Island of the Kahts~ Part Fifteen
Author's Note: Two things.
First, I was positive I had posted later chapters more recently than I have, and I was about to post a new one which would have left readers quite puzzled, as it left a gaping hole in the story. I fear I've neglected dear AP dreadfully in recent days.
Second, I have been unable to get italics to work in the type on the website format, so until I can figure something out, thoughts will appear in single quotation marks and emphasized words will be in capitals.
“Is there a problem?” Gern called out, picking up his pace and heading right for the armed men. Uneasy, I followed.
“We were coming out to check on you.” Bart explained. “Savadra said you'd left camp some time ago.”
How considerate of them. I felt the weight of two little books in my pocket and felt certain Bart or Han would ask about the obvious bulge. But they didn't notice.
We reached the armed party as the soldiers relaxed and sheathed their blades.
Bart nodded toward the mount. “Did you find the cave I told you about?”
It was THAT cave? The cave that Bart had taken refuge in? I glanced in the direction he showed. “Cave?” Innocence was the part I played and ignorance was, I hoped, plainly written on my face. “Didn’t see it.” But I recalled Bart’s words: 'I can’t be sure it doesn’t hold as many dangers. What had he meant, and how was it all connected?'
We started walking.
“Gern and I were just wondering,” I began before Gern could open his mouth and get us in trouble. “If we kill all the Kahts on the island, does that mean we've killed all of them?” The thought had bothered me some; hunting was one thing, annihilation of a species was quite another.
Bart fell easily into the conversation. “There is evidence that Daarimere was once connected by a long land-bridge to the mainland in the southwest. But the land-bridge sunk when some undersea volcanoes erupted. The country it connected to is remote and hardly anyone lives there; those that do give reports of creatures which sound identical to the Kahts living here. There, the animals are free to roam. Here, they're causing trouble.”
It was nice hearing him speak again, although Han's was with us and his face was a dangerous shade of red. I think he was more suspicious of what Gern and I had been up to than Bart was.
Camp was silent and night was falling when we returned. Bart wandered off in the direction of Savadra, I noted with mixed emotions. He was back to being his friendly self, but I was uncertain how I felt about his spending so much time with my leader—my friend.
Gern and I went to fetch a cold supper and head for our bunks. I glanced over my shoulder as we walked through the small collection of old buildings in the orchard and noticed Han with two of his men following us, their faces hard, Han's lips pressed too thin in his large face.
With only six buildings to camp in, there was little privacy—Savadra and Fern had the smallest shed to themselves and some of the men camped in tents. There was little chance of our being able to look through our findings without Han finding out. The best place for our party to meet and talk was in the girl's shed, but Bart was with Savadra now. There were few options but to wait for morning.
“Hullo,” I muttered to Craigin as we entered our make-shift bunkhouse, our stomachs satisfied. The place smelled unpleasantly of sweat, dust, and mold. And of men who’d gone too long without bathing. If even I could smell it, the scent must have been atrocious.
Craigin smiled. “How was the hike?”
Gern opened his mouth but I beat him to it again. “We were enjoying the mountain, before the hunt catches up to us again.”
The sea-captain's smile widened and I thought of how much I liked and trusted this man, this seafarer who I think most people saw as a third wheel; ‘unnecessary’. How little did THEY know. Still, wasn't that how I often thought of the man? I rarely spared him the time of day.
“Ah, the mountain.” Craigin said, wistful. “Someday, my lad, you'll have to visit Berggren.”
I feigned interest in his homeland and nodded. “Soon, I hope.”
Gern was none-too pleased that evening. He wanted to talk to Craigin about what we had found, but he also knew it wasn't the time or the place. I think we were both afraid of what might happen if we waited too long. Well. I was afraid, at least.
It was as I watched the men in our building retire to their cots, the mats creaking beneath their weight, that I had an idea. I motioned to Gern to pretend sleep and we waited for the building to fall silent.
The moon was bright that night, and I rolled towards Gern. “Follow me.” I whispered.
I got up and padded, barefoot, to Craigin’s cot. Shaking him awake gently, so as not to startle him, I put a finger to my lips and pointed to the door. The trio of our shadows crept across the floor and filed outside.
I dug the ledgers out from where I’d slid them inside my shirt and showed Craigin. “We found these and some tools and stuff in a cave up the mountain.” I hesitated. “The same place Bart told me he had hidden in the last time he came to the island, to be safe from the Kahts.” I filled him in on what we saw.
Craigin opened the first ledger and his eyes scanned the pages. His brows lowered and his eyes narrowed.
“What?” Gern asked, his voice rising in volume with his impatience. We shushed him.
“Silver mining.” Craigin whispered.
“Silver?” I asked.
Trays of silver, halls or silver, cups and platters and bowls of silver, mirrors gilt in silver, dresses trimmed with silver, jewelry made of silver. The wealth and dynasty of King Greythan of Montal in Kurrm’anair, sovereign and leader of Captain Bartholomew Remus and his men.
“I…I don’t get it.” I said. “They’re here for…for this?”
Gern was shaking his head. “I don’t get it either. I mean, if this is what they want, why didn’t they just say so? Why come up with all this orchard business? Why hide what they were doing?”
“Because of the Gether Silver Treaty of Kurrm’anair’s Third Epoch.” Craigin replied softly.
Sometimes, it was really good to have him around. “The what?”
Craigin got a sort of glossed-over look in his eyes, like he was reciting. “In the late days of the Third Epoch the country of Kurrm’anair came to the agreement with its people that all precious metal, primarily silver which is especially prevalent in these areas, should be equally distributed to all castles, fiefs, and towns according to their standing, population, and etc. other stipulations, to avoid the poverty of individuals or the bankruptcy of the country.”
“Was that all one sentence?” Gern asked. “‘Cause I didn’t hear any periods in there.”
“Shut up.” I muttered.
Craigin continued. “Under the direction of a beneficent and particularly clever lord named Gether, Kurrm’anair agreed to the terms that any and all new deposits of such metals and ores as silver should be given to the appropriate parties, and divided between the strongholds and provinces of the country.”
“Meaning that King Greythan would have had to share.” I said, slow but catching on. “So it’s illegal. They’re trying to keep it a secret because of their greed. The whole ‘planter’ business was just a ruse.”
“But they didn’t expect the Kahts to come along.” Gern added. “The mining was hindered.”
“Stopped,” Craigin said, leafing through the second ledger. “The miners withdrew under the direction of Foreman Han Sleviitte.”
“It was Han.” I hissed. “He’s not a soldier. He’s a miner!”
“AND under the emergency protection of Captain Bartholomew Remus and the men under him, sent by Greythan as a rescue party.” Craigin read.
“Not a little clean-up team that didn’t know what the trouble was, then.” I said. Had Bart told a single truth?
“And, remember, Daarimere is not technically Kurrm’anair land yet. The king still hasn’t officially claimed it as belonging to his country, and no one has put up a fuss; first because the value of some really good fruit hadn’t yet occurred to other nations, and now because of the threat of attack from beasts and monsters.” Craigin finished.
“Had it all figured out, didn’t you, Greythan?” Gern asked dryly.
“What do we do?”
“We tell the girls first thing in the morning.” Craigin started, shutting the ledgers and slipping them inside his own pants pocket. “Then take Captain Remus aside and question him privately. We are outnumbered here, and we’ll have to be careful. From what you’ve told me, Han needs little excuse to come after any or all of us.”