Bors rode to the top of a hill and examined a flat, boulder-strewn summit. Beyond the boulders, a grassy knoll butted against a tall outcrop that would shelter them from the wind. Bors rode past the boulders, dismounted on the grass and removed the saddle from his horse, Escrow. He grunted in pleasure as a cool breeze wafted over him.
Percivale, Gareth and Moxie joined him on the knoll and they decided to camp there. Soon, all the mounts were unsaddled, hobbled and grazing nearby.
After tending to his horse, Escrow, Bors studied the boulders. Something about them seemed strange, almost unnatural. The rocks were in lines almost like the beads on his abacus. He ignored Moxie's latest outburst of whining and continued to examine the rocks. Dark gray boulders — dozens of them — covered the area in three lines with exactly twenty rocks in each line. A fourth rank, separate from the other three, contained five rocks.
"How dare you!" Moxie roared.
Bors grabbed his sword hilt and whirled towards the sound of her voice. Moxie stood ten feet away glaring at a boulder in the middle rank.
"What's goin' on?" Percival, also on foot, asked her. Gareth stood near Percivale, looking quizzically at Moxie.
"I'm a princess, you impudent rock. Apologize this instant or I'll break you into rubble."
Bors gawked at her. The memory of a story an old hunter once told him and his father flooded his brain and almost overwhelmed him with the danger they faced. His skin crawled.
Moxie picked up a fist-sized rock.
Bors gasped. Moxie was about to get them all killed.
Moxie bounced the rock off the boulder.
Bors ran to her and grabbed her arm before she could do more damage.
"The stone insulted me." Moxie frowned at Bors as if she suspected his motives.
"Why did you throw the rock?" Percivale asked.
"Moxie just attacked one of the rock-folk," Bors said in a quavering voice.
"I did what?"
"She did what?" Percivale said. "I'm confused."
Bors waved an arm around the boulder collection. "This is a rock-moot. I've heard about them. The rock-folk come together to settle problems and make new laws. And the stone Moxie threw was a rock-baby."
"The big one degraded me." Moxie sniffed and pointed at the boulder. "It made lewd suggestions."
"Rocks can't talk," Gareth said. "Leastwise, not so we can hear them."
"I can hear them. I’m descendent from the Ancient Ones. Royal Ancient Ones, of course. And the Ancient Ones were descended from the fairies.”
"We have to get out of here," Bors said. "Fast."
"Why is the ground shaking?" Moxie looked alarmed. She grabbed Percival's arm to steady herself.
"It's the rock-folk," Bors said. "They're gettin' all worked up over Moxie's attack."
Their mounts whinnied in fear at the trembling ground. They jumped and stamped their hooves and strained at the hobbles until they broke free. The four horses ran down the hill and disappeared into the forest.
A worried Bors said, "We have to get out of here. Let's grab the saddle bags and put some distance between us and the rocks."
A boulder inched closer to Moxie's foot and she shrieked.
Percivale made a face at the sudden pain in his ear from Moxie's reaction, but didn't move, as if frozen in place.
"Someone has to get my horse," Moxie said.
"I ain't goin' through those rocks." Gareth pointed to a group of rocks rolling to form a line between them and the direction the horses went.
"We have to leave." Bors pushed Moxie in the back. "That way."
"Unhand me! And what about dinner? I'm hungry."
"Dinner will be very late tonight, Your Royal Feyness." Bors kept his hand on her back, nudging her away from the builders. He grabbed Moxie's saddle bag and handed it to her, then picked up his own.
"You expect me to carry that?"
Bors dropped her saddle bags. "If you don't carry it, it stays here and gets crushed by the rocks. I'm not carryin' yours, you are."
Bors looked at Percivale who stood without moving, his face drained of color. Bors grabbed an arm and yanked Percivale backward. Percivale blinked and gave Bors a strange look. "Come on, Perc," Bors yelled. "Snap out of it and let's get goin'."
Percivale picked up his saddlebags and trotted away from the boulders.
A few minutes later, they descended the hill.
"Moxie, look out!" Gareth yelled.
Bors turned and saw a boulder thundering down the hill. A bow wave of dirt sprayed out on both sides of its path.
Gareth dropped his saddle bags and pushed Moxie out of the way. Both landed in a heap a moment before the boulder sped past them.
"Get off me, you blundering lummox."
Gareth picked himself up and pointed to the boulder now at the bottom of the hill and rapidly losing speed. "Must have been sentry." He went over to his saddle bags, partially crushed by the boulder.
"Are these rocks stupid or something?" Moxie stood with her hands on her hips. "Commoners are supposed to ignore royal misunderstandings."
"I don't think rock-folk are impressed with your royal birth," Bors said. "Let's get movin'.
"When do you think the horses will come back?" Moxie asked. "I can't carry my saddle bags all the way to Count Gamel's."
"Those animals ain't comin' back," Percivale said. "Not after the way they got spooked. They're inna next county by now." The color had returned to his face.
"Can someone please carry my bags?" Moxie asked in a pleasant voice while fluttering her eyelids. "They have my wedding dress in it."
Bors slung his own bags over one shoulder and said, "It'll do you good to get some exercise." He turned his back on her and walked east.
"We gotta get a lotta miles from here before we can stop for me to cook the rabbits I caught." Gareth tied two hares to a saddle bag. "We better start pickin' nuts and berries if we see any."
Bors shook his head. He wished the adventure would go back to being boring again.
Moxie huffed, stamped her foot and picked up her saddle bags. She followed the three knights while raining insults and curses down on their collective heads.
Moxie had never thought that life outside the castle could be so difficult. Her escorts made her sleep on the ground with only two thin blankets: one under her and one on top of her. She had to sleep in her clothes. The men made her get up at dawn. She had to eat cold meals when it rained. They made her ride the horse all day long. The knights were disrespectful of her nobility. They often ignored her commands.
It was if she was a peasant not a princess. And now they didn’t have horses and had to walk and non one would carry her saddlebags.
Moxie dropped the saddlebags to wipe her tear-filled eyes. Gamel better be worth all this misery she thought.
Do you enjoy untypical coming-of-age stories? Well, you won’t find one more untypical than Moxie’s Problem. Moxie is an obnoxious, teen-age princess who has never been outsider her father’s castle. Until now. The real world is quite different and she struggles to come to grips with reality. The story takes place against a backdrop of Camelot. But it isn’t the Camelot of legends. It’s Camelot in a parallel universe. So, all bets are off!
Genre – Fantasy, Sci-fi
Rating – G
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