Seavan hadn’t slept much all night, just as he hadn’t since he’d first met Aben Vicinte. The boy had deteriorated before his eyes over the last two weeks. And yesterday the kid was a bloody mess. And all his note said was that he just needed to toughen up. Lord, please. There’s got to be something I can do for him.
Seavan didn’t know Raven and Kayne well. His mother sometimes spoke with Lena Archer when she came into town with her youngest son. He couldn’t even remember much from when the twins were younger, except they’d been kept home after they ran away from their mother at five, and she’d had a miscarriage while trying to find them. But they were four years younger than he was.
Seavan asked his younger brother and sister. Shalina was their age, but she just wrinkled her nose. “They dropped out of school about five years ago. They were always getting into trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
Shalina shrugged. “You know, fights. Why? Is there trouble with the milk?”
“No.” Indeed everyone always got their milk, and the only thing Seavan had heard at the general store when he delivered his furs and leathers was that the boys were turning into right respectable businessmen.
Rigel sat at the breakfast table with them this morning. “Will you be working in here or with Dad?” Seavan asked.
Rigel wolfed down a couple more eggs. “We got eleven teasels yesterday. Found a den. I can help you tan today.”
Their father rarely stayed home to tan hides, although he’d taught them both and was teaching their younger brother. He preferred to be out hunting, unable to stay indoors. Seavan liked to be with him, but his older brother was similar to their father in that he had to be outdoors as much as he could. Seavan didn’t mind where he was, as long as he was with the people he loved, so he usually stayed home and did most of the hide processing now.
Seavan set his dishes on the counter and went outside to sit on the steps.
“You don’t need to protect the milk,” Rigel teased. “I’m not going anywhere today.”
Seavan was never quite sure how long he’d have to wait. He went over the note he planned to write as soon as he talked to his father. Unfortunately he hadn’t had time alone with his father yet. But he had his pencil and paper and tried to write something that would help.
He heard movement and slipped his paper away. He hadn’t written anything yet. He could think of nothing encouraging.
But it was Kayne who rounded the corner. He started when he saw Seavan and then his eyes narrowed. “Run out of milk? Do I need to increase your order?”
“No. I’m just taking advantage of the light,” he said, fumbling with a lie. Why should it matter? Didn’t he have a right to sit on his own back step? “I’m writing a letter.” He pulled the paper out. “Where’s your assistant?”
“Dad needs him on the farm. Still harvesting hay.” Kayne grabbed the old bottles and was gone.
Seavan breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps they’d finally interceded. As he stood to go back inside he had another thought. What if the kid was too beat up to work, and Kayne was lying? He certainly looked like he was too beat to work yesterday.
Seavan kept his morning vigil for the next two weeks. As each day passed and Aben did not return, Seavan’s uneasiness grew. Kayne must have lied.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Aben’s two week reprieve went by too quickly. He recovered from the beatings, and his mother even noted that he was gaining weight. Although several times Kayne caught him with a punch to the stomach when no one was watching, but other than that, he worked without fear. Harmon was indeed a hard-working man, but he was also fair. He always explained exactly what he wanted done, and he never cuffed him, not even when he’d accidentally cut down the wrong section of wheat.
But then one morning Harmon announced that it was time he helped the boys with the milk again. The first morning alone in the barn was painful, but Kayne was careful to avoid his face so that his father wouldn’t see the evidence of their abuse. Raven was delivering the milk that morning, but when they reached the Tole’s house, he jumped off the wagon. “I’ll deliver here.”
Aben opened his mouth to protest.
Raven snickered. “You thought you were getting one over on us, didn’t you?” He grabbed the milk and jogged back.
Aben sat in the wagon. They’d succeeded in taking his only friend. It stung worse than his ripped books.
The next morning Kayne did the same thing. They would never let him near Seavan Tole again.
Several days later Frank asked him how it was going as they drew water from the pump for their baths. Aben shrugged. He no longer cared about anything except not making waves so that he would not get hit.
Frank swore. “They’re at you again, aren’t they?”
“Yes it does. I wish… I just wish….” He shook his head. “If only we knew how to survive on this godforsaken planet.”
As the days went by even his mother commented on his attitude, but he was helpless to show any enthusiasm at all. Nothing he did would matter.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Another two weeks had passed. He was getting used to the constant pain of bruises. They’d spent the last several afternoons cleaning debris, trees and shrubs from a section of land partially up the side of the north mountain. Harmon was trying to extend his property line by annexing the unused property of an absent deed holder. If the deed holder contested, Harmon would claim he didn’t know it wasn’t his, and their work would be wasted. If not, he’d have first claim next year if the owner did not show up to re-register his deed at the courthouse.
Aben hated working away from the others. Kayne was crueler on any wildlife he caught, and he was crueler in his abuse to both Aben and Raven. He also had the saws, pitchforks, and sickles to inflict on them. He’d threatened, but he hadn’t actually turned them on him yet, but he’d demonstrated his threats on a hapless hopper, several snakes, and a tiny winged deer. It was not a wingdeer, which was actually a winged elk according to Seavan’s report, but a smaller deer/sheep creature with a shaggy coat. Seavan’s report had called it a bleater. The leather was strong and the wool softer than a domestic sheep.
They worked their way up onto the wooded mountain. Aben tripped, since he was required to carry all the equipment and supplies, sliding several feet down the steep incline.
Kayne bounded down after him and kicked him along to the level clearing. “Hey, it’s a rolling log.” He kicked him again until Aben’s back rested against two tree trunks. Past the twin trees was another incline, and he’d roll under a thicket of prickly needles if Kayne managed to dislodge him.
A rustling sounded from above them on the incline. Kayne grinned and grabbed the sickle which had dropped to the ground during Aben’s fall.
Aben groaned. He didn’t want to be treated to another of Kayne’s torturous displays of cruelty. Raven glanced at Aben, but remained stiff. If they scared Kayne’s prey off, they would get the brunt of his anger. But Aben rose to stand as silently as he could.
Kayne disappeared behind a large berry bush. Then he screamed. Raven grabbed the pitchfork and ran for his brother. Aben froze as red leathery wings rose above the bush. Then the dragon lifted its huge head, Kayne hanging from its mouth like a rag doll.
Raven ran up to the dragon and hurled the pitchfork into its side. “Aben! Help me!” he screamed as the pitchfork bounced off the dragon to the ground.
The dragon swatted at Raven with a huge paw, raking him down his left side and sending him flying down the slope to Aben’s feet. He stared up at Aben, pain contorting his face. “You’ve got to save him. Kill the dragon.”
The dragon turned his huge head to look at Aben. Aben stared back, frozen. He felt as if he was not in his body, but looking at the scene from above, detached. If he were eaten now, he could not be used as an excuse to hurt Mia. The pain would be over in a few minutes. But the dragon did not come for him. Instead it tilted back its head, and Kayne disappeared in several jerky motions. The beast briefly chewed and swallowed.
“Aben!” Raven pleaded weakly. “Save my brother.” But blood had rolled down the side of his forehead and was blocking his vision. He didn’t realize they would be next. There was no escape.
Aben glanced down at the slope, the thorn thicket. Slowly he stepped over Raven and then shoved him with his foot into the thicket. Raven screamed as he rolled downhill. Aben grabbed their supply pack and dove into the thicket after him as the dragon whooshed toward them.
The beast tried twice to get them, but then gave up and flew away. Aben didn’t know if it was waiting just out of sight or if it had gone back to bed. They’d apparently disturbed its slumber.
“You bastard,” came Raven’s slurred words. “You let him die. You attack me when I’m down. You….”
Aben didn’t bother arguing that he’d saved their lives. That was still up for debate. They may never make it out of the thicket, and Raven had lost a lot of blood. Aben shifted to open the pack, ignoring the thorns digging into his back. He pulled out the first aid supplies and began bandaging Raven’s deeper wounds. Raven protested briefly, but then was silent.
When Aben had used all the bandages he tried to rouse Raven. “Come on. We’ve got to try to get home.”
“You didn’t help!” Raven accused weakly. “You let him die.”
“We have to get home. Come on. Let’s try to crawl down until we’re past the thorns.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you. You’ll feed me to the dragons.”
“You’re insane. We can’t stay here all night.”
“Get my brother. Go on!” he screamed. “Get Kayne.”
“Shut up, you idiot. It’ll hear us. Come on.” He tried pulling on Raven, but Raven screamed again.
Aben determined that the only way to shut him up was to stay away from him. Slowly he made his way down the slope under the thorns. When he could stand he expected the dragon to swoop down and pick him off. But he started running back toward the house and barns.
Amazingly he made it to the barns. Harmon stood before the barn, talking with his neighbor, and Frank worked at the back of the barn, chopping logs into pieces small enough for the cooking stoves. He saw Aben running across the field, and he came around the corner as Aben ran up to Harmon.
But when Aben stopped running, he couldn’t speak. Bending over he drew in deep breaths of air. “Need help,” he said weakly. “Raven’s hurt. A dragon. Can’t carry… can’t….”
The neighbor grabbed his shoulder. “Where boy? I’ll go get help.”
Aben pointed back to the area they’d been working in. “Half way up. Dragon. Red as flame.”
“You start up, Harmon. I’ll get help.” The neighbor jumped on his horse and urged it into a gallop.
Harmon stalked into the house. When he returned he had a shotgun and a pack slung over his shoulder. He motioned Frank and Aben to join him.
“How bad are you hurt?” Frank whispered as they walked. “Are you still bleeding?”
Aben glanced down at his clothes. “I’ve just got a few thorns. This is Raven’s blood. The dragon clawed his whole left side.”
Harmon’s jaw tightened, but he picked up his pace.
Frank opened his mouth, but then hesitated, glancing at Harmon slightly ahead of them. Aben knew he wanted to know about Kayne. He shook his head. No matter how he hated Kayne, he wished he could erase the image of him hanging from the dragon’s mouth, and then being eaten in a flip of the huge beast’s head.
Frank understood. He looked straight ahead and didn’t say another word.
Go to Chapter 7
© 2013, 2000 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.