Island of the Kahts~ Part Eleven

Fiction By Kay J Fields // 3/25/2013

When morning dawned, I woke up—unable to remember ever falling asleep—and for the first few minutes I only thought of the hunt, of finding the Kahts and finishing the mission. But when Volny groaned in his sleep and rolled over, I remembered other things. I dressed quickly, feeling a slight twinge of ache in the center of my back, where Han’s blade had pinched me.

The argument, Volny’s strangeness, my talk with Bart, and the inexplicable sword pressed to by spine in the moonlight… I glanced once at Volny and vacated the tent.

Savadra was awake and sharpening her sword. Her tent was already down and packed. The rest of the camp was in a varied state of getting ready to move on. Fern was laying out some dried food for the two of them to eat. Craigin was talking with Bart who—I noticed with a stirring of unease—stood with our good friend Han. Gern appeared to be catching a rare sort of purple lizard. I wondered offhand whether or not it was poisonous, but was not concerned enough to say something. Instead, I made for Savadra.

“You’ll never believe the night I had.” I whispered to her.

She raised an eyebrow carelessly. “Oh?”

I frowned. “Really.” The camp was bustling with soldiers. Suddenly wary of them, I tugged on her elbow. “Over here.”

When I felt we were a safe distance from the general hubbub of the camp, I gathered my breath. “One of the soldiers threatened me last night.”

Now it was her turn to frown. Dubiously. “He what?”

“Threatened me! He—” I lowered my voice again. “He put the tip of his sword to my back.”

Doubt was exchanged for concern. “Are you alright?”

I considered making a big deal of the little bruise on my skin I had discovered when I awoke, but thought better of the idea. “I’m fine. But something is not right.”

“Did you provoke him?”

“Well…” I considered this. It was possible. I mean, I must have done something to irritate the man, right? “Not on purpose.”

Concern changed to a glare. “Explain, axe-boy.” I hated it when she called me that.

“Alright, I couldn’t sleep—”

“Join the club.”

“So I took a peek out the tent flap and saw Bart arguing with some of the other soldiers.”

“Some?”

“Yeah…maybe a dozen of them. And a bunch of the others were just standing around, watching.”

“What were they arguing about?”

“I couldn’t hear.” I said. “And then Volny—the boy I shared a tent with—asked me what I was doing, so I pretended it was nothing. When he fell asleep—”

“Lucky kid.”

“Would you stop interrupting?!”

“Sorry.” She pulled her red hair out of her face and tied it up. “Go on.”

“I went out to talk to Bart and he…he looked troubled. I’m not sure why, but he was definitely upset about something. He pretended it was nothing like I had done with Volny, but he didn’t seem right. Anyway, I asked him about the times he had been here before. About the Kahts. Apparently he was attacked by them the last time. He and most of the soldiers here. So we were talking and then, out of nowhere, this guy—Bart called him Han—came up behind me and stuck his sword in my back!”

I turned and pointed through the foliage to where Bart stood with his fellow soldier, still in conversation with our own captain. “That’s Han there. Bart told him off and apologized and, well, and then I went to bed.”

Savadra’s green eyes were distant. “Hm.” was all she said.

“Well?”

“Be more careful, Tory. And keep your eyes open. Remember what we talked about.”

I did remember. “Do you think that the old gate keeper was right not to like Bart?”

“Tory, Bart has been very good to us. He doesn’t seem to resent us for coming in and stealing the fame and credit with our little adventure party, he invited us to his house, and he’s led us this far. He and Craigin get along fine. Don’t you think Craigin would know if there was something wrong?”

“I suppose.” I admitted with reluctance.

Savadra nodded as if convincing herself. “Besides, it was one of his men. This Han guy. And you said Bart told him off.”

“He did say that Han was edgy.”

“There you go then.”

“So you think I’m overreacting?” I asked. I wasn’t so sure myself either way.

Savadra picked her way back to camp. “I’m saying keep an open mind and fill it with all the possibilities, not just one or two.”

“Hey Savadra?”

“Yes?”

“You be careful too.”

She flashed me a brilliant smile. “Always.”

***

The hike down from the ridge to the abandoned orchards covered most of the morning. The fruit, as Bart had hinted, was ripe for the picking and lunch was a scrumptious, if hasty and cold, affair. The king of Montal was right about one thing, at least—the island made an excellent farm. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything so grand and lush as those fruits.

Han seemed to hang around Captain Bartholomew most of the day as half the party fixed up the small buildings to make a more secure camp. Bart was only able to get rid of the man when he sent Han and the second half of the party on an expedition to make sure the old spring used by the farmers was still clear, as well as to search for signs of the monsters. After they left, he left his men and took our company off into the jungle by ourselves.

Bart had been right about the place being defensible. Situated on a little hill of its own, the orchard spread out on one side, the mountains on the other. It was an open space and any sentry would be able to spot the enemy before they came near.

As we walked, Bart showed us different plants which were edible and those he knew to be poisonous. He demonstrated how to lay a snare for game, how to bait some of the exotic birds into nets his company had brought along. He even explained how one could almost always find enormous turtles on the beach, which made a surprisingly tasty treat. He promised us turtle for breakfast, which I guess was supposed to thrill us.

I thought to myself that, for a man who claimed he couldn’t wait to get back home, Bart seemed determined to make a vacation spot out of the island. He was rather enthusiastic.

Finally, two hours or more after lunch, Bart asked us if we would care to spar. We then returned to the clearing by the orchard and paired off. At first, Bart watched us fight one another and cheered us on. A small gathering of soldiers surrounded us, cheering on the fights with some enthusiasm but I think they were bored. They stayed bored until Craigin challenged Bart to a friendly duel of swordsmanship. (Craigin’s knives were rather impractical when sparring with a partner he didn’t actually want dead, and he always carried a long blade with him anyway.) That livened things up.

Savadra tossed Bart her own sword, as the Montal captain carried only the tools of his archers’ trade and a small dagger. The Kurrm’anairis soldiers cheered as Bart entered the circle of churned-up turf to face his fellow captain. He proved to be not inept at sword skills and he and Craigin had a good bout before the ship captain swiped his opponent’s blade away. I noted that, while they cheered, many of the soldiers shifted their stances at this defeat. Bart, of course, took it graciously. He then offered to fight Gern and me also.

I went first. Savadra calls me an axe-boy for a reason. It’s my weapon of choice. I’ve never really been comfortable with a sword, but for the sake of the duel and a good laugh, I jumped in with Craigin’s blade. Our fight didn’t last long.

For what Bart lacked in efficiency, he made up for in agility. Years of pulling on bow strings had strengthened his arms. Target practice made him precise. And he was quick on his feet. I, on the other hand, was used to a thick axe, not a long, tapered blade. I was clumsy with it and I knew that well, but I thought I was making a fair showing. I hoped that Bart wasn’t toying with me for the sake of my pride and to the amusement of his men.

When the duel did end, it ended abruptly. I had just gone for a side pass which I then exchanged for a double parry, faking a lunge toward his left foot. Bart skipped out of my reach and brought Savadra’s blade crashing down near the hilt of my own. I could feel the borrowed swords shudder when they met and I fell back under the force of the blow.

Like lightning had struck, I was laying flat out in the dirt, panting, my sword mysteriously gone from my hands. I had dropped it. The soldiers were now all in and their cheering was uproarious to the point of deafening. A distant part of me wondered if this would attract the Kahts.

In the next second my mind was on other things as Bart leaned over me, Savadra’s sword uncomfortably close to my throat. I froze for half an instant as I stared into the intense eyes of the captain. There seemed to be an entire speech in those eyes as they stared straight into my own—not at all like the night before when he refused to meet my gaze. But whether the words were to the effect of ‘I did warn you’ or ‘you should be more careful’, I was entirely too flabbergasted to figure out.

Just as some of the onlookers—namely my companions—began to look concerned, I sat up and pushed a finger to Bart’s weapon, nudging it away. He blinked and dropped his sword arm to his side, offering the other hand to help me up. I took it and we gave a sort of bow to the crowd. The soldiers laughed and cheered but their eyes were cold and silent. I wondered if they had wanted the little match to end an entirely different way.

“I think that’s enough for the day.” Bart returned his borrowed sword and walked off.

Savadra hurried over to me. The others looked a little concerned, too. “Tory, are you alright?” she asked as I brushed island dirt from the seat of my pants. “For a minute it looked like…” Her voice trailed away.

I laughed it off and retrieved Craigin’s sword for him. “That was a blast, though I really am a terrible sword fighter. Sorry you couldn’t have your go, Gern, but I guess I wore the captain out.” I said with as much cheer as I could muster to mask my shaky breaths. In my head, I finished Savadra’s words:

For a minute it looked like Bart was going to kill me.

Comments

Awesome story. I just read

Awesome story. I just read it today and really like it. I'm ready to read more :D keep up the good work.

Emma Katherine | Sat, 04/06/2013

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