Orchid circled above the school, seeing the three women rushing toward the cook-tent, scattering sand under their feet. Other people were doing various things, though a few obviously took note of the small, angry procession.
But they were no longer her problem. She remembered that Skimmer had silvery skin, like sun on a still pool, which set off his tattoos nicely. Frog had admired what she thought were imaginary insects, earning her an animated lecture about the different types of insects that could walk across the top of the water. Orchid had been glad she was sitting with Lily at the time, and didn’t have to pretend to pay attention to the whole thing. Though the insects were interesting, they weren’t anywhere near as fascinating as he thought they were.
Sitting on the sand to eat with the other kids, he had seemed almost impossibly tall and skinny. She didn’t see anyone like that in the area around the sunshades.
Well, if he was in one of them, she wouldn’t be able to get him away before those women made a ruckus anyway. Best to assume he was somewhere else. But where? She headed back to where the boys were cutting grass.
Dragon looked up and smiled, “Hey, couldn’t resist coming back to talk with me?”
She laughed then remembered she wanted his help, and smiled at him. “I’ve got some new information. Where can I find Skimmer?”
“Skimmer’s old! You don’t want him.” He struck a dramatic pose, and the handful of grass he’d just cut scattered over him, and Orchid giggled.
“Come on, Dragon.”
“I’m heartbroken!” Dragon wiped a pretend tear from his face. “She laughs at me.”
“Would you stop goofing off? I need to find Skimmer, right away.”
“Willow’s mother thinks he’s the fireborn, and she’s going for the Mayor. I’ve got to get him to safety.”
“Skimmer? Fireborn? No way!”
“Look, you said you would help me.”
“He’s no more fireborn than I am.” He cut some more grass. “Skimmer’s all about bugs, anyway. He wouldn’t waste time playing with fish even if he could.”
“Dragon, if you won’t help me–“
“Ok, ok, I said I’d help. Skimmer is out fishing with the other young men.”
Dragon waved. “They headed that way, though they may have changed directions, of course. But it won’t do you any good, even if you find them above-water.”
Orchid had started to fly off, but circled back. “What do you mean, it won’t do any good?”
“Mayor Eel is out with them.”
Orchid landed. “Oh.” Like she had earlier, she helped Dragon tie off a bundle of grass. “So, what could I tell him that would get the Mayor to let him leave the hunting party?”
“They’re probably underwater anyway. Why don’t you stick around for a while?” He smiled brightly at her.
Orchid frowned, and tapped her toes on the ground.
“Ok, ok! Um. You could say Lotus wants him. But you’ll be in really big trouble with Lotus if you lie about her.”
“Great. Thanks!” Orchid leapt into the air and started flying.
“It’s a bad idea! I’m just telling you–”
Whatever else he said was lost in the distance as Orchid sprinted away.
She rose into the air, and looked out over the water, but didn’t see anyone out there. She set to flying in the direction Dragon had indicated.
It was a beautiful day for flying. Orchid kept being distracted by thoughts of fun things she could be doing. Drizzle would be better, she thought, then changed her mind. At least, with good weather, they might be fishing, or taking a break, above the water.
At first she flew high, looking broadly over the land and water, but she didn’t see anyone. She dropped lower, flying close to the water, trying to look through it. That wasn’t successful either. Finally, she found a very tall tree with a good view, and settled down to rest and watch.
Sooner or later they had to come back; she would just have to hope she could spot them before they were all the way back to the cove.
Sitting there gave her lots of time to consider Dragon’s parting comment, that Skimmer was all about insects. If he was the fireborn, why was he making fish swim in formation, instead of insects? Maybe he respected insects more than that? Nah–he was a boy, after all. But he might be smart enough to try to throw people off. Or, considering how many rolled eyes she’d seen while he’d been animatedly lecturing Frog, maybe no one else paid attention to bugs.
The longer she sat there, the more she doubted Skimmer was the fireborn. But she had to be sure; if she let him just swim back to town and he was the fireborn, she would have failed. And she was determined not to fail.
(The story continues here.)
Please let me know if you dropped by to read this. I welcome questions, comments, and, of course (the obligatory commercial) sponsorships. Your donations determine how quickly I finish the story.
If, like me, you're still learning about crowdfunding, I have an ongoing series about my experiences, called Busking In Cyberland. I write about the power of readers here and here.