Masters of the Arches Ch. 15bylucsmith©
Vincent watched the unfortunate soul jerking and bulking his body against the post that held him standing as he released a terrible shout of pain in the night. It was such a sinister scream that it made the skin on the back of his neck twitch in reaction to the plaintive sound.
The flame at the end of the wood stick was being held in contact against the prisoner's side for as long as he was conscious, then as soon as he passed out it was removed. It was evident that his assailants wanted to cause maximum pain on him. But at the same time they wanted him to remain alive for as long as possible so that more pain could be inflicted on him again.
Vincent instantly experienced a deep hatred for these people who were capable of such cruelties on other humans. He also wished that he could do something for the unfortunate souls that were tied to the posts. But he was alone and he was fully aware that any attempt from his part to help them would only result in his being captured and being tortured also.
Beside, he had to think of his two women. It pained him to think what would happen to them if they should happen to fall into the hands of these barbarous people.
While he was having these thoughts, he saw two men walking toward one of the posts where a woman was tied.
They roughly untied her and they hit her a couple of time. Then one of the two men got behind her and he penetrated her while the other one was holding her in a half bent manner and at the same time he forced her to take his erection into her mouth.
By the time that they were done with her, half a dozen men were waiting behind them so as to take their turn with the woman.
It was quite evident to Vincent that the whole village was celebrating an event or something and they were having a feast for that occasion. There was evidently a lot of food everywhere judging by the many fires having pots and roasting animals over them.
There was also dancing here and there around the many fires and almost everyone was holding a clay cup that held some sort of beverage. Vincent figured that they had probably won a great victory and they were busy expressing their joy by over eating and over drinking and also by torturing some of the prisoners they had caught in that battle.
He then realized something that he had not noticed yet. Most of the villagers seemed to be intoxicated, probably on account of the drink that everyone was enjoying. Once in a while he would see someone go to one of the several large clay jars that were at the end of the line of posts. With the clay cup in one hand Vincent watched them dip it into one of the large jars and thus filled it with the potent brew.
For the next hour, he carefully watched them dancing and eating while they performed many others acts of cruelty on the prisoners. Before he finally decided to return back to his camp, he figured that about half of the prisoners were now dead -- some of them had been decapitated and their head was being paraded around at the end of long poles.
On his way back, just as he got on the trail, a guard discovered him. It wasn't really a fair fight since the guard was half drunk. The guard must have been sitting on the ground with his back to a tree right near the trail when Vincent went pass him.
For the first few seconds the guard must have though that Vincent was someone from the village and he didn't react at all. By the time he realized that he was looking at a stranger, it was too late for him. As soon as he got to his feet and proceeded to take possession of his spear which was resting against the same tree on which he had his back against a few seconds before, Vincent threw his knife at him. The guard felt quietly to the ground with the handle of the knife sticking out of his neck. He was dead by the time he reached the ground.
Vincent pulled the body of the guard by both legs until he was completely hidden by the vegetation off the trail.
When he got back to his two women a short while later, they were exceedingly happy to see him. They had been expecting him much sooner and they were worried that something might have happen to him.
He described to them what he had just witnessed, then he suggested that they break camp immediately and begin to walk south so as to be as far away as possible from the village while the villagers were all celebrating. He explained to the women that it would be far less dangerous to risk an encounter with a night predator in the forest rather than risking the possibility of being made prisoners by these cruel people.
They immediately began walking. Instead of going west, they went directly south and on the same path he had taken only a couple of hours before. Nika asked him why they were passing so close to the village instead of making a wide detour around it.
" For one thing, " said Vincent, " I doubt that at the moment we will have much trouble from anyone in the village. By now they are all drunk and sleeping, beside even if we should be discovered they wouldn't be in a condition to follow us. It will be much safer if we stay close to their camp for a while since the noise they are making will scare away many of the night predators of the forest."
" I hope we do get to surprise a few of them, " said Verla " it will make me feel good to drive my spear in their cowardly heart."
" Who knows, your wish might come true. There is a good chance that we will meet one or two guards on our way. So from now on let us make as little noise as possible and watch where you walk, if there are guards they will probably be half drunk and lying in the bushes."
Soon they reached the spot where Vincent had killed one of the guards. Then out of curiosity, Vincent guided both women to the top of the hill where a few hours before he was hidden and observing the whole village.
What they saw now was a much different scene. Everywhere they looked they could see drunken and sleeping bodies on the ground and the few that were still standing were drinking and were in the process of joining those already dead drunk lying everywhere.
As for the prisoners, there were only three of them that could be seen still standing while being tied to the posts, the others were lying in a lump at the foot of their respective post and some even had their head cut off.
Vincent suddenly felt Verla's hand on his shoulder. She pointed in the direction of the last post to which was still tied a standing prisoner. There could be no doubt about it, the man was still alive. He lifted his head for a few seconds and tried to move but he soon collapsed after that effort.
" I think that we might be able to rescue him, " said Vincent.
" Yes, let us try. The large fire is dying down and the light at that end is very dim."
" We will wait a little longer before attempting anything. No one is feeding wood into the fire and it will be darker still in a little while, beside it won't matter that much if we wait since they will all be drunk soon."
Half an hour went by and by then there wasn't a single villager that could be seen standing anywhere. The huge fire was only a pile of smoldering red-hot coals now.
As quietly as they could, they partly circled the village while all the time walking in the forest. When they were opposite to the last post, Vincent told the women to keep a sharp eye near the posts just in case someone or a guard should appear. He then left his hiding spot and he began to walk in a drunken manner toward the posts.
As soon as he reached the first form lying on the ground, he picked the clay cup near the drunken body and he continued to walk while pretending to drink from the bowl-size cup.
He did fit perfectly in the decors and his women had to admit that anyone looking in his direction would mistake him for one of their own.
As he kept walking slowly he saw drunken bodies everywhere lying on the ground where they felt dead drunk. There were as many women as men lying everywhere, some had actually passed out while they had been in the process of copulating. He was surprised also to see that a number of children were among those that were drunk.
So far, on this world he had noticed that it wasn't common to see many children at the same time. Since people tended to live until they were very old - because of the lack of disease and of course because of the Rad virus that constantly repaired the sick and even those that had been injured - the only way people died was from an accident. So it seemed that giving birth to babies was not a desirable thing in the activities of the habitants of this planet.
For some reason that he still could not understand, it appeared that there was a controlling element present on the planet, children were being born only when the adult population began to decrease. But the fact that there were more children in this village than he had ever seen in any other village on this planet probably met that many of these people got killed while waging wars
By the time he reached the last post, he had a fairly good idea of the layout of the village and in the dim light he now saw the shaman of the village, dead drunk, lying on the ground. The same shaman that he had observed earlier torturing the prisoners. He was the spiritual leader of the village and he had encouraged his people to cause pain to the prisoners.
As soon as Vincent reached the prisoner who was still moving his head, he cut the leather strips that bounded the man to the post and he held him until he was stretched on the ground. The man had a couple of burns on his body, but beside that he didn't seemed to have any broken bones or deep cuts
Vincent signaled to his women to come and join him. The two women took the wounded man with them and they carried him toward the forest.
Vincent then slowly walked toward the next post as he looked around and noticing a very disgusting scene. Everywhere his eyes felt he could see traces of the celebration, many had even defecated right there near the fire and they must have done this in full view or everyone else. Then he saw limbs and blood from the prisoners on the ground. He took his time to check the other prisoners, but all of them were dead. Some having their head cut off completely.
All of a sudden, he felt a strong anger building deep inside. The more he looked at the dead prisoners, the angrier he became. He make up his mind to seek partial revenge and to give these inhumane people something to think about for what they had done to their prisoners.
He took the shaman by the legs and he dragged him near one of the large clay pot that held their potent brew. He then lifted the man and threw him head first into the pot. There was a little resistance from the shaman when his head hit the liquid, but Vincent forced his head under until he felt his body relaxe and he knew that he was dead.
Next he went to the biggest hut that he could see in the village. It was much more decorated than the others and most of the round walls were covered with pelts. Vincent figured that it had to belong to the chief. He pulled aside the flexible animal skin in front of the door and he got inside. Lying on the ground, were four men and about a dozen women, all were completely drunk and unconscious.
With his knife he slit the throat of the four men then he piled their naked bodies one on top of the other. Both Nika and Verla had previously explained to him that it would be seen as a very bad omen in this world for a man to die with his genital in contact with another man. It met that his spirit would always roam the land in anger until he was avenged of this supreme insult. Worst still, if his own tribe didn't avenge him in as short a time as possible, very bad things would happen to them all.
Before leaving the village he took four of the decapitated prisoner's head and he tossed them in the other pots. He knew that what he had just done was bound to scare the hell out of the whole village. They would probably think that the spirits of the dead prisoners were responsible for the presence of their head in the pots. The same spirits that had killed their shaman and chief. After all, who else would do such a thing?
For the rest of the night they walked, taking turn in carrying the half dead prisoner. Once in a while the prisoner did regain conscience and he was given water, but all the time he had to be carried since he was much too weak to walk.
By dawn they had probably covered less than seven miles. They rested for an hour at the end of the forest and the beginning of a plain while eating breakfast. Victor was anxious to cross the plain as soon as possible since he knew that once the villagers realized that one of their prisoners had manage to escape, some of them would begin looking for him. Even if the village was now without a chief it was more than probable that a few of the warriors would realized that the death of their chief and shaman was not the result of the spirits of the dead prisoners. They were bound to figure that the missing prisoner had probably something to do with it. These warriors, even if they would only be a few at first, would probably begin searching for them as soon as they became sober enough.
Having walked all night carrying the sick man with them, they were very tired, but just the same they did moved on and they undertook the crossing of the plain. While Vincent walked on one side helping the now conscious man to walk, Verla was on the other side holding part of his weight.
Nika walked in front of them with an arrow in readiness in case they should run into a charging animal, which were everywhere to be seen. There were many different herds of strange looking grass eater all around them, hidden in the tall grass they could see predators also.
It took them more than an hour to cross the plain and to reach the edge of a forest on the other side. By now the burned man was able to put much of his weight on his feet and the fact that it had been easy walking on the plain did permit them to reach the other side much faster than predicted.
As soon as they reached the forest, Vincent looked back at the plain in the direction that they had just come, he could clearly see the pressed grass where they had walked. If they were being followed, he knew it would be easy to get to them now. Even though they were all very tired and in need of rest they now had no other option except to keep on moving further.
By noon they found themselves on the shore of the great lake once more. Vincent was pretty sure that they had traveled straight south ever since leaving the village, after checking on the position of sun he was relieved to see that indeed they had been moving south. It met only one thing he told himself, the lake had to be curving and therefore must be in the shape of a half moon.
Even though it was in the middle of the afternoon, it was getting darker now and soon it began to rain. Vincent realized that he had to take an important decision now. Should they follow the shore of the lake or turn back into the forest where it would certainly be much easier to hide. On the other hand, walking on the sandy beaches of the lake was going to be much easier and they would be able to cover a greater distance in the same length of time even if they would probably leave tracks in the sand.
But returning back into the forest in the exhausted condition they were at that moment was going to place them all at the mercy of the predators that were constantly following the many herds and hunting for preys. He knew that they certainly would have a lot of difficulties to defend themselves in the exhausted state that they were now. He finally opted for walking on the sandy beaches of the great lake for a while.
A short time later, they noticed an island about five hundreds feet from the shore of the lake. It only they could reach the island without leaving too many traces of their passage he told himself. He figured that it would be a perfect place to rest in relative safety for a few days until the prisoner they had rescue - whose name was Cold Wind - could get a little better.
The only way they could reach the island and take Cold Wind with them was to hold on to a tree trunk or a large log and paddle with their hand until they got there. He finally explained to his women that his intention was to cross over to the island and that they should look for a large piece of wood to help them get there. They were all careful to walk in the water of the lake so as to leave no foot-print in the sand. Finally they found what they were looking for.
It was a fifteen-foot length of wood that had once been part of a medium size tree. Its roots at one end were still floating in the water of the lake and it was an easy matter to push it further into the lake.
They then helped Cold Wind to climb on his belly on the log and Vincent tied a leather rope around his waist then he tied the other end to his own waist. While both women took charge of the weapons and the remaining food, they all pushed the log in deeper water until the water took hold of the log.
As soon as they were on their way it began to rain in profusion. But since there was practically no wind, Vincent ordered them to continue to push the log until they were walking waist deep in the cold water of the lake.
The rain was most welcome now since it was going to erase their foot prints from the sandy beach. Soon their feet were no longer touching the bottom of the lake and they began to paddle with their hand and swimming while trying to push the log ahead of them. After ten minutes they were half way to the island but at the same time the current in the channel was taking them on a parallel path to it. They all knew that they had to move fast or risk missing the island completely.
The momentum of the initial push when their feet were still touching the bottom of the lake, had been enough to carry them half way toward the island, but now it was a tedious and exhausting process of swimming and paddling along with the log so as to reduce the distance to their destination.
Then the wind began to blow and the sky was soon crisscrossed with lightning and there was even a perceptible drop in the temperature. Twice, Cold Wind slipped off the log and Vincent had to help him back on again. The waves were now beginning to hinder the progress of the log while the current carried them to the very tip of the island. Just as Vincent figured that they would miss the island completely, he felt his feet touching the bottom of the lake. Then the two women were standing on the bottom also and they began guiding the log toward the island.
No sooner was Cold Wind off the log that the current carried it away.
Vincent then soon discover that it had been a wise decision to come to the island. The side of the island closer to the mainland was made up mostly of high rocks while the rest was covered with trees and grass. He knew that even if they were to walk around on the island in broad daylight -- as long as they remained behind the wall of rocks -- they wouldn't be detected from the mainland.
There were many caves among the rocks and it was now their most urgent priority to get out of the rain, the temperature had dropped even further in the last ten minutes and everyone was shivering. They found a large cave with an opening facing away from the mainland. After Vincent checked it out to make sure that it was not occupy by one of the big cats or something even more dangerous such as a pack of wolves which were common in this world, they placed the now unconscious Cold Wind well inside the cave. They next began pilling rocks in front of the entrance to prevent any potential prowlers from getting inside just in case there were any on the island.
For the next six days they remained hidden on the island. The little food they had with them lasted for the first two days then they ate raw fish from the lake. There was an abundance of aquatic life in the lake and some of it was dangerous as Vincent discovered one day while he was fishing.