Sanctuary – Snippet 06
“I did,” she said curtly. “Do as you’re told.”
She was half-expecting an argument, but all she got was a smile. An instant later, Lavi Tur was moving up the mountain.
She followed, after taking a long look behind to make sure nothing was pursuing them. Nothing she could see, at least. Because of the folded terrain, she could only see a short distance. There might be an entire army on their trail, for all she knew.
But she thought it was unlikely they were anywhere near. Liskash generally did not move as quickly as Mrem. That was true even in the hot lowlands. Here, in the cold heights, they would be more sluggish than usual.
Sebetwe was cursing his own sluggishness that very moment. Liskash were not cold-blooded, in the way true reptiles were. But they were still more susceptible to low temperatures than Mrem or other mammals. In high altitudes like these, they needed to absorb sunlight after dawn in order to get moving quickly, and they needed to rest more often than they would in the lowlands. That was so regardless of the difficulty of the terrain — which, if it was arduous to travel across, required still more often and longer rest periods.
Not a big problem, perhaps, for someone taking a leisurely hike simply to enjoy the scenery. But when you were hunting gantrakâ€¦
He tried to raise his spirits by reminding himself that gantrak, while they lived in the mountains, were not mammals either. They too would be sluggish this early in the morning.
The thought was not very cheerful, though. Sluggish in the morning or not, a fully grown gantrak would weigh half again what Sebetwe did, had talons three times as long as his own, fangs that made his teeth look pitiful — leaving aside the scaly armored hide and the thick bony ridges guarding the creature’s skull.
Not far now, judging from the sounds being made by the hatchlings nesting somewhere above them.
Elor Zeg almost slipped off the narrow ledge, he came back down in such a hurry.
“Liskash — up ahead!” he hissed. “Chefer Kolkin sent me back to tell you.” He hesitated briefly, and then added: “He wants to know what you think we should so.”
From the slight frown on his face, it was clear that Elor Zeg had his doubts about the propriety of a noted and veteran warrior like Chefer Kolkin seeking instruction from such a young dancer as Achia Pazik. But, thankfully, he kept whatever reservations he had to himself.
She suspected those same reservations had distracted Elor Zeg from passing along the critical information she needed to make any decision.
“How many are there?” she hissed in return, trying to speak as quietly as possible. “And are they warriors?”
Elor Zeg grunted slightly with embarrassment. If he’d neglected to include that information in a report he’d given Chefer Kolkin himself, the older warrior would have berated him. Pretty savagely, too.
“Only three, that we can see. And we’re not sure if they’re warriors. Exactly.” He seemed a bit confused. “What I mean is, they’re carrying weapons. I guess. Of a sort.”
Achia Pazik was getting exasperated. Neither of the Zeg half-brothers was exactly what you’d call a mental giant. “What do you mean, ‘you guess’? What sort of weapons?”
“They’re more like snares than weapons. Ropes mostly, attached to poles, with odd loops at the end. They also have big knifes, but those are still in their sheathes.”
Ropes with odd loopsâ€¦
Some of the Mrem tribes used devices called lassos, she knew. Her own people didn’t, because the animals they herded were too big to be held against their will by mere ropes. But there were tribes whose herd animals were a lot smaller and more manageable.
So far as she knew, though, the lassos were simply ropes designed to be cast in such a way as to loop around the necks of their targets. She’d never heard of any attached to poles.
Then again, she’d never actually seen a lasso. Her knowledge might simply be faulty.
But this was no time to let her thoughts stray. There was a decision to be made.
“They’re above us on the mountain?”
“Yes. Climbing still higher, too. They haven’t spotted us. I don’t think they’re paying much attention to anything below them.”
They must be hunting something, then. Whatever was making the hideous shrieks?
Possibly. But it didn’t really matter, one way or the other. If the Liskash were pre-occupied, the small band of Mrem could pass them by without being noticed.
“Tell Chefer Kolkin to stay on the trail.” Tiny narrow treacherous ledge would have been a more apt term to use than trail. But everyone’s spirits needed to be kept up.
Elor Zeg left without a word.
Or anything else. Warriors taking orders from their superiors were normally in the habit of making a small gesture when they did so. A sort of hand-clenching coupled with a forward thrust of the fist. But Achia Pazik was not about to insist on formalities. It was enough that no one was openly challenging her authority.
Well, almost no one.
By the time Elor Zeg and Achia Pazik had finished their little conference, the rest of the party had crowded up the trail and come close enough to overhear the last exchange.
“I think we ought to attack them,” said Lavi Tur brashly.
Before Achia Pazik could reply, Aziz Vardit spoke up. She was the oldest of the females in their party.
“Thankfully, you are not in charge,” she said. “Achia Pazik is. So be quiet.”
They were almost there. Close enough to separate the tones of the hatchling screeches. There were two of them.
No adults. By now, they would have made their presence known. Gantrak did not tolerate much in the way of obstreperousness from their offspring. If there had been an adult in the nest above, she or he would probably have silenced the noisy hatchlings.
That was the good part. The bad part was that gantrak hatchlings wouldn’t be making that much noise if they weren’t hungry — which suggested, at least, that an adult might be returning with food soon.
But there was no way to know, and they couldn’t possibly stay on the mountain for another night. Not this high up. At least one of them would die, and quite possibly all four.
Sebetwe glanced around. Nabliz was also in position. He couldn’t see Herere because the big female had moved far enough around the slope of the mountainside to be out of sight. But whatever her other failings, Herere could be counted on to be in position also. In the field, as long as the task didn’t involve subtlety and indirection, she was extraordinarily capable.
Time, then. Being careful to keep his snare out of sight of the hatchlings above — that involved an awkward extension of the pole, sticking out almost directly behind him — Sebetwe began creeping up the final stretch.
He never once thought to look down the mountain behind him. If the adult gantrak were returning to the nest they’d either be coming from the other side of the mountain or they would have already spotted the Liskash advancing on the nest. In which case there would be no need to scour the mountainside looking for signs of them coming. Their screams of fury would have been heard already. Gantrak were even less given to subtlety than Herere.