chapter 13: THE CHARIOT
this card, 7th of the Major Arcana, here signifies Forces in
Motion, Conquering All
The Gypsy wagon painted in wild colors rolled out of Tarro early
the next morning. Agra was driving, Benutio sat beside him and
nodded to people he recognized as they passed on their way across
the unusually empty Marketsquare. Few waved back, the city of
Tarro was in bleak humor after the disastrous attack by the evil
Sorcerer Otius. Even the silly Clown, sitting quietly atop the
wagon, seemed to have been sobered by it all.
The Gypsies looked back at the city one last time before they were
out of sight, seeing from afar the marks made by the battle. The
defaced Palace of Emperors, where the Royal Balcony still hung in
tatters. The frayed stump of the Clock Tower. No rebuilding had
begun yet, for the Emperor had heavier matters to deal with.
Once out of sight, Clown swung down into the wagon. Devo was
inside, but not Leema, who had stayed behind in Tarro to attend
to Prince Elro, as arranged. Devo was looking through the
stack of books loaned from the Royal Library of Tarro.
"This is amazing, Clown, an entire encyclopedia!" Devo had almost
no interest in where they were going to, or even that they were on
their way, so involved was he with this treasure of words and
information at his fingertips.
They rolled along at an easy pace, their only horse Arcano had to
last the entire way. They followed the cobbled Royal Road
upstream beside the River Lyfe, north toward a minor mountain
range they would have to cross to reach Trunddal, then due east
to far Farland and the enormous heights of the Major Mountain
Range, beyond which stood Castle Darkstone. Benutio knew the way:
it was long and laborious, slightly dangerous, but nothing
compared to what awaited them at their destination.
end of chapter 13
"So how is the reading orgy coming along?" Benutio asked when they
stopped for a pee break a few hours down the road.
"I'm beginning to wear down a bit now," Devo admitted, "There's
just too much information, innumerable numbers, detailed details-
-it's not like reading adventure stories," he shook his head to
"But Clown has read straight through to book 15 of the
Encyclopedia now, " Devo said, "and memorized everything in every
one of them. He won't stop: only 60 volumes to go."
Benutio gave a little laugh and then called, "Clown! Pee break, come
"I don't have time for that!" from inside the wagon.
"Really? Better think that over with your new brains."
Clown came out. "You're right, of course." He rushed to the side
of the road and relieved himself, then came back, very excited.
"Benutio, did you know that there were once dragons--I mean REALLY
BIG reptiles--millions of years ago which died and left their
bones in stone? Or that there is a myth that the Tower of Tarro
was one of hundreds built by Ancient Powerbeings? And that if you
cross-reference those items they have to be the same beings...
although no one else seems to have figured that out yet. Or..."
"Ha ha ha! Slow down, Clown! And yes, I have heard of those
things, although not of your cross-referencing..."
"Are you really going to read all 75 volumes in order?" Devo asked.
"No, I've dropped that approach--it's not...efficient."
"Effish-ent what does that word mean?"
"Uh well, there's been no word to describe 'a degree of effective
use of time and energy' so I sort of made it up."
"You can't just make up words!"
"Why not? Somebody's got to do it."
They passed a minor village at the foothills. Folk they met along
the way smiled waved to them as they drove through. People in
Theland were friendly, even to gypsies. And why not? they had
not known war or need for several generations due to the
sorceresses in the silver tower at Tarro.
The road was no longer cobbled after the village, being just bare
earth, but the weather had been good, and so was the road so far.
They rode north for another day, toward the minor mountain range.
When the hills became steep everyone had to get out of the wagon
and walk, sometimes even push when poor Arcano could hardly pull
the weight of the wagon with all their supplies up the hill.
"It's all those heavy books!" Agra complained half-jokingly.
By evening they were near the pass that would take them over to
the Tunddal side of this mountain range. They camped rather
than starting down into darkness. Also because it was safer to
sleep on the Theland side than in the land of Tunddal, which had
no sorceress to depend upon. They found a cozy camp area beside
one of the waterfalls that flowed down from the mountains to
become the River Lyfe.
They even had a view of the sunset over Theland spreading out
below them, and as it got dark they could see the distant lights
of Tarro far off on the horizon.
They had bread and cheese and various sausages among the supplies
that Luminata had procured them, Benutio made tea while the boys
went out and gathered wood for a campfire, then they settled in
quite comfortably, eating better than they usually did.
"Do we have a plan?" Agra asked, as they sat around the fire.
"Half a plan," Benutio said, "Get Clown to Castle Darkstone, he
fools Otius enough to at least rescue Wand, and if possible,
Clown suddenly looked up from his book. "Stops Otius?
Do you mean...to kill him?"
"Hope so, he deserves it," Agra said, "for killing Mama. And lots
of others." Neither Benutio nor Devo said anything.
Clown frowned. "I do want to save Wand...but I was thinking more
of rescue by clever escape. I really hadn't considered
"That may be necessary, in order to save Wand," Benutio suggested.
Clown pondered that without comment.
"If you really are so smart now," Agra challenged, "you'll
be able to figure out what happens when you do rescue the girl
and get Otius mad enough to come after you."
"Unless I outsmart him thoroughly, which is what I wish to do. I
am not seeking revenge."
"Well, I am," Agra announced, "and if you can't do it, fine, just
deliver him to me and I'll..."
Benutio interrupted, "I said we stop Otius; stop him from
doing any more harm to anyone else. Clown is smart enough to find
some way to do that, let's have faith."
Down the other side the next morning, into the valley known as
Tunddal. The few people they met along the road neither smiled
nor waved, especially not to gypsies. There was also a village
on this side of the foothills, and here they were stopped by
six rough looking men armed with axes.
"Road tax," they announced, "you have to pay to pass through here!"
"How much?" Benutio asked.
A burly bearded man looked appraisingly at the wagon. "Oh...a
hundred majors?" A preposterous sum. The six men were dirty in
lumberwork clothes, axes carried visibly, and seemed aggressively
interested in either money or trouble.
"Ah, and I a poor wanderer on my way to find work in Tundtown.
With hardly enough money to feed my own family! What shall
I do?" Benutio understood that while he could actually afford to
pay this unreasonably high “road tax” due to Empress Frieda's
financing, if he showed any of that money these men would rob
them of everything.
"You're a gypsy, you're not looking for work, and you probably
stole a fortune back in Tarro, so pay or..."
"Or what?" Benutio smiled pleasantly, but his eyes narrowed.
He was sitting in the driving seat, and Agra sat beside him.
Clown and Devo were inside, but they had stopped reading now.
"..or you can turn around and go back over the mountains," said
the burly bearded man, with a nasty grin. The other men stood
in the roadway so that the wagon could not pass. One of them
took Arcano's reins in hand and started looking at the horse's
"Take your hands off our horse," Agra said in his best hoodlum
voice, slouching back as if completely relaxed.
But the man, who was much larger than Agra, only blinked
insolently and said, "Naw, I like this horse, boy. I may
have to confiscate it..."
Benutio sighed, said "All right, you win, we'll pay," and in one
seemingly casual but actually sudden movement he had already
stepped down from his wagon seat and was now close in with the
burly bearded man. Looking him directly in the eye, for they
were equally tall, he said, "But let us negotiate a more reasonable
price." And he smiled his famous smile.
Meantime, Agra slid down the other side of the wagon and was
just as suddenly up beside the man who held Arcano's reins, and
Agra was holding a long thin knife very professionally.
The wagon door opened and Devo came out with his crossbow cocked
and loaded, also looking quite professional. This was obviously
a drill the gypsies knew, and had practiced, and had survived
The six men felt the fun possibly slipping away from this
And then the back door of the gypsy wagon flew open and a silly
Clown sprang out, bouncing and handspringing to land atop the wagon,
where he froze into a stupid pose--as if to bring the fun back.
Benutio's smile was really perfect now, even the eyes. "We cannot
pay in money," he said, to the six men, as well as some other
village folk who had come to watch, "but we can do our show for
you. I'm sure you guys don't get much entertainment out here, that's
why you're stirring up shit on the road. So please allow us to
pay our Road Tax debt with a Free Performance."
Feeling crowded, the burly bearded man stepped back and said, "Uhhh…I
don’t know about that…" then gave a loud whistle, obviously calling
This was taking place almost within the village, so several of the
local folk responded, coming towards the scene, at least to see what
was going on. Some of them had heard the word entertainment and
began to run enthusiastically.
“Hey, the gypsies are putting on a show!” they called to each other,
and more came running.
“We’d rather have money,” the burly man insisted.
”But if we don’t have any money," Benutio vaguely suggested, “a free
show is far better than nothing.”
“Yeah, give us a show!” a bored local shouted. Other voices agreed.
Several more villagers had gathered by now and soon there was a crowd.
“A show, a show!”
The burly man had been expecting the villagers to back him up, but it
was not working out that way. Benutio saw that and suggested, “These
men--your tax collectors--should be rewarded for arranging this free
entertainment, perhaps this village could offer them each a bottle
“Done! Now give us a show!” The crowd was unanimous.
“Well, I guess that would be all right…” the burly man mumbled and the
other five men nodded gladly. At least they'd get something out of it.
Before anyone could change their minds, Benutio waved his hand towards
the wagon. The Clown, still frozen in his silly pose, snapped into a
summersault backwards off the wagon. As usual, the crowd jumped back,
surprised by this suddenly cavorting Clown, then started laughing as
he performed his standard routine of funny moves and amazing flips.
Abruptly, with a roll and a bound he was atop the wagon again,
hopping about and making funny faces, seeming always to stumble
and fall, but always swinging back up in time to avoid a spill.
There he scooped up a painted bullseye-board and held it up for
all to see. Agra had already snatched up his drum and was into
a dramatic drum roll.
Clown tossed the board up spinning into the air. Devo shot his
crossbow and hit the bullseye. Clown caught the target board and
cast it up again, this time one of Agra's throwing daggers slammed
into the center ring from the other side. The audience began to
Then Clown was to hold the target in front of himself and spin
around, catching Devo's arrows and Agra's knives with the
targetboard, one after the other in rapid fire. This was one
of those old death-defying stunts they had done so many times
before. Clown went into his spin.
The first arrow thunked solidly into the wooden board even
as he whirled to catch Agra's knife, already cast--and then the
Clown stumbled, and fell backwards. He barely deflected the
dagger, and only avoided the flying arrow because he tumbled and
fell out of the way, down from the wagon top, almost landing on
his back but saved at the last instant by quick reactions.
He managed to land on his feet, but staggering backwards, and so fell
sprawling on his butt. Devo and Agra were surprised by that--
Clown never ever stumbled.
But they were even more confused to see Clown waving his hands at
them and shouting, "No! Don't! No more!" There was panic in his
voice and real fear on his face.
Then the crowd which had gathered began to laugh even harder: to
them this was the funniest part of the act. Benutio broke the
spell of his sons' stupefaction by snatching up his violin and
kicking in with one of their standard gypsy hit numbers.
It worked, the boys went into their routines: Agra's castanets
and Devo's guitar, they caught up with Benutio. The show must
Clown also rolled to his feet and began to do his dance routine,
but it was awkward and halfhearted; he was obviously rattled.
The music went a bit sour, all were affected. Nor did they have
Leema to give the dance its usual sexy centerpiece, so it all
fell a bit flat.
But they bowed when they were done, and the townspeople applauded
anyway--these guys really didn't get much entertainment
out here. Then the gypsies were up on their wagon and out of
there with neither further ado nor trouble.
Chapter 14: THE HEIROPHANT
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