Well it only took twelve months, which seemed to have lasted a total of approximately seven years, but we made it into 2021. Cue up the exhausted "woo-hoo"s and hit Random on the playlist, then please remember you're still here and take a moment to just be impressed by that fact before humming into the rest of your day to the tune of your favorite song. Seriously, you set Random so your fav song will be along shortly if it hasn't come on yet.
The week of squishy holiday time is wrapping up and I'm getting back into remembering which days are what again as the return to school looms closer. The early mornings this coming week are going to be a bit of a shock to the system, but a return to a set schedule will be nice. (Translation: getting up for a 9:00am start to daily class meetings is going to suuuuuck so much for my house full of night people, but at least there'll be regular snacks so we won't all be monster-level grumpy.)
18. Enemies and Friends
The clanging of the fight above silenced. A moment later Tor dropped to the cage beside Justin. He was breathing hard from exertion, but otherwise seemed fine as he straightened. Now that most of the slaves were loose and running away, and most of the guards were dealing with that, Justin could hear parts of the quiet conversation happening under his feet which he was intent on ignoring.
“Good afternoon,” Tor huffed. Justin nodded in greeting as Tor looked around. “Did you still have Tam with you?”
“Look down two idlesides,” Justin answered.
“Oh, in the cage. I suppose that’s good,” Tor said. He sniffed and coughed while looking between his feet, his nose running from having fought to sweating in the cold weather. Tam was sitting with the dark-skinned son and father.
“That was Jin you were fighting with?” Justin asked.
“For most of it, yes,” Tor said and nodded. “He wouldn’t quit fighting, but he wouldn’t kill me either. I guess that means we’re still friends.”
“That’s good,” Justin said, tilting a small grin down at Tor.
“I know, right?” Tor was smiling widely behind his mask, Justin could hear it. “He’s gone back to report, though, so we need to get going.” He sniffled and coughed again, then his head tilted slightly as he looked at the small gang surrounding Justin. “Are these four friends of yours, in awe of you, or simply struck immobile by how bad you smell?”
“I know him,” Justin said, pointing out Archie Cobb. “The rest were deciding whether or not to attack me on his behalf.”
“Ooh.” Tor stretched out the single syllable. “So they’re stone-headed?”
“Completely gearblocked,” Justin agreed. “What about the other scout, the one in the outpost doorway?”
“She was new. I’d never met her before.” Tor rolled his shoulders as he visually measured the men now watching him as well. Justin noted his use of past tense regarding the new scout and didn’t bother asking any further. “Shall we get going then?” Tor clapped his hands as if he was coaching a sport at grammar school. “Tam, are you ready to go?” he called down.
She settled a comforting hand on the shoulder of the young man who’d caught her and smiled tightly up at her brother. “We’ll be right up,” she answered.
“Those two with Tam are friends, right?” Tor asked Justin, pointing down at the men Tam was sitting with.
“They are now,” Justin replied. “The younger one is coming with us. His father gave me this after I dropped my sword.”
Tor looked at the crowbar, then turned and watched the quiet conversation for a moment before shifting impatiently.
“When is he coming with us?” Tor asked. “We really need to get moving.”
“They’re still standing here. You can kill them while we’re waiting.” Justin gestured with the top of the crow bar at the four men growing more confused the longer they were ignored.
“You don’t want to?” Tor asked, the tone of his reply suited better to having been asked if he wanted the last sweet biscuit after a light luncheon.
“No, you go ahead,” Justin confirmed. Two of the four simply ran away as Tor drew only one of the two swords he again had on his belt. Cobb and the other man didn’t stand a chance, even with the cobbled together weapons they’d made from mining tools.
“Are you all right?” Tor asked, noticing Justin hadn’t moved during the very short fight.
“I think I dislocated my left shoulder,” Justin answered.
“That must hurt.” Tor cleaned his blade and sheathed it.
“Doesn’t feel good.”
Tor prodded at the joint in question. Justin winced and groaned from the pain of the inspection. “You did dislocate it,” Tor stated confidently, positioning himself to realign the arm into its proper place. “I can set this, but you have to promise me something,” he added.
“Promise you what?” Justin asked, expecting something else about Tam and focusing on his feet while trying not to tense up in anticipation of how much setting it was going to hurt. Just having Tor lift the arm’s weight off the injured joint immediately felt better, but experience dictated that slight relief would be over very soon.
“Promise you won’t hit me with the crow bar if this doesn’t work the first time.”
“What? Wait, you just said you could – ouch!”
Justin tried to remember how to breathe after the shock of setting the joint ebbed and his shoulder ceased being terrifically painful. Tor was still holding the injured arm, giving the joint a chance to settle before having to support itself again.
“Here, tuck it like this so you can pretend you have a sling,” Tor instructed gently, threading Justin’s forearm through the strap of the pack he was still wearing. “I wanted to ask you something since this morning. Is your mam as scary as she, well, felt?”
“No,” Justin said and then chuckled. “My mom is much, much worse.”
“Huh,” Tor replied, a smirk in his voice. “That explains why you have mortar for marrow,” he complimented.
The cage rattled as Tam and the trio’s two new friends climbed to the top. Tor looked at the father’s crooked foot and the son’s face and – for once – kept his mouth shut. Justin busied himself fidgeting with the strap that was acting as a sling, not looking up when one of the massive, weathered hands squeezed his good shoulder briefly, or when the father limped away.
“Pop’s going to blow the canal wall to let the river out of its channel and destroy the mine,” the young man stated after his father walked away. “It should be enough of a distraction to keep everyone away from us. There’s a supply shed at the top of that hoist.” He pointed a quarter of the way around the mine, well away from where the other slaves were fighting with the guards. “That’ll be our best place to find something to help us get away.”
“Lead the way,” Tor gestured.
“Here,” Justin said, offering the crow bar to their group’s newest addition as they set off. “I’ll pick up a sword on the way.”
The young man looked down at him, his dark eyes too old and too angry for the face they were resting in, and took the tool without saying a word.
“I’m Tor Nao-ak,” Tor said, introducing himself as he pulled his mask off and tossed it into the pit. “You already met my sister, Tam,” he added as he nodded toward her.
“John Duncan,” John introduced himself and then his heavy stare landed on Justin expectantly.
“He’s our nameless companion,” Tor answered after a moment of silence. “But he answers to ‘hey’, ‘look’, ‘no’, and ‘don’t do that’ if you need to get his attention,” he added with a smirk. John scoffed a single laugh.
“My folks had a dog named Kony that only answered to those same things when I was a kid,” John stated, the tone leaving no doubt he was attempting to be insulting to the man he viewed as leaving his father behind.
“That was a terrible insult, John Duncan,” Tor said, the look on his face disgusted. “You’ll have to get a lot better at verbal sparring if you’re going to travel with Tam,” he added, hooking a thumb toward his sister and making Tam snort out a chuckle. Tor was about to continue, but silenced when he heard a horn blowing. It was too far away to echo in the mine, but the notes were clear.
“What is it?” Tam asked.
“Advance infantry,” Tor said, answering Tam as he reached to take the pack she was carrying. “They’re closer than I expected. That puts the scouts at half that distance.”
“So we’re running?” Justin asked, gripping his bad arm with his good one so he wouldn’t be jarring his injured shoulder more than necessary.
“We’re running,” Tor confirmed, settling the pack onto his own shoulders. “We’re running, really, really fast,” he added.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!