Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

Published by

Airborn Press


   Home      Issue #24 Bad Luck Part 4
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Episode 24

If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck  Part IV

 

“I sure wish I could read what it says.” For the umpteenth time along their journey to the castle, Janel opened the scrap of paper and stared at the words scrawled there.

If you keep messing with it, the charcoal will smudge and it won’t say anything. As it happens, it says, “Find her a place, Mum.” Or something to that effect. I don’t read Maridon that well. At least it doesn’t say, “Clean her up for me,” or something worse. I didn’t like the way he looked at you, either, or the emotions that surfaced. I’ve never seen a mind like that, and I doubt if he’s a nice person. If I have to, I’ll talk to you directly to warn you. This indirect communication is very awkward, and not effective at all.

Wait a moment. What’s that? Danger, girl, keep sharp.

The sharp feeling of worry that the Sword pressed into her mind brought Janel’s senses to the alert.

Voices. Arguing. Just off the road, there. Shall we take a less obvious path?

She focused Janel’s attention on a slim opening in the bushes to the right. The girl slipped in, hand on her hilt, and began to move silently through the forest. Every sense alert as well, the Cat held the aura of unimportance around them, blending their presence with the noise of wind rustling the leaves.

A horse.

They skirted the animal, a fine steed with ornate trappings, and moved on. Soon they were close enough that the Sword’s extended senses could hear the speech. It wasn’t friendly.

“I tell you, my Lord, I’m not a spy!”

“You’re a stranger.”

“I’m sure you get strangers coming through once in a while. This is a trade road.”

“And you’re a foreigner.”

“My lord, this road leads to the border of Inderjorne. How else would I get here?”

“I’ll ask the questions, spy. Why are you skulking around my demesne?”

Uh oh. I think we know who this is.

“I was travelling the road, my Lord. Honestly, out in the open. I have a message for Lord Ness.”

“What is the message?”

“The message is for Lord Ness, my Lord, and I think he would like it kept private.”

“If Lord Ness is conspiring with our enemies, he has no right to any privacy.”

“It’s not a conspiracy.”

“You certainly aren’t cooperative, are you? Are you dangerous? Since you won’t tell me, I suppose I’ll have to make that decision on my own. Drop your weapons belt.”

“I don’t have a weapon, my lord. Only my dagger.”

“See what I mean? Nothing but arguments.” The scrape of a sword being drawn. The false playfulness dropped from his voice. “Now drop the belt.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“That’s better. Now we can get down to business.”

Janel, now flat on her stomach, peeked from under a thick bush. The lord from last night was standing, the point of his sword threatening a young lad who stared back at him with little fear, but the Cat could feel washes of anger radiating from him. The former flatness in the lord’s emotion was gone, replaced by a sickening combination of lust, gloating, and rage.

The lord suddenly lunged, nicking the boy’s ear. “Now it gets serious. Do you see the position you have put me in?”

“I have put you in?” He refused to clasp the injury, allowing the blood to pour down over his shoulder.

“Yes. Much though I am a peaceful man, you are forcing me to use unpleasant means to ensure the safety of my demesne. Tell me the message.”

“As I stated before, it is the business of Lord Ness and no one else. When I have delivered it, I will ask him if I am allowed to tell you.”

Another lunge, the other ear. “That’s not good enough, and you know it.” The lord started to circle, forcing his victim to turn to face him.

He’s going to kill him. This is just a game.

The girl suddenly gasped. “He’s going to kill him. The bastard is just playing games!”

“Now, before I have to slice a bit of more-necessary flesh from your bones, tell me.”

The lad merely shrugged, but this time he crouched slightly, as if ready to move.

“Think you’re quick enough, do you? Turn your back to run and I’ll hamstring you.”

“Who said I was thinking of running?”

“Oho! A brave one. I think this is going to be a very enjoyable afternoon.” The lord crouched as well, his sword weaving a pattern in front of his victim’s eyes.

But before he could attack, Janel moved. Lunging free of the bushes, she strode forward. “Oh, no it isn’t. You just put your sword away and leave this lad alone.”

The lord’s sword swung towards her, then back to his victim. After a tense moment, he relaxed and laughed. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise! It looks like I’m going to get what I was hoping for, but much earlier.”

He regarded her, though his eye strayed back to the lad, who had taken the opportunity to clasp his ears, staunching the flow of blood. “Too bad, really. I was looking forward to a longer relationship.” He shrugged. “We’ll just have to make sure it’s…intense…shall we?” He swung his sword towards her and stepped forward. “Now, come here, my pretty little ‘Jornese slut, and let’s have a good look at you.”

“Run. I’ll keep him occupied. Run away, girl. You don’t know what he’s like.”

“I know very well what he’s like, but he’s not going to get away with it here.”

Both the lord and the injured man stared at her.

I am the wind in the trees. I am not here at all. Look at her face. Look at her hair. Focus.

Finally Lord Juan shook his head. “Unless I’m missing something, I have an untutored fourteen-year old peasant ‘Jornese girl telling me what to do.” He turned to the young man. “Is that what you heard?”

“I can’t help but agree with her side of the argument, my Lord. It sounds rather to my advantage.”

The pleasant look was wiped from the lord’s face by a snarl that backed the young man even more than the sudden sweep of his sword. “I’m the only one with the advantage, here, and you’re soon going to have reason to regret it.”

The girl spoke as if the lord had not. “Young man, I believe you are Inderjornese.”

“I am.”

“Then you are aware of the Rule of Benefit to All?”

“The Rule…yes.”

“I think it applies here. Don’t you?”

“Oh, most definitely. By all means. Go ahead.” One hand left his ear, and made a courtly gesture towards his attacker.

“You must be certain.”

“Oh, I’m certain, I am very certain.”

“Fine. It must be done, then.” Janel turned to Lord Juan and bowed formally. “My Lord, there is a rule in Inderjorne.”

“Whatever are you talking about, girl?”

My sentiments as well. What is this, a court of law?

“It is a rule to be applied in rare circumstances, but my friend and I concur that this is one of those times.”

“Are you mad, girl? Do you think to fool me with this charade?” His sword tip swung towards her.

“It is important that you understand, because the rule is being applied to you.” She took a half-step forward, staring into his eyes earnestly. “My people do not kill willingly, except in battle. However, sometimes there is a person whose actions create a situation where the good of the people must override that reluctance. All must agree that the person’s continued life is such a threat to the good of all that his death is the only solution. My friend and I, as the only ones here to judge, have made that decision. You are therefore condemned to die. I am sorry to be the one to tell you, my Lord, but there it is.”

Oh, that rule. The Smith taught me that one. He was very insistent that I learn it, as I recall. Now I can see why.

“What sort of babble are you going on about?”

“It is a rule that all Inderjornese schoolchildren learn, my Lord. It is one of the tenets of our people.”

“Well, one of the tenets of me is that the man with the sword takes what he likes. And in this case, I am beginning to get very interested in taking you. Let me see. Shall I kill the boy first, so I can enjoy you at my leisure? Or maybe I should let him watch. Would you like to watch, spy?”

“I am not a spy, and I find your suggestion abhorrent.”

“Ah, the naivitée of youth. It will be a learning experience for you, then. Of course, there’s always the problem of you running away. Perhaps I could hamstring you first…”

He is beginning to enjoy himself. I think this man is truly evil.

Janel looked at the young man. “Do you agree?”

“There was never any doubt in my mind.”

Nor in mine. This is an execution. Not a duel. It must be quick.

Without pause, the girl drew. The Cat cleared her sheath in a swooping turn, driving her edge towards the sword that the lord ineffectually pushed in front of himself, his mouth gaping in surprise. The Sword changed the course of her rebound into a lunge, straight to the heart. The lord stood a moment, then toppled to the ground.

The two Inderjornese stood in silence, staring at the body.

“Where did that sword come from?”

Janel shook her head as if to remove the sight from her mind. “I…I had it hidden in my dress.”

He frowned but did not respond, glancing around the clearing. “We are too close to the road, with a dead lord of the wrong race.”

“What can we do?” She, too, looked around helplessly.

He began taking off his shirt. “Get his horse. It’s over there in the trees.”

Obediently, she began to sheath the Sword.

“No, not until it’s clean. We’ll do that later. Get the horse.”

When she brought the horse, he had her hold it still while he stooped, heaved the body up on his shoulders, then transferred it, legs first, then the rest, up into the saddle.

An impressive display of strength. The Cat saw that the girl was too distracted to notice. Moving into her mind, she could see the image of the point sliding into the unprotected breast then out again, the blood following in a gush. It played over and over, and Janel’s breath began to quicken, her hands to shake. The horse, sensitive to this display, began to shift its hooves restlessly.

The Cat reached in and gently closed off the thought, directing the girl’s attention to the horse.

“Good.” The lad wrapped the reins around the lord’s left fist, then stuck his right arm down through them on the left side of the horse’s neck so the reins held him, his body twisted, slouching forward over the withers of his mount. The lad stepped back, but the body remained there.

“Let the horse go. The pressure on the reins will keep it here for a while, but soon it’ll get bored and go home. If the body falls off some time between here and there, no problem.”

He looked around. “I think we’ll have to leave his sword here. Too bad. Anybody with good tracking skills will be able to figure out who was here.”

The girl roused from her thoughts. “I can fix that.”

Glad of a job to do, she moved into the forest, found a bough and swept the ground thoroughly but gently, removing the traces of their tracks.

He watched her, then kicked some dirt over the blood on the ground and brushed grass and leaves around the area. “A good trick. Where did you learn that?”

She blushed. “When my father’s luck was really bad, we used to get our food by…unusual means.”

“Ah.” He nodded, belting on his dagger again. “Fair enough. Now let’s get out of here. You can wipe your sword on some moss once we’re a good distance away, and then we’ll cut back to the road. I’ll clean up then, as well. With any luck at all, and that sword thrust coming from below, they will think he was killed while on his horse by a man on the ground.”

Her attention was drawn to the blood staining his well-muscled torso. She wrenched her thoughts back. “Where are we going?”

“I have a message to deliver, and Lord Ness is the best protection we can find in this realm.”

“I suppose.”

“Unless you’d rather go back to your family?”

“Not much sense in that. He’d be no protection at all. No, it looks like you’re stuck with me. Let’s go.”

With a final glance back at the horse, standing with its owner’s body slumped over its neck, the two slipped into the woods and crept away.