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  • All writings here are copyright (c) G. Adamson

Chapter 7

The next morning Alvez awoke early from a fitful and dream ridden sleep and quickly made his way to the front of the cave. Even at this hour the sun shone bright in a cloudless blue sky, as if yesterday’s tempest had never happened. ‘Right let us be having you, breakfast and then we are off,’ he boomed, cheerful in the knowledge they would soon be on their way. Having received no reply, he kicked the blanket sharply where he felt the boy’s feet should be, ‘come on, wakey wakey, rise and shine.’

Pukunati let out a low, pained groan.

‘Come on, will feel much better when you get up,’ assured Alvez.

‘I can’t move,’ moaned the boy, closing his eyes and pulling his blanket closer, ‘I feel dreadful.’

Alvez’s heart sank. I do not believe this, this is the last thing we need. ‘Too much of that foul stew I should bet,’ he observed unsympathetically.

At that very moment Griselda shuffled into the cave.

‘You must have been up early,’ offered Alvez, hoping the old woman had not overheard his previous comments. She might turn me into a frog he thought uncomfortably.

‘What’s the matter with the young gentleman,’ enquired Griselda, pointing a bony finger toward the softly moaning Pukunati.

‘I am afraid he is not feeling too well.’

‘I’ll make him a nice tonic, that will soon get him back on his feet,’ enthused Griselda.

‘Yes, that would be good, thank you,’ said Alvez, the least you can do given it was most likely your odious stew that laid him low in the first place. He watched with growing revulsion as the old woman set about preparing another foul brew until eventually the smell was too much and he had to get out. ‘I am just going to get some fresh air and see if anything useful was thrown up by the storm,’ he told the boy, ‘you drink your tonic and feel better soon,’ he commanded.

Pukunati watched as Griselda strained the broth of seemingly numerous inedible ingredients with what looked like, but he hoped wasn’t, a dirty old rag. Weakly he lifted his head to take a sip of the tonic. The clear liquid had a faintly brackish odour and a sweet and salty taste which provoked an immediate wave of nausea that he struggled to fight down. Manfully he took another mouthful then collapsed back onto his bed. He knew Alvez would be impatient to resume their quest and if the brew helped speed his recovery then it was worth it; he couldn’t remember ever feeling quite this unwell and quickly fell into a troubled sleep, his body tormented - burning up with hot flushes one moment, shivering with cold sweats the next as he succumbed to his fate.

As he walked the black sand of the volcanic isle Alvez reflected on where they were and what might be to come; we cannot waste too much time here, Booth’s treasure is a much sought-after prize, the boy must recover as quickly as possible, we need to be on our way. When he arrived back at the cave however Pukunati seemed no better despite the tonic and, if anything, was getting worse. The boy appeared to be stuck somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, in a state of delirium, and was even singing nonsensical songs:

‘Oh, Alvez is a funny’un, got a nose like a rotten onion,

A face like a bruised tomato,

And legs like two props.’

‘I beg your pardon,’ stammered Alvez.

‘All together now….

Oh, Alvez is a funny’un, got a nose like a rotten onion,

A face like a bruised tomato,

And legs like two props.’

‘What’s he saying?’ croaked Griselda.

‘Nothing,’ growled Alvez through gritted teeth, ‘he’s just a bit, confused.’

‘I’ll make him a stronger tonic,’ said the old woman, ‘that’ll make him all better.’

‘We’re going on a treasure hunt,

Treasure hunt, treasure hunt,

We’re going on a treasure hunt,

To find John Booth’s gold.’

‘What was that he said?’ asked Griselda quickly.

‘No, nothing,’ floundered Alvez.

‘I thought I heard him say something about treasure and gold?’

When you want it to be, your hearing is much sharper than I first gave you credit for thought Alvez. ‘No, not ‘treasure and gold….,’ he corrected, ‘it was ‘pleasure’ and…. and, ‘happiness untold’,’ stumbled Alvez as he intoned tunelessly and half-heartedly:

‘We’re going on a pleasure hunt,

Pleasure hunt, pleasure hunt,

We’re going on a plea sure hunt,

To find…. happiness untold.’

‘Strange,’ replied Griselda.

‘Yes, he is, very strange indeed,’ agreed Alvez.

‘I wasn’t talking about the boy,’ muttered the old woman.

Alvez accepted that, at that moment, the old woman’s observation was probably fair comment.

‘I do meet some strange characters here,’ continued Griselda.

‘Is that right,’ replied Alvez only half-listening…. we must leave here soon.

‘Mmmm, come with all manner of stories they do.’

‘Ah-ha, that must be very interesting….,’ of all the times and places to pick to become ill.

‘Here’s my best, most strongest tonic,’ said Griselda proudly, shuffling over and putting down a big bowl of a clear, greenish broth carelessly on the ground.

Alvez winced at the pungent aroma, emanating, he feared, mainly, but not solely, from the bowl.

‘Just a special, finishing touch,’ said the old woman, taking a small pouch from beneath her cloak and, once again, sprinkling a good pinch of the reddish, brown powder onto the surface of the broth.

‘What is that?’ asked Alvez.

‘Just my secret ingredient,’ whispered Griselda conspiratorially, ‘finds them in the forests and dries them I do. Special little mushrooms.’

‘Mushrooms,’ repeated Alvez, ‘what exactly do these mushrooms look like?’

‘Red, like the devil’s fires,’ announced the old woman gleefully.

Realisation flashed through Alvez’s mind. As soon as Griselda turned away, he grabbed the broth away from the boy and tipped it out behind him.

‘What are you doing with my medicine?’ croaked Pukunati weakly.

‘Trust me,’ hissed Alvez, ‘you will thank me.’

‘Finished already,’ exclaimed Griselda enthusiastically, ‘I’ll get you some more, straight away. We’ll have you feeling better in no time.’

‘No, no, it is alright,’ insisted Alvez, ‘let us see how the boy responds to that bowl first. After all, they do say that you can have too much of a good thing. Please, tell me,’ he continued, changing the subject, ‘about all the interesting people you mentioned who have visited you here.’

‘Yes, yes, there’s been so many,’ agreed Griselda, ‘often they come here to hide from the storms. We get lots of storms here abouts you know.’

Alvez nodded absently, not really listening, as he encouraged the boy to drink plentiful amounts of water.

‘Some even talk about looking for treasure and gold,’ continued Griselda, glancing sideways through narrowed eyes to check Alvez’s reaction.

‘We seek pleasure and happiness untold,’ replied Alvez stiffly.

‘Whatever. So many people with so many stories, and they love my stews they do,’ enthused Griselda, ‘unfortunately, a few also get a bit unwell while they is here. A bit like the young gentleman. I’ve no idea why that might be,’ she added primly.

‘I cannot think,’ muttered Alvez.

‘Well, anyway,’ continued the old woman, perhaps displaying a fleeting flash of discomfort, ‘I love stories I do. Has you got any good stories?’

‘I am afraid not. Our journeys are really, very dull,’ replied Alvez hoping to now end this wearisome conversation.

‘I remember one who came here, on his own he was,’ offered Griselda undeterred, ‘kept telling me all about gold and jewels.’

‘Yes, many seek but few find,’ replied Alvez absently, not really listening.

‘No, he didn’t talk about finding them…. he talked about burying them he did.’

‘Mmmm,’ replied Alvez, trying to work out how long it might be before he could get the boy up and moving.

‘Yes.… strange chap he was. Proper pirate. Wore an eye patch and had a pointy, sharp cutlass he did.’

‘Mmmm, interesting.’

‘Away with the fairies was that one though, for a while anyway. Thought his gold had been taken by the dead of all things he did,’ added the old woman with a scornful cackle.

‘Sorry, did you say he thought his gold was with the dead?’ replied Alvez, his heart suddenly beating a little faster.

‘That’s what he said,’ replied Griselda, pleased to have more interest, ‘anyway, he was saying such strange things that I had to give him even more of my broth, just like the young gentleman here. And that’s when he got really peculiar.’

‘Really,’ encouraged Alvez, ‘please, tell me more.’

‘Started talking about dragons he did,’ continued Griselda enthusiastically, ‘and about their sharp claws grabbing his treasures.’ The old woman shook her head, 'nutty as squirrel poo he was,’ she added with a cackling laugh.

‘Dragons,’ repeated Alvez flatly, his hopes dashed.

‘Dragons,’ the old woman replied emphatically, ‘he said lots more though’ continued Griselda quickly, sensing she had lost her audience at the mention of dragons. ‘Yes, the next morning, when he was feeling a bit better, he asked me if he’d said anything the night before when he had been feeling a bit unwell. So, I told him all about what he’d said, about the dragons and their claws and the dead taking his gold and what not. Anyway, you should have seen how angry he was….’

‘Well, you would be, would you not,’ mumbled Alvez distractedly.

‘…. said he should cut out my tongue or cut off my head and should probably do both, just to be sure that I told no one his secrets.’

‘Mmmmm yes, that would certainly do the job.’

‘But then he remembered that I healed him I did and made him all better and, because of that kindness, he said he didn’t feel its proper to do me in so he decided to let me live. But said if I ever breathed a word of what he said to anyone then he’d come back, quick sharp and….,’ The old woman made a gagging noise and dragged a bony finger across her throat.

‘But you are telling me,’ remarked Alvez vaguely.

‘Oh, he didn’t mean it really,’ cackled the old woman, ‘he was just joking. A keen sense of humour he had.’

‘Yes, very funny,’ muttered Alvez.

‘Look,’ said the old woman, sticking out her tongue and wobbling her head from left to right, ‘I told lots of people and I’ve still got them both.’

‘You have indeed.’

‘Yes, but I don’t think many believed me,’ said Griselda, shaking her head sadly, ‘I think they all thought I had kangaroos in me top paddock.’

‘I have no idea what you are talking about,’ murmured Alvez under his breath.

‘I’m getting old and that’s a fact,’ continued Griselda, ‘I think there might be a few roos hopping around up there now you know.’

Gradually, over the course of the day, Pukunati recovered from his stew induced malaise and, by late afternoon, after thanking Griselda for her hospitality, The Pig was once again on her way.

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