Making Do

Steven Bergom

The trees whipped past as the carriage raced through the forest. Sergeant Miriam held one hand on the reins and the other in front of her face, fending off any low-hanging branches in the dense woods. "We're almost to the edge, Your Highness," she called to her passenger. "I can see the edge of the Thieves' Forest now."

They had been running for an hour now, though it felt much longer, and she could see that the white stallion pulling the gilded carriage was starting to tire. Miriam had faith in Bufred, though, and knew that he would safely get them to the castle of Zamfir in time for Princess Tilwynia to be crowned Queen of Morotavia. She couldn't see them but she knew that the bandits that had attacked them several miles back were still hot on their trail, eager to finish the job that they had started. They — the princess, Miriam and Bufred — had been part of a caravan, the traditional journey of the heir to the throne to meet her subjects and review her kingdom before she could be crowned, and were on the last leg through the Thieves' Forest when the were set upon by an army of bandits. Whether they were after booty or the head of their future queen Miriam had no time — nor inclination — to ask. The bandits made quick work of the guards and varied support personnel and it was only a stroke of luck that Miriam was able to jump into the drivers seat, grab the reins and encourage Bufred into a gallop, quickly outpacing her pursuers.

Still, Miriam would not rest until their destination had been reached. As the only remaining bodyguard to the princess she knew that she had to be as alert as twelve normal soldiers. But Sergeant Miriam could outlast twelve highly trained professional fighters and still have breath left over to take on their apprentices. On the day of her birth her parents had promised her to service of the Crown and her every waking moment thenceforth had been spent in training to serve the king and his family. Every cell in her body was made for this day, and she would not fail so close to the goal.

Suddenly a tree fell before them but steady Bufred calmly slowed and stopped before Miriam had time to react. "Why are we not moving, Miriam?" came a voice from the coach.

"A tree has fallen in our path, Your Highness, and me-thinks we are about to be visited by those that do not wish us well."

"Right you are, dearie-o!" a voice came from behind her. "And now, we be making off with the princess."

Miriam turned and found herself facing thirty of the most vile, belligerent mercenaries that she had ever laid eyes on. Calmly she drew her sword from its sheath on her hip. "First, however, you will have to go through my blade, and me."

"I would have it no other way," replied the apparent leader, an unshaven hulk of a man with mismatched armor and a sword chipped and nicked from years of poor care. With a yell he raised his sword like a battle axe and charged toward Miriam.

Miriam held her chin high and met his attack with a cool gaze. He was unschooled in his technique and she soon dispatched him with a grace that had earned her respect from the finest swordmasters in Morotavia. Once the leader was down another took his place, and he was taken down just as well. Again and again she faced new opponents, sometimes two and three at a time, and again and again she applied the skill of her years with the blade to finish them off. Even Bufred, the faithful white steed helped, biting and slashing with his hooves at the brigands who were foolhardy enough to approach the carriage.

The dance was soon over and the path became littered with the bodies of their foes. Miriam faithfully cleaned her blade and scabbarded it, taking no delight in the deed she had done, but gratified that she was able to protect her future queen.

"Miriam!" came the princess' voice from the window in the carriage where she had watched her bodyguard. "Oh, Miriam! You were magnificent! I have never seen such a heroic action against so many foes. You are to be commended for your bravery!"

"It was nothing but the duty that I was sworn to give," Miriam said while bowing humbly. "Now that that onerous duty has been performed we should be able to make our way to the castle without further incident."

"But Miriam, what about the tree in our path? There is no way around it on this narrow road."

"Allow me," Miriam replied simply and confidently strode to the felled tree. Though small and thin Miriam's body belied a great strength and with nary a grunt she dragged the oak back into the forest where it could rot in peace.

The princess clapped her hands in joy and motioned for Miriam to come to her window. "Miriam, you have performed above and beyond the call of duty and must be suitably rewarded. From now on you shall be my personal bodyguard, first among guards. You shall be my friend and confidant and will go with me wherever I may be called."

"Your Highness, I —"

"And furthermore, you shall refer to me by my given name, Talia, rather than stumbling over any titles I may have or gain in the future."

"Yes, Your High-… Talia. I am deeply honored by your faith in me, but we really should be moving. Though the enemy is no more, we still have a schedule to keep." Miriam turned from the window and started to the driver's seat of the carriage. "Come, Bufred. Let us be off from this place! Let us run… Bufred!" she finished in a suffering tone of voice. "What do you think you're doing?"

Bufred, of course, had become hot and tired during the fight and subsequent speech and so had decided to lay down on the cement sidewalk, his long doggy tongue hanging and his Bassett hound eyes watching Miriam prance around the red Radio Flyer wagon that he was attached to with childishly knotted rope. "Come on, Bufred! We still gotta' get to the castle, and we can't get there if you're sleeping. Get up!"

But Bufred continued to lay where he was despite Miriam's continued attempts at cajoling him into action. Finally Miriam took her frustrations out on the hedges that lined the walkway and had previously served well as the evil bandits in the imagination of a nine-year-old girl.

"Miriam!" a woman's voice called. "Miriam! Supper! Miriam, where are… Miriam!" the woman, Miriam's mother, stepped around the end of the hedgerow to find Miriam with leaves and branches from the bushes strewn about her in her anger. Miriam spun to face her mother, caught in something that she knew she shouldn't have been doing. "Miriam! How many times have I told you not to do that to poor Bufred?"

Miriam stood trying to look everywhere but her mother's stern face. "I'nt know," she mumbled, tracing designs on the sidewalk with her toe.

"I don't know either but this will be the last time! That's cruel to do that to him."

"But, Mom, we were just playing! He likes it! He —"

"No 'but's, young lady. Undo him. Now!" Miriam mumbled an okay and walked over to a now-standing Bufred and untied the rope, fumbling a little with knots that had tightened in their play. Now free Bufred stepped from his makeshift harness and looked between Miriam and her mother with his liquid brown eyes.

"Miriam, the rest of the way." Miriam wanted to argue but the look on her mother's face dissuaded her from even opening her mouth. Instead she took a deep breath, closed her eyes in concentration and spoke softly and calmly.

"Tiki ty-li, nok ta-lum phus. Mela ta-ni, tu-luk tu-luk!"

Bufred shivered as a soft light suffused him. His form stretched and blurred, becoming indistinguishable in the coruscating tones. Soon a new shape emerged and what was once Bufred the Bassett hound was now Bufred the four-year-old boy.

Their mother nodded satisfactorily when the transformation was complete. "I don't ever want to catch you turning your little brother into a dog again! Do you hear me?" Miriam nodded, defeated. "Now, clean this up. Supper will be in ten minutes. Come along, Bufred. Your sister can take care of her mess herself." Without looking back she turned around and walked back to the house, Bufred following at her heels looking back at his big sister.

After supper Miriam's father gave her a stern lecture on using her power without adult supervision. That kind of thing was for grown-ups and not for little girls to experiment with and make mistakes that could hurt someone. She should listen to her teachers and not do anything so foolhardy before she had mastered the basics. When he was done he dismissed her and turned back to the magical tract he had been studying without giving her a chance to present her case. Miriam hung her head and left his study going upstairs to take a bath and then into her bedroom where she stayed for the rest of the evening.

When her parents had finally gone to sleep late in the night Miriam stayed in her bed, awake, running over the events of the day in her head. She knew what she was doing. She wouldn't have harmed Bufred. Besides, he liked it. At least, she thought he liked it; spells performed on people were always much easier when the castee was willing, and it was always easy to do things to Bufred. Why couldn't her parents see that she knew what she was doing and leave her alone? She sighed. It was a question that she knew would not be answered for many years now, if ever.

The glowing numerals on her clock showed a time well past midnight when Miriam heard her door slowly creak open. By the moonlight she saw her brother, dragging his blanket, creep up to her bed. He stared at her with his liquid brown eyes for a while before she asked quietly, "What?"

Bufred leaned onto the bed and reached his little arms around Miriam to give her the biggest hug he could manage. Miriam smiled and, when he was done, patted the mattress. Bufred returned the smile before scrambling on top of the comforter and making himself comfortable by her feet. She ruffled his hair and leaned back into bed, pulling the sheets back over her.

As she lay there in the stillness, thoughts and plans began to form in her head. Her mother said only that she didn't want to catch her turning Bufred into a dog anymore, not that that she couldn't. And she only said 'dog' and not anything else. She would work this out and they could still have their fun without parental interference.

As sleep began to claim her Miriam thought back four years when Bufred was born. She wanted a puppy — a little, squirming puppy who would lick her face and follow her everywhere. Instead her mother brought home this loud, crying thing that could only eat, scream and poop. 'Oh, well,' she thought as she drifted into unconsciousness. 'I wanted a puppy, but I guess a little brother will have to do.'