Writing continues ... #3 The Grail and Back Again
And then a scratchy old voice interrupted all this, saying, ‘Well … I’ll be a Shuck’s shiver. What have we here?’
Allan opened his eyes to find himself being closely scrutinised by a wrinkle-faced old man wearing a scraggy beard that seemed to be home to several beetles and a small fieldmouse.
Orion had since fainted. He wasn’t coping well in this new environment.
‘Well, little fellow …’ the face insisted, ignoring the boy on the ground.
‘We’re sorry,’ Allan babbled. ‘We were hungry. We didn’t take much … honest. I’ll pay … if that’s what you want …’ He started digging about in his pockets.
The old man put a weathered hand onto Allan’s shoulder. ‘There’s no need, laddie. I’m not wanting to hurt you. I just want to help.’
‘Help! But why?’ Allan probed. ‘Aren’t you one of the poachers?’
‘No … not a poacher … but I’ve been watching … always watching.’
‘I see,’ Allan said, not really sure if he did or not.
Orion decided to regain consciousness at that moment and sat up, rubbing at the small bump on his head that he had received when he’d hit the ground. ‘What happened?’ he said, his voice unsteady. ‘Are we captured?’
‘No,’ Allan answered, ‘it seems we have a helper.’
‘A helper?’ Orion was wondering if he had heard correctly.
‘Yes … that’s me,’ the old man grabbed Orion’s hand and pumped away like he was trying for water.
Orion pulled his hand free and backed away to the edge of the platform.
‘I’m the Magic Man, but you can call me M, if we are to be friends. I ran away, you know,’ his voice dropped to a whisper. ‘I got into loads of trouble when I first arrived here … indeed. People chasing me everywhere. But I learnt how to hide, I did.’ He giggled, then did a little jig. ‘Can’t catch me … I’m the gingerbread man … see.’
Orion gave Allan a look that said it all. He thought the man was crazy from all the heat and sand. He wasn’t sure that this oddball of a fellow could be trusted. Did Allan know how to get them out of this dilemma? Help! I think I’m going crazy.
‘Are you alright?’ the man asked of Orion. He had noticed the look on the boy’s face and his own reflected concern.
‘Yes … it’s just we’ve had a bit of a hard time of it, that’s all … all this heat. And we’re not even meant to be here. And then there’s Ernest … our friend. He’s been taken prisoner by the poachers.’
‘Ah!’ Magic Man exclaimed. ‘Those pilfering pirates … a bad lot. They go about killing people and capturing animals … willy-nilly like—’
‘What!’ Allan and Orion said together, interrupting Magic Man’s speil.
Magic Man looked at the boys’ pale faces. ‘Something I said?’
‘Yes … you said the poachers kill people,’ Allan replied.