POW : part 4

Prisoner of War : Seed of Purpose

warning – this content may trigger negative reactions in some readers who have experienced traumatic events or are largely empathic. This story may not be suitable for younger readers.

As days pass in the barbarian camp Catori keeps herself quiet and busy caring for Cade’s tent and creating compresses. In treating him she gives him focus and breathing techniques to help give the illusion of the compress working.  Daytime is scattered with thoughts and flashbacks piercing at her sanity. Night is something that perplexes her more than all that has happened. Despite the harsh acts he inflicts on her she seems to have some underlying feelings for him.

She’s washing laundry in a barrel when Cade comes in to drop off a few things. He sets down a plate of food.

“Pork for lunch today,” he smiles.

She wrings out the water from the last cloth and stands up. Her heart thumps a little as she dares to say what’s been on her mind,

“There’s something I want to ask you. Something I don’t understand. How is it you are so cruel in bed but then during the day you are so civil if not kind to me?”

There’s a moment of silence as he puts together an answer for that,

“Don’t mistake my lack of cruelty as kindness. I keep you alive and you’re paying me for it. That’s it. When we part ways we’ll owe each other nothing and go back to being enemies.”

She turns away. He can tell she’s hoping for something that feels better.

“You can hate it, but you’ll find it more fair than the what the rest of your people faced.”

The memory of what’s happened to her people hurts her more than words can explain.

“If it helps,” he suggests, “You’re welcome to come sit with the group tonight. Have a beer. Socialize.” 

Socialize… with the very people who slaughtered everyone she knows…Still the thought seems better than staying in the tent again. She nods, picks up the basket of wet laundry and goes outside to hang it.

*****

Come night, the barbarians gather around campfires in their own sectors. Catori is finishing the lunch that she earlier neglected when Cade comes into the tent to change. She averts her eyes as usual, not that it would bother him.

“Here,” he says tossing a large woven poncho onto the table, “There’s a chill in the air tonight.”

She puts it on and they head over to his sector. The boy she had met at the water tap was sitting among them.

“I’ll get the beer. Wait here,” Cade says and takes off. She sits down on a log. One man introduces himself as Brock, but she hardly engages in conversation. He offers his condolences for her loss. She only nods. Cade comes back, hands her a mug of beer. The chief approaches the group and Cade stands to talk with him. Catori listens.

“The men say they’ve been seeing a ghost around camp. You heard anything about it?”

“No sir, I haven’t.”

“This the girl you got in the last pillage? She’s looking a lot better than mine right now. The wench threw up all over the ground this morning.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Cade replies not really sure how one should react to such a statement. Barbarians are known to be ruthless, but their chief takes disgust to levels even he doesn’t approve of.

“I’m probably going to toss her by tomorrow, she’s beginning to be more work than she is help if you know what I mean.”

The men break into laughter as one of them delivers the punch line to the intense story he’s telling.

“How about you girl,” says the young one, “Do you have a good story?”

Her stomach churns, but she knows he only means to include her.

“Yes,” she decides to tell one, “Three years ago twenty of our townsmen, including my love, went out into the forest for hunting season. Only five came back. My love was not among them. They were horrified as they told us of flesh eating ghosts that rummaged the hillsides. So more townsmen went out to see what was going on and what they found scarred us all. The bodies of the others hung from trees, flesh torn off like demons had clawed at them. When they brought the bodies down for a proper burial, they were weeping a black ooze. Anyone who came in contact with it became extremely ill and died within weeks. We never did find out why the ghosts were there or if they’re even still around.”

They stare at her blankly until one clears his throat and diverts his attention by starting to tell a another story. So she quietly listens to their tales of humour, sex, and pillaging.  More interesting though is a moment of self reflection.  Here she is sitting among the enemy who destroyed everything she knows. So why isn’t she angry?  Or at least scared? Are these feelings suppressed by a thankfulness of being able to survive? She feels as if somewhere deep inside a seed of purpose is sprouting. This is not going to be her end. Rather it is just her beginning. The thought resonates through her blood; she is to survive this.

 “Why are you so quiet, peaches?” ask one of the men. She snaps out of her thoughts with a shock.

 “She needs another beer, get her another beer,” says Brock.

  She hadn’t realized how fast she was drinking, but part of what they said caught her attention,

 “This realm of monsters I hear you talking of, what is that?”

 “It’s where we are from,” says the young one, “But it’s not as scary as flesh eating ghosts.”

A couple of the men snicker. Others are oddly straight faced. She smiles authentically at him this time.

“I think it’s time I retire, thanks for the beer,” she exchanges glances with Cade and leaves to the tent.

 Cade stays to drink with the men a while longer. When the timing seems right he draws their attention to something that’s been bothering him for a while,

“Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the chief going a bit senile lately?”

The men ponder it and agree. A couple share their perspectives of his oddities.

“Well, word is that not only is he’s trading much of the pillage for his own self interests, but that the minotaurs are demanding homage that includes a good half of everything we’ve got. Which might be the reason we’ve been drafted here in the first place.”

The men are taken aback, not liking anything they just heard. They run it through their heads but can’t come up with any solid evidence otherwise. 

“So not only do we loose over half of everything we’re working for,” Cade continues, “But once we go back this land is going to be left empty. Not to mention the vast amount of livestock that gets left behind. An amount that would feed our people for generations. “

“What are you suggesting?” asks Brock.

“I’m suggesting we establish our own agenda because every time I bring this up with the chief, he brushes it off with no interest.”

“We’re listening,” another bodes.

“We’d start by bringing our women in. They’d be of significant use here.”

“Wait, I don’t want the mother of my children dying in a raid. Who’d raise my son?”

“I’m not suggesting we bring the mothers and children over. I am saying we draft the working women. They wouldn’t even have to frontline. They could fall in after us to round up the livestock and rummage the vegetation. They could take over the camp watch allowing these men to add strength to our frontlines, which will be needed once people are on to us.”

“Can they do the cooking?” one man pipes.

Cade pauses with a hint of a laugh. It’s true; It would be nice to have meals that don’t taste like cayenne pepper,

“It’s more efficient to keep the camp jobs for the injured and the young, but we might be able find a good cook.” 

“Wouldn’t that make it difficult to say on the move? It could make us more susceptible,” states another.

“We’d start a settlement. For one, we’d own everything we take. And if the minotaurs still want something from us it will be on our terms. Your children won’t have to grow up as outcasts in a realm of monsters. This island only has little towns, no one really cares about it. We take it, we establish it as barbarian rule. No one bothers us. No more raids. Or… we could just keep going along with our senile chief and have nothing change for the better.”

The men mumble between themselves, exchanging opinions.

“It would bring some meaning to what we’re doing,” one man nods and chugs his beer.

Another of the men speak up,

“This means we’d have to get the chief to step out. Are you planning to take his position?”

“All I’m saying is I see a pretty clear route to a far better future. I know I can get us there. If when it’s all over and done you want to go about finding another chief, that’s fine by me.”

“I like it,” says one.

“I think settling here is solid,” says another.

“But,” one questions, “What strategies do you have in mind to be able wipe out the whole island? Do we even know how many villages their are? Or what the whole population is?”

“The chief has a record of the stats. We’d do well enough to hold fort and establish ourselves. If we take one end of the island first that means the rest can only attack from a single direction, should they try.”

Just as the men agree to give him full support on the plan he spots two shadowy female figures rush behind the log pile near his tent.

“I’ll be back,” he says and heads to the far side to cut them off. He draws his sword to stop them in their path.

“Where are you two going?” he points the sword at Catori. The girl behind her stares wide eyed at him.

“To your tent,” she says meekly.

“For what?! Safe keeping? I’ve spared you and you’re going to get me pegged for treason.”

“She’ll get thrown out…”

“And now you’re both going to get thrown out.”

“No, please Cade. There’s got to be something we can do. Can’t one of your men take her in?”

“Hey is everything alright over here? I thought maybe you…” Brock comes around the corner and looks to Cade for an explanation. Cade swallows a knot in his throat as he lowers his sword,

“Catori found the chief’s girl hiding here. She escaped. Take her to the chief, tell him we want her,” he sheaths the sword and motions for the girl to go with Brock, “If you’re smart you’ll keep your mouth shut.”

When the two leave Cade walks up to Catori. With lowered eyes she waits for him to give her a warning or threat. He waits for either an apology or an explanation. But neither say anything. It’s a long uncomfortable silence. So without a word, he leaves to go address the chief about the girl.

*****

“An escape? Worthless trash. I’m done with her anyway,” the chief motions to take her away. His eyes light as he sees Cade approaching, “General, she’s for your sector now. Come discuss tomorrow’s strategy.”

Catori is sitting on the logs feeling more alone than ever when she sees Brock bringing the girl back to the group. There’s a moment of joy that sparks. But only a moment. She realizes the girl has simply been thrown out to them and Cade isn’t there to help. Would he anyway? She painfully admits to herself that she may have been misplacing some trust in him. But he did lie for her.  There is an overwhelming urge to go over there. If there is any possibility of her presence saving the girl from brutal rape then it would be worth the risk. She wouldn’t live with herself if she were to stay back and do nothing.

 She pulls up the hood on her poncho and walks toward the men. She’s uncertain of what to do. She knows only that none of them touched her because they respect Cade. As she nears them her heart pounds so loud she can hardly make out the sound of their voices. She’s following only instinct now as she steps between two of the men coming into the center of the circle. Feeling their eyes on her, she walks over to the distraught girl in the grasp of a man.

“Ah, we have two now,” one comments. Catori ignores it. Then she changes her mind. She’ll dare it. Fear and desperation aren’t things barbarians empathize with. Actions speak louder than words so she takes off her shawl and places it on the other girl. Confused, the man releases his grasp on her. At least she’s buying a few moments time. She looks each of them in the eye until she sets sight on Brock.

“Haven’t we endured enough?” she says directly to him, “She’s sick. She needs rest not more trauma.”

She takes the girl’s hand and leads her to stand in front of Brock. The men watch half baffled in anticipation of what will come of this.

“Please,” Catori says with as much confidence as she can muster, “She’s been severely neglected her whole stay here. Give her a break.”

Brock stares at her through half squinted eyes,

“And who will feed the wolves?”

“Will you?” asks one of the men.

Catori casts him a look,

“If it’s the only way to get her out of this then yes, so long as Cade gives the order.”

Brock exchanges glances with the men.

“Cade’s not here.”

“Then we wait for him to be.”

“We don’t wait and your time is up.”

“Gentlemen!” Cade exclaims with a sarcastic undertone as he breaks way into the circle, “The cheif has just informed me that the south side of Bullinvard is blocked off. Apparently word is out that we’re making rounds. We’re going to need to re-strategize our positioning. We break at dawn, so let’s get on it. Rolan get the maps. Gregen I need to you check in with the west sector for their fall in timing.”

Catori glances back up at Brock. He glares down at her. If looks could rape…

“Jared,” Cade directs his attention to the boy, “You’re excused from tomorrow’s raid, the chief wants extra watchers here at camp. Take the girl with you, clean her up.”

Brock moves on and Catori expects that Cade will address her at any moment. She turns to the girl and gives her a heartfelt hug before she walks away with Jared. The chill in the air sinks to her bones. Cade isn’t at all interested in speaking to her. His back is completely turned as he talks to his men. This loneliness pierces to her core. If only Dee could be here with her. Perhaps this would be a good time to summon him.

To be continued….

____________________________

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 3

Click here For the flash fiction attack on Catori’s Village 

Click here for the first conversation between Catori and the ghost Dee 

For other stories in The Nepenthe click a character’s name or “the nepenthe” in the category cloud on the side bar.

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