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.

"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 clear it. "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 on out." "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, he...stops Otius." Clown suddenly looked up from his book. "Stops Otius? Do you 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 killing anyone." "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 teeth. "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 before. The six men felt the fun possibly slipping away from this little adventure. 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 backup. 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 of wine?” “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 applaud. 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 go on. 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.
end of chapter 13

Chapter 14: THE HEIROPHANT <BR> <BR> <BR> <a href="chaps.htm">List of Chapters</a>