Saturday, August 17, 2019

Drabble No 6: Where We Were Pt 6

Where We Were Pt 6

The Jengu had passed out a few minutes before the island was in sight. He was dead weight in the water between Miranda and Jerome, and without his powerful push the going was much slower. Eventually, as the sun was setting, they dragged him to shore and lay down on the sand, breathing hard. 

"He wasn't kidding when he said it was just a rock in the water," Jerome said after catching his breath. "There are two palm trees, a few inches of sand, and nothing else."

Miranda had to agree. The 'island' was less than five hundred yards across at best, and it was some kind of hard, lumpy rock under the meager sand they lay on. 

"What about him?" Jerome asked, poking the Jengu. "Is he alive?"

Miranda studied the man. "He's breathing."

"That arm is out of its socket," Jerome told her. "And something shredded his leg."

"He's lost a lot of blood." He looked pale lying on the sand; the only thing to tell her he wasn't human was the crease of the gills on his neck. 

"Not much we can do here." Jerome grabbed hold of his tattered shirt and ribbed the hem off. "Let's bandage up the leg at least."

Miranda pushed back the Jengu's pant leg to reveal the shredded skin of his calf. It was covered in a thick black slime.

"Ink," Jerome told her. He scooped some of the sea water into his hands and doused the wound, washing away the slime. "Some kind of octopus or squid got him."

"Big one," she murmured, staring at the imprint of hand-sized suckers on his skin.

They wrapped the wound, still oozing blood, and tied it tight.

"That's all we can do," Jerome told her as he lay back again. His own body must be screaming with exhaustion. His mangled left arm and leg were mostly useless, meaning his right half pulled most of the weight of his movements. "I need to rest."

"You rest," Miranda told him. "I'll look around and see if I can find anything to build a fire. Two stones to strike a flint, maybe."

He nodded, eyes closed. "Be careful."

She left the two men lying on the beach and made her way over to the palm trees. She gathered a few stray fronds, dried out from lying on the ground for a while. When she had a goodly stack, she dropped them near Jerome and the Jengu man and went back to look for something to strike the light. She found two stones, but she had no idea if they'd work or not. As the sun began to fully set, she decided there was no harm in trying. 

It took several minutes and a few curses before the strike of the stones produced a spark that caught the fronds. The fire was burning heartily when the Jengu man groaned and opened his eyes. 

"Be careful," she whispered, so as not to wake Jerome. "You're hurt."

"The two of you dragged me here?"

She nodded.

His eyes drifted to the fire. "You built the fire?"

"I did."

He struggled to sit up, and she leaned toward him, pushing him up without touching his injured shoulder. 

"We're going to have to do something about that shoulder," she told him. 

"I'll take care of it." He glanced at Jerome. "Is he alive?"

"He needs to rest. He tires more easily than most."

"So you dragged us both here."

She didn't answer. She and Jerome had been friends since childhood, so she didn't think of him like that at all. He wasn't a burden; he was her friend.

"Help me stand." 

She helped him up and he pointed to the palm. When they were close, he waved her away. Before she could gasp, he turned and rammed his shoulder into the tree, an audible pop echoing in the quiet. He sighed, his face pale. "That's better."

She pushed herself under his good arm and led him back to the fire. Once he was settled, she sat across from him. "Are you all right?"

"I will heal." He glanced at the makeshift bandage. "Thanks."

"We'll need food and water," she said to him. 

"Tomorrow I'll catch some fish to cook over the fire."

"What about water?"

"I can show you how to extract the salt from the seawater, to make it drinkable."


They were silent for awhile, only Jerome's occasional snore breaking through the quiet. 

"My men will come looking for me when they don't find my body near the wreckage. We won't be here long."

Miranda stared out at the moon as it rose over the water. It was beautiful here, all alone in the middle of the ocean. 

"Are you afraid of what will happen to you in the King's Palace?" he asked.

She shrugged. "No more afraid of what might happen when I got to the new world. Anything is better than where we were."

"Was it London?"

"Yes." She didn't ask how he knew about London. She figured the Jengu came on land from time to time. 

"Why did you save me?" 

"I told you, better the devil you know than the one you don't. You've been decent to us. Most would decide that Jerome isn't worth saving, and I'm nothing special myself. If we're to have a master, better to be in his good graces than on his bad side."

The Jengu man laughed. "I can see your point." He looked at Jerome. "What happened to him?"

"His father was a blacksmith. At age four Jerome stumbled into the fires of the forge, and his entire left side was burned. It was a miracle he survived at all."

"He gets around well for a man of his disability."

"He has to. It's get around, or die."

"My King is a good man, Miranda. He treats his subjects well and he is fair. The Jengu take slaves, a practice many don't agree with, but without them the palace would fall to ruin. There are no Jengu females, and so the species is dwindling even now."

"No females?"

"None that are natural born. Some are turned, like I was."

"You were human?"

He looked at her, his face stark and still pale in the light of the fire. "I was. The trials are arduous and not many survive."

"So, you were a slave, too?"

" I was. We all were. We proved our loyalty and our worth, and the opportunity to face the trials was given to us by the King."

Miranda knew that the world ran on one being's ability to use others. Servants, slaves, it was all the same. Why would the Jengu world be any different? 

"I don't agree with the practice of taking slaves," he told her, surprising her. "But it's the way of the Jengu and the King is adamant that it be done."

"I think you'll be a fair master, at least."

He chuckled. "I hope so. If you do your job you'll be well fed and housed and you'll not want for anything. We don't punish our slaves and there is no violence allowed."

It sounded like heaven to Miranda after some of the other places she'd been. "I have no family, save Jerome, and no reason to stay here. I'll do my duty, and do it well. Maybe someday I'll be chosen for the trials."

"Maybe." He looked at the sky. "Only a few hours until sunrise. Rest now, and I'll keep watch until Jerome awakes."

"But you're injured. You should rest and let me keep watch."

"Go to sleep, Miranda."

She lay down next to Jerome, and she fell asleep to dreams of underwater palaces and places where violence wasn't allowed.

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