The third man did not follow. At least it did not seem like he did. They stopped to listen from time to time, but did not hear anyone following. Ogg unwrapped the chicken as they pushed along up the creek and handed a hunk of breast and leg to the woman as they walked. She had just turned to him and held out her hand and he absently shared his meal with her. She didn’t ask with words or even a look. She just acted like the chicken was part hers. Ogg was annoyed at himself for sharing. He would be more careful in the future.
They didn’t speak. They were just together now and Ogg was not sure he wanted someone traveling with him while he was trying to catch up with his friends. He glanced at her from time to time as they walked up the creek bed. He thought about what had happened back there and tried to work it out for himself, like his Daddy always told him to do when he asked a question. “Work it out for yourself.” Daddy would say.
He knew he had hurt those men. Killed one, the chairless man. Probably killed the other one too. They were after this woman. They had been surprised to see him, so he didn’t think they were after him. What about the third man? He wasn’t too brave, Ogg thought, since he didn’t join in the fight. So he probably wouldn’t follow. Especially when he saw that his friends got hurt so bad.
Thinking about what he did to those men troubled him. Everything had happened so fast. If they hadn’t attacked him he would have just left them alone. But then he wondered what would have happened if they had just attacked the woman. Would he have run away? If he hadn’t gotten tangled up? Or would he have helped her? He saw that his thinking had slowed him down and the woman was now a ways ahead of him. He hurried to catch up.
They pushed up the creek most of the day until the cover along the creek thinned out. The land around the creek bed rose to become a dry hillside and the creek itself was only one hand across, but the gully was wide and steep. They sat in the cut of the creek and rested. The woman looked over the high embankment on both sides then sat down on the shady side next to Ogg.
“I don’t see anybody out there, but we better wait until dark to go on. There’s no cover until we get higher up in the hills.”
“Okay.” Ogg wanted to say that he had no plans to go up into the hills, but decided to keep his own counsel for now.
“Thanks”, she said after awhile.
Ogg looked at her now. He had several questions rattling around in his head.
“Thanks for helping me out back there.”
Ogg was quiet. Waiting for more.
“I’m …” She was thinking. “I’m Robin.”
“Like the bird.”
“I’m Ogg.” He put his fingertips together and pointed them at her using the greeting he had learned.
She gave a little laugh. Had he done it wrong? Then she returned the greeting, holding a smile.
“I guess a formal greeting isn’t such a bad idea, even out here, especially under these circumstances.”
Maybe he had done it wrong. Was she making fun? He looked at her face. But he did not see the kind of look his brothers gave him when he had done something foolish. It was, in fact, a nice face to look at.
“Why were those men trying to get you?”
She looked carefully at Ogg. “I don’t know.”
His stomach turned. Maybe it was him they were after. Had he brought trouble to her? Should he tell her about the fight with the chairless man from the night before? Before he could decide, she spoke again.
“No, that’s not true. I do know.” But she went no further.
Ogg waited. He had found that listening usually got him more information than talking.
“But it’s complicated.”
He looked down. Words to that effect usually signaled the end of the conversation, at least as far as Ogg was involved.
“But I suppose I owe you some explanation.”
He didn’t know why she owed him anything, but he nodded, eager to hear more. He liked hearing her talk. A woman’s voice was different.
“Where to begin?” she said, looking up like there was someone up there to answer her question. “My mother served in the court of King Cosmo.” She looked at Ogg, waiting for a response.
Ogg had no idea what a “court” was, and he wasn’t going to ask. He knew about kings and he had heard the name King Cosmo, but he wasn’t sure if it was real or a story. He wasn’t going to ask about that either.
“Okay,” he replied.
She hesitated. Perhaps not the response she was expecting.
“She was a nanny for Princess Truffle.”
Ogg nodded as if he understood.
“Well, when the Princess was still very young my mother had a dream that someone came into the castle and tried to steal the Princess and hurt her.”
Ogg nodded again. A king, a princess… a story.
“She told her dream and word got back to Queen Modene. Well, Queen Modene was a strong believer in dreams and when she heard about my mother’s dream she put guards near Princess Truffle. Very soon after that two men were caught sneaking into the castle, trying to get past the guards by hiding in a wagon loaded with potatoes or something like that. So, my mother…well, she wasn’t really my mother then because I hadn’t been born yet,…anyway, my mother became an attendant to the Queen. And every morning she would have to tell the Queen about her dreams. And many times they meant nothing, but lots of times her dreams were interpreted by the Queen to mean something important. And my mother got to where she wasn’t an attendant so much as an advisor to the Queen.”
Robin stopped her story. She looked at Ogg like she was deciding something important. Then she went on. “Time passed. My mother got married to my father, I was born, Queen Modene died and my mother and father left court. I guess the King wasn’t interested in dreams like the Queen was and my father wanted to oversee his own estates and wanted my mother and me with him.
“Then, later, King Cosmo I died and King Cosmo II took the throne and things got to be a mess all around the kingdom.”
Ogg made a noise of agreement. This must be the part about the bear-man story and his son the twelve-fingered monster.
“Cosmo II was more like his mother I suppose, so he sent some men to my father looking for my mother, to ask her to come back to court and tell her dreams again. But my mother had died the year before.” Robin stopped. Her voice had become kind of wavy. She looked up in the sky again. Ogg watched her, wondering if this was like the things the storyteller did to make his stories more exciting. Robin wiped her face with her shoulders. Crying again?
Ogg wondered if she was hungry like when she cried before. He knew he was. Ogg was glad men didn’t cry when they got hungry or he would be crying all the time. But he had not been paying attention. Robin was talking again.
“…asked my father if I would come to court and tell my dreams. He said no. But a few days later two men came and there was an argument and they killed my father. Then they grabbed me and tied me up and put me in one of our farm wagons, covered me with blankets and took me away. But they must have got drunk or something, because one of our servants, Padrig had followed them and rescued me and we got away. We were trying to get to my uncle’s estates when Padrig died. We had stopped at an inn for the night because he didn’t feel well and in the morning he was dead. I didn’t know what to do. Padrig was my friend and I wanted to …I don’t know, do something. Since we were at this inn I was going to ask for help, but I thought I saw the two men again, so I just ran. Left the horses and poor Padrig and took off across country. I guess I got lost. I thought I knew how to get to Sunflower, but it must be farther than I thought. And I’m afraid to travel the roads, afraid they’ll catch me again.”
“Were the men at the creek those same men?”
“No, I’d never seen them before. There must be others trying to find me, to take me to tell dreams to King Cosmo, but I don’t want to go. My mother used to say that those were terrible years for her. She was like a prisoner. The Queen made her drink potions so she would sleep more so she would have more dreams to tell. She hated it and I would hate it too.”
She was talking angry now. Not at Ogg, but like someone else she was mad at was right there with them. She turned to Ogg and took a breath.
“Okay, now tell me your story.”
Ogg looked down, thinking. He didn’t have a story.
“My Daddy said I was grown and I have to leave home.” He touched the small bundle in his shirt pocket. He wouldn’t tell that part. “Now I’m looking for my friends.”
“Box and Spar.”
Her eyes grew wide.