Marked for Eradication
by Leona Rigger
|part 1 of 4|
Allunai inadvertently saves a Jerinn from the Regal Guard but soon discovers that she and the member of an outlaw species have more in common than they have differences...
What am I going to do? Allunai carefully picked her way down the steep mountain slope littered with loose rocks. She ran her fingers down the two tattoos on her cheek, which was still tender, even though they’d been carved into her skin two weeks ago. She brushed her rust colored hair behind her ears to keep it from irritating her scars. One tattoo was a triangle overlapping a three line cross, and the other was a V above a circle, the symbols of a witch and a whore.
She paused to pluck the twigs out of her faded wool shirt and trousers. A child’s cry echoed through the forest. She guessed a playing child hadn’t paid attention and had struck a knee on a rock, but then there was a scream thick with terror. She headed toward the sound. She came to the edge of a clearing and spotted two men in chainmail and leather armor.
Startled, she ducked behind a cluster of shrubs and peeked through the leaves at the pair who sat on a log, munching on sausages. On their breastplates was an emblem of two hawks soaring in front of the sun, revealing they were members of the capital’s Regal Guard. No child in sight, Allunai turned to sneak away when a moan came from a sack beside the soldiers. The side of the sack rose and fell.
Allunai held her breath. Kidnappers. But then she wondered if this was indeed a kidnapping. What if the soldiers had arrested the child?
After a minute, she decided the soldiers had to be kidnappers. If the child had been arrested, he’d be in chains not in a sack.
Looking around, she spotted two horses tied to a tree on the opposite side of the clearing. She drew her knife from her pack and stuffed her belongings under the bushes. She crawled through the brush on the outskirts of the clearing to the mounts. The animals stared at her, eyes outlined with white, ears flat against their heads. “Easy, easy,” she repeated as she grasped the reins and sawed through them.
She glanced at the blue and green striped blanket strapped to one of the horses’ saddlebags, noticing how similar it was to the one her master’s wife had given her for her sixteenth birthday last year. A dull blade of grief cut through her as she briefly recalled the days when she actually owned something nice. But it was gone as well as everything else.
She released the reins and bolted behind a couple of pines. The horses shied away. Allunai scooped up some stones and threw them at the mounts’ rumps. The horses screamed and galloped off.
“Hey!” the soldiers shouted and scrambled after their animals.
Allunai didn’t dare breathe until after the soldiers had passed her and vanished into the forest. She hurried to the log and cut a slit in the sack, asking herself if a boy or girl was inside. She opened the slit and saw neither. Instead in the sack lay a creature the size of a wolverine, its four, six-clawed hands and two webbed feet bound with rope. Small, green plates coated the animal’s body, and two rows of blunt spikes ran from its arrow-shaped head to its long tail. Four nostrils opened and closed with each breath. “A Jerinn!” Allunai said and staggered back.
Four purple eyes blinked and locked onto her. Suppressing a scream that might attract the soldiers, Allunai dashed into the forest, grabbing her pack along the way.
Allunai didn’t rest until she was miles away from the clearing. She shook her head at her idiocy. A Jerinn. She had risked her life to save a Jerinn, a vicious, violent creature. Plus she’d have the whole Regal Guard Army after her if they ever discovered she was the one who freed the Jerinn.
She wondered why the repulsive, little thing was all the way out here in the mountains and not home, a group of volcanic islands off the coast, with the rest of its blood-loving kind. Once her breath returned, she headed east. An hour after dusk she stopped at a ditch, knees and feet throbbing with a mixture of numbness and pain. She threw her pack into the ditch and climbed in. She stretched out onto a mat of leaves and was about to sweep them over her when a horse snorted. Allunai quickly flattened herself against the ground.
A silhouette loomed over the ditch. “Don’t even bother.”
Allunai sat up and raised her arms.
She heard the shrill whine of a sword being drawn. “Get out of there.”
She obeyed and stood before the mounted soldier.
“You must be as dumb as a spoon,” the Regal Guard said. “Why did you let a poisonous demon go?”
“Sir, what are you talking about?” Allunai said.
“You’re not fooling anyone. I don’t know if I should let you have a trial or just mark you now because I know what your sentence will be.”
“Don’t bother. I am already.”
The Regal Guard laid his sword on Allunai’s shoulder, the edge touching her neck. “I should have known. Well, you’re coming with us anyway. You’re going to explain to the high court why we don’t have a Jerinn.”
Allunai felt the blood flee from her face. “The high court? They’ll torture me! Please, sir, don’t.”
“You deserve it. Noh, chain her.” The soldier looked beyond Allunai.
A shadow emerged from behind a tree.
“The Jerinn!” The soldier raised his sword and guided his horse back.
With its claws open, the creature approached the guard. Allunai backed away. The Jerinn sprang forward, swiping its claws at the horse, but the mount bolted away. The Jerinn jumped again and stabbed its claws into the man’s leg. The soldier slashed the Jerinn. The creature shrieked and fell.
Allunai stretched her thoughts beyond her body. They grabbed hold of the air particles around the horse’s head and pushed them away, forming a vacuum around its nose and mouth. The horse jerked its head out of the vacuum and screamed. It twisted violently to the side, throwing the Regal Guard off balance, but he caught himself before he fell off. The horse fled into the darkness, the soldier struggling to reposition himself on the saddle.
Allunai released her hold on the air, and her thoughts retreated back into her mind. Shaking, she sat down and took a few deep breaths to calm herself. She picked up her pack and walked to the Jerinn. The creature lay on its back, large gashes in both legs.
“You seem fine,” it said in a feminine, scratchy voice. Its head turned toward her.
Allunai jumped back. “You can speak my language?” Her gut yelled at her to run, but she doubted the Jerinn could move with its injuries.
“Yes, some Jerinns learn you language. We spy on you. We always alert in case you greedy beasts plan invade. My father spy. I helped him learn. It not fun. It ugly language.” The Jerinn sat up and pressed her claws on her wounds.
“Well, since you hate it, I’m not going to make you speak it.” Allunai turned away.
“You not thank me?” the Jerinn said.
“Stupid like every human. I saved you life.”
Allunai faced the Jerinn. “You came here to save my life? I thought you just wanted revenge.”
“Since you helped me, I saved you. I not like owe favors especially human.”
“How bad is it?” Allunai approached the Jerinn.
The creature clutched her legs. “I not know.”
“Let me see. I can tell you how bad it is.” Allunai knew it was beyond foolishness to help a Jerinn, but the creature had saved her life. Pulling a candle and flint box out of her pack, she ignited the candle and set it by the Jerinn. “The one in your left leg’s deep, but the other is much shallower. It doesn’t look like the sword got anything serious in this big wound. Your muscles just need to be set together and allowed to heal.”
“No, I was a groom. Horses injure themselves all the time. I learned how to treat some of their wounds.”
The Jerinn thrashed her tail on the ground, which Allunai knew from stories meant laughter. “Thank you for look at my legs, but what point? No one help me.”
An idea struck Allunai. She wasn’t sure if it was brilliant or stupid. If she could lure the Jerinn to Nakkin, a National Assembly representative who lived near the coast, maybe she could convince him to get her pardon papers in exchange for the creature. “I’ll take care of them for you.”
“How I know I trust you? When you helped me escape, I doubt you knowed I Jerinn.”
“I admit I wasn’t expecting a Jerinn this far inland, but that’s all right,” she lied and brought her sewing kit out. “You stood up to two Regal Guards for me. Nobody I know would’ve done that for me. If you don’t take care of that, some animal will get you. So what’ll it be?”
The Jerinn’s nostrils flared. “Fine. Do.”
“It’ll sting, so don’t attack me,” Allunai warned. The Jerinn squeezed her eyes shut as Allunai pulled the muscles together, sewed them, and stitched the gashes closed. Allunai then cut cloth strips from her blanket and wrapped them around the legs.
“Treatment should not hurt,” the Jerinn muttered. “Doctors stop pain.”
“I’m not a doctor. If you take it easy for a while, your legs will be just like they were before.” Allunai blew out the candle and packed up her belongings.
“Thank you, but I cannot escape animals.”
“You need to find a safe place until you heal.”
The Jerinn snorted. “No place in human land safe.”
“How come you’re here now? You live on those islands.”
“I swimmed when storm comed. Wave throwed me in rock. I knocked out. When I waked, I on this land. Humans finded me and throwed me in cage. I injured. I not fight them. Two humans comed, gived me drug, and taked me here.” The Jerinn reeled back her lips, revealing teeth. “I hate you kind. You thieves. You drived us from mainland islands.”
Allunai took a few steps back. “I’m sorry my ancestors did that to you. Would you like me to guide you through the mountains to the shore?”
The Jerinn’s tail beat the dirt again. “You, human, treated my legs. Now offer take me home. I crazy from little blood.”
“No, really. I’m grateful you saved me. I’m heading in that direction anyway.”
The Jerinn peered at Allunai. “How I know you not deceive me?”
“You have that venom. I’m not going to try anything with you.”
The creature growled. “I not have other option if I want live.”
“We need to move.” Allunai lifted her pack onto her shoulder.
“Now? I almost had legs cut off.”
“I know it must hurt. But we have to get out of here. The Regal Guard might come back with reinforcements.”
“No, we safe. I poisoned human when I clawed him. He dead by now. Besides no humans around here.”
Allunai shook her head. “No, there are Regal Guard stations all over the mountains. There could be one only a couple of mountains away. I don’t think you got your claws that deep into his leg, so he probably didn’t get a lot of venom. He might make it to a station. We should move to another place just in case.” She pulled her blanket out of her pack. “Get on. I’ll pull you, so you don’t have walk.”
“I move on my own.”
“Your injuries are too fresh.”
The Jerinn grumbled and pulled herself onto the blanket, and Allunai dragged the creature. When Allunai estimated they had traveled a fair distance, she pulled the Jerinn into the cover of a ring of pines.
“We’ll camp here for the night,” Allunai said.
“We fine where we before,” the Jerinn said and rolled off the blanket. “My poison kill him by now.”
“Well, we don’t know for sure, so we need to be careful.” Allunai walked a few yards away from the Jerinn. If the Jerinn tried to attack, hopefully this distance would give her a chance. She pondered if she’d have enough time to choke the Jerinn and concluded it wouldn’t do any good. Jerinns fished in the ocean and could hold their breaths for several minutes. She couldn’t form a vacuum around the Jerinn long enough to suffocate her. “Think you’ll be well enough to start tomorrow?” She spread her blanket out on the ground and stretched out on it.
“I make it.”
“My name’s Allunai.”
“How you choke horse without touch it?” Showa asked.
Allunai rolled over and peered at the Jerinn. “What are you talking about?”
“You choked horse. You many steps away. How you do that? Humans cannot do that.”
Allunai took a deep breath, deciding there was no point in hiding it. “I pushed the air away from the horse's nose, so it couldn't breathe. I don't know anyone else who can do it.”
Allunai gripped her blanket. “I don't know.”
“That not make sense. How not know?”
Allunai shrugged. “I realized one day I could do it, and I learned how to use it. That's all I can tell you about it.”
* * *
Copyright © 2008 by Leona Rigger