Island of the Kahts~Part Sixteen
Morning dawned cool and fresh, just the opposite of my pent-up and feverish thoughts. I lay in my cot a few moments after waking because I knew I wouldn’t be able to look Bart in the eye without it all coming out.
When I did get up, though, I found I had a respite. Bart and some of the others were making sweeps outside the camp, checking and setting a few traps to give us fresh meat supply.
Craigin was already up and Gern’s bedroll was rumpled and body-less.
I jumped up, yanked on some real clothes and hurried outside, where I found the captain and my buddy about to enter the girl’s shed. “Couldn’t wait up for me, eh?” I grumbled.
“The sooner Fern and Savadra know, the sooner we can come up with a plan, lad.” Craigin said, rapping his knuckles on the low doorframe.
“You couldn’t even be bothered to wake me?”
“After what you did to me last time?” Gern asked.
Fern opened the door. “What’s wrong?” Either our expressions were extraordinarily dour, or her pessimism was in a heightened state of aggravation.
“We have a problem.”
“By the sky and the seas that man is a—!” Savadra tossed her hands into the air to express what words could not. Well, politely anyway.
“Really, really stinky person. Especially his feet.” Gern said.
Her glare was like shards of glass and Gern shrunk away. “He is an absolute, complete and utter…!” she spluttered.
“Beast.” I supplied helpfully.
She nodded. “Oh I’m going to get ahold of his stupid neck and wring it so hard that his face will turn purple and then I’m going to kick his worthless hide into the ocean and I—!”
“Need to calm down.” Fern interrupted. “This isn’t helping.”
“Calm down? Calm down?! He was flirting with me! He was being all charming and sweet-as-molasses and I fell for it! I just took the whole thing, hook, line and sinker!” she exclaimed. I knew then that she was unbelievably angry—she had used two clichés in one breath.
“You were sunk, alright.” I said. For once she took no notice of my comment, merely went on describing how horrible the previously ‘wonderful’ Captain Bartholomew was.
“Savadra,” Craigin said in a low tone.
She stopped for breath and turned her attention to the real, though slightly less blamable, enemy. “And as for Greythan. That ugly pompous fool!” She was positively seething and I began to realize just how close she might have been getting to the errant captain.
“He’s not much of a fool.” I said. “He’s actually pretty clever.”
She whirled on me, green eyes flashing with rage. “There is more than one way to be a fool.”
“Savadra.” Craigin said again, this time with a firm, set tone.
“Sorry. Right. What should we do now? That’s the question.”
“We need to talk to Bart.” Craigin stated matter-of-factly.
Savadra started. “What?”
Craigin shook his head and waited for her to pull herself together. We all did. Cold thought it may sound, we needed her to forget her emotions and give us a plan of action. With one deep breath, the Savadra I know and love was back with us, and in action mode.
“When he comes back, we’ll pull him aside and ask for an explanation. Gern, Tory, you’ll need to be prepared to hold him. We might need him as insurance to get us out of this safely. Pack up your stuff and keep your weapons on you, we might need to make a run.”
She forced a smile before she turned to gather her own things. “That’s all we need.”
Craigin, Gern and I stepped out of the building and were startled to see Volny walking about outside. He had been with Bart’s team earlier.
“Hey.” I said, uncertain.
His hands were shoved deep in his pockets, like a school bully found out by the headmaster. “Hey.” He turned and left. Gern and Craigin made for the bunkhouse, but I watched Volny a second longer and saw him glance over his shoulder at us, a sneer on his face.
Something like a damp, cold stone settled in the pit of my stomach.
I ran for the bunkhouse.
“We’ve got more trouble.”
Savadra said she trusted my judgment. She said I could see things everyone else missed. That I noticed the unremarkable. Volny’s sneer might have meant what it usually meant coming from the soldiers. They resented us for some reason that we, until that moment, had failed to comprehend. But when I saw that sneer, I saw Han’s blade, Bart’s lies, a midnight argument, and Volny sitting in the tent, watching me with suspicious eyes. I saw the cave, a fat king, a silver gown, an old porter, and people camped out on the palace floor.
I felt Bart’s blade at my throat, and smelled the copper of the dirt at my back.
I knew treachery and assault and malice and my eyes and lungs burned with it.
Savadra needed only to look at me to comprehend the danger.
We left the bunkhouse in an instant and it was already too late.
Bart stood in the clearing on the hill between us and the jungle. At his side was Volny and just behind him stood Han. Most of the other soldiers were gathered in a mob behind these three. The other soldiers were still away from camp. I noted that Wulv was one who was absent.
It struck me as odd that Volny was beside Bart and Han was a step behind. Had there been some reversal in the ranks?
“The truth will out.” Craigin said in a low voice to my left. I felt a rush of confidence and relief when I thought about my companions. We faced a garrison of soldiers and a wilderness of beasts, but I had my friends.
Gern feigned innocence. “Hey Bart! What’s going on?”
Bart shook his head at us. His expression was dark and unreadable. Concerned and upset, I could tell that much, but for whom was he concerned? And was he unhappy or just mad? “I did hope it might not come to this.” said he.
Gern dropped the charade at last. It’s both awful and liberating to have such an ugly thing before your face. The lies and the masks are gone and the bones are laid bare. No more secrets or hiding. Everyone knows what there is to know. At the same time, everything changes and the change is not a good one. In this case, it looked like a change of scenery for us: how does a new suit of chainmail and a blanket of dirt sound? I wasn’t looking forward to my funeral.
“It was never about the Kahts.” Savadra said with venom. “The hunting is just a sidetrack, an obstacle. It’s the silver mine in the mountain you want. Is the island full of it? Are the roots of this place precious ore? By all means, I wish you’d dig yourself to the bottom of the sea.”
“Had you not nosed around,” Bart began quietly. “We would have sent you home when we were through.”
Han leaned over his captain’s shoulder, leering at us. He was taller than Bart but it still seemed an awkward position to me. “You’ve done your part and the few Kahts left will be easily taken care of. Of course, had it been up to me, you would never have come at all.”
I recalled Bart’s expression when he threw me down in the practice ring. He really might have killed me then. But now he was shaking his head. “We needed you, whatever this fool says.” He shifted his feet as if feeling Han’s glower burn his scalp. “I'm sure you've already figured that these men are miners and not soldiers. Most of them. The Kahts are still dangerous and too dangerous for us, however few in number...even if they do hide in the jungle and avoid the beaches,” he added as if an afterthought.
I blinked at him. What was his game?
“I never wanted to kill you.” Bart was looking at me. “But you’ve given me no choice.” Did he mean to snarl that word? Han was laughing.
Suddenly Bart’s expression cleared, his brow lifting. He smiled in a devious way. “But to be fair, we will give you a sporting chance.” Han and Volny were looking at him now. The soldiers didn’t seem to know whether to look at us or their leader.
My head was spinning and the others had fallen deadly silent.
Bart took one step forward, Han and Volny close behind. Bart was still smiling when he leaned just a bit closer. Then his face twisted into a kind of grimace. It was like an awful smile of assurance mixed with the frown of uncertainty. Another bizarre thing in a bizarre scene.
And then he said…