Ch. 47.6 — A drizzle began. By the time Mr. Dumfries reached the city gates, his cloak was beaded with drops. The two guards, who had been drinking and playing cards at a table under the eaves by the gates, stood up with sneers on their faces.
“Well, well, if it isn’t old Gramps,” said one. “Right on time.”
“Seen any more talking cats?” The two guards looked at each other and laughed.
Mr. Dumfries boiled inside, but he just shook his head as one hand tightened on Bernie’s halter.
“Got a full load today, don’t you?” One of the guards took his staff and jabbed downward into the back of the cart. The donkey laid back his ears and brayed. Mr. Dumfries held his breath. Not a sound came from the cart.
One of the guards must have seen the anger flashing in Mr. Dumfries’ eyes, for he slapped the old man. “None of that attitude, now. You keep your head down and do your job like you’re supposed to, and you won’t get thrown into the dungeon. Or eaten.” The guards laughed again.
Mr. Dumfries mumbled. “Yes, sir.” He wanted to clobber the guard, but he gritted his teeth and held still. The drizzle changed to a rain. Water ran down his nose and blurred his spectacles. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
At last one of the guards slid the bolts to the left and pushed the gate open. “Go on, old man, get out of here. I’m getting soaked.”
Mr. Dumfries led the donkey through the gate and up the road until he had passed a grove of thick pines. He swerved under them, untied the tarp, and looked inside.
“Are you all right?”
The two women looked up at him from where they huddled. The queen was shaken, but the girl beside her had an angry red lump on her forehead. The pain in her eyes took his breath away.
He reached inside his jacket and took out a small jar. “One of the gnomes gave me this just a day ago.”
“Miracle Mix! Bless you.” Queen Natalie took the jar and applied a generous dollop to the girl’s forehead. She slumped in relief.
He cleared his throat. “We’d better get on the road. I’ll let you out as soon as we’re safe in the Tulgey Woods.”
The queen nodded. Mr. Dumfries retied the tarp. He climbed onto the seat of the cart and slapped the reins. Bernie put back his ears and growled.
“I know, I feel the same way, but we have to stick with the plan. Get moving, Bernie. We don’t have a minute to spare.”
Bernie nodded and set out at a fast trot.