Dwizzle immediately jumped into the water and began to use his two hands like water shovels. Poor Andor did not stand a chance. Surprisingly, Mya was the first to come to his assistance. Then Crusty joined in, but he splashed Dwizzle by accident. So they splashed each other a few times, and that brought Itchy and Reneus into the fray.
“Wait!” Dallah shouted. Everyone stopped and looked in her direction. “Have your fun as long as no one gets hurt, but leave me out of it.” She spoke sternly, and at least Crusty gave a little bow. Dwizzle just opened his jaw and Andor took advantage by splashing Dwizzle in the face to make him swallow some water.
Then it was a free-for-all, and the water went everywhere. It was inevitable when Itchy and Crusty teamed up to make a big four-handed wave aimed at Reneus, and Reneus ducked. Dallah got soaked, and again everyone stopped.
“I would say that is enough,” she said. “Imps, come here.” Dwizzle and Crusty came right away, but she had to sternly add, “You too Itchy.” The imp came whether he wanted to or not.
“Now, who are you working for?”
Crusty took off his hat which no one realized he was wearing, and so Dwizzle followed that example. Itchy chose to be stubborn, and he was the one who answered.
“Dayus, the King of the gods himself.”
“Oh? He got sober enough to give you instructions.” The imps, even Itchy grinned at that, but Reneus and Mya reacted at her near blasphemy.
“Please!” Dallah sighed. “It is a wonder he gets up in the morning and can follow a straight line across the sky.”
“Automatic pilot,” Itchy whispered with a grin.
Dallah nodded. “Now what is your job?”
“To dry the land and make it sand,” Crusty recited. Dwizzle nodded. Itchy had a thought.
“What’s it to you?”
“I think you have done enough of that. The die is cast, as they say. There is no stopping it now.” She paused to examine the three imp faces one at a time before she spoke again. “I release you from your duty to Dayus. I think you should go see Lord Varuna. He may have work for you.”
“Wait a minute. Who are you –?”
“Mother,” Reneus interrupted. The travelers were on the horizon.
“Quick, now’s our chance.” Itchy pulled the other imps to the side and they melted back into the landscape and made for the party.
“Lockhart! Boston!” Dallah groaned to her feet and waved.
“Mother?” Mya spoke.
“These are the ones I told you might come one day.”
“I had forgotten.” Reneus said as the travelers came to the water. Dallah had to hug Boston and Alexis.
“It is so good to see you. I am so glad you are here.”
“Where can we set down Doctor Procter?” Lockhart asked. He looked exhausted. He and Mingus were taking a turn and the elder elf in particular looked unable to go much further.
“Of course,” Dallah stepped close to the half-breed but knew better than to touch him. “How long has he been like this?” She asked.
“This is the second day,” Captain Decker said. He shouldered his rifle and took Mingus’ place.
“Well, come. We must get him to the camp.”
“Mother.” Andor got her attention. “Your imps went ahead of us.”
“Oh dear.” She hurried and everyone hurried to follow. Fortunately, the imps were just arriving since they stopped first for an argument.
“We are free now,” Crusty said.
“We’re supposed to go see Lord Varuna,” Dwizzle said.
“Wait a minute!” Itchy was buying none of it. “Since when does a thicky bean tell us what to do, especially when our orders come from the King of the gods himself?”
“But I feel free,” Crusty said. “I don’t feel like doing the work of Dayus any more.”
Dwizzle nodded, but Itchy responded. “That don’t mean anything. Crusty, you don’t ever feel like doing any work.” Dwizzle laughed.
“I’m thinking we could ask Lord Varuna when we find him. He always tells the truth.” Itchy hit him. “Ooowww.”
“You don’t do the thinking, you’ll only hurt yourself worse than before.” Dwizzle put his hand back in his mouth and pouted.
“I think that is a good idea,” Crusty said. Itchy stomped on his foot. “Ooowww.”
“Right now we got to find Stonecrusher some meat before we become meat.” They could agree on that. With their glamours on, they came right up to the edge of the camp. It was not much to speak of, the huts being barely more than lean-tos with skins on the open side. They were snuggled between some stick trees, and there were only five of them altogether. There could not have been more than twenty people in that camp and barely more than twenty sheep altogether.
The sheep were all presently in a pen where Dallah’s husband, Godus and two men were separating the sacrifice from the others. When they were done, the groom had two younger brothers who drove the rest to the stream.
“Not much selection,” Crusty said. The sheep were all scrawny, stunted and underfed.
“Yeah, but it will do,” Itchy responded.
“Hey, look. Sweets” Dwizzle pointed to a table by the alter. It was full of dried fruits and cooked roots and tubers of various kinds.
“Oh, boy!” Crusty shouted, and before Itchy could stop them, they were on the table, they had let their glamours drop and people were screaming, some running away and some not sure what to do.
“Hold it right there!” Dallah shouted between breaths. The imps froze in place because Dallah had that in mind. “This is my daughter’s wedding and you will not mess it up.” She yelled a little, but mostly walked more slowly to the table so she could regain her breath. When she arrived to stare at the imps, she pushed an escaped gray hair back toward the bun on her head before she spoke. “Your hands, empty.” Dwizzle and Crusty put out their hands and she slapped them. The imps made no sound, but both squinted from the sharp, if temporary pain. “Itchy.”
The imp had his hands behind his back. “No.” He shook his head for emphasis.
“You should have been named stubborn,” Dallah said. “Your hand.” She did not ask and Itchy whipped out his hands, empty despite what his mind was telling him and despite his better judgment. She slapped them both, and Itchy had a hard time putting both in his mouth at once.
“Hey! How do you know our names?” Crusty was the one who asked, like the truth of that suddenly caught up to him.
“I know all about you,” Dallah said. “More than I would like to know. Now get off the table and behave, I have to see to my daughter.” Korah was already running into her mother’s arms. She cried, but Dallah smoothed her hair and said, “Hush, everything will be alright.”
“Mother.” Andor tried to get her attention as Godus came up from the sheep pen.
“Who are you?” Itchy finally removed his hands to ask, and then decided to take turns soaking one hand at a time.
“She is your goddess,” Boston said. “Or she will be one day.”
“What? Don’t we have enough gods and goddesses already?”
“No, no.” Alexis spoke to clarify. “She will not be another goddess of humans that you have to work for. She will be your goddess. Goddess of all the little spirits of the earth.”
“There is no such thing.” Itchy understood.
“There will be,” Alexis responded with a smile toward her brother who was frowning. The law said they were not supposed to reveal the future like that.
“Mother.” Andor tried again. Reneus, Lockhart and some of the others looked where Andor was looking, but hardly knew what to say.
“But she is old and will die soon,” Crusty protested.
“But she will be reborn,” Mingus stepped up. “And sometimes she will be a god and sometimes a goddess for us all.” He turned to Itchy. “Whether we like it or not.”
“But lady,” Dwizzle tugged on Dallah’s dress and pointed “Stonecrusher is hungry.
The ogre was coming down the path from the stream. He was hard to look at because he was so ugly. But it was not simply a disgusting ugly. He looked mean and mad and hungry and now the people had something they could really scream about.
“I’m gonna eat me some people,” Stonecrusher said.