The Camp of the Heathens
Previously, the boy, lost in a strange world, seeks the help of a strange girl to help him find the man. She leads him deep into the forest, but abandons him when they are drawing near to something…
The boy would’ve rather gone back now than venture on alone, for the wood was deeper and more dark, and it couldn’t possibly be filled with anything that was pleasant. But the girl was quite gone, and he’d find no company behind him now: his only chance was before. So he went cautiously and on tiptoes through the leaf litter for fear of what he should find.
There was a camp ahead, and he saw the tents standing amidst the boles of the trees. Their canvas was animal hides, and they were gathered round an open grotto, smoke rising lazily from open pit fires. The entire encampment was fenced in by a hastily-erected redoubt. There were voices, and though the boy at first couldn’t see who made them, he knew there must be men in the hideout.
There were men in the camp. They weren’t like any men the boy had ever seen, for their skin was bronze and their hair like long strands of ebony cords twisted into braids; but their voices and their craftsmanship assured him they were men. They spoke in dull tones words he couldn’t understand, and they sat or lay about their open hearths, for they appeared to be quite drunk.
Where then was the old man who’d escaped from the wreckage of the crash? The boy couldn’t see him anywhere.
As he watched from behind the great stem of a deepwood tree, the boy saw now there were more men coming from the far thickets with prey upon their backs, freshly killed. They were hunters, armed with long spears, and they spoke excitedly to one another. He watched for a time as the camp was awash with the excitement of their coming, but his thoughts were on the old man and wondering where he’d gone: he eagerly watched their faces for some evidence of a white man in their midst.
The bronze men were looking up into the trees now, for a steady droning hmmm was coming from the sky, and the boy was surprised to see long ropes descending into the circle of tents; then down them came more men, though rather unlike the wild men of the wood. These were proper men like at home. They wore clothing of cotton linen, high-belted boots, broad-brimmed hats, and many had swords and pistols in their belts. One of them cried out when his feet touched the ground in the strange slurry tongue of the natives; then others were about him, men from both sides, and all of them talking to each other.
The boy felt dismay. And worse still was when the wood-men brought up from the bowl of the grotto a beggar shackled and hobbled, and the boy knew at once that he was the old man, his only friend and companion. Even beneath the mud and the rags he couldn’t mistake it. He watched in horror as the men from the trees brought items to trade – stones and jewelry, weapons and skins – and the men from the wood haggled over their prisoner. The first familiar words he heard from that camp was the voice of the old man shouting, “You can’t sell me to them, you devils!” Then the leaders of both parties shook on the deal, and it was done.
Was this the dreadful Farlong then, the boy wondered as he watched? There certainly didn’t seem to be anything very terrifying about the bronze men, who were little more than great, strong heathens. But as he watched while the men from the trees returned in the way they’d come, taking his friend with them, the boy felt only despair to have come so close but still be so far: for there was no way he could free the old man from his enemies.
He was still lurking on the steps of the camp, wondering what he should do, when he heard the crack of twigs: something moving through the woods to his right. The boy moved around the great tree that was his shelter, and from there he watched as two men came into view, walking between the trunks of the deepwood and talking together. They wore clothes like the men from the trees and carried rifles over their shoulders, and they were speaking the boy’s language.
“The Indians are fools to think Captain Joyce will keep his word,” said one.
“I told the captain we should just shoot the devils and take the old man from them,” answered the other. “But Joyce still believes in diplomacy. I wouldn’t trust those savages in so far as I could throw a rock.”
“He’s trying to make nice with the natives, should we ever need their support,” said the first. “And it has worked to our advantage already.”
“He may be either a genius or a fool if his plan holds out,” said his companion.
They were now nearly to the camp of the bronze men, and they fell silent; and when they were in among the tents, they called out to the men of the camp in their language, then they too, like their fellows, were whisked away into the trees and were gone.
Now the boy supposed the old man had been traded to the whitemen for some gain, and since he couldn’t fly into the canopy as they could, he nearly gave up all hope of recovering his friend. He had so despaired that, when the bronze men discovered him hiding in the wood shortly thereafter, he didn’t fight back but let himself be taken into the camp.
The bronze men looked at the boy with distain, and though he could understand nothing they said, he felt they were discussing what to do with him. In the end they searched him and took his dirk, then led him down into the grotto where there was a prison of wooden poles, and they shut him within. The boy now felt he’d just as soon stayed in Norward as died there in a foreign wood, and he gave himself to despair.
It was late in the night and everything was consumed by the deep of the wood when the boy was awoken from deep sleep to see showers of sparks falling down on him from above, and he could hear the tinkling voice of the girl in the night. “Foolish boy to wander so helpless into the hands of the Tundlars,” she laughed. “You would’ve been better to go back to your home.”
“I can’t go home for I don’t know the way!” the boy snapped back angrily.
The girl sat on the bars that had become his imprisonment. She peered in at him with her curious eyes. “You may not know, but the Sky Men will.”
But the boy was hardly listening now. He only wished she’d leave him alone to his misery, for England now seemed so far gone from him, and though he’d never given himself over to the cold depravity of Norward, now he could see no way out.
He awoke in the morning and thought it a dream.
When the camp was stirring the boy was famished, but there was nothing to eat. The bronze men were wicked and cruel, and they laughed when they saw him curled up in the cage. For the boy there seemed no respite.
Before midday they left the grotto in the woods and made away from that place into a plain land that stretched for as far as the boy could see. Dry grass cut at his ankles and sharp stones scored his feet, for they’d taken his boots to fuel their fire. The sky was overcast, and the pinnacle mountains and islands in the sky were lost to him. But his strength was growing short, and he hadn’t even the courage to look up. His captors drove him onward, and he felt as astranged to those savage men as he would to a wild animal. Their language made him shudder, and their tawny muscles and hairy backs reminded him of monkeys.
In the evening they camped by a babbling brook, and the bronze men built a fire. They tied him to a log some way from it where the heat meant nothing to him, and there the boy lay in the grass, his aching feet throbbing, and he listened to the rabble of their voices. When at last their talk died to snores, and he saw at a distance a light flickering through the tall grass, he thought it too good to be true.
“Are you still the same fool that I left in the wood and at the lakeshore?” asked the small voice of Sparks.
“I am,” he answered, feeling dejected but grateful for her company.
“Then may you be wiser when you hear what I say,” she replied. “I’ve listened to the voices of the Tundlars, and I know where your friend has gone and where you are going, too.”
The boy listened, though only because he could not get away.
“Your friend has been taken by the people in the sky to their fortress, and there he will stay until they’ve used him for their purpose. The Tundlars said the Farlong have interest in him, which is difficult to say as to the meaning of the thing.” Here she sat on his leg and poked him to get his attention. “The Tundlars traded him to the Sky Men in return for the weapons, the ones that go boom. They’ll use those weapons against their enemies.”
The boy supposed people like the bronze men of the forest might have all sorts of enemies.
“The Mud Men by the river,” she continued. “The Tundlars hate them. They’ll go there now to raid their villages. They are taking their Little Sky-man with them because there’s a village along the way where they can sell you for more weapons.”
The boy was horrified, and he cried out, “I don’t want to be sold! And I’m not a Sky-man, I’m from England!”
The girl laughed. “Not a Sky-man?” she asked, her eyes twinkling and sparks raining from her shoulders with the tinkling of her laughter. “Of course you’re a Sky-man. You came from the sky in a bird. I saw it.”
That was fair enough, and the boy said no more of it.
“Can’t you untie these knots and let me go now?” he asked instead.
“Certainly not,” she answered to his dismay. “If I did you wouldn’t get to where you need to go.”
All his hope drained from him, and the tinkling laughter trailing behind her through the grass only served to solidify his despair as he watched her leave in bounds like a jack rabbit that believes it can fly.
With the return of dawn’s first light drawing fog from the river in great clouds of mist, the bronze men kicked the boy awake and made him march. On he went, until he thought he must die for weariness; then on he went some more. And the little seaplane in the mountain lake and all hope of finding the old man again got farther and farther away.
In the middle of the afternoon they were high in the hills once more, the valleys falling far away at both sides and the great, black spires that bordered that land running like a volcanic ring around the horizon, when the boy saw below a great shadow over a vale of deep evergreen forest. He thought at first it must be a cloud, and so looked back to the sky to see which one had cast it; but the sky had become quite overcast without his notice, and there was no sun to make any shadows. He looked again down at the valley and felt a horrid revulsion at the sight of that thing, perhaps because he couldn’t guess what it was, perhaps because the very unnatural quality of it was so strange: creeping away, climbing up the valley floor, it was like a slug, but it passed over the forests and left no trail through the trees.
He tried to ask his captors what it was, but of course they didn’t understand; and when he pointed to it they only slapped his hand so hard his flesh burned like fire and said, “Ongmar” over and over again with their hands to their eyes to shield away the sight of it.
When it was becoming dark they came into a village. It was a mountain town, the houses built of stone, and the people who lived there weren’t like any people the boy had ever seen before, not even in that strange world. They were little people, their skin grey like the stones on the hillside, but their eyes and hands were quick.
When they were still some way off the bronze men called out in their own language, and the stone-people answered. If they were bartering or heckling, the boy didn’t know; but when his captors made camp for the night at the edge of the village, he understood that well-enough. And it would be a miserable night on the heath, for the heather was damp and the wind cold.
In the morning when the boy awoke there was a ship anchored on the hillside below the village.
This work is written by AD Bane and published by adbane.com. It is solely the property of ADBane.com and may not be reproduced in part or in whole for any reason except at the exclusive permission of the author. © 2018 ADBane.com