttering flirtatiously...invitingly. And then the sweet young seraphim of beauty did something totally unexpected that made his heart twist under his ribs in agony.
She giggled. It was clear that she, and most of the now whispering Court, had noticed that he had been staring at her, and she smiled back sweetly. He heard off to the side her foster father, the one named Gruffi, say something to the matter of, 'now she'll be just unbearable...' but he ignored him and nodded his head politely to the girl before she finally swept off to join her family. Bryton found his eyes naturally following her, as if on a leash. Then he snapped back to attention and mentally smacked himself.
Great Gummi forfend I should be so besotted by a peasant! he told himself, swallowing hard. Where is Mother? I'm not accustomed to dealing with the poor...beautiful...unearthly...
"Announcing their Honoured Excellences; Her Ladyship Melli Gummi, Wizard Adept, Lady of Bella Isle, and Head Chief Alchemist and Archivist of Monteray, and His Lordship, Felli Gummi, Wizard Adept, Lord of Bella Isle and Chief Architect of Monteray."
What long and aggravating titles those two had! But Bryton nodded gratefully to the two, who bowed themselves before him, then both took a place to his left as the herald fumbled with his sheet of paper, and stammered over the next introduction as if he were pronouncing a strange language.
"His Royal Majesty, Prince Augustus the Third, Lord and Knight of Monteray!"
A much shorter title by far, but the power of that title was clear all at once. All motion and sound in the courtroom ceased as Bryton's Uncle stepped into the Court, walking with great dignity, as if he knew he was in big trouble but was going to go down with some style. Or what little style he could dressed as he was in peasant attire. At least the Glen Gummies had made a small effort to comb their hair. Augustus was threadbare, he wore a peasant's hat on his head and...were those sandals on his feet? But that wasn't what surprised him the most.
What surprised him the most was his face. Bryton stood, and found himself automatically leaving his throne to walk towards the bear. Bryton approached his Uncle, stared at him, and walked around to look at him from all sides, not believing his eyes.
"Hold still, let me look at you!"
Augustus did so, frozen to the spot as if for dear life. Bryton circled him once more, and unconsciously took a staggering step back, as if he were seeing a ghost. Maybe he was.
"He...he looks just like me!" Bryton said, dismayed to hear how young his voice sounded. "Like a brother or a...fath...er..."
Bryton swallowed hard, a brief fury swelling in his stomach.
"Yes my Prince, did I not tell you?" Melli approached him from behind, smiling in her tricky way. "Clean him up and you'd be identical, save your ages. You can't always tell, but he wears his age well."
Augustus had not spoken a word, but had the look as if he was fumbling around inside his head for something to say. Bryton shook his head.
"Have nothing to say to me Uncle? After eighteen years?"
"You..." Augustus seemed to stop himself, and changed his mind. "You were just a baby, small, like, no bigger than my forearm..."
Bryton couldn't help it. He smiled. Well, he didn't have that many family members left, so how could he not? But Admiral Karse had coughed in a pointed way as if to bring him back to reality, and Bryton nodded to Augustus, signalling that he had been 'accepted' to enter into the Great Hall by the Crown, and then returned to his throne.
Bryton turned to look at Admiral Karse, who was looking at him with pointed encouragement. All official Court activities could not cease until Bryton had finished all important Crown related business, no matter how small. He wasn't sure at this moment what all the business was, but something was not happening that apparently should and Karse was trying, with polite nods, to tell him this.
Augustus had not moved from his spot, looking so bereft and self-conscious that Bryton mentally found himself pushing the bear to move off to the side. But Augustus must surely know how the Courts work, and Bryton was suddenly very confused as to why the bear had not moved.
Am I forgetting something?
Suddenly the Herald had opened the doors again and his voice rang through the room.
"Announcing Her Majesty, Queen Thistle Rose, Royal Court Advisor, Lady of Lanorby and Crown Princess of Monteray!"
'Crown Princess' was now only an honorary title, as Bryton had inherited the throne through her at birth, rather than directly from his father who had never been named a King. But she could still marry a potential King, and that would change things completely, though he knew she wouldn't.
But the trickier business of the Court was finished as far as Bryton was concerned. All the tension had flown from Bryton's heart upon seeing her, and he smiled and rose to bow in reverence and respect to his beloved mother.
She'll know what to do! Thank the Great Gummies she's here at last!
-Big changes now to the original story are coming. I replaced Numa and Venti with the Twins because I really wanted to characterize the twins more. Felli has been bouncing around my head like Cubbi on Gummi Berry Juice and I just desperately wanted him in the story. Hope you don't mind the re-writes, I'll try to make all the new content as good as the old and what was removed. Promise!
Chapter 11: Jewels and Gossamer
RE-VAMPED! AND ADDED BITS IN! The whole story has been refreshed so please go back and re-read it. Most of the text has remained intact, but some of it has changed. I'm also combining some elements from the sequel story I scrapped into this. Sorry for the changes folks, hope you like how the fic turns out!
Chapter Ten: Jewels and Gossamer
Monteray was exactly as Gusto remembered it. How could he forget the beauty of this little island? How had he so easily let slip the wonders of this place? Back in his mind he should have been longing for his return to island, which held his childhood, his past, in its loving embrace. Yet dread darkness and fell dreams had brow beaten any thought of returning from his head.
The city sat like a jewel atop a hill, many buildings stacked upon one another and rolling down with many twisting white stone steps winding around beneath them down to the very shore, cascading like a waterfall to the water. A thousand ferns and golden flowers burst from around every corner, along every walkway and in every window sill, even the homes of the poorer people boasted the colourful creeping rainbow vines and pygmy Gummi berry bushes that were bred for their beauty as well as their function. The boats like little wooden toys were dwarfed by the city which spiralled up from the shoreline to the very tip top of the island where the gloriously exquisite Palace of Magic stood, the home of the Royal Court, the Wizarding center of education and knowledge, and the seat of the governing Council.
"This is your home Gusto?" Sunni had said, completely breathless. "Its beautiful!"
The people of Monteray had been pushed from their island by humans, outcast by other Gummi clans for their similarly human trends and behaviours, and ultimately had refused to bodily follow the steady immigration of Gummis who passed through Monteray on their way to New Gumbrea. A golden city had been built with much struggle hardship and timeless care by the Monteray Gummis, and none had any inclination to abandon it, and they had returned to it over and over again, adding new layers of architecture atop the next until the city looked as if a giant has spilled a handful of pearls onto the ground and left them there.
It was breathtaking.
Gusto's friends had been so astonished that such a large colony of Gummis existed that it took a long time of him having to remember and explain the history of his people. Monteray wasn't actually 'west' of England, as Chummi had said, it was more south-west, an existed in the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean ocean. The Spanish sailor Cortez had left with many men from Spain to find the New World, and Gummis had followed in his wake, inhabiting tiny tropical islands that dotted along the route in between. Nobody was really sure that The New World was New Gumbrea; Gusto assumed that New Gumbrea was more in a directly western route from England, far far to the North-West of Monteray. But nobody, Gummi or Human, had ever been there and back.
But Monteray, and the Palace of Magic, was just as he remembered it. And Court was just as stuffy and nose-in-the-air as he remembered it too. He didn't know what compelled him to enter court in his plain clothes, besides not having much else to wear. He did know that he was just as shocked by the visible similarities between him and his nephew as Prince Bryton was.
Gusto had imagined Jenka's only son would have the same seedy greasy fur and bony limbs as his father. Not so; Bryton took entirely after his mother with smooth blue fur and a brawny adolescent build and stature that gave him a regal look and hid any other misnomer in his personality. But he was still a young man, and some of Jenka's defiance and arrogance could be seen in the lines of the boy's face; he clearly wanted to be in charge, and was chafing under the restrictions of his station. But his attitude was that of a nobleman, and his character seemed honest, at least so it seemed from their brief interaction with one another.
Gusto had waited patiently for the young Prince to make a decision as to where to house him. He was being presented to Court as an exiled convict, wasn't he? Or was Gusto forgetting himself how Court worked and business was managed by the Crown? Or were they waiting for someone?
Then the herald had announced the arrival of the Queen and Gusto had spun around to find himself looking upon the only woman whose life and happiness he would die for, kill for, even face his darkest nightmares and deepest fears for.
Thistle Rose was the only daughter born to Kings in almost two centuries, which made her the only Princess of Monteray in history. She also was the only Queen to rule without a husband, for nearly fifteen years in proxy for her underaged son. But taking one look at his beloved sister Gusto could understand how the Patriarchal society of Monteray would allow a woman to rule over them.
She was a jewel. A shimmering beautiful oasis in a desert of stuffy snuff box smoke and acridly perfumed duchy. Her sky blue fur was like the softest cleanest velvet, smooth as the very ocean over which she held regal command. She wore a diaphanous dress of many layers of creamy pink gossamer and silk, which must have been the envy of the entire country, for all of it shimmering layers were blanketed with thousands upon thousand of tiny glistening diamonds and pearls in knotwork woven patterns which cascaded down to the floor to braid and blend with the silken webbed hemmed lace. Her smooth neck was encircled by a plain gold band with a teardrop aquamarine, the colour of the Queen. She wore very little other jewelry than this, and of course her many lengths of glistening ebony black hair was rolled up into a soft corona upon her head topped with the golden tiara of many diamonds rubies and emeralds that signalled her station.
But beneath all the layers of this beautiful soft woman was his sister. Her eyes were a warm deep green that he so remembered from his childhood. Anyone merely had to look upon her to understand why Gusto had acted as he did. He had freed her from her agony, her bondage and despair, so that this bright and beautiful jewel could laugh, and sing, and stand before him now smiling.
Upon her appearance into the hall all motion stopped and all present, from his own lowly peasant family, to the Prince upon the throne, bowed.
Gusto half bowed, not able to take his eyes off of her. It was her. His sister! His beloved Thistle Rose!
She made a sound which was somewhere between a laugh and a cry of despair, and started moving down the hall at a bright clip, her satin embroidered shoes making tiny elegant pitter pattering steps as she moved down the row.
At once she stopped before Gusto, ignoring the court, looking into his eyes, her face breaking into a bright and joyful smile that made his heart break in his chest.
"Brother Augustus!" she said sweetly, her voice like the tinning of soft bells, and threw her arms around his neck to kiss him upon his cheek. "Dearest Brother! For so many years have I dreamt of his day!"
"Thistle Rose," Gusto heard himself croak. "By the Great Gummies alive!"
She laughed heartily, and kissed his cheek again. He was aware uncomfortably of hushed whispering around him, and he didn't care anymore, but returned her hug with one of his own, spinning her around in his arms until he faced the throne and her back was to it. She laughed again.
"Still a mischief maker," she teased, then turned to glide in her shimmering little steps towards the throne.
"Mother..." Prince Bryton leaned down to offer her a kiss upon her cheek and she returned it.
"Is the business of the Court concluded?" she asked, settling herself into the golden chair at the right of his throne.
"No..." said the Prince uncertainly, then leant down to whisper into her ear.
She whispered back, and then rose to address Gusto's friends, turning towards them graciously.
"I would like to appologise for my late arrival, and I welcome our guests, the Gummies of Gummi Glen. For you have travelled many days in poor health to be here with us. There is certainly a place for such hearty folk as you in the Palace. Let our visitors have no want as they settle themselves here into Monteray, let all who dwell here welcome them!"
A smattering of polite applauding followed her pronouncement from the Court, which was not an official proclamation, and once she had sat, her son, who had the only power to dismiss the Court, rose in her place to give his official word.
"We welcome all new Gummies to the Island of Monteray. We will provide rooms in the Palace for you to live as you seek to find a manner in which to provide for yourselves and your family. We have many tasks in the palace and idle hands, of any class, are welcome to take up these tasks as their own."
Which was Crown speak for, you're peasants, so you have to work if you want to stay in the palace. Gusto swallowed, and found his eyes locked once more upon his nephew's. There was a pause, and it seemed as if Bryton was still not sure exactly what to do with him.
Then Gusto watched, with a pang of disgust and hatred, as Karse, seemingly now an Admiral where he only remembered the bear having been a captain before, came around the throne to whisper to Bryton in a conspiratorial manner. Karse was a thick set, handsome and stately bear, with every ounce of his body covered in gray fur, but not an inch of it fat or wrinkled; the bear was solid muscle under the decorative layers of his military uniform. Gusto could certainly understand how this man gone on to finally become an admiral; he was quite intimidating.
"Very well..." Bryton nodded, and seemed to settle upon something.
Thistle Rose pursed her lips but said nothing. The Court silenced in anticipation.
"I would, of course, be remiss if I were to seperate the Glen Gummies from one another, kin from kin and friend from friend. My uncle Augustus will therefore be rooming with them of course, in the Palace."
"Is this wise my Prince?" Karse said thickly.
"I would rather not have my long lost relative prancing around in some dark street alleyway, or locked away somewhere out of site where I can forget his existence. I would like to keep my own eyes upon him."
"Yes my Prince," said the admiral, bowing low. "Any further orders?"
Bryton turned back to look at Gusto again, and Gusto swallowed.
"Yes, let it be known that in forty-eight hours from this day the Council and Crown will convene in order to discuss the pending matter of his previous exile, and my Uncle can consider himself under probation until further notice."
Which was about as polite and unofficial as an official utterance ever could be from the Crown. Gusto breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn't been carted off to a cell right away. The Court broke out into a gaggle of whispers and the Prince raised his hands.
"I shall appoint my honored Mother the duty of providing Augustus with robes that befit his station, and I shall leave the business of appointing quarters for our guests to her own hands. I now announce the business of the Court successfully concluded."
At once the royal pair arose to exit the Hall and the Court was suddenly swarmed with the young people who, now that business was over, could socialise and flirt until the dinner bell. Gusto prevented any of his old friends from coming to him before he was ready by resolutely heading over to Gruffi and Grammi and the others.
"I thought it would be much worse than that," he admitted, laughing.
"Its certainly a lot hullaboo about little us," Grammi admitted. "So now what do we do?"
"Now, we can stay in here and chat with people until dinner is served, or leave and go find where we're going to be living," Gusto said with a tired yawn. "I think I'm going to bed now whether its polite to leave this soon or not."
"Same here," Gruffi muttered. "The way folks are looking down at us, really you'd think they'd never seen Glen Gummies before."
"Probably haven't," Gusto admitted, as they made their way to the exit of the great hall with little fuss. "Most of the people of Monteray live in houses more like humans do."
"Not very Gummi," Gruffi agreed, and heaved a heavy sigh of relief once they got out into the less crowded antechamber. "But at least we don't have to hide around here. Never been in a big palace like this before."
"Something old, something new they say," Grammi said, giving Gruffi a coy pointed look.
Gusto decided that this was going to be a very very long night.
Chapter 12: Necessary Preparations
Chapter Eleven: Necessary Preparations
Gruffi settled onto the red velvet chair like a dog that had just found the perfect place to curl up and didn't care if his master had forbade him to.
"Nice fancy place," he said smiling. "Oh my aching back, this feels so good!"
"They were certainly nice about giving us these rooms," Grammi said, settling into a nice chair by the fire with her knitting.
After leaving the Grand Hall they had immediately been grabbed by two servants who lead them to their new rooms, where their things had already been brought up. Gusto had told the astounded group that the only people living in this section of the palace were them and the few remaining members of the royal family. Servants lived in the servants wing at the back of the Palace and most members of the Court themselves had separate homes in the city. This was Gusto's old suite of rooms, which echoed with an eerie emptiness that belayed just how small his family was.
"I used to have cousins and aunts and uncles and all sorts of people in this wing, you couldn't fit us all in here. Now this place is just...empty..."
"Now I know why they put us bere, uh, er, here," Zummi coughed. "Because its so isolated there's no chance we'll be seen by too many people."
"Its more than just that, Zummi, its for security," Gusto said, finally sitting down on a chair. "There are so few upper class families left, and most of them are feuding, and they feud because their children are up for the possibility of becoming Kings and Queens should the monarch and his own family pass away. The Jenka clan and the clan Augustus have been at each other's throats for hundreds of years over the throne, and still are. My very small and very depleted family is the result."
"So this is all the result of a blood feud then?" Grammi said wisely.
"Exactly; they married my sister to Prince Jenka to try and end the feuding...big mistake. Jenka used the throne for selfish gain and power...and my sister..."
Gruffi watched the emotions that wrote themselves in the lines of Gusto's face. He rubbed a hand over his head and coughed. He couldn't imagine Gusto's pain, and he had an uncomfortable pull to go over and hug him, which would have been quite embarrassing if he had.
But Gruffi had been surprised by just how beautiful and genteel the Queen was. He now understood why Gusto would go to such lengths to destroy his brother-in-law. He now truly understood his motives.
But he was afraid Gusto was now so stuck in his memories of the past that he would forget his years of goodness and make another mistake, or be caught up in this feud again. Temptation was there. Gusto must have been quite torn between trying to put on a presentably honest mask, and shouting at his aggressors.
For aggressors they were. Gruffi had seen the looks of pure hostility of the Court, the hatred there. It was like nothing he had ever seen on the faces of Gummi bears before. Not even the Barbics, for all their boasting, had displayed such utter loathing for complete strangers before.
"So when do we get to go back to the Court?" Sunni said brightly, and Gruffi chuckled.
"Already thinking about parties and balls hmm?" he said smirking.
"Sorry Sunni, we have to wait for my sister's instructions," Gusto told her apologetically. "Remember she's in charge of putting us to work here at the palace, so there's no mingling until you know when and where you are supposed to be."
"Work?" Sunni whined. "I'd rather be dancing with the Prince."
Cubbi snickered and Sunni threw a pillow at him. Gruffi felt bad for her; her status as a peasant would probably keep her out of the fancy Court and down in the kitchens or laundry rooms working. For a girl that surely wanted nothing more than to be a Princess she certainly wasn't going to get much 'Princess' like time to herself, and that was rather sad. But then, what did he know about teenage girls? She would probably sneak off to Court when nobody was looking!
Gotta keep her head on the ground and out of the clouds, Gruffi decided rightly.
But after about two hours of deciding who would get what room, and unpacking, they felt a little confused as to what would happen next, and Tummi complained that he was quite hungry and wondering about food. Gruffi had decided to room with Gusto, solely in the interest of keeping Cubbi and Sunni from having to share a bedroom. He didn't want them fighting. But Grammi had given them both a coy look and...well Zummi had crossed his eyes and wandered over to the bookshelf on the walls to examine Gusto's collection of books, not saying a word. Gruffi would have to talk to Zummi about this at some point, but decided not to press about it for the time being; it was obvious his friend was uncomfortable with the idea that Gusto was Gruffi's lover now.
"I can't believe all my old things are still here," Gusto said, picking up a paperweight from the table next to his chair, in order to pick up the piece of paper being weighted down under it. "Its...spooky. Like I left just yesterday..."
Gruffi was going to comment, but a suddenly knock at the doors and all motion ceased. Grammi set down her knitting and went up to answer the knock, peering out through the door in curiosity, then opening the door wide.
It was Queen Thistle Rose, who swept into the suite as soon as Grammi had opened the door, followed by two servants and a butler. Both the servants were women, kindly looking bears, one short and fat and the other tall and thin and carrying a wrapped bundle of some sort. The Queen immediately went to Gusto's side and kissed his cheek.
"Dear dear brother," she said sweetly. "Welcome home. And since I haven't had a proper introduction to your family, I shall let you do the honours."
Gruffi had to admit, Gusto's sister was a knockout gorgeous lady. She had changed from her extravagantly expensive court dress into something much simpler, but she still looked like a Queen. Many layers of organza lace made up the majority of the dress, decorated with embroidered roses and many pink ribbons. Very cute. Gruffi noted that Sunni was dripping with dreamy delight at the Queen's presence; what Sunni wouldn't give to own a dress like that! After the introductions were over, the Queen introduced her staff.
"Well then, these are Madam Buri, the head maid," who was the round short lady. "And Madam Pemsy, my lady in waiting. Mister Ness is my butler, and they attend us here. You can ask for their help with any matter. But first, before any pleasantries, we must deal with the first order of business; deciding your duties here at the Palace, because I know you are all hungry and probably wish for a meal."
Tummi's stomach growled its agreement and the Queen smiled.
"First off, you should note that although you are guests, and are able to eat in the Court, it is probably better to eat in privacy, especially if you get back late from daily tasks and find yourself unwilling to put up with the pomp and circumstance of Court. My son and I usually have no choice, but when we do have the choice we skip the Court and eat with Mother in her rooms. I'll leave that option up to you though; no person is an island and company is always welcome. Now as for the children..."
Sunni sat up straighter, and The Queen smiled.
"I understand that young Sunni is now fifteen years of age? Almost to be fifteen?"
"Yes Ma'am," said Sunni politely. "I'll be of age in a month, sixteen!"
The Queen laughed merrily, and straightened her skirts.
"Well then, no time like the present. Now that you are introduced at Court I can see no reason to keep you from it. We'll put you in lessons with the other young people here at the Wizard's College and you can learn math and history and spelling and make friends with all the other girls. Of course my son attends the school as well for his training."
Sunni giggled appropriately. The Queen smiled becomingly, then made a soft sound of surprise.
"Oh, I just thought of something; Buri, do I still have that green and pink dress from when I was a girl? The one with the bows that I can't fit into any longer? Bit young for me...I think it would be all right for Miss Sunni to borrow it."
Sunni looked like she'd have a seizure at the idea of wearing a Queen's childhood dress.
"That's awfully nice of you," Grammi said, giving a softly annoyed sigh.
"Don't mention it," said the Queen smiling. "If she's to be in Court with the other young people, she'll need appropriate clothing. She'll be teased mercilessly otherwise and we wouldn't want that."
Gruffi rolled his own eyes up as Sunni leapt up to curtsy for the Queen and thank her. Her courtly manners needed some work, but she at least was enthusiastic. Madam Buri went immediately to go fetch the gown, which was wrapped in a cotton dust cover, and Grammi ordered Sunni to put it away safely for later rather than take it out of its wrapping and try it on immediately. The girl pouted but obeyed.
"Young Master Cubbi," The Queen said once this had been done, looking quite impressed as she turned to observe the youngest member of the family. "Did you really study under Sir Plucky of Gummadoon?"
"Yes Ma'am!" said Cubbi, and immediately launched into the story of how he and Cavin defeated Duke Igthorn and his ogres.
Grammi gave another long suffering sigh, and started another row of knitting. It appeared that the Queen was in no rush to leave and wanted genuinely to converse with them.
"A young knight such as yourself can't be kept cooped up inside school all day!" said the Queen brightly. "We'll have you in squire lessons in the afternoons with, hmm, Sir Wallaby I should think. He's been looking for a squire, and you'll also have lessons in the mornings at the school as well as Sunni. It is the law that every young child in the country must learn how to read, even peasant children."
"I already know how to read," Cubbi said, showing absolutely no proper manners whatsoever. "So does Sunni. Zummi taught us."
"Oh did he now?" the Queen was pleased. "Well Master Zummi, you might be surprised to learn that our wizards not only do magic, but also are scholars, teachers and healers. I think if you head over first thing in the morning you'll be find a whole bunch of people wanting your attention. We can always use wizards, especially as adept a wizard as I have heard you to be."
Zummi blushed several embarrassed shades of crimson and smiled shyly. Gruffi did not feel so inclined to point out that Zummi caused a disaster with some of the simplest spells.
"Well I suppose I'm next," Grammi said, no bones about it. "I'm not afraid of hard work..."
"I suppose you aren't," the Queen chuckled. "Well then, Lady Grammi, we have an entire kitchen at the palace devoted to Gummi Berry juice preparation, of which chefs are in high demand of late. We've had a recent rationing of berries and the recipe has so many variations now based upon Gummi berries that are grown on this island, or the mainland, that every new chef brings something new to the kitchen. But I've got two healers tearing me in half attempting to convince me of their need of a nurse or a doctor to help them plaster up their patients. We had a plague come through here a month ago, and we have pirates and all that badgering our sailors and between fighting and sicknesses we have a lack of hands for that. Hmmm...Which to put you in? Either is very good I think..."
"I could do a bit of both," Grammi suggested. "I'm used to a full day's work at home."
"Well then, I shall put you to both tasks!" the Queen said delighted, as if she had been hoping for this, but hadn't wanted to force it upon Grammi. "You can be with the healers in the morning when its most needed, and in the afternoon in the kitchens, and you'll find the juice chefs are just as amiable and forthright a bunch as you could ever hope to find. I cook juice myself on occasion and I find them to be most wonderful. Anyone with the talent, from the Queen to the servants, is likely to be found in the kitchens these days. In fact it is custom for the Prince to only drink juice that the Queen has prepared with her own hands."
Grammi shared a laugh with the Queen and they gossipped for a long while about Gummi Berry Juice making techniques and the hardships of having to cook it, and teach it to another person, which caused Sunni to pout. Finally the Queen took on a soft serious look, with a wry smile.
"Now, I have had a personal request for the services of Mister Tummi," said the Queen, turning to the bear in question. "Captain Chummie was ever so delighted with you and is looking for a few good sailors to go with him on his usual run from Monteray to Botanon Bay and along the coast to all the settlements. It's a month long voyage or more, and you'd be separated from your family so I'll have to let you discuss it with them. Of course his is one of the safer ships in the fleet. We've had to pull sailors from his ship to other ships in order to make up for crew members lost in battles with pirates along the coast. We would never dream of putting any new sea man on a Military vessel, however, and you can be assured that Captain Chummie, though he has his share of battles, much prefers the simple life of a cargo pilot."
Tummi was very surprised at this, and so were the rest of the Gummis. All eyes immediately turned to Gruffi and Grammi, who shared a look.
"Well, Tummi dear, you're an adult now," Grammi said at last. "And you have a head on your shoulders thats as good as anybody else's."
"What Grammi is trying to say is, the decision is up to you," Gruffi said, feeling very proud of Tummi, and a little morose that he would be leaving. "I know its what you love and you're good at sailing."
"I guess I'll have to think about it," Tummi said, grasping his hands in front of him. "It is a long time to be away from my family. But boy oh boy it would be fun!"
The Queen chortled and gave Tummi a knowing nod, before turning to smile at Gruffi.
"Well Mister Gruffi, you've certainly caused some arguments between Council and the Bella Twins. My son and I are really not sure what to do with you."
Gruffi coughed, and scratched his head.
"Just give me a hammer and nails and I'll work for you. As Grammi says, we Glen Gummies aren't afraid of hard labour."
"Ah, but the problem isn't about whether you're good at hard work," the Queen said smartly. "For I'm sure that you are. But what the Bellas and I agree upon, and what the Council and my son absolutely refuse to acknowledge yet, is that you are the leader of this group, intelligent and responsible. I would like to see you given a place on the minor council as an Ambassador from Dunwyn, with all the rank and privileges thereof."
"Ambassador?" the Gummis all said in shock.
"Me?" Gruffi, pointed to himself. "We talking about the same Gruffi here?"
"Yes you," said Queen Thistle Rose, with all seriousness. "It has come to my attention, and Lady Melli's, that Dunwyn is still inhabited by more Gummi bears than we had previously though. Even more alarmingly, there are still places all over England with Gummis. Botanon Bay was her first clue as too what has been happening in England. Gummi bears who have failed to discover New Gumbrea, or those who were unable to get far enough, have been returning to the old places where Gummis used to dwell. And the matter of the Barbics living in what used to be the Capital City. It would be important for us to have somebody to discuss these things with, to give us an idea as to the situation mainland," the Queen then smiled a sneaky little smile. "Admiral Karse, however was most insistent that the last place he wants any of you is anywhere my brother is, especially not in places of political power, for he believes your family would be the most trouble to him."
"He's got that right," Gruffi said with a snort. "I gave my word I that won't let anyone hurt Gusto and I won't!"
Gusto turned his head in an uncomfortable manner when Gruffi said this, but Gruffi didn't care. The family would figure it out eventually.
"Well, I suppose so," the Queen said, and the tone of Gruffi's voice and Gusto's embarrassment had not missed her notice. "But if you were on the council, you would be able to be present your arguments on his behalf for the council hearing. More often than not common folk are not allowed into the courtrooms or the Court. The Bellas, however, both want all of you in the courtroom for my brother's hearing, and is working hard at getting you there."
"I...see..." Gruffi said, swallowing. "It is why we all came here in the first place."
The Queen nodded, and there was a quiet pause of contemplation from her, before she sighed.
"Which brings me to my last order of business," she said heavily. "Augustus..."
She turned to smile at him fondly, and to take his hand.
"I'm just causing all sorts of trouble for everyone aren't I?" Gusto said, looking much less miserable now than he had before they had arrived at Monteray.
The Queen had such a profound effect on her brother; he seemed to lose years off his age just in her presence. It was if a young man sat on the couch next to her, and not Gruffi's fully adult middle aged lover.
"You have," the Queen said with a smile. "Of course, as a Prince of Monteray you won't have to do a lick of work around here, in fact, the council wants to keep you as far away from the college as possible. They don't want you to practice magic."
Gusto nodded, as if he had expected this.
"Its not as if they fear you would use magic to harm others," the Queen continued. "It is that your magic feeds the sea monster, which is the purpose of all this trouble and the cause of much of our sorrows. The less it has to feed upon the better."
"I highly agree," Gusto said firmly. "Even if I wasn't forbidden, I'd had no plans of going to the college whatsoever."
"Well, there's very few other places you can go on probation," the Queen admitted. "Anywhere in the palace indoors, or a surrounded garden that does not lead to the open yards and walkways of the palace. In a matter of fact, the Court itself is expressly forbidden to you unless the Prince summons you or gives you permission to enter within it."
"I see..." Gusto coughed. "Well, yeah, I wasn't exactly a big dandy of the Court before I left to begin with. I don't exactly miss it."
"No," the Queen agreed. "But that is neither here nor there. The Court is forbidden, because the Prince wants it, not because of the Council or Justice. He wasn't impressed with you, brother."
"I suppose not," Gusto laughed, pulling off his hat and twisting it in his hands. "But its been fifteen years. I'm a poor artist now! Did he expect me to come in front of him in velvet and satin slippers?"
The Queen couldn't help but give a nervous laugh and nod.
"He's got some of his damn father's stubbornness about respect and presentation. But on the matter of clothes, I have orders that you are required to wear a Knight's dressage uniforms outside of these quarters at all times."
"Say what...?" Gusto moaned.
"Because, Bryton says so," said The Queen, wringing her hands. "You have to wear the uniforms of your station, brother. I made certain to keep your old uniforms stored away just in case you did return, and now I'm glad that I did. These stuffy clothes could very well save your life. Pemsy...?"
The Queen rose and went over to her servants, who had been waiting near the doors this whole time. Gruffi was a little upset that they hadn't sat down with them, but he supposed they were on paid time at the present and would not be able to put up their feet and share stories with anyone until their day's duties were finished. The maid passed the wrapped cloth bundle to Gusto, who held it away from himself as if disgusted by it.
"Put it on immediately, and get used to it quickly," said Thistle Rose pointedly. "We'll be going to visit mother immediately and I want you presentable for her...even if she can't see it for herself.
"All...all right," said Gusto, his voice shaking. "I do want to go see mother..."
Gruffi watched in amazement as Gusto went into the bedroom with the bundle of clothes immediately. They all waited tensely for him to return, and when he did return they all stared. He was dressed all in navy blue liveries with tight blue hose and blue boots. He wasn't armed, but he still had to wear the belt where his sword would normally be fastened. But opposed to his uniform, Gusto still stubbornly had that threadbare yellow hat on his head. He adjusted it pointedly on his head, as if broaching no argument from his sister, and grinned at his family.
"How do I look?"
"Entirely too handsome, as usual," Grammi snorted "Turn around, let me see your back. You've got the darn thing on backwards I bet, just like all your other shirts!"
The Queen giggled, but Sunni was eyeing Gusto's new outfit with a strangely serious look. With a voice that Gruffi could swear almost sounded like it was full of maturity, Sunni asked simply,
"But what are they for? I don't understand why he has to wear those clothes?"
The Queen smiled to her fondly, and her voice took on a low serious and soft tone like a hush of a breeze.
"Bryton is worried that somebody will try to assassinate my brother. Bryton has a whole host of bodyguards around the Palace protecting him, but my brother does not, so now they will look like twins. Exactly the same. So if one is targeted the aggressor will never know for sure who they are targeting."
All colour drained from Sunni's face, and Grammi put a hand out to take her hand gently. Cubbi looked like he was going to start arguing, but Zummi put a restraining hand on his shoulder. Gusto had fallen back onto his chair in a comfortable slump, putting his feet up and shrugging.
"What can I say? I don't know what to say about it. It is what it is. I'm not going to question it now. I do look like Bryton. I'd be a better person for them to attack, since I have the Knighthood. I have a chance of fighting back."
Gruffi felt his heart aching in his chest; Gusto's voice was so forlorn and fearful, as if all the gaiety of the visit had never occurred. But Gruffi made no move to go and comfort him. The Queen finally sat back down into her seat on the couch, and addressed the children directly.
"Fifteen years ago my brother was sentenced to exile. I trust you already know by now why," she said honestly, and adjusted her skirts around her once more. "Now somebody is trying to kill Bryton in order to get to the throne. The council is putting on a good show of making Gusto look out to be an exile, but really I believe they want him here so that they can destroy both Princes and put themselves permanently in charge..." she spread her hands out. "All I can say is that they have nothing they can really charge Gusto with. He was only supposed to be exiled for ten years, not for good, and its been long passed ten years."
"That's true," Gusto smirked, crossing his arms. "If the Council wishes to get rid of me, all they have to do is prove I've been in control of the monster all these years."
"Which leads me to believe that someone on the Council is really in control of the creature, and may be trying to use it for ill gain."
"Which makes me wonder if they will execute me!" Gusto said, throwing up his hands. "If they did, than that particular council member will lose its control over the monster, unless they have found a way of transferring all magical control of it to themselves!"
"Well, if I have to invoke my authority as Queen to keep you from execution I will, my dear brother," said the Queen softly. "But my son is on the throne now, ready and able to rule. There is little authority I have over any of this. I can only advise Bryton to be merciful. He has nothing to lose or gain from your death, but everything to lose from your being here. You are the sole remaining adult heir of Augustus the Second. You could potentially challenge his Crown if you remain here. You are already a Knight and you have already fought and defended this country. You just need to graduate from the magical academy and you'll have all the requirements. He still has the Knighthood to obtain, and that is all he requires before he can become the King."
"Is the Prince...not trustworthy?" said Grammi quietly.
"Oh, I would trust him completely," said the Queen softly. "But I'm not sure that trust should influence you. he's being influenced by members of the council, and I'm sure by Admiral Karse and the other flutterbies at Court, to listen to their problems and concerns. As an adult now he has to make many decisions, with or without my approval and its taking a toll on him. I can trust him, but Augustus, if you want to be able to trust him, you have to show him that he can trust you."
"I don't...know how," said Gusto, putting his hands to his sides. "I killed his father."
"But you also freed his mother," the Queen said gently. "He never knew Jenka, but there is a chance for him to have an Uncle, if only he can believe that your actions were not a ploy to rule Monteray, but out of love for me. He has to see it to believe it."
Gusto just shook his head and buried his face in his hands. Gruffi scratched his sides, and looked around the room quietly, before sighing.
"I don't really trust anybody here," Gruffi admitted, causing the Queen to jerk her head up in attention. "I don't know if its just that its a Court, like the Court that existed in Dunwyn when I was a child, but I can feel dishonesty in the very walls. You've been at least somewhat genuine with us Ma'am."
"There are honest people here, but you'll be hard pressed to find them in the fluttery and finery of the Court, nor the stuffy corrupted traditionalism of the Council. You might feel more comfortable if you took up a lowly carpenter's position and stayed out of that rat's nest all together. But if you do, Augustus will stand alone."
"Well," Gruffi said, coughing. "I wouldn't want that. If I'm allowed, I'll give the Ambassador thing a shot. But I'm a plain bear who wears plain robes. You won't be getting me into any sort of frilly council robes."
The Queen giggled, and so did Sunni, Grammi had a hearty laugh and the men all chuckled. A muted clanging of a heavy bell suddenly echoed through the palace, and the Queen finally rose.
"Well that that was the dinner bell. It is late. Brother, perhaps I should present you to Mother in the morning."
"It might be a better idea," Gusto sighed. "I'm exhausted, beyond the physical, and these clothes itch."
Gruffi chuckled and rose to his feet.
"Something to eat would be nice yeah..."
Mister Ness here will bring you dinner tonight," The Queen said. "Tomorrow you can seek out the kitchens or common rooms of the Court for breakfast as you see fit. And I shall see you all anon."
She kissed Gusto on both his cheeks, curtsied for them all, and left with her maids. The butler gave them a bow, promised dinner would be brought up shortly, and also made his exit.
"My Gusto, your sister is aweful nice," Grammi said the minute they were gone. "Now I understand better how you must feel about her."
"She's so pretty and well mannered and she wears the most beautiful clothes!" Sunni said in fluttery delight. "And she's so much more frienly than I thought a Queen would be like!"
"Indeed," Zummi stammered. "You must be very proud to have a Queen for a sister!"
Gusto smiled, a heartbreaking smile that Gruffi could feel the layers of warmth and affection of even from his place across the room by the fire.
"I am," he said simply. "Believe me, I am."
Chapter 13: Daisies Are For Peasants
Chapter Twelve: Daisies Are For Peasants
Sunni could not believe it. She could not believe her luck! She was there, at last, in a Gummi palace, in a dress once worn by the Queen, having lunch with other people her age in the Court, before the throne of handsome Prince Bryton. It was as if somebody had said, "Here Sunni, you want your dreams to come true? Why not? Here you go!"
Her lessons at the school had been interesting; the history of the Gummis of Monteray, who couldn't make it to New Gumbrea and decided to settle on a tropical island instead, the stories of the knights and noble kings that have sat on the throne, the temporary separation of the Gummis by humans who drove them off, and of course King Augustus who drove off the invaders and reestablish the Gummis in the houses and palace buildings they had built, giving the Spanish colony its own spin on that strange Gummi/Human pluralism in art and buildings that was sometimes visible in places Dunwyn Castle and along travelled roads which Gummis and humans shared. Which lead to an art history lesson, then lessons of course in spelling, and math, (she was good at math!) After lessons she had finally been freed to go eat in the Palace with the rest of the Court, and had been seated between Lady Melli Bella and Kenia, one of the young girls in her class with her.
"So I told Sir Wallaby that if he ever tried to kiss my hand again, I would bespell him to become besotted with that donkey he calls a pony," Melli Bella said with a dainty laugh. "Honestly, he can be so obviously.
Across from them, in fine regal attire, was a woman who Melli introduced as Councillor Numa. Chief Justice and Supreme Councillor. It may just have been Sunni's imagination, but Councillor Numa seemed cruel and indifferent, and ignored Sunni completely. Sunni found that she didn't mind, really, Melli provided enough conversation for the stiff justice that Sunni didn't need to speak with her during dinner.
Sunni had made quick friends with the girl Kenia, a pink furred girl with about as much in common with Sunni as a candlestick; she wasn't the least bit scholarly, she was rich, and she wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of her life being served and having to do nothing for it. Sunni actually wanted to be a Princess and protect her citizens, if she ever did become a Princess one day. Years of being friends with Cala had taught her what a real responsibility it was being a Princess, and she wasn't disillusioned to the very real work involved. But the one thing she and Kenia were both on the same page with was the subject of boys, and they chatted about boys at such a fast clip that Councillor Numa had jokingly commented that she could swear she could hear flies buzzing nearby.
But against all her fears, the girls Sunni's age were not the uppity snobs that she had thought they would be, not in the least like Numa. It seemed that they were more than willing to help the 'new girl' get settled, and were insanely jealous that Sunni was wearing Queen Thistle Rose's old dress, regardless as to how out of date it was.
"Wow Sunni," Kenia said as she took dainty sips from her glass. "You are really lucky, being friends with the royal family. They don't make friends with anyone! And they never eat here in Court."
"They don't?" Sunni was highly curious. "But why not?"
"Well its obvious isn't it?" Councillor Numa said with a sniff, interrupting their private conversation. "Too many rats in the nest, so to speak. Too many enemies. Peasants are safe, because they couldn't care less who the monarch is and wouldn't try to assassinate them."
Her voice was so thick with derision as she said this that Sunni knew immediately exactly whose side of the argument she was on; her own. Sunni didn't think that it was really true that just being a peasant made her safe.
"But the Queen is nice, why would anybody be her enemy?"
"Well," Kenia said, oozing a soft sigh. "She is being so very careful over who she lets anywhere near the Prince. Only she can give him permission to wed a potential Queen, unless he is finally Knighted and becomes the King then he gets to decide himself. She doesn't want anybody bad trying to get to him! Oh but I wish I could get close to him and dance with him! And to be living with the Queen, wearing her dresses...So pretty! You really are lucky Sunni!"
Sunni smiled. She was glad her dress was going down so well. She found she preferred her dress to some of the strange and elaborate creations of the Court. Her own dress was a simple forest green ruffled dress with a pink organza lace petticoat and little cute pink ribbons, one of which was a hair clip that was keeping her curly hair up upon her head. She had wanted to cut her hair; she kind of missed her boyish bob. But the look on Gruffi's face when he had seen her after getting dressed was one of the softest he had ever seen him give.
"My little Sunni is growing up," he had said, then covered his face. "Scuze me, I must have gotten something in my eye..."
Soon dinner had ended and the adults returned to the state rooms and places of the palace where adult courtiers preferred to inhabit, leaving the young people of the Court to take command of the Great Hall. Young men and women in fashion of every colour of the rainbow spilled out of through doorway and into the room. The Hall was filled with excited chatter and Sunni was glad to be free of Melli Bella and her uppity arrogance.
"Come on Sunni!" said Kenia, taking her by the arm. "I'll introduce you to my sisters and their friends! And Prince Bryton will be returning to the hall from his own dinner so maybe we'll be able to see him!"
Sunni was delighted by this prospect; she had to admit that her own crush on handsome Prince Bryton was just as strong as Kenia's, and he had only just seen him yesterday! Although he did look like Gusto in many ways, in many ways he also stood out; stronger, a bit taller, and a younger face. But she had to push the dreamy Prince Bryton out of her head as a whole gaggle of Kenia's friends and siblings had surrounded her and were plying her with a billion questions about her dress, her family, her journey, and ultimately trying to needle her into talking about Gusto.
"Well, what's he like?" said one girl awkwardly, the name of which had escaped Sunni in the blur of introductions.
"Well, he's just Gusto to us," Sunni said, feeling puzzled by their nervous silence. "He's nice, likes to live alone I guess, but he paints pictures and is very creative."
"Do you think, though, he's a little off centred?" Kenia's sister Pennia said, and Pennia was more of a taller version of her younger sister, the two of them wearing dresses so similar they could have been twins. "A bit strange?"
"Well yeah, he is a bit strange," Sunni admitted with an embarrassed blush. "But then so is everybody in my family."
"It would be a shame if he were to die," said Pennia sadly. "So few members of the Royal blood left in Monteray. But they have to do something about the monster."
"It's horrible isn't it?" said Dalli, Melli Bella's daughter, a red haired girl with white fur who Kenia had whisperingly told Sunni had her eyes on the Prince and the very real possibility to wed him. She was already friends with him. "That monster appears and the whole ocean opens. My father told me; a great raging storm."
"Oh that's horrible!" said Kenia in a squeal. "Please don't talk about that Dalli, I'm not allowed!"
"Oh but what's the point in forbidding the rumours?" said Pennia with an annoyed look at her sister. "We all know about what happened to poor Captain Tyba and his crew by now."
"Well what happened?" Sunni asked, her curiosity bubbling up in her chest.
"Well," Pennia coughed gently. "The good Captain Tyba and his fine crew went forth to try and slay the beast once and for all. But the monster had a thick hide; scales like a dragon covers its body so that no harpoon can penetrate it. Captain Tyba, however, had the idea that they should tie themselves to their ship so they wouldn't be sucked into the monster's mouth if they fell overboard; and so the monster tore the ship apart. Only one person survived; Felli Bella, who hasn't been the same ever since. He still has that horrible cough and a limp..."
The girls all squealed in horrible distress; apparently Captain Tyba had been a dashing, brave and polite spoken bear who had been entirely besotted by the Queen. He had wanted to wed Thistle Rose, but there was only one snag that had prevented their tragic love from being united in matrimony; the Queen could only have permission to wed by an adult male relative. Her son had been only fifteen at the time and unable to give his permission. The whole Court was still a year later mourning the loss of the Queen's beloved.
"The poor Queen!" said Sunni in dread. "She seems so happy though!"
"She covers it up well," admitted Pennia. "Matters of the heart must not come between the Queen and her duties. Even her feelings for her brother Prince Augustus."
The chatter continued on in this vein for some time. But Dalli suddenly spoke up in her huffy voice, sounding quite appalled with it a ll.
"Well I'm not going to stand around here talking about a soon-to-be-dead Prince, when there's a very real living one standing right over there!"
A squeal of delight erupted from the group at the arrival of Prince Bryton to the Court, and Sunni held her breath.
Oh he looked so dashing today! He was dressed in formal navy blue robes, and his unofficial crown was on his head. Kenia had explained that the Prince had a crown for doing official royal business, a crown for informal visits, and a crown for if he were to ever enter into battle. The last crown had yet to be worn by the Prince, who preferred the lighter less gaudy informal crown to everything else. Sunni couldn't blame him, the crown he now wore looked so much lighter and more comfortable than the heavy thing he had been wearing in court the day before.
Dalli immediately fluttered over to him, like a butterfly separating from a flock to descend upon a choice daisy, and immediately began to chatter with him. For his part the Prince look bored and annoyed with Dalli. There was tension in the lines of his forehead and he was frowning in consternation. Sunni watched as the Prince disentangled himself from Dalli's conversation and then, much to the horror and delight of all present, he descended straight towards Sunni and her new friends, making no bones about it. It was obvious he was there with a purpose, and he greeted the girls briefly before turning to look directly at Sunni.
She could swear her heart stopped beating. He was there, not two feet from her, and looking straight into her eyes.
"Dear Miss Sunni," he said politely. "I was delighted to make your acquaintance yesterday, are you enjoying the Court? The Palace."
Sunni felt her voice get caught in her throat; she could swear that Kenia was practically vibrating with excitement beside her.
"Yes sire," Sunni said, suddenly finding her voice. "The Palace is so beautiful. It must be wonderful to call it home!"
The Prince, momentarily stunned, broke out into a hearty laugh.
"My Sunni, you are forthright! Well perhaps you might like a tour of the grounds? I have...a need for air."
Kenia couldn't help a squeak and Sunni noticed that the girls in her group were all staring at them with various looks of...jealousy. Awe and absolute idol worship for the Prince, but the jealousy at this very direct request was highly apparent.
"I...would be honoured to Sire," Sunni stammered, covering a blush.
"Just a short walk," said the Prince, voice sounding slightly annoyed. "I have...a matter to discuss with you as well which would not be...suitable for the Court."
The Prince bowed to her, held out his arm, and she went with him, very very much aware of the excited whispering and gossip that broke out the minute she was just out of proper hearing distance from the lot. Dalli was giving her the most foulest glare and Sunni smirked, sending a coy fluttery smile her way.
Hah! Take that!
She was totally unaware, as she was strolling along the gardens with Prince Bryton, totally lost in her own little world, that they were being watched.
Chapter 14: One Word In Passing
Chapter Thirteen: One Word In Passing
Cubbi had never been so bored in his young life. School had been boring, lunch had been boring, and now, listening to Sir Wallaby prattle on about the rights and responsibilities of the peasant to the Crown, Cubbi was even more bored than he could possibly imagine.
"And then Sir Ditherby said to Lady Pennia, 'why I've never seen a parrot so big before, yes that strange parrot named Arte Deco is such a big parrot and such a strange coloration I have never seen before!'"
School had been a chore, a serious chore, listening to an old wizard prattle on about history like an old book, droning on and on until Cubbi had actually fallen asleep on the desk...and being woken by a whack on the head with a book.
"Of course the parrot belongs to the family of my young Squire here, what a good boy young Cubbi is, very quiet and well behaved, indeed..."
Oh, that had been so fun...not. Then dinner he had spent in the Great Hall and the two noble's sons he had been seated between had been so boring that he couldn't keep his manners if he had wanted to. Boy's his age should not be that interested in how much money the adults had, or who a person's parents are!
But if he had thought Squire lessons would have been exciting he was wrong. Sir Wallaby was old, plump and had a deep fascination with the Court and pretty girls nearly half his age. Whilst Sir Wallaby went from one person to the other, chatting with the nobles about this or that, Cubbi had been forced to follow him, watch what he did and try to remember it all, because Cubbi wasn't allowed to do anything. And between the boring chatter and the boring conversation, Cubbi had been forced to put up with Sir Wallaby's overt displays of affection towards any female bear within vision.
Well, Cubbi had had enough. As soon as Sir Wallaby was distracted by yet another girl, Cubbi made a run for it and sneaked off to the gardens.
Maybe I can find a REAL Knight to talk to!
What Cubbi did find, however, was Sunni, his foster sister, walking with Prince Bryton along the hedges towards a stone bench. It was clear that their intention was to sit there. Cubbi quickly darted behind the hedge and crept along as quietly as he could, and as close to the pair as he possibly could, so he could listen in on their conversation.
"A beautiful Sunni, your namesake does you no justice, for you far outshine any heavenly body in the sky."
Sunni giggled, and Cubbi wrinkled his nose.
"I would love to just sit here forever and be distracted by your beauty, but I have a purpose for bringing you out here which, unfortunately, has nothing to do with your loveliness I'm afraid. As lovely as you are, there are pressing matters I must attend to."
"Oh," Sunni sounded so dissappointed that Cubbi had to stop himself from charging right in to defend her.
What's wrong with Sunni? Not good enough for the stuffy stuck up old Prince?
"It grieves me to discuss such horrible matters with you, but I fear I must..."
"I see...What...what did you want to tell me?"
"I..." the Prince paused, seeming to think how best to share with Sunni what was terribly upsetting him. "The trial time has changed by the Council. It will take place tomorrow afternoon. Which doesn't give me much time at all to talk to him, or find out anything more about him then I already know. I...I tell you these things because you know him better and the information would be...better recieved by him from you. I don't know if I can trust him, or if he trusts me...which is why...I wanted to talk to you...and get your opinion, your honest opinion..."
"Gusto's wonderful," Sunni immediately said, and Cubbi mentally cheered. "He's our friend, and we love him. You can talk to him! He wants to know you!"
"I really hope so. I hope that what I've been hearing from Mother is the truth...despite Mother's affection towards him, as future King I must remain neutral in this matter, or at least appear to be neutral. If the council should think I had a bias towards him they could keep me from having any say in the matter of his trial, and that would take my last bit of power in this out of my hands. And I've heard so many tales about my Uncle I don't know what to believe anymore..."
Cubbi was inscensed. Clearly the Prince taken a walk with her just so he could use her to get information about Gusto. And it was pretty bad when even a cub like Cubbi could tell. The Prince was being very transparent.
"He doesn't want to take over Monteray if that's what you're thinking!" Sunni said in Gusto's defence. "He didn't even want to come here! But he wasn't given much choice! He's part of our family that way and thats what he wants."
"Oh, I see," the Prince said, and then shook his head. "I appologize. I wasn't implying that...I just..."
"No no, I'm sorry. Its just, it just seems thats all people think about. The politics of everything. Gusto just wants to be free!"
"That's certainly understandable," Bryton said, sounding a little more convinced, but otherwise still agitated and nervous. "I have to be in the hall soon for official business. But I would like to walk with you again sometime without any of this horrible mess getting in the way. Would you be willing to meet me after the council session tonight in the portrait gallery? We can take a...walk..."
Cubbi mentally growled, Stay away from my sister! Sunni doesn't need a dirty rotten no good dirt bag like you!
"I...would like that Sire," Sunni said, and she giggled nervously.
"Call me Bryton..."
Cubbi gagged and watched as he walked her back to the Court.
If that dirty old Prince hurts Sunni I'll knock his block off!
Cubbi soon heard the voice of Sir Wallaby in the gardens, calling for him, and with a sigh resigned himself to returning to the old bear's side.
"There you are you young scamp!" the old knight said with a laugh. "Chasing your imaginary dragons were you? Well I have a story to tell you about a dragon I battled with in the old country, that's Spain if you weren't familiar, we Monteray bears are all from Spain of course, but some are from France too..."
Cubbi already felt himself falling asleep. This was going to be a long day.
Queen Harriet's quarters were as oppulant as their owner was frail. Long ago the healers and servants of the Palace had deigned to hope that their Queen would renew her ability to see again. Pemsy had once hoped that the wizards would find a cure for her blindness, the cateracts of her eyes, that her Queen would be able to paint beautiful portraits, sculpt and do embroidery, as she had in days of old.
But now her permanent blindness was highly apparent. The room was filled with things, things that the Queen would never again see with her own eyes, things that were designed for her to touch. Tapestries of rich design, portraits, vases, the gaudy trimmings of wealth and posterity.
Bending down low on one knee, Prince Augustus took her hand in his, and kissed it warmly.
"Mother, I'm here. Its me."
Never in all these years had Pemsy seen such as smile on the face of the old Queen. Finally, at last, her dearest wish had come true.
"Auggie? Is that my little Auggie home at last?" her voice a quivering sweet thing, even after all these years her voice was like a dove's.
"Yes mother," said the Prince gently, "I'm here. I'm home."
"And my Rosey, is she here?"
"Here Mother," said Queen Thistle Rose, taking the woman's other hand.
"Long I have waited for this day," the old Queen said, her voice carrying despite her ill health. "Long have I held my strength in hopes that one day my son would return, and this family would be complete again. Long have I watched the birds on my window sill, and wondered if they had once flown to where he strode. My son. My Noble son."
There were tears in the eyes of the Prince. Augustus had a forlorn look on his face; clearly he suffered with her and for her.
"Be not sad, Augustus. I have held my strength up in hopes of hearing your voice one last time. Before I sleep forever, I had to speak with you once more," she lifted her head a fraction of an inch for him to kiss her cheek. "And I have some words for to share with you."
She whispered into his ears, and he cried, putting his face on her chest and laying it there. Queen Thistle Rose likewise bent down to listen, and her mother whispered soft words to her.
"My children, you must give Bryton the strength he will need to rule. He must be the King, my son. You know this well..."
"Yes Mother," the Prince was crying outright now.
"I have one last thing to give you before I die, and it is all that I have left to give, my son," she put her hand on his head, pushing her fingers through his hair. "I name thee, Augustus, the Lord of Lanorby, along side your sister the Lady of Lanorby. Use what I give you, and remember always the greatest gift I have given thee; life. Life, cherish yours son. One day you will find yourself in my place, longing for death and the freedom it brings. But until that moment, cherish all your days in the sun, and the joy that they bring."
The royal siblings were both crying now; they knew very well that their mother would now not last the night, now that she had decided it was over. A battle of wills was going on here; Queen Rose very much wanted her mother to be a peace, and yet the Prince wanted more time with her, the time and years lost to them renewed once again.
And with a final breath of happiness, and a soft smile of peace, Queen Harriet breathed her last breath of life and was finally at rest.
"Permission to come aboard, Captain Chummi?"
"Permission granted, Seaman Tummi!" Chummi said with a laugh.
It was just after dinner, and Tummi was a little upset as he plodded up the gangplank towards where Captain Chummi was preparing for their trip, but he tried to hide his concern.
Despite the death of the Old Queen, it was business as usual as far as the Council was concerned, and not even a royal death could stop the coming trial. Everyone had been expecting her death for some months now, and how timely for it to occur just before the trial of the Prince. How tragic!
Gusto had been mostly holed up in his rooms all day, barely eating, and only talking to his sister. Not even Gruffi seemed able to understand this mood of his, and that had made it altogether too difficult for Tummi to leave.
But Chummi had decided that today's weather was the best for putting out to sea, and so Tummi had made his decision; he was going with Chummi. His family had taken his decision to leave rather hard, but they had accepted it at least. It hurt to leave Gusto behind to his fate. But the sea was calling Tummi. This was his dream, and he couldn't do much for Gusto now. The Council had firmly forbidden any of their family from entering the council session but Gruffi, and only because the Queen and the Bellas had finally convinced the Council to make Gruffi an Ambassador.
Nobody else in our family can be an Ambassador, really...wonder what changed their minds though? Maybe the old Queen's passing away, maybe that was it.
Tummi soon found himself in charge of raising the anchor, and once the anchor was raised and the sail was set, the ship started moving out into the billowy waters. Tummi watched from his spot by the starboard rail as his family all waved to him from the dock. Only Gusto was missing; he wasn't permitted to leave the Palace. It was a sad day for Tummi, but the excitement of the crew was so contagious that he couldn't help feel his fears and worries melt away.
"Don't worry about a thing Tummi," said Chummi brightly. "Bryton is a good prince, and I know he'll do the right thing, even if he has to stand up and defy the Council to do it!"
"That's not what Sunni told us..." Tummi replied with a frown. "She said he didn't doesn't trust Gusto...doesn't want to look like he's choosing sides..."
"Probably still hasn't picked one yet, that's why. Prince Bryton believes in democracy, and what the Council has been doing in the Court isn't democracy. He'll be the only level headed person in that whole courtroom you can bet on it..."
"Sir," a sailor came to Chummi, and kicked his heels together, saluting. "We're ready to start putting down our lines sir!"
"Tell the men they can start dropping lines whenever they feel ready!"
"Aye aye sir!" said the sailor, and pivoted around excitedly to go give the order.
"Lines?" Tummi said, looking confused.
"Fishing lines, son," said Chummi beaming. "A sailor's gotta eat don't he?"
Tummi grinned, and rubbed his stomach. Well, food could help keep him distracted from his troubles, at least a little while longer.
"What a mess," Grammi said, looking down at her ruined skirt. "Goodness, I hadn't expected that!"
"I'm sorry Miss Grammi!" said the young girl next to her mournfully. "I've never made berry juice with Gummi Berries from Dunwyn before, this is my first time!"
"Well, just a tad slower on the the stirring, its an exact recipe you see," Grammi said gently. "I like your enthusiasm, but patience is required for making juice from land berries."
Different breeds of Gummi Berries on different islands had to be brewed with different methods, or disaster could result. Such as the explosion which had caused Grammi and her young charge to be covered in juice.
"Now don't cry darling, it was an accident, we can start again..."
"But there's so few berries left anymore, and I messed up!"
"Now now, don't cry. Just get a mop and we'll start cleaning up this mess..."
Grammi had not been delighted by what she had found in the kitchen this morning. Although the people were as good and friendly as Thistle Rose had said they would be, the young peasant girls she was teaching today were a sad and shivering mess. Grammi knew it was the fact that the fathers, brothers, uncles and husbands of the women in this kitchen went off every day on ships to sail out on voyages to the various ports which provided the island with supplies of foods, medicine, clothes and Gummi berries. It was also their male family members who were fighting dying at the hands of pirates and the monster. Compounded upon that was the death of Queen Harriet and the passing on of Lanorby, one of the biggest Gummi berry plantations in the Empire, to the exiled Prince that was directly responsible for creating the sea monster that was causing them so much trouble. Of course the girl she was teaching would be nervous and skittish and generally terrified of making the smallest mistake. This berry juice was vital.
"Gummi berries can always be re-grown my dear," she heard herself saying. "But fingers cannot, be careful with that berry grinder!"
"I'm so sorry Grammi, I'm trying, I really am!"
Grammi sighed. This was going to be a very long day.
Zummi bent down to the book in front of him and sighed. He was having no luck trying to figure out what the kraken was and what it could do.
I really need to talk to Gusto about this...
He pulled the glasses from his nose and sighed again. As a Master Wizard he had been given all the respect and status that this rank entailed, a magical work room of his own for his own use and free reign of both the palace and college libraries to do his studies.
But he hadn't been given any work to do. He had been left alone after that. Apparently news of his magical mishaps had somehow spread through word of mouth and now he wasn't going to be given charge anything that was of serious import.
But at least I can research ways to help Gusto, without any interference...
Zummi had not enjoyed the Court, nor the grim commentary of the Queen as she had announced the death of her Mother. He had not been happy learning from Sunni what the Prince had told her, and most importantly he was afraid.
He was afraid that Gusto's health wasn't up to this trial. He had just lost his Mother, and could possible lose his freedom. Gusto had been plagued with nightmares ever since they had left Dunwyn, and last night had been no exception. Zummi had heard him crying, and he had heard Gruffi's protective reassurances that the monsters in his dreams were just that, dreams, and nothing more.
Zummi wasn't so sure about that.
It was no wonder the two of them sought each other's bed every night for comfort. Zummi had heard that too. If the stress of the Queen's passing hadn't been enough, now they faced the very real danger of being separated by whatever doom the Council would bring down upon them.
But the thought of his friends being in bed together had caused him moments of dismay, and he had to admit he hadn't been as supportive of Gusto as he should have been.
I can't let my feelings get in the way of my friends happiness! I don't care what the Great Book says...I'll change it myself if I have to!
He had even gone in search of the Great Book here at Monteray to see if it was full of the same rules, and had been highly disappointed to find that it was. The Great Gummies were just as stodgy as he had been. Eighteen and a half pages on what constituted a proper Gummi Bear relationship from childhood to courtship and finally to the birth of children.
Nonsense...Two bears, no matter what their gender, should be able to love each other. Why not?
Zummi leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. The library was dusty but large enough that the dust didn't make it stuffy, and the bookshelves were expansive enough that the room felt more cavernous than crowded.
Perhaps I just need to find a spell I can put on him myself to protect him from mental magical penetration of some kind. Since he's not allowed to practice magic himself...
Zummi scratched his nose, and then read the passage in front of him, eyes crossing.
Not allowed to practice it, but I bet he's still capable of it. Which means he doesn't need to cast the spell on himself, I can put the spell on him and feed it off his energy, just like the spell on Gusto that controls his monster...wait a moment!
Zummi jumped up and his chair fell backwards as an epiphany suddenly hit him at full force.
That's it! That's the answer! Gusto didn't create the monster, someone else did! Gusto couldn't have possibly summoned his own fears from his own mind without an external spell! Somebody else cast the spell on him! It feeds off him, but it's somebody elses magic!
The burning reality of it settled upon him like a hot coals had been placed in his belly.
Gusto is...innocent. I have to tell him before the Council session starts!
Zummi ran for it. He found his feet carrying him as if on wings to the Palace, his hat practically flying off his head as he flew along the corridors. He finally stopped before the doors, which were sealed shut magically from the inside.
Zummi swallowed hard. His eyes blurred with tears and he took a step back, pulling his hat from his head and quaking in despaired sobs.
He was too late. The Council session had already begun. Now all he could do was wait.
Chapter 15: In Defence Of The Gummi Way
Chapter Fourteen: In Defence Of The Gummi Way
The council chamber was stuffy and hot, and the secretary had been ordered to opened the windows of the courtroom as wide as they could possibly go to tempt forth a cool breeze.
But the only coolness present was the icy glares of the justices as they took their seats on the north wall, their burlap folders and well ironed purple robes belaying the seriousness of their task today. The seven members of the council sat in the row of chairs before them, and behind the justices sat the audience seats, of which only Gruffi was the only audience member present. At the front of the room was the seat of the throne, and the long tables of the admiral and the ranking military officers along that. On the south wall stood the page, the secretary, and the Bella Twins had been chosen for the magical security reinforcement detail.
And then there was himself, the defendent, standing in the center of the courtroom, with nowhere to sit and nothing to lean against. His legs were aching and he desperately wanted to risk sitting on his butt on the floor just so he could relief his aching knees. He distracted himself by examining the courtroom in detail. It hadn't changed much since the last time he had been here, except for one small detail.
A lone curtain that ran the south wall from east to west, covering the wall in its entirety. There was no window there, there couldn't be if they were in the north east corner of the palace, and the curtain was from the very ceiling down to the floor, not an inch of wall showing. What could be behind this curtain?
Gusto swallowed hard and jumped about three feet when he realized that the judge had addressed him.
Councillor Numa gave him a look that was both intrigued and curious, and the noise of the court room died down. It was obvious that Gusto hadn't been paying attention.
"Let me repeat myself," said Numa, the irritation in her voice quite apparent. "Eighteen years ago you plead guilty to the intentionally planned murder of Prince Jenka, and as punishment were spared execution and instead exiled for ten years. This trial is to determine if you have fullfilled the conditions of your sentence, and can be allowed to return to the Island of Monteray. Are you perfectly clear on this?"
"I...und-d-er-stand," Gusto said, aware that his teeth were chattering, even in the balmy warmth of the courtroom.
"And do you also understand that new charges have been laid against you, which may also ultimately shape the outcome of this court hearing?"
"I un...no...I didn't know that," Gusto said, feeling his stomach twist. "I suppose I do now."
"Very well," Numa sat back, and turned to Admiral Karse. "Admiral Karse has agreed to stand in as prosecutor, and will now announce the charges against you."
I thought it might be him... Gusto thought acridly, as Karse stepped forward at once to obey Numa's direction.
"The charges; that he intentionally summoned forth the sea monster that has been the cause of thousands of deaths, and has cost the people of Monteray greatly. That he has been controlling this creature for the last eighteen years in a plot to overthrow the Crown and destroy the peaceful democracy of Monteray which we have so carefully tried to create."
"Thank you prosecutor...you may begin..."
"Wait, your honour," Felli Bella stepped forward from the curtained wall, looking flushed but happy as he limped forward. "If Admiral Karse is to stand in as prosecutor, it is only democratic that Prince Augustus should have someone to stand in his defence. I volunteer."
Felli winked at Gusto, who swallowed, feeling his throat go dry.
Thank Gummi for Felli Bella!
"Does the Crown approve?" Numa said vaguely, and the Prince gave a defeated sort of nod. "Very well. Admiral Karse, you may give your opening statements."
What followed from Admiral Karse could only be the most horrifically obtuse argument in the history of Gummi existance. Apparently according to Karse, Gusto somehow, without any access to Monteray, was using the Kraken to try and gain the Crown, summoning the creature to terrorise Gummis and Humans alike.
"What a load of rubbish!"
It was out before Gusto could help himself, and Numa banged her gavel.
"The chair has NOT given the defendant permission to speak," she said thickly. "Admiral, continue."
"Well of course he would deny any wrong doing," said Karse, striding around Gusto's chair like a hawk ready to strike his prey. "Do you deny that the Kraken is the very sum of your own magical efforts? The personification of your own fears in physical format?"
"I don't deny anything," said Gusto. "If your arguments made any logical sense, maybe there'd be something I could refute. I am going to say it now, right now, so everyone can understand. Read my lips. I CANNOT CONTROL THE KRAKEN. I have no control. I have been trying to control it for years now, and instead it is controlling me!"
"A HA! So you admit you have been trying to control it?"
"That is correct, Admiral," Gusto huffed. "But I have obviously failed. I'd been stranded on an island for twelve years! If I could control it don't you think I could have used it to get off that island? I was trapped; the monster is trying to kill me. It doesn't want to listen to me!"
"Ah, but where have you been for the last six years since?" Karse demanded, jumping upon him immediately. "Controlling the monster to your own benefit!"
"I was at Gummi Glen, and practised no magic of any kind during that time," said Gusto immediately. "My witness to that is currently sitting up in the audience. In fact he is the audience."
Gusto could almost hear Gruffi's mental chuckle, the bear had a dark smile on his face at this comment. No audience meant no witnesses; this court session was a secret carefully crafted circus really. Anything could happen here and nobody outside the courtroom would know it. The Council had already decided what Gusto's fate was to be, they were just wringing him through the ropes first for the fun of it. Well not if Gusto could help it!
"Your honor, may I make a rebuttal?" said Felli haughtily, smiling from ear to ear as if he had overheard Gusto's thoughts.
"You...may..." said Numa, suspiciously.
Felli strode forward another limping step. Gusto felt the heat and exhaustion pulling over him as he observed the artful and handsome bear circle around him as if he were a mother hen protecting her chicks. Gusto wanted to get this over with, but there was no sign that this was going to happen, not from Admiral Karse, nor from the Council. They were playing with him! They were having this trial for fun, for revenge!
May the Great Gummies help me if I don't get out of this mess!
The sweat was already starting to dribble down his furry chin. Even Councillor Numa had begun to fan her face with a piece of paper. Boy it was hot! But Felli Bella didn't seem to mind a bit when he finally stopped to make his rebuttal.
"When Melli Bella and myself went to retrieve Augustus from his place of exile, he performed the standard sensory spell on Gummi Glen, and on the Prince himself. We found no evidence of a magical trace of any kind; the only magic that had been used in the Glen in that time had been performed by the wizard Zummi Gummi, who is in possession of a Gummi Medallion. No other forms of magic were evidenced, and no sign of the Kraken."
"I see," said Councillor Numa, looking a bit inscenced. "Thank you. Does the prosection have a rebuttal of its own?"
"Yes your honor," Karse strode forward, approaching the bench. "Let me go in another direction; the last time we ever saw the monster directly controlled was by Augustus himself. We found the bear lying unconscious. We dealt with the heartache of burying our Prince, of dealing with unravelling the mystery of his kidnapping and ultimate death. Then, conveniently, the Prince lost his memory of what exactly happened that night, despite his obvious guilt. If we are in agreement that the Prince is the who summoned the creature, then the only logical conclusion is that he is entirely responsible for the creature's activities. Nobody else has been able to find any other reason why the creature is still capable of activity."
"And nobody else could have taken control of the monster?" Gusto retorted, feeling his exhaustion and anger creeping up on him at last. "Nobody else could have put their own magical spells on it?"
A silence. It seemed like an eternity was passing. Gusto's eyes clashed with the Admirals and for a moment in time Gusto wasn't in his thirties, he was still a young twenty something year old bear wanting to be respected and admired, bested at every turn by a young Captain Karse who was so much more handsome, brave and beloved than he. On the right hand of Jenka, Gusto's hated brother-in-law, Karse had grown powerful, while Augustus had been shuffled away to dusty libraries and corridors to rot.
"Look at him," Karse said, his voice thick with hatred. "Eighteen years he has been gone, and he shows not a sign of remorse. Look at him, shivering from head to toe like the coward he is, afraid of taking responsibility for his own actions, trying to put the blame on somebody else."
"I have so taken responsibility!" Gusto said, quite aware that he sounded like a petulant child, but he didn't care. "I came back didn't I? I didn't run and hide did I? But I cannot confess to a crime I did not commit! Yes I planned Jenka's death! He was cruel and twisted and my beloved sister the Queen was in pain from his abuse, the physical abuse which the Council had been blinded to out of their own selfishness! Jenka was powerful and the Council grew powerful under him! Loath be it that they ever give that kind of power to a teenage girl instead of an evil twisted manipulative bastard like Janka! I did what nobody else would! No I'm not sorry he's dead! I'm just sorry the kraken has caused so much pain to those who are the real innocents in this mess. The people of Monteray were never my target, nor do they deserve any of this pain that I'm responsible for! If I can fix this I can and I will, but...I don't know how. I can't. Control. The monster. Period."
Gusto took a deep heaving breath, quite aware that his vision was blurring and it wasn't from tears or sweat. He felt a fever breaking out all over his body, as if he were drugged. What was wrong with him?
"Ah so the truth outs," Karse said thickly. "No remorse for the murder of our Prince have you? I'll tell the court now that this man is a bleeding coward; he fainted in the very presence of his own creature. We found him unconscious after doing his horrid deed! And then he was exiled, instead of executed as he should rightfully have been! And if you don't believe me, well ask the people of Monteray; the craftsmen, the sailors, the artists. For eighteen years they have known and understood the truth; that the criminal Augustus must be brought back to Monteray and punished for his actions! His magic feeds the creature, allows it to grow more and more powerful, and only his death will bring about change! Our artists know of his villainy, his treachery, and lest any ever forget have forever immortalised the death of Prince Jenka forever within this very courtroom. His villainy is forever stained like blood upon the palace walls lest anybody forget!"
With a screech which was like the screaming of an agonised banshee the curtains of the south wall were flung apart by the magic from Karse's fingertips, and a horrible gasping and shouts of dismay filled the courtroom.
"By the Great Gummies!"
Gusto swayed. He felt himself grow dizzy and nauseous all at once.
Painted upon the wall could only be the worst possible horror he could ever imagine. From the deepest pits of his own despair the artist of this work had expertly, with great and poignant detail, captured the face and the very horror of the Kraken, the great swirling hole of darkness in the ocean from which nothing could escape. It was a portrait of all his guilt, his pain and fear, like blood, spilling forth across the wall. Councillor Numa was pounding her gavel for order, Felli had shouted an objection, the Prince had risen from his throne, but Gusto could do nothing save stare past the little painted image of himself casting a spell, staring into the empty darkness of that deep...empty...fathomless...
Gusto's eyes rolled back into his skull and he fell sideways, exhaustion and stress and sweat bringing him down hard to the ground. The last thing he heard before darkness overtook him was Admiral Karse's jeering voice.
"Let the record show that the defendant has fainted, at the sight of a mere painting of the monster his own psyche created. Let us all hail the fearless and responsible Prince Augustus."
Gruffi could barely contain his anger and disgust at this trial. It was as if he had stepped out of Gummi Glen and had walked into a human town, a human courtroom, and was being witness to a human trial.
Only it wasn't humans. The council was very much made up of Gummi Bears, but never had Gruffi had seen so many greedy, selfish and aloof Gummi bears before. The way that Admiral Karse tore into Gusto had caused his stomach to twist.
But the shock of seeing the wall painting knocked the wind out of his sails. The painting was of a wall of water, with a monster which looked like it had more in common with a sea slug than a sea serpent. It was a long fat ugly thing with a hole for a mouth that was sucking the water around it into itself like pulling the plug out of the bathtub. It wasn't a very scary looking monster, but it probably packed a powerful punch.
A loud thump suddenly brought him back to attention and he saw, with horror, that Gusto had collapsed upon the courtroom floor.
Not good! Not a good time for this at all!
"Let the record show that the defendant has fainted, at the sight of a mere painting of the monster his own psyche created. Let us all hail the fearless and responsible Prince Augustus."
Oh, Gruffi was mad. He was more than mad. His world famous temper came to the fore and he leapt over the astonished council and jury and ran to Gusto's side to check his pulse.
"The council has not given Ambassador Gruffi permission to leave the audience, get back to your seat Ambassador!"
"Yeah, I'll get back to my seat," said Gruffi, rounding on Councillor Numa, his voice carrying with all the quaking fury. "But first I have a thing or two to say in Gusto's defence against this sham of a circus that you call a trial!"
A chorus of argument broke out from the council, then suddenly a voice spoke out loudly over the mob.
"The Crown agrees with Ambassador Gruffi! Let him do what he has come to do, speak on Gusto's behalf! And somebody bring a healer at once!"
All eyes turned to look at Prince Bryton in shock. Clearly they hadn't counted upon that. The Prince was quite furious, and it was evident he hadn't known that the painting had been there on the wall. Karse seemed wide eyed with dismay that Prince Bryton had spoken out and he remained silent. As the court settled down, and a healer came in to help Gusto sit up and give him some water to drink, Gruffi stood and appraised the council.
"A fine thing this is," he said, putting his hands on his hips. "I just want to say that this has been the worst example of Gummi bear behaviour I have ever seen in all my years. Yes Gusto fainted, yes he is on trial. But there are things that this court doesn't understand that I'm going to make perfectly clear; Gusto isn't a coward, he's exhausted! Yes exhausted, and in physical and mental pain! He came all this way to take responsibility for his actions, and try to help find a solution to all this mess, and look at what you've done! You've ruined any chances of his being able to help you at all, destroyed his health! You've made a mockery of him, trying to turn him into some sort of laughing stock!"
Gruffi's famous temper still had some power, for even the Prince seemed terrified of him, and he had spoken on Gruffi's behalf. Gruffi turned from the jury to round upon Numa, who jumped back an inch as if in fear.
"You exiled him! You sentenced him! And now you're looking for excuses to hurt him even more, instead of looking for a real solution to the monster problem! My family came here to Monteray to defend his goodness, the good Gummi bear that he has become, and you wouldn't even let my family be present for the trial! Well I'm going to give my defence of Gusto, because I promised I wouldn't let you goons hurt him, and I'm not going to!"
Gruffi plodded towards Karse now, standing up nose to chin to the bear who was twice his height, but at this moment must have been only a foot tall in mental stature.
"Gusto Gummi isn't a coward. He's fought more times than I can count on my hand against humans. He has defended the lives of my family and my children, more often than I can name. He fights against Duke Igthorn, against ogres, and YES against sea monsters of various sizes and descriptions every other week and he does it with a smile on his face! He is brave! But today he is exhausted and stressed and he hadn't expected anybody to go as far as to paint a picture of him and that monster just so they could use it to try and have him killed! He's facing death in this courtroom, his very life is on the line! I'll tell you that he would go out there and fight and die for Monteray if you asked him! But right now I'm not sure I would; I don't see good kind Gummi bears here who deserve that sort of respect. I only see humans, humans masquerading in Gummi Bear clothing, using human greed and human selfishness to reap revenge against their follow Gummi bears!"
Gruffi finally turned to look at jury again, and crossed his arms.
"I've read what the Great Book of Gummi says about how to carry out justice, and from what I've seen nothing of what the Great Gummies taught or practised is being displayed here in this court room. You haven't even given Gusto a chance to offer his help; your first order of business in bringing him here was to exact revenge upon him! That is not the Gummi way!"
"Neither," said Councillor Numa suddenly, being one of the the first to recover from Gruffi's attack. "Is romantic relations between two bears of the same gender!"
A loud hiccough from the Prince followed this pronouncement, and Gruffi laughed. Clearly rumors had been spreading around the Palace.
"So what, its not as if you people care about the Great Book of Gummi anymore. Zummi says there's dust gathering upon those poor decaying pages," Gruffi shook his head. "What I see here is a group of people who are so afraid of pirates, a monster, disease and famine they've come to believe with almost religious devotion that sacrificing the life of someone that they hate is going to solve all of their problems. Well I can tell you from first hand experience that it does not work. My parents were sacrificed to appease a hungry dragon! And that hungry dragon ravaged Dunwyn until only a few Gummies were scattered around in hiding, praying for a miracle. It was humans who eventually destroyed that dragon, not Gummi bears, and they used their brains and quick thinking to do it, not their hot air filled emotional heads!"
"Are you talking about the Dragon of Dwiffles Peak?" Numa suddenly said, looking somewhat alarmed.
"Yeah I am," said Gruffi morosely. "I was six, and I was also supposed to die. But my mother and father both dug a small hole in the ground for me to hide in, just in time to save me from the dragon. A woodcutter found me later, and I eventually came to Gummi Glen, and was fostered with Grammi to a nice couple. But...but I'll never forget watching my parents die..."
"Gruffi," Gusto suddenly said, "I didn't...know..."
Gruffi jumped at hearing the once unconscious bear suddenly speak, as did the healer and the rest of the council room. The healer recovered quickly and helped him into a chair. At once the spell Gruffi's voice had held over the room was broken. A buzz of whispers broke out; Numa half-heartedly banged her gavel for order, and people resumed their seats.
"Thank you Ambassador Gruffi for your...heartful remarks. Does the prosecution have a response?"
"Er...no, your honour," Karse coughed, and took a step back. "I believe I have made my arguments perfectly clear."
"Actaully, yes," Felli Bella said, stepping forward again. "I think Ambassador Gruffi is right; let Prince Augustus take responsibility for his actions and face the monster himself in combat like a true Prince."
"Say what?" Gusto said with an audible gulp.
"I didn't say that..." Gruffi complained in annoyance, but the damage was already done.
"Yes..." Karse said, looking as if he were warm to the idea. "I think that if Prince Augustus had any sort of power to create the creature, he should be able to help us destroy it. Honoured council, let Augustus come with me on my ship. The monster is long overdue to make an appearance, and we can draw the creature and whoever is controlling it out of hiding; that is, if Augustus himself is not the one controlling the creature."
"Of course I'm not controlling it," said Gusto, in alarm that they would even still think it.
"Then you would be willing to help me to destroy the creature?"
"Well, yes," said Gusto, looking more and more pale by the second. "But I..."
"Splendid!" Numa said. "I think that we can adjourn this council session. In three days, Augustus will go out to face the creature, overseen by Admiral Karse of course. If Augustus returns from battle victorious then we shall give him a full pardon and free him of all further obligations. Does the Crown wish to put forth anything further?"
"Yes, actually," Bryton stood, much to the distress of his Mother, to walk to the centre of the court room. "I say, this is an excellent chance for Prince Bryton of Monteray to put forward himself to the possibility of Knighthood. It is high time I entered into battle myself and earned my Crown. Therefore I would like to volunteer to go with my Uncle Augustus, and Admiral Karse, into battle. We will destroy this creature together! Monteray will be free of this menace once and for all!"
Applauds from the jury and council were the response, Karse bowed lowly and respectfully to the Prince and Numa pounded her gavel.
"Shall we put it to a vote?"
"Wait a moment," Gusto said in a squeak, but the council had already voted; there wasn't a hand that wasn't in the air, and the gavel pounded once more.
"Very well, let it be known that Prince Bryton, Admiral Karse, and Prince Augustus shall enter forth into battle with the Kraken, wherever it may lurk. And should he return victorious, he shall be pardoned completely. This council session is adjourned!"
There was thundering applauds, and then the council broke session and the great doors opened and the trial was ended. Gruffi helped Gusto to another glass of water, and the Queen made her own weary way over to them, burdened down by the many layers of her dress.
"It's all right brother," said Thistle Rose softly, "You're going be all right..."
Gruffi could see the sheen of sweat on her own damp fur; how she could stand having to wear so many skirts in such hot weather was far beyond him.
"No its not all right," said Gusto, shrinking. "It's never going to be all right, ever again. I can't...fight that thing. I can't even look at it!"
Gruffi's heart gave a painful lurch, and he wanted nothing more than to just carry Gusto up to his room. But they were met at the door by Zummi, who had the most morose look on his face that Gruffi had ever seen.
"Is it over now? What on earth happened? Am I too late?"
"He'll be all right," Thistle Rose said, going to comfort Zummi. "My brother and my son will be going forth to do battle with the Kraken and destroy it!"
"Oh my goodness!" said Zummi. "Then we'd better get to the library and the Great Book of Gummi, so I can show you both what I've discovered!"
Gusto gave Gruffi a weary look, Gruffi returned it, but they both shrugged.
It wasn't as if they'd be getting much sleep that night anyway.
-Hm, having trouble figuring out how to tie in the intruder at Gummi Glen into this. Maybe a bit later. Also, you may have noticed I cut out Venti. Maybe its for the best. I may go back to previous chapters and fix some things. Oy. Reworking one chapter is forcing me to rewrite half of what I re-wrote, lol!
Chapter 16: A Rose By Any Other Name
-You may have noticed that I changed very little in the re-working of the story. The original was really good and very little needed to change. I did not much more than a bit of spell check and a few edits to this chapter. Most of the original text will be here. Just a few things are different. Hope people are enjoying the re-read anyways!
Chapter Fifteen: A Rose By Any Other Name
Gusto couldn't sleep. The night's conversation in the library with Zummi still rolled in his mind like a hammer pounding on his head and echoing through the darkness.
It was almost annoying that Gruffi had somehow managed to fall asleep before he had, curled up in a dreary dozing ball like a bug in a rug. The rise and fall of his chest and the soft tell tale snore signalled to Gusto that the whole island could sink and Gruffi would still be sleeping like a baby. Gruffi was sound asleep and not likely to wake up and console Gusto any time soon. Up on his perch, Arte was also snoring away, in bird like happiness with his steady feather ruffling breaths. Gusto was annoyed, and jealous.
I'm the one whose going to have to go harpoon a monster, which may or may not really be created by somebody else, if what Zummi said was correct, and now I can't even get the sleep I need to do it!
With a sigh Gusto pulled himself out of bed, pulled on a robe, and went to go do what he always did when he couldn't sleep, or his nightmares plagued him. Paint.
The royal studio echoed with the darkness of midnight. Pots of old pigment lay strewn on the floors, half finished canvases drying on easels, palettes of dried paint stacked into cubby holes stored away with clay pots and paint stained brushes, their bristles sticking up in hedgehog mockery, but still clean. Yet this studio was still being used. Gusto noted a candle flickering by the fireplace; somebody was in here, in one of the white rooms, painting.
He had a feeling he knew who it might be. He swallowed, tiptoeing along as quietly as possible and peaked into each white room in turn, before finally coming to the occupied one and slipping into it as discreetly as possible.
Of course he was noticed.
"Someone had to keep up the family profession after you left," Thistle Rose said gently, her brush making soft scraping sounds on the canvas in front of her. "The servants don't clean in here, and the place is falling to ruin, but I try my best to maintain it. All the portraits of Bryton in the royal gallery are mine."
"I see..." Gusto swallowed, and came up behind her, peering at her canvas. "Ah, not bad not bad, you have a distinct style, it just screams Caravaggio!"
"Flatterer," the Queen chuckled, and turned to smile at him. "Get a canvas, and some pigments, we can paint each other!"
It was a great idea. Gusto didn't have any portraits of Thistle Rose at Gummi Glen. He had never tried painting his family members, more out of pain than fear of the others finding out about his past. He had missed them dearly. But his creative muse took over once more and once he and his sister were sitting side by side, with clean canvases before them, his sister's image began to take shape before him. It was a painting he'd wanted to paint, really, for eighteen years. But something like this couldn't be seen as just a venting of pain, or a medicinal balm for eighteen years of separation from his sibling. Next to her his own face was finding itself a permanent place on a sheet of canvas, and he realized for many days what he hadn't wanted to admit.
Gusto wanted to stay with his sister. More importantly, he didn't think anything could separate him from her now that they were together. In more ways than one he realized that he needed her. They were two halves of the same soul. The Lord and Lady of Lanorby, the place of their birth. But the idea of not returning to Gummi Glen hurt him inside, and he fought back the tears as he looked at his sister, the one beside him, not in front of him, contemplating this very possibility. No, no there had to be another way!
"Come to Gummi Glen with me, now, tonight..." he said, though his heart didn't quite feel in it. "Lets run away together!"
"No," Thistle Rose said immediately. "We both have a responsibility to Monteray still, and you know it."
"Yeah," Gusto nodded, and put his brush down. "You have to stay here as Queen until Bryton can rule as King."
"And you have to slay a monster and earn your freedom. We...can't run away from that which scares us the most," she took a deep breath. "And what I fear the most is my Crown."
Gusto stared at her, and she rose, pulling her skirts around her stiffly as she stood.
"For years now I have ruled, and the rule for being a Queen is purity and grace. I have lived in a golden cage. Each morning my ladies help me get into a corset so tight that it cuts off my breathing, in order to wear the dresses of the Queen. In all these years I have never been naked outside of my rooms. Never swam in the ocean, or stuck my toes into the mud to see if the old parable is true; that roses love having mud between their toes. I have never been outside my rooms without my hair in place. I have never danced the dance of the free. I wear my fear on my head every single day."
She pulled the crown from off of the elaborate coif of ringlets piled upon her head and tossed it to Gusto, who caught it as if it were a golden snake that would bite him.
"I want to go with you to Gummi Glen," she continued fiercely. "I want to see the mainland, the Kingdom of Dunwyn, and the humans your family speaks of; the squire and the princess. I want to meet the Barbic warriors, I want to dance tribal dances with them. I want to perform the...what did Sunni call it? The Barbic Test of Bearhood! I want to take off all my clothes, paint my face, put feathers in my hair and dance beneath the full moon. Does this...alarm you?"
Gusto blinked and laughed bashfully, putting his hand behind his head.
"Nah," he waved his hand. "I've done it before. Feathers are kind of ticklish."
"We have so few purely Gummi traditions left here in Monteray," said Thistle Rose with eyes tearing. "One is that the Queen has to have the name of a flower that Gummi Bears cultivate. But Gummis never cultivated the rose, the humans did and we took that from them. The Gummi Berries on Monteray are so strange because we mixed the bushes with other strange flowers that weren't like any the Great Gummis raised. They bred together and now the berry bushes are all dying out as a result and we have to take berries from the mainland, to our own folly."
"Grammi was wondering about that," Gusto admitted.
"Gusto," Thistle Rose came over to him. "I want a Gummi Bear name. I don't want to be a flower anymore, a frail island princess. I want to be Queen of the forest, an amazon!"
Gusto laughed. He couldn't help himself. Only a male relative could officially rename the Queen. She didn't even have that right herself.
"Well what name would you like? I can give you any name you want!"
She was quite taken aback.
"Well, I don't know. I really never thought about it before. Just that Bryton would never do it for me. He wouldn't see the need for it. He's too much like his father in that way."
"I suppose I'll have to think up one for you then," said Gusto. "So, um, where shall we put our paintings?"
Thistle Rose looked suddenly guilty.
"It is...against the law now to hang a painting of you anywhere but the family gallery, and only for historical purposes. I've been painting you for eighteen years, and all those paintings are in my personal bedroom where none may see them."
"Oh..." Gusto was a little taken aback, and he felt a sickening feeling in his stomach that he knew why.
"Gusto..." she approached him, and took his hand. "What is your greatest fear? Why does it take the shape of a monster? I know you don't truly fear beasts, your family says you've fought many sea and land beasts before. What is it that the creature represents?"
Gusto looked down at her and stared deeply into her eyes for a few minutes.
"Darkness. Blindness. Just like Mother. Never seeing colour again, or feeling that joy again of the brush on the easle. Being suffocated by darkness and despair all around me. Being just as forgotten. Her death...she died! And nothing! No funeral, no mourning! Nobody cares! I...I just can't stand it!"
Thistle Rose nodded, and reached up to kiss him. He was shaking so hard that her crown fell from his fingers to the floor. She very calmly bent down, though it must have been difficult for her, in her full skirts, to pick up the crown and put it back up on her head.
"Sometimes I need to be alone," Gusto admitted. "I lived alone for awhile after leaving the island. I lived in a waterfall. But I always had Arte, or the Gummis. I could always go talk to somebody, and there was always colour. I sleep with a window open so the light can come in. I'm...afraid of the dark."
"Ah Gusto, you haven't changed since you were three; I remember you used to be very afraid of the dark. Nanny would have to keep a candle lit for you at night, and if it even guttered a bit you'd wake up. You used to play with her; you used to blow out the candle, and cry for her to come in and light it again, just so you didn't have to go to bed."
Gusto chuckled, remembering himself what a naughty cub he'd been.
"I remember Nanny," he chuckled. "Boy, we were so mean to her."
Thistle Rose giggled and then took his hand.
"Gusto. I want to have a ball to farewell Bryton and you before your journey," she said this seriously, but with a twinkle of mischief in her eyes. "As the Queen I can throw a royal ball to mark any occasion, no matter how small. I want to throw a ball, and I want you to escort me."
"But..." Gusto looked at her. "I can't appear in Court."
"No, you can't," she replied. "But a Royal Ball is not a Court session. So you can wear your finest clothes, I've kept everything just as you had it before you left. I can get in Mother's wedding gown, the last I'll ever wear it before I pass on the Crown to my son, and we shall dance together before you depart."
"And I shall give you a name," said Gusto brightly. "We shall have no more of this flower nonsense. A true Gummi name for a true Gummi Queen."
She threw her arms around his neck to kiss his cheek firmly.
"I hope you defeat the monster," she said. "I want you to be able to sleep in peace."
"All right," Gusto said, just revelling in the comforting smell, sight and touch of his sister for a few more selfish moments. "I'll walk you back to your rooms then, and tomorrow I'll go spelunking around for my old Court duds. Hope they still fit."
She giggled, and he offered her his arm.
"My Prince," she responded brightly, and they pranced from the royal studio with paint on their noses and a light step to their toes.
Chapter 17: Strangers In The Night
Chapter Sixteen: Strangers In The Night
Sunni couldn't help the chattering of her teeth as she made her way into the royal gallery. She had agreed to Bryton's suggestion that they meet after the council session, but she hadn't known the council session would end so late in the evening. The gallery was dark, and the candle she had brought cast ominous shadows over the framed portraits of Bryton's ancestors, which made their eyes seem even more creepier in the darkness then they did during the day.
Seriously, Bryton had some strange and ugly looking ancestors. He and his uncle must have gotten their good looks from their mothers. The portrait of Bryton's father had been such a shock to her; he looked nothing like his sire, who was ugly, skinny and mean looking, with dark red fur and one eye missing. No, Bryton took after his mother in looks, and as Sunni came along the different family members she noted with a soft sigh that Gusto also looked like his own Mother.
His mother who was now dead, with no funeral to farethee well her. As if they'd mere thrown her bones in a hole to rot somewhere rather than the family burial vault across the island at Lanorby manor. This thought sent a shiver down Sunni's spine.
I wonder where Bryton is...
Maybe he had forgotten their agreement. Sunni certainly hoped he hadn't. She could feel the creepy shadows around her like ogres in the darkness waiting to pounce.
Her candle flickered across an image that was so familiar that she stopped and had to look at it in shock. It was Gusto of course, but a young Gusto, once a small cub with a mischievous streak in his eyes that the artist had managed to capture so well. But for a moment, in the darkness, it looked almost like Cubbi and that is what had caught her off guard.
This baby portrait was the only childhood portrait of Gusto she had ever seen, and for a moment she couldn't tear her eyes from it. She swallowed hard though, and forced herself to leave the portrait and move on. Along the wall were other paintings, and many of the portraits of people were followed by portraits of their great deeds and daring exploits.
A miniature painting next to the baby picture of Gusto portrayed him in the midst of some complicated spell, his robes flying around his body like wings, surrounded by the frothy foaming waves of the ocean...Oh.
Sunni shivered in the darkness, caught as if by a spell in the power of the portrait's eyes. Gusto in this picture seemed like another creature, a being carved out of some primal, unyielding granite material, hard and cold. There was nothing of the soft bouncy bear she knew in this image.
Had Gusto really been this...extreme? This impassioned? She couldn't imagine him ever being this severe looking over anything that wasn't some artistic accident on a painted canvas. She could see him making such a fuss over a ruined portrait, or concentrating so hard upon getting the colours just so. But such a look over something like magic, it would have never crossed her mind.
Its not Gusto...It can't be...
"It's an artist's impression only...and artists, I find, are greatly influenced by their own opinion on their subject matter."
Sunni jumped and shrieked at the sound of Bryton's voice nearby and she whirled to look at him, feeling her heart pounding in her chest.
"D-don't sneak up on me like that!" she said, choking.
"I'm sorry, Sunni, I didn't mean to startle you," said Bryton. "I heard you talking in here and thought perhaps somebody else had gotten to you before me."
"No," Sunni said, recovering herself quickly. "I hadn't realized I was talking to myself."
"Do this often?" Bryton said, voice slightly amused.
"Not really," Sunni admitted, gratefully letting him take her candle holder and place it on a nearby book stand. "Only when I'm alone, and sort of...nervous, scared."
"I see," Bryton nodded, and put his hands on her shoulders. "You don't have to be afraid here, Sunni. My palace is safe and there are servants everywhere. Nothing bad can happen to you here."
Sunni nodded, and was very aware that her heart had come up into her throat. Bryton's hands on her shoulders were warm and firm, but gentle, and his eyes were apologetic.
"I am sorry I kept you waiting..." he said bashfully. "The council session was quite late."
"I know," said Sunni. "So...how did Gusto make out?"
Bryton quickly told her everything, and took her by the hand.
"I am starting to see things now that I've never seen before," Bryton said, shaking his head. "That you were first of all, right to be angry with me for wanting to remain neutral. I was a coward to not simply do what I wanted to do in the first place; defend my Uncle. He protected and freed my mother, how could I not forgive him anything else?"
"I...its all right Bryton, we all make mistakes," Sunni said, eagre to get passed that and onto something more positive.
"Yes, but I have been controlled by the Court and Council for far too long. I shall not let the wool be pulled over my eyes again. For eighteen years I've been told horror stories about my Uncle, only to find not a single one of them is true. I should have stood up for him sooner."
Sunni smiled and squeezed Bryton's hand comfortingly.
"You couldn't have known," she said. "And now you can both make things right."
"I really...don't know how. I don't actually plan for Gusto to fight the monster," the Prince admitted, adjusting his collar. "It is my hope that I can draw out the real magician responsible for the creature's attacks and capture him. What a great temptation it would be; the two Princes on one ship! Of course the perpetrator must make an appearance! And after I talk to the wizards in the college I can come up with some plan for combating him."
"Thats a great idea!" Sunni said, feeling relief under her breast bone where a painful pressure had previously been. "You should ask Zummi, he's very good at coming up with solutions to magical problems. He may not have training but he knows a lot of useful stuff, like locking spells and levitation."
Bryton nodded and then Sunni was totally taken off guard when he swooped down like a hawk and kissed her.
Oh, so this is what kissing is like.
It lasted for a few seconds, then the Prince took a step back, looking a little sheepish.
"I've...never been so fond of anyone before," he admitted. "I have all these rules I'm supposed to follow for finding a wife, and all that, but really I just want a girlfriend, like normal guys my age. I'm not supposed to choose a peasant girl or a girl with a disability. I'm not supposed to touch any girl, or hold hands, or even hug, unless she's met my Mother's approval and gone through all that nonsense. I'm supposed to do this and that, this and that, but it's all fuddy duddy human nonsense. The Great Book of Gummi doesn't say anything about how a Prince chooses a girl, just what the courtship is supposed to entail, for all Gummi bears. I don't see why Monteray has to be different than the rest of the Gummi world."
"Well," Sunni said, voice shaking nervously. "I'm a peasant girl, so you've already broken one rule. And you've touched me and all that..."
"My Mother would highly approve of you though," said Bryton smirking. "She gave you her coronation dress."
"Her...what?" Sunni choked.
"The dress she wore when she was named the Queen of Monteray," Bryton said wryly. "She was sixteen I believe. She must have forgotten that though. For all the lovely dresses she owns, I think she longs to just take them off and wear nice comfortable cotton clothes like the rest of the Gummi world."
Sunni giggled at the thought of Queen Thistle Rose in an old maid's dress like Grammi. Bryton took advantage of her momentary distraction to kiss her again.
"Scandal," Bryton whispered. "Shocking. Prince Bryton, sneaking off to the royal gallery to court a peasant."
"A very lucky peasant," Sunni giggled, very much aware that she was blushing.
"Will you be my girlfriend Sunni Gummi?"
Bryton didn't need to ask twice.
"Definitely. Though I warn you, I'm not some frilly Court girl, you won't get away with just giving me candy and taking me for walks. You'll have to work hard for me, I promise you."
"Candy?" Bryton said, grinning. "Oh, I suppose I may have a toffee on my person somewhere for you, now where did I put it...Ah, darn, just the wrapper."
Sunni fully burst out into laughter at this, and rewarded Bryton by kissing him this time.
"So shall I escort you to your rooms, Lady Sunni?" Bryton said, taking the candle holder and offering her his arm.
"Yes, but you'd better keep an eye out for Gruffi or the others, you know its way passed my bed time."
"Pish posh," said the Prince. "Night is for us young people. Let the fuddy duddies sleep."
Sunni giggled even more, and took his arm. The Royal Gallery and its shadows melted away. Bryton's warm spirit and calmly amused commentary was enough to banish away the dark shadows that had been lingering in the back of her vision like ghosts; twin hovering figures that vanished with the flickering of the candle light.
Chapter 18: Kissing Under The Mistletoe
- Here's that slashy chapter I promised. Luv and luv and luv. :) -
Chapter Seventeen: Kissing Under The Mistletoe
On the third day after the trial of Gusto, the Queen had decided to hold a Royal Ball to farewell the men off on their dread adventure to fight the Kraken. But when the day of the ball arrived the Queen herself and Gusto both seemed to dissappear somewhere within the palace. Rumour had it that Gusto had stolen off with the Queen into the night, both of them vanishing without a trace.
But Gruffi knew that wasn't true. He had slept in his bed, with Gusto, that night, and though it was true Gusto had been scarce all day, he wouldn't have just run off and leave without at least saying goodbye to Gruffi. No, Gusto was hiding away somewhere, though where was anybodies guess.
It didn't matter to Gruffi, for the ballroom was hot and stuffy, and the fancy clothes he had been forced into were enough to make him gag. Grammi had packed some nice formal robes for them all for just such an occasion, but he had refused to wear the ruffled collar and made her remove it. It was a decision he was quite glad he had made, it turned out ruffled collars were out of fashion in the court, so he didn't get so much as a second glance.
But there was very little movement in the ballroom, and small whispered conversations. The ball couldn't officially start until the Queen danced the opening waltz. And the Queen was nowhere to be found.
I bet she's up in her rooms right now, trying to decide which dress would be the least cumbersome and sweaty. I wouldn't blame her for delaying; I'd have stayed in my rooms if I could have.
As an Ambassador, and as Gusto's lover, he had decided he had a commitment to looking after Gusto. But getting the Council's agreement on the matter was like pulling teeth. He had requested to be allowed to go with Gusto on his quest, and had been flat out denied.
"Battle is no place for a peasant," Karse had declared hotly.
The Council had pointedly accused him of just wanting to go where his lover went; there would be no use for him on a ship and he'd only get in the way. And as an Amabassador he had an important duty to do and shouldn't risk himself in warefar.
Fuddy duddy old farts wouldn't know useful if it hit them in their overlarge arses, Gruffi thought vehemently.
But as he stood under the south windows with Grammi and Zummi, help came to him from a very surprising source. Prince Bryton approached him quietly, looking hot and surly in his heavy court crown and layers of chafing clothes.
"First law I'm going to pass when I become King is to drop human trends for fashion and court and return to the Gummi ways. What on Earth was Mother thinking?"
"Probably that it would be more merciful for the Princes to expire from heat rather than going to battle with a sea monster," Gruffi complained, tugging on his cuffs. "I can certainly understand why Gusto is hiding away someplace, probably trying to keep cool."
"Speaking of my Uncle," said the Prince with unsubtle interest. "I hear you've been pleading with the Council to let you come with us on our trip. Have any luck?"
"Um...no," Gruffi said, scratching the back of his head bashfully. "Got any ideas?"
"Well," the Prince adjusted his Crown. "I may not have much power over the Council, but I'm sure I could bribe one of Karse's sailors to switch places with you. A proper disguise and you'll look just like a sea rat."
"Good idea," Gruffi declared looking amazed. "You're certainly different than I thought you were. Cubbi says you're a stuffy old fuddy duddy..."
"Well I hope I'm not. And I know I owe a great deal to your family. I shall try my best from now on not to be so...cowardly."
"Bryton, the last thing I'd call you is a coward. But what's going on over there?"
Bryton and Gruffi had both just spotted the herald coming through the grand double doors. The poor old bear was waiting to get the Prince's attention before making his announcement. Bryton dutifully went over to sit upon his place and give the herald the nod of approval. All motion in the ballroom ceased.
"Announcing Her Majesty Queen Thistle Rose, and her escort, Prince Augustus the Third."
A chorus of shocked gasps filled the air as all the assembled court pressed forward to see the Queen and her escort. Gruffi pushed through a pair of chattering girls and stood his ground, not letting himself be swallowed in the crowd.
He was ever so glad that he did. No words could describe this moment. He felt his heart nearly die in his chest at seeing Gusto on the stair, where the royal pair had stopped to allow the room the full view of them before making their way down the hall.
No one could deny that these two were sister and brother, nor that they were royalty of a quality that surpassed all. From the tip of their toes to the tops of their head they sparkled.
Gruffi swallowed a lump in his throat. Gusto was wearing what could only have been a Prince's costume, a silver brocade doublet with matching gloves, silver hose with buckled silver shoes on his feet and, opposed to all fashion trends, a ruffled shirt with the collar undone just a tad, allowing tufts of his blue furred chest peeking out. Of course he couldn't wear a crown, so he went bare headed, and hence it was not Gusto who stood the tallest of this pair, but the Queen herself.
For she could only have once been a royal bride in this dress. Layers upon layers of Tulles lace cascaded from her bossom to the floor like the petals of a delicate flower, sparkling with the thousands of tiny diamonds sewn into not only the lace and fabric, but into her hair as well, and the short train veil that she wore from her crown.
The gasps of shock turned to whispers of delight and fantasy at seeing the pair; they had made quite the impresison. Both wasted no time in strolling down the center of the ballroom, where they bowed before Prince Bryton.
The Prince was obviously in shock. Of course he would be.
"Mother..." he said. "Oh Mother..."
"Dearest Son," said the Queen, lifting her skirts delicately. "You have never seen your Mother in her bridal clothes. For this is the last time I shall wear them before passing them to your future bride, whoever she may be. You shall return home to me a man and a King, and my brother shall be renewed as a Prince. More the power to you both, and to this festival which I give in both your honour."
She was speaking in the formalistic courtly manner, and Gruffi mentally rolled his eyes. He could see Gusto was shaking his head. But if Thistle Rose enjoyed the old manner of speaking, who was anybody to judge?
"Well then, I shall not stop you from dancing the first dance."
"Before we do," said Gusto suddenly, causing the Prince to take a step back. "I have an announcement of my own to make. For this may be the last time my sister is to stand as the ruling Queen, and I go off to battle the horrible kraken which has been my trial and my task, so I may never get another chance to fullfill her one request of me; to bestow upon her a traditional Gummi name, in accordance with Ancient Gummi Tradition. A ruling name, and a use name, such as I myself have chosen to go by."
The formal language sounded too foreign coming from Gusto's lips. Bryton looked almost hurt by this, but recovered quickly, as if he had been expecting something like this for awhile.
"And which name has my honoured Uncle chosen for her ladyship?"
The Queen chuckled, for some strange reason, and turned to look at Gusto, who smiled back at her.
"Misti," Gusto said without any quibble. "From the English Mistletoe, which is a herb that Gummi Bears have harvested on the mainland for over a hundred years."
"I should know," Grammi whispered to Gruffi with a mirthful chuckle. "I harvested some just before we left Gummi Glen."
"You've done your research I see. Very well," said Bryton smiling. "Then let the royal ball begin!"
The maestro in the corner tapped his baton, the band lifted its instruments, and a hearty waltz soon filled the room. Gruffi was mesmerised with watching Gusto spin his sister around the dance floor, her skirts sweeping the floor in wide circumference and formally keeping the gawking crowd at a distance from getting to close. He was amazed when Gusto actually lifted her and spun her around; her skirt must not have been as heavy as it appeared. Either that or Gusto had just given his poor back a taxing exercise and was hiding the strain well.
But regardless of the dance or the steps on the floor, the joy of the two dancers was purely evident for the entire court to see. Queen Thistle Rose, now known as Misti, was giving her partner such an expression of rapturous joy that it made Gruffi's heart melt.
I never knew just how close they were, why if they weren't related I'm sure...well...
Gruffi didn't want to think of the possibility that royal members of a single family could marry one another. It was against his purely Gummi way of thinking that siblings would ever marry.
No...no they're just having fun...
Soon Prince Bryton cut into their dance, and had his own turn around the dance floor with the Queen, which meant everyone else in the room could take a partner and dance. Gruffi backed away from the clamoring crowd of girls around him who were now plying up every male member of the Court to partner them. Zummi had taken Grammi's hand to take her onto the dance floor, so that left Gruffi without a partner.
That is until Sunni approached him.
"Well, girly, wanna give your old man a spin?" said Gruffi.
It was rare that he spoke to her in terms that rendered her his foster daughter, instead of just Sunni, but she was delighted by this from the evident sparkle in her eyes.
Gruffi soon came to realize his toes, and back, were not as used to cutting a rug as they had once been. After one waltz, one very short waltz, he limped back to the side of the room, grateful when Bryton came to cut in on their dance.
"Ooh, I'm never going to do that again," said Gruffi, slumping onto a handy stool near the entree table.
"Oh never?" said a wry voice. "Really? Not even for me?"
Gruffi looked up at Gusto and gulped quite audibly. He was even more handsome up close then from far away.
"I...er...doubt the Court would be impressed with us."
"More like we would be drawn and quartered," said Gusto, leaning against the wall next to Gruffi's stool. "Ah, I do want to talk to you, eventually, about our eventual return to Gummi Glen."
"You want to go back home?" Gruffi looked aghast. "But don't you want to stay here?"
Neither of them were mentioning the possibility that Gusto could fail to slay the monster, or be killed in the process.
"Well," Gusto leant down to whisper into his ear. "Misti plans to escape with me. She doesn't plan on being the Queen here any longer than she needs to be."
"I gathered that from the new name. Why Mistletoe?"
"Mistletoe, well...it saved your life," Gusto winced, and touched Gruffi's cheek very briefly.
"I have a feeling you told Misti a different story," Gruffi said, feeling his heart twist in delight and worry that people would notice their gentle regard.
"People just seem to kiss a lot around her. Its uncanny; she's like a kissing magnet, and that's what I told her. She'll never forgive me for that name though..." Gusto chuckled. "But I think she is secretly enjoying all this."
"I suppose she is," Gruffi says. "Doesn't help that she's always dressed up in such fancy clothes. Now she has to have you all dressed up too."
"Want to ditch this party and go do some of our own kissing?" Gusto hinted, causing Gruffi to break out into a deep red blush. "And I can ditch these stuffy old clothes. I wanted to make a statement, but I don't know why she insisted we both talk in that old fangled formal diatribe. I guess she's just traditional that way."
"Because it annoys everyone else," Gruffi said, rising to his pained feet. "I should at least dance once with Grammi..."
"No, I think she and Zummi will be dancing the night away," Gusto said, giggling. "Come on Gruffimundo, a walk in the garden? Nobody will miss us."
"Fine fine, but no mistletoe, you maniac, until we're out of site, or I won't be responsible for getting us out of whatever cell they decide to throw us in."
The gardens were covered in sparkling party lanterns. Soft roses and other flowers were planted freshly here just for the occasion of the Queen's ball. Gruffi was sure that the week's gossip would be about the future King Bryton, the Queen's decision to stop using her formal name, and all the nervousness about the Kraken. But tonight was a night for lovers. In every alcove there seemed to be secret couples enjoying secret kisses and secret conversations. It was hard enough getting away from the amorous couples in the hedges, the gardens, the walkways, but it was even worse trying to get away from Arte Deco, who some reason had decided to fly down from their window to trail them.
"By the Great Gummis, you try to get a bit of privacy," Gusto grumbled, the two of them resigned to climbing up onto a comfortable stone fence and planting themselves there. "Arte why don't you go enjoy the party, I'm sure nobody will bother too much about you."
"Neh, this is more interesting," the bird squawked.
"Grammi put you up to this, didn't she?" Gruffi said, taking his hat off to try and shoo the bird away, which didn't help much.
"Ignore him Gruffi," Gusto chuckled. "Just carry on as if he weren't here."
Gruffi decided that this was a good idea, and pulled Gusto into his arms to kiss him with much...gusto.
"Hmph!" Arte squawked and flew over to a convenient tree to keep an eye out for passers by.
It was many long moments before they parted.
"Are you afraid?" Gruffi said, putting an arm around Gusto's shoulders.
"Um, yeah," Gusto admitted. He didn't ask what exactly he was afraid of; they both knew. "Are you?"
"Neh," Gruffi said. "I think you'll be okay, Bryton's gonna look after you."
"I...I don't think I'll be able to go without you," Gusto said, clenching his fingers into Gruffi's shirt. "I haven't been able to stop painting since last night. I've been painting all the pictures of how I want our life, our future, to be. I've painted all my relatives that you've never met, so that I can have pictures of them for the Glen. I've painted Grammi, Zummi, Tummi Cubbi and Sunni. I've painted Bryton and Misti. Mother. I've painted it all. I never want to leave you...but...I had to make something for you..."
"You won't have to go alone," Gruffi said, feeling a lump come up to his throat. "Bryton's gonna smuggle me aboard the ship so we can go together."
"He...is?" Gusto laughed. "That sneak. Okay I suppose I'll see you on the way then."
"Don't think Bryton is gonna let you get hurt by the monster. I'm sure he'll have a plan."
"Yeah, and Zummi has a plan too. He's going to put a spell on me of some kind, but he hasn't said what yet. I go to the library first thing in the morning so he can cast it."
"Some sort of protection spell?"
"Something like that," Gusto shrugged. "I'll be able to take some of his magic and use it if I need in, since I won't be able to access my own magic. The monster is feeding off my power, but its not feeding off Zummi."
"Ah, that's genius!" Gruffi laughed heartily, and hugged Gusto tight. "You'll be fine!"
"I know I will. I'll have you there, I know I will."
"I...have something to give you before you go, to help you protect yourself. Come...back to our rooms?" Gruffi said, feeling more and more miserable by the second.
"Sure," was Gusto's reply.
Gruffi got the feeling, at that moment, that Gusto would do nearly anything for Gruffi without a moment's thought. It was a frightening feeling, but maybe, just maybe he felt the same way.
Arte followed them back to their rooms of course, but for some reason Gusto didn't mind. Having his feathered friend as a bodyguard was better than being caught off guard, and Arte had always looked out for him before.
Gusto pulled off his jacket and spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with all the little buttons, before finally getting all his clothes off. Gruffi came out from wherever he had been, the bathroom and maybe his own closet, and approached Gusto with something in his hands.
"Here you are," said Gruffi, handing to Gusto a simple dagger in a sheath. "Take this."
Gusto took the dagger, examined it, then pulled it from the sheath. It was a wicked little blade with a rather sharp knife, and the hilt was pure gold.
"It'll cut through anything, really," Gruffi said, finding a comfortable place on the bed to sit. "It was my Pop's. Don't know what the metal is but its never needed sharpening. Very tough stuff, for such a fancy knife. Gummi made."
"I can tell. Its so light!"
"But it'll cut through wood, leather and even bones. I've used it for fishing and its quite handy. I...I'll feeler better if you have a good weapon on you."
"What'll you have?" Gusto said, feeling his chest constrict.
"I have a small knife. But that's neither here nor there, you're going to be the target of any fighting right? And here," he pulled something out of the side drawer and slipped it into Gusto's hands.
The Humming Compass.
"Take it. You never know. It is useful to be able to see your way in the dark..."
"Yeah," Gusto swallowed, though he wasn't so sure about that, and put the knife and compass with his clothes and supplies for the next day's departure. "Enough about that though, I'm guessing there's something else you want to give me?"
Gruffi chuckled, and put out a finger, wiggling it towards himself in a 'come hither' manner. About two hours later Gusto pushed his head up from under the pillows and blankets to look up at Arte, who was grinning in that parrot-like way that spoke volumes.
"Not one word," Gusto said, finding a comfortable place to curl up to sleep. "Could be our last night together you know."
"You'll be fine," was all Arte had to say. "You're a survivor."
"Yeah, a survivor of what though? I'm not immortal."
A swallow was Arte's only response to this. And of course Gruffi started snoring.
Nothing ever changes...guess I'd better go do some painting, or I'll never get back to sleep.
Besides, Gruffi had given him many moments of blissful inspiration of which he could paint, and he didn't want to ever forget this moment in time.
Chapter 19: Beauty and The Beast
Chapter Eighteen: Beauty and The Beast
Sunni woke to the sound of a knock on her bedroom door. She pulled her quilt around herself, yawned, then stumbled to the door, thinking that maybe Cubbi was going to bug her about breakfast.
But she was confronted with a young page, a small young bear with the royal servant's clothes on, who held out a letter to Sunni without so much as a word, then ran for it.
"Oh what's this?" Sunni looked at the plain envelope with her name upon it, then opened it and carefully pulled out the plain slip of manilla parchment.
"Oh its from Bryton!" she declared happily, and walked over to her bed to sit and skim over it.
Dearest Sunni, meet me in the gallery in an hour, I have something to ask you. No formal clothes needed, I just want to talk to you. Prince Bryton.
"Odd to get a note from him so early in the morning. Oh well, Bryton wants to see me again!" she squealed happily, then ran to her wardrobe to throw open the doors and start looking for a suitable outfit for a clandestine meeting.
But the gallery was empty. She pouted, and walked along the length of it, ignoring the creepy paintings and heading towards the last spot she had spoken with him here; the bookshelf. Of course there were no candles here today...and did that curtain move?
Sunni, relax, you're creeped out by this room for no reason!
It didn't help that she was so close to that creepy picture of Gusto casting a spell. The whole room was full of strange paintings of very strange people. But she realized that if she ever became Bryton's wife, her own face would be in this room too.
What a strange thought...Marry Bryton? I hardly know him!
She saw the curtain move again and shivered.
"Must be an air vent," she said, and then approached the curtain very slowly, and with a very careful motion reached out to grasp it and pull it open.
Nothing. Just a cracked window, the breeze blowing in gently. It smelled of sea salt and sweet flower pollen.
Boy Sunni, your imagination really is active this morning. Really, its just a curtain!
She dropped the curtain and turned to leave, then felt with a thrill of horror and a rush of dread two hands come out to wrap around her, one on her mouth and one around her waist.
"Don't scream or struggle," said the voice behind her ear, which was definitely not Bryton's voice. "You should feel honoured. You will be serving a great purpose this day. A great purpose."
Sunni tried to scream, and she definitely did struggle, but she soon felt the power of a magic spell come over her, and her body went limp. Her captor turned her around to face him, and she felt her eyes widen in horror.
"Don't worry, dear Sunni Gummi," said her captor, crooning in a soft courtly voice. "Soon you will fulfill a far greater purpose to the people of Monteray than being the beloved of the Prince. Soon, my dear Sunni, you will sacrifice all to make me the King!"
I'll never help you you slimy rat! Sunni mentally screamed.
But that was all she could do, for the darkness of his magic overtook her and she fell unconscious.
Grammi was highly worried about Sunni. She hadn't been at breakfast, nor had she been present for the family meeting in which they discussed Gusto's imminent departure.
Now, standing on the dock, waiting as the men boarded the boat to leave, she was feeling panicked. Where was Sunni? Grammi turned to give Gusto a hug once he approached her and frowned.
"I can't find Sunni anywhere. I know she'd be so disappointed she missed you."
"Its not like her to not be here," said Gusto with a sigh. "Gruffi isn't here either..."
Gruffi going missing was actually part of the plan; he was going to board the ship with Gusto in a sailor's disguise. But Grammi feigned a similar worry for Gruffi that she had for Sunni.
"Aww, Sunni's probably sulking that she didn't get to go too," Cubbi said, right on cue. "Gruffi's probably trying to drag her out of her old room right now!"
But Sunni didn't arrive, and Grammi gave one last comforting hug to Gusto before the bear boarded the ship resolutely, followed by Karse and Prince Bryton. Bryton stopped to look at Grammi.
"Where is dear Sunni? I have not seen her at all today."
That worried Grammi. Wouldn't Sunni have wanted to farewell her sweetheart? Or maybe she had stolen away on the ship with him, like Gruffi? If this was so, Grammi wasn't going to give her away, but she was upset nonetheless.
"I haven't seen her all morning. I think she might be sick though from all the exotic food she ate last night. I never saw her leave her room this morning."
Bryton nodded, woefully, and then turned to hug his mother goodbye.
"Keep an eye out for her for me, will you?" he said to them both. "I fear I may have made her the target of more than just jealousy by dancing with her last night."
Both women nodded, and Bryton ascended the plank onto the ship, eyes scanning the crowds of "fare thee well" wishers in hopes of seeing her.
Grammi knew one thing was for sure; when she got her hands on Sunni they would be having a stern talk.
"Don't worry Grammi, I bet Sunni's just fine," Cubbi said, though the worry was in his voice. "I'll ask Sir Wallaby if he'll help me go look for her! He doesn't do much else of anything and he'll be more than happy to help a lady in distress!"
"You do that Cubbi dear," Grammi said. "Queen Thistle Rose, might I have a chat with you alone for a wee minute or two?"
"Please, call me Misti, or Mistletoe if you want to be formal," said the Queen with a smile. "And, once the ship is off in the distance, we can go back to my suite for a chat, certainly. I too am worried about Sunni. The Augustus clan has many enemies, I'm afraid."
Grammi pressed her fingers to her cheek in fear at Misti's solemn comments, and put a hand on Cubbi's head. Zummi took her hand and nodded at her gently.
Nothing more that she could do about it, if Sunni was on the ship. They would just have to wait and see.
When Sunni woke, she was in a dark place. Her hands were tied, and she had a gag on her mouth. She was blind folded. A quick wriggle told her that she was inside a barrel.
Great, shipped off to somewhere in a barrel like Gummi Berry juice! thought Sunni mournfully. Bryton must be on this ship somewhere though! If only I were free, I'd go to him at once and tell him about that that, rat!
Sunni cried a little, then dragged up what courage she had to try and start working on her binds. She had managed to get a few fingers loose when the lid of her barrel was lifted and there was Dalli Bella of all people, staring down at her with all the self-righteous candour of a royal house cat that has been handed a bowl of cream from the hands of Queen herself. She reached out to remove the gag from Sunni's mouth, then pulled her out of the barrel.
"Now now, no need to struggle or scream, for soon you'll fulfill your purpose. You will be a beautiful sacrifice."
"A sacrifice, for what?" Sunni demanded, trying to be brave.
"Oh, you will see soon enough," said Dalli, eyes twinkling. "You will see soon enough, for now the time is right. You should not have gotten so close to the Prince. Now you are more important than your tiny little brain could possibly even fathom."
And she pulled Sunni, struggling, towards the nearest doorway. Sunni kicked and struggled but was dragged fully against her will.
Sunni jumped at the sound of Bryton's voice, and a hand reached up to pull the blindfold from her eyes. Felli Bella, Dalli's uncle.
"Release her you monster!" said a familiar voice, which was Gruffi.
"All in good time," Felli Bella chuckled. "All in good time."
Gusto leaned upon the railing of the ship, staring out into the frothing waves. Four hours had passed since they had departed from the shore, and there was no sign of Gruffi anywhere on the ship. Of course he was hiding somewhere, he could feel the other bear's presence over every inch of this ship. But he wanted to see Gruffi. To verify visually that he was all right. Gusto felt edgy, and tense, and the choppy waters must have been hard on Gruffi's stomach.
What if he's sea sick again?
Bryton strode over to the rail next to Gusto, saying very little of anything for a time. Standing next to one another, their obvious height difference, and the slightly different shades of blue of their fur, were such a contrast. Two different bears, but on the same quest...
"Are you...nervous?" said Bryton cautiously. "I know I am. I've never done battle before...its something of a test of my abilities."
"A lot like the Barbic Rite of Bearhood," Gusto said, not sure what to think of this casual conversation. "I'm sorry we went against, ah, your wishes, about the name thing."
"It was something Mother wanted," Bryton admitted, fingering the edges of his jacket nervously. "I just love her name, Thistle Rose. Maybe I'll save it for my first daughter."
"Maybe..." Gusto agreed, feeling relief that Bryton wasn't angry. "It is a nice name. I just think she wanted a change."
"She's always been a bit different," Bryton agreed. "I saw all the paintings she did of you. I think I'm the only person who has seen them."
"Art runs in the family," Gusto chuckled. "There's an old Augustus Clan saying; If it exists, you can paint it."
"I never tended towards art," admitted Bryton. "I like books, and history, and my studies. It is much more interesting to me."
"S'pose so. Maybe I should sketch something, that'll calm me down."
"You did pack supplies for art then, I knew you might," Bryton chuckled. "Well I won't keep you from it."
Gusto occupied himself for a time with sketching the sea. It was one of his favourite subjects. It was his home, his life, and all that his life had become. From Monteray Island to the Island he had been imprisoned on, to the shores and streams of Gummi Glen. The sea, the rivers, were like a balm, like the calm before the storm. The ocean was home.
So he was totally and completely distracted in his drawing when the spell hit him from out of nowhere, trapping him in its deatlhy magical grip.
"Well, its time now that we fulfilled our purpose!" shouted a voice behind him. "I see no point in hiding any longer, seize them all!"
Around him was the scuffling of feet as Admiral Karse and Prince Bryton did battle with the pirates who had been, hitherto until then, disguised as sailors. They pulled their costumes off and laughed at the Prince and the Admiral.
"What is the meaning of this, Felli Bella!?" shouted Admiral Karse in a snarl.
"Oh I'm not Felli Bella," said the voice, the clopping sound of heavy limping coming up from behind him. "Prince Augustus here would know me well, however...I taught him magic, for many years"
"Of course!" said Karse with a snarl. "Now I know why you wanted to come on this trip, and why you defended Augustus!"
"Correct," said the hitherto still nameless wizard. "Felli Bella has been dead these many long years and I have taken his place. Now, his neice and I shall both rule this vast coast. All my creature needs is a little more power, one victim more, and I will have the strongest weapon any wizard could ever hope to command! And once the competition out of the way, Dalli will be free to marry you, my Prince. You will have to comply."
"Never!" said Bryton fiercely. "I will NEVER let you and your spawn rule Monteray!"
"Oh no?" The wizard chuckled. "With your island and your people held hostage by me and my pirates and my monster, you will eventually come to see reason."
"Not if I can help it!"
With dread and horror in his breast, Gusto heard Gruffi's voice like a mallet to his heart.
Oh Gruffi no, NO!
There followed a scuffle, which couldn't have gone very well, for the wizard said, "Tie him up with the others!"
"You'll never get away with this!" said Karse. "You and that horrible apprentice of yours have cost us so much, you'll never be able to control the people, they'll never love or obey you!"
Gusto mentally winced, but the wizard chuckled.
"Ah yes. Gusto is now once again in my thrall, under my spell. To my folly, this one has gotten out of my grasp more often than once," the wizard poked the back of Gusto's head, which was tingling as if on pins and needles. "You see I used him as completely now as I'm using you. Prince Augustus is my pawn. I was the one who summoned the monster! Prince Augustus has been a victim this whole time, taking the blame for me and powering my monster for me with his magic, his fear. How...convenient. Now I shall rule Monteray at last!"
"You'll never rule Monteray," said Bryton hotly. "I refuse. I'll die before I'll marry Dalli!"
"And speaking of Dalli," said the wizard, ignoring the Prince. "She has the final part of the puzzle. She has worked very hard to provide the creature with a proper...sacrifice."
Gusto heard the wizard snap his fingers, and the sound of feet moving and the door to the cabin opened. All motion ceased save for the struggling of The Wizard's chosen victim.
By the Great Gummis no! Not her! Anything but her!
"Release her you monster!" said a familiar voice, which was Gruffi, whose voice was now hoarse with worry.
"All in good time," the wizard's voice chuckled from somewhere nearby. "All in good time. But first, Prince Augustus shalled be tied to the ship, lest he fall in and become the monster's victim. As long as he's alive my monster is too. I would not want to put an end to his life...too soon..."
So there it is...there it is...I was right... Gusto thought with a horrible pang of ill feeling in his stomach. I was right.
Gusto felt a rope tied around his waist, and the whole coil of the rope was dropped at his feet. The other end was tied to the main mast along with the other sixteen members of the crew. Sunni was sobbing quietly now, and Gruffi was trying to console her from where he was bound.
"And now," said the wizard, putting an end to all the sanity that he may have had left, "I shall summon the kraken."
The wizard moved himself to the side of the boat, between Gusto and the railing, and sat down upon a barrel cross legged, like a little pirate squab readying himself for a rousing sea chanty. He pulled a flute from his pocket, a simple small wooden device, and started to play a melody which Gusto knew so well. It had been played many times before in his mind, over and over, but now this time the song pulled more energy from Gusto to the Kraken than he had remembered ever being taken from him, every note like the bite of a vampire's fangs in his throat drawing blood.
"Gangplank be ready, Master!" said one of the pirates. "Shall I make the sacrifice ready, sir?"
"I don't want to be a sacrifice, let me go you goons!" Sunni cried. "Help!"
"Yes take her to the gang plank, but make sure to tie yourself down first."
"Let her go you animal!" said Bryton in despair. "Free her, I command it!"
"Would you turn Monteray over to me if I did?" said the wizard, clearly trying to get any sort of response from the Prince.
"N...no. No I couldn't...I couldn't risk the lives of hundreds of people...over the life of one...I'm sorry Sunni...I love you, I love you, but I also love my people."
Bryton was crying now, like a young cub, too helplessly young to have to make any sort of decision like this one. But now Gusto felt rage fill him. The wizard was using manipulation spells on the Prince anyway to get the answer he wanted! He had wanted to kill Sunni regardless!
But Gusto had one trick up his sleeve and he slowly, so as not to garner the notice of the Wizard, started gently tapping into the magical line between himself and Zummi.
Zummi seemed to realize his magic was being tapped for he didn't fight against the pull, and gently added to it himself from the other end of the line. Gusto would break free from the spells on himself and free Sunni. Somehow. It was taking some time to work at his magical bonds, as he had to relearn all the old magic that fifteen years had erased from his mind.
Then all action paused and he felt a sudden draw of power being pulled from him as if he had been cut open and was gushing blood from the wound. The seas boiled, the ship swayed back and forth, the waves began frothing and crashing against the side of the boat; a great storm seemed to blowing in. Lightening crashed in the distance, thunder drew in around them with its pounding drum beat rhythm. The skyline turned black, and the ocean start spinning around them.
"Ready yourselves men, don't let the boat be pulled into the whirlpool! Keep hard to starboard!"
Gusto felt a thrill of dread and an ecstacy of fear like nothing he had ever felt before, and he froze, every hair on his body standing up on end.
The kraken had come at last.
Chapter 20: One Final Stand
Chapter Ninteen: One Final Stand
It was a dark gaping hole in the ocean. A whirlpool with a tongue in the center that sucked the water in and sent it up and out again in showering gusts. The lightening crashed across the seas, the thunder pounded like the hammering of a drum. The rolling waters were tossing sideways in great waves that threatened to wash across the deck of the ship.
Gusto was completely, helplessly frozen in fear. His heart twisted and nausea filled his stomach. With disgust and horror he felt the bile rise to his throat and leave him in a gush; apparently the wizard's spell still allowed for him to embarrass himself completely. For eighteen long years he had been dreading this moment, and he cowered before it, hate and pain and shame filling him for all the lies he had told, the crimes, the pain...
But he was innocent. This was the spell, working its lies into his brain, trying to manipulate him. It was working.
"Gusto help! Help me! Why are you just standing there, help!"
Sunni. Her voice was calling to him through the veil of pain that had fallen over his eyes.
"Don't think that your friend can help you now, dear girl, he is in my control totally, helpless to my power."
"Fight him Gusto! Break free, use what power you have!"
Gruffi's voice broke the spell of fear over his heart. He felt his link to Zummi strengthen and finally a gush of magic that filled the wounded places in his brain and broke through the spell of the wizard.
"Drop her, NOW!"
Sunni screamed as she fell, a scream of fear and helplessness, and Gusto moved to answer. Using all the power in his body he flung himself over the railing and off the side of the ship, reaching out with tendrils of magic, forcing himself towards her, pulling the power of his spell around himself as his body took on speeds that only magic could have given him. Magic could heal, could wound, and in great bursts could bend space and time itself.
In an istant he was at her side and his arms around her. The rope caught, the two of them jerked as it jumped from the impact, and then they were dangling like worms on a hook.
It was too close to the water for Gusto's comfort. White hot fear and horror descended upon him as he stared into the deep dark emptiness of the beast's gaping maw. But he had to keep his head and wits about him. Sunni was in his arms sobbing on his shoulder.
"G-Gusto you s-saved me!" she sobbed. "S-s-so s-scared!"
"Shhh, shhh honey its all right I got you..."
At once he untied the rope from around himself and secured it around her waist instead. He could feel that Zummi's power was fading, and with what little bit of magic he had left he started causing the rope to shrink in length, pulling them up, up and away from the monster.
But the line of magic between him and Zummi finally died, their spell broke, and though the rope had shrank a good deal, he and Sunni were still dangling.
"Guess we should try climbing..." Gusto said more to himself. "This rope is pretty slick. Hang on Sunny put your hand around my neck..."
Then something, like the feel of a whipcrack, lashed across the back of his brain and he clung to the rope, helpless as a great arching and draining presence filled him, sucking him dry of any magical energy and all hope. Despair filled his body and waves of hot agony and cool dread filled him. The Kraken was entirely controlled by his magic now, but with no magic left he was entirely helpless to control the flow of it.
"G-Gusto what's wrong? Why aren't you climbing anymore?"
"You fool!" suddenly a voice above them was shouting. "Do you realize what you've done!?"
"Yes!" Bryton's voice said. "Now that I've destroyed the flute you can no longer summon the Kraken!"
"But I can no longer control it! If it does not get a sacrifice it will tear the ship apart!"
Gusto felt his stomach tossing about in his belly as the Kraken, realizing that its quarry was now so painfully within reach, started lashing its tail against the underside of the boat as best as it could. The beast wasn't very bright, and didn't seem to realize that all it had to do was jump up out of the water and grab them with its jaws. It was doing things the hard way. Maybe on purpose, for the whole entirety of the began to tip; the waves rocked the ship and tossed it about, tossing him and Sunni around like mad. At one point they were parallel to the ship and he could see the occupants of the ship clinging for dear life to the railings, and to the ropes that were keeping them tied to the ship.
"Gusto! Gusto!" Sunni cried.
"Hang on Sunni!"
The Kraken finally decided that it was tired of this ploy and lifted the ship right out of the water with its tail. This must have been hard work, for a moment Gusto could feel energy fill him again.
Gotta climb! Gotta get Sunni to safety! That thing won't let up until it swallows someone! Gotta climb!
But then he felt a lurch, and a thrill of dread filled him as Gruffi's voice shouted to him over the din.
"Gusto! The rope! Its coming loose!"
A struggle broke out on the deck above them; the waves tossed, the creature was waiting, biding its time now for somebody to fall out of the tipped over boat. It knew.
"Gusto don't let me fall! Don't let me fall!" Sunni was screaming.
"Hush hush, baby, close your eyes...don't look down, just close your eyes," Gusto said, feeling a fatherly protectiveness fill him that he hadn't ever felt before. "I won't let you fall, I swear..."
A calmness filled him, a sort of peace as he realized that he had already decided.
"Sunni..." Gusto swallowed. "I need you to make me a promise..."
"Promise?" she sniffled. "Gusto?"
"Promise me," he took a deep, calming breath. "Promise me...that you'll tell Gruffi...that I love him..."
"Gusto wait, what are you, Gusto NO!"
He let go. A moment passed in time where he was falling, and his eyes met hers and for a moment he felt a true peace like he hadn't known in eighteen years.
She was young, and innocent. She would live. She would marry Prince Bryton, and they would be all right. Gruffi would live, all his friends, they would live, and survive, and they would be free of the pain his fears had caused.
He wasn't afraid anymore.
Gusto felt himself impact upon something hard, and living, and above him the stars were bright, the storm was calming, and the winds were dying. Sunni was reaching for him with her two arms, as if she could span the distance between the two of them and save him. Despair filled him for the pain he had caused her, but she would live. Gruffi would live. His lover and his daughter would both live.
Then the jaws of the beast snapped shut, and darkness descended upon him as he was swallowed deep into the blackness of his own personal hell.
Sunni had disobeyed Gusto. She had opened her eyes.
And she wished that she hadn't. A horrible scream erupted from her throat as that horrible mouth snapped shut around her friend, and the beast began to sink down into the ocean.
But seconds later she felt a jerk and a snap and the line she had been connected to broke and she fell with a scream of horror into the churning waves. She should see just feet below her in the water, maybe a meter, that the beast was sinking further and further into the deep. She screamed, and scrambled in the water trying to stay afloat as the undercurrent pulled at her legs, trying to stay away from the creature before it realized there was another victim nearby to take.
"Help!" she screamed in terror, "Help me!" and she was sucked under the water.
It may have been minutes, or seconds later, but she coughed and gasped, sputtering as her lungs filled with air again. She realized then that she was looking up into Bryton's eyes. He was soaking wet, and was holding her in his arms. Clearly he had jumped into the water to rescue her; clearly he had just been kissing her, filling her lungs with his own precious life giving air, to save her.
"Are you all right Sunni?" Bryton said, pulling her towards a floating barrel nearby.
"N-no I'm not alright!" Sunni said, teeth chattering and despair filling her. "He, that is...Gusto, he..."
"I know, sweetheart I know, hold onto me. We'll stay afloat here."
"Bryton...the rope...it broke just after he fell in and the monster left. It would have got us both. He saved me...Bryton...he saved me!"
She sobbed and buried her face into his chest. Her body was shaking from head to toe; she could swear her skeleton felt ready to fall apart from the rattling. But he held her, and kissed her head, and calmed her, speaking soothingly to her in his soft comforting voice.
"Its all over now...the monster is gone. Hush Sunni...it was a very brave thing...a very brave thing to do..."
Sunni suddenly felt something hard land on her head. Bryton swore, and Sunni realized that this something was a rope.
Both of them looked up and there were Karse and Gruffi staring down over the side of the boat at them both.
"Grab the line!" Karse said. "Before this madman decides to change his mind about letting us rescue you!"
Bryton didn't need to be asked twice. With one arm around her, and both their hands on the rope they let themselves be pulled. The moment she saw that Gruffi's arms were reaching out for her she broke into more despaired sobbing and buried herself into his chest.
"Its all right honey," Gruffi said hoarsely. "Its all over now..."
"Gruffi!" Sunni cried. "He saved me! He let go to save me!"
"I know, honey, I saw, he saved us all..."
Sunni rubbed her eyes, then turned to watch as Bryton rounded on the wizard.
"So now ends your madness!" said Bryton furiously. "You've lost your monster, and the means left to control it. It will never plague the people of Monteray again. You have no power any longer!"
"We can only hope..." Karse muttered.
"No, that is where you are wrong," said the wizard thoughtfully. "I still have pirates, and I have time; I can create another flute with time. But that is not important. What is important is that I have you my Prince. A perfect hostage. You'll be coming with me of course. Now what to do with the rest of them depends entirely on if you cooperate. I can throw them overboard, or set them adrift..."
"You madman!" Karse snarled, pushing passed Bryton to shove his nose right against the wizard's. "You yellow bellied coward! You throw innocent people to monsters! If you think I'm going to let you take the Prince you're dreaming! Why don't you fight hand to hand, instead of like a cheating, deceitful, cowardly, no good, bald faced, lying, sonnuva..."
An hour later, adrift on the ocean in a boat without paddles, Gruffi smiled at Karse, who was snarling and mentally plotting away his plans for the wizard's untimely demise.
"Hey, at least we have a boat..." Gruffi said. "And each other..."
Gruffi pulled Sunni closer to him, holding her against his side comfortingly and running his hand over her head. The shock of everything was still on him and he didn't want to be awake when the enormity of Gusto's death finally hit him.
But Sunni was in a bad up ways. She had been there. She had witnessed it first hand. She had fallen into the water and was frozen from head to toe with cold. Bryton had been kidnapped by the pirates and they had all sailed off to who knows where. Now they were adrift without food, water, or any medicine he could give her for her dampness induced fever.
Karse had been noble enough to give her his jacket for warmth. Gruffi still didn't trust him, but he understood now that at least they were on the same side.
"I misjudged Augustus," Karse had said to him. "He was very brave and noble."
"Yeah, you say that now after he's dead!"
Karse had been too ashamed of himself to respond. Gruffi could now only watch the bear sulk on the other end of their dingy, brooding in his own little world over the events that had occurred.
But there was no relief for the ache in his chest. Hearing Gusto's last words from Sunni had done little to help his soul. Pain was his keeper now, and a suffering like nothing he had ever felt in a long time.
Gusto...oh Gusto you brave, foolish beautiful self-sacrificing fool! I love you too...
This was worse than the day his parents had died. Much worse, and he struggled to maintain his control. Karse had become off balanced and Sunni was ill. He had to stay sane.
"At least," Sunni said, startling them both out of their reverie. "At least...he didn't suffer. It was a...quick thing. Right? He even seemed very calm about it...very b-brave..."
She broke down again a little, and Gruffi held her and ran his hands over her hair, wiping the tears from her eyes with his fingers. He didn't have the heart to tell her that in some cases, men have been known to survive for years inside the stomach of sea monsters. If there's enough air. Enough water...or some form of magic. He hoped to the Great Gummis there wasn't.
Let him die quickly...please. Don't let him suffer!
"What is that?" Karse suddenly said, sitting up. "In the distance, do you see that?"
Gruffi snapped his head up, and blinked, peering towards the distance.
"Its a ship!"
"By Gum your right!" Karse said, then started yelling. "HEY HELP! HELP US!"
The ship must have noticed them, for it started to come closer in their direction. Waves billowed around it and the sound of a ringing bell on the main deck filled the air.
"What if it's the Pirates again?" Sunni said with a squeak.
"No!" Gruffi said, feeling a momentary lifting of his spirits. "Its the Persephone! TUMMI CHUMMI! HEY!"
The ship came around beside their dingy and the two bears in question leaned over the side of the ship.
"Need a lift?" said Tummi.
"Now how in the name of fur did you folks get stuck out here?" said Chummi scratching his head.
"It was pirates Captain!" said Karse hoarsely. "Help us please!"
"Of course we'll help you. Just a moment and we'll lower a rope."
Once aboard the deck, Chummi saw to Sunni's health, bringing her some warm tea and some clean dry clothes. The sailor's pants and shirt were big on her but at least she was warm now, and dry. Once they were all in the cabin, with tea in their hands and a bit of stew in their bellies, Karse started telling the story of what happened to them.
Gruffi let him, closing his eyes in pain with every mention of Gusto's sacrifice. He was too tired to do any talking and his throat was unbearably sore.
"Won't be long now until we reach Monteray," Chummi said quietly, after the story had finished. "We were heading to Gumlin, but I think its best we change destination."
Then there was a startled knock at the cabin door and a sailor ran in, looking thunderstruck and excited.
"Sir there's a ship a comin' off the port bow! Its the Lazenza sir!"
"My ship!" Karse snarled. "Those pirates! Probably headed back to Monteray with the Prince to take over the island!"
"Well we'll give them a good fight!" said Chummi, running from the cabin to the deck. "All hands prepare for battle! All Gummis take your juice, we'll give them a good blast then board the ship and free the Prince!"
"What about us?" said Gruffi, holding a wide eyed Sunni close to him.
"You two are in no condition for a Pirate battle, get yourselves below deck and where its dry and safe. Have some Gummi Berry juice with you in case the battle goes bad."
Gruffi took Sunni below deck, and ensconced her safely in one of the cabins.
But he still had his pound of flesh owed to him. He was going to get his own personal hands upon the miserable wizard who had killed his lover. He was going to make him pay.
When he returned to deck battle was being joined. Canon fire roared across the ocean, swords left their hilts; the sailors of Chummi's crew were well adept to fighting pirates.
"Come to join us then?" Chummi chuckled upon seeing Gruffi. "I knew you would. Careful hard to port Mister Tummi!"
"Aye aye sir!"
"Watch out for the wizard!" said Karse. "He'll magic a spell to freeze a bear!"
"But I think he's all magicked out," Chummi laughed, as the two ships came within distance of one another. "Lookit him trying to steer the ship. Wobbly as all you please. Get his hands first and then he can't cast any magic!"
"With pleasure," Gruffi said, and on cue all members of Chummi's crew swallowed their juice and bounced over to the deck of the Lazenza.
Of course the pirates were ready with their own juice. And so they clashed in air, punching and smacking into one another. Steel flew and so did bodies and fur; blood was dribbling down the face of Admiral Karse who seemed in better spirits now as he tossed one pirate over the deck of the ship.
"Can't bounce on water now can you!" said he laughing, and narrowly avoided a slicing sword to his head.
Gruffi was quick to push past the aggressors he met; his blood was boiling to get to the wizard. They seemed to realize the rage he was in and bodies just flew away from him as he bounced across the deck, over the top rail and right over the steering wheel.
The wizard had been so heavily concentrating on steering that he hadn't noticed Gruffi until he was too late; his hands were now in Gruffi's grasp and he was pinned to the deck.
"You?" snarled the wizard. "Can't I ever be rid of you?"
"I know who you are!" Gruffi said hotly. "You're Prince Jenka!"
Gruffi felt the pull of magic below him as the disguise was dropped and the aged old roan furred one eyed bear glowered up at him.
A shock of horror seemed to go through those present on deck. The pirates had finally come to their senses with the end of Jenka's spell, and were standing around listlessly wondering what had happened. Karse had come up to the main deck to take control of the steering wheel and prevent a collision. Now he stared down at his former Prince in shock and horror.
"But how...? You were dead!"
"Isn't it obvious?" said Jenka, as Gruffi allowed him to rise to his feet. "Augustus was becoming suspicious of me, so I sought to be rid of him, by making him plan his own downfall thinking he was planning my murder instead. He seemed to enjoy plotting my demise, even found a good spell for it, summoning his own fears...how clever! I had him kidnap me and bring me to the harbour, where I summoned his darkest fears from his head to kill him. But blasted Felli Bella followed us, so he became the first victim, and I took his identity as a disguise, framing Augustus for my own murder."
"Well, I discovered that I could control the monster if I fed it a new victim every month, but only if my cursed brother-in-law stilled lived, so I had to get him away from Monteray and any danger. But it wasn't easy arranging it. The monster followed him. And until I could find a way to control the monster, for twelve years almost, the monster was out of my control."
"So you were the one who kept the monster from attacking us when we left the island!" Gruffi said.
"Exactly," said Jenka. "I'd already found other ways of controlling Monteray, you see, and I didn't see any need to worry too much about the monster, but I wanted to keep it alive anyways just in case my other plans fell apart."
"What other plans?" asked Karse, crossing his arms. "Since you're so ready to talk about all this. And how does Dalli Bella fit into all this"
"Dalli Bella had discovered my disguise," Jenka said, picking at his shirt. "So I started planning her imminent marriage to Bryton as a way to keep her mouth shut. She soon became my apprentice, and I was happy to have her under my thumb. I certainly wasn't going to get in the way of my own son becoming the King, as long as I still controlled the Council. I found the Council had much more power than the Crown did and thats where I installed myself, using Felli Bella's reputation as a catamite to get into the bed of one of those run down Councillors, and took control of him magically. But then Council wanted to bring Augustus back to Monteray. A bit of a snag, since I was trying to keep him safe and as far away from the monster as possible. I volunteered for Melli Bella and myself to retrieve him personally so that we could protect him from any attacks. But Dalli followed us."
"Dalli Bella! That's who tried to break into the Glen!"
"She wants power as much as I do, and I think she's been planning to double cross me, get herself on the throne. I had to enforce my power over her. Nearly ruined all my plans," Jenka seemed to flick a casual peice of lint from his jacket. "But now I suppose its all over isn't it? What are you going to do with me? I'm still your Prince."
"Not anymore you're not!" said Karse. "Bryton is a Prince now and you, you'll be lucky not to get the gallows you wretched treacherous rat!"
Gruffi watched the roan furred bear as he was hauled off to the brig, feeling ill in the stomach.
"He won't get away with it," said Chummi. "You saw with Gusto's trial what's up with the Council now; he can't use his royal status to save himself..."
Gruffi shook his head and went over to the rail.
"He's already gotten away with it," he said coldly, ignoring the eyes on his back. "Gusto is gone now...Gone for good."
And that's when it finally hit him that Gusto was gone, and he sank to his knees, broken.
Chapter 21: Gathering The Splinters
Chapter Twenty: Gathering The Splinters
Misti looked over the ocean waters with fear and uncertainty in her chest. So much was in peril and she felt entirely torn between her duties and her heart. Her heart was over the waters in spirit to another land, another place and time. It was as if her two personas were both trying to enforce their right of place upon her, Misti the Gummi and Thistle Rose the Queen. It was a seperation that was becoming more and more obvious as the days had passed.
But in the here and now her duties were to unravel this mystery of Sunni's disappearance. Talking to her servants she had learned that Sunni had received a message that morning. But the servant had said it was from Bryton, which confused her further, for Bryton had over slept that morning and she'd had to wake him as usual.
Then this evening the number of missing persons besides Sunni, and the truant Gruffi, had increased. Dalli Bella was nowhere on the island.
With all these worries in mind, and a simple cloak around her shoulders to keep the rain off her fur, she went down the stone steps towards the port. A messenger had arrived, telling her that ships had been spotted nearing Monteray, and they were sailing with an awkward gait which signalled they might be in need of repairs. As Queen and the only royal member of the family on the island it was her responsibility to go to the port and greet the ships, be they friends or strangers, and see to their aid.
She arrived just as a sailor on watch rang the greeting bell. Grammi and the rest of her family were there as well, and the entire population of Monteray seemed to spill out of their shops and houses to the streets waiting for the two beleaguered ships to dock. Zummi had his hat in his hands and was twisting it in anticipation. Young Cubbi was being kept from running to the port by Sir Wallaby's hand on his shoulder, restraining him. The old Knight was shaking his head in dismay at the youth's energy. Poor old bear couldn't keep up to the lad, so was the word around the palace. She managed a brief smile at this, and then a bell sounded that signalled that the ships were now identified as friendly vessels.
"Your majesty," Captain Certus was immediately by her side. "They're definitely our own, the Lazenza has returned. The other is the Persephone..."
"Chummi and Tummi are back early," said Grammi, putting her hands to her cheeks in worry.
As the ships came close enough for those on port to see their markings, a thrill of dread and despair filled Misti. The Lazenza was obviously being towed; it had taken too much damage to sail on its own, and the flags that flew at half mast on both ships were black.
Somebody was dead. Maybe multiple somebodies
Misti threw all caution to the wind and broke from the group to stand on the stone pier with the dock hands, Admiral Certus coming up beside her to take her arm gently.
It was an agonising wait. Misti expected when the gangplank was lowered from the Persephone that Captain Chummi, or one of his crew, would be the first down it.
She hadn't expected Sunni, who flung herself along the dock at an alarming speed and threw herself into Grammi's arms sobbing for dear life. Most alarming was her costume, that of a sailor, the belt tied around her waist causing the large oversize shirt to take on the strange proportions of a dress.
"Sunni, darling what's the matter dear?" Grammi said. "You're home safe now, its all right, why are you wearing those clothes? Goodness me you're chilled to the bone and you have a fever again!"
Grammi seemed not the least bit angry with the girl for her disappearance, and Misti could understand now why. Admiral Karse came to her and bowed, followed by Prince Bryton, whom she hugged with heart breaking relief.
"You're safe," she said softly.
"My Queen..." Karse bowed. "We...we have ill tidings..."
All motion suddenly ceased. A sort of quiet fell over the port. Misti pulled herself from Bryton to look past Admiral Karse to locate the cause. Tummi and Captain Chummi were standing on the dock, their hats in their hands.
It was Gruffi whose arrival had caused all motion to cease. He plodded down the gangplank in a jerking motion, like a pale, grim toy soldier whose inner springs were twisted. His face had a hollow look as he plodded towards Misti, and there was a confusion in his eyes that was heartbreaking. It crushed, it begged, it demanded to know the answers. She immediately went towards him, pulling her skirts up into her hands to keep herself from shaking him.
"Dearest Gruffi," she said softly, unable to quell the shake in her voice. "My brother, where is he? Why is he not here?"
Gruffi seemed to jerk, and their eyes met for a moment. She knew.
"Gusto...is with our Mothers now...my Queen...and our Fathers..."
Misti nodded, her heart leaping into her throat. Even in this dull gray hour poor simple Gruffi had chosen to speak to her in the formalistic language that she loved so dear. The strange lilting words that reminded her so painfully of her Mother.
In a moment she threw herself into his arms, and she was clinging to him, sobbing into his strong stiff shoulder. It was over.
She had lost. Her fears had been realized. There would be no voyage for her and Gusto to Dunwyn. There would be no victory parties, and no more paintings to paint together. He was gone. Gone, and she had to live once again with the despair she had felt when he had left fifteen years ago.
But this was worse. So much worse. Gruffi wasn't crying. He wasn't bleeding pain from his eyes as she did. He seemed hollow and broken. Like a clock with no gears. So she just held him, and wept for him, and for the Glens, and for the people of Monteray who had still lost so much.
"My Lady," Karse broke through their moment with a soft apologetic sound.
"How did...this happen?" she said, releasing Gruffi, and turning to look at Karse wide eyed.
"If you please," he bowed low. "Our ship was taken over by pirates. The monster was summoned by the wizard who was really in control of this whole business from the very start. It was Jenka all this time! Disguised these many years as Felli Bella, who has been dead without our knowing it."
Melli Bella made a sound of choking distress. She hadn't known this then. Karse pressed onwards.
"Dalli Bella had kidnapped young Sunni from the palace and smuggled her aboard the ship...they meant to sacrifice her to the monster my Queen, to give it more power over Monteray, to force Bryton to compliance. They were insane!"
"Good heavens!" Grammi said.
Karse seemed to lose his voice, and Bryton pulled Misti gently to face him.
"Mother, when the monster was ready to tear our ship apart to get what it craved, Uncle Augustus sacrificed his life to stop it! He saved us all."
Bryton broke down into weeping and Misti held him to her, brushing his hair away from his face as she had done so many times in his youth. Their tears on their cheeks mingled, and she could feel the pain and frustration in him, and the despair. Karse finally found his voice again, and slowly told the rest of the story to the astounded crowd. But then a soft voice behind Misti suddenly spoke, startling her.
It was Sunni. Her fur was damp with her sweat and fever, yet she was addressing Misti, obviously meaning to say something important.
"Y-your Majesty," Sunni said, bowing. "Bryton saved me. He jumped into the water to rescue me when I was drowning. Is...he going to be a King now? Has he p-proven himself now?"
Misti smiled at her. So she understood what being a Knighted King entailed.
"Yes my dear...he is. And now I know he'll have a beautiful Queen by his side..."
Sunni squeaked, and Bryton went to her side to hold her in his arms pointedly, then turned to look at his Mother expectantly.
Mysti suddenly realized they were all waiting for her to say something, to do something, to deal with all this. She was in charge suddenly and she chafed at this restriction. Sunni's pointed words were now in her brain and she turned to look at Bryton. He was now a grown bear, a Knight, and the King.
"Bryton is going to be King now. And I think I should leave the funerary preparations to him. My son, I shall take the Glen Gummis home to the palace to grieve in peace, and tend to Sunni's fever personally. Admiral Karse, will you deal informing the Council as to all these matters, and to take care of the prisoners?"
"With pleasure," Karse snorted, bowing to her, then he turned to approach Chummi and his crew, followed by Admiral Certus.
Misti turned to look at the Glen Gummis. Their wan downcast heads and the drawn lines of pain on their faces was enough to break her heart. She went to Sunni immediately to hug the girl, and taking a deep breath pushed down her pain and made herself a shoulder for them to cry on.
But Gruffi, she noted with sadness, had left the crowd, simply walked away to plod on weary feet towards the Palace.
There was nothing she could do about him. Only time could heal this wound. Only time.
-Guh, I'm going back over Cubbi's character in this story, and realize that I've written him younger than he probably is in this point in time. He's about 13 and I doubt he'd still be acting like a cub at this point. I'll have to go back another time and fix all that, but I tried to in this chapter anyways.
Chapter 22: Crimson And Clover
Chapter Twenty One: Crimson And Clover
It wasn't quiet, but just the opposite. Gruffi couldn't escape the noise even in his rooms. The songs and chants of the people of Monteray reached him even here, the populace in the streets morning the dead in the way that only Gummi bears under the influence of human traditions would. Both Gusto and his Mother would be honored together in a great mass of sorrow and lamentation. But the Christian songs and prayers didn't comfort Gruffi, nor did the stars that twinkled in the sky outside his window.
He was angry. Not but a day, not even two, after the death of his lover and they were already having the funeral. Not giving any time for the family and loved ones of the dead to prepare or make arrangements of any kind for the ceremonies, or give people time to rest. And it was not in the way that Gusto would have wanted his funeral to be. It seemed the entire town had come out in a frothing mass to mourn the dead with howls and prayers and chants and the choking smell of incense.
It was enough that they hadn't forced Gruffi, or any of the other Glen Gummis, to attend it. He occupied himself in his room as best as he could, doing what Glen Gummis traditionally did to send off the dead. Separating out the belongings of the deceased and wrapping them in black cloth. Storing them away until a year had passed to the day, then taking them out to remember and reflect when the occasion needed. Brewing sweet clover tea and sharing stories by the fireplace, their favourite memories of times spent with the deceased.
But Gruffi couldn't bear to wrap these paintings in the black funerary clothes. It seemed a sin to hide them away. Zummi had offered to help, but Gruffi wanted to do this himself. Some of these paintings were really really private.
Reaching under the bed he discovered a treasure trove of paintings. Little round portrait ones of all the Glen Gummis that Gusto had managed to paint during their time here. Landscapes and city portraits and all the great people of Monteray. Misti as she was now in her preferred plain clothes attire, and Misti as Queen, and Bryton and Sunni walking in the gardens, though Gruffi could swear that Bryton had never once come to him to ask permission to walk along with her.
He had come this morning to ask for her hand in marriage. Coming to Gruffi and bowing low.
"I understand that she is a a few months shy yet from womanhood, and I intend to make this courtship a meaningful one."
His response had been simple.
"Sunni is growing up now, and she's fond of you. You treat her proper, and she'll decide if she's ready to be courted or not..."
It wasn't what his first response would have been, but Sunni was so miserable that Gruffi couldn't bear the idea of separating her in any way from Bryton, even though half the Island agreed that their relationship was probably inappropriate. She wasn't old enough, and she was a peasant.
Love just seems to get in the way, doesn't it?
He reached as far under the bed as his arm would go and pulled from the very back a large stack of paintings that were obviously meant to be hidden even from the servants. Gruffi unwrapped them from their dust cloths and stared.
These were the paintings Gusto had spoken about, of their life together in Gummi Glen that he had imagined. These were the windows of Gusto's heart.
Going fishing. Reading together. Sailing boats with Tummi, and playing games with Cubbi. Teaching Sunni how to dance like a real courtly lady. There was even a painting of Gusto painting a portrait of himself. It was kind of a funny thing really. Most of these paintings were invented ideas, and the quality of the characters was very low, just impressions of people really. Gusto worked the best if he had a model standing right next to him.
On the bottom was one painting that clearly had to have been painted with the living subject himself present, it was of that good a quality. In this painting, Gruffi lay in sleeping repose in bed, without a stitch of clothing on, laying on his belly on the sheets with a look of some temporary peace in his face. Gusto had painted himself in the bed with Gruffi, which must have been terribly hard to do, and his posture was one of rapt love and fascination, one hand on Gruffi's head, looking down at the sleeping bear with deep and well painted affection in his eyes. It was a painting of love, quiet love, in the stillness of night when the world relaxed and there was room even for a love such as theirs.
Gruffi jerked his head, and blinked. A drop of water had landed upon the painting. He gently soaked it up with his shirt sleeve, careful that it didn't ruin the painting.
"What on earth...?" He looked up to the ceiling, to see if there was a leak, and then felt a dampness on his cheek.
Gruffi found himself looking down at the painting again, and up at the ceiling, and putting a hand to his cheek and blinking in confusion as to where the drip was coming from. His chest was heaving, and he was having trouble breathing.
"Oh..." he said with a choke of startled panic. "I'm...crying..."
It was such a rare thing that he shed even a tear, or two in sorrow that he was surprised for a moment, and panicked. Here were many, raining down his cheek to his chin and flowing off the end of his nose in little dribbling waterfalls. Choking gasps of pain were coming up from his stomach into his throat and he could do nothing but give into them.
He pushed the painting away from himself and leaning against the side of the bed gave into the pain, covering his face in despair and sobbing.
Oh Gusto, Gusto I miss you! I hurt! Oh I hurt, and it will never end will it? You'll never be back! You'll never laugh at me, or whine when one of your paintings doesn't go right, or teach Cubbi all those fun things he likes to do with you. You won't show Sunni how to dance, or wear a pair of Grammis warm knit socks on your feet that you say itch horribly! You will never use Zummi's magic paints again...you'll never go boating with Tummi. You're gone. We'll never m-make love again...and I'll never wake up to see you looking down at me with those eyes...those beautiful eyes...
Gruffi choked and clutched his arms around his stomach, his whole body was quaking with a sobbing and convulsing that he couldn't stop. He hadn't cried this hard or this painfully since he was a six year old orphaned cub. It hurt! His chest was burning!
A hand on his shoulder startled him and he jumped. He hadn't realized he'd been repeating the refrain, "My love, my love," as he had been sobbing, and somebody must have heard him. He rubbed his face and pushed himself up and stared up at Grammi.
"Its all right hon," said Grammi. "I can help you finish...then we can share some clover tea and have ourselves a talk..."
"Yes...just...please don't call me 'hon'," Gruffi choked, and pushed the paintings towards her.
Grammi nodded, then hunkered down next to Gruffi and rubbed his cheek with her fingers.
"I remember when we were courting age, I had the biggest crush on you. And you used to hide in the pantry because you didn't have the heart to tell me you didn't like girls..."
"I didn't?" Gruffi swallowed. "I don't remember that..."
"Well you never showed any interest in me. Then my folks tried to push me after Zummi instead."
"I remember that disaster. Poor Zummi wouldn't come out of his room for two days."
Grammi chuckled and wrapped up the last painting and put them all in the empty crate he'd been putting paintings into.
"We'll bring this all with us, and I've told Misti we're leaving tomorrow. She wasn't surprised. This place has been nothing but pain for all of us."
"How'd Sunni take it?" Gruffi muttered, feeling somewhat better now that he had something sane to think about. "Was she upset?"
"Oh you can bet your boots she was upset. But she wants to go home now as much as we do. At least until spring when she can have a proper wedding with Bryton, without all this pain in the way. All those girls she was friends with in court are now snubbing her because of all this business. Jealous she says. Cubbi says he's ready to wash his hands of Sir Wallaby and Zummi wants to get away from the library as soon as possible. Its too human here, is what he says!"
"I agree, and Bryton says he's putting a stop to the human court and all the human laws forever as soon as he's Crowned...He has the approval of the Council too I hear."
"But they didn't put a stop to the chanting."
"Couldn't yet, I suppose," Gruffi admitted, grateful for her calm rational presence. "Not until he's officially King and has that power. Its hard to get a bunch of block headed bears to change their minds on a thing after they spend forever at doing it. I should know, I'm just as block headed as the lot of them. Still not used to being an Ambassador. Probably never will."
"But you've changed lately..." said Grammi softly. "You're so patient now, a little calmer."
"Well...I am getting old." Gruffi scratched his head. "Is Arte staying here?"
"He says so," Grammi said sadly. "He wants to stay with the Queen and Bryton. He's going to bring us messages from them."
"Ah...I see..." Gruffi nodded. "Which makes sense, if Bryton's going to be courting Sunni before he marries her, he has to send her secret love letters some way. An official letter with the royal seal wouldn't be his style, really."
Grammi laughed heartily and Gruffi managed a smile. A small smile, and a tiny part of his heart warmed significantly. He felt so much better.
Mother was right...I need to clean up my heart's cupboards more often. I miss you Gusto, I really do. But...but I can survive. I just have to keep going...One day...when I'm an old gray bear and I'm ready to go...I'll see you again. I promise you.
He rose to his feet, blew out the candle by the window, and then stood to help Grammi carry out the crates.
It was fire, and it was agony. It was a burning in his flesh like nothing he had ever felt, and it was feted putrid air that choked him and brought the bile up into his throat. It was a darkness of unyielding prison walls that pressed in around him, suffocating, leaving barely enough room to breath. It was hell.
He wasn't sure how long he had been there. A handful of days maybe. Two, or three, no more. But it seemed like so much longer. He would fall into unconsciousness, thinking, 'This is it...now I'll die...now I'll be free...' only to wake struggling and gasping and fighting for air and life as if he had any hope left at all. As if he had a prayer. Darkness surrounded him, and the vile liquids burnt his eyes, chafed his skin and caused tufts of his hair to fall out. It was a burning chemical that was slow and torturous in its process, and he was soaking in it.
But there were moments of respite when he could think and reflect, and remember who he was. He had forgotten things, his memory seemed skewed in this twisted place of pain, but sometimes he'd awake in the dark screaming names, names that meant something, names that were important somehow. Names that were layered with the many years of his past, his unyielding youth and the crime of murdering his brother. A crime that he was now paying his life's penance for. He now understood the horror of his greed and arrogance.
I was never innocent...I was just as ready to kill...and created a monster that nobody can destroy with my own foolish fears. I deserve to suffer.
A passage he had read in his youth stood out to him now, from that strange book that the humans were so interested in which they believed governed the life and death of the world. He had studied this book extensively as a youth, but had not followed its doctrines the way his mother and father and the rest of Monteray had. Its words came back to him now...and he closed his eyes and let them roll through his agonised mind.
'And all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?'
It was right. That book was right. Who could fight this monster? Who could destroy it? None could...and there was only one way to destroy it.
He had to surrender. He had to drown. He had to allow death to take him. It was his power that gave the beast strength. It was his life that gave it power. It was his power alone that could destroy it in the end.
I will make a war with the monster unlike any war. I will face death unafraid. My magic and my fear feeds it, then my death should destroy it.
Death shouldn't have to be so easy. He felt his body loosen and relax, his heart slowed to a steady rhythm and tranquility filled his mind. Peace would come, peace for him and for the people of Monteray. Even now he could swear he heard their final chants, the throbbing hum of their voices lifting higher and higher into the streets of Monteray, lifting his soul to the clouds in a great thunderous chorus of...
Humming. It was in his ear. It was vibrating up his leg through his spine, and into the flesh of the beast causing the mammoth creature to twitch. It was burning through his eardrums. It seemed to echo in this small space like a canon blast in the night. It was strong, so strong that his ears rang and his eyes popped right open and watered.
Its that damn compass! he realized in fury. Damn, can't I have some peace even in death?!
One of the sailors on their ship had laughingly told him that the compass didn't hum when it was in the direction of west, rather it was spelled to sing whenever it neared the main island bell compass in the center of Monteray square upon which it was magically tied to. It was a reflection magic which he had been unable to figure out, but Monteray was vaguely west so the sailors said they were going west when it hummed. It helped them plot their course.
But the closer it got to the main compass, the more it would sing its piercing song, and the more its throbbing notes would burn into his brain like a fiery chorus of death. He struggled to locate the compass in order to switch it off, but his hands fumbled trying to locate it. It was possible that it had fallen out of his pocket and that he would never locate it where it lay within the body of the beast. Undaunted, he searched frantically around him, he struggled and twisted...
...and then he suddenly felt a hardness digging into his hip.
He reached down to his side and fumbled along his belt to find the little leather sheath there and his hand grasped around the handle of some implement that he vaguely remembered.
And then it clicked. He remembered.
A thrumming song in his head reminded him of the compass. They were so close...so close to Monteray now that the compass was going insane. The beast was going insane with it, driven by a mad compulsion now to move at alarming speeds that he could feel all the way through his spine.
It would attack the city. It would sink ships and bring storms that would torment the little island with its fury. Gruffi was in danger now, and his friends, and the people of Monteray, and he felt helpless to do anything to stop it. He was so near, yet so far.
Then he realized that there was something he could do. One last act of defiance he could have against this monster that had held his mind and his people in tormented captivity for eighteen agonising years.
'It'll cut through anything, really...wood, leather and even bones...'
The will to live filled him now, an urge to act that burnt its way through his belly and throbbed in his brain in chorus with the humming of the compass, whose song gave him strength now to fight back, to struggle, to survive.
If I'm the only thing that can kill it, then kill it I will! Hang on Gruffi, I'm coming,! I'm coming! I'm gonna give this creature a severe case of indigestion that would rival even Grammi's cooking!
He pulled the dagger from its sheath, pulled his arm back as far as it could go, then buried the blade to the hilt deep into the monster's flesh.
And then his world swam crimson.
Chapter 23: Vengeance Of The Dragon
This Chapter has violent an graphic descriptions of blood. Reader descretion is advised.
Chapter Twenty Two: Vengeance Of The Dragon
Gruffi plodded down the steps to the Palace courtyard with a soft sad sigh. He would miss this island, and the people in it. The royal family had been kinder to him and his kin than any royal Gummi family he had ever met, and some of the people he had made friends with here were such good people that it was hard to say good bye.
But it was a world of decadence that wasn't his own. There were vipers here, hidden snakes that now coiled around his family and squeezed them in their clutches. There was venom here, and pain. Death and gloom hung over their heads like a thunderhead threatening to break hell over their psyches.
There would be no healing for them, no relief from the Gusto shaped hole in their hearts, until they were home again. Even Tummi had declined joining the navy permanently, his dream, in favour of returning to Gummi Glen with his family.
Everything just hurt still for them all. But at least he, Gruffi, could feel the pain now and allow himself to feel it. It was much worse being an ice statue.
Ice is sharp and cuts and hurts those who try to touch it. And I need to be warm, to hurt, so I can hurt with my family as a family. So we can hurt together.
It didn't exactly make sense. But Gruffi understood and accepted it.
"Are you sure I can't convince you to remain?" Misti said, eyes damp with her tears. "To stay with us? At least for Bryton's coronation."
"Our home is Dunwyn," Zummi said immediately, speaking on their behalf, "We have an obligation to return to it. A duty. And our home is calling us."
"Well my heart and thoughts go with you," said Misti, eyes damp. "If I could go with you, I would. But my son is all I have now. He needs me here."
Gruffi nodded in understanding. She hugged them all one at a time.
"The servants will bring your things to the boat. There's no need to carry them."
"No, we're Glen Gummis," said Gruffi. "We came as Glen Gummis and we shall leave that way."
He hefted his sack, and almost broke down immediately when Misti kissed his cheek, and their tears mingled. He'd been crying a lot since yesterday, but her gentle sorrow, and her obvious pity, were too much for him to bear. He had to get away.
"All is prepared your Majesty," said Karse heavily as he approached them. "Prince Bryton will be waiting to send you off at the pier."
"Thank you Admiral," Gruffi said, trying not to grit out his words. He still felt animosity towards the bear, but managed to cover it. "We are grateful for all of your help and we..."
A loud thunderous alarm bell suddenly pounded in his brain. It echoed throughout the island, it wailed through the streets, and it caused the Queen to put her hand to her mouth in horror.
"The alarm!" she said with a cry. "Oh Karse the alarm!"
"WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!" Karse shouted, and ran to his pony, pole vaulting onto it and galloping out of the Courtyard. "TO ARMS!"
The Glen Gummis all immediately dropped their packs to follow Queen Misti, who ran after Karse with her skirts in her hands.
"Wait for me!" she cried. "Wait!"
"Your majesty wait for us!" Gruffi shouted, following after her. "Come on!"
Screams of fright echoed through the city as Gummis by the hundreds fled the shoreline towards the center of the island, their homes abandoned.
"The alarm bell is only sounded when humans attack," Misti told them, huffing as she ran. "But humans haven't attacked the island for many years!"
There were sailors and soldiers everywhere by the bridge which lead from the street to the docks. Prince Bryton was there, and he and the soldiers were keeping everyone at bay, preventing them from going down to the pier where the sailors were scurrying around in panicked action.
"Your Majesty!" Karse said to Misti once she had arrived. "The lookout spotted something large approaching the island from the east under the water! Its moving fast!"
"ADMIRAL!" the lookout shouted down from his tower, his voice rippling over the crowd of people in a shriek that was layered with levels of hot white fear. "ITS THE KRAKEN!"
All sound and motion stopped for a moment, when Gruffi could do nothing but stare out towards the sea, and the dark shape that was moving towards them like a shark to its prey.
"It's never attacked the island before!"
"What do we do?"
"Stay calm, don't panic everyone!" Bryton said. "Mother!"
"The kraken," Misti breathed. Then she stood up and her eyes went cold. "TO ARMS! Admiral Karse, harpoons at the ready! We shall deal with this monster once and for all, if I have to go into battle myself to kill it!"
"As you command My Queen!"
At once about twenty men flung themselves to the pier, the sailors arming themselves with whatever sharp implements they could grab, the soldiers with harpoons and spears.
"We shall drive it away," Karse was saying. "Catapult! Ready!"
The monster was approaching at a fast clip now, its target was obviously the island. The seas were frothing and crashing in violent defiance of the crowd of sailors waiting to do battle.
The boulder flew through the air and landed with a splash in the water, two inches from where the creature had just been. The boulders kept narrowly missing the barrelling figure in the water, where they flew, as if by magic. People began screaming, chaos erupted at the pier.
"Catapult ready!" Karse cried again, raising his sword.
"Its too late!" cried the lookout. "ITS GOING TO CRASH!"
"RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"
But it didn't crash; it jumped right out of the sea. The sailors parted ranks in fright as the mammoth serpentine beast launched itself from the water, its slippery scaled body reaching a height that no creature that massive should have been able to reach. Its ragged tail left the water and the entirety of the beast was seen for barest mind breaking seconds before the creature landed with a mighty squelch upon the stone pier like a water logged coil of rope. The massive creature struggled, and then let out a shriek that echoed up the island like the sound of two ships crashing together. Wood splintering, metal and the sound of a thunderhead, all in one great shattering harpy wail that rolled through Gruffi's brain like a canon blast.
"By the Great Gummis! Its beached itself!" Karse said hotly. "It suicided! The great brute!"
The creature was writhing in obvious pain. It lurched forwards, scrambling with its chubby body to reach the crowd of people just four hundred meters away. Misti was clutching Gruffi's hand now so tightly that he felt her nails digging into his shoulder; she had been restraining him from going forward to join the sailors on the pier where they stood at the ready with their weapons. He hadn't realized he'd been trying to go, he just had.
"Surround it!" Karse shouted. "We'll hurry its passing! Aim for its belly, that's the only place without those blasted scales!"
Gruffi felt his breath hitch watching the creature fumble upon the stones like a beached whale. It was dying, its breaths were ragged and pained.
"Its over," Misti whispered to Gruffi. "Its going to be over now."
Gruffi nodded vaguely, chest hurting from trying to breath. The sailors approached the monster.
Suddenly it gave a lurch, shrieked like a dying thing, and a torrent of blood erupted from its mouth.
"Oh Great Gummis how horrid!" Grammi shrieked, covering her face with her apron. "Good heavens, Admiral do something!"
"What should you have me do? Hold a blanket up before the crowd?" he said with hot sarcasm. "Cervus, flank the beast with your militia from behind, prevent it from escaping again back into the sea!"
Gruffi felt his stomach twist in agony. He clutched Misti's hand and his eyes watered. It couldn't die fast enough. It was suffering, but he willed it to die, to go away, to dissappear forever, and end his pain. His agony.
"Its dying now, it can't breath properly outside the water..." Karse was saying sickly. "Lets end this once and for all! Gummis, weapons at the ready!"
But the creature rolled over, so fast that the sailors that had been approaching it with the intent to stick it with their harpoons had to run away from it to a safe distance again. Its pale belly protruded up to the sky, it gave a sickening wrenching whine of pain...
Then a torrent of blood shot up from his belly as a hole was ripped open by something sharp and pointy from inside its body. All motion ceased on the pier and all noise died, saved for the whimpering pain of the floundering beast.
"By the Great Gummis!" Bryton declared. "By the Great Gummis alive!"
The sharp object in question was a dagger, and that dagger was followed by a hand, that pushed up through the flesh of the beast like a ragged infant trying desperately to free itself from its dying mother's body. The arm was slick and blood red, and paused in its pushing as if in contemplation. It then pulled back into the creature, and the creature jerked as the dagger was used once more to cut an even larger hole in its body, a fountain of blood bubbling up from the massive wound that was created.
It was clear to all that something inside the creature was fighting its way out of its body by force. Something was making war with the creature, and the creature had already lost the battle. The monster gave another shuddering lurch of pain, and more blood poured out from its mouth, leaving a wide puddle on the stone street that caused the sailors to take many disgusted steps backward to avoid touching.
Then something slimy, something slick, wet and thin pulled itself from the wound. Two arms followed by a head and a long furry body. The figure climbed out of the wound to stand upon the belly of the creature, blood soaking its fur, the puss and ichor from the wound clinging to its slimy body. For a moment in time the figure stood on the monster's back as if it was the Kraken's newly born offspring, dementedly trying to figure out where it was, and what to do next.
It was Gusto.
"By the great Gummis. Its not possible!" Bryton croaked. "Its just not possible!"
Gruffi didn't dare breath. It was like a nightmare and a miracle all at once; his heart had stopped pounding in his chest and his brain wouldn't function.
Gusto turned his head, red blood dripping from his fur, to look towards them, a dazed tragic look in his eyes. For a moment he stood there, nude and wet and bloody, a young titan out of a Grecian myth. He was a nubile god of the sea triumphing over the monster he was ready to consume, dagger poised as if ready to begin slicing off chunks of flesh to feast upon.
Suddenly, Gusto lurched sideways as the creature shuddered again, and rolled off its fat body onto the ground, dropping the dagger and landing with a splash upon the blood soaked stones.
Gruffi started forward, but was being held in place by Misti and Karse, who were staring at Gusto in shock and horror. Nobody moved. Gusto stood to his feet again, slipped in the puddle of blood, stumbled forward, then bent and wrenched, expelling the content of his stomach.
A fire filled Gruffi's belly, and he wrenched himself from Karse and Misti's grasp when they, for a moment, were distracted with covering their eyes rather than viewing Gusto vomit. Fancy people had weak stomachs. But it didn't matter. Gruffi ran for his dear life towards Gusto and the creature, and only paused a moment when his feet hit the bloody puddle; as if he had to think, to decide.
No, there was no decision needed. He propelled himself towards the other bear madly, then against all thought or sanity pulled Gusto into his arms, blood and filth squelching between them and onto his clothes, the ichor from Gusto's drenched fur staining Gruffi's hands, his cheek and face as he pressed their heads together, crying. The vile smell of the Kraken's filth filled his lungs and he breathed it in, endured for a brief moment what Gusto had endured for as long as he had, shared in the hell and misery of his lover, and just allowed himself to feel hurt.
Two slick hands wrapped themselves around his waist holding him there weakly. Gusto felt like a skeleton, like skin and bones, and his breathing was ragged.
"Oh hon..." he croaked. "Hon hon hon..."
"You're alive, you're alive, you're alive," Gruffi repeated over his sobbing. "Alive alive..."
"Yeah.." Gusto said. "Yeah.." Which seemed all he could say. "I am."
Both of them jumped in fright as the creature gave one last shuddering, gasping ragged hiss and died, its body rolling sideways again and showering them in one final thick curtain of blood.
Gruffi closed his eyes, determined not to look at the mess they were in, and let Gusto pull him away from the filthy thing towards the clean stones. Then both of them hissed as they were suddenly drenched from head to toe in clean cold water from a barrel that Chummi was now holding over both of their heads.
"There you go lads," said the hearty bear. "Nothing a good bath can't clean up. Aye good sailors, get your hoses and we'll clean up this mess. That thing'll be easy to drag out to sea, nothing but a thick skinned sack of blood n' guts 'tis. You two lads go on and get yourselves cleaned up and rested, earned yourself a rest up..."
A million things were happening all at once. The sailors converged upon them now with water hoses and buckets to clean away the blood. People were cheering, chanting over and over in victory of the creature's death. Gruffi stumbled along with Gusto away from the sailors back towards the waiting crowd down the street. He was very consciously aware of Gusto's ragged breathing, and that a large amount of his fur was missing from his skin. Gruffi pushed this back in his head and tried to think logically of getting his lover away from the crowd back to the Palace.
But he was cheering inside. His heart was hurting for his lover, but he was cheering inside. His was rejoicing for all his pain turned over and all his ache of mourning passed away.
Gusto was alive. He was breathing. He was with Gruffi again. He was going to be all right.
He was suffering, and shuddering with every ragged breath of air he took in. Gruffi pulled away to look Gusto in the eyes. Those eyes were covered in a white slimy film, his face was drawn and his nose was caked with red and black goo. He looked like death, like bloody death.
"Are you all right...?" Gruffi said faltering.
Gruffi had never seen anyone survive such a thing before, and it hit him like a punch to the gut. It was nothing like he had experienced before, and for a moment he was unsure of what to do. Never in Gruffi's organized world had this ever happened before. He always knew what to do, always.
"I'm fine," Gusto said hoarsely. "Just get me away from people..." he said with a hiss. "Away from them."
But the crowd was moving towards them now and it was all Gruffi could do to hold Gusto upright so the bear wouldn't collapse, let alone try to escape the crowd.
Bryton was the first to arrive, his hands simultaneously outstretched and then pointing forwards towards the creature, and back, shock and complete awe in his eyes.
"How...how is it possible?" Bryton said, the moment he arrived. "H...how did you survive for three days inside that thing? W...was there air?"
Gusto's eyes dilated and he stiffened, hiccoughing threateningly.
"Oh there was air..." said the bear hugely. "Yes...there was air all right..."
"Gusto..." Misti said, sobbing softly and moving hesitantly towards him to put a hand towards his face. "Brave sweet Brother..."
"No...no don't touch me!" Gusto hissed, and she jumped back. "I...don't know what this slime will do to you...but its responsible for all this..." he rubbed the bare spots on his fur. "I...I just...I...I remembered who I was finally. I remembered when I was just ready to die...you know? But that damn compass kept humming...never did find it...and then Gruffi's dagger. Oh where is it? It saved me, where is it?"
Gusto suddenly looked stricken, and Misti sent her page to go get his dagger from the pier with a description of it, then she summoned servants to bring a pony and her best carriage to bring them home to the palace. Gruffi just acted as a crutch for his lover, letting him lean on him and talking softly to him about how silly he had been to think Gusto was dead, how silly he had been to cry and be sad when he was alive.
"No, not silly," Gusto said. "Not silly...Simply wonderful. Yeah...I like that."
Grammi and the other Glens were the next to talk to him, on the way home on the carriage, welcoming him back with tears of joy and chattering conversation. But after a few moments it was apparent that Gruffi and Gusto were lost in their own little world, joy at being reunited at last keeping them from paying any mind to anyone else around them.
"Come on hon..." said Gruffi firmly. "Lets get you back home, and cleaned up."
"Yeah...home. Gruffi? I...kinda want to stay here..."
"We're not in any rush now..." Gruffi said. "Its fine hon...we'll stay."
Gusto nodded and leaned on Gruffi's shoulder with a soft sigh. It would be all right now. It would be all right.
Chapter 24: Romantic Notions
-Expect that from this point on, besides a bit of text, everything is going to change in the story. May even get a bit longer. I don't know yet, but everything after here is definitely different. So please re-read it all once over if you haven't. Thanks guys!
Chapter Twenty Three: Romantic Notions
Morning trickled bright and cheerful through his window. But the tropical birds singing on his window sill were only an annoyance. A brief spark of sound in the silence of his world.
A soft brown lump next to him started to move. Gusto poked his lover in the side, but Gruffi didn't do more than move bare millimetres before giving another soft snore. It was too early for Gruffi to be up yet. He was usually quite punctual with being awake, but morning came too early in this part of the world. It was different for Gruffi here. Ironically, the problem of not being used to winter that Gusto had back at Gummi Glen was now reversed in Gruffi, who was too entirely used to sleeping through the cold dark winters to be comfortable in the warmth of the tropics.
"Come on hon, its almost breakfast. Today's the day you know."
In the aftermath of Gusto's return from death many things had happened simultaneously. Jenka had been tried and sentenced to death, but none of the Glens had been present for any of it. All he knew was that Karse had overseen the execution, and hadn't shared his descriptions of it with Gusto.
Bryton had not acknowledged his father in the least, and had holed himself most of the time away from the Court, mourning in his own private way his frail blood tie to the beleaguered and confused Jenka clan, who now looked to him for a leadership he couldn't give them.
He was an Augustus.
A funeral had been prepared for Felli Bella, in which Gusto had been forced to comfort the old man that Jenka had taken for a lover, who really didn't understand that it wasn't really Felli who he had been a lover of. The pirates that Jenka had been bewitching had been cleared of wrong doing, and Dalli had been put under probationary watch of her mother Melli, who had been furious with her for all her treachery. Dalli would be shipped off home to Gumlin and her father's care as soon as it could be arranged.
Tummi had finally given into his heart and joined the Navy. They would only seen him once every month or two, but he had promised to be back in time for Sunni's wedding, with Cavin and Cala in attendence, the first two humans to be invited to Monteray in many ages. He would also be bringing the Great Book of Gummi with him. There would be no going back to Gummi Glen.
I wonder if Zummi knew we'd stay here? That we needed to be around Gummi Bears, to feel that kinship that we've been waiting for all these years?
Gruffi finally rolled over, grunting and scratching his brown fur. Gusto watched the bear slowly wake up; expression changing from sleepiness to grumpiness and finally to the 'waking sullens' as Grammi called them.
Gruffi was so damn beautiful in the mornings.
"Are you so rushed to see Cavin and Cala that you have to wake me right in the middle of a good dream?"
"What were you dreaming about?"
Gruffi stretched and scratched his short, messy mat of brown hair.
"Gummi Glen, and Gummi Berry picking season. I miss it."
Gusto chuckled and kissed Gruffi's cheek, watching the sharp embarrassment that came over his lover's face in response.
"Don't worry, we'll see it again. I have a feeling that Bryton is going to put you in charge of opening up Dunwyn for resettlement. You know him...likes to make colonies where there's Gummi Berries. The Treefolk are gonna have more Gummis tending to them now then they could ever dream of."
Gruffi laughed, and reached out to rub Gusto's face. His fur was coming in at last, the bare splotches were disappearing and he was looking less and less like a ghost bear. Bryton even said they almost looked like twins again.
Of course the young King was looking much more adult now that he had so many more responsibilities on his shoulder.
Its a good thing Misti is staying here to keep his head level and his feet planted firmly on the ground, instead of haring off to the colonies on adventure like she'd been planning.
Misti was all too ready to go visit all the Gummi settlements she'd only ever heard of, but she had decided to wait. Almost on purpose.
"I have much to do here with helping my son settle into his position," Misti had told them over dinner the night before. "He still has much training left, even with his Crown..."
All in all, Gusto felt that Misti was simply hesitant to leave home, but wouldn't admit this to Gusto, even if she had to everyone else. There was a gap between them now that he didn't understand. She was far away from him now in a way he couldn't quite grasp.
Maybe nobody would ever be able to connect to him now. He didn't quite understand himself either. It was annoying really. From the lowest peasant to King Bryton himself, Gusto was being hailed as a tragic sort of hero, and there were monuments to him all over the island, even though he was still alive. It all seemed as if they could see something in him that he didn't, and they all seemed to fear just having a simple conversation with him.
And that painting they had just finished in the Justice chamber was just gruesome to him, although half the island, including the Glens, were singing its praises. Gusto couldn't fathom why Bryton would want to commission such a nasty mural!
"Because the painting they'd had in there was shameful," Bryton had given per way of explanation. "In there we shall depict your triumph over the creature, the very heart and struggle of the people of Monteray over the forces that strive to divide them. Yes!"
Gusto was starting to doubt that Bryton wasn't as inclined towards the arts as he had said he was. Bryton had done some of the painting himself.
Just goes to show, the Augustus family fanaticism for frescoes breeds true.
"We'd better not be late for breakfast, or Grammi will wring our necks."
"I suppose not...though if I have to hear one more lecture about putting my shirts on properly, I'll wring her neck."
Gusto chuckled, kissed Gruffi on the lips, then rose to get dressed.
This was going to be one hell of a day.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife! You may kiss the bride!"
Cheers and a chorus of delight rang out through the ballroom as Bryton swept Sunni into his arms to embrace her, the elaborate layers of her dress not seeming to be any strain to his back as he lifted her effortlessly off the ground.
What followed this was Sunni's coronation, the placing of Mysti's crown on her head, which caused her eyes to dance with delight and Mysti to smile in relief that the crown was much more well recieved by her successor then she had recieved it. What followed that were the blessings by the priests, conversations, dinner, dancing, the hugs from Princess Cala and Sir Cavin, and news of their own engagement...
Too much. It was too much for Gusto. He couldn't bring himself to fully participate in the reception, in which expensive gifts were given to the couple and many stories were shared. He showed up to the Court Hall as ceremony dictated, but he didn't feel that his heart was in it. He ended up wandering outside to the gardens to breath in the scent of the tropical flowers, and enjoy the warmth of a January in the deep tropics while he was still able to. Deep winter in Dunwyn would be a difficult thing to return to willingly.
It was there in the gardens that he found Melli Bella. She was dressed head to toe in funeral black clothing and sitting on a stone bench, contemplating a bush of roses. She spotted him, but didn't make any move to leave her seat, simply acknowledged him with a nod of her head.
"I really miss my brother now," she said as he approached. "Even if he wasn't my real brother, I just miss him. Am I insane?"
"No, of course not. I miss him too, the real and the fake Felli."
"So you're saying you miss Jenka?" Melli teased, her tongue peaking out of her mouth.
Rather than be offended, Gusto sighed.
"He was terrible...odd...but resourceful. Its horrible to think that Jenka was the one who saved Gruffi's life. I think I could forgive him everything else he's ever done in light of that."
She nodded, almost smiling. Gusto sat beside her and crossed his legs, also staring at the rosebush and wondering what new creature or person she was seeing personified in that bush. Melli was a great lover of topiary sculptures, and it could have only been this which had called her to leave the party to seek solitude.
"What do you plan to do now, my Prince?"
"Now, I think I'll get drunk, and celebrate Sunni's wedding."
"I meant with your life," she said seriously. "There can only be one King in Monteray, and you'll soon feel drawn to take over some of the duties that Bryton has trouble with. He doesn't need his Uncle interfearing in his life."
"No, no of course not," Gusto laughed. "I thought that maybe me and Gruffi could move to Lanorby Hall. He could do his carpentry, I could teach art..."
"Even with your poor vision?"
The Forbidden Subject. Gusto jerked his head to look elsewhere.
"My eyes are fine...its fine...really..."
"Prince Augustus," she took on a tone that was very close to angry and Gusto knew, with a wince, that he had crossed a line in some way. "You aren't fooling me."
"Oh I'm not?"
"You were swallowed alive by a monster," Melli said, and put a restraining hand on his shoulder when he tried to stand and leave at the mention of a 'forbidden' subject...a subject he had forbidden even to Gruffi. "You were partially digested and you had to swim through a river of blood and guts to save yourself! You've lost most of your vision, the healers say, and you're only able to see as much as you are because the healers have been pouring that burning medicine of theirs into your eyes every day. You've been neglecting meals and you don't speak to anyone save your lover. Don't you tell me its fine. You've been to hell and back, and you've got the scars to prove it!"
Gusto looked at her, surprised at her coarseness.
"I...Melli. Thank you. I...needed that. You're right. I can be an artist, but I'll have to admit that...my sight is never going to be as strong as it used to be."
She nodded, as if this was enough for her, but put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"So...what about you?" he asked her, feeling the need to reciprocate. "What'll you be doing now?"
"I've lost my brother," she sighed. "My daughter is distant to me now and the Court hates me, thinking I was involved in it all in some way. Am I remiss in thinking you'll...need a wizard at Lanorby Hall?"
"Oh I see," Gusto said, laughing. "I think a wizard would be most welcome at Lanorby, whoever she may be."
She just nodded, then turned to look at the rosebush again. He wanted to hug her, to comfort her in some way for her loss. In a way she was more like him now than anybody else, but he didn't want to further remind her of her brother. Instead he got up and approached the rose bush.
"A dragon I think. Maybe..."
"No, a unicorn."
"Heaven forfend it be something other than pretty and girlish with you, Melli Bella."
"As opposed to the one who carved a dragon in a mountain, so I hear?" Melli teased.
Gusto laughed and then sighed.
"I guess I'd better go join the party again, before I'm missed. Oh, and Melli? Once last thing."
"Yes my Prince?"
"Never ever change. Stay girly and pretty. Between you and Misti I'll have enough women in my life to make up for the fact that Gruffi is, well, Gruffi."
Melli laughed, a hearty chuckle that was unlike anything he'd heard from anybody in a long time. He had to duck his head and turn back to the party to keep her from seeing the goofy smile that had spread across his face.
-Between Melli and Misti I have too many girls with M names in this story. But there it be. Originally this was Misti he was talking to, but I felt for some reason like I wanted to bring Melli back into this, since she was in the first bit of the story. Now she's in the last bit. Its a bit awkward, but I can live with the multiple m named girls, if you can. Melli was supposed to be like a sister to Gusto, whereas his own sister would be a pseudo-mother. I may go back and change all the bits with Melli, or at least change her name to a non-M name. Tcha! Names! Go figure. :P
Chapter 25: A Lifetime of Penance
Epilogue: A Lifetime of Penance
Gruffi looked out over the open waters with a sense of sorrow in his stomach. Or that could have been his sea sickness, he couldn't be sure. His stomach felt much better this morning though, he had at least that to say for the trip. No matter what anybody in his family said about how many friends they had and how many Gummi Bears they had finally met, he had missed Gummi Glen.
"Steady as she goes Mister Tummi."
Gruffi couldn't be prouder of Tummi, in his sailor Uniform. He really looked like a full sailor, and was beaming with good health and a sense of worth from where he stood behind the steering wheel. Being in the Navy had been good for him.
Gruffi had also been very very proud when Cubbi had told Sir Wallaby "Thank you, but I already have a Gummi Knight back in Ursalia I'm going to be a squire for," and that he'd take his chances with him. Sir Thornberry was going to be really surprised to learn that he now had a squire; Gruffi sure was!
Poor Thornberry is going to get a run for his money with Cubbi. That kid had half the court in a tizzy, at thirteen! I'm afraid to see what he'll be like when he's of age
But Gruffi had felt a twinge of sorrow leaving Sunni, Grammi and Zummi behind. This trip was purely a business trip as an ambassador. They would drop Cubbi off at Ursalia to live with the Barbics, and then head down to Dunwyn to the new Gummi settlements there to bring news of Bryton's newest edicts about the mainland colonies. Gusto was coming with him to participate in the naming and Christening of the newest ship in the fleet, which had just been finished construction on Bonobon, and would be getting some 'royal' vacation time beyond that.
"What are you thinking about?"
Gruffi turned to look at Gusto now. His face was somewhat more sunken than it had been two year ago when they had first arrived at Monteray. His eyes were much paler now, and looked a little odd, magnified behind glass. No matter how much medicine the healers had used, Gusto's eyes had never fulled healed. He would be wearing spectacles for the rest of his life. It hadn't stopped him from painting, however. There were already fresh canvasses out on the deck drying in the sun, which had the sailors quite perplexed and amused.
"You, ironically enough," Gruffi ignored his twisting stomach and nuzzled closer to Gusto, leaning against his side. "I can't wait until we get back to Dunwyn. And we can have some time to ourselves to do whatever we want..."
"Oh...?" Gusto said archly. "Including dance naked under a full moon?"
Gruffi coughed and nudged Gusto firmly.
"Yeah, I suppose that too."
A momentary pause occurred when there was nothing said between them. Then Gusto chuckled and Gruffi looked up at him.
"What's so funny?"
"You know, one of the things Misti used to tell me was that she always wanted to strip all her clothes off and just dance naked. And now that she's a grandmother she's become such a prude, wearing only the most sensible clothing and tsking at Sunni if she shows even so much as an ankle. She's even planning our own imminent parenthood even as we speak."
"Oh she is is she? Well I've already raised two cubs, I don't need anymore."
"Yeah, I mean, how long does she think we'd last as parents? I mean, its not like either of us is really responsible or dedicated or..."
"Yeah and...hey now! Wait a moment, just what exactly are you saying?"
Gusto chuckled and put his lips to Gruffi's head.
"I'm saying that Monteray's orphanage is starting to get a little crowded...maybe we could give it a little relief?"
Gruffi stared at Gusto for a few heart shaking moments, then laughed and turned to look back out to the slowly disappearing island of Monterey.
"Sounds like it might be something to look forward to when we get home again..."
"Home...to think I'd ever call Monteray home..."
Gusto had a look of deep longing and pain in his eyes.
"We'll be back there eventually..." Gruffi said. "We always come back home I find...wherever that happens to be."
"Yeah. But...I'm afraid."
"What...what if I'm so happy to be in Dunwyn again I don't want to leave?"
Gusto's eyes were so dismayed that Gruffi had to suppress a laugh, so as not to upset his lover. If ever there had been any doubt in Gruffi's mind before about Gusto, those doubts melted under the warmth of his eyes.
"Well, if you stay in Dunwyn, I'll stay with you," Gruffi said simply, wrapping his arms around Gusto's waist. "No matter where you go, I'll be there. And I know you'll be with me."
They kissed, ignoring the uncomfortable looks of the crew, and their tears mingled on their cheeks. The future before them lay in uncertainty. Life was so brief, and so easily lost. But a lifetime of uncertainty was a worthwhile penance in return for a lifetime spent together.
-Not too sure I'm happy with the ending. But it fits so I'll keep it. For now. I may add more to it, or fix things. But yay, finally done! So glad! Now to re-read everything I've already posted, make sure it flows...writing. An unending process.