Island of the Kahts~Part Fourteen

A Poem By Kay J Fields // 7/14/2013

We retreated too, then, with great care in case the beasts performed another about-face while our backs were to them. When we arrived in the little clearing, the other soldiers relaxed some.

Seeing to the wounded was not my area of expertise and I allowed Fern and Savadra to play nurse along with those soldiers who carried aid-kits with them. Meanwhile, I sidled up to Craigin. He showed no signs of waking, but his breathing was nice and regular and his cuts had been bandaged.

My partner from the hunt…or battle…or desperate attempt at defense, whatever you wish to call it—joined me. “You’re the one they call Tory, right?” he asked.

“That’s right. Thanks, by the way, for everything you did out there.”

He shook his head, as if surprised that I felt the need to show gratitude. “I may be a soldier and you an adventurer, but there are no distinctions between us when there’s a battle at hand.”

I almost said thanks again and then realized that was redundant. He walked off as I also realized I hadn’t gotten his name. Oh, well. I’d find him again later.

A few hours passed, daylight was shimmering through the leaves in colors of green and amber and the drugging effects of the poison were at last wearing off. I knew better now why Greythan had called for adventurers to help him out in this endeavor. The Kahts were dangerous to an extreme. They acted and reacted like a squadron of soldiers instead of at random and, even after the bloody battle in the night, at least three still roamed the island. Including the tuxedo Kaht.

Craigin complained of a horrid ache in his head, but seemed alright. Most of the soldiers were also alright, though two of them had been badly injured and needed extra care and rest.

We made it back to camp slowly, two of the soldiers carrying the body of their fallen comrade and others assisting the injured. The little camp was quickly disassembled and we finally straggled into the orchard as dusk overcame Daarimere.

Thirteen soldiers stood to greet us as we returned. In a quick, yet solemn manner, the dead Kurrm’anairis was buried on the side of the hill. The orchard camp was hardly subdued, however, and the story of the battle was told and retold as the dark settled. Those who had been injured were in high demand as storytellers, and the claw marks were to be honored badges of the battle fought.

I learned that the soldier I had partnered with was called Wulv, and mentioned to Craigin that he was owed some small amount of thanks. Wulv was busy however, under Han’s orders. Han was a sort of self-appointed right hand to Captain Remus, and not only hung around Bart, preventing conversation between us, but also doling out the excess work to those of his compatriots who seemed friendliest to Savadra’s party. This meant that the soldier named Wulv was especially burdened, and it was incensing to see other soldiers relaxing while one of their band could hardly pause to catch his breathe before Han sent him somewhere else. I now harbored a deep dislike of that man, and avoided him as much as possible—fortunately, he didn’t seek out our company and this was not hard to do.

Early on the morning after our return, the Kaht pelts were sent for and retrieved—Wulv was among those in this party—and Bart offered Savadra her choice of the furs, promising that some of the others would also be set aside for us, as a sort of bonus in our adventuring. For some reason, the soldiers found this funny and snickered when they thought we weren’t looking.

Ignoring this, Savadra smiled and thanked him and took her time deciding, finally choosing the pelt of a silver-gray Kaht with mottling. This, too, received an inexplicable reaction from the Kurrm’anairs. I saw mixed emotions of irritation, amusement, and envy crossing their faces.

Envy and irritation I could understand. The pelt was a fine one and would doubtless catch a substantial price at market, or be the pride of a household should the bearer wish to keep the fur. It was their amusement which puzzled me; as if they were sharing an inside joke and I felt ill at ease on the outside.

The remaining three Kahts were often the topic of discussion. Going after them in the same manner as we had before was out of the question, as the trail had long-since grown cold and the island was too large to cover systematically.

Many plans were concocted: traps, baiting, splitting up the party and going in different directions, searching for other possible Kaht family groups. None of these were listened to with much interest and all were discarded in the end. It was decided to wait for now in the relative safety of the orchard, as there was no official time limit on our mission and supplies were not lacking. Everyone thought it inevitable that we see or hear from the beasts again shortly.

Meanwhile, we all made good use of the time.

Well, sort of. I kind of lazed about with Gern; pulling pranks on the girls, fishing in the stream, hunting for snakes and other hazards, scaring him and being frightened in return, starting food fights and such-like. Savadra spent most of her time either with Fern, the only other woman in the expedition, or with Bart himself. They sat together at meals most of the time, talked and talked to one another, and generally shared a closer proximity than I was entirely comfortable with. Craigin made studies of the wildlife, wrote about and sketched bits of the Kahts, and made a regular habit of wandering the nearest mountain paths.

The soldiers were lazy most of the time, also. They generally ignored us, though Wulv always smiled in passing, and they frowned on Craigin’s lonely jaunts and Bart’s frequent conversing with Savadra. A few of them were cordial enough to start a polite conversation of their own every great once in a while, but these attempts at being friendly Han prevented whenever he could.

*
A week after we came ashore at Daarimere, I observed something new.
For the majority of the time, the soldiers idled and did as little work or anything resembling at was possible. Some days after the hunt, however, Han and a few of the others—sometimes including Bart, but most often not—started going of on their own little journeys. They did this at all hours of the day, sometimes disappearing before sun-up, sometimes returning long after dark. When asked about it, Han replied that they were searching for traces of the Kahts.

I noted with some confusion that Wulv and his companions did not go on these excursions. Where Han had always seen fit to send his least-favorite compatriots into labor, Wulv and several others were wholly excluded now from the work Han claimed they were doing. It didn’t make much sense.

Bart, too, seemed unusually subdued when returning from these walks. He would look at Savadra and the rest of our party often, but never utter a word.

Tired of sitting around and all the inactivity, I petitioned Savadra’s acceptance of a fool’s errand for Gern and myself.

“I want to follow them.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m bored out of my head.”

“You’re going to need a better reason than that.”

“I don’t have one.”

She cocked her head. “You’re lying.”

“What? No, no I’m not—”

“You are,” said she with a smile. “Even if you don’t know it, you are, Torinnir.”

I waited for her to explain.

“You have been suspicious of Han ever since that incident the first night we heard the Kahts. I don’t blame you. Between the Kahts screaming and Han’s overreaction, it was a bit tense. But Bart explained it to you, didn’t he, and you trust him, right?”

This coming from the girl who was always telling me to keep my eyes peeled for strangeness or suspect behavior.

I opened my mouth to point out that day we had both thought Bart might try to kill me, and his recent coolness towards us, but then I recalled how she and the captain had conversed privately on many an occasion—more than I liked—and didn’t say a word. You see? Sometimes I can be smart.

“Like I said,” I started slowly. “I'm bored.”

Savadra threw her hands up. “Fine. Whatever you say. Go.”

“I'm taking Gern.”

“Have you seen his version of 'stealth'?”

“We'll work on it while we're out.”

Gern and I left that next morning, following the team of soldiers who walked with Han on their unknown excursions. I had made sure Bart was preoccupied elsewhere beforehand, though I wasn't sure why. Didn't I trust him? Surely Savadra was right and the swords pointed at me alternatively from his right-hand man and himself were nothing. Han overreacted and Bart was just...in the moment, or something.

We trudged along most of the afternoon and I found it good that we had not attempted to follow the soldiers previously. Armed as we were for the sake of precaution, neither Gern nor I were very apt in our methods, but the soldiers had let their guard down and it was a marked easy task to trail them through the jungle. They headed for the mountain.

The soldiers finally drew a halt when the soil began to give way to stone beneath our feet and the foliage was less dense. I was grateful for this, as we were fast running out of suitable cover. Gern groaned softly and massaged his feet as we sat and waited for whatever it was the soldiers came out here for was to happen. We were now positive that they were not tracking Kahts.

“Gern, look.” I hissed.

Because this was new.

The soldiers headed into a cave my eyes had neglected to find. Gern and I backtracked enough to get a clearer angle and could just make out the dim interior of the entrance. Some wooden crates and sacks made of thick, course material were set inside the cave. Judging from a combination of dust and stains, I figured they had been there a while. From these, the soldiers drew out what appeared to be maps, ledgers and, of all things, pick-axes.

I was, in a word, befuddled.

(I was also annoyed when Gern later told me he had felt sincerely 'discombobulated' when watching these events unfold. This word was twice the size of my own and, therefore, more impressive. If he weren't my friend, I might have to add some nasty comment about him in the acknowledgments.)

The soldiers came out of the cave, which I took to be a fairly shallow and modest pock-mark in the side of the mountain. They left most of the gear behind, but had replaced some of the maps and ledgers with some from their own packs, taking the new items with them.

Gern and I stayed where we were until the soldiers were gone, headed back to camp. It was risky to stay away much later, as the men might get suspicious, but I had to know what was in the cave and Gern was already trotting in that direction before I had come to a decision anyway.

Running our hands over cracked leather straps, we could tell the packs were at least a few years old and had been exposed to the elements for at least part of that time. Their contents—that is, the items Gern surmised aloud must have belonged there originally and not come from our friendly soldiers—were well-preserved.

“Okay, so...maps of the island. That's not so unusual.” I started.

Gern rolled his eyes. “The maps aren't weird, but the reason they're hiding them is, dodo.”

“Let the record hold that I am forgiving your insinuation that I am a dead and defunct bird.” I muttered.

“What record?”

“The one I'm going to make.”

“You mean like you made a record of the first mission?”

I growled under my breath. “Ran out of time. And supplies. And my mom's dog was sick.” I rummaged around in the sacks again. “But you're right. Maps aren't odd. So you know why they're hiding them?”

“No. I was only saying that there's a reason they are hidden and that's what's weird.”

The ledger I held was filled with tally marks and a bunch of random measurements I couldn't decipher. I didn't even know what it was measuring. It would have been great if the ledgers had come with titles.

“Well,” I said, standing at last. “We can't stay here all evening. Put a couple in your pocket and we'll see if our resident mountain-man can make sense of it all.”

Thus, we spent some minutes deciding which of the maps and booklets might be of the highest importance. Since we had no idea what we were looking it, this was no easy task.

At last, we turned to go.

We walked about a mile back toward the camp.

And stopped dead in our tracks.

Bartholomew Remus and a dozen of his men stood a little way down the hill. Staring up at us. Weapons drawn.

“Fiddle.” I muttered.

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