Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

Published by

Airborn Press


   Home      Issue #22 Bad Luck Part 2
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EPISODE 22

If It Wasn’t For Bad Luck…Part 2

As the night waned, the Cat developed her plans.

First thing is to figure out how to get out of here. Correction. First thing is to feed this poor thing breakfast. She has a rabbit. I felt it get caught early this morning. I wonder if she can kill it.

It turned out Janel had no trouble killing the rabbit, snapping its neck with quick efficiency. She was also quite creative, using the Cat’s razor-sharp tip to skin and gut the animal without once endangering her fingers. In very little time the rabbit was roasting over the fire, and the sizzling sound brought saliva to the girl’s mouth. Even though it was not cooked enough and too hot to eat the girl tore into it anyway.

I guess the berries don’t carry you very far, do they? Oh. You want more berries? You just ate a whole rabbit. Well, I suppose you were hungry. Right over there on the roots of that blown-down tree. A nice, ripe, raspberry patch.

Glad you’re enjoying yourself. Don’t talk much, do you? I’d sure like to know what brought you here. Maybe a nudge…

The Cat radiated interested listening, willing the girl to talk. It didn’t work. She only began to look around as if someone were watching her.

Have it your own way. Probably got nothing to say, anyway.

She left an open feeling, gently inviting communication, no more.

I wonder what she’s going to do now? On up the trail, or back down?

“Now what am I going to do?” Janel looked left, then right. “Should I keep going? I have no idea where this trail goes.” She sighed. “But if I go back…” She shook her head and glanced over at the tree where the skeleton lay. “He obviously made the wrong choice. Is there a message for me in that?”

His bad choices were all made long before he started up this trail. Don’t worry about it.

“Oh, well. I suppose that was a long time ago. Things have probably changed. I suppose if I was smart I’d try to find out how he was killed, in case there’s some kind of danger around here.” She shuddered. “I don’t think so.”

He died from stupidity. His commander’s, not his own. Not likely to be a problem for you.

She looked down at the Sword. “And what am I going to do with this thing? I’m sure it’s worth a fortune, but it’s not much good to me when I’m starving to death.”

And that shows how much you know.

“But I’m not starving at the moment, and that ruby is very pretty. I suppose I can lug it for a while.”

Don’t sound so enthused. I have my uses.

The girl jumped to her feet. “Well, no sense sitting around talking to myself.” She grabbed a stick and spread the coals from the fire. Then she went to the creek, made a pouch with her dress, and ran a handful of water back to douse the fire. After she had done this a few times, she ran her bare hand through the damp ashes, shook it clean, and went back to the stream to wash. Then she straightened her back, slung the Sword across her shoulder, and started back down the trail.

Interesting. I guess it’s back to Merida, then. Too bad. For a moment, there, I thought I was going to make it home. Oh, well. Better than what I’ve been doing for the past ten years. Or was it fifteen? Twenty? Who’s counting. At this point, any kind of movement is progress. I’ll just do my best to keep her alive until somebody comes along in the right direction.

The Cat spread her senses around them, feeling for any danger, any food, anything that might help. She gradually slipped this information into Janel’s mind, as she would do for a Hand but with more subtlety. She heightened the girl’s hearing and sense of smell, drew her attention to everything useful within sight. At this point, that meant everything edible.

For the rest of the morning they made little progress, but as the girl foraged her energy increased, and soon she was swinging down the trail, her stomach full, her mood light. The Cat slipped into her mind, reading the images that floated past. There seemed to be a man. Must be a relative.

Father. That’s it. Her father. She certainly doesn’t like him much. No, I take that back. She loves him, but he drives her to…well, to things like running away and almost starving to death. Hmm. Some father he must be. I gather we’re going back, so I suppose I’ll find out.

They spent the night in a cosy bower surrounded by a large bramble bush. The Cat was able to point Janel to another rabbit run, so breakfast the following morning was very nourishing.

The girl tossed a bone aside, wiped her hands on the moss, and picked up the Sword. “You know, I’m beginning to be happy I picked you up. My luck has certainly improved.”

Not exactly luck, Miss.

“Of course you’re rather useful as well. I’d never have got to the centre of this bramble bush without you.”

Cutting is one of my many skills. As you might expect.

“I just hope I don’t get in a fight. I have no idea what to do with a sword.”

This was easy, because the idea was already in her mind. With a tiny push in the right direction, the girl drew. She held the Sword up to the dim sunshine, watching the ripple of light along the shiny steel. Then, her eyes still on the blade, she swung it back and made a slow pass, then another: left, right, then left again.

The Cat strengthened her wrist, fed energy to her arm.

Don’t watch the Sword. Watch the target.

“It feels so light! I can’t believe it.”

She tried again, and the Cat directed her muscles to make the moves correctly, at the same time sending a small trickle of pleasure to her mind.

Janel responded with enthusiasm, swinging more surely, now, attacking a nearby bush.

Control, control. Accuracy is the key. Aim for something. Right. Take that branch off. Now that one.

“Hey, this is fun. I’m a sword fighter! Whee!” She danced down the trail, hacking right and left, whooping. The Cat directed her feet into the proper patterns, keeping her from tripping on the roots and rocks.

With a final lunge, which ended with the Sword buried several inches into a large birch, the girl stopped.

What are you going to do now?

Janel tugged on the hilt, but there was no movement.

Careful, now. Not side-to-side! I doubt if you’re strong enough to break me, but even so. There are rules of consideration, you know. That’s right. Up and down. Up, down, and keep pulling. Well done. Don’t…Yes, well, I was going to say don’t pull too hard at the last.”

Janel got up, rubbing her bruised behind with her free hand. “Well. Learned something, there.”

Good for you. Now what?

The girl looked at the Sword again, sheathed her and tossed her across one shoulder again. “Time to move on. I don’t remember how long it took to get this far, but going downhill with a full stomach should be about three times as fast as going up with an empty one. I ought to be home in a couple of days, at this rate.”

That thought sobered her, and she strode down the trail, thoughts of her father and the hovel they lived in darkening her mind. As she walked, she held the Sword in front of her and looked at her. Ideas began to form.

She shouldered the weapon again. “No. He’ll just sell it and waste the money. This is my good luck, not his. He is not getting his hands on my sword.”

Now it’s ‘my sword,’ is it? We’ll have to see. Obviously her father isn’t going to be worth much…

 

* * *

 

During the next two days they worked their way down out of the hills and began to move through scattered farms and tiny villages. The first town they came to Janel hesitated, looking at the Sword. “What am I going to do about you, now? Everyone is going to wonder what a girl is doing with something this valuable, and some big man will just walk up and take you away from me.”

Not if I can help it.

The girl grasped the Sword’s hilt. “Just let him try. I’ll draw you out and slash him to bits!” She tried a few cuts, and both she and the Cat were pleased at how easily the skill came to her.

“Well, I’m just going to have to brazen it out.” She strode ahead, her head held high.

The Cat gently intruded into her mind with an image of herself, a short girl with ragged hair in a tattered homespun dress and hand-made sandals, striding through the town with a Sword over her shoulder like she owned the whole realm.

I have learned something from the creeping creatures of the forest. Perhaps we should be subtle.

“I suppose I don’t really want to draw attention to myself.” She returned to her normal walk, but kept her eyes straight ahead. “As if anyone will pass by without noticing a sword over my shoulder.”

You might be surprised. The Cat recalled her recent long years of lessons. I am…a broom. Yes, a simple broom made of twigs and straw. I am brown and yellow, and rather worn. My Mistress is a cleaning maid, going to her work. She is tired and walks with sagging shoulders. Sagging shoulders, Mistress…that’s better.

They proceded along the busy street. Suddenly the girl gave a start and her heart raced.

A man was striding towards them. A large man, slightly overweight, but he radiated the confidence of one used to being obeyed.

Janel grasped the Sword tighter, and her pace quickened.

Easy, girl. Head down, shoulders stooped. Nerves of steel. Remember how the little creatures survive. She sent an image of a rabbit crouching as a fox slunk by.

 The girl’s nerves were taut as bowstrings, but she held her pose and slowed her step. The Cat sent waves of disinterest into the man’s dull mind. He stared straight ahead and strode past. Janel continued, her shoulders twitching as if she expected an arrow, but no shout broke the silence of the street. They walked on. They made it from one end of the village to the other and not one person noticed the Sword. In fact, it seemed doubtful that anyone noticed either of them at all.

When they reached the forest at the edge of the fields, the girl’s shoulders relaxed and the tension ran out of her. Knees weak, she found a log at the roadside and sank onto it with a sigh.

“I don’t understand. He walked right by me! I’m sure that’s Lord Jacio’s bailiff, and he must know me. Dad worked on the castle drawbridge last year, and I took him his lunch every day. And the man walked by me as if I wasn’t even there! I don’t understand it. If he’d noticed me with this sword, he’d have taken it away from me. If I argued, he’d have hauled me up before the lord for theft. But he didn’t. He must have something else on his mind, I guess. Good luck for me.

He did have something else on his mind. A drudge with a broom. A very interesting experiment. I will think on this.

Soon the girl regained her energy and marched on, her step swinging. The sun burned through the high clouds and it became pleasantly warm. At several places where the road was deserted, she drew the Sword and ran through some drills.

Actually, she drew me and waved me around a whole lot. I’d hardly call them drills. They help, nonetheless…

Until they reached the outskirts of the next village. It was a small place, perched on a ledge above a rugged stream, with rocky fields stretching along the valley floor in both directions. Scrubby trees tried bravely to cover the barren hillsides above, but boulders pushed through anyway. It became evident from the rush of memories that this was Janel’s home. She slowed to a trudge, the Sword forgotten in her hand. Reluctance shouted from every muscle of her body.

It can’t be that bad, girl. Think of your new-found luck.

Then she drew up, straightened her back. “This is no good. I can’t just go walking in there with this treasure.” She frowned at the Sword, then gazed around. “I’m going to have to hide you.”

A sensible idea, much though I don’t like it. I’m not enthused about getting forgotten for another decade or three.

Janel scanned the area again, concealing the Sword as best she could in her skirt. There was no one in sight. In fact, except for smoke rising from two hovels, the place looked deserted.

On the other hand, the kind of person who is likely to take me away from this girl is not much to my liking either. Back into hiding I go.

Now that she had decided on a course of action, Janel strode ahead confidently, cutting off the road by a little-used trail up into the rocks. Soon she left this trace as well, although she moved with the confidence of one sure of her path. Rounding a corner, she ducked into a wide niche that opened further in into a semi-cave, fingers of light filtering in through the bushes that lined the top. The dead leaves and sticks of an animal’s abandoned lair were piled against the far wall, and the girl scooped a trough in them. Before she laid the Cat down, she regarded her in the dim light. “You’re my good luck, Sword. Don’t you go anywhere.” She kissed the ruby, hesitated a moment, then buried the Sword under the leaves, stood hurriedly and left.

Hmm. Seems a bond has formed, whether I meant to or not. Well, that helps, I suppose. She’s not likely to forget me, anyway. By the Forge, she’d better come back.

…soon?

Darkness seeped into the niche, and the Sword began to wait again.

 

 

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