0026 – Stem & Cap: Idyll, Part 11

“Open.” Stem said it again, more authoritatively.

Once again, nothing happened.

“I can’t open anything, stupid.” Cap remarked from inside the jailhouse. “If I could, I wouldn’t be in here.”

“I wasn’t talking to you!” She cried, exasperated. “Open!

The window, once again, refused to open.

“Are you… talking to the window?” Cap asked.

“It worked last time!” Stem exclaimed. As the words left her lips, she realised how absurd it sounded.

“You told a window to open, and it opened for you?” His voice sounded skeptical.

“Yes. It’s how I got into the armoury.”

There was a brief silence. Cap seemed to be trying to puzzle this out.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” He said after quite some time.

“I know it doesn’t! But it’s what happened.”

“I know what else happened.” Cap hissed, angrily. “You forgot to close the stupid window after you were finished! That’s how they knew it was you. Or, well, us.”

Stem screwed her face up in exasperation. What an obvious, stupid mistake, she thought. But then it dawned on her.

“How did that let them know it was us?

“Because we’re the only ones in the whole village SMALL enough to fit through that window!” He shouted from inside the cell. “Other than that stupid baby. But a baby can’t do what you did.”

“Oh.” Stem stared down at the ground, embarrassed, even though he couldn’t see her.

“So whatever you did to get that window open,” Cap implored her, in a voice suggesting his patience was being tried. “Whatever you really did, do it now! On this one!”

“I can’t!” Her voice was desperate. “I’m telling the truth! I told it to open, and it opened! I don’t even know why I said it. It all seemed normal at the time.”

Cap sighed audibly. “Then there’s no way I’m getting out of here.”

“I’m sorry.” Stem meant it. “You’re only in there because you stuck up for me. Thanks.”

“Look, never mind about that now.” He expertly brushed off her praise. “What’s important is Grazer. He’ll be charging up that hill soon, spear or no spear. You have to help him!”

“How?” She asked. “I’ve got no weapon and no plan! I’d only make it harder for him.”

“I know where you can get one.” He explained hurriedly. “They took the broken spears to the smithy. I don’t know why, since it’s the wood that’s broken and not the metal, but it doesn’t matter. Just take a broken bit with a head on it.”

“It won’t be long enough!” Stem whined. “Biter told you they’re fast, didn’t he? And long?”

“It’s better than nothing, and nothing is exactly what Grazer’s going to have if you don’t hurry!”

He was right, and she knew it. Could she live with herself if she didn’t at least try?

“I’ll give him the weapon,” Stem conceded. “But that’s it. I’m not hanging around to help him use it. I’m a girl!” Being a girl, it seemed, could be a burden when it bound her to running a cake stall, but a valuable shield when it came to not being torn apart by six foot long armoured killing machines.

“Fine.” Cap seemed to see the sense in this.

“I’ll get you out.” She promised him.

“You won’t, there’s nothing you can do.” He didn’t sound angry. “I’ll be fine, it’s less than two weeks until I’m out of here now. And they take me out to have a wash, and feed me well. It’s just boring.”

“Alright.” Stem started walking away, but turned back after a few steps to say something that young siblings only say to one another in the most dire of circumstances. “I love you.”

“I love you too, sis.” He didn’t even sound like he was cringing as he said it.

———————-

Stem made it to the treeline just in time. Even half a spear was heavy, for her, and lugging the stupid thing up the hill had proven to be a slow process. Thankfully, the Hunt Festival in the village below had proved an ample distraction, and nobody had been on the slopeward edge to watch her arduous climb.

She slipped in between the first of the dense bushes right as the procession of hunters was starting to emerge from the houses at the foot of the slope. Even a short way into the tamed forest, she could hear the priest bellowing the first lines of his long speech of encouragement to the questant, Grazer.

Stem’s small body was drenched in sweat, and various irritating insects that lived in the dense undergrowth were taking a decided interest. The bites didn’t matter, and nor did her parched throat or her hammering heart.

She had to make it to the Lurkers’ grounds. That was all there was to it.

———————-

Stem had been waiting for a good twenty minutes by the time she saw, through fifty yards of foliage, the distant figure of Grazer separate itself from the hunting party. One of the large men who had caught her the day before gave the plump boy an encouraging pat on the shoulder, but she couldn’t hear what he said to him.

She waited a good few minutes before she approached, to make sure that Grazer was alone. Bizarrely, but strangely predictably, he spent all of this time slouched in a relaxed posture by the base of one of the gnarled trees a short way into the thick, hostile part of the woodland.

“Grazer.” She drew his attention.

He looked around, and gave her a broad, earnest smile when he saw her.

“Stem! It’s really… great to see you. But you really, uh… you probably shouldn’t be here.”

“I know.” She nodded. “That’s why I’m going. As soon as I give you this.”

She held the half-spear out for him to take.

He shook his head. “I told you. I’ve got this covered.”

She was about to protest.

But then, both of them heard the awful, slow rustling.

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