AN ISLAND IN THE SUN (b)
He awoke in the heat of the day and was at once assailed by the sun burning his face where a coverlet had slipped, and by an appalling stink. He felt dreadful. Someone had thoughtfully covered over any bare skin with assorted scraps of cloth but he must have moved in his sleep. Looking around him, through narrowed eyes, he could spy little in the way of shade. The sun was ferociously hot and it looked directly down into a compound high walled by ancient and ruinous masonry. On three sides a line of columns parallel to the walls, with crumbling arches between them, suggested that once there had been covered walkways to offer some respite but these were now almost completely open to the sky. Huge nettles grew up in the corners, and in the thin shadows of the perimeter but the rest was all bare earth and, gods help them, several centuries worth of rotted pig shit. Angren gagged: the ordure was mercifully dry and hard but the accumulated smell was almost more than he could bear. The sun may have been damnably fierce but Angren could not bring himself to wish for rain.
He was not alone here. More than thirty Partians were imprisoned with him. They sat with their backs against the nearest wall where two inches of shadow and fewer nettles made for the most desirable residence; all had covered whatever they could of their bodies against the heat of the midday sun and Angren could not easily tell who was who. He presumed correctly that all the prisoners were his companions of the wreck.
One of them noticed his movement and, nudging another who lay alongside, he picked himself up and walked over. The other man followed. The first, a swarthy, thick set man, was Bibron Farber, the ship's captain, and the second, stepping gingerly on the hot earth with bare feet, and massaging a sore left arm, was Garaid.
"Well, my lad," said Bibron, "should I ask how you're feeling, or is that a bad question?"
With his tongue thick from the heat and the lack of water, Angren replied with difficulty, though he tried to raise a smile: "I should say I'm feeling with every nerve in my body, and none of it is good. Ouch!" A sharp pain in his hand made him jump. Hastily he pressed it into the clay and then flapped at his clothes. "Flaming ants!" he cried: his clothes were crawling with them.
Bibron chuckled as Angren wriggled and slapped at himself. "They give up after an hour or so."
"Very comforting, I don't think." Luckily, not many had penetrated too far and after a minute more he stopped flapping: it was too hot for the effort required. "I don't suppose there's any water around?"
"Sorry: you're out of luck; and so's everyone else. Those swine won't bring no water till they're good and ready. And they ain't ready yet, scumbags that they are."
"Steady on, Bibron," said Garaid, his voice slightly slurred, no doubt from his attempt to speak without moving his lips: he had a painful looking cut across his chin and lower lip. "This lot seem to dislike bad language. I did try them with some last night, and they're not as liberal as you might think." His attempt at a grin looked hideous but it made Angren smile.
"Where are your shoes, Garra? You seem to be bobbing about a bit without them."
"Now that is not a funny subject. Some smart lad out there took a fancy to them. Little sod. This clay’s baking."
Angren nodded towards the furthest wall where a gate made of rough hewn logs provided the only visible means of entry, or of escape. "Why not cut a piece of bark from that and strap it on your feet? It'll look odd, but it's better than burning your toes." Angren was often impressed by his own intelligence and did not mind sharing it.
"What an original and brilliant idea, Angren,” Garaid did not sound at all impressed, "Perhaps you could lend me your knife: I'll see to it right now."
Angren grimaced. "Hmm. Not really with it yet, am I. Suppose they've taken all the weapons? Obviously. Pity about my dagger." Regretful but not concerned, Angren was busy feeling at his collar, his belt, his heels and satisfied he grinned broadly.
"Well, Garaid, I can't help you now but I do have a few pieces you could try later."
"I don't see no weapons," said Bibron.
"They're well hidden, Captain. I have a nice long coil of wire in this band about my throat and if I use two toggles from my jacket it can be very nasty. Better still, there's a thin length of metal in my belt. It's sharp along one side and the belt buckle is the handle. It’s a bit wobbly but springy enough to make a reasonable sword in an emergency. And…” he bent his leg to look at the bottom of his foot, “Yes. And I have a dirk hidden in the sole and heel of my boot. I'm surprised they didn’t notice that. Good job they didn't take a fancy to my shoes! Mind you, I can't see a couple of blades getting us out of here."
"No, but it all helps," said the Captain.
Garaid was amazed by the hidden weapons: Partians found it hard to be devious, in general. "How did you come by those, Angren? I’ve never seen anything like them."
"You'd be surprised what you can get. Even in Pars you can find most things if you know where to look. No, you could call it a hobby of mine: I collect weapons; use them too. Mind you, the sword's pretty new: my last boss was a dealer, and a sharp one. He did a lot of trade with all sorts of treacherous scum."
"Can you walk, Angren?" Garaid asked, seeming to lose interest in Angren's toys, "because, if you can, I would appreciate it if we could get back to our spot by the wall before my feet are singed."
"That's nice. I appreciate your concern," Angren replied with a grin, "for yourself that is. Anyway, I'll never know unless I try." He pulled himself, wincing a little, to his feet and was not pleased to discover the many cuts and bruises that made each step painful. Luckily none of the cuts were deep enough to cause any real problem - they just hurt.
Next is An Island in the Sun (c)
Wilf Kelleher Jones
A Song of Ages
Island in the Sun (a)
21/02/2012 wkj fantasy