First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
PLEASE NOTE: THIS CHAPTER IS NOW DEFUNCT. I WENT BACK TO THE END OF CHAPTER 21 AND AM REWRITING FROM THAT POINT
Nikol – and to a lesser extent, Aren – spent the next three days alternating between recuperating and making sure that their rescued people, Nikol’s patients, also recuperated.
Sometime late on the third day she found herself alone with one of those three patients, a woman named Ford Tejas-Dottir, while they worked on putting together a defense at one end of their town. It seemed the place had never needed defenses because it had been itself – well, not so much a defense, but a trap.
They were sharpening sticks to act as the visible part of the deterrent when Nikol found herself asking the woman, “have you ever heard of the Mountain?”
The way Ford froze told her everything she needed to know – and then Ford decided to actually begin to move again enough to answer.
“Everyone’s heard of mountains.” She made the plural, the lower-case, very obvious the way she said it. ” I mean,” she gestured in the distance, where if one imagined it one might be able to think one could see mountain tops in the distance, “That is, I mean-”
Her eyes raked over Nikol. Nikol, in turn, held still for the scrutiny as the woman took in the worn leather-and-scrap-metal armor – which Nikol really needed to spend a day taking care of – her posture, which was never completely casual (not even in sleep, a former lover had once complained),the defenses they were working on, Nikol’s hand on the knife whittling the wood.
Eventually, Ford seemed to come to a decision of some sort – at least she nodded to herself slowly. “I – we, but Hank didn’t make it – we came here fleeing the Mountain. I’m not sure we’re the only ones, if some of the things down there -” Her gesture was vague but understandable enough “- if some of the things we saw, if they were close to what was really going on. I think this place caught too many people who were doing the same, fleeing the Mountain.
Nikol swallowed slowly and then had to work to make her throat not feel sandy and caught. That… To get away from the Mountain (the way she had, the way Aran had) and then to have ended up sitting there, sitting on the bones of someone else who had already done the same, until there was nothing left of her but more bones, caught in some creature’s – what did you even call it? – she supposed it must be a trap, like laying a snare for a rabbit, a snare that she’d been caught in. And if hadn’t been for —
If it hadn’t been for the cat, she’d have escaped the Mountain just to die like that.
She made a face.
Ford echoed the face right back at her. “I know. It’s hard to imagine which one might be worse, isn’t it?” She cleared her throat and stared pointedly at the point on the log she was making. “We’re not that kind of trap now. We might be something else, now.”
“That’s true.” Nikol looked around. “It’s kinda nice here. It’s kinda really nice here?”
“Thinking of staying?” Ford’s question didn’t seem dangerous at all, but the problem was, Nikol wasn’t quite sure – about the question, or about the answer.”
“I don’t – I don’t – I don’t think so,” she admitted, or, rather, hedged. “I don’t think we’re done yet.”
She considered that answer in light of that conversation she and Aran’d had. “I think —” She pursed her lips. “I think that at some point, someone has to take down the Mountain. And I —”
“You think you have to try.” Ford’s smile was sad. “Do you think you could do it?”
“Not alone. I mean, alone I mean the two of us. But we’re not the only people who hate the Mountain, either.”
“I’m not sure there’s many people who don’t hate the Mountain,” Ford allowed. “But that’s a different matter from being willing to fight it. Like, well. Me.” She rolled her shoulders. “Sorry. I know you saved my life and all—”
Nikol shook her head. “No. People who are fighters should fight so that people who aren’t don’t need to. And besides,” she added, more gently, “You’re still recovering. You’re likely going to be recovering for a long time. At least another month or three.”
She patted the barrier. “But this place — if you guys have this place….”
Ford followed her thought more quickly than she could actually voice it. “Then this place could be a base for your — for what you’re planning on doing.” She nodded very slowly. “All right. I can do that. We can do that. But you—”
“I,” Nikol agreed grimly, “am going to need a battle plan. And for that, I’m going to need a planner.” Aran, she was forced to admit, had put forth a valid point. She was good at battle strategy. She was not so good at war planning.
There had always been the troupe for that.
“I might have someone for you to meet,” Ford allowed slowly. “No promises. But they might still be there.”
“It’s a start.” It was real now. Nikol tried to fight off a shudder.
They could still run. She might still run.
But they might be fighting the Mountain.Want more?