We had just finished loading Kogwahee into the cart. I had cast my spell and he would be healed by evening. He still hadn’t been able to walk under his own power. I was startled when Sabina screeched and fainted. I looked around wildly, expecting to see another imp, maybe a squad of them. Then I almost screeched just as loudly.
My lord Asmodeus was standing next to the cart, naked as he could be, scratching at the growth of beard that he hated. He was a smokey, transparent version of himself, looking like a ghost – not that I’ve ever actually seen a ghost in person; I never learned necromancy, and I never wanted to. The smells are nasty. “My lord sweetheart?” I asked, my voice squeaking like a mouse, just like old times. “Jack? Thou… thou art… dead?”
“No,” he said, his voice only at about half its normal volume, but still somehow carrying. “I’m still alive and well. I broke a finger though. That hurt like the dickens. Actually, one of the flying monkeys broke it for me. Or maybe he did it to me.”
“Where art thou?” I asked, fearing… something. I didn’t even know what to fear. I was too scared.
“Right now, I’m flying over the country north and to the east of you,” he told me. “I’m guessing I’m maybe eighty or ninety miles to your northeast. I’m following the flying monkeys back to their base.”
“You’re flying?” I asked, aghast. My love had once told me he was afraid of heights. Besides, the last time I had seen him, he had lacked wings.
“I’m a sparrow at the moment,” he explained. “I’ve done quite a bit of transformation this afternoon. I’m getting pretty good at it, but this flying takes an awful lot of energy. I could really go for some birdseed and a worm or two. Is everyone okay? Was anybody hurt in the skirmish?”
“Everyone’s fine,” I assured him. “They only wanted to kidnap you. Kogwahee says…”
“Who’s Kogwahee?” He had missed the events after he was abducted, of course.
“Kogwahee is your new servant,” I explained. “Nannakussi put two arrows into him. The monkey birds are transformed by the Wizard. They’re men and women, enslaved by Palégos.”
I brought him up to date on events he had missed, at the same time thinking what nice eyes he had, what I could see of them anyway. Usually I couldn’t see the world behind them.
My ghostly lord looked into the cart. Kogwahee returned his look. He tried to look calm and courageous even though his teeth were chattering. Then my lord looked at Sabina, who was sitting up on the ground where she had fallen, pale as a sheet and woozier than she usually looked. She was looking like she was about to faint all over again. She didn’t like the fact that he was transparent, not one little bit. “You don’t suppose she’s anemic, do you?” my Jack asked conversationally.
“I think she’s scared to death of you,” I remonstrated. “How can you be both here and there at the same time?”
“Probably the same way Palégos projects himself,” he guessed. “Nannakussi’s seen it all before, I’m sure. Once you get the feel for the power around you, it’s just a matter of using it for what you need. You’ve got the trick of transforming yourself. Projecting yourself is the same principle. Blæda knows how to do it, doesn’t she?”
I looked at Blæda for confirmation. She shook her head. “This is really different from what I do,” she assured me. I wasn’t surprised. My lover had invented an entirely new approach to magic.
“Regardless, try to do it. Fiddle with it, and you’ll get it. Picture Mildrith, and use the power to push yourself to be with her. So what did Kogwahee tell you?”
“He says the Wizard thinks you’re a man posing as the demon. I’m of no importance. I obviously don’t know how to conjure a real demon, since I flubbed calling you up. But he wants to know what you actually are.”
“That’s exactly what I am,” he assured me, without convincing me in the least. “I’m a fake demon.”
“But he knows you’ve got ‘tricks up your sleeve,’” I added. My sweetheart was doing things accomplished witches couldn’t do, and still he claimed to be nothing much. He also said he wasn’t much of a lover, and he lied about that too. He knew how to make me tingle all over.
“I guess I do have a few tricks,” he laughed. “I can turn myself into a sparrow. That’s a pretty neat trick. Now that I know his flying monkeys are phonies too, I’ll try and figure how to undo that spell while I’m following them. That’s if this damned hawk doesn’t eat me…”
Then he wasn’t there, leaving me to worry he’d been eaten before he found the Wizard, defeated him, and married me.
The hawk was swooping toward me from about two o’clock high and I had to hustle to increase my size. Luckily I’d been practicing recently, and he veered off quickly. There was no way he was going to eat something as monstrous as a five foot sparrow. I flew a few more miles like that to make sure he didn’t come back and try again, then reverted to tiny size and decreased altitude. Shoving five feet of sparrow through the air at any speed at all was a pain; I was burning major calories. There’s a reason sparrows are small.
I could still see the flying monkeys off in the far distance despite the hawk’s distraction. I settled down to flying for the next three hours or so, keeping my eye on the monkey-faced pterodactyls. I put some speed on and slowly – and discretely – gained on them. Being three and a half inches long, including my tail feathers, I figured (correctly) that they couldn’t see me a couple miles back. The terrain under me kept getting more and more mountainous. The Poconos are beautiful from the air, maybe even more beautiful than they are from the ground, but they don’t show a lot of landmarks. The top of one tree looks a lot like the top of another.
I was really craving some birdseed by the time they started descending. Flying isn’t quite as effortless as the birdies make it look. I did a lot of gliding when I could, but I still had to beat my wings pretty regularly to gain on them. They landed on a mountain that was more prominent than those around it, within sight of a stream that I was pretty sure was the Lehigh River. The Lehigh isn’t a major body of water like the Delaware, but it’s more than just a trickle of mountain stream. They used to float coal barges down it. I’d been there before, on a mostly passionate weekend with a girl I’d met shortly after I got out of the Army. She was another fond memory that’s another story entirely. I knew a bit of the terrain. If that was the Lehigh, and I was where I thought I was, then that was Bear Mountain, where the Wizard was said to hang his pointy hat. The “Bear Place” was the former (or impending, I’not sure which) town of Mauch Chunk, now renamed Jim Thorpe. In this reality stream it was a small clearing next to the river.
I found a nice tree near the water and scouted the area. Everything looked safe, so I flew down and had a long, luxurious drink. Then I did some serious scouting through the grass until I found a fat worm. He went down my little birdy hatch with relish, followed by a small cricket – not very tasty, but filling – and all the seeds I could find. I was pretty ravenous. People who say someone “eats like a bird” aren’t referring to quantity versus body weight. If I’d had room, I’d have gladly eaten another worm.
Instead, I flew back to my tree, finding a nice perch near the top, where I’d be hidden among the leaves. I tucked my head and settled down for a nap. Before I fell asleep, I visited sweet Nevy again.
Our carts were still headed north on the road. They’d fallen in with a cavalry patrol so they were relatively safe from evil wizards. The decurion was a young fellow of equestrian rank, and I could tell he thought Nevy was pretty cute. He didn’t quite fall off his horse when he saw partly transparent me sitting next to her and Chulëntët on the seat.
“Hi, sweetie!” I said in English, always a brilliant conversation opener. I was talking to her, not to the decurion. He wasn’t my type.
“My lord lover,” she greeted me, looking relieved. “You didn’t get eaten?”
“Not yet. I’m perched in the top of a tree, close to the trunk. How’s my Little Bird?” I asked Little Bird in Lenape.
“Good,” replied Chulëntët, trying to focus on me. “I can see through you.”
“Know what I am right now?” I teased.
“What?” she asked.
“I’m a little bird too. Can you turn yourself into one yet?”
“No,” she said seriously. “Domina Nevianne won’t let me try to turn into anything. She says I’ll scare the soldiers and make Sabina faint again!”
“All’s well?” I asked Nevy, slipping back to English. “You have a new suitor?”
“He’s very handsome and he wants another conquest. I’d be his latest, not his only. Besides, I like you better. I told him I was already spoken for. I told him you were large and that you were a demon. He didn’t believe me. He thinks I was speaking figuratively. I don’t even think he believes I’m a witch.”
“Hey, Little Bird,” I asked her, “think you could do Mike? Give the troops a thrill?”
“The big eyeball with feet? Can I try, domina?”
“No! You’ll stampede the horses!”
I wasn’t sure if that was a bug or a feature. It would get rid of my handsome and noble young rival at least.
“Seriously,” said my love, slipping back into Saxon, “how is thy family going to catch up with thee?”
“Is there a spell for you to go from one place to another instantly?” I asked hopefully.
“I’ve heard of them, but no one I’ve met knows how to do one.”
“Too bad,” I sighed. “That means rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, for a hundred and fifty, maybe two hundred miles or so, depending on the terrain. You want to find the Lehigh River and follow it. Its name here is the Lechewuekink, if you have to ask directions.” I concentrated and in a minute or so I had conjured an aerial map of where I was. I was able to point out the exact tree I was perched on. I transformed the gauzy nothingness it was “printed” on and it became a filmy kind of paper. I gave it to Chulëntët to hold, Nevy being occupied with the reins, though minimally. I produced the next map east of there the same way, showing where the Lehigh ran into the Delaware, aka the Kithanne or simply the Lenape-wihittuk, which means the Lenape River. Our Little Bird got to hold that one too.
Their best bet, I thought, was to continue to the northeast past the mouth of the Susquehanna, until they came to Elk River. When that ran out, they might have to go overland to the Lenape-wihittuk – one of those things you actually couldn’t miss because you’d fall into it. If they could find Back Creek, it would eliminate the portage; they could sail right into the Delaware. Head north on the Delaware and they would catch the mouth of the Lehigh where Easton was in my reality stream. There was an eentsy-weentsy town called Graviscae there in this one. Following the river would take them right past my tree, eventually anyway and paddling against the current. The Lehigh is pretty twisty and turny, meandering among Poconos.
Nevy consulted with her handsome decurion, who was looking at me and occasionally making the sign against the Evil Eye. He recommended getting a place on a boat headed that way. Back Creek – I still don’t know what it was called locally – was a shortcut for trade between the Lenape Coast, as it was called, and Centumcellae, which was an important city built at the mouth of the Susquehanna, about where Havre de Grace is in my world. The creek had been widened and there was regular commercial traffic both ways.
I checked on Sabina. She was feeling pretty chipper, once over the shock of seeing me, though she still ccringed when I got close. She had the company of thirty two relatively handsome horsemen to flirt with for pleasure, rather than business. Kogwahee was unhappy from his wounds and from having gone from slave to the Wizard to slave to a demon. I don’t think he considered it a step up. He spoke a lousy bit of Latin, worse than mine had been before I met the archbishop. He could at least communicate with us, kinda sorta. Nannakussi was impatient to catch up with me; he felt it was his duty to watch my back. It was a sentiment I deeply appreciated. Winky told me to be careful and not to do anything dangerous. Blæda told me the same thing, prophesying that there was peril ahead of me. I’d kind of figured that myself, without even having to be psychic. Leofgif, on the other hand, had complete confidence in me; she was in wedding planner mode, wondering whether I preferred a blue theme or green.
I went with blue on blue. I told Nevy to hurry and catch up with me, that I wanted to mess around again. I made smoochy lips at her, then I was back in my perch.
After my nap, I flew part way to Bear Mountain, just scoping out the terrain. I wanted to have a good picture of it in my mind. The place was aptly named. I actually saw quite a few bears. This time of year they should have been fat. Instead they looked bony, their skin hanging loose. I wondered if there was some kind of bear flu going around. Then one of them stood on its hind legs and I saw it had a monkey face. I decided they were guards or scouts. I hoped sparrows were insignificant enough to be beneath notice. I found a convenient perch and watched. None of them came after me.
Assuming there was a hundred fifty miles between us, and my family made twenty five miles a day, that meant there were six days of birdseed and worms ahead of me. I settled down to wait.
I missed my sweetheart. Touching her made me tingle.