A Walk in the Karakorum
Fandom: Fix Bay'nets!
Disclaimer: Fix Bay'nets! OR, The Regiment in the Hills was written by G. Manville Fenn, and was published in 1899. It is out of copyright. The characters' opinions reflect the worldview of the novel.
A Walk in the Karakorum
Daegaer wrote in contrelamontre, @ 2003-08-28 12:07:00
Written for the 'world at its knees challenge' in exactly 60 minutes, excluding spell and grammar checking.
'Listen, Bracy,' Colonel Graves said to the young officer standing before him in the colonel's private quarters. 'I know the Doctor says you're not ready for full duty, but it can't be helped. I've been brought a despatch that tells me of trouble among some of the more distant tribes. Now, all the ones hereabouts have been quiet for some time, and are glad of our custom and our medicines. But you know how it is, you get the young hot heads listening to their priests about us being heathens, and next thing you have them causing as much trouble as they can. I tell you, some of those fellows would want to bring the world to its knees, convert us all. With the illness among the men at present I don't want us to seem to be sitting birds.'
'What must I do?' asked Bracy.
'Good man. You must sound out some of the local headmen, assure them we're here to stay - and let them know that even if we were to be got rid of, the Queen Empress would take a dim view of things, and would send many more soldiers in our stead. You know how they see Her Majesty as just another hill chief - make her a chief of chiefs in their eyes. I'd send more men but for this dreadful fever sweeping the fort.'
'I'll want Gedge,' said Bracy, 'he was of the utmost use to me previously.'
'Of course,' said the colonel, 'and one of the interpreters, too.'
Leaving the colonel, Bracy immediately called for Gedge, and apprised him of their orders while awaiting the interpreter.
'I'm glad to be off and doing something,' cried Gedge. 'The fellows are so sickly and limp that there's no fun to be had here.'
'Fun!' admonished Bracy, 'it's not fun we're about, my lad.'
'No, sir,' replied Gedge, 'but I hope as we shall have at least a little.'
Bracy smiled at the lad's irrepressible good humour, and dismissed him to make his arrangements.
* * *
As they marched along, Gedge could not restrain himself from singing. It was good to be out of the Fort, and away from the fever that had weakened his friends. He cocked an eye over at Bracy, but seeing no disliking of his impromptu concert, carolled on for a time. After a mile or two, Bracy was walking a little less stiffly, while the interpreter was swinging along with the easy gait of one native to the mountains. The interpreter tried a song of his own, but Gedge laughed so much at the unfamiliar tune that the fellow quietened down sulkily.
As they made their way to the first of the villages, a shot cracked out. The interpreter threw up his hands and shrieked, falling face down to the ground. Quickly Gedge raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired back, but their assailant, a young man dressed in an unfamiliar style jumped behind cover. Many further shots came their way, and bullets spat up the dust around them.
'It seems trouble has already come to these people!' Bracy said. 'Quick, this way!'
He leaped to the side, and began sliding down the hill in his haste. Gedge fired once more, and followed. Bracy came to a sudden stop, and seized at Gedge's arm as he careened by.
'We cannot continue on this road,'' Bracy said, 'our uniforms make us too clear a target.'
'Do we return to the Fort?' asked Gedge.
'Not at all - we continue on, skirting this village, and persuade those at a greater remove to ignore these rebels. We shall have some difficulty without the interpreter, but I am confident of our success. What do you say, my lad?'
'I've said it before,' Gedge said passionately, 'I ain't leaving you.'
'A truer and braver soul than yours one could not find,' said Bracy, putting a friendly hand on Gedge's shoulder.
'Hah!' ejaculated the lad, a scarlet flush creeping across his cheerful features, 'I don't know as that's right, sir, but it does my heart good to hear it anyhow.'
Bracy turned once again to the wooded slope, leading the way down the precariously slippery terrain. More than once his boots slithered beneath him, causing him to grasp at firm branches to steady his passage.
'Ah,' thought Gedge to himself, 'his poor leg is at him, it ain't healed right. A pity the Doctor went takin' away the bandages them Ghoorka lads used. He had no call to go runnin' down them lads and their native medicalising. Stands to reason that native wounds get cured by native doctoring.' A mischievous grin widened his lips as he followed his officer. 'Same as with Mrs Gee - why, illnesses dursent stay around when she's on ward duty!'
Bracy had reached a little glade, and stood for a moment, panting heavily.
'Gedge,' he called, 'I need you.'
'Here, sir!' cried Gedge eagerly.
'Go ahead, and scout out the land. It will be dark soon, and we should fill our water bottles, if we can.'
Gedge saluted and marched off, his heart sinking at the thought that Bracy would willingly stop before dark. Only great pain would make the young officer contemplate such action, he knew. 'He must rest up - Lor' knows I'll take him on my back so's we can finish, but the man needs rest,' he mused.
A trilling, bubbling sound insinuated itself into Gedge's hearing. He ran off to the side, and found a pretty little stream running its merry way over clean, bright stones. He dipped up a handful of the icy draught, and drank deeply.
'Nothin' better in the finest restyrawnts!' he exclaimed, looking round in approval at the scene. Nature had contrived to make the surroundings that met his vision one of harmony and neatness. No fallen leaves or needles littered the ground, which appeared entirely free of stones. A large flat shelf of rock bounded the stream, which had permitted the lad to drink without muddying himself. The area, while small, was thickly encircled by the woods, giving it the air of a charming and walled garden.
'Why we could make a comfortable bed here,' murmured Gedge, 'better than that glade with no water. It'd do Captain Bracy's poor leg good to be soaked. When I had a sprain in my foot, nothin' was better than a soaking in cold water. It would ease him, it would.'
So murmuring, he turned once more toward the glade, where within a short time he found Bracy awaiting him. The young officer sprang upright at the sight of him.
'Gedge, what news?' he cried.
'No sign of any natives as I could see, sir,' replied Gedge. 'But I've found a better stoppin' place for us than this, with fresh running water, like a London house.'
Determination furrowed Bracy's brow.
'We could make another mile today,' he said.
Gedge felt a knot of worry within him. The captain, having rested, felt he should push on, but could only come to more harm. Worry loosened his tongue.
'And have to find a good place in the dark? Beggin' yer pardon, sir, but there's a fine place just a little further, and I think as we should take it,' he said. 'I'm all done in,' continued Gedge, guilefully.
'Very well,' he said. 'Lead on.'
Gedge did as ordered, a complacent smile on his lips. 'Officers ain't so hard to handle,' he thought. 'A fellow just has to give his officer a reason to obey rather than be obeyed.' He smiled as Bracy laughed approvingly at the little space he had found. 'I'll take good care of you,' he mused, 'and you'll be able to sleep well.'
Quietly and efficiently, the two prepared for sleep.