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, @ 2003-09-08 21:26:00
Current mood: exceedingly manly
Bracy's first name is never given in the book. I have arbitrarily picked one for him
For days they rode north into the mountains. All the days blurred together to Gedge, and he felt a terrible lightness come into his head and a horrible weight on his chest that made him cough and feel that every breath was drawn through a molten furnace. He had no reason left to tell him that he too had succumbed to the weakening fever, and no clear memory of how he survived, bar the dim sensation of gentle hands feeding him and wiping the perspiration from his brow. When he came to himself he found the little party on the brink of climbing down from the heights into a deep valley, and himself now seated in front of the leader of the boys, held firmly in his arms. He looked around wildly for Bracy and saw the officer seated on a horse nearby, behind the fair haired boy. Bracy gave him a brave smile, and he could see clearly how the fever had weakened the officer's strength.
'Sir!' he said, 'I'm sorry, sir.'
'Gedge! I am glad to see you properly awake!' cried Bracy.
'How long have we travelled?' asked Gedge through dry lips.
'I don't know exactly. When my head had quite cleared you had already fallen ill, and I am not sure how many days we have lost.'
The chestnut-haired boy held up a water bottle for Gedge, and spoke kindly and firmly.
'Well,' thought Gedge, taking the bottle, 'perhaps we have learned their word for "drink!" Oh, I s'y, I hope as I warn't actin' too queer!' and so thinking he drank deeply, then leaning back, exhausted by such a simple act, he rested against the boy. He contented himself by looking down in to the valley, seeing its thickly wooded slopes, a fast moving river coming down from the mountains opposite, and fields and houses below. 'What shall become of us?' he wondered, 'Oh, but I'm glad that Captain Bracy can take command of me again! He will know what to do.' And with that he fell fast asleep.
When he awoke, they were on the valley floor, and were riding towards what he could see was a little town. It was very warm, as if the valley trapped the sunlight and heat, and did not let them escape from its confines. They were rising through well-kept fields of neat crops and placid sheep. It all seemed quite smart and pleasant, and a formless thankfulness stole over him that they were not to be held prisoner in squalid surroundings.
'Gedge!' hissed Bracy from before him.
'Sir?' responded Gedge sleepily.
'You must try to stay awake, Gedge, for the next while, so that we may observe what our situation is.'
'Yes, sir,' said Gedge, struggling to keep his eyes open. He fixed his gaze on the fields and the houses as they approached, aided in his attempt at wakefulness by the high cries the boys suddenly gave forth. Brightly dressed people poured forth and pointed in a rough manner at the two Englishmen, exclaiming in their language in tones of surprise. The boys halted before a large house in the centre of the town, and leaped from their horses, helping their prisoners alight. Gedge noted less brightly dressed fellows rush out and take the horses, leading them away. The doors of the house opened, and an imposing man came forth, dressed in a richly embroidered tunic and trousers, a straight sword hanging by his side. The chestnut-haired boy embraced him joyfully, and waved a hand at the horses being led around the house and at Gedge and Bracy. The man came up to them, speaking in a querying tone. Gedge looked at his bright red hair and his blue eyes and whispered as cheerily as he could to Bracy, 'Looks like he's Irish, sir!'
'Hush,' said Bracy, and gave a little bow to the man. 'I am Captain Edmund Bracy, and this is Sergeant William Gedge of Her Majesty's 404th Fusiliers. I must ask your intentions toward us, sir.'
The red-haired man regarded them in surprise, and spoke again, more slowly and distinctly. Bracy shook his head regretfully, saying 'We cannot understand you, sir. Do you perhaps have among you a man who knows English?'
The boy spoke urgently to his father – for seeing them together there could be no doubt of their relation – and that gentleman indicated to Bracy and Gedge that they should enter the house. The people gathered without murmured and called out in seeming disappointment as the doors were closed, cutting off their view of the British soldiers. Within the house, the doors gave onto a large open hall, with a raised dais at one end. The man walked to it, and took a seat upon it, clapping his hands. At once other men rushed out, and in obedience to his commands, set chairs in the hall and urged Bracy and Gedge to be seated.
'Ain't right that I should sit beside you, sir,' said Gedge stubbornly as Bracy sat thankfully.
'Sit, my lad,' said Bracy, 'you look as if you are about to fall.'
Gedge sank into the chair beside him, glad that he was obeying a direct order. His legs felt suddenly as if they would refuse any orders he would choose to give them in the matter of getting up again. He looked around as Bracy kept repeating politely that they could not understand the questions being put to them. The hall was simple and elegant, with geometric carvings adorning the cornices and the walls. 'There's that Buddha chap,' thought Gedge, spying a statue of a type he had seen before in India. He let Bracy's voice wash over him, and was drifting off to sleep when a hand touched his shoulder. He opened his eyes to find the chestnut-haired boy smiling at him and holding out a goblet of shining silver. 'Thanks,' said Gedge, taking it and peering within suspiciously.
'It's wine, Gedge, it's all right,' said Bracy.
Gedge felt ashamed of the weakness that had caused his lack of attention, and drank cautiously. The dark rich wine made him feel more tired than ever, and he was glad indeed when he was offered bread and a dish of meat in an orange coloured sauce.
'I s'y,' he whispered, 'I wish these people used knives and forks like English folk do! I fear I'll get this on my sleeve.'
Bracy picked pieces of meat carefully from the dish. 'Let's not be too unguarded, Gedge,' he said. 'They may have some interpreter, and wish to gull us into speaking too freely. They have treated us well enough so far, we should at least not be discourteous. This man is their chief, can you not see? We must discover what ransom he proposes to ask for us, or if he can somehow be persuaded to release us.'
'Yes, sir,' said Gedge, poking disconsolately at what had turned out to be a piece of fruit in the dish. 'What I wouldn't give for a decent pile of potatoes, with a nice bit of butter,' he thought. 'And a cup o'tea.' He turned to Bracy, whispering, 'D'yer think they'd have a cup o'tea, sir?'
Bracy laughed with surprise at the lad's sudden return to appetite. The man spoke kindly to them, and gestured to his son. The boy urged them to rise, and led them away down a passage, then up a narrow staircase, chatting all the while. Gedge felt as if he would sleep on his feet, and paid careful attention to marching as straight as he could. The boy stepped aside to let some unveiled women come out of a doorway. They sketched a bow to him and scurried away. He entered the room they had left, and with an expansive gesture showed Bracy and Gedge that it contained large bowls of steaming water, with cloths for drying, and a bed covered with brightly woven blankets. A window admitted bright light, and he went over and shuttered it. He smiled a frank and open smile at Bracy, and put a friendly hand on Gedge's shoulder, speaking kindly, then he turned and left, closing the door behind him.
'We are meant to rest,' Bracy said. 'A good idea, as we will be better able to plan in the morning. We must regain our weapons, and make our escape, if we cannot persuade these people to let us go.' He took off his boots, undid his coat, and stood by one of the bowls in his shirt sleeves, washing his face, and running his hands through his short hair. After a moment, Gedge did likewise, rinsing away some of the effects of the days of travel.
'Them horses are awfully bony, sir,' he said. 'I'm ever so glad I 'listed in the infantry.' He was glad to see Bracy's face lighten with a smile that almost lifted the dark shadows from the officer's eyes. 'We're in a fine state,' he thought, 'lost and sick. A spot of rest'll cheer us up proper.' He put his hand on the topmost of the blankets.
'I'll just take the one, sir, leave you with the rest. I'll make my bed by the door, so they don't come in at us durin' the night.'
'No, Gedge,' said Bracy, 'if they wanted to do us harm, why save us from the Dwats in the first place? Why give us good food and a comfortable room? They want us alive, most likely they think we are worth a fat ransom. Come, Gedge, you are still weak with the effects of the fever. Let us rest now.' So saying, he fitted his words and actions, climbing in to one side of the bed. Gedge thankfully took off his boots and climbed in the other, the dim light encouraging his eyes to close. As he drifted away he heard Bracy say quietly, 'I thought you were going to die.'
Gedge reached behind him, and took Bracy's hand. 'Not me,' he said sleepily, 'I keep tellin' yer I ain't goin' to leave yer. I s'pose one day yer'll believe me.'
* * *
When Gedge woke it was bright. The shutters were open and light was streaming into the room. He felt much better, and realised he was much hungrier than usual. As his mind woke fully from sleep he saw that the chief's son was in the room, directing servants quietly to bring in food and hot water for washing. Gedge quietly shook Bracy awake, murmuring, 'Sir, they've brought breakfast in to us.'
Bracy sat up, hiding a yawn behind his hand, and smiled at the scene. His smile faded as he looked round, to see their belongings nowhere in evidence.
'Where are our uniforms?' he said.
Gedge jumped from the bed and took the boy's arm.
'Here, now,' he said, 'what've you done with our things?' He pointed at the shelf on which they had placed their belongings.
The boy spoke at length, then sighed, and resorted to a mime, plucking at Gedge's shirtsleeve and wrinkling up his nose, and pointing to the bowls of hot water. He called one of the servants forward and showed Gedge that she held clean clothes of the sort worn by his tribe.
'Laundry service, sir,' said Gedge, 'I s'pose they may have needed it, with us bein' ill.'
Bracy took a set of the clothes, frowning and holding them against him. 'They look like they should fit,' he said, 'but I don't like being out of uniform.'
Gedge privately agreed, but said nothing, as he saw nothing could be gained. The boy plucked at his shirt again and spoke firmly.
'It seems they want us dressed native from the skin out, sir,' he said.
Bracy paused, then shrugged and pulled off his shirt, and handed it to a servant. 'Let us be clean, then,' he said. 'We must just hope our clothes are returned to us.'
'And our rifles and bay'nets, sir,' asked Gedge, 'and your pistol?'
'Those we will discuss later,' said Bracy, with a meaningful glance at a manservant who seemed to be paying them close attention. The servants and the boy slipped from the room and left them in peace.
When they were washed and dressed, and had eaten their fill, they ventured out of the room. No one stopped them. The house seemed quite deserted. They came down the stairs into the hall, and saw no one. Their path to the door was clear.
'Come on, Gedge,' said Bracy. 'Here is our chance. We must take it, we would be remiss to allow such an opportunity to escape to pass us by.'
He led them over to the door and opened it a crack, peering out, and then pushing it to, gently. 'Huh!' he ejaculated, 'the street out there is full of men, including our host. We should be seen at once. Let's see if there's a servants' entrance. At least we are disguised in their own clothing, which may give us some moments' grace.'
They ran soundlessly to the back of the house, and Gedge peered into a room. 'Sir!' he said in excitement, 'our weapons!' He passed Bracy his firearms and bayonet, and equipped himself similarly. 'Hah!' he ejaculated, 'they don't keep a careful watch, do they, sir?'
Bracy gave him a quick smile, and led then onward, then pushed open a little door, coming out into a stableyard. Bracy laughed with excitement, seizing Gedge by the shoulder.
'We can take horses and be gone!' he said.
Gedge's heart sank, remembering the uncomfortable journey, and he turned pleadingly to Bracy. 'Can't we jest walk, sir? I'm no good on a horse, lessen I'm holding on to a good rider.'
'You can ride with me,' said Bracy, 'I have skill enough for both of us.'
'How will we find our way, sir?' asked Gedge, 'neither of us was awake for the whole trip.'
'We know our way back to the lip of the valley,' said Bracy as they entered the stable, 'after that I shall guide us back as far as I remember, then you will have to be our guide.'
'But what of the days when we were neither of us in our right minds?' thought Gedge worriedly, but he did not voice this concern, seeing how Bracy's whole form gave off an air of confidence and assurance. 'He'll get us out,' thought Gedge, 'he'll do it.'
Bracy saddled the sturdiest of the horses, and quickly pushed a couple of saddle-blankets into a sack. 'I can't say that it will be the most pleasant of crossings, Gedge,' he said, 'but we will get through.'
'Yes, sir,' said Gedge. 'Will I run into the kitchens and grab some food?'
'Quick as you can,' said Bracy.
Obediently, Gedge rushed back inside, seizing some large flat rounds of bread and thrusting them into a bag hanging from a nail. Another moment's search brought him a large slab of cheese and a bowl of the dried fruit that had been in what he thought of as the native stew. 'Not enough,' he thought, 'not enough, but there's no time.' He ran back out to find that Bracy had a horse saddled and waiting.
'Quick, lad,' said Bracy, holding out a hand, 'I want to get off.'
Gedge swung up behind him, holding on tight. As Bracy turned the horse to leave the stableyard, the door behind them opened and the chestnut-haired boy came out, whistling. He stared at them in astonishment, then jumped forward, yelling. Bracy drummed his heels in the horse's side, and it sprang forward as Gedge closed his eyes and clutched the officer's waist more firmly. Bracy saw the gateway to the street suddenly fill with men answering the boy's yells, and bent over the horse's neck, urging it forward and raising a yell of his own. The men scattered as the horse, ears back and nostrils wide rushed at them. The chief ran out from the throng in front of the horse, calling to it, and it faltered, seeing its master. At this slight delay Gedge felt hands seize him and he was pulled roughly down, landing on his back in the dust of the street. The boy glared at him, and turned to yell at Bracy in fury.
'Save yerself, sir!' Gedge shrieked, 'save yerself!'
The boy stalked forward like a wild thing, remonstrating with Bracy, who pulled out his pistol and pointed it full in the boy's face.
'Get up, Gedge,' he cried, 'get back on the horse. Stay back!' he yelled to the crowd, 'I will shoot!'
Gedge moved to climb back on his feet, but stilled as a sword point came under his chin. He looked up to see the chief watching not him, but Bracy. The inattention was but seeming, as Gedge discovered when he attempted to move, and found the blade pressed more firmly to his flesh. For an age no one moved, no man spoke and it seemed as if a tableau had been constructed, Bracy holding his pistol unwaveringly on the boy, the boy's father holding the wickedly sharp edge of his blade to Gedge's throat. Then the awful stillness broke, and Bracy uncocked his pistol and let his hands hang limply by his side. The chief sighed a deep sigh, and Gedge realised that up till then the man had been holding his breath. The boy spoke sternly and decisively to Bracy as if he did not know or did not care, with the assurance of youth, that he had ever been in danger. Bracy was pulled from the horse, and stood there unresisting as the weapons were taken from him.
'Yer should have gone, sir,' whispered Gedge, 'yer could have made it.'
Bracy said nothing, just watched Gedge with troubled and shadowed eyes and shook his head firmly. The servants grabbed them and pulled them back into the house, slamming the door to freedom behind them.