Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

Published by

Airborn Press


   Home      Issue #23 Bad Luck Part 3
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Episode 23 
If It Wasn't for Bad Luck Part III

I hope she doesn’t take too long. The Cat could feel the sunlight fade from the bushes that hid the opening of the cave. Not more than a few centuries, at least. What if the girl forgets…no, she’s not going to forget me. I’m her good luck…

…what if she gets killed, or kidnapped? There are a hundred things that could happen to an unprotected girl. She shouldn’t have left me. The Sword and the Hand are never separated.

…Of course, she’s not my Hand, is she? She’s not my Hand, she’s my only chance of getting out of this cave, that’s what she is. She’d better come back.

There was a scrabbling on the trail, and a figure blocked the opening.

She’s back!

…Wait a moment. Why didn’t I sense her coming?

The Cat skimmed the surface of the girl’s mind. Sure enough, there was a barrier there. A thin, weak barrier, but a definite defence. As the girl had come to her secret spot, she had been trying not to be seen, and she had unconsciously used the Cat’s hiding technique.

Well, well, well. What a surprise.

“It’s all right, Lucky. He’s in the tavern. I peeked in. It’s getting dark, and I’ll just slip you in and under my bed.”

The Cat plucked a sharp image from the girl’s mind. Better than here. If that hovel doesn’t burn down. She actually lives there?

Of course there was no answer, but a flush of shame burned on the girl’s cheek as she pictured her home.

Oh. Sorry. Not thinking. It’s not as if the whole thing is your choice, is it?

The girl sat on the pile of leaves and sticks, cradling the Sword in her arms, and thought for a long time.

“I was right to leave, you know. I just picked the wrong time. I have to plan more carefully, save up some money, pick my opportunity. Now that I have you, Lucky, I’ve got a much better chance of making it.”

Hmm. To where, I wonder?

There seemed to be no destination in the girl’s mind.

Perhaps to the west would be good. More blond heads there. Easier to fit in.

“I took what they called the Ghost Warrior Trail because I knew everyone would be too afraid to follow. I guess now I know why.” She looked at the Sword. “There really was a battle, wasn’t there? I thought it was just a story.” She shrugged. “I didn’t see any ghosts, anyway.”

She regarded the Sword again. “You’re not a ghost, are you?”

Right. A ghost Sword. Of what possible use would a ghost sword be?

“Maybe you are. Maybe that’s why people don’t see you. Because you’re not really here at all. Maybe I lost my mind, starving in the forest, and imagined you.”

And maybe King Alcudo got a blister on his butt and wants you to scratch it for him. Don’t be ridiculous, girl. I’ve got a mind to just open up and talk to you. I am much more interesting than a ghost, for the Smith’s sake!

“And here I am, sitting in a cave talking to myself. Wonderful. I’ll be burned at the stake for a witch before spring.”

Do you think we could set this little self-study aside until later, when I’m in a better hiding place?

She jumped to her feet. “Waste of time.” She shook the Sword. “You feel real to me. Let’s go home.”

What a good idea. Sensible girl.

“Come on, Lucky. We’ll pretend you’re a bundle of firewood.” She began gathering sticks. “In fact, we’ll put you in a bundle of firewood.”

Not exactly appropriate to my station, but a good idea.

Soon the girl was trotting merrily down the path, a bundle of sticks on her shoulder, a well-hidden Sword among them. She walked straight into the town and mounted the only cross-street where it wound up through the huts towards the hill. There, at the end of the path between two larger boulders was what passed for a home. It consisted only of poles laid over the rocks to support a poorly-thatched roof, and a wall of weathered boards to hold a rickety pair of planks that probably were called a door.

“Home, sweet home.” She threw her shoulder against the door and gazed around at the mess. “The cleaning staff has obviously been on holiday.”

With a sigh, she propped the Sword against the shaky table and began to tidy up.

 Um…hiding me? Have we forgotten so soon?

Jane gathered a double handful of fowl bones and tossed them into the street. As she did so, she glanced down the hill, stiffened and slipped back inside, closing the door softly. She glanced at the Sword, then at a curtain hanging across one corner of the room. With another look towards the door, she snatched up the Sword and slipped her through the curtain and under a pile of rags on the floor.

“You’ll be safe, there.”

Strange idea of safety, but we’ll take what we can get.

Her senses tuned to the girl’s by the days of travel, the Cat was easily able to pick up what was happening. Jane passed her hands through her hair, slapped her skirt and blouse into order and had time to pick up the tinderbox from the rudimentary hearth when the door slammed open.

The man who entered was obviously a relative. He had the same blond hair, round face and upturned nose. On a man, it looked ridiculous. He took in the scene, hesitated only a moment.

“Jane! Why isn’t the fire lit? Come on, girl. We have an important visitor. Look smart, now.” He turned to the door. “Come in, my Lord. The girl is just getting the place in  order.

The Cat was intrigued by the absolute lack of emotion in the man who shouldered his way through the doorway. He was of Maridon descent, with olive skin and dark hair and eyes. Well-dressed, even overdressed, if styles hadn’t changed much in the last decade. But it was his mind that interested the Sword. It was as opaque as most Maridons, only showing the most basic emotions. Of which there were almost none. No interest, no curiosity, no fear. Just a basic awareness and alertness for danger, entering a strange place.

And then his eye caught Jane, shrinking into the shadow of the hearth. There was an instant surge of very unpleasant interest.

I don’t think you want to draw the attention of this one, girl. Remember the rabbit.

With the Cat’s help, Jane’s whole being radiated a complete lack of presence, and the lord’s attention faded. He turned to her father.

“So what is this information you have for me?”

“Please sit down, Lord Juan. I’ll have the girl put a kettle on.”

“This is not a social occasion.” The flinty eyes bored into him. “Tell me.”

“Well, it’s this way, my Lord. I don’t have the information just yet…” He raised a hand to forestall any protest. “But I do have a way of getting it. I was just wondering, so to speak, what that sort of information would be worth to someone of your level.”

Again the flat stare. “Have you considered your duty to do all you can to help your leige lord in his endeavours?”

“Of course, of course, my Lord. I understand my duty perfectly. It’s just that I would be placing myself in some considerable discomfort, maybe even danger, to get this information, and I wanted to be sure that it would be…worth the effort, so to speak. To you, I mean. To you, my Lord.” The man’s face lit up with an ingratiating smile. “No sense wasting the work, if you weren’t interested, my Lord.”

Jane was busy all this while, bustling as quietly as she could, lighting the fire, filling the kettle from a bucket by the door, trying to find a pair of clean cups in case of need. As she worked, she and the Sword tried to keep the shroud of unimportance covering her: a mouse hiding from the owl.

It didn’t work.

The lord’s eyes strayed past her, then returned and fixed on her face. “Who’s the girl?”

“Only my daughter, my Lord. A fine girl. Have you got the kettle on, Jane?”

She bobbed her head once.

“Hmm. My mother sometimes takes on local girls. Can she sew?”

“Of course, my Lord. A fine even stitch. Look at this.” He caught up the hem of her skirt and dragged it into the light from the fire. The girl desperately tried to cover her legs without snatching the cloth from his grasp.

“Hmm.” The lord reached out, grasped her chin and wrenched her around to face him. “She might do. How old is she?”

“Fourteen, my Lord.”

“I…my mother prefers them a bit younger. Easier to train, you understand.”

“Oh, she’s a very trainable girl, my Lord. Very agreeable.”

“Yes, I can see that. I’ll tell you what.” He took a piece of parchment from a pouch at his belt and tore a corner off. He picked up a stick of charcoal from the fire, jotted a few words, and folded the paper. “You take this to my mother, and she’ll see you right.”

He pressed the message into the girl’s hand, running his fingers up her arm as he did so. Then he turned to her father, towering over him.

“And we’ll see the value of this information you say you can get. Then I’ll tell you if you’re worth it.” He slapped a few small coins on the table.

“Fine, my Lord. Perfect, my Lord. I’ll do exactly as you say, my Lord.” He bowed, tugging the girl forward. “Show his Lordship a proper curtsey, girl.”

She did as she was bid, using the motion to slide behind him.

The lord nodded once, curtly, and his attention suddenly left them completely, his emotions returning to their former flatness. He turned out the door without another word and was gone into the night.

There was a long silence. The father looked down at his daughter, his face beaming. “Well, my girl. I won’t ask where you’ve been, though I’ve been hard pressed to cope without you. It’ll be better now, with you placed at the castle and me working for the lord.” He threw an arm across her shoulders and squeezed her. “Our luck has changed, my dear.”

“Um…Dad?”

“Yes, my dear?”

“I…I’m not so sure.”

“What do you mean? This will be the making of me, girl. You, too, if you play the game right.”

“I…I don’t like the way he looked at me.”

The affable smile disappeared. “You listen to me, my girl. Nobody likes the way that lot looks at us. They’re Maridons and they’re nobility, and they think we’re part of the mud under their feet. If they think of us at all. We’re just tools to be used and thrown away if we stop being useful. So if one of them wants to give us something, we take it, as much as we can get. Do you understand?”

“I understand, Dad. I just don’t like him.”

“Well, you’ll not be seeing him that much. You’ll be working for Lady Megana, who I hear isn’t a bad sort, as Maridons go.” He sat down in the only sturdy chair in the place and stretched his hands to the fire. “No, you’ll go to the castle tomorrow, my girl, and you’ll show that letter to the guards, and they’ll let you see Lady Megana, and your fortune is made.”

She sighed. “Yes, Dad. I’ll go. But I still don’t like him.”

He sighed as well, glanced around and lowered his voice. “Neither do I, my dear, but when luck comes your way, you don’t complain about the details. Take my word, this is a wonderful day for us. Now take this coin and skip down to the butcher’s and get me a chop for my supper.” He reconsidered. “Get two. You did well today. Welcome home.”

 

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