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The Colored Sky
Everything was finally ready. All of the Throps were there and the day was perfect - calm and clear. Snort and Drizzle also attended in their new suits and sunglasses, never again to be prisoners in the caverns through the long summer of the never-setting sun.
Everyone wanted to be first on the treadmill and there was some pushing and shoving until Toot and Snort restored order. Four across, the eager parade of Throps began the march. As the head of the line neared the top, the treadmill began to move, slowly, with creaks and groans and a little bit of grinding as the new gears and wheels settled into place and shed their rough edges.
As the treadmill moved, it turned the rollers, the rollers turned the flywheel, and the motion moved along through the ice gears to the shaft.
Under the ice, the Squallhoots watched anxiously as the shaft strained and then began to turn. It turned slowly at first - ever so slowly - but as it gathered speed, the shaft seemed to be turning easily. A cheer echoed through the caverns as it turned faster and faster!
The great propeller began to churn the water. If you looked carefully, you could see the first signs of a wake already appearing behind the iceberg as it began to move. Athropolis had become an ice "ship" with a "bow" and a "stern", and a "port" side and a "starboard" side. There was no wind, but Sara began to feel a very slight breeze in her hair - the second indication that Athropolis was moving.
The marchers marched happily in place. The treadmill turned easily and the gears spun round and round. Soon, as if to offer assistance, a light wind began to blow and the flags began to flutter. The new sails were unfurled from the battlements and they snapped into position as the wind filled them.
All afternoon the Throps marched, and as the sinking sun pulled its dangerous rays behind it, the crevices were quickly filled with green eyes, for the Squallhoots could wait no longer. The excitement was unbearable!
"Watch the orb very carefully!" shouted Ludi. "If it glows brighter - we're going the right way!"
The orb? Let us not forget the importance of the orb. It now belonged to the inhabitants of Athropolis, one and all. The pedestal stood on the highest tower of the castle where it held the glowing orb once again - to shine as both a guiding light and a symbol of friendship.
In the distance, Sara could see Crystal run after the General and grab his arm to stop him. She could see that Crystal was very excited - her arms flew this way and that. The scowl on the General's face did not hide the fact that he was listening and thinking very hard. He finally nodded his head, and Crystal looked very happy as she ran off across the ice. The General turned around and walked toward the castle door.
The castle door was wide open and unguarded. The first signs of darkness would no longer send the Throps scurrying to safety. They would stay out late tonight - for the very first time! In fact, as dusk began to lay it's gentle blanket of darkness over Athropolis, the Squallhoots were welcomed with open arms. Squallhoots and Throps rushed toward the treadmill together, everyone eager to take their turn.
The old ship lanterns from the storage cavern sparkled back to life! Not too many, for it was a beautiful moonlit night - and nobody wanted to make the Squallhoots feel uncomfortable, but just enough to add a festival atmosphere to the important task at hand. This was a festival of happiness!
Kevin and Drizzle were dressed for the occasion. They had also been to the storage cavern and they looked splendid in their old captains' hats. Their capes, made from old sail cloth, were swung gallantly over their shoulders as they marched across the ice like Columbus landing in the new world. Their patchwork flag fluttered in the breeze.
"We claim this ice for..." Kevin paused and looked at Drizzle.
"EVERYBODY!" they both shouted, as they jammed the flagpole into the ice.
By now, the celebration was in full swing! The treadmill became a stationary parade with blue faces marching happily beside fuzzy faces, and the Throps, having been without song for so long, had held their voices long enough. The singing began! Soon their voices were joined by the deep rich sounds of the Squallhoots. The results were magical. Nobody had ever heard such a beautiful sound. Such beautiful music!
We have won! We're champions!
We can be unafraid!
Fear - we have vanquished!
Trouble is gone today!
The only one who did not thoroughly enjoy the singing was Ludi. He ran about in a very uncomfortable state, watching a tower here, a cliff there, and a wall somewhere else. The temperature was still not cold enough to weld the cracks in the castle walls, and the vibrations from the singing could still shake something loose. As the sounds bounced off the walls and cliffs, some small pieces of ice, loosened by the thaw, did give way. Occasional thuds and crashes could be heard, but there was no serious damage.
But, if a piece of the wall fell now, why worry? The protection of the castle walls was no longer important. Toot and Snort had already agreed that the mist weapons would be destroyed, and nobody was even thinking about making new icicle clubs or snowballs. After all, nobody wanted another war like the last one! It was just too embarrassing!
War was the farthest thing from anybody's mind. Throps and Squallhoots swarmed over the ice, singing, talking, meeting strangers and making many new friends. And oh, what things they learned from these strangers who had lived so near, and yet so far away, for all those centuries! Was that really what Squallhoots thought about Throps? Was that really what Throps thought Squallhoots did? Imagine - Squallhoots eating Throps! How could anyone have ever believed such a thing? And Throps bopping Squallhoots on the head and chopping them up! Wasn't that silly? How could such stories ever get started, and how could it be so far from the truth?
Everybody learned a very important thing that night. They learned that the more we know - the less we fear.
"We're going to eat you up," howled a Squallhoot, barely able to stand because he was laughing so hard, "and - and spit out the bones! Ha ha ha ha ha!"
"And we're going to throw you - in the sun to fry!" added a Throp. Tears of laughter filled her eyes.
"Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha!"
These were the silliest things they had ever heard! Jiggery-pokery! That's all it was. It was all just a bunch of jiggery-pokery!
Athropolis moved steadily along. The Throp in the castle tower turned the old ship's wheel a little to port - a little to starboard - and back again to keep the iceberg on its homeward course. Her furry companion held the old brass mariner's telescope to her eye and watched for icebergs. Navigators on ships should always watch for icebergs.
On the "bow", Throps and Squallhoots looked down to the water as the iceberg sliced through it. Back on the "stern", the children stood against the ice railing with their new friends and looked out at the wake trailing behind.
"Isn't this a great cruise?" exclaimed Jason.
"And isn't Athropolis wonderful?" answered Sara. "It should never change." She gave her brother a very deep look.
"Look!" Jason pointed almost straight up into the night sky. "The North Star is just ahead of us!"
As everyone looked up, they could also see that the orb, high in the castle tower, was starting to shine brighter. The plan was working! They were going in the right direction!
A ghostly shape also appeared in the tower, glowing blue by the light of the orb. It was the General - the fifteen stars on each of his shoulders sparkled blue and he looked eerie but magnificent as he waved to those below. Then, he took the radio beacon from his pack. He gently set it in a corner - the antennae clearing the wall - and turned it on. The strobe light began to flash again and, unnoticed by anyone, the pulsing radio beacon sent its signal out into the night.
At almost midnight the moonlight began to fade and the clouds started to block out the blanket of stars that had twinkled down upon the activities all night. Very few noticed this change as they were having too much fun to let anything interfere, but Ludi noticed. He knew that the clouds would bring cover from the sun tomorrow, and he knew that as Athropolis moved northward, the clouds would also bring snow. This was a very good sign.
Ludi didn't forget that Athropolis must never stop moving, and he knew that the Throps would have to start marching again at first light when the sun forced the Squallhoots back under the ice. It was getting very late and he tried to get the Throps to stop celebrating, but he tried in vain. Stop? Not now! Not at a time like this! Even though many of the Throps were exhausted by a full day of marching, nobody could sleep. How could they sleep when their little blue heads were buzzing with excitement and happiness?
Ludi looked up into the night sky as faint streamers and arcs of red and green light began to appear. Aurora Borealis - the Northern Lights! Athropolis was on its way home - to the land of the colored sky.
After all, had there ever been such an event? Not only was Athropolis going to be saved, reason enough for celebration, but now there was also peace between the Throps and the Squallhoots. Yes, peace, in spite of the fact that the Squallhoots still had to be mischievous and play their tricks from time to time. Habits developed over the centuries cannot be broken overnight.
But the Throps would have to start marching again at first light and Toot and Snort finally had to call an end to the celebrating. The Squallhoots marched throughout the rest of the night and Athropolis continued on its homeward course.
The next morning, just as the sun was beginning to spin its magic across the frozen icescape...
"What? Standing around - doing nothing? You! Go and look for Squallhoot tracks!"
Third Leader, newly promoted from Fourth Leader, puffed up his chest and strode out onto the castle battlements.
"But - the tracks are - everywhere! Look!" replied a startled Throp.
"And you!" ordered Third Leader. "Find out where the Squallhoots are digging!"
"But - why don't we just ask them? I'm sure they'll tell us."
"Don't argue with me!" Third Leader strutted along the wall, shouting orders as he went. "You - straighten your helmet! And you - where is your icicle club?"
As the children walked across the ice, Jason suddenly stopped and cupped his hand to his ear. "Listen!" he called to Sara and Kevin.
A faint voice drifted by in the morning air.
"A ship! A ship!"
Could it be true? Throps had never seen real ships before, but Jason had drawn them many pictures - otherwise the lookouts wouldn't have known what to look for.
"The lookout sees a ship!" Jason shouted. In all the excitement, the children had almost forgotten they were lost!
Nobody had ever seen anyone run so fast. The ice flew into the air as three children hurtled up the hill to the castle, dashed through the doors, and, seconds later, appeared on the lookout tower.
Sara was there first and looked through the ice-escope. "It is! It IS a ship!"
"What do you see! CAN YOU SEE WHO IT IS?" Jason was jumping up and down with excitement. Normally he didn't do that - he thought he was far too mature for such behavior - but he just, well, he forgot himself.
"It's a - a Coast Guard ship!" Sara said, looking very hard. "I - I can see people on the deck. It looks like - it's MOM and DAD - and the CAPTAIN! They must be looking for us! But how did they find us!
Kevin stopped dead in his tracks - his eyes locked on the radio beacon propped against the wall. "The radio bleeper - burper - booper... HERE IT IS! I found it! I KNEW I'd find it!" he stammered. "I found it! I found it! NOW we'll be saved!"
Suddenly, the sound of many footsteps could be heard crunching in the ice as Snort, Drizzle, and a group of Throps appeared from behind the ridge.
"We've heard the news." Snort was still fighting with the big zipper of his protective suit. "Are you leaving so soon?"
"Yes! We've got to go back home," replied Jason. "Everyone must be very worried."
"Yeah! And we're gonna be in real trouble, too!" added Kevin. "We should have been home hours ago!"
As the children began to climb into the lifeboat, Jason stopped. "Finding Athropolis was a great discovery, but - I guess I won't be a famous archaeologist just yet," he said with a sigh and a shrug of his shoulders. He reached into his pocket and handed the General his notebook. "Here. Your secret is safe with us."
Jason looked at Sara, and Sara gave him a big smile. The secret would be safe with them. Sara remembered how worried the Throps and Squallhoots had been that their wonderful home might be discovered. They had had quite enough excitement for now. Maybe in a few centuries they might be ready for some new surprises, but not just yet. And besides, the General still needed more time to practice being a general. He looked brilliant as the stars that now almost completely covered his uniform sparkled in the morning sun.
Crystal suddenly had a terrible thought. "Won't we ever see you again?" she asked.
"Oh! I didn't think of that!" exclaimed Ludi. "It's unthinkable - and that's why I didn't think of it!" He turned to the children. "But how will you ever find us again? WE don't even know where we're going - or where we came from. Only the orb knows!"
This was a very good question indeed. Athropolis was moving along through the water very steadily now, changing position from time to time as steering adjustments were made to keep the guiding orb shining at its brightest. But, nobody was sure where they were going. Where was home? Where had Athropolis been - undiscovered since the Age of Ice?
"Look!" Snort suddenly handed Sara a little wooden box. It was something the Squallhoots had had for a very long time, but, like the orb that now guided Athropolis, they had not known its importance.
Sara held the tiny box very gently. A name was carved on the top. It was difficult to read as it was so old and worn. "E - R - E - Erebus," she finally said. "What's an 'Erebus'?"
"Who cares? Open it! Open it!" Kevin was his usual impatient self. "Don't just stand there! Open it!"
Jason remembered. The "Terror" and the "Erebus" - the lost ships of the Franklin expedition!
Sara lifted the little lid very carefully and a faint blue light illuminated her face. "It's a tiny orb!"
"Just follow the direction of the North Star. When you reach the ice-cap, this orb will guide you to us," Snort explained. "Like the guiding orb, it will glow brighter when you get close to where we will be."
This was wonderful news. Everybody was happy again.
Still, parting was a scene of mixed emotions. Naturally, everyone was happy to see that the children were going home - after all, the Throps and Squallhoots were going home, too. But, they were also sad because Jason, Kevin and Sara had become such good friends and they would be missed. Nobody would ever forget that without them, Athropolis would never have been saved.
"Hey, Fuzzy Face, catch!" Kevin shouted as the lifeboat slipped from the ice into the sea. He tossed his precious hat to Drizzle. "You can keep my hat - to remember us by."
"Ah - ah - THANKS, Propeller hea... Huh?" Drizzle turned to Snort. "Gee, what am I gonna call him now?"
"Don't forget to use your flare gun - and your flashlight!" the General shouted as the lifeboat drifted away.
The boat was quickly separated from Athropolis, which was of course, still moving. The Squallhoots had been told the news by now, and clinging to shadows wherever they could, they all shouted and waved good-bye. Occasionally, a waving hand would accidentally stray out of the shadows into the sunlight, and be drawn back again very quickly, as if burned by a candle flame.
From the protection of the shadows, Drizzle, wearing Kevin's hat, waved goodbye. He had a smile, but Snort noticed that a little tear dropped from his eye and clung to his furry face.
Snort put his hand on Drizzle's shoulder as they watched the lifeboat get smaller and smaller. Finally he said, "Well, come along - Propellerhead".
The lifeboat became smaller and smaller. Then, when it was just far enough away from Athropolis, a flare shot up into the sky, and even without the ice-escope, everyone could see that Jason was flashing the signal - three short flashes - three long - and three short again. Moments later, a flashing signal was returned from the ship and all appeared to be well. The lookouts watched everything just the same, until the ship became nothing more than a speck on the big ice lens.
Athropolis, its wake softly trailing behind it, continued its journey northward. It was getting colder now, and snow began to fall.
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