Kat, Dunstana, Annie and Jonas continue to follow the footprints deeper into the forest, but they find no other sign of the pirates. It feels like all four of them are getting tired and frustrated.
Jonas is muttering and shaking his head as he leads the way through the brush without getting any closer to their goal.
Annie looks sad that she hasn’t got to be useful yet.
Dunstana is still muttering about the stupid bush and the hole in her coat, and Kat can hear her stomach rumbling from where she is. Kat still hurts from her collision with Dunstana, and is starting to get tired and hungry herself.
It’s been a long day and they haven’t stopped for a rest since they hit the beach.
She attempts to reassure her sister by saying “I’m sure we’ll get there soon.”
Of course, she isn’t exactly sure where there is. All they can do is keep following the footprints until they get wherever they’re going. At least they aren’t going around in circles again. She hopes.
“If you’re hungry, ‘Stana,” Annie says. “I’ve got some sandwiches in my backpack. You can have one if you want.”
Dunstana almost disappears into Annie’s backpack in her quest for sustenance. She re-emerges with most of a sandwich held between her teeth, a feat, Kat cannot help but note, apparently accomplished without the use of her hands.
“What about you, Kat?” Jonas asks. “Do you want one?”
“Sure,” Kat answers. “Toss it to me.”
“I hear voices!” Dunstana says suddenly through a mouthful of sandwich.
Annie stops for a minute to listen, long, pointy Elf ears twitching at the sound. “I hear them, too,” she decides.
“We should hide,” Jonas says.
“Yeah,” Kat agrees. “We should.” So, it doesn’t look like she’s getting her sandwich any time soon. She sighs to herself before hurrying to a hiding place.
Watching this unfold, Dunstana stuffs the remnants of her sandwich into her mouth and chews hastily as she follows the others into the cover of the tree line. As the four creep through the foliage, Jonas has taken the lead with Annie following close behind. Kat is in the middle and Dunstana is bringing up the rear.
“I see people!” Jonas reports to the others in a whisper. He moves aside a few branches to get a better look. “It looks like more of the pirates.”
“I can’t see anything,” Dunstana complains. Technically speaking, she can see plenty: leaves, Annie’s pink-coifed head, and Kat and Jonas’ backs. She’s not sure why, but it looks kind of like Kat is missing something.
“Looks like they’re guarding a cave,” Jonas continues. He takes a moment to count them. “There are three of them.”
“And there’s four of us!” Dunstana says, reaching for her sword and cork gun. “Let’s go fight them!”
“No,” Jonas says quickly, grabbing Dunstana’s shoulders to keep her from running off. “It will be easier if we make them leave. Safer, too.”
“How do you think we get inside?” Kat asks her uncle.
Before they can get to planning, Dunstana suddenly speaks up, temporarily distracted from the prospect of a fight with the guards.
“There’s a bee,” she announces, showing markedly less concern over the presence of a stinging insect than most young girls — including Annie, who takes cover behind her father — and, in fact, markedly less concern than her sister, who strives desperately to put as much space as possible between herself and the buzzing menace. Dunstana, however, is happy to follow the bee with her finger as it flits through the air.
“Um,” Annie says from the safety of her father’s shadow. “I think that’s a hornet. It’s too big to be a bee.”
No longer within stinging distance, Kat relaxes her guard and watches the hornet fly through the foliage, up out of the trees, and back into its hive. As it happens, that hive is hanging right above the heads the Red Wolf Pirates who block the way forward.
Though, in truth, they are doing very little actual blocking.
The pirates are crowded around each other, looking over the shoulder of the one standing in the middle, who is holding a paper and pencil. The pirate in the middle periodically adds a few new scribbles to the paper at the suggestion of the other pirates.
The Red Wolf Pirates, it seems, are working away at a Crossword Puzzle, one of the novel new diversions invented by the famed intellectual Sir Francis Crossword and quickly becoming hugely popular across Realmgard.
Preoccupied with their Crossword Puzzle, the pirates seem blissfully unaware of the swarm buzzing away above their heads. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be standing underneath it. ‘Do not stand directly under a hornet nest’ is a recurring, though oddly-specific, maxim in the Lex Antiqua Piratica, the oldest and most-revered code for piratical conduct in all Realmgard.
Despite its importance, very few pirates have actually read it.
Annie has, though. She counted no less than eight spelling mistakes, along with fifteen instances of questionable grammar.
“Can you see that, Uncle Jonas?” Kat asks.
Jonas nods. “If we find a way to drop the hive, we can get through.”
“But won’t that hurt the bees?” Dunstana asks. “I don’t want to hurt the bees.”
“Hornets,” Annie says. “They’re hornets, ‘Stana.”
“It’s the only way we can get through,” Jonas notes. “It’s the only way we can find the treasure.”
“I guess,” Dunstana answers sullenly. “But I don’t want to hurt the bees!” She puffs up her cheeks and glowers.
Annie speaks up, “We probably shouldn’t. The Oake Island Hornet is a protected species. Destroying a hive is punishable by exile.” Her voice drops to nearly a whisper. “Exile by catapult.”
“Catapult?” Kat repeats incredulously.
Annie nods gravely.
“There must be another way to get them going,” Jonas mutters, staring up at the hive. “Maybe if we find a way to shake the branches. That might be enough to do it.” He turns to Kat. “Think you can make the shot, Kat?”
“Worth a try,” Kat answers, reaching over her shoulder for an arrow. “Let me just get my —” her voice trails off when she finds empty air and winces at her own stupidity. “I left my bow in the boat.” She hangs her head in disgust at herself and lets out a long groan.
“Oh,” Dunstana says. That’s what Kat was missing.
“So, what now?” Jonas asks now that their plan seems to have gone down in flames.
“Have anything in your purse, Uncle Jonas?” Dunstana asks hopefully.
“It’s a satchel,” he counters. Nevertheless, he begins to search the bag for any tool that might be useful. “I guess I could try to hook the branch and drop the hive,” he says, touching the grappling hook gun on his belt.
Dunstana looks at her uncle in horror. “We’re gonna shoot the hornets with a grappling hook? That’s terrible! Don’t do it!”
Annie speaks up. “Um, Dad. There’s a problem.” She points to the pirates guarding the cave. They are no longer engrossed in their Crossword Puzzle and are now staring straight at the Family Darkstone.
Jonas looks over his shoulder to his daughter and nieces. “You should start running,” he instructs as he steps forward and flicks his wrist, unfolding his crossbow. “And, uh, don’t tell the Musketeers about this.”
The blue-and-silver-clad members of the Musketeer Guard of Porthaven are responsible for upholding law and order in the fair city of Porthaven.
They would, to be a man — or woman, Elf, Dwarf, or Troll — be horrified by Jonas’ imminent flagrant disregard for the laws of Porthaven concerning the Oake Island Hornet.
As the Red Wolf Pirates run forward and Kat, Dunstana and Annie run back, Jonas aims the grappling hook and fires. The hook sails through the air and catches the branch where the hornet’s nest is hanging. He gives a few tugs, shaking the branch. For a moment, the hive seems about to be sent plummeting to the ground.
But as the branch stops shaking, the hive says in place and a large, buzzing cloud pours angrily forth from the hive and descends on the group of pirates. Jonas dives into the bushes to hide with the rest of the Family Darkstone.
“Look out!” one of the pirates calls out. “Bees!”
“They’re hornets!” Annie calls from her hiding place in the bushes.
This is followed by a chorus of Ah!’s and Ow!’s and even a few I think one got in my mouth!’s as the Oake Island Hornets set about swarming and stinging the hapless pirates. Not particularly enjoying the experience, they start to run, not caring for destination as much as distance. Anywhere but where the hornets are seems like a better place to be.
As the stinging, buzzing swarm chases the pirates away, and the buzzing and shouting fades into the distance, Jonas peers through the foliage. Like a man preparing to cross the street, he cautiously looks both ways.
“I think it’s clear,” Jonas says, still whispering in case it’s not.
“Yeah,” Kat agrees. “We should go now. The pirates might come back soon.”
“Or the hornets,” Annie notes. “And they’ll probably still be angry.”
“Let’s go,” Jonas says and leaps out of the bushes. Kat follows close on his heels, with Annie and Dunstana following on her heels.
As she passes underneath, Dunstana looks up at the hornet’s nest.
“Sorry,” she tells it contritely. “I’m glad you’re okay, though.” And then she hurries after Kat and Jonas, and into the cave.
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