Author Topic: "Kicker" - Chapter 1, Pt. II  (Read 859 times)

Offline Underche

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"Kicker" - Chapter 1, Pt. II
« on: November 14, 2009, 03:01:24 PM »
Along the way, at the east end of the barn, was a wooden cistern. I paused at it, grounded my gaff, and broke the film of ice on the water’s surface with my claws. Bending low, I drank deep, splashed my head and neck, snorted mist. Then I gave thanks to D’juab for waking whole and able, and paused, as is customary, to listen for a reply. That I heard none was to be expected. It is the rare gambado--often old, seldom young--who hears the actual voices of the Sire God, Who speaks with two tongues that contradict one another, yet cannot lie. For the rest there are whispers or signs, omens contrived by D’juab to instruct the watchful. On that morning I saw no signs, but a disquiet was stirring in me nonetheless.

I performed a hasty grooming, aware that the Armschief waited. As I did so, two foot soldiers approached the barn, slogging through the stiff, hoof-churned mud of the yard with spears on their shoulders, their leather cuirasses creaking. We glanced at one another, they warily, I with disinterest. They were conscripts in my master’s levy, and we had little acquaintance beyond our shared service. One of them lifted and lowered his chin, and I replied in kind. They sidled past the barn doors, which stood open just wide enough to admit them.

 I continued with my grooming, combing straw from the fur on my flank, and was finishing when there came a commotion from the barn. As I raised up to look the infantrymen charged from between the doors, pursued by hoarse bellowing. They spun and stumbled, caught each other, and then loped away, trailing laughter. Behind them the barn doors screeched open and Sarjin Hougoh, bootless and clothed in nothing more than his uniform breeches, staggered into the light. The rays struck him full on, and he reeled, pawing at the door’s edge with one hand and clapping the other over his slitted eyes. “Thurglat’s hairy hams,” he groaned.

Sssarjin,” I said, drawing the word out in a languid rumble as my kind does when at our ease. “You look…rested.”

In the course of my exile, few were the men who had shared my company day upon day, year after year, in billet and through skirmish. Fewer still could I trade banter with. Hougoh was one. True, he was crude in manner and brutish in form, even among the run of humankind. He was often foul-tempered, always foul-smelling. Yet in him I had never detected a trace of dread or distrust, and I found his acquaintance agreeable from the start. With him I was always less a dumb beast or horror, more a sympathetic ally in parsing the innumerable foibles, as he saw them, of his own race. Of all men I knew but one, he seemed to regard me as a worthy companion. And in this acceptance I saw, for the first time, that reprobation in the eyes of men was not a given.

Cha!” he barked now, spreading fingers to squint at me. “Sound trumpets—it has risen.” Head lowered, scarred belly swaying, he took three weaving strides over the frozen mud and lunged for the cistern’s edge. I thought he would tumble in, and raised an arm to stop him, but he caught himself, scuffing his stubbled chin on the rim. As he straightened up, hunching shoulders and locking elbows, he hissed, “What’s the pissly day, anyway?”

I tsked at him, a human expression I had taken rare pride in perfecting. “Your folk all about, and you ask me?

He pursed his lips and rolled a sour eye. “Daresay you look fresher’n I do. And just up, aren’t you? Tan your hide. Nothing that snores for a week should wake so spry, a‘ey?”

“A week, you sssay?” I yawned, thumping my tail. “Only that?” I affected not to notice his odor. It was unspeakable in any case, the familiar human miasma of bare, unwashed flesh and filthy clothing. And under all the reek of alcohol, a substance sickening to my kind, bloomed with his every breath. The Sarjin never drank when the company was on the march. Only the boredom of waiting would drive him to it, so I knew he spoke truthfully of the lapse of time since our arrival at the Sharer farm. That we had both been roused, I from suret, he from dissipation, told me much. My empty stomach pinched tighter.

The cistern held our opposed reflections, leached of color and gently rippling. I slapped water toward his side. “Sssplash first.”

He nodded, dunked his head in up to the neck for some breathless moments, and came up streaming and gasping. “Arggh, ‘s no good. My skull’s split. That urk-ya-fa farmer—him and his applejack. Poison piss.” He pestled two knuckles into the wells of his eyes, and the drops coursing his scarred jowls gave him a semblance of weeping. “Cha! Any remedy in that bottomless gunny of yours?”

I pulled my jumpsack up, loosed the cinch. After some sifting within I produced a length of athi root sheathed in burlap. I snapped off a nubbin. “Sssee, Sssarjin.” I tossed it to him. “Chew, swallow, quick! The Armschief waits.”

He frowned, first at the root tip in his palm, then at me. “Now then, Kicker. Fast, is it?”

“Fast enough.” I cinched the jumpsack, took up the gaff, slung the bow over a shoulder, and turned once more for the farmhouse in the distance. “You may wish it were faster ere noon, a‘ey? If Cashus saw need to wake us, I think we climb soon.”
« Last Edit: November 14, 2009, 03:20:38 PM by Underche »