Authors: Heidi Willard
THE UNWILLING AMBASSADOR (THE UNWILLING #3)
Copyright © 2014 by Heidi Willard
Want to get an email when my next book is released?
"Slow down, Fred!" Pat shrieked as she clutched the boy's waist.
"Why?" he yelled over the wind that whipped past them.
"Because you're going to get us both killed!" she snapped back.
The pair were on Fluffy and making patrols around the mountains of Tramadore. It had been five days since the battle of Tramadore, and they were stuck on guard duty during the evening. There were few horses to spare, so Fred had suggested they use Fluffy to scout the northwest region in the direction of Galaron. The undead creatures that inhabited the once-proud city were the greatest threat, but there'd been no sign of the shambling undead anywhere near Tramadore.
Fluffy climbed a mountain and they found themselves on a flat slab of rocks. The scouts looked out on the beautiful scene before them. The plains were green with tall grass, and a soft breeze blew by them and softly touched their faces. A few columns of smoke still rose from the direction of Galaron, but the road leading to the dead city was, like the city, empty.
Pat slipped off the saddle, and glared at the boy and his cantankus. "You two are crazy."
Fred smirked and leaned down to rub Fluffy's chin. "No, we just work well together so we can go that fast. Isn't that right, boy?" Fluffy barked and drooled.
"Thank Phaeton I wasn't with you in the cavern..." she muttered.
"Yeah, we might not have made it with another person on his back," Fred agreed.
"Are you calling me fat?"
"Good." Pat stepped up to the edge of the flat rock. She looked out towards Tramadore and the black scorch marks where the battle had been fought. "Do you-" she began, but shook her head. "Never mind."
"Do I what?" he asked her.
"I said never mind," she bit back.
Fred leaned his face against Fluffy's ears. "Girls are very strange," he whispered to the beast. Fluffy gave a nod, but both stiffened when Pat swirled around.
"What did you say?" she questioned them.
Fred waved his hands in front of him. "Nothing! Nothing!" he replied.
Pat scowled at him. "That's what I thought." She slipped back into the saddle and nodded at Tramadore. "Let's get back and change the guards." Their duty was only for the evening; the gargoyles took care of all night patrols.
Fluffy galloped back to the city just as the sun set, and they passed by the camp that held the people of Galaron. Semi-permanent structures rose up from the numerous tents, and many people wandered aimlessly through the temporary city. Fred glanced over his shoulder at Pat. "Have Ned and Lord Tramadore found anything about the stone in Galaron?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "Not a thing. The secret may be in the library at Galaron's castle, if it survived," she replied as they rode through the city gateway. The defenses were fully repaired and gargoyles guarded the walls. The pair stopped at the guardhouse and were met by Sampson with Ruth at his side.
"Good evening," he greeted them.
"Good evening. Going for a practice flight?" Pat guessed.
"Yes. Ruth's flying is excellent, but her landings are a little rough," Sampson told them as he glanced at his daughter. Ruth stared at the ground and blushed.
"It's a perfect night. We have nothing to report from the direction of Galaron," Pat replied.
The responsibility of guarding the area was passed on to Sampson and his clan, and Fred, Pat and Fluffy walked up to the castle. Candles in the windows welcomed them to their temporary home. Fluffy was left in the courtyard, and inside they noticed the study door was ajar. Fred and Pat peeked into the room and found the place in the usual mess of the past few days. Scrolls and books littered the floor, bookshelves and furniture while the two researchers, Lord Tramadore and Ned, poured over the contents.
The room was lit up like the sun with floating candles enchanted by Ned. Fred shuddered when he thought about doing such a magic trick. The whole castle would burn down and only the living silverware would rise from the ashes to destroy the rest of the town. Fred glanced at the corner to their left which fronted the castle. He thought he saw a shimmer of movement against the wall, but his attention was caught when Tramadore sighed and collapsed onto a stack of books that lay on the nearest chair.
"I'm afraid I'm stumped, old friend," he admitted to Ned. Tramadore wiped from his hands and face dust accumulated from the ancient writings. "There doesn't seem to be anything about the treasure of the Sterning region."
Ned's own face was grim. "I, too, must admit there isn't a clue to the item to destroy the region stone," he agreed.
Pat stepped into the room and dragged Fred with her. "Is there any way we can help?" she offered.
Tramadore smiled at the pair. "Only if you have the knowledge of the ancient castors and know where they hid the other five treasures."
"No, but we both have eyes and-"
"-and I can't read," Fred reminded her.
"Reading is poor substitution for working with your hands," Canto's gruff voice spoke up as he walked into the room.
"Which is his way of saying he can't read, either" Ned translated to the others.
Canto plopped down on a stack of books and scowled. "What are ya reading these things for when legends are more useful?" he countered. "Take dwarves. We pass our tales down through the woman's line. A very practical method except when there aren't any females in the family, or when we've made them mad enough to shut them up. Then it's a curse and a blessing."
Tramadore and Ned jumped up at Canto's suggestion and looked to each other. "That's it!" Tramadore shouted. He pulled a nearby chord to call a servant.
Canto raised an eyebrow. "What's it?"
Ned jumped forward, grabbed Canto's hands and danced the dwarf around the room in a fast jig. "The answer to our question, you brilliant dwarf!"
Canto sprang from Ned's grasp and brushed off the dust from his hands. "What are ya going on about?"
A servant came at the chord's beckoning. "You rang, my lord?"
"Yes, would you please fetch Sampson here?" Tramadore replied. "He may be on the walls watching the city."
"He's at the gate," Pat spoke up.
Tramadore smiled at the young woman. "Excellent. Hurry to the gate and bring him here."
The servant bowed and hurried off to perform his task. Canto glared at the two men. "What mischief have ya two planned?"
"No mischief, only answers, and you'll know soon enough," Tramadore assured him.
The servant promptly brought Sampson with Ruth to the study. The gargoyle leader was understandably curious and cautious at the outset of the interview. His clan was still precariously new to the city and even after their help in destroying the stone he feared they would be banished. Tramadore smiled at the gargoyle, easing some of his unease. "You sent for me?" Sampson asked them.
Ned nodded. "Yes, we wish to know if your people passed on any legends of Galaron, specifically anything to do with a treasured item that needed protecting."
Sampson raised a brow. "Yes, my people know of such an item. We were entrusted with its care a very many years ago by a king of Galaron."
The four humans and dwarf sprang to life at their breakthrough. Tramadore eagerly stepped forward. "And do you still care for this item?" he asked him.
The gargoyle nodded. "Yes, it was one of the few possessions we took with us on leaving Galaron."
"But why would you keep protecting it after the king betrayed you?" Pat asked him.
Sampson turned to her with a deep expression of seriousness. "That king was kind to us, and one's duty doesn't end until the work is finished."
"Can you bring this item to us?" Tramadore requested.
"Very well," Sampson agreed. In the space of half an hour a box darkened and worn with age was brought by Sampson to the study. The seal of the Galaron royal family, a hunter standing tall, stood out on the lid and Sampson gently set it on the desk. It was a small box about a foot long and half a foot deep. There was a lock on the front, and Sampson turned to Ned. "The words of the king passed down through our clan tells that only a castor can release the lock."
Ned smiled and pulled up his long, floppy sleeves. They slid back down immediately. "Stand back, this may take some time."
Canto scoffed. "Why? It's only a lock."
Ned hunched over the box and inched the tip of his staff toward the lock. "The ancient castors were masters of magic. They created the stones, devised the use of wands, and-" His staff tapped the lock and the lid sprang open an inch.
"-and knew as much as a child about lock spells," Canto finished for him. "A dwarf child can make a better lock."
Ned straightened and coughed. "Yes, well, they couldn't master every skill." Everyone crowded around him as he flipped open the lid. Inside, laying on a velvet pillow, were two halves to a coconut, along with a piece of paper attached to the inside of the lid. Ned took the note while Tramadore lifted out the ancient relics.
The lord looked from one piece to the other. "These are coconuts," he informed everyone.
"We can see that," Canto quipped. "But what Ah want to know is how are these going to help us against that undead army in Galaron."
Ned answered that. "It seems the items resonate with the stones through sound. When Captain Hawkins jabbed the hairpin into the stone he created a vibration that cracked the exterior and broke the whole thing into pieces."
"So we need to resonate these two pieces of coconuts with the stone in Galaron?" Tramadore guessed.
"Precisely," Ned replied. He folded up the paper and stuffed it into his cloak. "The ancient castors left instructions on how to use the pieces. Let me demonstrate." He took the halves from Tramadore and held them a few inches apart from one another. "They go like this." He gently knocked them together to create a noise like the clapping of horse's hooves on hard ground. "See? Nothing to it."
"Except for the undead army surrounding the stone," Canto reminded them. He nodded at the coconut pieces. "If that pony sound needs to reach the stone someone is going to have to be standing next to it clapping those things together like an idiot."
"I never said the task would be easy," Ned countered. "We'll need a very detailed and careful plan-"
"We could fly to the stone," Ruth suggested. Everyone stared at her and she blushed beneath the attention. "I thought perhaps it would be a good idea..." she murmured.
Sampson put his arm around her shoulders and smiled. "That would be a perfect idea, Ruth," he told her.
Ned chuckled. "It seems with this group that I'm outmatched in wits."
Pat patted him on the shoulder. "But not in abilities. We'll need your power to fight off any of the undead around the stone."
"Well, that's one comfort," Ned chuckled. He turned to Sampson. "We'll need your peoples' help for another dangerous task."
The gargoyle leader gave a nod. "We will help however we can. The people of Galaron may have rejected us, but the city was our home for many centuries. It deserves better than to be tainted with the filth of Canavar."