0021 – Stem & Cap: Idyll, Part 7

Stem’s small body hit the dusty floorboards of the dark armoury. Behind her, the window still sat open. How she had managed to make it swing outwards, she had no idea, but the adrenaline of her inexplicable, momentary panic was still pumping through her. She had no time to care, or so her body was telling her. Precisely what the source of this urgency was, she couldn’t say.


She scrambled to her feet. She was still breathing rapidly. Her eyes scanned the racks of dull, functional weaponry, and she realised much to her horror that while there were many spears on display, none of them particularly stood out. She had expected something ornamental, or otherwise special somehow – at the very least, something that stood alone.


Stem quickly counted the spears on the wall. There were fifteen. Each was well made, sturdy, with a thick shaft and a vicious but wholly functional tip of well-wrought steel. Even her young eyes could tell that this was not the work of a village blacksmith. These weapons had been bought, or traded for, long ago, and kept in excellent condition.


Three or four looked like they had seen regular use.


Stem’s head was clearing slightly now, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she was still being told something urgent. She couldn’t say by who, or what it was. This rendered the entire process of her hearing it somewhat pointless – and irritating, in the manner of a buzzing insect, changing its pitch and direction just when one’s ears get used to its presence at last.


She closed her eyes for a moment, pressing her fingers to her temples. She had to think. If she couldn’t identify which spear was the one used for the trial, then she had to do something about all of them. A small girl stealing fifteen spears – each as long as a man – and stashing them somewhere without being discovered, simply would not be plausible.


If she couldn’t steal and hide them, she would have to destroy them.


Stem pulled the nearest spear from the weapons rack on the wall. Its weight surprised her, proving heavy enough that she nearly toppled over when it finally came free from its supports. The wood of its shaft was very thick – easy six inches in circumference. Even at a glance, she knew she couldn’t break it.


She glanced over at the window. It was still open.


The mysterious sense of urgency was now reduced to a tolerable background hum, but that didn’t stop her from anxiously checking the sun when she got outside, rapidly appraising how much time she had left before she would be expected back at her home.


The festival isn’t for another couple of days, she reminded herself. But it did nothing to placate her. For some reason, she felt, this had to be done today.


Less than an hour later, Stem climbed back into the window of the armoury. She had thrown the wood saw through first, so that she would have both hands free to haul herself inside.


There was no guarantee that the window would open again if she closed it. She was scared by the idea of carrying out this act of frankly traitorous sabotage with the window open for all to hear, but felt she had little choice. A cursory check around the building before her re-entry had satisfied her that nobody was nearby, at any rate.


After much grunting and straining, she had successfully propped the shaft of the first spear up against the table in the room’s centre, in an approximation of horizontality.


She began to saw.


————————-


Cap was sat at the dining table, cutlery already in his hands, making impatient banging noises on the wooden surface. The smell of his mother’s cooking was unbearably mouthwatering.


“Food! Food! Food!” he called, childishly.


“Stop it!” His mother admonished him, whacking him with an oven glove, so gently as to render the gesture absolutely ineffectual. “You’re not a little boy anymore! You’re ten now!”


“And I feel like I haven’t eaten since I was nine!” He complained.


The door to the homely little cottage opened slowly. Stem entered, the cool air of the late evening gently blowing sawdust from her clothes, adding it to the thick rug’s native colony of dust.


“What time do you call this, Stem?” Her mother didn’t look up from dishing up the meal.


“I’m sorry.” Stem hung her head. “I was playing and didn’t want to stop.”


Her mother questioned her on what, exactly, could be played in nearly pitch darkness, but Cap saw right through the lie. She looked grim, exhausted, and miserable. Whatever she had been up to, he knew it was no game.


————————


The meal had passed amicably, but Stem had been preoccupied, and Cap had been tormented by the anticipation of wanting desperately to ask his sister where she had been. They had played their parts dutifully for the rest of the evening – even fighting and squabbling over absolutely nothing, as was customary – but now was the time, Cap knew, for conversation.


Their bedroom lay in near-total darkness, lit only by the gentle glow of the trees outside. Quite some time had passed now since their mother kissed them goodnight, each in turn, and said a little prayer for them. She was a sweet woman, and keeping her in the dark about anything felt instinctively wrong to both of them, even though it was practically part of the contractual duties of childhood.


“I worked it out.” Cap whispered. “How we can help Grazer.”


Stem decided to hear what he had to say, first, before telling him about the ingenious solution she had already put into place.


“How?” She asked, quietly.


“I know how to kill a Lurker. Biter, that hunter, he told me enough, and I figured it out.”


This legitimately piqued her curiosity.


“Go on.” She urged him.


“The mouth.” Cap managed to sound smug, even in a whisper. “You spear ‘em in the mouth.”

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