(a tale from the rainbow's end)

Chapter Three: The Hand of Augustus

Teddy ducked through the crowd, dragging June by one hand, sifting past musician and audience alike, until they came to a park, hemmed in by the humming of various instruments.

"Quiet enough to hear each other," Teddy explained. "Loud enough so as we won't be heard. Hopefully."

"And you were saying?" June asked, already beginning to feel guilty for mistrusting such pleasant company as Teddy.

Teddy looked about warily, as if afraid someone would eavesdrop. "Most of Chalder, the part we are in now, is controlled by the Emperor Augustus. He, of course, wishes to know whenever the trans-world portal opens."

June smiled, quite aware of her own naïvete. "Is that so odd?"

"Augustus is evil. He . . . hides it, and has kept it hidden so far. He's a conqueror. So far, it has only been politics, and only on this world, but I daresay he will not stop there."

"How do you know this if he keeps it hidden so well?"

"I follow one who knows the hearts of men and who knew Augustus before he came to power."

"Who do you follow?"

Teddy's eyes never stopped scanning the bushes. "I have told you all I can. To speak of him, here, I cannot risk, for Augustus's spies are everywhere. What is needed now is to get you to Captain Jim and to safety. Can you trust me on this?" His eyes pleaded with her.

June nodded slowly. "Yes. I think I can."

"Good." Teddy looked relieved. "Now we need to be on our way."

The two milled back into the crowd. "The Herons have passed," Teddy observed. "It's safe to be on the road again. Though I think we should buy you some more normal-looking clothes. Do you think?"

June agreed and Teddy showed her to a respectable shop, full of the latest in Chalderean style. June decided on a green dress and apron, and some pretty but comfortable boots. Teddy paid for the clothes, and they were on their way. Several miles outside the city limits, they stopped for lunch.

Swallowing a bite of cracker, June cocked her ears at a vaguely familiar sound. "I thought we were far enough out of Selah that we couldn't hear the music any more," she commented.

Teddy laughed. "That's the river you hear. It always sounds as if it's singing."

"So, we go through a tunnel under the river?"

"That's right."

"Why not build a bridge?"

Teddy pondered this for a moment. "I don't know," he said finally.

Rounding a bend in the road, June saw the entrance to the tunnel, a well lit stairway leading down into the earth. The melody of the river grew as the two travelers descended, echoing like dolphin's laughter. Once again in the sunlight, June commented, "It must be nice to live in a land where everything is so beautiful."

"Not everything," muttered Teddy.

"What was that?"

More loudly, Teddy answered, "I agree. It must be nice to live in such a land." He pointed ahead. "The Forest of Meeting. Do not be deceived by its beauty."

June squinted into the foliage. "It seems harmless enough." And while Teddy slowed to a cautious pace, June led the way into the forest. "This isn't so bad," she said after she had walked several paces. "Teddy . . ." She had turned to find her friend nowhere in sight. "Teddy!" She started to panic, but noticed that she could already see the way out of the forest. "He must have taken a different path," she told herself. "I'll meet him as soon as I reach the forest's edge."

As she moved toward the sunlight, she mused, "I wonder why he told me all that creepy stuff about the forest being enchanted. I guess it's just a local legend." She stepped into the open once more and waited for Teddy to join her.