Author Topic: Jack 3  (Read 9450 times)

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Offline Daen

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Jack 3
« on: October 10, 2022, 05:04:27 AM »
The third man dumped me painfully on my knees in front of the other two. “I found a donkey and cart a ways back. They must be his. Who are you, boy?”

“Mirri,” I said hastily, thinking of a boy I’d met in the Springs once. “I’m Mirri. I’m just a Munga peasant. Please don’t hurt me!”

My captor laughed, but Lewis rose and stepped towards me. “Just a peasant, huh? Alone, in the middle of the night, with a donkey and cart?”

“Filled with clay pots,” the man who’d grabbed me told him. “They’re all full, from the sloshing I heard.”

“What are you doing all the way out here, ‘Mirri’?” Lewis asked his skepticism clear in his tone. “Why are you travelling alone, at night?”

“My father and I live just outside Imanpa,” I lied quickly. “Usually we get water from the stream in town, but… he heard that Torgan soldiers had been there. He sent me to the other stream, northwards, to load up the cart and bring it back. He’ll be expecting me back by morning. Please. Our animals have already gone without water for two days! Just let me go, please.”

“He’s lying,” the man behind me said. “I opened one of those pots, and whatever’s in there is strong. It’s definitely not water.”

“Maybe I didn’t seal them properly, and the water has gone bad?” I tried weakly, with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

They all laughed scornfully for a moment. When that died down, the first man spoke offhandedly. “What do you think? Should we just kill him, and dump that stuff on the side of the road? We can take the donkey back to base camp for dog’s meat, and strip the cart for firewood.”

“Sounds good to me,” the one behind me said, and I felt terror freeze my heart.

“No,” Lewis said thoughtfully. “The Lieutenant told us to detain anyone who was acting strange, and this definitely qualifies. We’ll take him, cart and all, back to base camp in the morning. The Lieutenant will decide what to do with him.” He leaned forward and grabbed me by the tunic, hoisting me completely off the ground! “But make no mistake, boy. If you try to escape, I will hamstring you. I’ve heard that some people survive having their tendons cut like that, but they flop around like fish for the rest of their lives. That would be amusing to hear, but not so much for you. Got it?”

“Got it,” I said, my mouth suddenly dry.

They retrieved the cart and the completely-useless-Asa with it, not that I’d expected her to run or anything. Then two of them got a few hours of sleep, with Lewis standing guard next to me. I didn’t sleep at all, of course. I was terrified as to what would happen next! I had failed Sarah. Even if this Torgan ‘Lieutenant’ didn’t destroy the liquid, it would never reach the place I was supposed to bring it. Would she go back on her word, then? If I failed her, would she take back my mother’s life?

No, the spirits were supposed to be kind, especially to the living. They had been living themselves once, after all. They wouldn’t blame me for something I couldn’t control. But then, I had been curious. I could have taken Asa and left at the first stray sound, and I might have gotten away!

When searrise came, they roused themselves and broke down their small camp. They stacked the materials on top of the pots, I noted with some concern, but it didn’t seem heavy enough to break them. They spent a few minutes tying my hands behind my back. Then they tied a damn leash around my neck, and hauled me along with them on the road!

If I hadn’t been so terrified, I would have been furious. I knew the Torgans thought of us as little better than beasts, but to be treated like one was the height of indignity. They jerked me along behind the cart when I didn’t keep up, like I was some kind of lazy dog. I had no idea how far away their ‘base camp’ was, but I had to get away before we got there. Maybe if I escaped, I’d be able to sneak into the camp later, and get the liquid back. Or maybe I could just keep running. Sarah would understand that, wouldn’t she?

These soldiers were all wearing armor, and I wasn’t. I was quick on my feet, and could stay very quiet. So could they, as I’d learned just a few hours before, but now I knew that they could. If I could find a way to distract them, I might be able to free my neck and slip away. I could probably outrun them, and I definitely knew the countryside better than they did. They’d taken my belt knife, but I had a smaller one in a sheathe in my boot. If I could reach it, I could cut myself free of both bindings and leash.

The only real option for a distraction was the wagon’s rear axle. There was a connector in the middle, and if I could get down there and push it a little off-center, it would snap apart a few minutes later. The pots inside would get rattled around a bit, but I’d shaped some of them myself. They were sturdy enough to handle it; the liquid would be fine.

If these brutes wanted to bring the liquid into their camp, they’d need a cart, and they’d have to repair the axle. Knocking the connector off-kilter with my hands tied behind my back would be tricky, but first I’d have to get them to stop moving!

As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem. We met up with another Torgan patrol of at least four people after only half an hour, and Lewis spoke with them about his destination and ‘cargo’. As he did so, I slipped under the wagon and felt around for the weak point, with my face in the dirt.

“Boy! What are you doing?” One of the soldiers grunted, and I felt the leash haul me, by my neck, right out from under the cart!

“Nothing,” I assured him after I could breathe again. “I was just exhausted, so I was lying down.”

“Get up,” he growled, hauling me to my feet. “We’re not far now.”

I had no idea if I’d succeeded, but the other patrol left and made its way west, as far as I could tell. It was also headed into the waste, so maybe the Governor really did believe in the tale of the Sanctuary.

The story I’d heard had been very similar to the absurdly shortened version that Lewis had told. From what I’d remembered, the sighted person had been a woman, actually. Her name had been lost to the years, but she’d taken that knowledge and was hiding it from those who wanted to destroy it. In the story, the survivors of the Great Fall had blamed the ancestors for their suffering, and all of the knowledge they’d accumulated was just as evil as well. The sighted woman disagreed, but couldn’t stop them, so she took what she could and fled.

Maybe she’d been blessed by the spirits herself. For all I knew, Sarah had protected her, and allowed her to keep sight when the rest of the world had lost it. I hadn’t really believed in spirits myself, not deep down, until I’d heard Sarah speak out of the altar stone.

The journey continued for a while longer, and I was starting to wonder if I’d done it wrong. The further we went, the closer we got to still more Torgan troops. Then, satisfyingly, I heard the axle snap apart, and Asa gave a distressed bray as the cart skidded to a stop.

“What happened?” Lewis demanded, and one of his minions replied that he didn’t know. My leash-holder yanked me away from the cart, as they went around back to find out.

This was my chance! As quietly as I could, I slipped my boot knife out and got to work on my bindings. It was a good thing the man holding my leash wasn’t the same one who had captured me the night before, or he would have heard me cutting. When the last bonds fell away mercifully, I could hear Lewis and the other lifting the cart to slide the axle back into place.

Hardening myself against what came next, I sprang at my captor. The boot knife was tiny compared to the swords they all had at their waists, but I had the advantage of surprise. I stabbed hard and true at his neck, and felt the satisfaction and horror as the blade sank in.

The tension on my leash went away immediately as he dropped it, gasping and clutching at his neck. His right arm lashed out, catching me hard across the head, and knocking me to the ground. My head spun, and I felt sick, but didn’t have time to vomit. I was free, for the moment. Grabbing my leash, I darted, or staggered, away from my victim. Running got much easier once I was off the road. I heard the others shout in alarm, and at least one of them was chasing me!

A rock clipped me in the shoulder, spinning me around, and I fell to the ground. Another moment later, still smelling of blood, the man I’d hurt planted his foot squarely on my chest, pinning me to the ground. “I swear to God, I’m gonna gut you like a fish!”

A noise I’d never heard before, like the end of a treekeeper bird’s efforts, followed his threat. He grunted, loudly, and then the pressure on my chest was suddenly gone! He fell forward, and I rolled to the side as he did so. From behind him, I could hear the sound of swords ringing off each other. What was going on down there?

An angry roar, probably from Lewis, was followed by another ring of metal on metal. Trembling from both the head wound and the shoulder, I reached out to the man who’d been chasing me. He was very, very still. Too still to be alive.

My fingers brushed against something thin. A small wooden shaft, like a tiny cane, was sticking out the back of his neck! It had to be some kind of really small spear, and it had been thrown with enough force to kill him!

Whoever had killed him seemed to be at work doing the same to his companions, and I was torn. These weren’t Torgans, that was for sure, but that didn’t mean they were friends either. I couldn’t just leave the cart, now that my guards were either dead or dying. But if the Torgans won the fight, they’d come looking for me again! Instead, I cut the leash off my neck, and grabbed for the fallen man’s sword. The thing was so heavy I could barely hold it straight, but at least it was a better weapon.

Lewis roared once more, or tried to. It was cut off mid-noise, probably with a sword blow to his throat or chest. The other one disengaged, I thought. I could hear heavy footfalls running off, away from the cart, and then another strange noise, followed by a thump on the ground. Whatever had killed my guy had just killed him, too, it seemed.

Then I heard two sets of footfalls approaching me. I held the sword up, unsteadily. “Who’s there! Who are you?”

“It’s just a kid,” a woman’s voice responded, sounding amazed. “I thought you were just a short guy, but you can’t be more than twelve years old!”

I was tempted to retort that I was thirteen, but there were bigger fish to fry here. I’d had fish once, and they were delicious. The woman who’d fried them for me and my father had told me that saying. Carefully, I circled away from her voice, and from the breathing from the other person, and backed down the hill towards the cart. If Lewis had fixed the axle, maybe they wouldn’t stop me from leaving with the cart.

“Easy there,” the woman said again, and her accent was very strange. I’d been too terrified to notice before. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

“We’re probably not going to hurt you,” a man’s voice joined in from the other one. “It depends on what you were doing with those Torgans, and who you are.”

“Does he look like a soldier to you?” The woman responded, and I heard her slap his arm.

I froze in place, and the air felt like it was suddenly dead still. What had she just said?? I shook my head. I must have misheard her, and kept moving. “My name is Mirri,” I said again. If I was going to lie, I might as well reuse the same one from before. “I was hauling water back to my father’s farm when they came on me. They were going to take my donkey, my cart and me. I have to get home, please! Just let me go. My father will be worried for me!”

The bigger one, the male, moved to block my path, but the woman apparently stopped him. “Why did they stop you?” She asked softly. “I know Torgans don’t think much of the Mungu people, but they usually don’t just grab people without a reason.”

“They were… asking about a story,” I said, thinking quickly. “The Sanctuary tale. It’s a myth my people have, about a place that only a sighted person can find. They said their Lieutenant would want to hear it. That’s why they brought me along. Maybe they were lying, and wanted to make a slave of me; I don’t know.”

There was a definite pause there. Those two had either not heard of the myth, or they believed it was important somehow. “Ok, Mirri,” the woman finally responded. “Are you hurt? Do you need anything before you go? Food, maybe? The soldiers had some rations.”

“I have some food still in the cart,” I assured her. “I’ll be fine. I just need to leave, before more soldiers come, please.” I wasn’t unhurt, true. My head still felt like someone had dropped a hammer on it, but at least I wasn’t swaying as I moved anymore.

Lewis had reset the axle, it seemed, just before he’d been attacked and killed. Asa was very agitated, but I calmed her as best I could and began to turn the cart around. With luck, I’d be able to get back to the path and into the waste before I encountered any more Torgans.

Or anyone else who could magically kill people with tiny spears.
« Last Edit: October 10, 2022, 05:06:23 AM by Daen »