Author Topic: "Kicker" - Chapter 1, Pt. III (Caution: a barnyard epithet)  (Read 1216 times)

Offline Underche

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"Kicker" - Chapter 1, Pt. III (Caution: a barnyard epithet)
« on: January 28, 2010, 10:27:16 PM »
The farmstead where our company had encamped lay nestled in the cold, remote southern piedmont, in the Carve called Sunlow, and the main house of river stone and timbers stood backed by a towering expanse of dark evergreens and snowy, mist-woven crags. I knew, as did the rest of the company to which the sarjin and I were attached, that our destination was hidden above, after some 10 kelems of switchbacking cart track. At its end, so we had been told, lay the fabled Vale Auldao, a bowl-shaped valley high under the peaks where sat the ancient fortress city known as the High House. A runner had been sent up after our arrival at the farmstead to petition entrance to the Vale from our prospective hosts, the outcast sect called the Sharers. Only with their permission could a small group from our company ascend. So we had waited below, some two score of light infantry and mounted officers, a half dozen crossbowmen, four powdermen with their crackstaves and slow match, three teamsters, two cooks, a blacksmith, a physician, and a squad of eight Cavalbeq, also called brusheads. The last were elite mounted troops, descended from the horse tribes who live on the high plateau beyond the very mountains we fronted. The brusheads were renowned for their ruthlessness against foes, among whom my race was once numbered. Only our mutual discipline and allegiance to the Armschief kept us from renewing our traditional enmity.

I could see Cashus now as I approached the house. He stood erect on the roofed porch that encircled the building, hands clasped behind him. The last two members of the cohort, a priest of the Redeemers and his acolyte, hovered to one side and slightly behind Cashus. The priest’s head inclined to the Armschief’s ear, lips fluttering. When I had prepared to join the mission to the piedmont, my master, Seer Ijooro Settus, the man to whom I owed my word and my life, had advised me to trust Cashus. Of the priest named Warder Yun, he would say only, “Do not take orders from that one.” I had soon resolved, for reasons of my own, to pay him no heed.

Yun was a tall man robed in vestmental ochre, with a vulturine stoop to neck and head. His graying queue was plaited so severely that his nose, cheeks, and brow looked rawboned as the acolyte’s, a youth barely grown who, it was said, was the priest’s natural son . Among other names, my race called men sogof’hurut, the half-faced, and from my earliest encounter with them I had struggled to read their emotions. I had been a callow, whip-tailed youngster then, following my uncle on trading visits to then-new human settlements on my home savanna, far to the north of these chill lands. Beyond the first shock of their stench, like some gag-inducing brew of goat’s piss and tooth rot, it was the bizarre flatness of men’s faces that made them so repulsive and so indistinguishable. There was all the alien twisting and wrinkling and teeth-baring of their visages, coupled with the confounding, mute immobility of their stunted ears. Their language I learned early, but would use only sparingly to address them, since I could not discern what effect my words had from a given spasm of visage. Since that time, a world and a lifetime ago, I had acquired an equal fluency in facial translation, if not imitation. Thus, whenever the Redeemer priest turned his attention to me, I had no trouble seeing the loathing in his expression.

From humans this look was all too familiar. Yet if I had become generally skilled in construing their emotions, I was truly expert in defining the shades of their antipathy. His loathing was of a particular kind, the exalted hatred that seeks both to damn and to provoke. To him I was nothing more or less than a mog, a being whose mind and body resembled men in some ways but differed in others. Many men, among them my own master, believed the ridiculous notion that all mogs derived their very being from men, fashioned by some magic tweezing and tooling of their ancestors, the Ancient Multitudes. For the Redeemers, this origin in ancient spells, myth though it was, made its suspected spawn unclean, evil, and worthy of extinction.

So Yun believed with the full conviction and backing of his faith. To frustrate his righteous indignation, I ignored him, as fully as if he were but a wisp or figment or simply invisible. I had foreseen the result. During the month the company had marched to the mountains, my disregard for his contempt had stirred him to calumny. Even now, some distance from the house, I could hear him. I have used to my advantage the truth that men doubt or forget the acuity of my hearing. Warder Yun, surely, did not suspect that his words were as clear to me as if he were whispering into my ear and not the Armschief’s.

"It is bad enough that the Sharer heretics we go to were entrusted with the welfare of the children...but this soulless black beast is a greater abomination...It should never have been allowed to join us...it will betray us all and murder the Svedi Lusen...that is all its kind knows...You remember what the past teaches us of these gambados... and you know the Church condemns all mogs…How can this be tolerated?…You should have had it dispatched as it slept...Settus the Scoffer is no more your master than mine…If you will not do your proper duty as the Church decrees, then at least dismiss this demon...drive it off...turn it out before..."

I advanced to the porch with measured leaps, giving the men time to remark my approach. Cashus’ eyes flicked to me, and he waved off the priest with a sharp, precise motion, as if saluting. Instantly Warder Yun turned his back to me, queue swaying in a gray arc, and began to chant some prayer or exorcism. His young attendant mimicked him in precise accord. My folk have a word for such behavior, the ill whispering that dies when its subject comes nigh. Siss‘ya‘kemin. And a name for one who makes it a habit. Gos‘kalkel. Blind shit hole.

I halted before the Armschief and leaned back on my tail, porting my gaff. Though I stood at ground level, half a man’s height below him, I gazed straight into his sepia eyes. They regarded me as impassively as any I had seen. Where Yun’s feelings were plain, Cashus was more difficult to read, but I saw other clues to his state of mind. He wore no armor or insignia as yet, only a padded green tunic, loose-cut breeches, and mud-spattered riding boots.  His head was bare, and tight, silver-streaked curls hugged his skull like a helm. Though in a trice I could have used my gaff to haul him close for a lethal kick, his hands were again clasped behind his back, carelessly distant from the dress saber at his belt. The obsidian jewel in its hilt glinted benignly in the sun. My regard for him was due more to this, his calm bearing in my presence, than in any word or expression he had given me. Though perhaps not as easeful with me as Sarjin Hougoh, he showed as little obvious mistrust, and his odor was mild, lacking the telltale sharpness of fear. His courtesy was formal but impeccable, extended even to me, and his respect for and with my master was considerable. The last more than all else, I knew well, had secured my role in the expedition.
 
“Kicker,” he greeted me in an even voice. “You are rested?”

“Yesss,” I replied, lowering my eyes. “Thank you, Armssschief. Tag‘jut‘utik, kaj suret. My flesh is restored.” I lifted my gaze after a proper interval and searched beyond the gable roof of the farmhouse, past curling chimney smoke, to the sunlit peaks. The vista rattled me as always. My kind were folk of flat grasslands and level horizons, and great heights unstrung us as no mundane threat or real danger could. Suppressing this cowardly instinct, I raised my arm and pointed at the range with the tip of the gaff. “Word has come, then? The path is open, Armssschief?”

“It is,” Cashus said. He scuffed the toe of one boot against a knothole, the only gesture to suggest his satisfaction. “And the scout reports no major slides. Some blow downs, little to tax an axman or slow our climb. Safe for mounts and wagons.”

I thumped the mud with one foot, feigning relief, and twitched my ears. “Ker’huf. I am glad to hear it. We go, then?”

Cashus nodded. “We do. After mess, the sarjins will assemble the company in the west field. Those chosen for the climb will set out by mid-morning. Barring delays, we should make the High House well before nightfall.” He paused, tilted his chin at me. “Is there anything you require for the climb?”

“Only your orders, Armssschief. What be it, ask it.”