Macy and Anna Save Candyland Bite 11
The traveling party rose at sunup the next morning. Macy insisted on fixing everyone a scrambled egg breakfast.
"No more oatmeal for me," she declared.
"I'm getting a little sick of it myself," Bob admitted. Joe nodded in agreement. The group hungrily ate the eggs and toast Macy prepared for them.
"A good, full stomach is just the thing for a long trip. We should be able to make it until noon without much rest." Mr. Mint said. The small traveling party bade goodbye to Joe and Bob. The two soldiers were full of warnings and advice to the travelers as they set forth.
"Stay on the trail!" Joe said.
"Don't get separated," Bob warned
"Keep moving," Joe again.
"Don't trust anyone," Bob again.
"Travel as quickly as possible."
"Things are more dangerous now that King Kandy is having this celebration."
"Rumor has it that Lord Licorice is planning something big. Perhaps a jail break and then further havoc."
"You won't really be safe..."
"Until you are at Candy Castle." The men were now finishing each other's sentences. Mr. Mint and Peter showed them the preparations they had made, the candy cane walking sticks which doubled as weapons, the knife Peter now wore in a sheath at his belt, Mr. Mint's candy cane, and Starlight's big teeth.
"I have something to add to your stockpile," Joe said, his eyes lighting up. "A woman left it here a few weeks ago. Perhaps one of the young ladies can carry it, it most certainly is a woman's weapon." He ran into the cabin and returned carrying a small bow and arrow set. The arrow quiver was made from a light, soft leather and hung over the back, with a strap across the front of the body holding it in place. The quiver held five slim arrows. Anna slipped it over her head and adjusted the strap to fit against her body.
"It fits well," She said. "Good thing I know how to use one."
"It looks like it was made for you," Joe said, approvingly. "Aim straight and true, don't flinch, in life or in combat." And with that blessing the group left the small clearing by the cabin.
It took them about two hours before the trees began thinning out, and another half hour walk before they left the forest. In the distance, they could see where the road curved to the right in a big arc. They passed a few more of King Kandy's men, and met the same reception with all of them they had received upon meeting Big Chew, Joe and Bob. Macy started leaving the engraved invitation at the top of her bag, within easy reach. Around noon, Mr. Mint called for a break.
"If we keep up a quick pace, we can reach Grandma Nutt's place by suppertime. She makes a mean peanut brickle."
"I love peanut brickle," Macy said. "Dad used to bring it home for us after a trip to Candy Castle. Lief would always take the biggest pieces, but I would always get the last one. Everyone saved it for me because they knew it was my favorite." They quickly ate their lunch, and set off again. The road they traveled now had gentle hills and valleys. The land was not quite grassland, because they could see stands of licorice trees and sometimes ginger trees in the distance. Once in a while the road turned through one of these groves.
"Macy, can I talk to you?" Anna asked.
"Sure, sis, what's up?"
"Well, it’s kind of private, maybe we should let the others get a little ahead." Anna told Peter and Mr. Mint that she and Macy would walk behind for a while. "We have some things to discuss. We won't let you get out of our sight."
"Well, what's up?" Macy asked again. Anna began to spill everything she had been noticing about Peter starting with his odd conversation with the man in blue after the ninja attack. She also told Macy how several times she had seen a blue flash, like someone moving through the trees and following them.
"Do you think we are in danger?" she concluded with a question in her voice.
"From Peter? I don't know. He's always seemed so loyal."
"But that could be an act," Anna argued. "What if he's the traitor?"
"I hardly think..." Macy started, and then stopped. "Wait, he wasn't on the ship with Dad was he? Why wasn't he on that battleship?" Peter had been their father's right hand man. He had served their father at all important events ever since the girl's could remember. Why wasn't he on the ship that fateful day? Was it because he simply wasn't there, or something more sinister? "Do you remember why he wasn't on the ship? What excuse did he have?"
"I remember it being pretty lame. Something about picking up a special order for Father. What kind of special order would Father send him ashore for? And why wouldn't he just go himself?"
"It's looking bad for Peter," Macy remarked.
"But, what about the investigation? Wouldn't they have turned something up if he was a traitor?"
"Anna, don't you remember who RAN the investigation?" Macy stopped stock still and put her hands on her hips. "Did you really not pay attention?" She knew her sister was spacey at times, but something like this isn't easily forgotten.
"Of course I remember. It was Peter himself. But surely there were others involved. Surely Mother wouldn't leave it just to one person."
"She did though. She said that Dad trusted Peter, and so would she. She basically washed her hands of the whole thing and left it up to him. He had all his cronies helping him too." Macy was raising her voice now, convincing herself of Peter's guilt.
"Macy, calm down. We still don't know anything. We are still just supposing." Anna soothed.
"How can you say that? You yourself just told me of the times he's disappeared without a word. And what about the time he met with that mysterious man in the blue shirt?"
Anna fingered the necklace around her neck.
"That could have been nothing. We just don't know. You need to stop and think things through." Hearing those words from her sister's mouth, made Macy stop again. Suddenly she burst out laughing.
"I never thought I'd see the day when you were advising stopping to think things through. Shouldn't we be leaping feet first into this one?" They were approaching another grove of trees and Macy slowed.
"Do you hear that?" Macy asked.
"Hear what?" Anna said in a hushed voice.
"Actually, it’s what I don't hear that is the problem," Macy said. "There are no birds." All along the path she had counted the different bird songs she heard. There seemed to be so many different ones than in Chutes. She wondered what they were all called. She'd been making a mental note to ask someone in King Kandy's court about it when she noticed that the songs had ceased. "These trees should be full of them, but I don't hear any, do you?" The two girls could see the others standing still and listening also.
"I don't hear anything," Anna said, this time in a whisper. She and Macy crept forward until they were even with the men.
"Be on your guard," said Peter. "Allow me to take the lead." Peter started out in front of the group, Anna and Macy following close behind. Mr. Mint, Starlight, Snickers and the cart bringing up the tail of the procession. They moved forward, eyes scanning in all directions. Macy saw something flicker in the trees.
"There!" she pointed. Peter looked in the direction she pointed.
"I do see something. I'm not sure what it is." he said. Anna drew an arrow out of the quiver at her back. The feathers at the tip were yellow, red, and blue; a vivid splash of color as she nocked the arrow along the bow string.
"Should we go around the grove instead of through it?" Macy asked.
"Joe and Bob told us to stay on the trail," Peter replied. "Whatever is in these trees may be less dangerous than what we could encounter if we left the path. We don't even know if what is in the trees is dangerous or not. It could be nothing."
"Ok, once more unto the breech my friends. Keep a weather eye on the horizon." said Macy.
"What?" Anna asked.
"Never mind," Macy said. "Let's go." The companions moved into the trees slowly, as if molasses ran through their veins instead of blood. Their eyes scanned the treetops, darting here and there. Macy held her walking staff up off the ground and tipped in front of her in a ready stance. Anna kept her arrow nocked in the bow. Starlight adopted a fierce look on his chubby face. They reached the halfway point of the small grove of trees when they heard a blood curdling scream. Macy barely had time to think. In the seconds before the attack, the idea raced through her mind, I've heard that sound before. Sure enough, it was the ninjas from the mountains. They dropped from the trees and landed lightly on their feet just in front of the traveling party. They swung their freshly polished nunchucks around their heads in helicopter-like circles.
Mr. Mint moved to the front of the group and the others fanned out behind him, their V shape mimicking geese flying south for the winter. He swung his great cane low, aiming for the ninja leader's feet. The ninja nimbly jumped out of the way and countered with his nunchuck. The other three ninjas took this as a sign to attack. Screaming and twirling their nunchucks they advanced on the group.
Anna puled her bowstring tight and aimed the arrow at the shoulder of the closest ninja. Straight and true, she thought to herself. Aim true. She released the arrow and let it fly. It headed straight for the ninja and hit him high on the right shoulder. He spun and grabbed his shoulder with a yelp of pain. He dropped his nunchuck. Anna was already nocking the next arrow. She pulled it back and aimed it at the ninja's left shoulder. Letting it fly, she watched with satisfaction as it clipped him right where she aimed, square in the shoulder. He yelped again and put his right hand over the wound. Macy ran forward and knocked him on the head, sending him to the ground.
Meanwhile Peter fought a third ninja. He parried blow after blow from the nunchuck, countering each strike with a slash of his knife. He managed to get a few good licks in before the ninja connected the nunchuck with his head. Peter fell to the ground with a groan, his temple bleeding.
The battle finished in a whirlwind. Macy could never be sure afterward what had happened, but each of them found themselves tied up, much as before with legs and arms bound, with the ninjas as victors. This time the ninjas put them each in a cage, and strung the cage from the limbs of nearby trees. They left Mr. Mint's cage on the ground after trying unsuccessfully to haul it up over a branch.
"You won't beat us," Anna jeered. "Even in these cages, we will find a way to escape. You are cowards to leave us here like this." The ninjas ignored her taunts.
"Bring the animal," the lead ninja ordered. The others left briefly and returned pulling a wooden, wheeled cage behind them. Inside paced the biggest bear Anna had ever seen. It was bright pink, almost translucent, with shiny smooth skin. It's eyes matched the rest of the body and would have blended right in if it weren't for the menace they held. Anna shivered. She knew this creature could only be a gummy bear, the very creature they avoided on Gumdrop Mountains.
"I will be leaving this beauty to watch over you," the lead ninja said calmly. "And just to make sure she sticks around, I've got a little surprise for her." He snapped his fingers and his gang wheeled over another cage. Inside a tiny animal mewled. Anna looked closer. The tiny pink creature was the spitting image of what she presumed was its mother. Only this one could fit in the palm of her hand. The ninjas strung the baby bear's cage up in the tree near her. It's mewling cries filled the grove of trees. The mother bear roared and lunged at her cage, rocking it on its wheels. The lead ninja spoke again.
"We'll be leaving now. Mama's cage should hold until we are gone, but I don't think it will last much longer than that. The cage Baby is in is quite well made, but I can't say the same for the rest of you. Mr. Mint, I'd be particularly concerned if I were you. Enjoy your view of these ginger trees, they will be the last thing you see." With that, the ninjas faded into the trees and out of sight.
"Well, this is quite the predicament." Starlight quipped from his place in the branches. The mother bear roared again, rattling her cage. A loud crack rent the air as one of the wooden bars on her cage splintered.
"When that Mama gets out, she is going to be bent on getting to her baby, and nothing is going to stop her." Macy observed. "If she can't get her baby, she is going to attack the first one of us who reaches the ground." Another roar and crack of wood punctuated her words.
"Perhaps the best course of action is for us to help her get Baby down. The she will have no reason to stay, and no reason to injure us." Peter offered.
"That's a great idea, but how are we going to do that while we are trapped ourselves?" Anna asked, a sarcastic tone creeping into her words. She still wasn't sure what she thought of Peter. She thought back to Big League Chew's words to them 'be you friend or be you foe?' Which one are you truly, Peter? Friend or foe?
"I'm not sure," he responded. "But I am sure we can think of something." The friends grew quiet as the bear increased in volume. The animal roared and charged the cage bars, and roared and charged again. With each charge the bars splintered further, until finally with a great crash, the cart tipped over, breaking open and spilling the bear onto the path. She stood to her full height, her magnificent gummy belly gleaming in the sunlight. She let go with a giant roar that reverberated across the valley. She lumbered over to where her baby swung slowly in the breeze. She raised herself into her back legs again and swatted at its cage. The bottom of the cage stayed just out of her reach. The pitiful mewling of the young one increased in volume and urgency. It smelled its mama. The big pink monster reached up again. Just as she swatted at the cage, Anna heard a swish thump noise. The bear yelped and staggered. It fell to all fours and tottered for a moment. Then down it fell, shaking the ground as it landed on its side in the dust.
"Whaaa?" Anna started, but then she spotted someone coming out of the trees. "Cargo! Alexander! Is it really you?"
"In the flesh, sister dear, in the flesh," Cargo answered, bowing low at her cage in a teasing gesture. "Now, what kind of predicament have you gotten yourself into this time?"
"Well, it's about time you showed up," Anna teased back. "I thought I'd have to fend off this bear all on my own."
"Better cut out the chit chat and get to escaping," Alexander spoke up. "That tranquilizer won't last long on an animal of that size." He and Cargo carefully let down the cages and cut everyone free. Anna and Macy embraced their brothers in delight.
"It's so good to see you," Macy said. "Where did you come from, and how did you know we needed you?"
"There really is no time to stop and talk about it now." Alexander repeated. "We've got to go before that mother bear wakes up."
"Well then, let's get to it." Starlight said. Alexander stopped in his tracks and stared.
"Did that beaver just talk?" He said, his mouth dropping open.
"Yes, silly," Anna laughed. "Starlight is a talking beaver."
"But they only exist in myths!" Alexander sputtered.
"This one isn't a myth," Anna replied. "Didn't you say we have to hurry? No time for chit chat and all of that?"
"Uh, right." With an effort Alexander gathered himself and prepared to lead them. Cargo lowered the baby bear's cage out of the tree and let it out near its mom. The baby snuggled into the mom's jelly belly and growled contentedly. Cargo took another tranquilizer dart from his pack and jabbed it into the big bear.
"That should give her sweet dreams for another hour or so. We'll be long gone by then."