As far as he could tell there was some scamp up a tree and no one had the stomach to go and get her. “They should just let her die.” He thought “...and leave me alone.” Gato Diablo just wanted to go back to Moose the White, take the potions, and still the demons in his head.
But these people. These horrible people. They all talked at once. He could barely hear them thru his hatred.
He realized they were all looking at him..
“Well?” Said the smaller one with all the scrolls and the fussy nature.
Gato realized they wanted some kind of reply. He scowled then looked up. The tree was enormous. One of the largest he had ever seen. It was one of the Forest Ancients that had probably seen the beginning of time. It had a smooth thick trunk and the branches did not even start until a remarkable height. They would need to tie ten ladders together, end to end, to even get to the first branches. Way up in the canopy he could see a small figure clinging to the trunk and crying.
What ho! What is she wearing? Or not wearing such as the case may be... He thought snickering to himself. A trollop indeed.
“Rope.” He said.
Their jaws dropped. No one had ever heard Gato Diablo utter a single spoken word. They had only everheard his maniacal screaming when he once stayed in the Great Hall. At the time he was completely out of his mind. The Healers could not help him nor could they even sedate him. Mercifully Moose the White came and took him away. How he was of any help to the big man he traveled with was beyond any of their comprehending. It was known that he was completely unafraid of death. He had no fears typical of men – including of heights. He was the only one that could go and get Bitty.
Kai hurriedly handed him a coil of rope which he slung over his shoulder and across his chest. Then without another word or hesitation he started to climb.
Under the effort of the climb and away from the people gathered below Gato's head began to clear and the voices that tormented him diminished. The climb up, of course, would be the easy part. Convincing some scared strumpet to come down with him would be a difficult matter. Unless... Never mind that now, he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
It took some time to reach the first branches. Eventually everyone who had come to the camp gathered at the base of the tree. They all watched in awe as the small swarthy figure climbed the impossibly tall tree. He was getting closer to Bitty but she had crawled even higher into the canopy. So it was hard for the onlookers to see what was happening.
Zander paced. This was the second night he stood guard. He had been awake the whole time and had not left the base of the tree. He had a soldier's discipline so it was of no matter to him. But poor Itty Bitty – up there scared and alone. If she succumbed to exhaustion and fell... well. No one could survive that fall. Gato had to bring her down.
Bitty was terrified. She was accustomed to being cold and hungry but her fear had exhausted her. She tried not to look down but every time she did a new wave of fear washed over her. Her mind raced between being tired, scared, and cold to berating herself for her foolishness. She didn't even know how she got up here but she was ruining it. She was ruining it all. They would send her back to the trash heap and her new life would be gone. It was just all a dream. These good people who took her in would never want anyone so careless and who had caused such trouble. She cried and cursed herself.
She heard movement just below her on the branches. Someone was coming!
He was dark and had sharp features. “Who are you?” She asked the stranger.
“No one interesting.” He said, “I've come to get you down. Here now. Come to me.” He held out his hand and motioned her to him.
“No!” Shrieked Bitty. “There's no way down! I can't.... I can't...”
The stranger looked at her annoyed. “Yes, the way down is quite easy. I got up here just fine...”
“Well so did I!” She said puzzled. “That doesn't mean that I can get down.”
“Indeed. But I can get down. Now come to me or I shall carry you like a naughty child.” Before she could protest the stranger had ahold of her hand and pulled her close. She wrapped her arms around his neck and felt the rope being pulled tight around her.
“See? Now I have tied us together. Now tuck in close... that's it. And close your eyes.” He said. Bitty could feel them moving, she tightened her grip, and squeezed her eyes closed. She could feel a scream building up but somehow the stranger was quite calming. She took a deep breath. He smelled of odd spices, ancient earth, and wild, open skies.... this was comforting... and mysterious. She felt her fear easing.
Slowly Gato made his way down through the canopy. His burden was light and was clinging to him. They would be through the branches soon enough.
At last he was standing on the last large branch. Beneath him the crowd had clapped and cheered. Now was the most difficult part. For a time he stood there holding Bitty, considering his options. Then he looked down at Zander.
“Ready yourself.” Said Gato.
Zander nodded understanding. “Stand back! Stand back!” He ordered the gathered crowd. “Kai and Little Mo, make them all move back!” Said Zander removing his gloves, belt and cloak. He took a wide stance and clapped his hands together. “Ready!” He called up to Gato.
Carefully Gato unwound the rope until he was holding Bitty face up in his arms, one hand under her back the other under her legs.
He looked at her intensely. “You must let him catch you.” He said urgently. “Resist the urge to turn in the air. You must let him catch you just as you are, like this.”
“Don't do this. Please. Don't...” Protested Bitty. But Gato looked at her very hard, his face very close to hers.
“Look right at me. Look right in my eyes and do not stop looking at me.”
And then he dropped her.
Bitty fell like a star in the night sky, her rounded back like a half moon illuminated by the many fires below. She could not scream. She watched as Gato's intense green eyes became farther away until they all but disappeared in the darkness. She gasped.
Suddenly with a swoosh she was caught up in strong arms. She blinked and looked up. Zander's face was above her smiling.
“Hello.” He said.
“Hello.” Breathed Bitty.
An enormous huzzah went up all around her. The crowd called good wishes and “hooray's.” Zander hugged Bitty close. She was safe. Bitty looked up into the tree but Gato was gone. The crowd surrounded them clapping Zander on the shoulder and patting Bitty. Even Kai hugged them altogether.
“My poor child! My poor, poor child!” Cried Lucky as he rushed to take Bitty from Zander's arms. The Master of the House wrapped her in a soft blanket and hurried her to a pile of furs. “Healers! Let the healers thru! Bring me strong broth!” He shouted and then quietly to Bitty as he tucked the blankets and furs around her, “My poor child. We'll get you fixed right up. Now just relax...you are safe now, child. Easy now...”
“And then he was gone?” Asked OFG.
“And then he was gone.” Answered Kai. “We can only assume Gato Diablo went back to Moose the White but we could find no trace of him. He did not take provisions or anything. We sent riders to the inn but there was no one there.”
“Huh... that is very odd.” Said OFG. It was true, Gato Diablo was a mystery. “I'm sure wherever he is that he is just fine. He can take care of himself. That is for certain.”
OFG lay propped up on her bed in her Inner Chamber. Col Ti stood silently in the corner, in the shadows, as always, watching over her. Princess Kai lay with her head in OFG's lap as her mother stroked her cheek. Zander, exhausted, was draped across the foot of the bed dozing. He had personally seen that Bitty was received at the Healers Hall and only left when they pronounced her well. Tired and cold, but well. She was staying with them to ensure she did not catch a fever from her exhaustion.
“The important thing is that now we are all safe and well. Itty Bitty is back with us and Shine is well on the road to healing.” Said OFG. The wound in Shine's foot was very bad. But he was clear of the fever sickness. He only needed to take a few more treatments. Hearing of Bitty's adventure he swore on his honor to stay with the Healers until they released him. He did not want to be any more trouble.
“Do you think that Gato Diablo went to find my father?” Asked Kai. “Do you think that maybe my father will come back now?”
“Your father always comes back, Kai.” Said OFG stroking Kai's worried face. “You need to have faith that he is always watching over us, Kai. Always.”
Somewhere in the deepest wood Gato Diablo came into the firelight of the big man's camp. He was sitting over a low fire smoking a pipe. The enormous black horse snorted as Gato approached. The big man looked up.
“She is well.” Said Gato Diablo settling down by the fire and reaching for some broth warming in a pot on the fireside. “She was in a tree, of all things.”
The big man looked puzzled then returned to smoking his pipe, thinking. It had taken weeks for him to lure the silver assassin, Shine, out into the very edges of the Lands. The small one could no longer live on the trash heap. He had hidden her there years ago – far away from the ones who might harm her. But now it was entirely too dangerous to be alone. It was time for her to find her place in the world. She would be safe at court and under the protection of OFG. That is, if his Princess daughter, accept her.
In the distance an owl hooted and the night grew darker.
You may also find all of the Adventure Tails in the Not Entirely Fiction link on the top of this page.