axel-and-alice.com

 
Rolling by Peter Jerrim
 
CHAPTER 9

They left Rodji then. He could hear them shuffling round the camp fire, rousing its embers and putting on a pot for supper. Presently Mikos returned. He bandaged the chest wound and salved the bites and the accessible cuts and scratches. He looked into Rodji's eyes but said nothing. Rodji looked away. Mikos left him and returned to the fire.

'I'm thirsty. Give me the mead,' someone demanded. It sounded like Rors.

'Here,' answered Tibald. A water-skin sloshed as it was thrown and caught. 'Leave some for me.'

'You'll be lucky,' said Flint.As the night passed the talk grew loud and fierce. Rodji strained to gain from the slurred speech a clue about their intentions. But all he heard was smutty jokes and unfamiliar references to evil beings. They went on and on, laughing, cursing, quarrelling about trivial points of manhood, not once referring to Rodji or his fate.

Then one of them said, 'Think I'll give Rodji some of this mead; snot fair t'let 'im go thirsty when we're gutsing ourselves.' Rodji heard the speaker lurch closer.

'Here...h-help me up, youse.' Someone staggered over to help him climb onto the stone block on which Rodji was bound. After several attempts he succeeded. He stood, reeling above Rodji, fumbling. Then a stream of urine played down on Rodji, saturating his shirt and trousers and splashing in his face. He closed his eyes and mouth tightly, retching in disgust. Tibald lost balance and fell off backwards onto the turf. He lay there, stunned for a minute, before he was helped back to the fire.

'Good one, Tibald,' Stereos said. 'You've always been an h-h-imaginative bastard, haven't you?'

As Rodji lay spitting and snorting the urine from his face, his enemies continued their drinking until, one by one, they collapsed into a stupor. As dawn touched the sky, the clearing was quiet at last. Rodji lay, stiff, bloody and stinking on the stone.

He lay there all morning while the Accusers slept. Eventually the heat reached them. They woke in a foul temper. No one came near Rodji. They left their baggage and walked off with their horses through the oaks. Rodji heard the thud of hooves on the other side of the thicket and then nothing but silence.

 


 

In the heat of midday he sank into delirium. He could see the river where it burst from under the escarpment. Its water billowed in the shimmering light. He staggered toward it to drink but, when he reached it, the water dropped out of reach. He crossed badlands after rain...but every new pool evaporated before he could drink. He plunged into phantom ponds but found no relief.

Once he woke to stare up at the Day Light. Its heat was intense. In his torment he frantically desired to move. He strained against the ropes until they pressed deep weals into him. He jerked his head repeatedly, thudding it hard on the rock. Images of the Day Light multiplied and mixed with images of water. The ghosts of the previous night glared down at him screaming--Die! Die! Die!

The Accusers returned at dusk. Berg ran over to Rodji to make sure he was still alive. Satisfied, he returned to the others who were preparing for the evening meal. The smell of cooking profoundly disturbed Rodji.

'Shouldn't we give him some water?' asked Mikos.

'Not yet,' replied Stereos. 'If he's thirsty he'll be easier to handle. Leave him a bit longer. And we won't be drinking so much tonight, either. We've got to prepare for the morning.' There was general consent and they went about their business. When Rodji concentrated long enough to think, he deduced that they must have spent the day hunting. But they had done more than that for he could hear them talking about getting something from the Copper People.

But thirst overcame him again. He cried as he had the day before, 'Give me a drink!'

'Soon, soon,' Berg answered. 'By the Accuser, he's impatient. You'll get all you need in the morning. Wait till then.'

'I can't,' cried Rodji.

Stereos came to the stone and smiled as he murmured between his teeth. 'If you speak again without being spoken to I'll break your arm, you bastard.'

 


 

He was swimming near the bottom of a lake. He was running out of air. It was dark and he could not tell up from down. He thought he might float to the surface, or perhaps he would stay in the soft water and drown. Then his dream broke. He was awake on the stone. Something was clammed over his mouth and he could not breathe.

A whisper in his ear--'Don't make a sound or we're both dead.' It was Mikos. Rodji feebly shook his head but the hand remained over his mouth. The whisper continued, 'I'm getting you out of here, but you'll have to be quiet. Ready?'

Mikos took his hand away and pressed a waterskin to Rodji's lips. Rodji drank as quietly as he could, then waited for Mikos to untie him. Mikos rubbed Rodji's legs. Some feeling returned to them and Rodji realised he was already unbound. Mikos helped him to sit. Pain shot through his back and legs and he could not prevent a groan. He lay down again and Mikos rolled him over until he balanced on the edge of the stone. Then Mikos lifted him onto his back and walked toward the sleeping Accusers.

Stereos started up groggily. 'Who's that?' he demanded.

Mikos stepped out of the gleam of the Night Light and into the shadow of the tree under which the Accusers were sleeping. Rodji felt himself begin to slip but Mikos' arm grasped him firmly. 'Shut up, Stereos. It's just me, Mikos--got to have a drink.' Stereos did not look any closer but lay down and went back to sleep.

Mikos picked his way through the sleepers, toward a gap in the tight circle of trees. It was the only way out of the clearing. They bumped along in the blackness until they reached the thicket wall. Mikos followed it round to the entrance and slipped through. Without pausing he continued up the slope to the head of the valley. Then he turned left and plunged downhill alongside a stream until he came to a copse of aspens and limes.

Mikos stumbled between the trees. He came to a pile of boulders looming like a hill in the centre of the copse. He lowered Rodji to the ground and scuffled round in the dark. Rodji was aware of being pulled under a curtain of creeper and dragged along a tunnel; then there was a narrow path which opened into a hollow about three measures across. The shadow of thick foliage overhung the rock walls. It was warm out of the night breeze.

Rodji sat gingerly before rolling over to rest. Mikos lay flat on his back; he had exhausted his strength travelling so quickly.

'They haven't brought the dogs so they won't find us here,' he said.

After a long time Rodji said, 'How did you find this place?'

'While we were looking for you the last time, just before we found you, we split up to comb the whole area a day's journey back from the beaches. I was by myself, returning to the sacred circle. I was tired and decided to go straight back to camp and not search any more when I hear Old Gengah's voice, right inside my head.' He paused and rolled off his back to look at Rodji. 'I know you won't believe this...'

'I do. I do.'

'You see, ever since I found your empty glass jar--you know, the one you thought you'd hidden so well under the long house--well... I've sometimes heard Old Gengah's voice; not when I want to, not when I expect it... Anyway, I was riding up past this wood here and he said, "Go in," just like that. So I got down off my horse and led her in. Soon the wood was too thick for the horse so I left her and kept walking until I came to this little rock hill. Ever since I had walked in under the trees I'd had a picture of it in my mind without realising. The picture was just like this rock, but there was a fuzzy part to it that annoyed me. I had to find out what it was. I must have been hunting round for half an hour or more when I came to this entrance. I didn't realise what it was but I felt I had to touch it. I pushed and prodded until I found a spot where it gave way. Then I knew I had to go through--and I found this place.'

'Yes,' said Rodji, 'but did you know why you had to find it?'

'After I had told about you at the trial I felt really bad. Then, with the Accusers when we waylaid you on that first morning of your banishment, I felt even worse. And I knew they were going to catch you sooner or later and use you for something foul. I'd heard Berg and Stereos talking about a monster. At first I thought it was an excuse for their cruelties, but after I had more to do with them I found they were serious. So then I decided to get your glass jar from where I knew you'd hidden it, under the long house. That night I held it close to me, hiding it from the others. In the morning...'

'You saw the light?' asked Rodji.

'So I'm not the only one,' Mikos replied. 'Well,

soon I knew I had to get in deep with the Accusers--it was the only way of being in the right place at the right time to rescue you. And so far, it's worked.'

'What can I say, Mik?' Rodji asked.

'Don't say anything. Just...' They looked at each other in the still half-dark morning light and clenched their right hands together.

'Even?' said Mikos.

'Even.'

Rodji tried to stand, but could not. 'I won't be able to move for ages.'

'Sorry,' said Mikos. 'I should be feeding you.' He went over to a hole in the rock and drew out a long bag.

'How...? That's my pack!'

'I pretended to be drunk the other night so I left earlier than the others when we went hunting yesterday morning. I managed to get back to your hideaway--yes, we knew where it was; Berg and Stereos wanted to wait for the "ideal moment" to catch you--and I found your pack; no one else had thought it was worth getting. I had time to hide it away here before I went hunting.'

'Did anyone see you near here?' Rodji asked.

'No.'

'What about the dog? Did you see Zeb on the beach?'

'No. I looked for him. I thought you'd want him buried but he wasn't there. Perhaps he was washed away. Sorry.' Mikos opened Rodji's pack and took out some food. 'Here, eat this. Slowly--you don't want to be sick.' Rodji chewed a hard biscuit.'I think it would be safe to go outside for a while. The others won't be awake yet. There's a stream not far away. You can get out of those stinking clothes and wash up. I'll fetch some water.'

Mikos helped Rodji from the refuge and down to the stream. Refreshed, they headed back through the trees.

Then a voice cried, 'Tracks this way!' Hoof-beats thudded around the copse; it sounded as if all five Accusers were there. In a moment they would have all dismounted and be upon them. Mikos dragged Rodji to the concealed entrance and shoved him through, then drew himself in, adjusting the curtain behind him. By the time they had crawled into the centre of their hide-out they could hear muffled voices outside.

'The tracks led down here, all right,' said Rors, 'but there's no sign of him. Whichever one of them it is could be hiding here, or he might have taken off again. He could have walked up the hill, wading through the stream, and gone back in the opposite direction.'

Stereos spoke. 'All right, smart arse, if you're so good at reading tracks, how come you can only find one set when both Hardi and Mikos have gone?'

'Maybe Rodji escaped and Mikos went looking for him the wrong way,' suggested Flint.

'Don't be stupid. Hardi couldn't get off that rock by himself. He wouldn't even have been able to crawl this far.' Berg was speaking now. 'None of the horses has been taken. I reckon Hardi's back in the circle hiding in a tree or something. These tracks are probably Mikos'. But we'll never find him if he's helped Hardi and then taken off--he's too fast.'

'I remember now,' said Stereos. 'Last night I saw Mikos get up to get a drink or something.'

'What!' explained Berg. 'And you didn't follow it up? How long ago was that?'

'It could have been hours ago.'

'You stupid... Whichever one it was, he could be back on the coast or anywhere by now,' said Berg.

'If only we had the dogs,' said Tibald.

'Another one of my brother's smart ideas,' said Berg. '"Don't worry about he dogs this time; they'll only slow us down!"'

The voices faded as they moved away under the trees. A few minutes later the sound of hoof-beats could be heard going up the hill.

'We're safe for a while,' said Mikos. 'That was close.'

'A clever idea of yours, piggy-backing me so only one set of footprints showed.'

'I had no choice. You were so stiff you would have never have been able to get out by yourself. How are you feeling, anyway?'

'Pretty bad,' replied Rodji. 'Funny how fast I could move when I heard that lot coming, though.'

'Well, we'll stay here for a few days to give you a chance to recover. Then we should aim to get home again, safely. The Accusers--they should be well out of the way by then. They had planned to get home in time for rostered duties after they had...you know...'

Two days later, Mikos left the refuge and walked to the next valley to check that the Accusers had left. He found tracks of all the horses, including his own. The Accusers had returned the way they had come, heading north to Calm River.

It was safe outside now. Rodji could walk easily and had recovered from most of the damage he had suffered. But the wound in his chest was not healing. The dirty knife had cut muscle where it joined the breastbone. By the third day Rodji was feverish with the infection. That night he tossed in delirium. As Mikos swabbed the fluid oozing from the wound, the memory of Gengah came unbidden into his mind. He went to Rodji's pack and pulled out the cylinder. The image of its owner's body still glowed feebly within.

Gengah's presence was so strong that the hairs rose on the back of Mikos' neck. He felt impelled to place the cylinder on the ground so that Rodji and his image were aligned. The image brightened and solidified. Mikos adjusted Rodji's limbs to mimic the position of the limbs in the image. He brought the cylinder closer to Rodji's side. The intensity of the image increased. Where the wound lay on the image's chest a green area blinked on and off. Then an independent hand rose from the base of the cylinder and settled over the green. The wound image gradually turned orange, then amber, then gold. It switched to green again and the sequence was repeated.

Bewitched by the display, Mikos placed his left hand on the earth beneath Rodji's feet and his right on the wound. He pressed firmly into the slimy flesh. With his left hand he grasped the cylinder and emptied his mind. A force drained through him. He pressed harder into the wound. Rodji groaned.

When he could no longer control his hand and mind, Mikos sank to the ground and lay, gasping, staring at the walls of the refuge and the dark branches of the limes. Then the light in the cylinder dulled and Mikos rose to look at Rodji. The wound's smell had gone but Rodji seemed no better, though he lay quite still. The cylinder had returned to its normal display. Mikos sank down in disappointment and slipped into a fitful sleep.

 

Back to the chapters

 

<<< Chapter 8                   Chapter 10 >>> 
 

  

axel-and-alice.com