Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 8

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Callan and David set off after the returning trog patrol, hoping to find out where the trogs took the survivors from the wreck of the Vanguard.

Had Callan and I been well-rested and unconcerned about being spotted, our longer legs would have made it easy to keep pace with the loping trogs. Instead, they drew steadily farther and farther ahead of us as our exhaustion and caution slowed us down. By the time the trogs reached the feet of the mountains before us, they were half a mile ahead.

We dropped behind some bushes in case one of the trogs chose that moment to look behind them. Callan’s head hung down and she gasped for breath. Sweat made tracks in the thin coating of dust on her face. She swiped a hand across her brow and brushed at her cheeks, smearing the dust.

Without looking up, she said, “I’m worn out, David. Go on without me. You can come back when you’ve found the village.”

I took a moment to master my own ragged breathing then shook my head. “You’ve already convinced me that staying together is the safest thing to do. I’m not about to ignore the advice of the heir to my kingdom’s throne. That hill looks like one big pile of loose stones and the trogs are leaving quite a trail behind them.”

Callan lifted her head and straightened her back to peer over the bushes. Slumping back, she asked, “So we’re going to rest for a while?”

“Yes.”

“Good. You take first watch.” Callan toppled my way and settled her head into my lap. Seconds later, her breathing deepened and her face relaxed as she fell asleep.

I took a few minutes to survey the desert around us. Nothing moved except the band of trogs trudging up the mountain ahead of us. I gently rearranged Callan into a more comfortable position and pulled the hair away from her face. Despite being covered in grime—not to mention giving birth to two children and enduring the stress of taking the lead in guiding Aashla toward membership in the Terran Federation—she still took my breath away. She brought sanity and meaning and deep, abiding love into my life. There was nothing I would not do and nothing I would not give to keep her safe.

A voice jerked me from my reverie. “Is Her Highness hurt?”

I looked up to find Ensign Marlow crouched fifteen feet away. His uniform was torn and covered in dirt and blood. Dried blood tracked down his face from a gash on his forehead. The lad looked like death warmed over and yet his first concern was for his princess.

I waved the boy closer. “She’s fine, Ensign, just worn out—as I’m sure you are. Why don’t you lay down over here and get some sleep, too.”

Marlow took a good look around before sitting down beside me. He strove for a neutral expression as he said, “I should take watch and let you sleep, sir.”

“Meaning I’m so tired you were able to sneak up on me, so it would be safer for you to take watch.”

Shock crossed Marlow’s face—probably as much because I’d spoken the thought aloud as that I’d guessed correctly. “I’d never say such a thing, sir!”

“I know, Ensign,” I chuckled, “that’s why I said it. And you’re right, too, though it pains me to admit it. I had to Boost as our airship crashed. I haven’t done that in years and it’s taken a toll on me.”

Marlow’s eyes lit. “Oh, I wish I’d been there to see that!”

“I’m glad you weren’t.” A hurt expression flashed across Marlow’s face before I continued, “It was a violent crash which no one else survived. If you’d been there, you’d probably be dead, too.”

“Oh.” The ensign thought on that for a few seconds. “Then I thank God you were there to save Her Highness.”

“You and me both, Ensign,” I replied. “What’s your first name, Ensign?”

“Um, Chris, sir.”

“Christopher Marlow?” I smiled broadly.

“Is there something wrong with my name, sir?” Chris’s tone grew just a tad prickly.

“Not at all, Chris. You just happen to share the same name as an ancient playwright who lived on Terra centuries before mankind found his way into space.”

“Oh.” Chris thought on this for a moment. “Were his plays any good, sir?”

“I honestly don’t know. I’ve never seen one performed. Also, when it’s just the three of us please call me David.” At Chris’s shocked expression, I added, “I can make that an order if it will make you feel any better. And my wife will insist you call her Callan.”

That was too much for poor Chris. He sat bolt upright and said, “I couldn’t do that, sir! Er, David. Sir. It wouldn’t be right for a commoner to be so familiar with a member of the royal family!”

“Who told you that?” The sleepy voice came from my lap as Callan cracked a single eye open and looked up at Chris.

“My mother, Your Highness. She always taught me to be respectful to my betters.”

Callan turned her open eye on me. “This one is going to take some work, darling. Remind me to get right on that—after I sleep for another year or two.”

Callan’s eye slid closed again. She was asleep in seconds.

I looked back at the young ensign. “When did you sleep last, Chris?”

“I was off-shift at the beginning of the search, sir.” At my raised eyebrow, Chris sighed. “David. So I had several hours of sleep before that strange windstorm.”

I rearranged myself to lie down next to Callan, all the while cradling her head in my arms. “The storm was strange because it was manmade.”

Chris’s eyes widened. “But that’s against all of the treaties!”

My eyelids dragged themselves down over my eyes. “Yes, it most definitely is.”

The next time I opened my eyes, the sun was halfway up toward noon. Desert heat surrounded us but did not beat directly down upon me. At some point, someone dragged me into the meager shade provided by the bush. I rolled onto my back and found Callan sitting beside me, taking advantage of some of the shade, as well.

“Good morning, darling.” She bent over and kissed me.

I sat up and looked around. The wreck of the Vanguard still smoked as the last of the fires burned themselves out. Other than the rising smoke, nothing else moved. The smoke, though, told a tale I definitely did not care for.

Seeing my gaze locked on the rising smoke, Callan said, “We’ve got to assume the other ships were caught in the storm, as well. Even if they didn’t crash, they have to be damaged beyond the ability to fly. It’s the only explanation why no one has come looking for us.”

That was my take on the situation, too. “Where is Chris? You didn’t send him running into the desert in a panic over the idea of calling you by your first name, did you?”

“Of course not, David. He insisted on scouting ahead and, once I was certain he wouldn’t do anything foolish, I allowed him to go.”

“How, pray tell, does one convince a teenage boy not to do something foolish?”

“I teared up a bit at the way his mother would react when I visited her to tell her of her son’s untimely death.”

“And that did the trick?”

“I may have also mentioned two or three young ladies I felt certain would find him fascinating, should he live long enough to return to the palace with us.”

I shook my head in admiration. “You play dirty, my dear.”

“I play to win, darling. In this case, winning means surviving.” Callan rose to her feet and I followed suit. “I told Chris that we’d follow if you awoke before he returned.”

We set off toward the rock-strewn mountain, which proved just as difficult to scale as I thought it would. The trogs’ trail proved dead easy to follow, though. Their trail headed up at an angle and out of sight around a pile of large boulders. Reaching the boulders, we found Chris on his way back.

“Did you find the trog village, Chris?” I asked.

To my surprise, Chris shook his head. “The trail doesn’t go to a village, David. It ends at a strange cave.”

“What’s in the cave?”

“That’s what is so strange, sir,” Chris said. “The cave is empty.”


What happened to the trogs? Find out in Chapter 9, coming Friday!