In the midst of drilling, weapon-wielding citizen-soldiers, it was not the most ideal setting for a reunion, but Wendy didn’t mind. She gave a happy shout when she spotted several familiar faces in the military camp.
“Mr. McDougal!” Wendy cried, running up to the farmer and giving him a large hug.
“Well, hullo there, little miss! I wondered when I’d be seeing you again.”
The two were quickly joined by Big Mick and Johnny Jim.
“Long time, no see, small fry,” Big Mick winked, ruffling her hair.
“And I’m Johnny Jim,” the farmhand blurted happily.
“Am I right in assumin’ that you had somethin’ to do with…all of this?” McDougal said, sweeping an arm over the busy scene around them.
“What? Who me?” said Wendy with mock innocence. It was McDougal’s turn to laugh.
“Lass, I’ve learned that if there was one person capable of turning this entire kingdom on its head, it’s you!”
“So,” Big Mick chimed in. “What have you been up to lately? That is, besides starting wars…”
Wendy then shared with the men the adventures she had since leaving
McDougal’s farm, what she and her friends discovered about Little Julius’ plot, her escape from capture, and the plight of Haskin, Bobbin, Father Jon, Arbuckle and possibly even Portino and Sahnik.
“Do you think they’re all right?” Wendy asked McDougal, concern etched deeply in her face. “Maybe…maybe I should have tried to rescue them. I don’t know if…what happens if they’re hurt, or…or worse.” Tears started to form at the corner of her eyes. “What if I did the wrong thing?”
McDougal looked at the girl and marveled. Was this the same silly little redhead he had met a few days ago? The one who destroyed his kitchen trying to make—what did she call it— a Frostbyte? Though she was still quick with a smile and a joke, Wendy’s personality had taken on a more somber tone now. She has been through a great deal in just a short time, McDougal thought sadly. He knelt down and took her small hands in his large ones.
“Listen to me darlin’,” he spoke gently as tears began to course down Wendy’s cheeks. “You did exactly the right thing by comin’ here. You alerted the prince in the nick of time, and now he’s alerted the king. They’ll be ready for the enemy when he comes. You might have saved the kingdom by what you did.”
“But my friends…”
“They’ll be safe,” Big Mick said quietly. “I’m certain of that.”
“They will?” Wendy asked as she wiped at her eyes.
“It’s not in Little Julius’ best interest to harm them,” he replied. “He’ll need them for bargaining purposes.”
“Bargaining?” inquired Wendy.
“In case the war doesn’t turn out the way he hopes. It’s his Plan B.”
“Can…can we rescue them?”
“Can’t say for sure, love,” said McDougal, getting to his feet and giving Wendy a quick hug. “But believe me, if an opportunity arises, we’ll go after ‘em.”
Johnny Jim who had been silently watching the conversation, timidly stepped forward and stretched out a hand to Wendy.
“Don’t worry, little girl,” he said solemnly. “I’ll he’p ya find yer friends.” With that, a smile broke out through Wendy’s tears. She took his hand and shook it.
“I know you will, Johnny Jim. Thank you.” Johnny Jim ducked his head and gave a small bucked-tooth grin. “Oh! That reminds me,” Wendy said brightly to the farmhand, “I need to introduce you to Colonel Landers. He has some chickens that you’ll want to meet.”
“Chickens,” whispered Johnny Jim in reverent delight.
“This is takin’ too long!” complained Portino. Sahnik gave a sympathetic grunt.
“Well, I, for one, am glad that you are not in charge of this operation,” Innen-Owt said dryly as he dismounted from his horse. “You’d drive us all into the ground.”
King Burger’s army had stopped for a rest in a tree-lined meadow. They had been on the march since dawn.
“The war could be over before we even get there,” Portino huffed, as he dropped to the ground from his gray mare.
“I think you overestimate our opponent,” yawned Innen-Owt as he stretched out on the ground and placed his hat over his face.
“And I think you underestimate your king,” said another voice. Portino spun around to see the King Burger strolling toward him.
“Your Highness,” Portino said, sweeping off his hat. “I didn’t mean no disrespect…”
“You must remember, my overeager friend, that this is not my first campaign.” He stepped forward and patted Portino’s shoulder. “Son, no one is more concerned about the welfare of Wendy than I. I have messengers coming to me regularly with reports on the enemy’s movements. If a battle were imminent, be assured, that I would not have the army flat on its back.”
A low snuffling noise was heard behind Portino. He turned around to see that, even at the approach of the king, Innen-Owt hadn’t stirred from his spot on the ground. He was fast asleep and snoring. King Burger considered the prone figure.
“Hmm,” he mused. “It’s usually my speeches that put people to sleep. Apparently, my very presence is having the same effect.”
The Crab Cabin, now piloted by Captain Asiago, sailed along the coastline, looking for the whereabouts of Long Jim Silverware and the Rosy Crustacean. Although there were other pirates about, Silverware was the key. Defeat him, and the vermin that polluted the waters would be rudderless.
“Any signs of the rascals?” Potpie asked as he emerged from below deck where he had been keeping watch over the secret weapons.
“There’s been no report from the crow’s nest as yet.” answered Asiago. He looked upward and called out: “Semolina! Any sightings?”
“No, sir,” came the reply from above.
“He may be harbored in Hardyshire by now,” suggested the captain.
“Silverware is probably concentrating on the land battle. He won’t be expecting anything from the sea.”
“Ship sighted!” called Semolina. “It’s not the Crustacean, but it’s definitely a pirate ship.”
“Perhaps,” said Asiago thoughtfully, “we can draw Silverware out. Taking out a few of his cohorts will do the trick.”
Just then, a deckhand appeared from the lower deck.
“Potpie, sir,” he saluted. “They’ve all been fed as you instructed, and they’re…anxious.” Potpie rubbed his hands together in glee.
“Well, Cap’n, shouldsk we give our weapons a try?”
Asiago smiled as he looked out to sea. He almost felt sorry for the approaching pirates…then he thought about his sunken boat.
“I think now would be the perfect time.”
Potpie turned to the deckhand, a wicked grin creasing his weather-beaten face.
“Releask the chickens…”
Prince Carl’s army heard the enemy before they saw them. It started as a faint rhythmic growl. As it grew louder, the growling noise had morphed into an indistinct chanting. By the time the enemy had been spotted, the chanting was recognized as a single phrase, repeated over and over as they marched:
Forget about what? Wendy wondered. She had been with Prince Carl and Colonel Landers in the command tent when they heard the approach of Hoboken Mike’s forces. The three exited the tent to observe the coming enemy.
The Hardyshire militia waited nervously in their ranks as row upon row of large men wearing black suits and sunglasses appeared over a rise at the opposite end of a field. Some were carrying baseball bats, while others were rubbing their brass knuckles menacingly. The monochromatic men came to a stop a hundred yards from the Hardyshire line. One of the men stepped from the ranks and walked forward several paces.
“Hey,” he shouted, “who’s in charge over dere?”
Prince Carl, now mounted on a horse, rode to the front of his own line.
“That would be me,” he said coolly, “and whom do I have the pleasure of speaking to?”
“Don’ worry ‘bout it,” sneered the man. “All ya got to know is that I’m in command here.”
“No you ain’t,” shouted a man from the front line of suited men, “Hoboken Mike’s da boss!”
The man in front whipped around angrily.
“Well he ain’t here, is he? So I guess dat makes me da boss.”
“Sez me,” shouted the man, pointing at his antagonist. “Now shut your face Tony, before I come over dere and shut it for ya!”
“You, and what army?” Tony shot back.
“Gentlemen,” interrupted Prince Carl. “Will this argument go on much longer? I’d like to start the battle while the sun is still up.”
“A’right, a’right,” the man in front said, turning back around to face the prince. “Why ya in such a big hurry? What? Ya gotta ‘nother battle to go to or somethin’?”
“Of course,” continued Prince Carl, “we could just skip the fighting and negotiate your surrender now.”
The man laughed.
“A real funny guy, huh? Well, let’s put it to a vote…” He turned back to his troops. “Hey! Dis funny guy sez we should surrender. Waddaya say, boys?
“Fuggetaboutit!” They shouted in unison. “Fuggetaboutit! Fuggetaboutit!”
The man turned to Prince Carl.
“No dice, pal.”
The prince shrugged.
“Have it your way,” he replied. With that, he returned to the line. “Colonel Landers,” Prince Carl called out. Colonel Landers, also on a horse trotted forward, and swept off his hat.
“At your service, sir.”
“Colonel, I could use some Chick-FLAy right about now.”