The Heretic – Snippet 16
“Kruso, I want you and Himmel on the east in them bushes. Looks like there’s a couple of piss trails cut into the thicket over there that go a ways back. Use them for your retreat.”
The Redlanders, though they lived in a land with no trees and only limited concealment, were fanatics about not being seen when defecating or urinating. They had been the ones who had cut those offshoot trails. Abel reflected that this was one more fact about the enemy that you picked up from being around Scouts that you would never find out in the Regulars.
“You two’ll hit first, one shot, draw their fire and pull ’em east. When they hit the bushes, fire a second round — Himmel with your gun and Kruso, use your bow. That’ll be our signal. We’ll ride out, hit ’em hard from the west.”
Kruso nodded and Himmel answered with a smart “yes, sir.”
“And one more thing,” Sharplett added. “After that second round, you get lost in that brush, hear me? They’ll be madder than a carnadon mam with a raided nest, and they’ll be after you. Himmel, you reload and cover. And Kruso –”
“Make use of that bow of yours after we turn ’em around.”
Kruso smiled a crooked smile. “Yes, sir. That I will.”
Kruso’s composite bow was a thing of beauty to Abel. He carried it over his back, left to right, with the bowstring securing it in front. The outside was carved from the thick, pliable river pufferwood that grew only in the Delta, and Kruso had told Abel he’d picked out the tree himself on an expedition. The wood was laminated by special glue with tuskhorn of a gigantic ocean-going creature called a grendel that Abel had never seen, but only heard about.
Kruso reached down to the quiver suspended from his belt and ran a finger along the fletching of one of his brace of arrows. Some were white fletched, some black. The feathers of the white arrows were notched once for tactile identification. The tips were clad with copper for longer range but ultimately smaller damage — unless you got lucky and placed one in an eye or a joint. Blacks feathers were notched twice and the arrows tipped with sharpened and barbed iron for maximum destruction of flesh.
Then Sharplett was beside Abel giving instructions.
“We’ll mount up and I want you up at the edge of the west thicket, Dashian, to give the sign to charge. When yon sharpshooters fire round one, they’ll fall back a bit, then turn and fire again. Then they’ll hightail into the brush. On the second volley, you’ll wigwag, and we’ll swarm the donts.”
“But sir, I — I want to fight, sir.”
Sharplett gave him a wry smile. “I expect you’ll get your chance, don’t worry. As you said, there look to be thirty of them and only nine of us.” Sharplett spat on the sand, wiped his mouth. He chewed the desert herb nesh incessantly. Lots of Scouts did. This was another trait the Scouts shared with Redlanders. Abel had tried nesh, but had never liked the bitter taste.
Pay attention, lad. This is a fine disposition, and Sharplett’s a good man. But one band of Blaskoye is neither here nor there. We need to know what’s in the wagons. You need to find out and tell him, lad.
But, he won’t let me go, I’m just a kid to him.
You might be surprised. After these past few months I have a feeling these men don’t look at you quite like that anymore.
Still, I —
Make yourself heard, lad. Do it now, and be forceful.
Sharplett had already turned to walk away. It was now or never.
“Captain, I have an idea.”
The Scout captain paused, turned back to Abel. “Yes, Dashian? What is it?”
“I was thinking Kruso and Himmel should go after the wagons, sir.”
“How do you mean?”
“After they’ve drawn them to the east, they could circle around and hit the carts. They’ll be mostly unguarded, with the Redlanders out front fighting you. That way, we could see what’s in those wagons, sir, even if you and the others have to beat it back to cover.”‘
Sharplett swirled a lump of nesh in his cheek and considered. “I would like to know what’s so important it’s got near thirty buck warriors assigned to bring it down from Cascade.” He spat again. “And maybe they’d have time to ruin some of that cargo, too.” He slapped Abel on the shoulder. “Good plan, Dashian. Now you run over and tell Kruso and Himmel about it while I see to the others. And take care not to break the horizon or all this’ll be for naught.”
“Yes, sir. I won’t, sir.”
Abel breathed deeply as the Scout captain stalked away. He hadn’t realized how tense he’d been until this moment.
He thought it was a good idea.
Raj’s course chuckle. Of course he did, lad. It was mine. Now go make sure the Scouts get those orders.
Abel ran to do just that, and, after Kruso nodded his understanding, he crossed the rise one last time, careful to keep a line of boulders between himself and anyone coming up the rise from the north. He was about to take his position at the edge of the brush, when Sharplett tapped him on the shoulder.
“Get me another look,” the captain said, and ordered him up the basalt lookout post a final time. “But take care. They’ll be able to see you even through their own dust at this distance.”
Abel scrambled back up the rock and raised just his head and eyes above its peak.
The caravan was still on its way. It was at the bottom of the rise, a hundred strides to the north. Not long now. He could make the caravaneers out quite distinctly and he confirmed his previous count of warriors in the vanguard.
So close. They seemed nearly naked, small. Certainly not the giant warriors clothed in dont feathers and the skins of their enemies of the stories. The Scouts knew not to underestimate them however, as did Abel.
The wagons were in the rear. They rolled upon very large, very thin, wooden wheels. Each wagon was pulled by a team of four herbidaks arranged in the typical Redlander manner, three abreast behind with one in the lead dak position.
The daks were similar animals to the riding donts, but without a dont’s spinal plumage, Daks also had much more rounded heads — heads that had a single plated horn that terminated in a breathing hole at the very top. Both donts and daks were closely related, and each was capable of producing eye-stinging droplets of acidic drool and phlegm from their breathing holes when they huffed and puffed, however.