Island of the Kahts 17
What else were we to do?
I took the lead, having always been a sprinter, and the others were close behind. I could hear the shouts of confusion coming from the clearing and the orchard. Whatever had just happened, someone had been left in the dark about it and was obviously not happy.
Two arrows split the leaves around us, but the archers were caught off guard and once we ran out of range, the bows were useless for chasing us down.
They were running after us in a minute, as Savadra overtook me and led the way through the jungle. I can't count the number of times we stumbled, tripped, fell, or rolled our way along the path. We were leaving a trail a one-armed sea-anemone could follow. But we kept running. Even in good condition from months of practice and training and a short period of spider-wrestling/pirate-swindling my side was splitting within a quarter hour. I couldn't breathe, and I could hear Fern and Craigin wheezing behind me. Gern and Savadra were the best long-distance runners. They didn't appear to be having any trouble.
The shouts were getting closer.
Just once I'd like to find out that someone was out to kill me and then sit down to discuss it over a lovely cup of tea instead of running pellmell through some forsaken, foreign land.
The Kurrm'anairis pursuers gained enough ground so that I could hear Han's voice bellowing above the rest. I couldn't hear Bart and this worried me. It was possible that he, like the devious Kahts, had circled around with some of the men and was now waiting in ambush somewhere. There was no time to stop and plan an alternate route, however, so I didn't mention my fears.
Savadra's information on the state of the Montall armies was soon proved correct again as the rag-tag soldiers' stamina began to fade. Not even Han the mining foreman could keep up and I breathed the air better knowing he was farther behind us.
A bare minute after the soldiers' cries had died away, Craigin collapsed. We staggered to a halt, Fern dropping to the ground as well. I leaned against a tree, heaving gulps of air while trying to regulate my systems again.
Savadra knelt by Craigin. “Are you alright?” Her brow was puckered in worry. She looked kind of cute that way. My face burned beneath the sweat and I looked away.
Of the five members of our company, only the girls had the chance to pack water. Apart from their two canteens, Fern's satchel with some meager supplies, and our individual weapons we always kept at hand, we were stranded in the middle of the jungle with nothing. I made a mental note for better escape preparations in the future.
Craigin didn't make an effort to sit up, he just lay on the jungle floor, sides heaving, eyes alternatively squeezed shut or wide open and staring at the sky. Savadra gave him her canteen and made him sip it slowly. The captain was not an old man, but neither was he one accustomed to running for his life on such short notice.
We sat in the middle of Daarimere's jungle, far from any sort of path and waited in silence for the enemy to find us.
After some minutes of this, Fern stood up. “Wait here.” she hissed.
“And just what are you planning on doing?” her brother demanded.
“Checking it out. Maybe they're nearby waiting for us to show ourselves.” she slid her pack to the ground.
“I'm coming with you.” Gern said.
A snort of derision from Fern. “You? They'll be on us in a minute.”
Gern looked down at his hands, then over at Craigin. Savadra was watching the twins intently. “Just let me come.”
I suddenly realized that Gern was feeling a pretty sorry sort of useless. He'd not slain a Kaht on the hunt, he'd not realized the trouble we were in. He had led me to the cave where the mining equipment was stored, but I doubt that counted for much in his mind.
Fern seemed to get it. “Fine,” she huffed. “Come.”
The pair headed off together while Craigin finally staggered upright. “Miners.” he spat. “I should have guessed.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes over our captain's aversion to mountain-debasement.
Savadra spoke up in the end. “No. This is my fault. I accepted this mission, I led us here, I trusted Bart and...” she shook her head. “And I even told Tory to ignore his instincts just when I'd gotten him to trust them.”
Now I felt bad. “Aw,” I muttered. “It's not your fault. And hey, you and Fern were the only ones prepared, so we should be thanking you.”
“Calm.” Craigin whispered. “Incoming.”
When you're talking while trying not to be heard, it is best to avoid all usage of words with the letters S and, usually, T. As you can tell by these few sentences alone, this can be a difficulty. 'Calm' means be still and quiet, and it's a softer word than 'shush' or 'silence' or even 'quiet' itself. As an alternative, you can juh lithp thingth tho thah ih thoundth thofher. Except, then it's hard to comprehend what someone is saying. We'd been speaking in whispers, but there is a difference between a conspiratorial whisper and a 'here-come-the-bad-guys' whisper.
The Thistlewhight-Fisk twins stepped out of the foliage.
“You can probably relax.” said Fern. “We didn't see anyone, but that doesn't mean they're not still out there. Besides, you've been making enough noise to bring everyone running right here anyway, pack of fools.”
These were the sweetest words spoken to me that day.
We were safe.
For the moment.
We hiked all that day and night. Exhausted, jumping at every noise which might turn into a Kaht or soldier, we were too nervous to risk staying somewhere for camp.
Dawn arrived sooner than we would have liked, and yet none too soon at all. The dark was overtaken but that also meant we needed a place to hide. The island was large, surely we would find somewhere to take cover in until...until what?
We needed to make it to the Waveblade.
Unless Bart got to the ship first.
I told the others what I was thinking and we rested under the shadow of some palms while we mulled it over, trying to think of a plan.
Finally, Craigin shook his head. “Captain Remus is smart. He'll know we'd head for the ship. There's no way we could get to her first.” His face was set in a grim expression and I felt sorry for him; in all the tight scrapes we'd been through so far, he'd never been at risk of losing his ship. Would the Kurrm'anairis soldiers decide to keep the ship for themselves, or might they wreck and burn it? There was no telling, though I assumed they'd go with the former. They could always use another ship, and the Waveblade was an exceptional specimen.
Something else was bothering me. Something to with Bart. As we took up walking again, munching on some of Fern's food supply, I tried to pinpoint what it was with little luck. Like a word on the tip of your tongue—I hate that.
Midday arrived and so did we.
The beach spread out before us, with hot and shining sand, some washed up kelp and shells, and one large seaturtle. By this time, we were running out of the food Fern had in her pack and that turtle was looking mighty good, thanks to Bart's turtle concoction.
As we stood contemplating the creature and it wallowed in the wet sand, blinking slowly at us, Gern pointed out that we would have to make a fire to cook the meat, and a fire was sure to attract attention. In the end, we watched Master Turtle crawl out into the surf and disappear, though not without feelings of loss. Bart's smoked turtle breakfast weighed heavily on our minds.
There was an advantage, though: I suddenly recalled what had been irritating me all day.
“Yesterday, Bart said the Kahts avoid the beaches.” I began. “If we stay here, there will be one less thing to worry about.”
“Or he said that so they could hop in the ships and circle around until they find us.” Fern pointed out.
We weren't sure what to do. Head back to the jungle and risk being surprised by the Kahts, or hold a defensive position near the beach and risk the soldiers coming upon us. And if Bart had lied, the Kahts might still come to the beach.
“If we stay here, we can at least see whatever attack comes.” Savadra said with an air of finality. “Whether Kaht or Kurrm'anairis.”
The beach it was.
We rigged up a shelter at the edge of the jungle in case of rain and after walking down the beach a ways, we found that the jungle changed into a rocky plain which ran into the heart of the island to the roots of the mountain.
If Bart had been telling the truth about the Kahts and the beaches, the same could not be said about this plain. None of us were very good trackers, but Kaht prints riddled the ground wherever the rock gave way to soil.