Read A Hero's Bargain Online

Authors: Forrest, Rayne

A Hero's Bargain (3 page)

Chapter 3

 

Saba quickly gathered her wits.
Tyree was right—and they needed to act fast. The fire could spread rapidly
destroying the woods, what meager crops they’d managed to plant, and if unchecked,
it could even make its way to the village. The tiny streams that crisscrossed
their way through the woods would not stop a large, spreading fire.

Jennica was running toward her.
“Delnor will sit with Hallaf. I will go with you.”

Saba nodded. They would need every
able-bodied person to contain the fire. Delnor was too old and infirm to be of
much use in the woods. She handed Jennica a bucket.

“Hurry. I’ll be right behind you as
soon as I can.”

Saba ran behind her hut and grabbed
her rake although she feared it would do little good. The men were ahead of her
with shovels and they would bear the brunt of the work and the danger. They
would be the ones getting as close to the fire as possible. Those women able to
help would simply be throwing water on the flames, water that would evaporate
all too quickly.

And if the
errol
came, drawn
by the activity, they would all be in equal peril.

She sprinted to catch up with
Jennica, her heart crying out in denial of what was happening. They had
struggled to survive for so long against the rampages of the
errol
. Now
to think there could be two
of the creatures
turned her blood to
ice in her veins.

She knew there was always the
possibility the fireball was one of the strange space rocks that sometimes fell
from the sky. They were rare, but when they did fall, they caused considerable
damage.

There were plenty of stories from
the days of old about the space rocks. There was only one story that told about
an
errol
and it was not the same as the creature they dealt with. The
errol
in the tales of old was a being like them, a man who came from a world far away
and traveled among the stars. Her own mother’s mother had claimed to descend
from that man.

Saba pushed speculation about her
grandmother’s wild ramblings away. She needed to concentrate on the here and
now. The heat of the flames warmed her face as Tyree’s voice drifted on the
wind, shouting orders. The men spread out and began to dig a trench, throwing
shovelfuls of dirt at the leading edge of the fire. The women passed buckets as
rapidly as possible.

She jumped into the little creek
and formed a small dam with rocks from the streambed. It wasn’t much, but it
would make scooping out each bucket of water faster and easier. She quickly
completed one, then moved upstream about twenty feet and formed another. It
only took a moment for the water to spill over the top and continue its journey
to the sea.

She’d heard of the sea. She’d heard of many things.
Tyree had journeyed far and had always returned full of stories. Sitting by her
fire and telling her tales was part of his wooing of her. While she enjoyed
listening to his stories, she did not enjoy the wooing part. Wooing was no
longer part of her life, or anything she had time for. Her people’s survival
came first.

Saba picked up her rake and went to
see whose task she could make easier.

* * * *

“We were lucky, Saba.” Tyree
accepted the cup of water she handed him, drinking it down in great gulps. He
wiped his mouth on his sleeve then used the damp cloth to wipe his forehead.
“The ground here is rocky, the grass and leaves sparse. The fire didn’t have
sufficient fuel to gather strength.”

“The gods do look out for us,
Tyree.”

He made a rude sound. “That is why
we are forced to cower in huts behind a strong wall. The gods looking out for
us.”

Saba couldn’t even flinch at his
sarcasm. Her private speculation on the purposes of the gods kept her awake
through many a long and lonely night.

“You’re tired. We are all tired.
Tomorrow we’ll have to deal with the fears of the people. We’ll have to see if
there is a body in the strange craft.”

“The men will do that, Saba. You do
not have to be part of it. No one could have survived such a fall, nor the
fire. We’ll see if there is a body left and we’ll bury it. You have enough to
do.”

That was true. The firefighters had
sustained an assortment of minor burns, blisters, cuts and bruises, none
serious. She had instructed the injured to go home, wash the injuries, dress
them with ointment, and come see her in the morning if they needed to. They
were very fortunate.

“Go back to the village, Saba. I’ll
stay here with a few men in case the fire rekindles.” He squeezed her shoulder.
“I’m sorry you missed your bath.”

“I will find time tomorrow.” She
accepted the cup as he handed it back to her, dipping it into her bucket and
then drinking herself. Her mouth tasted of smoke. She stank, too, smelling of
smoke and sweat and charred earth. To be clean would be heavenly.

“There’s Jennica.” She pointed to a
group of departing women. “I’ll walk back with them.”

Tyree nodded and let her go without
saying more, a good indication of just how fatigued he was. She joined the
women, walking in silence. No one seemed up to the usual chatter as they walked
through the gate into the village, and each woman headed for her own hut. There
were a few gentle touches and soft murmurs of parting, but Saba noticed how
subdued everyone was. She took Jennica’s hand and pulled her to her hut.

“Stay with me tonight. One of us
will surely wake if Hallaf needs us.”

“You would send Delnor home alone
when there could be another
errol
?”

“If there is another, do you think
it could have survived that landing?”

“The first one did.”

Saba had no reply for that. She
was, however, putting her foot down about one thing. She was too tired to tolerate
any argument about it, too.

“All right. Delnor may stay. She
can sleep on the floor so you can have the extra pallet. I intend to sleep in
my own bed. Alone.” To her surprise, Jennica didn’t argue.

It was a moot point anyway. Delnor
was already asleep in her bed.

Saba checked on Hallaf. He was
still warm to the touch, but not enough to raise her concern. She rekindled the
fire while Jennica fixed them a cold meat and bread platter to share. Then she
told Jennica to lift the floorboard and get one precious bottle of wine. They’d
earned it.

Jennica poured one large mug of the
fragrant, rosy liquid for them to share, then carefully replaced the bottle in
its concealed crate. The wine had been made several years earlier, before the
appearance of the
errol
. They could no longer travel to the hillside
where the fruit for the wine grew in abundance.

Saba suffered a few pangs of
remorse over hoarding the few precious bottles left, but she justified her
actions by telling herself that she asked for little and gave much. It was only
a small indulgence and it harmed no one. She was generous with her doses of
wine when people came to her complaining of digestive ailments to prevent too
many complaints.

She accepted the mug, inhaling the
rich bouquet before taking the first sip. It filled her senses with memories of
warm, sunny, carefree days in happier times. The vision of her mother smiling
at her rose before her making her eyes flood with tears. Jennica’s voice
reached her from some place far away from her memories.

“What will we do, Saba? How can we
stay here if another has come?”

Saba stared through the prisms of
her tears at the dying embers of the fire. Jennica merely voiced the fear of
the village. She could put those fears to rest, at least for one night, even if
she didn’t truly believe. She wiped her eyes and straightened her back.

“Tyree is correct. No one, nothing,
could have survived that crash. Now make us up a pallet so we can sleep.”

Jennica patted her shoulder and
rose to gather the blankets.

* * * *

Saba couldn’t sleep. She tossed and
turned inside the cocoon of her blankets. One thing she didn’t worry about was
waking Jennica, Hallaf, or Delnor. They all slept like the dead. So why
couldn’t she?

She listened for Tyree’s return for
several hours, straining to hear the sound of men’s footsteps approaching.
There should be a changing of the guard at the fire. It hadn’t happened yet
although she knew the men outside would be fatigued. It wasn’t like Tyree to
work the men until they dropped. It begged the question of what had happened.
She had to know.

Slipping from her blankets, she
pulled on her soft suede boots and edged through the door. Her roommates didn’t
wake. Tyree’s hut was across from the main gate. A small light glowed in the
window but she knew he wasn’t there. His door was closed.

Had he been inside, sleeping or
not, his door would be open to all who may need him. Even when his first mate
had lived, the door would close for an hour, or maybe two, then reopen. Baea
had been pleased to be the mate of the village headman and not complained
overmuch with the lack of true privacy.

Saba crept along the edge of her
hut, making sure to remain in the shadows. She paused and listened intensely to
the talk of the guards just outside the main gate, dismayed they gave no
indication of disbursing. Just as she decided to go back inside she heard Tyree
say that they would resume the search for a survivor in the morning. This was
why she couldn’t sleep.

Someone was out there and needed
her help. She didn’t question where the knowledge came from. She never had. It
was simply there, a part of her, and she listened to it.

Tyree dismissed the men for the
night and she waited until they filed tiredly through the gate and entered
their own huts. Tyree was the last man to come in, closing the gate firmly behind
him before entering his hut. She watched him pour heated water from the kettle
he kept on his hearth into a basin then close his door.

She ducked her head, a slight smile
bowing her lips. Bold, brave Tyree was shy about only a very few things and
bathing publicly was one of them.

Now was her chance. She slipped
along the wall, and out the gate, making sure it latched behind her. She
doubted it was a true defense against the
errol
should it truly desire
to come inside, but as of yet it had not tried to breach the wall. Walking
carefully and noiselessly, she quickly backtracked to the edge of the earth
charred by the fire.

The knowledge she was alone and
vulnerable should the
errol
find her kept the gooseflesh raised on her
arms. The
errol
killed without hesitation, often mutilating its prey.
She could only hope if she became its next victim, the end would be quick.

Saba leaned against a large
kao
tree and closed her eyes and opened her senses to the surrounding area. If
someone were here, alive but injured, maybe she could feel their presence.
Maybe the gods would lead her to them.

There it was. A whisper on the
breeze.

She skirted the burnt earth staying
just inside the tree line whenever possible. The ground became rocky the closer
to the crash site she got. She stopped to get her bearings. A large outcropping
of boulders was just to her left. Whatever drew her was there. She gathered her
courage and crawled to the top of the largest boulder and looked down upon a
man lying on his side, curled into a ball.

A man, not an
errol
. How
could this be? What world had he come from traveling in a fireball? Why would
he come here, to the lands of the Ramalho? Had the gods sent one of their own
to save them?

There was no time for such
questions. The man was injured and perhaps dying. She would speculate later,
after she had done what she could for him, after he lived and was made well. Cautiously,
she slid from her rocky perch and approached the huddled form. The smell of
blood, and worse, reached her. He was not a god then, to be in such grave need
of assistance.

Injured or not, she knew she had to
be careful of him. He could be delirious, or mentally deranged. Worst of all he
could carry some unknown contagion that could be deadly to the Ramalho.

But surely the gods had not put him
here, where she would find him and tend to him, if they meant to use him to
destroy the Ramalho. No, the gods had sent him as deliverance for her people.
Surely.

She cast about for a small stone,
and finding one, tossed it. It hit the man on the arm. He didn’t move. She
found another and threw that one, too. He remained motionless, curled around
some sort of sack. There was a small branch at the base of one of the rocks
about as long as her arm. She picked it up and gingerly poked him with it. He
moaned. Surprised, she almost dropped the stick.

Well, at least she knew he was
alive. She tightened her grip on the stick and poked at him harder, shaking
him. He moaned louder, the low sound of a man in agony and too weak to scream.
She dropped to her knees and edged closer.

“My name is Saba. Can you hear me?”

His only response was another moan.

“I’m here to help you. You’re
injured. I want to help. Can you understand me?” Very gingerly she touched his
shoulder. He flinched and screamed hoarsely, trying to move away from her.

“I won’t hurt you. I want to help.”
He was twitching now, caught in some sort of spasm or seizure. His legs flopped
about in a strange lifeless manner while he held his stomach tightly.

Whatever afflicted him, he didn’t
have much time left. There was no way she could carry him to the village by herself.
She’d have to ask Tyree to help and face his anger for going back into the
woods alone. She reached out and grabbed the stranger’s hands. He screamed
again, a horrible agonized wail that spoke of unimagined pain.

“I have to go for help. I’m sorry I
have to leave you. I know you don’t understand, but try not to move. I’ll be
back as soon as I can, I swear.”

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