Ally & Oz

Silent Men of the Tea (Sixth)

by William L. J. Galaini

“Wives can do that, you know! It’s an ability every little girl is born with! They can destroy a man with a single glance.” William argued. “Women are given this power, so that if their husband ever allows something as outright crazy as what you’re suggesting, they can quickly dispatch him!”

Ally and Oz were not convinced.

“Williams, do you not wants to give Ashey truffles for Christmas? Hmm?” Oz pressed, eyebrow raised. Ally whispered something into his pink little ear. He gasped, raising his hooves to his mouth in horror. “You do not hates Ashey, do you!?”

“I want Ashley to have a safe Oz and Ally for Christmas, and that means no spelunking to the bottom of the castle.” William said trying not to laugh, looking Ally and Oz eye-to-eye as they sat up on the stairs. “I would worry too much. I would.”

Ally scrambled from her perch next to Oz, scampered down the stairs and tugged on his pant leg. William bent down to her. “Yes, Ally?”

Ally proceeded to whisper in his ear, at some length, and William nodded the whole time. After she was done, William straightened up with his shoulders slightly slumped in a gesture of remorse.

“I’m sorry guys, I am. I know how you feel, I do. But I can’t let you go to the bottom of a well and search for truffles that probably aren’t even there to begin with. Besides, you can remember her list of things she wants for Christmas. We can get her those things still. We can grow her something nice in the garden, or maybe dry her out some nice tea leaves . . . what do you say?”

Ally and Oz looked beaten.

“Come on guys, diner is almost ready.”

Dragging themselves along, Ally and Oz followed William to the mead hall.

Diner was delicious and Ally and Oz were playful as usual. Everyone played Hide and Seek throughout the Eastern-most tower, the one that faced the ocean, and Oz won. But it was clearly because Ally allowed him too. As for William and Ashley, they were usually easy to spot.

“Williams, you is too big to hides behind a plants.” Oz advised. “And Ashey, a hiding person who giggles is always found.”

Bath time was fun and wet, with many a round of uh-oh alligator. And after being blow-dried and properly squished, Ally and Oz were carried up the spiraling stairs where their warm little bodies were set down on the bed. They were so light that the comforter barely dipped from their presence. Oz stretched out with an expressive yawn, louder than usual, while Ally zipped under the sheets and become a lump awaiting cuddles.

Pajamas were donned, lights went out, and goodnights were exchanged. Soon, William and Ashley slept, the stars above twinkling through the glass dome.

Oz opened one eye, and peeked about. Ally stealthily slipped from under the covers. The two shared a knowing glance. Scurrying to the edge of the bed, they slipping down the comforter and skipped out of the bedroom to the stairs.

“The last time I wents down these stairs, I was nots a happy pig.” Oz reminisced to Ally, as they peered down.

“Just think of it, Oz. You and I will get truffles for Ashley, to show her how much we love her. And making Ashley happy will make William happy! We’ll make them both happy.” To her, it was the only way to give thanks. “I can’t remember the last time I made someone happy.” Ally thought, her brow frowning.

Oz put a hoof on her side. “You makes me happy everyday, Ally.”

They hugged, and began their slow descent. Down down down they went and through the lounge and through the mead hall they traveled until they found themselves through the new doggie door that William had made and outside to the fountain in the courtyard. Oz dipped in a hoof. “Ooooh! Is warm!” he exclaimed right before climbing to the lip and diving in, pinching his snout closed. Ally slipped in right after him with barely a ripple.

The two splashed about for a bit until Ally decided she should start exploring. Oz was to wait, wading at the surface of the fountain’s warm water. Floating on his back, Oz relaxed with only his snout sticking up for air as Ally dived deep into the fountain’s depths in search of a way back to Undervault. After several attempts over an hour’s span, Ally popped up to speak.

“Found it! There’s a big waterway leading down deep into a series of caves, and there it seems to flow toward the sea! There will be some places you can breathe, but there’s one spot that’s too far for you to handle. We might need to find another way in.”

Oz seemed heart broken. “But we has spents a whole hours already! I is ready to go now!”

“Oz, there’s no way. You couldn’t hold your breath that long.” Ally spoke softly as she swam up close.

“But! This coulds be our only chances! I haves to do this! Why can I nots swim!?” Oz’s voice became strained and Ally could tell he was about to cry. Immediately snuggling up to him, she whispered in his ear.

“A plans?” he responded. “Really?”

Ally whispered all the details and he nodded. “Okays. I will do its.”

Oz, clearly nervous, began huffing and puffing to fill his lungs with as much air as possible while Ally circled around him.

“Any time you’re scared, just think to yourself ‘I am a brave pig’ okay Oz?” Ally suggested loudly, over the sounds of his breathing. Oz replied with a rapid, floppy-eared nod.

“I is a brave piggie.” He chanted between puffs.

“Get ready!”

“Okays!”

“Are you ready!?”

“I is!!!”

Ally disappeared under the water for an instant. All was calm. Then she burst forth strait up into the air, flipped, and dove down onto Oz! Down they went, the water dark and deep, Oz held fast by Ally as they submerged. Oz’s cheeks were puffed out with all the air in them and he kept as still as he could so Ally could with as little trouble as possible. In his mind he chanted, attempting to fill himself with bravery and worth. ‘I is a brave piggie! I is a brave piggie!’ he thought over and over.

A tightness started to occur inside his little chest. His little black eyes began to roll upward and suddenly everything stopped and he was just free floating. Ally had let go of him for a moment, and his internal chanting nearly gave way to his fear, but just then Ally spun him about, pressed his mouth closed tight, and pushed fresh air in through his snout.

You see, Alligators can hold lots of air, so much in fact, that Ally had some to spare. It was quite the sight, the two of them locked together, snout to snout.

Onward they continued deep deep deep until the familiar green light glowed in the distance. Oz was so thankful that it was almost over, and soon it was for they both burst into the open air, gasping and joyous and Ally plopped Oz onto a small rock face, she herself taking up perch next to him.

Oz choked and sputtered and coughed as Ally cooed over him, licking him clean and straightening out his ears.

“I . . . I” Oz tried. “I do not wants to thinks about the way back!”

“I’ll start looking for another way back that’s shorter, while you look for truffles. Alright?”

“Okays!” Oz enthusiastically agreed, jutting a hoof into the air to give a ‘hoof’s up.’ Weakly he stood and looked about. “Where is we? This is not Undervaults.”

Indeed it wasn’t. The same blue-green algae covered everything, but the glow was far more intense. Above them stood a huge chamber ceiling, jagged and rough and bellow them was one large central pool. Beyond that was the ocean itself, the sounds of its waves rolling in and out of the chamber, echoing in its expanse. At the center of the large, main pool was something Oz could hardly believe. It made him gasp.

It was a ship, fashioned out of wood and silver, barely sitting on the water, nearly hovering. With one main, central mast it towered gloriously, with sails of mercury drawn up neat and proper. Along its sides were two long metal tubes, each as wide as a man’s shoulders and covered in ornate runes.

There it glowed, humming with some sort of unseen energy atop the rippling ocean water like a fallen leave. There were no tethers or docks, it simply sat there patiently as though of its own choice.

“A boat!” Oz exclaimed, not knowing another word. “Ally, can we go sees it?”

Ally slipped from the outcropping into the water. As she came about to ferry Oz on her back she happened to look down and see something odd. Small, glowing-green lights flickered and swirled about below her, their light slowly growing more intense.

“Oz . . . ?” Ally hesitated, but not for long. She flew up onto the outcropping, snatched up Oz, and dove back into the water. As Ally sped her way to the boat, Oz looked down into the depths to see what she saw. The lights had come closer, and under the ripples Oz could make out dark, thin, bony figures drifting upward toward them with out-stretched skeletal hands. Within each of their skulls glowed a soft green light, shining out through their empty eye-sockets and illuminating their black-boned bodies.

Oz, of course, squealed.

Ally grasped the ship’s rudder, and thrust Oz to its top. Up they frantically fumbled and climbed as the skeletons slowly rose up to just below the surface, floating about with outstretched hands into the salty sea air.

Ally was the faster climber, and Oz clung to her tail as she reached the captain’s cabin window. With a desperate flip, she flung Oz over her head onto a long dining table, the piggie projectile knocking over arranged teapots and flatware.

“Ally! Gets in!” Oz called out when he rolled to a stop. Ally did so, and Oz ran back to lock the window behind them, his hooves well suited for the job.

They glanced about frantically, looking for a hiding place.

“I is a brave piggie!” Oz recited.

They spotted a large strong box filled with maps, its lid lying wide open. Running to it, they dove in and quickly covered themselves up with charts and cloth-like parchments. Oz proceeded to chant.

“I is a brave piggie! I is a brave piggie!”

Sounds could be heard against the hull, something like footsteps sounded above and below them. Wood creaked, and the whole ship seemed to be alive with movement.

“I is a brave piggie! I is a brave piggie! I is a brave piggie!”

Ally tried to hush him by gently covering his mouth and holding him firm, but his quivering was so strong the all of the maps covering them shook.

“Mphf mm mraphf mpf! Mphf mm mraphf mpf!”

The door to the captains quarters opened, and in sounded several pairs of ‘feet.’ They moved closer, and one by one the maps were lifted off of them. Ally let go of Oz, and coiled herself ready to strike.

“I is a brave piggie! I is a brave piggie! I IS A BRAVE PIGGIE!” Oz exclaimed as the last map was removed. Looking down at them were four skeletons, each with their green glow emanating through their closed teeth and empty eyes. Ally and Oz looked up at them in expectant horror.

“Indeed, you are.” One of them said, green light softly shined through its opening mouth with each syllable, Ally and Oz huddled under its glow. The skeletons then looked to each other, their faces unreadable.

“This isn’t what I was expecting.” One said. “You look dead.”

“So do you. And why is my left hand missing?” one of the skeletons said while looking at the vacant stump of his arm. Each had a distinct male voice, their words hard and flat and filled with a combination of subtle surprise and genuine confusion.

“What happened to us, Captain?” One said, addressing the question to the one handed skeleton.

“I don’t know.” He replied. “But maybe we should ask the locals, our first encounter . . .” The Captain leaned back down and his green light bathed Ally and Oz. “What’re your names, little things?”

Oz couldn’t speak. He was just too scared. As for Ally, she was ready to pop like a ferocious weasel at whomever dared to come close. The Captain reached a long bony hand down and WHAM Ally was on him in a heartbeat. Scaling his arm in a fluffy flash, Ally assaulted his face. Twisting and grabbing, biting and pounding, she waged her war against the featureless enemy. With his one remaining hand he casually plucked Ally off and held her at arms length by the tip of her tail. She thrashed about wildly.

“You lets go of her right nows!” Oz snarled with surprising anger, jarring all of the skeletons that had gathered in the room.

“I’m sorry . . . of course.” The Captain apologized earnestly as he set Ally back down, gently next to Oz, back in the strongbox. “I am Captain Theodore Cromwell, and this is my crew. We uh, we are a little confused and I suppose you are our only hope to help figure things out . . .”

Ally and Oz glared at him.

“We meant no offense. We’re just as surprised at how we look as you are!”

The skeletons dispersed, all but Captain Cromwell, to explore the ship. Outside the Captain’s quarters they called out to each other with their hollow, non-living voices as they delighted in the many newfound wonders the ship held.

“Fresh fruit! Endless barrels of it! If only we had stomachs . . .”

“Who’s ship is this! It’s not ours!”

“These sails are made of silver silk! Have you ever seen such silver, or such silk?”

“What are these metal cylinders and what’s this writing here?”

On and on their exclamations of joy and wonder echoed as Ally and Oz sat at diner with the captain. He had found a purple felt hat with a wide brim and a long green feather, and his skeleton looked only slightly silly as he donned it.

“It reminds me of my old hat, but good as new. It was a gift, from one of the Kahns!” He proudly spoke, fluffing its feather and gingerly placing it atop his head. Two places had been set for Ally and Oz and several of the crew had produced fresh fruit and soft breads from the newfound food store. They presented olives, cheeses, apple-butter, and Ally’s favorite, smoked salmon paste! They nibbled cautiously at first, but soon the food’s astounding flavor overcame their tummies with such joy that they both climbed onto the table and ate their way through the bowls and platters, much like a glacier eats its way through a mountain range. But much much faster.

The only thing to jar Oz from an entire basket of strawberries was a sudden, exciting notion.

“You is pirates!” he declared, his face and hooves red with juice.

“No, no, no.” Cromwell waved his one hand in amused denial.

“Dids you looses your hand battling ninjas!?!”

“No, I never lost my hand until now. I’m not sure why its not here . . .” He said, his sentence trailing off in speculation. “You see, our ship was called the St. William.” “Williams!” Oz sounded.

“Yes. The St. William. You’ve heard of us? We were the most successful tea-merchant to sail the seas. Royalty often sent servants to purchase our teas right from the docks! We were welcome in nearly every royal court!”

“Do you remember dying?” Ally asked with sensitivity.

“Well, I’m not sure . . .” The captain got up and walked about his cabin, his one hand outstretched as though touching the past. “This cabin is not mine, but everything is where I would put it. I-I don’t . . . wait. Wait! We had just docked in Shang Hai! Ashore I had met an old Chinese man in a tiny shop under a bridge! He showed me this box filled with the rarest teas! He claimed they were magical teas, one supposedly tasted like Nirvana and was grown by a monk in the mountains. Another could only be brewed in the catacombs under Paris so that the drinker could see and avoid their own death. But the one I picked, and I bought enough for the whole crew, would grant the drinker eternal bliss. Endless, comforting bliss . . .” Cromwell remained silent for a while, eyes aglow green and his jaw rubbing back and forth in thought. With a terrifying burst he laughed, arms in the air and head back! Oz dove into his strawberry bowl and Ally jumped on top of him to protect him.

“That’s it!” he cackled. “We-I can’t believe it-we all settled down once we were out at sea! It was night and we all lit the deck lanterns! I announced to the crew that I had something special for them and we all gathered on deck. We brought out a long table, all of us sat, and I poured the freshly brewed tea. I offered it as a present, and we all took a sip!” The captain sat back down, pulling the strawberry bowl containing Ally and Oz to him so that he could continue his story up close. Oz’s head poked up, and Ally gave a few quick licks around his eyes so he could see. “And just then, after we all toasted and had the first sip . . . before anyone could even reach for a butter cake, a wall of cruel wind and water plowed into the ship! It was a white squall, rare and brutal and in a flash it drove us into the ocean’s depths, some of us dead before our bodies even hit the water.” The Captain’s head moved about, as though searching for the next part in his story. “I suppose we ended up here, somehow. Is this paradise? Are you harbingers of bliss? You’re certainly well natured enough. This must be heaven!”

“May I ask a questions, pease?” Oz inquired, raising a hoof. “What dids your right hand do that was so bad that it could nots go to heavens?”

Tapping a bony finger against his bony chin, Cromwell speculated. Once the he figured he wasn’t going to have much success accounting for his hand, he moved on.

“Why are you two here?” he asked.

“Truffles.” Oz said frankly, eying over some ripe green olives.

Captain Cromwell rang a dainty, silver bell that stood at the corner of the table. Two crewmen entered, now dressed in colorful uniforms.

“Go down to the store and fetch as many truffles as these two can . . . eh, carry.” The captain’s command shifted to an apology. “I’m sorry. That’s probably not very many.”

“It depends.” Ally interjected. “It depends if Oz is permitted to carry with his tummy.”

Oz grinned, guilty as charged.

After dinner, the skeletons lowered a rowboat into the water. The captain himself climbed in. Handing Ally and Oz to him like trade goods, the three of them shoved off from the mystery-ship’s port side.

“Let’s see what this ocean looks like, shall we?” Cromwell said, the strengthening sea breeze ruffling his hat’s tall, green feather. Away they rowed, Ally leaning over the side looking deep into the sea. Soon they were out of the cave’s mouth, and above were the stars, more dim than before due to the rising sun in the distance. Dawn would be soon.

“Ah . . . the last place to sail. Amongst the stars . . .” the captain whispered to himself as he stroked the oars. Along the cliff they went, keeping a safe distance from the rocks, until they came to a safe path that led upward. Driving the boat into the sand, Captain Cromwell jumped out and dragged it steadily ashore. Ally and Oz hopped out, and for a moment Oz delighted in the sand, making little flower-shapes with his hoof-prints. Ally joined in, drawing long stems on them, connecting them into a bouquet.

When they realized that the captain had been watching them, they fidgeted.

“No room for discomfort between close friends. There just isn’t the space.” The captain said, kneeling before them. “Now, these truffles look fine and lovely. This Ashley lady will be very pleased. And her husband should enjoy the astrolabe. It’s Spanish made so it’s fine and durable.” He said while presenting them with two hastily sewn backpacks, tiny and fit for their little shoulders.

“Thank you very much, Captain Cromwell.” Ally said politely, attempting a curtsey.

“Thanks you!” Oz blurted out enthusiastically.

“You are OH so welcome!” He proclaimed, lifting his hat high off his head, and sweeping it low with a humble bow. “You know where to find us!”

Ally and Oz made their way, as fast as their little legs could, up the rocky cliff via the long forgotten path that the captain had spied. Up up up they went huffing and puffing until they came to the top. Familiar wheat could be seen, whipping about, and they were less than a mile North of the castle.

Racing against the sun they ran, giggling with delight at the amazing success of their adventure. Nearly collapsing from exhaustion they entered the courtyard. Using one of Ally’s favorite hiding places, they stashed their tiny satchels and slipping through the William-made doggie door they scampered inside.

Turning to Oz, right before ascending the bedroom stairs, Ally spoke. “I don’t know if this is okay, feeling so good. Something about it is hard to except.”

“Would Williams and Ashey wants you to feels bad, or good?”

“Good.” Ally smiled.

“Theres it is!” Oz proclaimed as they began creeping up the stairs to bounce on William and Ashley’s bed in the usual morning fashion, leaving a trail of sand and dirt.

© William L. J. Galaini