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, @ 2003-09-01 13:54:00
Current mood: Big damn manliness, sir
Manly and pure as ever
Gedge looked around wildly, but could see no sign of their new threat.
'Take cover, sir!' he pleaded. 'I want you to go behind them rocks, please, Captain Bracy!'
Bracy made no move, and seemed not to have heard the lad's impassioned plea. From down the slope their familiar foes continued shooting wildly. Gedge reloaded and took careful aim, knowing he had to make every round account for an enemy. Then there was a wild cry behind him, making him jerk in surprise and sending a bullet whistling harmlessly over the head of the youth in command of the tribesmen. Again came the cry, and the crack of rifle fire. Gedge spun around to see some four youths on horseback come galloping down the trail, the high ululations of their piercing war cries echoing back from the mountains. Grimly Gedge sighted his rifle on their leader, only to hold fire as, in astonishment, he saw that youth – a handsome, wild boy of no more than seventeen – fire down the slope and take down one of the tribesmen.
'What's this?' thought Gedge, 'one o' them little hill wars, and us in the middle of it!'
He ran over to Bracy, ready to pull him behind the rocks to a somewhat more defensible position. The officer willingly took his arm, but was pulled from Gedge's grasp by one of the youths, who tugged him back with great violence. Before Gedge could stop him he had hauled Bracy over the withers of his shaggy coated horse, the poor officer dangling face down like a sack of wheat. The youth seized Bracy's rifle, cocking and aiming it at Gedge in a swift, practiced move.
'Let him be, you devils!' cried Gedge in fury, starting forward with no thought for his own safety. The boy laughed a wild laugh and turned his horse to gallop back up the trail. Gedge had not time to swing his rifle up and shoot before another of the riders had shouldered him roughly away with his horse. From close beneath the lip of the slope came the furious cry of the Dwat tribesmen, answered by the yells of the boys on horseback. The leader of the boys cried a high-pitched command, and his two remaining companions turned and flew off up the trail. The leader called contemptuously to the men approaching, making his horse curve and rear up proudly. He took a last shot as their hands were on the very lip of the trail, and then held out a hand to Gedge, calling to him in his barbarous tongue.
'What? Do you think I'll surrender to yer, yer murderin' dog?' cried Gedge. The boy shook his dark chestnut hair from his eyes and called again, impatiently. Gedge heard the scramble of their assailants as they clambered heavily onto the trail, and knew he could not fight them all alone. With a quick shrug he slung his rifle on his back and ran forward, grasping the youth's hand and swinging up behind him as the horse gathered its haunches beneath it and sprang forward, up the trail and round the corner before the enemy could so much as catch their breath.
* * *
Within a short space of time, Gedge saw they had reached the other youths, and that a fifth had been apparently left behind to guard some horses laden down with fine stuffs and baskets tightly strapped to their backs. With a peremptory command from the leader, the whole little group set off swiftly, their horses showing the skill at traversing high terrain that seems so natural to the breeds used by the hill tribes. Gedge clung tightly to the waist of the leader of the youths, screwing his eyes closed so he could not see the precipitous drop at the side of the trail as they climbed further. 'I ain't no cavalryman,' thought Gedge, 'I ain't tryin' to get off till we're on good solid ground.' He looked ahead to where Bracy was still slung, insensible, over the horse in front, and thought how he might retrieve the officer's rifle.
They did not stop until it was almost fully dark, when all the youths suddenly dismounted and led their horses to a widening of the trail, hobbling them securely. Gedge staggered for a moment, he was so terribly stiff from the unfamiliar exertion, making his captors laugh. One of the boys gestured at his rifle, saying something in a commanding tone.
'I ain't surrenderin' my weapon to an enemy of the Queen!' cried Gedge, unslinging it and holding it at the ready.
The other boys laughed cheerfully at his belligerent tone, while the boy who had spoken scowled and reddened. Their leader spoke casually, and smiled at Gedge, making no attempt to take the rifle. He held out a piece of bread, and spoke again, calmly and quietly.
'I ain't no horse to be gentled, neither,' said Gedge truculently. He looked at the food warily, but hunger won out, and he took it with some good grace. 'Thanks,' he muttered. 'Now you let us go and I'll say it more prettily and tip my hat to yer besides.' He looked over to where they had laid Bracy on the ground, and marched over, daring them to stop him. None did, and he made the officer as comfortable as he might, wrapping him securely in the blankets and wiping his face clean with a cloth. 'Don't you worry, sir,' he murmured, 'I won't let 'em harm you, they'll have to kill me first.'
He spent that night by Bracy's side, watching their captors as they made a little fire and prepared a meal, chatting amongst themselves. They were tall lads, with quick mobile faces and ready laughs. Their leader had queer light coloured eyes, and hair of a deep chestnut hue, the light of the fire catching answering glints in it. Another lad had hair as fair as Bracy's own, although his eyes were as dark and lustrous as any of the hill tribes'. Gedge turned his attention back to Bracy, finally lying down with him to keep him as warm as might be.
All through the next day they rode up the trail, now clearly heading for a pass to a further valley. Poor Gedge was stiff all over by the time they came to a stopping place, again no more than a widening of the trail. The boy before him patted his leg as he jumped down easily, laughing at Gedge's plight. He held a hand out cheerily, which Gedge took grudgingly out of necessity, staggering awkwardly against the boy as he got off. Two of the other boys laid Bracy down on a blanket, and built up the fire next to him. One bent over him, forcing liquid from a little bottle between his dry, bruised lips.
'Let him alone!' cried Gedge, rushing over and trying to knock away the boy's hand. The boy looked up in surprise, then showed through a gentle caress of the insensible officer's cheek that he had meant no harm. Gedge snatched at the bottle and sniffed it. 'Ugh!' he ejaculated, 'what a stink! It's like a dose for horses!' A hand gripped his elbow firmly, and the boys' leader jerked him away, speaking sternly and seriously to him. The boy pulled him down to sit by the fire, looking in his face with his queer greenish eyes solemnly. 'Yer can caution me all yer wants,' grumbled Gedge, 'I don't unnerstand a word, yer heathen.' The boy kept a firm grasp of his hand, shaking his head in frustration at their inability to speak with each other. He stroked Gedge's arm in a friendly manner and offered him bread, which Gedge ate hungrily.
After eating, Gedge took himself back to Bracy's side, feeding him slowly with a broth the boys had made with some shavings of dried meat. 'Take a little, sir, just a little,' whispered Gedge. 'We're taken prisoner, sir, but these lads seem not to have a mind to harm us. Oh, how I wish you'd wake up, sir, and tell me what to do! I'm just a sojer, sir, I need my orficer to tell me what to do.' He snuggled close to Bracy, and was astonished and pleased when one of the youths threw another blanket over them. 'Thanks, pard'ner,' he said, with true gratitude, and drew it tight around them both.
Gedge awoke in the darkest portion of the night, feeling as if he were in a furnace. He slipped a hand beneath Bracy's coat and then felt at the officer's face. 'He's burnin' up!' he thought, 'Oh, what I wouldn't give to have the Doctor here, or Mrs Gee! My first help trainin's no good for a case like this, oh why didn't I ever train as the Doctor's orderly!' Bracy's breath was coming in a queer rasping way, and when Gedge put his hand back under his coat, feeling for the beating of his heart, it only rasped the more. 'Sir!' cried Gedge in alarm, 'sir! Wake up, sir! I'm beggin' you, sir, wake up!' Around him sleepers stirred and grumbled, but Gedge paid them no heed. Then Bracy let out a terrible gasping noise, and reason deserted poor Gedge entirely. 'Ah!' he shrieked wildly, clutching Bracy's limp form to him tightly, 'don't you die on me, sir! Don't you dare die! I said it enough times to you, I ain't leavin' you, not never! Don't you go leavin' me!' Weeping, he pressed his lips to Bracy's hot face, still crying out 'Don't leave me!'
The chestnut-haired boy knelt beside him, shaking his shoulder gently as if to say 'Enough. There is no more to be done.' Gedge flung off his hand, and only clutched Bracy the tighter, stroking and kissing him as he wept. Then the still form moved, and Bracy struggled to open his eyes, licking his lips and whispering in a thread of a voice 'Gedge?'
'Sir!' cried Gedge, moved from despair to joy by the single utterance of his name, and he could not be restrained from kissing Bracy again. 'Sir! You're alive!' He felt the very purest pleasure as Bracy's hand came up waveringly to touch his cheek and he scrabbled at his water bottle, dripping the tiniest amount of liquid into the parched mouth until Bracy could swallow properly once more. The boys cried out cheerfully, and rushed to fetch some more of the broth, and their leader handed over the little bottle to Gedge, who took it thankfully.
'Thank yer,' he cried as the tears still made their way down his thin cheeks, 'yer horse medicine's done him a power of good, thank yer.'