Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

Published by

Airborn Press


   Home      Issue #21 Bad Luck Part 1
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Episode 21

If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck  Part I

 

Published by

Airborn Press

 

 

The Cat lay in the moldering lap of her former Hand as his bones slowly, ever so slowly, rotted into the needles and moss at the foot of the tree. It took a long time. The snows came and went, the spring rains and the heat of summer leached all the soft matter away, and finally there was nothing left but a skeleton, encased in the rusted remnants of chainmail.

And a Sword.

The Cat thought longingly of the troop of bandits that had passed nearby in the first month of her stay. At the time, she had let them pass. She had paid enough dues with the lower classes, and she wasn’t that desperate. Then the years continued to the point where she lost track of how many, and no one else came. The trail must have washed out, or the trade routes changed, or some incomprehensible human silliness, and here she was. She wished anyone, Anyone! would come by. She wouldn’t be fussy.

Now she was that desperate.

She listened to the animal minds that passed by, and amused herself by practising their skills. Mostly the skills of hiding and seeming to be small, inconspicuous and of no importance. Not an especially useful talent for a Sword, but she had time.

Years of it.

The worst part had been when Hanflaed the Smith died. She had not been aware of how much of her world was permeated by the sense of his presence until suddenly one day it began to weaken. A few days later, it was gone, snuffed out like a candle that gutters and dies, leaving you in complete darkness.

She had fled, screaming down the paths of her mind, circling the echoes of his faded presence, chasing her memories of him, but they fled before her. She turned outward and drove every sentient being from her until the forest animals fled in terror. For a year or more she let none near her, tearing at the minds of those who approached with slashing claws of rage and terror.

And then, because magic Swords gain their sustenance from the emotions of the beings around them and because she had driven every being away, she sank into a deep, deep slumber that lasted for… she knew not how long. Finally she came back to life, to realize that the small animals were once again living their busy little lives nearby, and the emotions of their tiny pains and lusts and terrors were seeping into her soul and rejuvenating her.

So she awoke and looked around and found that life was going on, in spite of the void that leaned over her shoulder, swooping in at unheralded intervals, but mostly leaving her alone and fading with time.

For a few years she had entertained herself by bemoaning the bad luck that had dropped her here, under a tree by a forgotten forest trail, with a Hand who slowly bled to death. And was now gradually disappearing into the mulch.

Then she gave herself a shake and forgot about it. There really wasn’t much point. At least she was under a thick tree, almost out of the wet. The harness rotted away but her sheath, imbued with her magic, stayed clean and firm.

Finally, around about the time she was contemplating…well, doing some more contemplating, she heard a sound.

It wasn’t actually a sound, because it was in her mind.

There is someone coming. An open mind!

It was far off, but the driving emotion spread throughout the forest like a shout. The emotion was hunger.

Great. I get a new Hand and he dies of starvation before he gets to me. Correction: before she gets to me.

The person was closer now, and definitely female. And young. And probably Inderjornese, if she was that clear-minded.

Great. Things are looking up.

From years of observing the animals, the Cat knew the location of every berry patch and food source within a bowshot.

What do you know? All that watching and listening might come in handy.

Once the girl got close enough, it was a simple matter to drop a hint into her receptive mind.

Berries. Big, juicy berries. Under the tree. Yes, this one over here. Yes, this tree. I know berries don’t usually grow under spruce trees. Trust me. That’s right. Around this side. Just push that limb away, and…

Oh.

A weak scream escaped cracked lips.

Drat. Forgot about the skeleton. Easy, there, girl. It’s been a long time since he could do any harm. PLEASE don’t run away.

Fortunately (or not, as the case may be) the girl was too weak to run. She stumbled a few steps and collapsed, sobbing weakly.

All right. We’re going to have to do this more subtly. Berries. Real ones this time, all right? Down the hill, along the stream. See that? A stream. Yes, and you’re thirsty, aren’t you? Very, very thirsty. Think about that nice, cool water. Then you’ll see the ber…

Right. Well, don’t eat too fast. I gather that’s not good for an empty stomach.

The Cat waited with barely held anxiety as the girl stripped the bushes, drank deeply from the stream, then went back for more berries. When most of the berries were gone and her stomach began to protest, she stood up and stared around.

Over here. Come on for another look. You know you want to. There’s nothing to be afraid of. By the Forge, I wish I dared actually talk to you, but I know better. Come to think of it, in most cases you’d be right to run. A skeleton and a voice inside your head? I’d be scared, too. I’ll just keep sending images and emotions, gentle hints. Sooner or later you’ll come round. All right. How about some more food? There’s a rhubarb plant just over there. Don’t eat too much, it’s not that good for a weak stomach.

By the time the girl’s hunger was sated it was approaching dark, and she began to look around, the desire for a safe place to sleep radiating from her.

Safety. That’s a good idea. What if you had a weapon? Wouldn’t that be safer? Come on, girl, have some courage. You could tell he was a soldier. Sword. Think Sword.

Sure enough, the girl began looking over towards the Cat’s tree, a speculative feeling creeping through her thoughts. With a final look around, she pulled the sweeping boughs aside and slipped forward, steeling herself to look.

Not really much to see, is there? But what’s that? Look down. Isn’t there something gleaming there? Yes! A big, red, jewel on the hilt of that Sword. That’s it. Reach in. Nothing’s going to hurt you.

Once the small, warm hand closed on her scabbard, the Cat sent a subtle flush of pleasure to the receptive mind. She pushed a bit here, hinted a bit there, and with a jerk, the girl tore the rotted straps and backed out into the light, the Sword in her hand.

Well done, kid. What do you think? Am I not the prettiest thing you’ve seen in a while?

“What a beauty!”

She talks! I was beginning to wonder.

The girl – what was her name? It was always right near the surface – Janel. Right. Janel held the Sword up, admiring the shiny bronze hilt, running her finger over the embedded ruby. On a sudden impulse, she fitted her hand to the haft.

The Cat molded her grip to fit the smaller hand and sent another surge of pleasure into the waiting mind.

Oh, we’re going to have such fun together.

“Great. A sword. Here I am, starving to death in the forest with nobody around to threaten me, and I find a sword. Marvelous luck. Just about what I’ve come to expect recently.”

But night is coming. Under the tree would be a good place…no, I guess not. Girls and skeletons don’t really go together, I suppose. Especially in the dark. Well, I know the area, and there’s some sort of rock overhang the larger animals shelter under when it’s raining. Right over…yes, that’s it. Try that way. You never know what you’re going to find. Well, surprise, surprise. A dry spot. How lucky!

Janel stumbled under the overhang, a feeling of satisfaction creeping into her thoughts. She pried into the corners, peered out from inside, and generally gave the place a good going-over.

Very careful. I like that. So how did someone as cautious as you end up lost and starving on an abandoned trail? Of course, a similar comment could be made of me. Luck, I guess. But here we are together. Maybe I should follow your example.

She scanned the immediate area as well, using the girl’s senses and her own special ones.

Oh. Now that’s interesting. See that rock over there? Yes, that one. What does that look like? Very good. It’s flint…hey, carefully, now. You don’t want to scratch my blade. But that was a great spark. Hmm. The girl obviously knows how to take care of herself.

She definitely did. Not only did she make a fire with quick efficiency, she chose good, long-burning wood and hid the flame behind a pile of rocks so its brightness would not shine out through the gathering dark.

Now, how about food? A nice, plump rabbit for breakfast?

The image made the girl’s mouth water, and she began hunting for something to make a snare with. A cord from her belt sufficed, and the Cat nudged her out to where a rabbit run cut across the clearing in front of the tree.

Too bad. I’ve sort of become attached to this rabbit family. However, her need is greater…

Soon the girl was sitting, the Sword in that familiar position – one with rather unpleasant memories, considering how long she had lain that way recently – across her lap, her feet warmed by an economically small fire and her stomach full of berries. She leaned back against the rock, and the Cat could feel the weariness wash over her.

Rest, little one. I will keep watch.

Janel didn’t need much persuasion. She slept, and the Sword began a much more pleasant waiting.