Excerpt from Chapter 31 of
Laura and the Ancient Enigma
By James Haselton
Serpent and Songbird

List of booksaura turned from the iron door and looked down the tunnel toward the arched opening. She could neither see nor hear a thing in the dark passageway or the dimly lit room beyond so she walked slowly and carefully to the end of the tunnel. She stopped and peered out apprehensively into a room similar to the one she had just left. There was no one to be seen. She had been correct about one thing—whatever they meant to do with her, the Oikama'ns obviously had no intention of keeping the passageway open. They didn't even seem in a hurry to lock the door.

The room she was entering had a window in the outside wall to her right and the wall to her left had a closed door. Straight ahead about thirty feet a door to the outside stood wide open admitting the damp morning air. She stepped out into the Laura and the Ancient Enigmaroom and looked around more closely to see what she could see by the dawn light coming through the window. Laura walked toward the open door noticing that there must have been a fire in the fireplace recently because she could still feel some heat radiating from the hearth but there was no sign of food, dishes, or utensils and the fire had been thoroughly put out. In fact the whole room barely looked lived in. It was as if the people who lived here had already packed up and left.

When she reached the outside door, she stopped and wondered what awaited her just on the other side. Would this be the last moment of her life? Would she be greeted as she stepped through the door by the point of an arrow or a sword? There was only one way to find out so, in small tentative steps, she edged closer to the door. When she was standing right on the threshold she looked out but still saw no one so she said, "Hello, is anyone out there?"

No answer came but slowly two men moved into view about fifteen feet away, one from either side of the door. They were both holding a bow with arrow fitted to shoot but not drawn or aimed.  They were obviously waiting for her to come outside to do their deed. But they both looked confused, glancing at each other as they saw Laura. Seeing their hesitation, Laura chose to ignore their weapons, walked out toward them and said, "I'm pleased to meet you. I am looking forward to my first tour of your realm.  Which of you will be my guide?"  After a few seconds during which neither of the men seemed able to figure out what to say or do, Laura noted that their uniforms were made of a pale-yellow light-weight material and added, "I see your clothes are made of that comfortable cotton material like my achkan – very nice."

For a few more seconds the two men still seemed unable to come up with any response except to stand there with their mouths half open. Finally one of them said, "Where is the Aheemsa?"

Laura said, "I am the Aheemsa. What is your name, sir?"

The man, seemingly unable to decide what to do, said, "My name is Ka-Roan, first marshal to the Prince. That is Lo-Shi."  Still not understanding what had happened, he again said, "Where is the Aheemsa? Why has he not come at the appointed hour?"

Laura, seeing the obvious confusion, continued to act as though this was just what she had expected, saying "I am the Aheemsa. I have come to your land at dawn as is the custom. I'm ready to begin my mission. Now as I have not been in this kingdom before, I need a guide who can accompany me and show me the way around. Is there a cart where I can bestow my instrument for the journey?"

"The Prince will not be pleasssed. You have failed your command, you sssoftiesss! What ssstayeth your hand, marshal? Kill her! Kill her now and be done with it or you will feel my wrath!"

Ka-Roan said, "The wagon is just there." He nodded toward a wagon which was heavily laden with goods twenty-five or thirty yards behind him, "Why don't you go over there until I decide what . . . is to be done."  Laura walked between the two men and off toward the cart.  When she had gone a few paces, Ka-Roan said to Lo-Shi in lowered voice, "Go inside and lock the gate then make double-sure the fire is out and that no one else is there and come back out here."  Ka-Roan put his arrow back into its quiver and slung his bow over his shoulder. Lo-Shi did what he was told and when he came back out a minute later, gave the key to Ka-Roan. Ka-Roan went to the door, closed and locked it, then turned to Lo-Shi, "I don't like this one bit. Our orders were not meant for this chance. Could you kill that girl?"

Without hesitation Lo-Shi said, "Not willingly. I don't know how that girl could have come through the doorway out of Mohan. It doesn't make any sense."

Ka-Roan said, "I don't know what's going on here but even if she is the Aheemsa now, I'm not sure the Prince would want us to kill her. Here is what I have decided to do.  I am going to ride back to Santosha and take this news to the Prince.  You will bring the wagon and the girl along at the best pace you can manage. The wagon is heavily laden so it may take you three or four days to get to Santosha. When you get there, do not bring her into the city.  I will have a guard ride out to meet you along the road with instructions. I don't know what Prince Li-Shing will want done with her."

Lo-Shi said, "What do you want me to tell her?"

"Don't tell her anything. She doesn't know where she is supposed to be going so she won't know you aren't taking her on the Aheemsa's normal route. Just let her think everything is fine. Can you handle that?"

"Sure, but what if we run into someone on the road? Hadn't we better keep all of this a secret?"

"I doubt you will see anyone in this wretched land with most of the men off preparing for the invasion. You must take the southern road closer to the Enigma so you won't see anyone who might be riding between the city and the invasion gateway, but if you do, just let things happen as they may. Remember, you don't want her to think she is a prisoner, even if that is what she truly is.  It will be easier that way. Now, I need to get moving. I need to get to Santosha by nightfall."

The two men turned toward the wagon but immediately froze in their tracks.  Their way was blocked by an enormous green serpent which was coiled on the ground. It raised its head a foot or two above theirs and was looking down at them as though it were deciding which of them would make the best meal. It hissed at them and put out its long forked tongue several times nearly touching Ka-Roan's neck. The serpent swayed from side to side for a minute as if deciding where to strike, holding the eyes of both men as if in a trance, but instead of striking, it said in a soft slithery voice, "The Prince will not be pleasssed.  You have failed your command, you sssoftiesss!  What ssstayeth your hand, marshal? Kill her! Kill her now and be done with it or you will feel my wrath!"

While the serpent was speaking, Laura, knowing exactly what this was all about, walked right through the snake until she appeared to the two men almost like she were inside it and as it finished speaking, she said, "Why don't you buzz off, Thrakatapol or is this your Mahamai disguise? No one's afraid of you. We need to get moving; don't we Marshal Ka-Roan?"

The serpent's response to this was what looked like a spoiled child's temper tantrum. It hissed and spit, coiled and uncoiled its long body, changed colors from green to red to green to orange and finally to flame red, then grew itself to enormous proportions and leered at Laura with obvious hatred. Finally it said in its most venomous screech, "You'll pay for this you little song bird, you just wait. The Prince will put an end to you once and for all!"

Undaunted, Laura replied, "Yes, I am a songbird, Thrakatapol. I am the cardinal who ushers in the dawn of a spring morning from the top of the highest tree and I am the nightingale who sings his love song through the darkest night. Today I am the little chickadee who warns other birds of the approaching hawk – or the snake. But truly, you are a snake with no venom, Thrakatapol. Still, you have a marvelous gift, why not use it wisely? Wouldn't you rather have people love rather than fear you?"

This overture of peace seemed to just enrage the snake even more. It twisted itself up in a knot, leapt high into the air and disappeared with a violent clap of thunder into the misty blue morning sky.

Laura looked at the two men and said, "Well? Shall we start our walk now? I am so looking forward to seeing this land and meeting its people."

The two men shook their heads and Lo-Shi passed a hand over his eyes like he was coming out of a trance. Laura gave them a minute to collect their thoughts and repeated herself, "Well?"


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