Island of the Kahts~Part Nine
Craigin strode with Bart near the front of the line, while the rest of our group mingled with the soldiers. I sidled up to a lad about my age and struck up a conversation.
“Hi. My name is Torinnir, but you can call me Tory.”
“Nice to meet you, Volny.”
“The same.” He nodded in a curt manner. He was decidedly lacking in the finer arts of conversation.
“Ever, you know…do this before?” I asked. I wasn’t too good at conversing myself and my repertoire was becoming severely strained.
“Traipse through an unknown jungle on an island full of poison-toed, man-hungry cats?”
“Kahts.” I corrected automatically.
He frowned. “That’s what I said.”
“No it’s not.”
“Yes it is.”
“No, really, trust me,” said I. “I had to sort this out earlier and you can actually tell how it’s spelled by the way it’s pronounced. It’s not cats, it’s Kahts.”
His frown deepened and mixed with perplexity. “They sound exactly the same.”
“The latter, and the correct one, has a more capital ring to it, I think.” I replied.
At this point, Volny decided I was not engaging him enough to focus on and he turned his face back to the non-existent path Bart led us along.
“You’re odd.” he grunted.
I decided a change in subject might be prudent. “So what do you like to do in Montal?”
Volny glanced from the path at me and I saw his eyes slide past mine to focus on one of the soldiers marching on the other side of me—technically a little behind me, as the ‘path’ was not wide enough to accommodate more than one or two people walking side by side. I looked behind me at the same soldier, who was gazing steadily at the path.
When I faced frontward again—narrowly avoiding a collision with a mass of vines and grayish ivy—Volny’s expression was relaxed. Well, relaxed in the sense that he wasn’t frowning. He appeared, in fact, to be attempting a smile.
“I like to hunt and fish, away from the city.” he said, his words coming slow. “Sometimes I catch a boat down the river to the open sea for the sharks.”
I smiled. “Best of luck to you in that, I’m not a fan of those sharks.”
Volny’s smile was almost genuine. “They taste good. So what about you?”
“I haven’t been in your city, or even your country, long enough to pick up any hobbies.” I answered.
“Not in Montal. Where you live, back home.”
His question caught me a bit off guard. Home. Thoughts of home rarely came to me, thoughts of the forested country, Satyrico and my mother’s estate in Bagaer, around which had grown a small village—which I had indeed saved from rabid hogs some months before Cain found out about it and convinced my mother and I that I should be an adventurer. My mother, the Lady Charisa of Bagaer, was the one thing of home which I missed. I didn’t miss my room or my tutor or the squires who were constantly trying to be friends with me just to show their importance to the rest of the village. I didn’t miss the dreary life the place leads year after year of harvest and harsh winter. I would rather be sweating in a jungle in the middle of an island infested with monsters than sitting in that dusty little castle, watching the wax drip down the candles as my tutor tried in vain to interest me in who was king of Satyrico when and of which duke my grandfather was descended from. My mother, though…yes, I missed her.
What I said to Volny however, was this: “I come from across the ocean from here, but my home has been wherever we are recently. Most of the time it’s Craigin’s ship, and there isn’t a whole lot to do at sea…except read, and Craigin has this thing about his books. He doesn’t like people touching them.”
“Have you fished, then?” asked Volny.
“Sometimes. Sea-fish aren’t nearly as easy to haul in as the river fish I grew up with.” I added. At this, Volny grinned and nodded. “They certainly make it a lot more…” I paused as my mind flipped through memories of being ‘hauled in’ myself—hauled into the ocean, that is—and then ‘fished’ back out by my laughing comrades shortly before drowning or being eaten alive. “Interesting.” I decided on.
Our talk faded away as the hiking grew more steep and darkness closed in around our ears like sheets of indigo. For a time, I thought we might smother in the heat and closeness, but the air began to cool as the last rays of light faded from the horizon until I began to wish for a winter cloak. At last, we reached the ridge Bart had indicated and halted.
Stars peered down at us suspiciously, wondering what we could want in these foreign tides and the moon glowed full and white as a guard over our operations. The bird calls we had heard all day changed with darkened sky. Some of the birds dropped out of the chorus altogether and others took their place, their cries deeper and almost human.
We set up camp on the ridge, our tents pitched against a backing of mountain rock, and Bart posted several of his men as guards for the first watch. No one wanted to be eaten by monsters in their sleep. I exchanged small talk with Savadra and the others for a short time while we ate a cold supper from our knapsacks. After that, there wasn’t much else to do, so we all crawled into our two-man tents for some sleep.
Bart must have noticed my conversing with Volny earlier in the day, for he assigned the young soldier to share my tent and, to be honest, I was glad for it; I might have been stuck with Gern otherwise. Who knows what he might have done to me in my sleep? As it was, Craigin ended up sharing his tent, and could rest with ease since Gern wouldn’t dare do anything to the captain.
Sleep was a fruitless endeavor that night. The wild calls of the night birds, coupled with the outlandish noise of the wind and the strange creatures inhabiting Daarimere kept up a steady chorus. Volny and I lay silent and still in our tent, not speaking to one another out of politeness just in case the other happened to be asleep. But I think we both knew that each other was wide awake.
The screams started when the last ember of the nearest campfire died.