In which Dodger learns who he thinks he really is
In which Dodger learns who he thinks he really is
Before it reached Dodger, the animal leapt into the air, opting for a high striking attack. Dodger braced himself, blocking his stance as wide as he could to accommodate the weight of the oncoming beast. Instead of tearing into Dodger with its powerful jaw, or shredding Dodger with its sharp claws, the wolf landed sideways against him, knocking Dodger about three feet backward where he landed hard on his rump. Just as Dodger fell back, he watched an arc of flame burst across the very spot he and the wolf occupied only scant seconds before; the result of the dragon letting loose with its dying breath.
“Holy Hanuman!” Boon cried.
While Dodger appreciated missing out on the funerary roast, he still had an armful of hairy beast to wrestle with. He tumbled to the ground, hugging the wolf tightly to him, not giving it a chance to right itself. Dodger then rolled over, taking the dominate position as he pinned the animal to the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, Dodger could see that Boon and the stranger circled the struggling pair, swords at the ready. Dodger grabbed the wolf’s paws and tried to bear down on the top of its head with his chin to keep it from snapping at him, when he heard that familiar voice again.
“Get off of me, you oaf!” the wolf said.
Dodger fell still atop the animal. “Did you just speak?”
“Yes,” the wolf said. “Now please get your sweaty bulk off of me.”
Dodger rolled off of the wolf and leapt to his feet. He stared down at the animal, which stood to shake off the dust and ash. Strange as it seemed, Dodger swore the thing sounded just like Lelanea. But it looked nothing like her, in any form. Certainly not the full bodied brunette Dodger had spent far too many hours mooning over. And definitely not the massive werewolf that bounded across the train top in the pouring rain just a few days prior.
This wolf was half the size of the one Dodger saw during his fight with the weather demons, bearing the demeanor of a large dog instead of a mythical beast. Instead of a thick hide covered in silver fur, this had the traditional white and gray coat of a wild wolf. It had the traditional mouthful of sharp teeth too, rather than the massive grouping of fangs that occupied the werewolf’s mouth.
Looking up at Dodger, the wolf snarled in displeasure.
“It’s impolite to stare at a lady,” the wolf said.
And yes, it sounded something like Lelanea.
“Lelanea?” Boon asked.
She swung her head toward Boon with a soft whine. “I’m afraid so, my love.”
“You know this beast?” Sir Rodger asked, gesturing toward the wolf with his brandished blade.
“That beast is my beloved,” Boon said. He handed his blade to the knight and stepped toward the wolf, lowering himself to one knee as he reached out to her.
Lelanea took a step backward. “Don’t.”
“I must,” he begged. “It’s been so long.”
“Not like this.” The wolf’s eyes welled with tears. “Please. I’m a monster.”
“No, you’re not.” Boon bent forward, running his fingertips across Lelanea’s fur. “You’re as beautiful as you ever were.”
Lelanea shifted closer to Boon, allowing the man to lean in and scoop her to him as he nuzzled his face into her shoulder—the best they could manage at a hug. The pair murmured in quiet apologies and promises and other sentiments of love.
Dodger caught the knight’s attention and motioned him off to one side. The two of them walked away for a bit, until Dodger could no longer hear the wolf weeping.
“You have to forgive my friends,” Dodger said. “They have been apart for quite some time.”
“Ah, I see,” Sir Rodger said. “Am I to understand the lady plays victim to a terrible curse?”
Dodger hissed through his teeth. “That’s one way of putting it.”
“Mr. Boon quests for her cure, yes?”
Dodger wasn’t sure what reason Boon gave the man for suddenly appearing in Sarah’s dream. He supposed a quest was just as good as anything. “That he does.”
“Me? Oh, I am just the hired help.”
“Mr. Boon is lucky to have such a vigilante on his side, Mr. Carpenter.”
Vigilante? Now there was a word Dodger didn’t remember folks using in the good old days of yore. The man’s speech had an odd edge to it. As if he was trying too hard to be something he wasn’t.
“I shall leave you to your mutual quest,” Sir Rodger said. “May you both find a cure for what ails his blushing bride.” Sir Rodger raised the pommel of his sword to his face, clicked his metal heels and bowed, ever so slightly. After this, the man sheathed his blade, turned about face and clanked away leaving Dodger alone.
Dodger rushed back to the embracing couple. He stood over them, coughing loudly until they looked up. “I hate to interrupt, but our friend is getting away.”
“He won’t get far,” Boon said as he released his hold on Lelanea and began wiping at his tear streaked face. “I know where he has pitched camp. We should be able to catch up with him before he has a chance to break down and get on the road again.”
Lelanea shook off the passionate embrace and rested on her haunches. She stared up at Dodger for a quiet moment. “Strange. I can understand you being solid, Boon. After all this is a dream. And I guess I can understand why I am like this. But what I don’t understand is who Dodger is supposed to be.”
“I know,” Dodger said. “That Sir Rodger has a lot of nerve. Who does he think he is, looking like me?”
“Yes, as strange as that other man is, I was talking about you.” She raised her nose into the air and sniffed. “You smell like our Dodger for certain, but you look nothing like him.”
“It is him, all right,” Boon said. “No one handles a gun like our Dodger.”
“What are you two talking about?” Dodger asked. “A change in clothes doesn’t unmake the man. Besides, I used to dress like this all of the time, back in the day.”
“What days were those?” Lelanea asked. “When you robbed stagecoaches?”
“Here,” Boon said as he lifted the broad sword and held it out to Dodger. “Have a look at yourself.”
Oddly enough, regardless of the action it had just seen in battle, the sword still gleamed with a bright and reflective surface. Another effect of the dream world, Dodger supposed. He peered into the wide strip of mirror like metal, gasping at what stared back at him.
Eyes that weren’t his eyes. A mouth that didn’t belong to him. A nose that had no right being between the two. All parts of a face that wasn’t his face. He thought for a moment he recognized the man, but who was it? For some reason Dodger couldn’t think straight. He supposed it was part of traipsing around in Sarah’s dreams; his own memories were difficult to access. Especially the things he didn’t normally want to remember. He pulled one of the guns, inspecting it for anything to jog his foggy memory.
A sleek, long and intricately engraved silver barrel greeted him. At the base rested a fat cylinder, six shots total, with a pearl grip and gold trim. Each handle bore the etched, gold inlaid monogram of TC. Dodger dropped the gun the moment he recognized it. The black clothes. The face he knew from somewhere, long ago. It all made a sick and sorry sense.
Boon appeared in the dream as he truly was; the stalwart and healthy hero, ready to rescue anyone in need.
Lelanea came as what she saw as her true self; the wild, barely tamable beast that slept just underneath the surface of the beautiful woman.
Dodger, following suit, showed up in Sarah’s dream as he had grown to see himself; the merciless mercenary in black.
More specifically, a man named Tyler Crank.
“No,” Dodger whispered at his reflection.
“Dodger?” Lelanea asked. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” Dodger said, stooping to snatch up the gun again.
“You seem troubled by your appearance.”
“You are not fine-”
“It’s nothing,” Dodger snapped. “Just let it go.”
Lelanea narrowed her eyes and glared over the length of her mussel at him. The look said she had no intention of letting anything go. Ever.
Dodger tried his best to ignore her threatening glower. “We better come up with a plan before we lose our guide. Boon, what have you told him so far?”
“Not much,” Boon said. “Though, he seems to think I am a wizard of sorts.”
“A what?” Lelanea asked.
“A wizard. When I first jumped into Sarah’s dream, he witnessed my arrival.”
“Which means he saw you appear out of thin air,” Dodger said.
“I thought I would have a panic stricken local on my hands and a lot of explaining to do, but he accepted it as an every day occurrence.”
“Because it probably is.”
“I must admit,” Lelanea said. “I am entirely lost.”
Dodger grinned. “I’ll bet Sarah is dreaming about knights and dragons and a land of magic ‘cause those are the kinds of fairy tales Al used to read her. I know, because those are the ones he read to me.”
“That would explain a few things,” Boon said. “Such as Sir Rodger’s behavior. When he isn’t decked out in full armor, he dresses pretty much like a ranch hand. And when he talks he sounds like a 49’er trying to sound like a knight.”
“That’s because her mind is mixing up the stories and reality. She’s never heard a real knight speak, so he speaks a little like the stories say he should, and a little like Al always did.”
“I think I understand,” Lelanea said. “She is blending aspects of her upbringing and desires to fill out the gaps of her fantasy.”
“Hence the gun slinging and sorcery,” Dodger said.
“And I think we will find,” Lelanea said, “that Dodger is the main character—the knight in shining armor—because you’re the man who rescued her mother.”
Dodger didn’t remember it that way. He remembered himself as the man who snatched a little girl from her normal life and sent her off to live with a crazy old coot who also happened to be a highly trained government assassin. He was the one who put her in Rex’s path, and thus the reason she was in this endless sleep to begin with. He was also the one who almost killed Sarah’s mother.
“Certainly,” Boon said. “That makes perfect sense. That is why she knows your face well enough to cast you as the lead.”
“She only saw me once,” Dodger said. “And that was a long time ago.”
“She must’ve had a drawing of you then. Because he looks exactly like you. Well, a much younger you.”
“Where would she have gotten a drawing of Dodger?” Lelanea asked.
“I don’t know,” Boon said, scratching his chin in thought. “Maybe Al had one as part of that organization they both belonged-”
“Patricia may have had one,” Dodger said over Boon.
“Sarah’s mother. Patricia had some talent for charcoal sketches. She probably kept the one she drew when we …” Dodger’s words trailed off when he realized the other two were listening far too intently. He waved off the idea. “None of this is important. We need to come up with a feasible excuse for traveling with this fellow before he leaves. He’s our key to finding Sarah.”
“Princess Sarah,” Boon corrected.
“Princess?” Lelanea said. “I see this Sarah is a young lady with ambition. I like her already. So, what do we tell this Sir Rodger?”
“He already thinks we are on some kind of quest for a cure,” Dodger said. “That might be the best lie to keep up.”
“A cure for what …” Lelanea started, but her words faded when she saw Dodger quietly staring at her. “Ah, I see. That is a good a reason as any, I suppose.”
Boon cleared his throat, as if nervous, then said, “I have an idea. I’ll go on ahead and catch up with Sir Rodger. You two hang back a bit and take your time following us. That gives me a chance to explain that I think the princess has the secret to the cure. And perhaps I can get him to take us along.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Dodger said.
Boon smiled as his face lit with naked joy. “Really? You think so?”
“Sure. You take lead on this one. You’re already familiar with the man and he seems to trust you. I think all this black puts him off of me.”
“Well, all right then, I’ll just go, shall I?”
Dodger nodded in the direction Sir Rodger followed. “Go on. We’ll be there directly.”
Flashing a wide smile of both surprise and delight, Boon turned and ran up the hill, after Sir Rodger. Dodger watched as the line of trees swallowed the big man whole.
“Thank you for that,” Lelanea said.
“For what?” Dodger said.
“For allowing Boon to lead this mission. He needed the reassurance. He has been a nervous wreck ever since he learned he wasn’t quite dead.”
“He shouldn’t worry. We will get his body back for him. I promise.”
“It isn’t that.” Lelanea stood and walked a few steps ahead of Dodger, looking toward the trees into which Boon disappeared. “He worries what will happen once he returns. After all, you’re the head of security now. What place will he have when he is whole again?”
Dodger grunted. “Boon and I discussed this already. I told him he could have his job back. It’s rightfully his.”
“Is it?” She looked over her shoulder at him for a quiet moment, as if weighing either his words or his worth. “Either way, thanks for trusting him with this. It is sure to sooth his nerves.”
“I didn’t do it to sooth his nerves. I was serious when I said he had a genuinely good-”
“I know why you did it.” Lelanea left Dodger to ponder this as she trotted off after her beau.
Leaving Dodger to ponder why he really put Boon in charge.