Friday, April 17, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 9

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Callan and David are reunited with Ensign Marlow, who has found an empty cave at the end of the trogs’ trail.

“Did you go into the cave?” I asked.

“Of course, sir, though not very far.” Chris bowed slightly in Callan’s direction. “I promised Her Highness I would be careful.”

“I told you to call me Callan,” my wife gently admonished the boy. “And thank you for honoring your promise.”

“How long did you stay in the cave? Did you give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness?”

“Yes, sir. I stayed inside for five minutes. The cave is less than thirty feet deep and only ten to fifteen feet wide.” Chris shrugged. “I don’t think I missed anything.”

A trog trail leading up to an empty cave struck me as far-fetched in the extreme. As a race, trogs are very direct with an almost in-your-face approach to life. That lack of subtlety had led humans on Aashla to assume the trogs were simply stupid. Since Aashla made contact with the wider galaxy, properly equipped researchers have shed a lot of light on the race. The short version is that trogs are genetically disinclined to such deception. The two missing human researchers, on the other hand, were probably quite skilled at deception.

“I don’t doubt your observations at all, Chris, but I’d like to check out the cave for myself.” I motioned back the way the ensign had come from. “Would you lead us to it?”

Chris snapped off a salute, spun about, and all but marched down the path. Smiling and shaking her head, Callan took my hand and we followed the boy.

“He’s quite an earnest young officer, our Chris.” Callan leaned close to me and kept her voice low. “Doesn’t he remind you a bit of Milo?”

“If by ‘remind’ you mean ‘is the complete opposite of’ then I’m right there with you. Though, like Milo, he does have the good taste to be smitten with you.”

“Oh pish and tosh, David. I’m just an old married woman from Chris’s point of view.”

“If I may be so bold,” Chris said over his shoulder, “Her Highness does herself an injustice. I would be the envy of all my fellow ensigns if they knew I was serving you directly.”

I grinned. “Okay, now he reminds me of Milo!”

“You heard everything we said, Chris?” Callan asked.

“Yes, Your Highness. An officer in the Royal Navy must be aware of all that goes on around him—especially the mutterings of the men in his command.” Chris looked back at us. “I’m also the youngest of seven children. Keen hearing is a survival trait in such a large family.”

“Perhaps I should whisper my most intimate comments into your ear, dear,” I said to Callan. “I’d hate to embarrass the ensign.”

The back of Chris’s neck turned red and his back stiffened. “I would never intentionally listen to a private conversation, sir—especially not one between a husband and wife!”

“We know, Chris.” Callan quickened her pace and put an arm around the boy’s shoulders. “You have our complete trust.”

I watched Chris’s right arm twitch and almost wrap itself around Callan’s waist. The lad caught himself, though, and turned to see if I had spotted his almost-move with my wife. I quickly looked off into the distance. The boy had enough to worry about right now without worrying about attracting my disapproval, as well. Sixteen was half a lifetime ago for me, but I still remembered what it was like.

Then we rounded a turn and spotted the cave entrance less than fifty feet ahead of us. It was right out in the open where anyone walking the trail would see it. That didn’t mean much, seeing how the mountain was at the edge of a desert. Probably only a handful of people in the history of Aashla ever laid eyes on the cave mouth.

“You two wait here,” I said, striding past them. “Ensign Marlow, if anything happens to me your one duty is to get Princess Callan to safety. Is that clear?”

Marlow snapped to attention, saluted, and responded, “Absolutely clear, sir!”

“Aren’t you being a tad melodramatic, David?” Callan asked.

“At ease, Marlow.” I turned to Callan and gave her a brief but tight hug. “No, I’m not, Callan. Besides, you ought to be used to it by now.”

“It’s been six years since our last adventure, darling. I’d rather hoped you’d have gotten over your ‘Captain of the Princess’s Guard’ fixation.”

“And risk having Rob come back to haunt me? No thank you!”

“Fine, darling. I promise to do everything Ensign Marlow tells me to do.” Callan pecked me on the mouth. “Do you feel better now?”

“Immensely.”

I trotted over to the cave entrance, stopping outside and listening. Once I was satisfied all was quiet inside the cave, I slipped through the opening and stepped to the side of the entrance and out of the direct light. My eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness but I still waited a half a minute after that before moving deeper into the cave.

There wasn’t much to see inside. A lot of rocks—ranging from fist-sized to ones three or four feet across—were scattered over the floor. Near the back, one huge rock leaned against the left side of the cave. That was the only possible hiding place in the cave, though I dutifully checked all around the larger rocks on the floor as I worked my way to the boulder in the back.

Once I reached the leaning boulder, I squatted down and looked into the space between it and the cave wall. It was even darker than normal under there and I almost stuck my hand in to check the wall. Then I remembered the poisonous many-legged desert creature that almost bit Callan during my very first night on Aashla. I drew my sword instead and tapped along the wall, neither finding an opening nor flushing out any creatures.

I slowly walked around the boulder, pushing against it to make sure it wasn’t precariously balanced. The thing was firmly wedged in place, so I stepped around the far side of the rock and into the small space between it and the back of the cave. I was so certain I’d find nothing besides cave wall that I actually jumped back a couple of feet when I spotted the entrance to another cave hidden behind the boulder. More surprisingly, dim light flickered deep inside that cave!


What lies hidden in this new cave? Find out in Chapter 10 of Scout’s Law, coming Monday!