Plan of Attack
In which Dodger rallies the troops
It didn’t take long for the company to put their heads together and start formulating a plan. Dodger was careful that the plan included young Sarah at the lead. He didn’t want to go in guns blazing just to leave the star of the dream watching the show. Besides, it was kind of hard to go in guns blazing when they only had the one gun between them.
Dodger was the lucky man elected to get the sleeping guard’s weapon. They all agreed that he shouldn’t fire it yet, for fear of drawing down a host of outlaws. No, Dodger took the passed out man’s gun belt as well, taking what little ammo the man carried. It wasn’t much, just enough to reload once. When it came time, Dodger knew it would be more than enough.
Sir Rodger suggested locating the weapons cache first, so everyone could go in well armed. While this seemed like a fine idea on the surface, after a second glance a glaring problem arose; nobody knew which way the weapons cache lay. In fact, no one knew where anything was. They were, in a sense, traveling blind. And nobody relished the idea of wandering around the criminal ridden cesspit that was Poison Peak. Everyone was pretty stumped about how to handle the whole thing, until Boon made a startling revelation.
“I think I can ghost around,” he said.
Dodger was surprised, though he reckoned he shouldn’t have been. After all, a ghostlike state was how Boon spent most of his time. It would only seem natural that he would be able to fluctuate between the two whenever he wanted. Especially in a dream.
“Can you really?” Lelanea asked.
“I’m fairly sure I can,” he said. “But, I don’t know for how long.”
“What does ghost around mean?” Sarah asked.
“He can fade out into a ghost like form,” Dodger said. “It lets him move through walls and the likes. It also keeps folks from seeing him, except for us.”
“Why didn’t he do that before?” Sir Rodger said. “Rather than let those ruffians lock us up?”
“Because if I do,” Boon paused to look down at his lady love, “I don’t think I can come back anytime soon.”
“Where you gonna go?” Al asked.
“He means he can’t materialize again,” Lelanea said. “The act will take too much effort on his part. He won’t be able to return to solid form for a long while. Long after this is finished.”
“Right,” Boon said. “What she said.” He looked down to the wolf again, and set to chewing his lower lip.
“You don’t have to do this, Boon,” Dodger said. “We can find another way.”
“What do you mean he doesn’t have to?” Sir Rodger asked. “Of course he does.”
“No,” Dodger said. “Not if he doesn’t want to.”
“You realize,” Al said, “we’ll be a man down if he can’t return to normal.”
“He’s not much of a loss,” Sir Rodger said.
“You watch your mouth,” Dodger said. “That’s my partner you’re talking about.”
“I think you know what I mean. I have seen him fire a gun and handle a blade. For all of his brawn, he would be of more used to use as a scout.”
“He’s got a point,” Al said.
“Doesn’t matter,” Dodger said. “I don’t care if he’s under a magic spell which makes him tell nothing but the truth. The choice is up to Boon, not us.” Dodger looked to the man in question.
“I don’t see what the issue is,” Sir Rodger said.
“Sir Rodger,” Dodger said.
“He needs to help in the way best suited to his abilities.”
“We need him as a scout.”
Dodger motioned to Boon who was now crouched to Lelanea’s height, running his hands across her furry face. The two sighed at one another in a way that left even Dodger’s bitter heart aching with remorse.
“Ah,” Sir Rodger said. “I see the issue now. I apologize.”
“No need to apologize,” Boon said without looking away from his lady love.
“You don’t have to do this,” Dodger said again.
“Yes, he does,” Lelanea said without taking her eyes off of Boon. “Just … please, give us a moment.”
“Of course,” Sir Rodger said.
“Come on over here, Sarah,” Al said. “Let’s see how big you’ve gotten since last I’ve seen ya.”
Al gathered the girl to one side with Sir Rodger, while Dodger turned his back on the couple, giving them a moment of privacy. They whispered back and forth, surely swapping sweet nothings in this possible last moment of contact. As they said their physical farewells, Dodger promised himself—and that was his real self and not this fantasy villain he seemed to slip into so easily—that he would return Boon to his corporeal form even if it was the last thing Dodger did in his lifetime. He no longer cared if he got that rascal Rex, or settled his score with Kitty for killing his mentor. No. Those things were based on hatred and fear. But this? This promise was based on the most powerful force on earth; love. Dodger may never find his own soul mate, nor understand what drives folks to want to spend their lives joined at the hip by that despicable act of marriage, but he also had never seen two people more suited to one another. He vowed to make it his purpose in life to see them together again, properly. Heck, maybe this was his marked purpose all along, to bring love back to these two after it was so cruelly ripped away from them. Dodger honestly couldn’t think of a better reason to live.
“I’m ready,” Boon said.
When Dodger turned about again, he found Boon had already slipped back into his ethereal form. “You didn’t waste any time, did you?”
“Does it hurt?” Sarah asked.
“Not at all,” Boon said.
“How fascinating,” Sir Rodger said. He reached forward but paused as he asked, “May I?”
Boon shrugged, “Sure.”
The knight ran a hand across Boon’s chest. The specter’s form crackled with lights as Sir Rodger’s hand swept through the spirit.
“Fascinating,” the knight said again.
“I don’t like it,” Al said with a snort. “Ain’t natural. No offense meant, son.”
“None taken,” Boon said.
“Wait up now,” Dodger said. “How come y’all can see and hear him?”
“I think it’s because I want them to,” Boon explained. “I seem to have a bit more control over the whole thing when I’m in someone else’s, umm, kingdom?”
“I see,” Dodger said, smirking at the man’s substitution of the word kingdom for the word mind. “You just figure this out? Or did you find this out from running around in other kingdoms?” He glanced to the wolf then back to the ghost.
Boon’s wispy cheeks turned a pale shade of red. “Oh no, it’s not like that. This is all as new to me as it is you. Besides, there are some kingdoms I can’t manage to find my way in to. No matter how hard I try.”
“Is that so?” Dodger said and crossed his arms. “You don’t seem to have a problem spying on mine.”
“Perhaps some castles are more difficult to storm than others,” Lelanea said, an undeniable trace of humor in her voice.
“Or maybe Boon’s just too polite to storm said castle.”
“Perhaps it’s because said kingdom is more complex than yours?”
“Or maybe it’s just because Boon is a man and said kingdom belongs to a woman. I’ve yet to meet a man that understands how any woman’s kingdom works.”
“Do you two have any idea what they are talking about?” Al asked.
Sarah and Sir Rodger shook their heads.
“We can argue about this later,” Dodger said. “Boon, get on out there and see where we need to head.”
“Aye, Sarge,” Boon said, and slipped off down the hallway.
“Sarge?” Sir Rodger asked. “Are you a man of military ranking?”
“Not anymore,” Dodger said. “All right, while Boon plans our path, we need to decide what we are gonna do when we find Rex. Sarah, I know you can handle a bow with some accuracy.”
“I try,” Sarah said.
“Try nothin’,” Al said. “The girly has talent with the bow.”
“Can you handle a gun?” Dodger asked.
“I know how,” Sarah said, “but Uncle Al won’t let me have one of my own. He said it isn’t lady like.”
Dodger glanced to the Baron, who shrugged in response.
“I stand by it,” Al said. “She knows her way around one, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let a princess own a pistol.”
“Whatever,” Dodger said, unwilling to waste time arguing the point. “We better hope they still have your bow, then.”
“And my blade,” Sir Rodger said, “Once I have my sword, I shall be ready to assist her in vanquishing the enemy.”
“Baron?” Dodger said. “You any good with a gun?”
“I’ve been known to hit a target on occasion,” the old man said.
Dodger didn’t doubt that. “Lelanea?”
“My teeth are yours to command,” she said, snapping her jaw for emphasis.
“I’ll remember that when this is done,” he said, and shot her a wink.
“I’m sure I will come to regret my choice of words,” she said. “Baron, can I ask you to swap clothes with that guard? No offense, but out of all of us, you truly look like a prisoner, and smell even worse.”
Sir Rodger wrinkled his nose. “The lady doth speak the truth.”
With a chuckle, Al slipped his shirt off and stepped toward the sleeping guard. “You try living in the same clothes for two years without a bath and see how you smell.”
In the time it took the Baron to switch clothes with the guard, Lelanea explained what took place during Dodger’s absence. It seems that while Dodger was falling to his death, the rest of the company managed to get themselves ambushed by Rex’s men. Everyone gave a good fight, even the young Sarah, but in the end it was a matter of numbers and the party was overwhelmed. The gang found themselves blindfolded and forced to walk the rest of the way to Poison Peak. Once they arrived, their captors made them all bow for Rex’s grand entrance, which of course Sir Rodger refused to do, hence the shiner. Lelanea described Rex as pretty much the same little dog he was in real life, which made Dodger wonder.
Why would the man show up in the child’s dream as a harmless mutt?
Before Dodger could hear the rest of the tale, Boon returned with news.
“Did you find anything out?” Dodger asked.
“Sure did,” Boon said. “They have all of our weapons stored in an unlocked cell at the end of this hallway. The door is just standing open, like they are waiting for us to come and take it.”
“Amateurs,” Dodger said.
“Ain’t nothing amateur about it,” Al said. “Just plain stupid is all.”
“Like Uncle Al always says,” Sarah said, “the criminal element is stupid and slow. Else they’d be able to get a regular job like normal folks and not have to rob no one.”
Al giggled as he touched the end of her nose. “That’s right, little missy. And don’t you forget it.”
Dodger repressed his own grimace at the familiar statement. It was hard enough hearing the imaginary Al spouting his bits of wisdom. Dodger dreaded returning to the waking world knowing the little girl would remind him of Al every time she opened her mouth.
“Either way,” Dodger said, “we shouldn’t question our luck. What about the prince?”
“That one’s a bit trickier,” Boon said. “No one is guarding the weapons because they are all gathered in the yard. Rex is sitting in this big chair on a stage of sorts. They’ve got a youngun in a pen on the stage too, and that mutt is giving everyone a speech about how killing the lad is gonna make Rex king.”
“Kill the prince?” Sir Rodger said. “Not while I still draw a breath.” The man turned and made to run off down the hallway, but Dodger grabbed him by the arm before the knight took his first step.
“Hold your horses, Sir Rodger,” Dodger said. “I know you’re all fired up to rescue the prince, but do you really want to go running in there alone, empty handed?”
Sir Rodger just glared at Dodger, but didn’t speak.
The man’s arm all but pulsed with pent up tension. This was a fellow that wanted to cut and run out there and lay his life down for that child more than anything in the world. And while Dodger couldn’t help but admire the knight’s code, he didn’t plan on letting anyone die today.
Man or child.
“Boon,” Dodger said. “How far along do you think the speech is?”
“I think he just got started,” Boon said. “I can’t be certain, but I believe the crowd just gathered. I followed some of the men to the meeting and it was just getting into full swing.”
“Did you hear that?” Dodger asked the knight. “If I know that mutt the way I think I do, time is on our side. He’s got a flare for the dramatics, and he’s a might bit longwinded. We need to prepare ourselves a bit first, Daniel, before we go stumbling into that lions’ den.”
“Of course,” Sir Rodger said. The tension in his arm eased off as he relaxed just a bit.
“Good,” Dodger said. “How many men were there, Boon?”
“Fifty or so,” Boon said. “I had a quick whip around the whole place, and save for a few men watching the front gates, I’d say everyone is at the meeting.”
“Fifty men and six of us?” Al said. He whistled low. “Them’s some mighty long odds.”
“Yes,” Dodger said, “but we have the element of surprise on our side. Now, I have an idea that just might work. Are you with me?”
“I’m with you,” Boon said.
“As am I,” Lelanea said.
“I will follow your lead,” Sir Rodger said.
“I’m in,” Al said, then gave a short giggle. “Ain’t nothing else to do anyway.”
The adults looked to Sarah as one, waiting for her pledge.
“You don’t have to do this,” Dodger said. “You’ve been very brave so far.”
“I’ll do what needs to be done,” Sarah said. “I want to finish this.”
“All right then,” Dodger said. “In that case, here’s what we’re gonna do.”
Dodger drew the group closer to him as he outlined a rough plan of attack.