Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXVII. Song of Despair.
The bear was examining us carefully, and I could not determine to my satisfaction whether it was assessing us as a threat or as lunch. I strongly suspected the latter.
Tluxapeketl, who found herself on the same branch with Miss Kun, asked her, “Could you control it the way you did the snakes?”
“I can only dominate lower forms of life, like reptiles and arachnids and men. It doesn’t work with higher mammals.”
The bear was pacing now, looking up at us and licking its chops.
“There are four of us,” I pointed out.
“Perhaps more nutrition than one bear needs,” Weyland agreed. “It may eat only one or two of us.”
“I understand,” said Miss Kun, “that certain Amazonian tribes have a noble tradition of self-sacrifice.”
The bear was pacing faster.
“I might be able to do something if I had a spindle, a barometer, and a 4B drawing pencil,” said Weyland.
Suddenly the bear’s head turned to our left with an expression of abject terror, and then the bear took off in the opposite direction. A moment later there was a flash of orange and black, and a Siberian tiger landed in the space where the bear had been.
“Kitty!” Tluxapeketl exclaimed with delight.
Weyland began to climb down at once. “By Jove,” he said as he reached the ground, “it certainly is good to see you, old friend!”
Kitty immediately rubbed against Weyland, and even from ten feet up I could hear the deep rumble of a tiger’s purring.
We all followed Weyland to the ground, Miss Kun last and very warily. But as soon as she set foot on the ground, the tiger rubbed against her affectionately, purring like a motorcycle.
“This cat hated me before,” she said. “Why does he like me now?”
“When he attacked you at Pleasant River,” Weyland explained, “you were working to further your father’s evil plan for world domination. Now you have abandoned him and allied yourself with he forces of good. Tigers can detect these changes: they are very sensitive, ethically speaking.”
“I thought Siberian tigers attacked people and ate them,” said Miss Kun.
“I didn’t say they were flawless. I only said they were sensitive.”
Miss Kun experimented with scratching the top of Kitty’s head, which he obviously enjoyed very much.
“I hear people,” said Tluxapeketl.
And indeed I could hear the sound of voices as well. They came closer, and now I could distinguish the sound as men singing.
“My bandits!” said Miss Kun.
Just then the men began to appear over the crest of a hill some little distance away, and now the singing was much clearer:
“Across the snow
With eager step
We gaily go
And swiftly schlep.
Why is it so?
Because there might
(You never know)
“Now we’ll have a power base,” Miss Kun said.
“What is a ‘power base’? asked Tluxapeketl.
“It’s a bunch of people who are good at beating other people up.”
By now the bandits had spotted us, and their reaction was immediately apparent in the way they stopped in their tracks, stared straight ahead, and changed from a jaunty march to a stately adagio.
“But what is this? Our eyes behold
Our Bandit Queen!
That she had come we were not told!
What can it mean?”
Miss Kun was approaching them, and she wasted no time in apprising them of her intentions. “My loyal bandits! How delightful it is to see you here, since it turns out I have need of your services. I rely on your personal loyalty to myself, of course—”
“Our arms are strong, our hearts are pure,
O lady royal!
Through thick and thin, you may be sure,
We will be loyal!”
“Look, the singing is adorable, but do you think you could cut it out before I punch somebody? Thank you.”
“Your Majesty,” said a man I recognized as the courteous bandit chief, “what assistance we can render is yours to command. We saw an ornithopter crash some distance from here, and we came out to comb the wreckage for Bakelite; but at your merest whim we are ready to abandon our quest and serve you, no matter where it takes us.”
“That’s just what I wanted to hear,” said Miss Kun. “It turns out that my father has become my mortal enemy, and we’re going to storm his castle and take over his empire of evil.”
The men looked at one another, and there was some whispered conferring. Eventually the bandit chieftain turned forward and resumed speaking to Miss Kun.
“The men would like me to clarify that at your merest whim we are ready to abandon our quest and serve you, no matter where it takes us, as long as it isn’t to the castle of the Devil King, oh please no for the love of everything holy.”
“I don’t think you quite understand,” said Miss Kun, walking slowly closer to the bandit chieftain. “The prospect of my father’s castle may seem fearful in your imagination, but…” She stopped inches from his face and gazed straight into his eyes: “I’m right here.”
The man’s complexion turned noticeably paler, and the rest of the men looked stricken. Again they conferred in low whispers, and then the chieftain turned back to Miss Kun and announced,
“The men would like me to inform you that we have rescinded our recent clarification.”
Miss Kun smiled an icy smile. “Excellent. Well done. You’ve made a choice you won’t regret, or at least not as soon as you would have regretted the alternative. Now, which way is the Andorran border?”
The chieftain pointed to his right. In the near distance we could see a dashed line picked out in blackened patches that rambled across the mountains.
“Not far at all,” said Miss Kun. “Follow me!”
She turned and started in the direction of the border; the rest of us followed, the bandits singing as they went:
“Across the snow
We march in file
And sing, although
Our fate is vile:
The way, we know,
Is strewn with traps.
But still we go,
Because we’re saps.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: