Island of the Kahts~Part Ten

Fiction By Kay J Fields // 3/11/2013

The rest of our company must have had trouble sleeping also, for everyone was immediately crawling from their tents, weapons in hand. I held my axe at my side, my grip firm and comfortable on the handle, the heavy blade sloping down to point like an accusing finger at the jungle beyond our ridge. Bart came up beside me and for the first time I noticed he did not carry a weapon. Yet he was of the king’s archers. Would he not fight? He didn’t look so much concerned as intense, listening.

“What is it?” I asked in a whisper.

“Kahts.” He didn’t bother to lower his voice. “They are some distance away and hunting. We have no reason to fear them tonight.” And with that he seemed ready to return to that effort of sleeping which had so far proved a hopeless task to the rest of us.

Another shrill cry pierced the air. I shuddered. Savadra and Fern stood some ways off, just before their little tent. Savadra’s hand was clenched on her sword hilt, but she hadn’t drawn the blade. Fern’s own weapon, thick and menacing, glinted in the dim light of the moon. There’s something just not right about a girl with a club.

“You are sure?” Craigin asked his fellow captain.

Captain Bartholomew didn’t answer at first. He was hesitant. The cries died away into silence, but were replaced by a new sound. More unearthly sounds scoured the quiet air, but they seemed to carry a tone of victory. Bart nodded at last. He seemed more relaxed than he had been all day. “Yes. They are feasting now.”

*Feasting on what?* The question came quickly and unbidden to mind. I was certain we were all thinking it, but no one spoke a word. Volny and I turned back to our tents. What else were we to do? Savadra and Fern had already disappeared into theirs.

It was as I reached to close the flaps that I noticed Bart talking with his men. They seemed to be arguing, but their voices were too low for me to make out what they were saying. I noticed that all my companions had returned to bed, but many of the soldiers stood about the camp, facing the discussion.

“Something the matter?” Volny asked from behind. He was sitting upright and watching me.

He startled me and I dropped the flap and turned. “No. Nothing.” I crouched down, sitting awkwardly and drew a blanket over my shoulders, curling my legs beneath me and laying the rest of the blanket over my lap. “Goodnight.”

He snorted a laugh. “Yeah, like that will happen now.”

“You heard Bart.” I said, attempting to reassure him. “He said the Kahts won’t bother us tonight and he should know. He’s been here before. He’s seen them, hasn’t he?”

Volny lay on his side, facing away from me and toward the wall of the tent. “Sure. He’s been here before. The captain certainly knows better than the rest of us.”

I sat for another moment. Volny’s tone bothered me. His breathing settled a few minutes later an I knew that, despite the excitement, he was slumbering.

I got up and peered through the flap again. Bart stood alone on the edge of the ridge. Curiously, as I watched, he sank into a sitting position and, though I couldn’t be sure because what I saw of him was more silhouette than image, it looked as if he had covered his face with his hands. Between Volny’s strange tone when speaking about the captain, and the argument that had taken place, this now added to a pile of strange activities heaped upon our already strange adventure. I crawled out of the tent, careful not to disturb Volny partially because I wanted him to get some sleep and partially because I didn’t want him to know I was leaving.

I walked up to and sat down beside Bart. I had guessed right and his bowed shoulders straightened as I approached. He looked over at me. “Something troubles you?”

I shook my head and lied for the second time that night. “No. I’m allergic to sleep.”

Bart chuckled but the sound seemed forced. Though he faced me, he wouldn’t look me in the eye. “Two of my men are still on guard; you have nothing to be concerned about.” He gestured to the spaces his soldiers occupied around our camp.

“Probably not.” I said. I wasn’t sure how much to say, if I was to say anything at all. Bart’s expression was anxious. He might have been smiling, but his jaw was clenched. “Could you tell me about the first time you came here? King Greythan said no one had seen the monsters since the island was abandoned, but you act like you’ve met them.”

“I had wondered why you did not ask more questions of the creatures when we spoke in my home. I am sorry that the king kept information from you.” Bart said. “His Majesty is nothing if not a politician. As best as I can figure, he must have decided that the more mysterious the monster, the more appeal it would hold for you.” His expression cleared with effort, soon becoming careless and calm. He even smiled. “Four years ago I met the beasts face to face.” he started.

He told his tale long into the dark hours. He had come to the island as part of a mission to gather things which had been left behind when the Kahts first attacked and had traveled over, around, and even through the great mountainous region in the center in order to do so. Most of the men that accompanied us had been with him on that expedition as well, so it was an obvious choice to have them along.

“Was Volny with you?” I asked out of curiosity.

“He was. Not much more than a boy then, but he came with his elder brother and he carried supplies for us.” He shook his head with a smile I couldn’t put a name to. Sardonic? Wry? “He’s grown a lot since then.”

“And you saw the Kahts?”

“Saw them, heard them, and fought them, yes.”

“Fought?”

“We came upon the Kahts quite by accident, and we hadn’t intended to find them at all. I think the creatures were as surprised to see us as we were them. They were giant feline creatures, like lions but their fur was patterned the same as any domestic cat. There were striped ones and black ones and orange and grey and white ones. We came across them in the thick of the jungle, and I think they felt cornered. They attacked without warning or sound.” He paused before adding: “That’s why you needn’t fear their screams in the distance. They only scream when they are sure of their prey or when they have already caught it. It is their silence you should fear, for that is when they are hunting and at their most dangerous.”

“So that’s why you were nervous all day, but kind of relaxed when we heard them tonight.” I said thoughtfully.

“Yes. There are small deer-like animals the Kahts love to prey on. I think they caught one of those. In any case, on that day we were hard-pressed to defend ourselves from the beasts. When so much as a claw scraped on of the men, they would fall into a stupor and become quite easy targets. Though we outnumbered the beasts, we were soon surrounded.”

“How did you get out of there?” Because obviously, unless I was conversing with a ghost, they had somehow scraped their way out—including the then-boy Volny.

“Arrows.” Bart answered. “I use three bows, Tory. Long, recurve, cross. The longbow and the crossbow were useless in close quarters, but I had just enough space to fire the recurve.”

Astounded, I asked “You fought off a pack of vicious Kahts single-handedly?”

He shook his head no. “I only shot once and felled one of the beasts. It was the first of theirs to fall and they seemed bewildered and frightened. They all ran off. The few of us left standing figured out that our companions were not dead, as we had feared, but merely knocked out cold. We could not make it back to camp carrying them, but we found a…we managed to make it to a cave in the mountain and hid out there until our company regained its strength. Afterwards, we made that cave our camp for the rest of our stay on the island, for it was spacious enough to fight inside and had a narrow opening to prevent our attackers flooding in.”

“So why aren’t we going to that cave instead of the old dwellings?”

Bart looked over my shoulder into the night. Whether he was looking at the guard beyond us or the mountain looming above us, I couldn’t tell. “I can’t be sure it does not hold as many dangers.”

It was a strange way to respond. “What do you mean?”

Before he could respond there came a scuffling noise from behind me and I turned sharply about.

A soldier had come upon us and I found to my great shock that the tip of a blade was placed at my back. “What are you doing?!” I fairly shouted.

“Is the boy bothering you, captain?” the soldier’s voice asked.

“Han, put your weapon away.” Bart reprimanded calmly. “Tory and I were merely talking. He is our friend, you remember.”

The soldier, Han, withdrew his blade. It was a long sword, I saw now. I rubbed my back where the sword had pinched my skin. “What about, my captain?”

Bart stared at his man for a long moment. “About our encounter with the Kahts last time.”

“That is all?”

Bart chuckled. The joviality seemed again to be forced. “Of course.” His laugh faded and was replaced by a frown. “Do you forget yourself, Han? Torinnir is our friend and ally and you’d be wise to remember it. You may retire now. I’ll have one of the others take your place on guard.” His tone was brusque and he waved the soldier away. Han stood over us a second or two, then sheathed his sword and walked off.

“I am sorry about that, Tory.” Bart said after his man had gone. “Our mission here has put Han on edge. I’ll be glad when it is over.”

I shrugged off the threatening encounter. “Me too.”

“You had better try to get some sleep. The sun will be up before you know it.”

“Right.” I retired to the tent Volny and I shared. Thankfully, my shout didn’t seem to have woken him or anyone else. I bedded down and curled up. But my mind was racing. Things were not adding up, I thought as I struggled to calm myself and rest. Something was most definitely wrong.

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