Give Me the Man Pt. 04byAlex De Kok©
No sex in this part, I'm afraid. That will come later. Probably. In the meantime our lovely couple have work to do! If you haven't already read the first three parts of the story, may I suggest that you do. This part will then make more sense to you. I think.
The spelling is English. No apology, as so am I! Enjoy, I hope.
Motion caught Ardan's eye in the light of the dying explosion and he stared, transfixed, as something flew across his view. Something big, a faint hum coming from it. Goddess, a flying machine! Whose? How? Had the Terrans sent for help? He ducked as something fell from the flying machine, to be followed seconds later by another explosion. What was happening? Behind them the door flew open. They whirled and Leara let out a startled squeak, grabbing at some bedding to cover her nakedness.
"A thousand pardons, my lady," said Porl Velik. "Ardan, dress and arm yourself. We are being attacked."
"Aye, and by flying machines!" said Ardan.
"Not just the machines. They landed some ground troops. We need every fighting man and woman we have."
"At once, Captain." Velik nodded and dashed out again. Hurriedly Ardan and Leara dressed, Leara praising the Goddess in having her riding clothes to hand. In boots and breeches, shirt half fastened, Ardan threw his sword belt about his neck. Leara was kicking her feet into boots while pulling a sleeveless tunic over her head. Tousled, she stared at him.
"Ready?" said Ardan. Leara nodded. "Let's go!" He grabbed her hand and they dashed out. Into chaos. People were milling everywhere, but Ardan was suddenly aware of a calm centre to this storm. Alna and Porl Velik were addressing a tight group of armed men and women. Ardan and Leara dashed over to them.
Velik grabbed his arm. "Ardan! Fra Asolan tells me you have Guide training."
"Thank the Goddess. From what the lady tells me you can handle a longbow?"
"I can. Mine is with my gear."
"We have plenty. Fral Leara, you know where the armoury is?"
"Take Ardan, please. Show him where the weapons are. And both of you? Hurry!" Velik turned back to the men clustered around him.
"This way, Ardan," said Leara, grabbing Ardan's hand and leading him off at a dead run. The armoury was open, Velik's guards dishing out assorted weapons. Leara led the way inside, showing Ardan a rack of longbows.
"Do you have any idea what the pull on these is?"
Leara shook her head. "Sorry."
"Never mind, I'll check a couple." Deftly, Ardan strung the first bow and tested the pull. "Too light," he muttered, returning it to the rack.
"Sorry, I should have said. They're graded," said a voice behind him, "lightest on the left, heaviest on the right." Porl Velik reached past Ardan and took one from the rack. "Try that one."
Ardan quickly strung the bow, and tried the pull. "Feels good. Arrows?"
"Here." Leara passed him a quiver full of steel-tipped hunting arrows.
"Fral Leara?" said Velik, "can you handle a bow?"
"I've used one. Not recently."
"I have a feeling the targets will be big enough to hit. Take one, lass, we need all the archers we can get." Velik paused, then took another bow, deftly stringing it. "Try that."
Leara took the bow and tested the pull. Velik put his hands to her shoulders and turned her slightly. "Try it that way, or wear a leather vest, else you'll hurt your tits, lass." He grinned briefly, savagely. "Neither of you wants that. Take as many arrows as you can carry," he added.
Ardan took another two sheafs of arrows and stuffed them into a second quiver. Hurriedly, Leara followed suit. They dashed outside. A figure hurried after them. "Fro Tearo?"
"Captain Velik asks that you and the lady take the North-Eastern approach. We don't know yet how many we're fighting or what weapons they have. Truth is, we haven't seen anything except those infernal flying machines. Damned Terrans."
"Terrans? What makes you say that?"
"Who else can it be? They've never forgiven us for beating them in the war. Probably used their infernal equipment to send for reinforcements."
"And it's taken them this long to get here? I don't think so, but we need to stop them, whoever they are. Come on, Lea."
The North-Eastern approach was quiet. Two other figures were already there. They turned as Ardan and Leara ran up. "Thank the Goddess. Archers. Fral Leara, is it you?"
"Aye, Belos. It's me."
"You've better eyes than me, lass. Can you see anything out there?" Crouched behind the wall, the four stared into the darkness. There was a quiet now, interrupted only by a distant bark of orders which tailed off into silence.
The fourth figure at the wall, a girl of about fifteen, turned to Ardan and Leara. "Who are we fighting?" She sounded bewildered rather than scared, Ardan thought.
"Apparently someone - or something - was landed by one of those flying machines," said Ardan. "We have no idea what. Yet."
Leara was staring almost due North. She reached out and touched Ardan's sleeve. "There's something moving out there," she said quietly.
"Can you see anything?" Ardan said, staring into the dark under the trees. He wished fervently that the terrain was more open, that there were fewer trees, but he knew these mountain people loved it just the way it was. A slight movement caught his eye just as Leara touched his arm, pointing. Something was moving under the trees, something which was gleaming faintly in the moonlight, something which suddenly came out into the moonlight. And it was a something, not a someone. Biped, squat, the figure was vaguely humanoid, but no human had such a large head. It seemed to be wearing some kind of armour, which gleamed under the moonlight. As they watched another two of the figures came out from the trees. They were all carrying some kind of tube, a tube with various lumps and excrescences at one end, the open end pointed vaguely towards the watchers.
"Do we just fire, or challenge them?" asked Belos in an urgent whisper.
"I prefer to kill no-one in cold blood," said Ardan. "Wait until they're a little closer, then I'll challenge them."
The watchers waited until the figures were about twenty-five paces from the wall, then Ardan stood. "Stop there," he called, "Explain yourself."
The figures stopped. There was no conversation that Ardan could hear but he was almost certain the three figures were in consultation. A moment later the leading figure raised the tube it was carrying and pointed it at them.
"Down!" cried Ardan, throwing himself flat just as the top of the wall splintered from the impact of the missile the tube fired. Cautiously, Ardan peered over the wall. The figures were moving forward again. He had an arrow nocked and drew the bowstring back under cover of the wall then stood, firing and dropping again.
"It fell," said Leara. "Oh, shards, it's getting up again. No! It's down!"
Ardan risked a look. The figure he had fired at was down, its companions apparently confused. One of them turned and pointed its tube and the four defenders ducked as another part of the wall disappeared under the impact of the missile. Quickly, Ardan stood and fired again, noticing as he did that Leara was firing too. They both ducked down behind the wall as another missile hit it. Belos put his hand to his face with an angry retort.
"Are you hurt?" Ardan asked.
"Just a cut. A stone chip. Stings like a vard bite."
"There's only one left," said the girl. "Goddess save us! It just picked the other two up and went back the way it came."
Ardan felt a sudden excitement. "Did you see if it had all of their weapons?"
"I couldn't see."
Ardan turned to Belos. "Where's the nearest gate in this wall?"
Belos pointed. "See those steps? There's a man-gate at the bottom."
Ardan clapped Belos on the shoulder. "Keep careful watch. I'm going to see if they left the weapons." He hurried down the steps, realising that someone followed him. "Lea! Get back. It's not safe."
"No more is it for you," she retorted. "I'll watch your back."
"If anything comes, run. I want your promise."
"Only if you're running with me," she said, her jaw set.
He looked at her for a long moment, then nodded, fighting a grin. Goddess, this girl was a rare treasure! "Let's go." Cautiously, he opened the gate. It was well set back in the stone of the wall and he peered carefully around the corner. Nothing moved. He eased himself out and half-drew the bow as soon as he was clear of the doorway. Behind him, Leara eased out, her own bow part-drawn. "You look left, I'll look right." She nodded. They moved carefully to where the figures had been and Ardan risked a look at the ground. At first he saw nothing, then saw a dull gleam in the thick grass. Bending, he carefully lifted one of the tube weapons.
"I can't see the other one," said Leara.
"Doesn't matter, we'll go back. Hurry." Quickly, they moved back to the doorway. Leara heaved a huge sigh of relief as they locked the gate behind them.
"We need light to study this. Lea, find Porl Velik. Tell him we have this. We need to examine it, find out how it works."
"Where will you be?" Leara asked, anxious.
"On the wall. That's my post." He squeezed her arm then pulled her close. The kiss was brief, fierce, and they both put promise into it.
"Next bed we find, you're mine," said Leara.
Ardan laughed. "No need for a bed, we just need privacy, and you have my promise. Go!"
She ran off, laughing, and Ardan ran back up the few steps to the top of the wall again. "Anything?" he asked Belos.
"Not a thing."
"Let's hope it stays that way."
They crouched in the dark, listening. Nothing, not even a night bird, or the usual night noises.
"I don't like it," said Belos. "It's too quiet."
Three figures approached at a trot. Leara came up to him. "Porl is in the house. He asks that you join him there, with the weapon. Karl and Bern, here, will take our places."
Ardan grabbed the tube weapon and his bow and followed Leara back to the house. Inside, Alna and Porl, two other men, and a woman, Elliana, were poring over a map. Porl straightened.
"Fral Leara says you have one of their weapons?"
"Aye. Here." He handed the tube to Velik. They studied it. About as long as a man's arm, it seemed made of dull metal. One end was open, at the other a bulge, a different material. It was flat, rounded, a stud on the top. A tube protruded from the bulge, apparently removable. Midway along the tube there was another bulge, this time long, enclosing the tube.
"See? If you hold this," taking the end bulge in one hand, "and this," taking the mid-bulge in the other hand, "then this, this stud, is just under your thumb," said Velik.
"Be careful of that stud. I think that's how it operates," said Ardan.
"We'll take it outside, then, point it at something solid," Velik grinned.
"They were knocking pieces off the wall with those."
Velik looked at him, grimacing. "You make a valid point, Ardan. We'll take it to the wall."
A few paces away, a watch post was on the wall. Two curious men stood aside as Velik carried the weapon up the stairs. He turned to Ardan and held the weapon out. "To you the honour."
"Be careful, Ardan," said Alna who had followed them out.
"I will," he said, gingerly pointing the weapon at a rock twenty paces away. He pressed the stud. The weapon jolted in his hands, there was a hiss and a thud and loud 'crack' as part of the rock was blasted away. There was a long silence.
"And we have bows," Velik said at last, in a voice suddenly old beyond his years.
"Bows can stop them," said Ardan. "Leara and I put two of them down."
"What range?" asked one of the two men who had been in the house.
"Twenty, twenty-five paces. Thereabouts." Ardan shrugged. "I wasn't measuring."
"One of my men put an arrow into one at a hundred paces. It bounced off."
"What head on the arrow?" asked Velik.
"It must be their armour, if armour it is. At twenty-five paces a standard hunting arrow will pierce their armour," said Ardan.
"What are they?"
"Not men. Of the three that came at us, we put two down. The other picked them up as if they were a child's dolls and carried them away," said Ardan.
"Someone said they're Terrans," said the other man from the house.
"Not Terrans. The Terrans live among us. They're the same as us. These - things - were not human, not as we know it."
There was a long silence. "What do we do now?"
"Keep a careful watch and let as many as possible sleep," said Velik. "Two on each post. Everyone else, rest. Ardan, you and Leara stand down. Keep your bows handy. We'll call you if we need you." He gave a harsh laugh. "You'll probably hear us needing you."
"Go," said Alna. "Get your rest."
In their room, Ardan and Leara looked at each other. Ardan gave a rueful smile. "Much as I want you, Lea, I'm going to sleep fully clothed and ready."
Leara nodded. "You're right. We should take our boots off, else our feet will suffer."
"That much, I concede. Here, foot up. Right, heave! Okay, now the other foot. Okay, sweetheart, on the bed."
Ardan pulled off his own boots and stretched out beside Leara. He took her hand and she leaned over and kissed him, brief but fierce, a promise.
She laughed softly. "I had such plans for tonight."
"Do you think I didn't? Goodnight, my sweet."
There was no reply. Leara was asleep.
There were no more alarms in the night and Ardan and Leara woke to the usual start of day noises and the smell of breakfast cooking. They broke their fast quickly and hurried out. Porl Velik was in the yard talking with one of his lieutenants. He gave them a faint smile as they approached.
"A quiet night, Ardan, but I fear it won't last. Bron here has been out and up to where we think those flying machines dropped off their soldiers. Tell them, Bron."
"I saw about a hundred of those soldiers or whatever they are, up by the winter meadow. The grass looks scorched. I think that must be from the flying machines. They looked as if they were preparing an attack."
"If that many hit us, we're in real trouble," said Velik. "One thing, no-one has seen any of them move faster than a slow walk, so we can probably outrun them, if not their infernal flying machines. But we'll never beat them by ourselves. We've sent riders to the nearest villages, telling them the situation. I expect that about a third of the available men will come to help. The rest will be protecting their own families and I'll not blame them for that."
"I could ask my people for help," said Ardan. "I can get there within the day, over the pass."
"You can't," said Velik. "They've blocked the route."
"There's a way over the mountain, isn't there?" said Bron. "Is that way feasible?"
"Yes," said Leara, speaking for the first time, "but it needs a good climber to lead."
Velik nodded. "And you're one of the best we have. Just you and Ardan, or would more be better?"
"Just two of us are less likely to be seen, and it leaves you with the rest of the fighters," said Ardan.
"True. The Goddess knows, I need every man I have. Go then, and bring us help." Velik took Ardan's hand in a firm clasp. "May the Goddess keep you safe."
Ardan nodded, and turned to Leara. "We need equipment. I'll keep my belt knife, but I think my sword and my bow had best stay here."
Leara nodded. "This way," she said, taking his hand in hers.
A scant half-hour later, in borrowed but comfortable mountain boots, with a coiled rope about his shoulders, a knapsack on his back filled with equipment, food and waterproof clothing, Ardan was ready. Leara was similarly accoutred, although on a slightly smaller scale. Alna and Velik were waiting for them. Alna hugged her daughter and then Ardan.
"If they come and we have to flee, we'll try to make it to Hungar's Ford. If these enemy things have taken that, then we'll keep going. Whatever happens, we'll leave trail sign."
"I'll find you, Mama. Don't take any stupid risks."
"Lea, my pet, it's not me who's going over the top of a mountain. Don't you take any unnecessary risk, either. And look after Ardan, I've grown quite fond of him."
"We'll be careful, Alna. That I can promise you," said Ardan.
Velik spoke up. "We've had scouts out in all directions. The way to the mountain is clear. Avoid the upper meadow, for that's where the enemy are located. Unless they're already headed this way."
They made their way to the gate. "The Goddess guide you, Ardan. Bring help if you can, for we need it, but if you can't, spread the word," said Velik.
"We will," said Leara. "Look after my mother, Porl."
"Aye, lass, although it's more likely the lady will be looking after me."
Leara led the way off into the trees above the house. The scouts Porl had sent out were almost sure there were no enemy above them. The day was warming and Ardan called a halt after an hour, removing his outer tunic and stuffing it in his knapsack. Leara, more used to the mountain walking than he, seemed much more comfortable. She grinned as he mimed exhaustion, and pointed upward. Ardan groaned and they resumed the seemingly endless climb. It was almost noon when they came to the tree-line. They paused, scanning the terrain for any sign of enemy.
Ardan shook his head. "The ground's so broken there could be a hundred of them out there."
Leara grimaced. "I know." She pointed. "See the white band, there?" Ardan nodded. "We have to get above the band by dark. It's too tricky to climb it at night. Above is much easier and we can keep moving, even in the dark, if the moons are clear."
"Lead on. I'll try not to delay you."
Leara stepped close and planted a light kiss on his lips. "You won't." She turned and moved off, out into the open.
Ardan felt exposed as they moved cautiously across the broken ground. Boulders were everywhere, all sizes. A faint trail led through them, leading ever upwards. Ardan could see the band more clearly now, pale rock against the darker material of the mountain, blocking their way. There seemed to be no way up it and he turned to Leara. She smiled and pointed.
"See, there, there's a line from that pile of boulders. Up, and slanting left. When we get a little closer you'll see it's a crack. I've climbed it before."
"For the moment I'll take your word for it."
They moved on, climbing steadily across broken ground. As they moved, Leara kept picking up smooth pebbles and adding them to a pouch slung about her neck. At last they reached the foot of the band and Ardan could see that true to her word, a crack led up across the band.
"You know how to tie on?" asked Leara.
"Yes. And how to belay. I'm just not good at leading something like that."
"I am. Pass me those slings, please. When I've reached that stance up there, see, beside the darker outcrop?"
"That's a stance?" He could hear the doubt in his own voice. Leara grinned.
"Yes, it is. I swear. Once I've reached that, I'll bring you up. Retrieve the slings as you climb, the pebbles too, if you can. I've got a couple of spares so don't worry if you drop one or two." She took a deep breath. "Okay, let's go."
She moved away and began climbing, Ardan carefully paying out the rope, watching her closely, seeing where she placed her feet, where the handholds were. About every thirty feet or so she used a sling to belay the rope, wedging it into place with a pebble. A hundred feet or so above his head she stopped, placing a sling, securing herself.
"Now you," she called.
Ardan moved off, careful, searching for the hand and foot holds he had seen Leara use. He climbed steadily, trying not to think about the drop below him, retrieving the slings and pebbles, managing to drop only one. He arrived where Leara had belayed herself sweating and sincerely admiring the skill she was displaying. He belayed and finally allowed himself to look around. Leara grinned as he shuddered at the drop below them.