7. Lost Part III
Lost Part III
They might have vanquished the Southerners easier than he'd dared to hope, but the moment Amroth knelt down beside Gidon he knew that they had not got away as lightly as he'd thought. What ailed his captain was not the result of a simple, clean arrow wound. The skin around the gash in the top of his arm had swollen grossly, the flesh discoloured to dull purple. Sweat ran down Gidon's face and his whole body trembled. Amroth swore long and fluently under his breath – the devils had poisoned their arrows. Now what did he do? He had no idea what type of poison they might have used, but whatever it was, doubtlessly it would prove fatal. Gidon was probably in for a long and painful death. Amroth knew that he couldn't leave him to face it alone. But that meant that the chances for the rest of them had lessened.
Gidon doubled up as a wave of pain hit him. 'I'm done for, lord,' he whispered when he could catch his breath again. 'It's hurting like hell; you'd best make an end of me now and then you'll have a chance of making it back.'
Shocked into immobility, Amroth stared at him mutely; the awful realisation of what Gidon was asking him to do cramped his insides. He managed to mumble some reassuring words, but Gidon shook his head and closed his eyes. Getting no further response, Amroth got to his feet, staring down at his Captain who winced with pain. 'I can't, don't ask it of me,' he whispered under his breath. He might have done some awful things in his life, but killing the man who had fought alongside him since he was a lad, would be the worst. There had to be another way. Amroth raked his eyes over the bodies of the dead Southerners – surely they carried some kind of antidote. They risked an accident when they prepared the arrows and must have taken steps to deal with the consequences of a mistake. Roused from his stupor by the thought that Gidon might not be beyond help, he shouted to Galor and Borinon.
'Search the bodies, there must an antidote somewhere.' He leapt to his feet and dived on the nearest corpse, rifling through the stinking folds of cloth. No pockets. The sod had no pockets. But as he pushed the garments away from the man's neck he saw a leather thong disappearing down towards his chest. Amroth tugged at it, pulling out a tooled leather bag. Impatiently he shook out the contents onto the sand – a few coins, a small rolled up parchment and a twist of cloth which looked promising, until he opened it up. It contained a dark, sticky substance which he was sure was the stuff some of the Harad men chewed around the fires at night to send them into a dream world. It had an unmistakable smell.
'What exactly are we looking for, lord?' Galor called over.
'Not sure – anything. Herbs, liquid...'
'I've found some kind of plant...' Borinon walked towards him holding out a leather purse, open to show a thick wad of dried green leaves. 'They smell funny, like a remedy I smelt in the Healing Houses after the war. But I can't remember what it was used for.'
Amroth grabbed the purse and took a sniff. Yes, they smelt medicinal, but that didn't mean it was what they were looking for. 'We could try. We've got nothing to lose.'
'But what do you do with them?' Borinon questioned. 'Put them on the wound or get Gidon to swallow some?'
Amroth had no idea, and he was just going to say they would do both when he was aware that the girls, who had up to now been silent, were excitedly chattering together, obviously interested in what he was doing. He strode over to them, holding out the purse of leaves. 'Is this what he needs?' he asked, pointing to where Gidon lay moaning. 'Come on, tell me,' he coaxed. But they didn't understand him. Trying to smile and not show his impatience, Amroth made another series of signs, pointing to his arm, the leaves and one of the Southerners' discarded bows.
The girls flashed looks between them, their darks eyes fearful and wary, but after a moment the one who seemed to be the least scared and the eldest, nodded hesitantly. Amroth let out a sigh of relief and beckoned her over to Gidon. Another series of gestures when he tried to find out if they put the stuff on the wound, or in Gidon's mouth. But he received an emphatic shake of the head for both. Instead, the girl waved her hand towards the remains of the fire, which still smouldered in the middle of the camp. Amroth frowned, not knowing what she meant, but seeing his confusion she jabbered something and ran to the nearest camel. The girl started tugging at the waterskin tied to the saddle. Realising what she was trying to do, Amroth followed her, but by that time she had got it off. Within moments she had poured some water into a metal pot and put it on the fire, poking up the embers with a stick. Once the fire blazed up, she held out her hands for the leaves. Amroth gave them to her, but she took only about half, mixing them into the water with the same stick she had poked the fire with. He could only hope she knew what she was doing. He didn't, so he had to trust to her knowledge, probably gleaned at her mother's knee from bitter experience – the tribes had been warring for years. He hoped the stuff would work. If the smell was anything to go by it had to be potent.
The other two girls chattered together quietly, watching Galor and Borinon searching the remaining Southerners for anything that might be useful. The elder girl concentrated on what she was doing, her big black eyes focused on the brown liquid in the pot. She let it boil for a few minutes and then reached out to take it off the fire, but Amroth grabbed her arm, thrusting a small blanket into her hand.
She looked up and grinned sheepishly, before wrapping the end of the blanket around her hand to lift the pot off. Putting it down on the ground, she started making signs that it should be given to Gidon to drink. Amroth looked around - no cup or mug in sight - but Borinon passed him another pot. He poured some of the liquid in, with the girl watching intently. When he had poured in about half, she caught hold of his arm and made signs than he needed to keep some for Gidon's wound.
It was too hot for them to do anything with at the moment, but Amroth carried it over. The girl trotted after him bringing the other pot. When he knelt down beside Gidon again, the poor man was shaking uncontrollably.
'You're going to be all right,' Amroth said more confidently than he felt. 'We've found the antidote. As soon as it cools you can drink it.' Gidon mumbled something unintelligible, convulsing with pain. Amroth blew into the pot, impatient to get some of it into him, but it was still too hot. The girl blew into hers as well, testing it with the end of one finger. Then she fished into the pot with the stick, twisting it around to pull out some of the boiled leaves. She pointed towards Gidon's arm, indicating that she wanted to put the leaves directly on his wound.
The cut was not deep, Gidon had probably pulled the arrow out himself, but the patch of purple skin around the injury had got bigger than when Amroth had last looked. The girl flashed him a hesitant smile and squatted down beside Gidon. He was hardly aware of her until, with no hesitation, she took some of the cooling leaves from off the stick and pushed them into his wound. He screamed out, but undaunted she held her small brown hand over the wound to keep the leaves there.
'Borinon, get a bit of cloth, as clean as possible,' Amroth shouted. He guessed the leaves needed to remain in contact with the wound.
Whilst Borinon wrapped a bandage around Gidon's arm, Amroth lifted his head and tried to get him to swallow the liquid. The poor man was shaking so much, some of it spilt, but eventually half a dozen mouthfuls went down.
Was it his imagination or had Gidon's shaking eased slightly? He lowered the man's head back down on to the sand and Gidon closed his eyes, falling into what Amroth hoped was a natural sleep. The girl nodded, looking pleased and pulled the pot towards her. She sat crossed-legged beside her patient, indicating that she was prepared to take some responsibility, for which Amroth could only be grateful. He still didn't think it would be wise to move Gidon far, but they needed to get him into some shade and they all would be better off away from what would soon become a vulture's banquet. None of them had the strength to bury the dead Southerners, but even though they were despised enemies, he had no wish to watch their bodies being torn apart and devoured as carrion. Besides, if they couldn't start back for a couple of days the smell of decomposing flesh would become unbearable.
The other two girls had crept over to join their friend, probably thinking there was safety in numbers. Amroth had no way of telling them that they were in no danger from him and could only put them at ease by his actions. There was a lot needed to be done, but he made himself sit down by the girls with what he hoped was a reassuring smile on his face. He tapped his chest.
'I am Am...roth..os. Amrothos,' he repeated. 'You are...,' Amroth invited the elder to reply first.
There was a flurry of chatter and discussion between the three of them before she responded by placing her hands together in front of her chest and inclining her head.
'Soraya,' she said giving him a shy smile.
Feeling he had achieved something, Amroth bowed his head. 'Soraya, I am pleased to meet you.'
Soraya's face lit up at his courtesy, her dark eyes sparkling. She swiftly introduced the other girls ... 'Najiyah ... Barika.'
Najiyah and Barika went into a fit of giggling, before the smallest, Barika, pointed to Galor who was examining the contents of a sack he had taken off one of the camels.
Amroth smiled. 'Ga...lor, and over there is Bor...in...on'.
Introductions over, Amroth knew he could waste no more time: the cool of dawn would soon give way to the scorching heat of the day. He wanted to get them all out of the sun and put some food in their stomachs.
Gidon was stirring again, and let out a muffled groan. Amroth jumped to his feet and made signs to Soraya that he was leaving him in her care. Soraya nodded reassuringly, and said something to the others. Najiyah went to Gidon's head, lifting it, whilst Soraya encouraged him to sip from the pot. After a moment watching to ensure himself that he could do no better, Amroth went over to Galor and Borinon to see what they had found.
'There's some kind of meal and dried meat, oh, and plenty of dried fruit and nuts.' Galor told him.
Borinon grimaced. 'No, we won't starve, but we might cook if we have to stay here for long.'
'We certainly can't stay here,' Amroth agreed, shuddering as he saw the first of the vultures making a foray to the nearest body. The flies had already started their attack. 'But there's no attempting the journey back until Gidon improves a bit. We've enough water for a few days so it's a case of making the best of it. The first thing is to get upwind of here and organise some shade. That lot,' he indicated the bodies around them, 'must have some bedrolls we can use to rig up makeshift tents.'
Galor frowned. 'There's no wood, trees or anything, though, lord.'
'But each of those sods had a spear, didn't they, and we can cut their clothing into strips to make bindings.' Amroth grinned at the astonished looks he got – did they think he was a useless nobleman with no skills other than with sword and bow? 'Get going, we've got the camels so we'll take anything we might need.'
Moving Gidon was a problem: it seemed the antidote had arrested the progression of the poison, but he was far from recovering and unable to do much himself. With little to make a stretcher, the only way to move him was to use a camel. But camels had a reputation for obstinacy and they would probably have failed miserably at getting one to position itself right next to Gidon, had it not been for the three girls. Used to the animals from birth they knew the right commands and Najiyah especially proved fearless to the threat of angry teeth, poking and prodding the smelly beast they had chosen until it obeyed her and sat down.
He must have been in great pain, but Gidon bore being thrust onto the camel's back with no complaint other than a few groans. The rest of the beasts they tried to get into a line, their efforts provoking much bellowing and commotion until Najiyah insisted that a big animal, slightly darker than the rest, go in front. Amroth realised that it must be the leader and, sure enough once they had driven it to the front of the line, the others ceased their hollering and calmed down, happy to follow behind.
They couldn't go far, Gidon wasn't up to it, and so Amroth led them to the next ridge of dunes. Getting upwind meant they were going in the opposite direction to the inhabited areas they needed to get back to, so he only wanted to go far enough to get away from the smell, and the noise and sight of the vultures.
'This will do,' he called out. 'Get the camels in a half circle, and we'll make our camp against the slope of the dune.'
The camels seemed happy to sit back down and Amroth wondered how long they could actually go before they needed food and drink. Hopefully the Southerners had fed and watered them well for an expected long journey home.
'Get Gidon under cover first,' Amroth ordered as soon as they had got the camels into order and started removing the blankets and spears they had loaded on them. Soraya had nursed the pot of medicine during the short journey, cradling it against her chest as she sat atop the baggage on one of the camels, and as soon as they settled Gidon, she resumed tending the ailing man, encouraging him to sip at the murky looking liquid.
They built a shelter over him, digging the spears deep into the sand and using the torn strips of cloth to fix the blankets – it would be enough if the wind didn't get up. A bit of deliberation convinced Amroth that with limited materials it made sense to extend Gidon's shelter into one big one: they could keep an eye on him and anyway it was better that they keep close together through the night. He doubted there was any real danger, but it always paid to be cautious. The structure took shape quickly – not high enough for them to stand, but by the time they had finished all seven of them would be able to sit under it or lay down to sleep. The next thing was to attend to their stomachs, they had had nothing but water since drinking the blood. Amroth pushed that thought from his mind, too horrible to want to spend time remembering. The camels were still loaded with a fair amount of thin wood, no doubt gleaned from the scrublands by the Southerners for their journey home. But better to keep that for the evening - the desert, scorching in the day, became bone-chillingly cold after dark.
With their crude shelter erected, they made a meal of fruit and nuts and then dozed in the heat, even the man on watch struggling to stay awake. Amroth felt he could do no more for the moment, the heat had robbed him of what energy he had left – the sandstorm, a night of planning the attack on the Southerners, the attack itself, and the effort of setting up a camp had taken its toll.
He woke much later – he had slept a good deal of the day away – to find Borinon lighting a fire and the backdrop of the desert dulled to a muted purple. Night fell quickly, no lingering twilight out here, the stars shining out of an inky blackness. He would have enjoyed the beauty more if he was exactly sure of the way back to the waterhole, but worrying about it would achieve nothing and at least they had transport, water and food, so had a good chance of getting out of their predicament alive. And there was always the possibility that they would meet a search party, he couldn't believe that his brother would stop looking quite yet.
Amroth stretched. 'How's Gidon?'
'Asleep,' Borinon answered. 'Young Soraya has been clucking over him all afternoon. He's certainly no worse.'
Well, that was good news. Amroth smiled when he saw that the girls were curled up together next to Gidon, all three of them asleep, thin arms and legs in a loose tangle. They looked younger in sleep. During the past hours he had almost forgotten they were merely children, their knowledge of the desert and the camels, ingrained from birth, had been invaluable. So far they had shown no anguish or signs of grief and he wondered how much of the attack on their village they had actually witnessed and whether they would react more when they started to head home. Children were notoriously resilient and being in the middle of what would seem an adventure could have pushed the horror from their minds – but when the adventure ended and they went back, maybe to find themselves orphans and homeless...? Amroth sighed, he would think on that one. But whatever their future might hold, it was likely to be a lot better than being dragged to the slave markets of the south and a life of abuse.
Amroth got to his feet and shivered; already the temperature had dropped considerably. They needed something hot to eat. The food store had been put in a pile in one corner of the shelter to keep it out of the sun. It was enough to sustain them for a few days, but not very exciting. 'Time we thought about getting a meal,' he said to Borinon.
'Already underway, lord,' Galor answered. He came over carrying a large pot, a big grin on his face. He jerked his head towards the sleeping girls 'The little one, Barika, has been following me around like a orphan lamb and when I went to check over what food we had she made me put some beans and dried meat in here.' He held out the pot to show Amroth. 'They have been soaking all afternoon, I reckon if we cook them up now we'll have a tasty stew.'
Their conversation had woken the three girls; Barika immediately jumped up and rushed over to inspect the pot. Smiling happily she pointed to the fire nodding her head vigorously.
'Put it on to heat then,' Amroth said. 'No doubt she knows how long it takes.'
Galor put it on the fire, but Barika went to the food store and rummaged around for a moment until she found a large leather pouch. She opened it up and laid it on the floor. Amroth saw that it contained many smaller pouches fastened by ties. Barika didn't open them but sniffed each one to discover its contents. After she had checked all of them, she selected four and brought them over to the fire. Into the pot went a few pinches of a dark-gold coloured powder, followed by two lots of aromatic smelling seeds. The final addition was some dried oval shape leaves, which she crumbled up, sprinkling them over the surface.
Already the stew smelt much more appetizing. Spicy and fragrant.
An hour later all except Gidon sat around the large pot scooping up meat and beans with pieces of unleavened creamy-coloured bread made from the meal they had discovered in the sacks. Barika had happily taken on the roll of cook and had baked it on a flat plate over the fire, the men watching fascinated as she slapped the dough between dainty brown hands, before smacking it down onto the sizzling hot plate.
By the end of the evening the three girls had lost all their shyness, laughing and giggling at the efforts of their rescuers to master a few words of their language. Gidon, after another dose of medicine, had gone to sleep. He seemed to be holding his own and Amroth fervently hoped he would recover enough for them to start the journey back soon. They were safe for the moment, but he had no wish to encounter another sandstorm and the quicker they returned to the main camp, the happier he would be.
The next morning, weak but much more alert, Gidon was able to suck on a piece of fruit. He continued to improve over the next couple of days, albeit slowly, managing to eat more and to take a few steps.
On the forth night since they'd become stranded, Amroth went over to talk just before he settled down to sleep.
"I feel we need to leave tomorrow. I'm not entirely sure of the way back and want to have plenty of water in reserve. Will you be up to it?"
Gidon nodded. 'I'll make it. Get me onto one of those beasts again, tie me on, and I'll be fine.'
'Good. Then I'll tell the others we'll break camp in the morning. Try and get as much rest as you can now. It will be best to leave early before the sun heats up.'
'I'll be ready; I'm not going anywhere tonight,' Gidon replied with a half smile. Amroth laughed and turned away, but Gidon put a hand on his arm preventing his departure. 'Thanks for not giving up on me, lord, many would have done so.'
Only the moon and the dying fire gave them light, but it was enough for Amroth to meet his eyes in the dark. He well remembered how his Captain had supported him unstintingly during his courtship and pursuit of Devoran. 'I never considered doing anything else.'
It was the fifth day since they'd become separated from the rest of the patrol in the sandstorm and at last they were loading the camels to try and find their way out of the desert. But preparations for departure took longer than Amroth had wanted, the camels being particularly belligerent. Maybe they were bad tempered because they needed water and food, he had no way of telling.
Galor was struggling with a particularly obstinate one, trying to get it into line and tie it to the one in front, but it didn't want to cooperate. 'We don't need them all, lord,' he shouted out, exasperated. 'Why don't we just let the real pig-headed ones go?'
'No,' Amroth answered, going over to give a hand. 'We are taking them all with us, I have plans for these beauties.'
To be continued
Original Characters appearing in this chapter.
Gidon Amroth's Captain
Borinon & Galor Two Dol Amroth soldiers.
Soraya, Najiyah and Barika Three young Harad girls rescued from raiders by Amroth.
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