The thirteenth unicorn, p.17
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.17

           W. D. Newman
 
CHAPTER 14

  A BEAR IN THE NIGHT

  When Amos, Louise, and the kids arrived at the fairy glen, they were dismayed at the wreckage they found. The beautiful fountain was destroyed and all of the colorful flowers lay broken and trampled upon the ground. The fairies were out now too, flitting back and forth in quick jerky motions. All of the movement almost made Casey queasy.

  “The snakers are gone,” Amos said. “The fairies are upset, but they would not be out if the snakers were anywhere close by. You kids stay here with Louise and let me scout the area to see if I can figure out what happened.”

  Louise and the kids sat down at the edge of the glen and watched as Amos began to circle the area. The big man moved slowly, carefully scanning the ground to his left and to his right. When he came to what appeared to be a large boxwood shrub, he circled the bush three times and left the glen. Fifteen minutes later, he returned.

  “The snakers have him.”

  Louise gasped and Casey began to cry. Amos put his hand on Casey’s shoulder and gently squeezed.

  “All is not lost, child. They’re gone, but I’ve picked up their trail. And if we hurry, I think that we will catch them before they reach the queen. If we can do that, then there is hope for Ben yet. Okay?”

  Casey, unable to speak because of the huge lump rising in her throat, wiped her eyes and nodded. Amos smiled and patted her on the back. “Good. Now let’s get moving.”

  Hot on the trail, Amos sped along at a pace the others could barely keep up with. Even though they were traveling downhill, they were beginning to tire. Especially Louise. When Amos finally threw up his hand to signal the others to stop, they all collapsed beneath the shade of an old sycamore tree. Once again, he began examining the ground. As he did at the fairy glen, he circled the area until he spotted some clue and then set off down the hill, leaving Louise and the kids to rest and catch their breath. When he returned, he was smiling.

  “It looks like Ben has escaped.”

  “Thank goodness,” Louise exclaimed. “Are you certain? What about the snakers?”

  “Yes, I am positive that he has escaped. There were only three snakers taking him back to the queen, but they are on his trail so we need to keep moving.”

  “Do you think he’s okay?” Casey asked.

  “I think so. But even if he evades the snakers, by nightfall he will be cold, scared, and hungry.”

  “Let’s get moving then,” said Joey. “It’s already late and I don’t want to be out here at night.”

  “Me either!” Jenny added, as she looked up and saw a star glimmering faintly in the east.

  Once again, Amos took the lead. The party walked down the hill and followed Ben’s trail to the small winding stream with a path along side it. Amos left the path and found a spot where a hemlock had recently fallen across a large boulder. The rock and the limbs from the fallen tree offered a crude shelter, if not from the weather, then at least from any snakers that might be lurking about.

  “Let’s camp here for the night,” said Amos.

  “We can’t stop, we’ve got to keep going,” Casey cried.

  “We can’t see in the dark, Casey. Snakers can,” said Louise. “Besides, we need our rest. Ben is a smart kid. I’m sure he has found a safe place to hide and pass the night.”

  “Our mom is going to be worried sick about us,” said Jenny.

  “No she’s not,” Joey answered. “Remember, when we go back through the Merlin Tree it will be the same time as when we left. Even if we stay here for several days.”

  Amos rummaged under his furs and pulled out a sack with a leather drawstring. He opened the sack and pulled out several strips of dried beef and passed them out. “Eat this. It’s meat from a white prairie stag. A small amount will fill your stomach and give you strength. I’ll fetch us some water from the stream.”

  After eating the meager fare of dried beef and water, Louise and the kids bedded down for the night. When they were all fast asleep, Amos rose silently and disappeared into the forest. Though the night had been quietly slipping by, it seemed like they had just closed their eyes when the roar of an angry beast shattered the stillness and ripped them from their slumber. Scrambling to their feet, they rushed out from beneath the shelter just as a huge black bear burst out of the darkness, full of rage and fury. Louise and the kids jumped aside and pressed up against the bolder as the angry bear bore down on them. Now there was no where to run, no way to escape. Casey and Jenny screamed and the big bear passed by them and exploded into the fallen tree that was their shelter. Shattered tree limbs flew everywhere and an ear piercing shriek made everyone cover their ears.

  Although it was night, the moon was very bright and every one could see what was happening. The great bear had crashed into the tree and bowled over three snakers. The first snaker took the brunt of the bear’s charge and lay lifeless on the ground. The second snaker was ripped open by one swipe of the bear’s paw and the bear had the third snaker in its jaws, shaking it like a rag doll. Finally, satisfied that the snaker was dead, the bear dropped the mangled creature to the ground and ambled off into the darkness. As soon the bear was gone, Louise set about straightening the camp as if nothing had happened, while Casey, Jenny, and Joey stood by with mouths agape.

  “Close your mouths kids, before a bug flies in there, get over here and help me straighten up.”

  “Grandma, did you not just see what happened? What if that bear comes back? And where is Amos?”

  “That was Amos, sweetheart.”

  “What did you say?” Casey asked, bewildered.

  “That bear,” Louise replied, “was Amos. Amos is a shape shifter dear.”

  Right at that time, the big man walked into camp with a sheepish look upon his face. The children backed away from him, half expecting him to turn into an angry bear at any moment. Amos saw the fear in their eyes and sat down upon the ground before them, so that he would not look so large and menacing. Louise came up and took a seat beside him, facing the children.

  “Amos is a shape shifter,” Louise began. “He can turn into a bear at a moments notice. The angrier he is, the larger and more powerful bear he becomes. But listen to me. You kids need not fear him. Amos is the kindest man, with the gentlest spirit, of anyone I’ve ever met. As long as you are with him, you are safe.”

  “We weren’t safe in the fairy glen this afternoon,” Joey remarked.

  “No, we weren’t,” said Casey, her fear slowly giving way to anger. “Why didn’t you turn into a bear then and save Ben?”

  Louise started to speak, but Amos laid a giant hand on her arm which quieted her. “If I had changed into a bear at the fairy glen what would you have done?”

  Casey didn’t answer.

  “Well, I’ll tell you what you would have done. You all would have been terrified of me and you probably would have all run in different directions. How could I have protected you then? So, I kept you together by fleeing with you and got you out of harms way. When Ben was captured, I could not go back for him and leave you all alone, I had to get you to safety first. Do you understand?”

  Casey nodded as the tears slid down her cheek. Joey put his arm around her and pulled her close to him. “Don’t worry, we’ll find Ben.”

  “You bet we will,” Amos said as he rose to his feet. “You guys get some rest. I’m going to clean up my mess and then I’ll keep watch over you the rest of the night.”

  “Don’t you need some rest too?” Jenny asked.

  “I’ll rest when Ben is safe and back with us,” Amos replied.

  Casey walked over to Amos and threw her arms around him. “Thanks. I’m sorry I was angry with you.”

  “That’s okay, child. Now get some sleep. Nothing will bother you tonight.”

  The rest of the night passed uneventfully and morning dawned with the promise of another beautiful day. There was no sign anywhere around camp about what had transpired last night
and though everyone was somewhat stiff from sleeping on the hard ground, they were all well rested and ready to go. Amos passed out some more beef from his sack and they all drank from the stream, before setting off down the path. As the sun rose and began to paint the gray canvas of the early morning sky with warm oranges, the forest came to life with songbirds and the chatter of squirrels. Amos seemed to be in fine spirits and struck up a conversation as they walked.

  “Those snakers I disposed of last night were the ones that had Ben captive. They were the ones he escaped from too.”

  “So, where is Ben?” Joey asked.

  “Exactly!” said Amos. “Where is Ben? Those snakers were on Ben’s trail yesterday, but last night they were coming back down the path without him.”

  “So, do you think Ben hid somewhere and they couldn’t find him or do you think he just kept running and they gave up chasing him?” Jenny asked.

  “I’m not sure,” Amos replied. “Snakers are excellent trackers and they do not give up on their prey easily. But I believe it is a good sign that he is well.”

  Eventually, the group came to the point where the path began to pull away from the stream. Amos studied the ground for some time, then led them up the path to the rock wall on the hillside. They soon found the stone steps (which were almost too small for Amos’ large feet) and climbed up to the ledge. On top of the rock ledge, there were no tracks to be found and the trail went dead, for there did not seem to be any exit from the ledge, other than the way they had some up.

  “Trickery,” Amos muttered.

  “What’s wrong?” Louise asked.

  “Dwarves,” said Amos. “Back where the path left the stream, three more sets of prints joined Ben’s.”

  “How can you tell it’s dwarves and not snakers?” Joey asked.

  “Snakers don’t wear boots, for one,” Amos answered. “And besides, I can smell them. My guess is that Ben came up on this ledge to pass the night. There is a crevice, there, that he probably hid in. Then, sometime later in the night, the three dwarves came up here too. Since there are no tracks on the ground going away from here and since there doesn’t seem to be any other way down from this place, it can only mean one thing. The dwarves found him and he has gone with them.”

  “Gone where?” Joey asked, looking around for an exit.

  “There’s probably a hidden tunnel on this ledge somewhere,” Amos replied. “Maybe even in that crevice somewhere.”

  “Dwarves are good guys though,” said Casey, “aren’t they?”

  “Yes,” said Louise, “They are good guys. That’s probably why the snakers turned back. Dwarves hate snakers and given the opportunity, will hew them down without a moment’s hesitation. However, this is going to make it more difficult to locate Ben.”

  “Why is that?” Jenny asked.

  “Dwarves are pretty much like the characters you read about in fairy tales back home. They love gold, silver, and precious gems and they are forever mining them. They are always in fear of someone looting their treasure, so they spend as much time hiding the trails to their mines and to their homes, as they do mining the metals and gems they love so dearly.”

  “How do we find the tunnel then? If there even is a tunnel.”

  “There has to be a door up here somewhere,” said Amos. “You won’t be able to see it clearly. Look for a crack in the wall, a loose stone, or a depression in the stone. Be careful though and don’t get too close to the edge.”

  The group spread out across the ledge and began running their hands over the rock wall. After an hour of searching with no luck, they sat down to take a break and stare at the wall. Joey was only able to sit for a couple of minutes though, and soon got up to explore the crevice once more. The opening was high enough that he only had to stoop a little to enter, and it was deep enough to lie down yet still be inside. However, it was a narrow fit and the walls converged in the rear, forming a triangular shaped room. Joey squeezed as far back into the room as he could and stared into the corner where the two walls met. Was that a crack? He tried to squeeze further into the corner and the wall to his left moved. That was definitely a crack back there in the corner and it was wider now than it was just a moment ago. He put his back to the wall on the right, and pushed against the wall on the left, with all of his strength. The wall slowly swung inward, revealing a dark tunnel leading into the hillside.

  “Hey everyone, I found it!”

  The crevice was too small for all of them to fit inside at once so Amos had Joey come out and then he went in first. The big man had to crawl on his hands and knees to enter the crevice, yet it was still a tight fit. Though once inside the tunnel, the ceiling was high enough so that Amos could stand, but he still had to stoop just a little, as he felt along the wall for a torch. After he found a torch and lit it, he called for the others to join him and when everyone was inside the tunnel, he pushed the stone door shut. The door closed with an ominous boom that echoed off the bare stone walls and down the long dark corridor before them.

  “Why did you do that?” Jenny cried. “What if we can’t get back out now?”

  “I closed the door to keep any other snakers from picking up our trail. Those dwarves were probably on the way home from their mines last night and, I’ll bet, this tunnel leads to their home. With any luck, we’ll find Ben at the end of this tunnel and maybe the dwarves can provide us with a safer route back to my cabin.”

  *****

 
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