Gotta keep writing. There is a long story I won’t bore you with as to the delays in getting sequel/prequel published properly, so in the meantime i thought I’d write a short story. Not in the same universe, more Conan-esque. Young barbarian getting a start in life.
Working title might be “Career Choice”, Part I. I’ll be posting daily until it’s done, something around a thousand words per day. Here we go:
Jispin crept through the underbrush silently. He ignored the sodden ground, the incessant mosquitoes, the near-freezing rain, and the scratching of the inch-long thorns. He was used to the constant rain, and the ill-fitting, stinking, and worn leather jerkin he’d taken off the dead Crimean soldier protected him from most of needle-sharp points. He hadn’t pilfered any metal armor, and he’d cached the few coins he taken in order to not have anything that would make a noise. His stealth as he moved towards the distant Argentain encampment was near total.
Jispin’s fourteen year old frame was lean from near starvation and a cruelly hard life in the forests and mountains of Kurgen. A grumble issued from the boy’s stomach; the two squirrels he’d bagged with a sling and eaten earlier were poor fare for a young man, but raw meat was better than no meat, and vastly better than the all-too-often nothing at all. His recent growth had made his heavy woolen tunic and breaches too short, and turned his oilcloth and wool cloak into a cape making his appearance almost comical – or at least it would be if it were not for his intense eyes, wiry sinews, scarred cheek, and predator-like posture and motions.
At least he’d avoided the mines.
Nobody lasted long in the silver mines of Argentain, even from his tough, mountain-bred clan. He’d heard his uncle lasted only two seasons. His brother, two moons. The careless, the stupid, and the unlucky didn’t last long in the brutal hinterlands of Kurgen. Of his seven siblings he had only one brother remaining, Torveg. Mostly the city peoples hunted them as they would wild animals. But they only went hunting in large groups, because the people of Kurgen were a dangerous and wary prey.
But he didn’t dwell on it. That was simply the way existence was here. It was all he knew.
Jispin stiffened at the whiff of bad breath assailing his nostrils, then slowly sank even lower into the mire he’d been padding through, subsiding gently, melting into the ground beneath the brush.
He crouched motionless, straining to locate the threat more exactly. The gusty and swirling wind, heavy overcast, dim light, and dense brush made it difficult even for his wilderness-honed senses, but he was in this part of the forest because he was confident it helped him more than it hurt. Another whiff wafted by; the stench of flesh rotting between teeth and gum infection told him the man he faced was sick and in pain. A slight motion and rustle of leaves out of time with the wind told him the direction to focus. A sigh and spit revealed how far. About fifteen feet, just the far side of a good-sized willow, on this side of the clearing ahead that he’d been heading for.
He resumed his silent inching forward, sliding gently under the drooping branches of the willow and swamp-thorn, between bog-ferns, and around the anthill. He drew his knife.
“Nil,” came a soft whisper from just ahead.
A quiet grunt replied. Two of them. Argentain by the accent. Jispin didn’t waste any time, breath, or thought on cursing his luck – it did no good, the gods didn’t listen, and it interfered with solving the problem. The information was useful even if it revealed a more difficult problem.
“Why’d you have to gig the sergeant like that?”
The reply was mumbled and inarticulate series of syllables that sounded vaguely like “he had it coming.”
Jispin heard the two men move as they shifted in their hiding place. He could see the outline of one of their shoulders protruding in the dim light.
“Vesthu, what a time to get posted out here!”
Another mumbled reply.
“Bull! You should be here until next week, but not me too, Hoggreaser.”
Jispin watched the silhouette of a shoulder move as the soldier stood up noisily. A gust of wind moved the branches overhead as the man took a couple of steps away from the tree and drop his trousers to urinate not ten feet from where Jispin lay. But the soldier, a scout, largely kept his eyes on the clearing. Light leather armor, soft-soled boots, wide belt with a couple of knives and a short sword indicated his mission.
When the man was hiking up his pants, the sound of trotting horse hooves reached their ears. The soldier froze mid-motion, turning his head further to strain toward the sound. Another gust of wind rattled the branches. Without a sound Jispin seized the opportunity. He rose smoothly in panther-like near silence, his few sounds covered by rustling while the soldier hastened to get his pants up and get back to his hiding spot. In two quick steps the young man thrust his knife swiftly, just as he’d been taught by his father. He slid the needle-sharp point into the side and through the soldier’s neck just above his collar, then punched the razor-edged weapon forward and out, cutting the man’s scream off before it could start, neatly silencing him in one fluid motion. He caught the heavy body as it fell, lowering it without a sound onto the soggy ground as the wind above died away.
A mumbled “hurry up, idiot!” came from the other side of the tree he now nearly stood beside. Ah. The healthy one is dead. Good. The hoof beats drew nearer, approaching from the right. A slight jingle. Armor, perhaps? More than one horse. Two or three mostly likely, no more than four, and starting to slow as they approached the edge of the clearing. Cautious, or coincidence?
It made no difference at the moment.