Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Episode Eleven

Horatch drummed on the trees for hours. He tapped his distress call while the sun set, while the Hands milled about their village, and while his candidate languished in their woven prison. He drummed, and he prayed to the Great Ones, and he listened through his toes for a response.
When the bushes in the distance moved, when the trees rattled, Horatch began his descent from the canopy. He kept his body deep inside the bark ruts when he could, darted from one to the other down the long trunk and leapt from one fan-shaped frond to the next in a half circuit around the Hands village. Once he clung to the tree nearest the girl's prison, Horatch stopped and listened again.
Vibrations in the jungle. The thumping of sharp hooves against the vines. Horatch heard their message and answered with a command. He lowered his body close to the bark, bent all eight legs and then sprang from the tree in a high arc.
He landed on the dirt, not quite to the woven wall. He'd be too vulnerable to a boot here, to the blunt cudgels if someone caught him now. Rather than give cover, the night made his white carapace glow, and he skittered as fast as he could toward the bottom edge of the reed dome.
The shadows there hid him well enough. He could make out the moaning of the girl's sobs through the packed dirt. The village around her had grown quiet with the night, and as far as Horatch could see, they'd only left one guard to keep her. He skirted around the dome in the opposite direction from where the man squatted in the dirt, leaning on his spear and snoring like a warthog.
"Milyi?" Horatch tried to catch the girl's attention, to be heard over her sniffles and the guard's open-mouthed breathing. The shadow ended, and he followed the edge of it up over the curved side of the basket. "Milyi?"
The moaning stopped. The girl inside the prison shifted, moved her body closer to the woven wall, and whispered. "Horatch?"
"Are you hurt?"
"Only bruised. You have to get away from here."
"In a moment." He tapped a directive against the reeds, rattling them just as a breeze might. Three pigs waited just inside the jungle. He heard their hooves stamp and the grunt of their answer. Yes. We will come.
First he needed to warn Milyi. The front of her cage had been torn. The gap was small, but just enough bigger than his abdomen. He checked the guard's snores, found them deep and steady, and then bolted down the bright front of the prison and into the hole. The girl squeaked to see him.
"Milyi," Horatch leapt to the hard floor, landed where one misplaced foot could end him. When had he grown to trust her? "Child, it is time to leave this place. Will you come?"
"How?" She scooted forward, still tentative but more beaten down than frightened. "They won't let me go."
"Leave that to me." He flexed for another jump, then remembered to ask first. "You'll need to carry me, Milyi. May I?"
Horatch didn't wait for her to change her mind. He launched toward her shoulder, clung to the soft fabric of her shirt and felt the girl cringe despite her willingness. "Are you ready, Milyi? We're going to have to move fast."
"I can't get out."
"Just wait a  moment." Horatch tightened his toes' grip, lowered his body, and tapped the signal on her little body. Not loudly enough, and no answer came from the jungle. "Move me closer to the wall, Milyi. To the front."
When she shifted again, the guard's breathing stilled. Horatch tensed, waited while the man also changed position. He'd be awake when they left, anyway. The whole village would, but Horatch wanted them dealing with his distraction, not their escape. He reached his pedipalps forward and held them just above the reeds.
The man's snoring began swiftly enough. Still Horatch waited, let it deepen. When the boars moved, he wanted chaos. He wanted enough panic to draw the man away, to drive them all to action long enough that he and Milyi might not be noticed. Finally, when the girl's arm trembled from waiting, Horatch felt his way to the wall and drummed.
The reeds rattled. The girl held her breath. Horatch listened, and felt the first rumble of hooves in the distance. The girl couldn't hear it, not yet. She shifted her weight from foot to foot and whispered in the darkness.
"How will we.--"
"Shhh." Horatch hugged her and waited.
The pigs reached the edge of the village and a chorus of shouting broke the silence. The guard snorted and moved. One of the boars squealed from somewhere across the clearing, and the Hands awoke. Footfalls echoed into the jungle and the guard, moved by the screaming of his people, ran toward the chaos.
Horatch tapped again and the remaining boar, the one waiting just beyond the nearby vines, broke from cover. It ran silently, where it's partners squealed their fury to the villagers. It moved fast, a silent strike, and Horatch barely had time to warn the girl.
"Be ready to run."
She tensed beneath him. The boar slammed against the side of the basket, and Milyi screamed too. No matter, the other pigs were tearing through tents and campfires. They were leading her people on away while this one tore at the woven prison with its stout tusks. The flash of the white bones came and went. The reeds tore into shreds around the attack. The boar's huge face poked through and vanished and poked through again.
It was only when the girl screamed the third time, when she scooted against the remaining wall, that he remembered she hadn't known the plan. Didn't know that the boar was not attacking. But there was no time to soothe her. The wall hung in shreds now, the basket itself tilted up on one side, and they were exposed to the night and a village that wouldn't be busy forever.
"Run, Milyi." Horatch clung to her and prayed she'd recover fast enough to act. He prayed she had the fortitude, the heart he'd hoped for. "Run now!"
Her legs shook a little when she stood, but they grew stronger with each step. The boar fled to join the others, left them once they'd been freed, and Milyi stared into the black jungle and hesitated.
"Where will we go?"
"Away," Horatch ground his chelicerae together in impatience. The village moved around them, all around them, and the Hands would not let her go easily if they had time to interfere. "Isn't that enough, Milyi?"
She turned her head one way and then the next, stumbled one ragged step in no real direction. Was it enough? They Hands had beaten her, imprisoned her, dragged her through the jungle like meat, but they were her people. He was asking her to give them up, to leave her history and its terror of him behind and follow him into the unknown.

Horatch flexed his legs and readied for another leap. Before he had to, his girl turned. She faced the fronds and the jungle like the boars had faced her village, at his command. He tightened his toes and held on, and Milyi bolted straight into the trees.

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