RAZE - a weekly fantasy web serial

RAZE – 066 – Ready Enough

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That night I dreamed of the dead man and Weckar’s knife. She’d drained him of some essence, the way she’d once drained my sister Punam. Tomorrow, there would be a knife-wind.

She’d called on me to bury him. Did the precise spot matter? The manner of burial? Did I? Surely the manner in which he’d been killed did. And me—she’d asked de Trastorces to bring me specifically because, as Mire Storm had told me, she could see through me by the blood we shared, blood she’d stolen. Long ago, those of us in the Hand of the Knife had determined that she shared all our blood. We were special to her. Sacrosanct. So was it I she needed, or just one of the Hand, and Ecena had decided?

I would say I awoke at dawn, but I barely slept. The air inside the tent, the breath and sweat of others sleeping and tossing and grunting away in the night, closed around me. I suffocated, and lay, and waited. At the first stirring of light I arose and dressed and made my way out into the camp. At least if I boiled water and broke out the biscuits, the others would be well-disposed to me that day. But I had other notions than to curry the warm regard of my compatriots.

As expected, Ecena addressed us while we broke our fast, but I had already eaten and prepared myself for duty. As expected, she told us to be ready to march. She told us to be ready for spear-work. When she called out for volunteers for special duties, I was before her, waiting, kitted, and washed.

“Forward scouts.” She eyed me and then looked beyond, to the others. We were often called upon to scout ahead, so Weckar could see.

I set my jaw as Ecena ignored me. “Sir.”

“I see you, il-Lonireil.”

“Sir, I volunteer.”

“I said, I see you.” She glowered and pointed past. “You. Tash. And you, Fahil.” She detailed their scouting assignment. She chose two more, and two more. I was passed over.

“Sir, I—”

“Il-Lonireil, close your mouth. I see you. I chose otherwise.” Ecena jabbed a finger at me. “Sit down. You’re back of the line, like always, where I can watch you.”

“So you’ll be standing at the back, like always?” my mouth said. I cursed inside. My dog-milking mouth.

She stared for a moment, uncomprehending, and I dared to hope I’d spoken Serehvani. I had not.

Ahdan leapt up. “Is that how you talk to an officer?” The whispers and rustling and sounds of knives on tin plates went quiet around us. The only sound was the breeze in the grass, the crackle of the fire.

“No, sir,” I answered quickly.

“But you did.” Ahdan took a step toward me, but Ecena caught his arm.

“Corporal, be still. Conscript, I’ve changed my mind. You won’t be back of the line. You’ll stay with the gear. You look ready enough. Get to packing. The whole camp. Get it moved up behind us when we march out.”

There was nothing to say. My words had already rightly fucked me for the day. I ground my teeth and snapped out an affirmative, and bundled off to pack as fast as I could.

 

* * *

 

Only half the tents were down when the wind picked up. I stopped and wiped sweat from my brow, enjoying the breeze before I remembered what it was and set to shivering in sudden chill. I dashed through the half-packed camp, leaping bundles of poles and mounds of canvas, and ran to the southeast edge. There, looking down the hill and up the next, the bright white columns of Lonireilans stood, waiting. Their banners hung limp above their heads, but as I watched they stirred and then streamed as the wind reached them.

At their head, a single white figure stood ahead of the rest, above them, on a rock or platform. Once I’d seen her stand on the backs of two men on their hands and knees. Weckar’s arms were wide, and as I stared I felt the strange sensation of watching myself.

Somewhere beyond, on the hills further south, was the rebel camp. There, the winds were concentrated. There, scouts from our company had identified targets, were watching. They were in danger, but the knife wind would cut apart anyone who did not hide.

That is, unless the two figures I’d seen, almost a year ago in Onappa-ka, were there. The two Skertah wizards, or spirits, or whatever they were, who had challenged and beaten back Weckar’s power. If they were in the camp—they would fight Weckar again, and the day would fall to simple folk like me and Estevo and The Tash. To spears and blood.

Tash was ahead, scouting where I should have been. Where I should be with her.

The wizards and rebels were ahead, and there my only chance to escape the humiliation and drudgery that Ecena subjected me to.

I looked back at the camp. The fire smoldered, doused but steaming. Refuse littered the trampled grass. Latrines needed filling, tents needed packing, gear stowing. If it didn’t get done, I’d be punished. Flogged at best, jailed or even executed for dereliction at worst.

But I’d failed in my duties before. I’d been punished for success, but it was a punishment worth having. There was little lower I could reach, but the heights of success towered above me, waiting to be scaled.

I threw aside my twine and pen-knife and took up my brigandine coat. I seized a spear and shield. My sword, the one I’d taken as spoils, had been taken from me long ago. I found a short bow and quiver of arrows amongst the spare gear, and a long, curved knife, and all of these I secured on my person.

If I ran down the hill, I could skirt the valley and run straight east, around the other Lonireilans. Once I’d gone a league or so, I could swing south and flank the rebel village. I could find the Skertah wizards and take their heads and present them to Weckar and de Trastorces, and save the day.

They’d never see me coming.


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