Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

Published by

Airborn Press


   Home      Issue #10 Abducted!
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EPISODE 10
Abducted


 

The Cat regarded the sleeping camp in the growing dawn light. All was calm. The sentries were alert, but the only sounds to be heard were the rustle of tiny creatures of the forest and the calls of nesting birds. At least, the calls of birds to the east side of camp.

The Cat listened further, extending her senses out into the forest, using the small minds that sparked there.

My Lord. Wake up.

Theobald was instantly alert. Yes, Sword?

Enemy scout.

The Lord's hand went to her hilt, and he slipped to his feet. Where? How many?

I believe there is only one. He just circled the camp. Now he is moving off…quicker, now. Yes, he is ahorse. You cannot catch him. No, do not call the camp, yet. There is no immediate danger, and we do not want him alarmed. He thinks he got away unseen. We have time.

Thank you, Sword. This will take careful thought. Laying her aside, the Lord dressed rapidly, then called for his squire.

"Kyler, run to every tent. The orders are to prepare for battle, but no alarums. Assemble in half a candle. Lanzo and Dobovar and three scouts to me, now."

"Yes, my Lord." The lad disappeared.

He worked at his armour until the two other leaders appeared, fastening buckles as they came.

"What is the situation, my Lord?"

"We have been scouted. He circled the camp and rode away. I will send our scouts out, but I suspect an enemy force within striking distance. The question is where to meet them."

The Captain glanced around. "We are not ready, here."

"I agree. If they have not advanced too far, an ambush in the pass would be best."

Lanzo frowned. "Do you think they'll fall for that?"

Theobald shrugged. "Since their scout will tell them that we're all asleep in bed, why not? And if they don't fall for an ambush, it's still the best place to hold them off." He glanced at each one, receiving no argument.

"Right, then. I'll send the scouts; you two order up your men. Lanzo, we'll be sending the archers out immediately, so they can get to their positions on the canyon walls before they are seen."

"Right, my Lord."

"Aye, my Lord."

The two spun to their duties, and Theobald turned to the scouts. As soon as they were away, he looked around the camp.

I think we need a ride around, my Lord.

Do you think we should?

I can sense much further if we get outside the camp. All these minds buzzing around distract me.

Very well. "Kyler…ah, there you are. Help me with this breastplate, and then go and arm yourself while I ride about a bit."

He took the reins the squire was holding and, once his armour was secure, vaulted into the saddle.

To the west first, my Lord. In case they are coming faster than we hoped.

Right. Let me know if you sense anyone.

I can feel both our forward scouts. Aelfgard is quite Sensitive, so I can see what he sees. There is nothing in front of him, so I will push him ahead faster. The other scout sees nothing, either. Aelfgard is through the pass.

Hold! To the left! Now he has him. There is another scout approaching. Aelfgard will let him get past, and take him from behind. There. He is down. Well done, Aelfgard.

How close is the enemy?

Aelfgard wants to go further, but I sense a large group nearby.

Any idea of numbers?

Do numbers matter, my Lord?

No, I suppose it is too late for that.

Then I will bring the scouts back.

Do so.

The Cat sent an urge to return to both receptive minds, and could feel the two woodsmen coming closer.

As soon as Theobald saw them, he motioned them to follow him back to camp. The third scout was already waiting.

"No movement to the rear, my Lord."

"Good." He turned to Lanzo. "Take your men out. Impress on them once again the need for absolute silence until they hear the signal."

"Aye, my Lord. They will be still as mice."

Theobald turned his horse to where the assembling force could see him clearly. Are we ready to fight, Sword?

Always ready, my Lord.

Her Hand turned to regard the horsemen behind him. A goodly squad. We will show these Maridons why they couldn't conquer us.

Yet there is a Maridon king on the throne of Inderjorne.

True, but he promises to rule for the good of all, and the Inderjornese Council has equal status to his own advisors.

And yet these Maridon lords resort to clandestine attacks, in spite of the truce.

They think that if they come before the king with a "boundary problem" solved, he will let them keep the land they gain. I am here to show them their mistake.

I'm sure you will, my Lord.

With your help, Sword, we cannot fail.

The Cat felt a deep glow of satisfaction. This was the way she had always imagined it: the Sword and her Hand, doing battle for the side of the Right, arrayed against the forces of Evil. Honour and Glory were sure to follow!

What do you think of the mercenaries?

The Cat flicked her awareness at the ranks of foot-soldiers formed up to their left. They are well armed. Usually a good sign. She opened her mind to their emotions. They are in good spirits, as well.

Wry humour touched the Lord's emotions. Not that one.

She focused on Sarcag, the slouching man they had spoken to the night before. I hope he cheers up for the fight.

The Lord shrugged. Different people react differently. We'll see how he does in the battle. If we can.

He raised his voice.

"You all know the plan of battle. I'm sorry we did not get a chance to drill, but I depend on you all to follow orders. We assume their lancers will lead, their footsoldiers behind. We let the horsemen through, then attack from behind while our archers bottle the infantry up in the pass. Once the lancers are dispatched, we will attack the infantry and run them down in the crowded pass. Are you ready?"

There was a muted growl from the men.

"Right, then. Lancers, follow me. Captain Dobovar, follow at speed.

He waved the scouts ahead again, and trotted his horse out of camp, the lancers following in pairs behind.

They are forming up well.

Good. Keep track of the mercenaries. They are the least known of our forces.

I will do so.

The battle formed quickly, and even followed the plan. There were only thirty lancers in the Maridon party. A shower of arrows and a charge from behind cut their force in half before they even got into the battle. Once they turned to face the Inderjornese, the mercenaries charged from their rear, using the forest to good advantage, further decimating the enemy horse.

The enemy foot is breaking out.

"Trumpeter. Sound the attack!"

As arranged, half the lancers turned and charged the pass, Theobald at their front. The infantry sprinted alongside as best they could, then spread up among the boulders, pressing any enemy who fled back into the fray.  A part of her mind noticed a big soldier jogging along nearby. Sarcag.

Well, he seems to have gained some enthusiasm.

She did not distract her Hand with the information, but tried to keep the man within her notice.

Theobald pulled up for a breather before the pass. The opposing footsoldiers had attempted a rough shield wall, but many of them were too busy hiding under their shields from the rain of arrows sweeping down from the rocks.

"An undisciplined lot."

We shall have to show them discipline, my Lord.

"That we will."

He raised his hand, dropped it. The lancers charged.

The Maridon front held for a brief, punishing melée then crumbled, and the horses were among them.

Tossing his broken spear aside, Theobald drew his Sword and she screamed her battle cry, plunging deep into the minds of the enemy as her army drove into their midst. The destrier rose on his hind legs, pawing the air, to descend with crushing hooves on the men before him. Staring upward at their nemesis, they tried to scramble out of the way, but the press of battle gripped them like tongs holding hot steel to the anvil. As the horses hooves fell the Sword followed, cleaving steel and flesh with equal ease.

Then disaster struck. As the mount reared again, a second horse, mortally wounded, jerked sideways, striking Lord Theobald's horse off balance, and he fell over backwards into the press of his own troops.

There was a moment's disorientation and the Cat found herself flung to the ground. Her mind was on instant alert for her Hand. The bond between them would allow him to find her quickly.

He was not there.

She sent a stronger call, but still there was no response.

My Lord. Where are you? She screamed the call with all the power of her mind. Several horsemen nearby shook their heads as if in pain, but of Lord Theobald there was no sign.

Then her hilt was grasped. In relief, she sent a quick thought through the palm. Where did you get to?

It was not Theobald. The man who had picked her up crouched behind the dead horse, pawing at something on the ground. The body of Lord Theobald. He lay, half under the dead animal, his helmet off, blood seeping from the side of his mouth.

The soldier scrabbled at the Lord's hip, and she realized that he was cutting her scabbard loose from her Hand's belt. Then he jammed her into her sheath and turned and sprinted away from the battle.

Just what is going on, here? She sent a tendril of thought into the man's mind to sense what he was doing. There was no response; he was too intent on his purpose.

Glancing around furtively, the soldier dashed into a nearby copse. He selected a dense gorse bush and shoved her deep into its heart. Then he looked around, seemed satisfied that he could recognize the place, and ran back to the battle. She pushed her search further in his mind. There was no doubt it was Sarcag, the dour mercenary they had noticed.

I think I have been abducted. That's why he was staying near us. He was aware of me, knew who I am. Looking for an opportunity.

A deep pang of regret shot through her. And Lord Theobald is gone. I suspect he must be dead.

I wonder what happens now? Surely this soldier does not think to keep me. A plain mercenary with a Sword of my value? No, he will probably try to sell me.

Sell me? Me, a Magic Sword, created by the great Smith-Magician Hunflaed to achieve honour and glory in the defence of my realm? To be sold like a piece of common steel?

We'll just have to see about that.

She settled in to learn her surroundings. Without the eyes of a human nearby, everything was a blur. She could sense the life forms of the trees and bushes and all the small animals living there. Those that hadn't run away from the noise of battle.

Noise of battle. Now, that's interesting. I don't hear any battle. I guess it's over. I hope we won.

The afternoon dragged on, darkness fell, and still no one came. Just my luck and he got killed in the battle, too. Then where am I? Now that I think about it, just where am I? The Cat sent her senses out further, picking up the souls of small animals going about their business all around her, hunter and prey living and dying in the ages-old pavanne of nature.

A Natural History lesson is all very well, but where is that soldier?

The answer finally came. As the night was greying towards dawn a furtive step approached, accompanied by a muttered curse. She recognized the mind again. It was the mercenary, pawing through the bushes in an attempt at quiet search.

She considered her options. Go with this bumbler, or stay and take the chance that she would never be found? There didnt seem to be much choice. She sent an invitation to him, and he stumbled towards her, diving into the gorse with more curses, and tearing her free with a muted shout of joy.

“Dagnabbed sword…knew it was somewheres here…worth a penny, now…damned sergeant…too sharp an eye for his own good…”

The mercenary stumbled through the woods, muttering and cursing to himself. Since the story was fresh in his mind, the Cat was able to piece together that he had been seen leaving the battle and the sergeant had docked his pay and thrown him out of the troop for cowardice. She chuckled to herself at his quandary: coward or thief? Actually not much of a choice, considering theyd probably give him a good thrashing as well if they found out hed stolen from their own dead.

So here she was, stuck with a thief. Some chance for honour here.

A sudden thought struck her. Do I have to Join with him? The thought chilled her. Hanflaed said the Sword had no choice. No, wait a minute. He also said that the choosing of a Hand was a matter of great deliberation. Who is going to deliberate? Not this mercenary, thats for sure. Well, Im looking around. Who is going to choose? Theres only the thief and me. The thief is out of it. That leaves me. Arent I glad I was so well educated in logic? I get to choose. And I choose not to choose him. There. Glad thats settled. Ill just let him carry me until I find a better prospect. It goes against all my training, but I think its the right thing to do.

For the rest of the brief night she pondered, going over all the lessons she could remember. And always she returned to the same fact. She was supposed to act with honour. The chances of this man acting in an honourable fashion didnt look good. So she would withhold her Powers, and only help him if he acted properly. Joining was out of the question.

By the time they crossed the border into Marida, full dawn was breaking. The noises of the awakening woods and the rustle of the rising breeze were a great help to the thief as he snuck past the border post. If the guards had been Inderjornese she would have thought of drawing their attention, but these soldiers were all dark-haired and olive-skinned.

Once through the border, the mercenarys mood lightened. He returned to the road and strode along, a few coins jingling in his pouch. The Cat could see images of a town nearby, a shack he could rent for next to nothing, and the prospect of a months leisure and cheap ale.

Wonderful. Well, at least Im not far from the border. No problem getting back, once Im rid of this clown.

The next disaster happened too quickly to react any other way.

There were hoofbeats on the trail behind them. The mercenary slowed, stepped to the side of the road, his hand on her hilt.

Two horses.  She fed him the information automatically, and he noted it without question.

They came around the corner at a trot, pulling down to a walk when they saw him. Neither man was particularly large or strong looking, but there was an air about them…

Ware, soldier.

His heartbeat rose, and he stepped back further, glancing around for shelter.

That large tree…

The two horses paced forwards, their riders checking the surroundings.

Looking for friends or witnesses.

Hello, friend.” The darker of the two drew rein. “Thats a pretty sword you have there.”

The mercenary grinned. “Sure is. Lookinto buy one?”

The man scratched his bearded cheek. “Well, now, Im right glad to hear youd like to get rid of it.

Watch the other one.

The partner had ridden a bit farther and turned his horse, hemming the mercenary against the brush.

The mercenary gave ground. “For the right price, friend.”

“Well, now, I was sorta thinkinthat if youre a friend, you might wanta show your friendship by givinit to me for free.”

Now you know. Draw.

She was in the mercenarys hand before either of them expected it. He crouched, and she automatically began to prepare him for battle. There were no further preliminaries. Both riders drew their swords and pushed forward, hacking downward at the same time.

Theyll get in each others way. Left, under the horses nose.

The mercenary got the idea and slipped away from one man, punching the horse of the other in the jaw as he ducked through. The horse shied up, hooves pawing, but the mercenary made it to the tree. The enemy crowded in again, but the Cat was everywhere, jabbing at the horses with her point and with her mind, parrying, feeding energy to his arm, feeling the heady thrill of perfect coordination with a trained swordsman. Their opponents, barely able to control their frightened horses, were easy prey.

In a moment it was all over. One of the attackers lay bleeding on the trail and the other was galloping away, the free horse following.

The mercenary stood watching until his breathing calmed. Then he wiped his Sword clean and sheathed her again. After a brief glance around for danger, he stooped over the body and did a quick search.

Rewarded by a clinking purse and a jewel-handled dagger, he was soon swinging merrily along the trail, images of a better inn and more expensive companionship overflowing from his mind.

The Sword rode his hip easily as her euphoria faded. An uncomfortable feeling began to creep over her. This felt familiar. Too familiar. Something was wrong.

Then it came to her. The close connection, the flowing thoughts. The wonderful coordination in battle…

…His plans of debauchery…

…I am Joined to an idiot!
 
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