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Age of Bronze

Trot of Oz
by Glenn Ingersoll and Eric Shanower
Excerpt from Oz-story #6

Chapter 1 - The Lake Quad Monster

"I wonder how Ozma's doing," mused Trot. She dangled her arm over the side of the rowboat, letting her bare hand drag gently through the cool lake water.

"Don't you go a-worryin' about her," said Cap'n Bill with a chuckle. He drew on his pipe and the curls of smoke rolled away on the still air. "Ozma can take care o' herself and the Em'rald City without us."

"I know," said Trot. She smiled and sat up in the small boat. "I love these hiking and boating trips as much as you do." She wet her face with the hand she had dunked in the lake. The breeze rushed across her face and felt delightfully cool. "I was just curious. That's all."

Cap'n Bill pulled gently on one of the oars and the boat spun slowly around. "Can't even see the far bank of this lake, let alone the Em'rald City," he commented.

Trot nodded. Lake Quad was their favorite place in Oz outside the Emerald City. Since between the Land of Oz and the Nonestic Ocean was a nearly impassable desert with sands that turn living things to dust, Cap'n Bill and Trot saw Lake Quad as the next best thing to an ocean. They had both grown up near the ocean so they both enjoyed taking several trips a year to Lake Quad. Cap'n Bill had once been the captain of a schooner on the Pacific Ocean, but during a furious gale at sea, Cap'n Bill had lost a leg. It was replaced with a wooden peg, but he was incapable of holding an able position on board without both legs, so he retired. Trot had known Cap'n Bill all her life, long before they had come to Oz, so she had come to love the sea as much as he.

"Do you want to eat lunch, Cap'n Bill?" inquired Trot. "I'm 'bit hungry."

Cap'n Bill nodded.

As Trot was reaching for their lunch basket the boat began to rock. Trot sat up in surprise. Big waves rolled against the small rowboat. Lake Quad was seldom rough, so Trot was more than a little surprised as the waves grew larger and the little boat danced back and forth.

"What do you s'pose it is?" asked Trot, clinging to the tiller.

"I don't know," said Cap'n Bill, shaking his head perplexedly. "I think we'd best head fer shore. This boat ain't made fer these kinda waves." He grasped the oars and pulled vigorously. The boat reluctantly started for land. Cap'n Bill pulled at the oars, sending the boat over another wave. The boat scudded down into the little valley between the rollers.

KRA-THUDD. Cap'n Bill fell over onto his back as the boat ground to a halt with no land in sight. Trot saved herself by hanging onto the tiller.

"I think we've run into a su'merged rock," he said, sitting up and rubbing his head where it had knocked against the boards. He leaned over the side of the boat. "Hope we haven't punctured a hole in the boat."

Trot let free the tiller and leaned over the side of the boat beside Cap'n Bill. What they saw startled them both. Gazing interestedly from the water were two large eyes, spaced widely apart like those of a frog. They blinked.

"What is it?" whispered Trot, nudging Cap'n Bill.

Before he could reply the two eyes were followed out of the water by a huge, green scaled head. The thing looked a bit like an alligator, but its snout was too short and the teeth it displayed in what was supposed to be an engaging smile (but looked more like a grimace) were thick and blunt. The monster's head was perched upon a thick neck, the end of which disappeared into the water.

"I thought you were an amblopotamus," said the creature. "But you don't look like an amblopotamus. Are you champions? I know some people who are desperately in need of champions to save them from something. What are your names? What year is this? Are two and two still four or has that changed, too? I'm so unsure of things now. Nothing quite seems the same. Where are the flangosaurs and humpdoodles? I haven't seen a single humpdoodle all day." The creature squinted up at the sky, but no humpdoodles were to be seen, so he looked back at Trot and Cap'n Bill. "Well?"

"Which question should we answer first?" asked Trot, gazing up at the huge head.

"Whichever one you can remember. I've forgotten them all already."

"Well, my name is Trot. And this is Cap'n Bill," said the girl. The sailor bobbed his head. "What's your name?"

"My name? Oh, sky above!" The monster rolled its eyes. "I couldn't have forgotten my own name! Lying under tons and tons of rocks and mud for a zillion years is quite addling. A lakequake buried me and I was sure I was dead, but apparently that mud was a life preserver because when another lakequake dislodged me a couple days ago -- well, as you can see, I'm alive and swimming.

"What was it you wanted to know? My name, wasn't it? Quaddle. My name's Quaddle."

"Who is in need of a champion?" asked Cap'n Bill. He lifted his pipe from the bottom of the boat where it had fallen in the collision. All the tobacco had been knocked out so he replaced it in his pocket.

"More questions," said Quaddle, rolling his eyes. "I told you I have a faulty memory. Let's see. Remember I told you I was buried by a lakequake? Well, I was exploring a huge cavern at the time. When the newest lakequake hit, the cavern was reopened, so I decided to finish exploring. The cavern headed up after a while and ended in a wide underground pool. On one side of the pool was a huge forest of tumbled-down structures. Some of the people who live there threw some food to me and begged for a champion. Since they were so nice I decided to find one. If you two are champions, it would make my search quite a bit simpler." He widened his eyes hopefully.

"Can't say as we're much in the way of champions," said Cap'n Bill with a shrug.

"A Cap'n sounds awfully like a champion and Trot sounds brisk, so how about it? You look good enough to be champions, I guess."

Cap'n Bill shook his head slowly. "Trot and I have gotten through some pretty rough adventures before, but if these people are in real trouble, I think we should get Ozma."

"Oh, come on!" begged Quaddle, tilting his head and looking pleadingly at the two in the rowboat. "We don't need any Ozma. I'll help you at championing if you just tell me what to do."

"Why don't we go, Cap'n Bill?" asked Trot, looking up at her old companion with round eyes. "If they need someone really pow'rful we can always come back and get Ozma's help."

"It doesn't sound safe," said Cap'n Bill.

"Is championing dangerous?" asked the monster.

"Mostly."

"I'll protect you."

After more coaxing and cajoling from Trot and Quaddle, Cap'n Bill finally agreed to investigate this strange "forest of tumbled-down structures." He made Quaddle promise that if things got dangerous he would return them to the surface immediately.

"Do either of you breathe water?" asked Quaddle, eyeing them uncertainly.

Trot and Cap'n Bill shook their heads.

"Then I suppose you'll have to ride down in my cheeks. You might get a little hot, but you'll be safe."

"You wouldn't swallow us, would you?" Trot rested her hands lightly on her hips and looked critically up at Quaddle's left eye.

"Certainly not! Do I look like a champion-eater? Besides, if you get in outside my teeth, one in each cheek, I won't be able to eat you."

"I'm sure I've ridden in worse places," said Cap'n Bill. "But, Trot, shouldn't you stay behind until I try it out?"

Quaddle made his head level with the rowboat, opened his mouth, and puffed out his cheeks as Cap'n Bill spoke.

"I'm not afraid of Quaddle," said Trot, picking up the lunch basket and stepping up onto his front teeth. "I'll sit in his left cheek."

Cap'n Bill sighed and watched protectively as the girl climbed over Quaddle's back teeth and settled into the cheek. He followed her into the lake monster's mouth. As he stepped onto the right cheek with his peg leg Quaddle jerked involuntarily. "Ouch! Careful with that wooden jabber of yours," mumbled the monster. Quaddle closed his mouth and the two friends were plunged into darkness.

They soon found they could talk to each other through Quaddle's teeth and the next several minutes passed quickly and not really uncomfortably.

Before they knew enough time had passed, Quaddle opened his mouth. Cool air rushed in and they found themselves looking out into an eerie scene.

The cavern into which Cap'n Bill and Trot stepped was filled with a broken city. The dark buildings and spires leaned to one side or had broken apart completely. Few seemed to have escaped the lakequake unharmed. Shadows exaggerated the damage, and the glowing mushrooms which grew all around the cavern and gave it light added weird highlights to the destruction.

"When do we start championing?" murmured Quaddle.


Continued in Oz-story #6
Copyright © 2000 Glenn Ingersoll. All rights reserved.

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