Thursday, 9 April 2015

Grin

By Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga

Amid the reeds we watched him strap on his belt, drooping with dagger sheaths, and swing his large sword sheath over one shoulder. It’s when he also lifted an arrow quiver that I made the mistake of letting out a low whistle, promptly leaping out of my hiding place to avoid the fatal thud of an arrow in the muck. Lifting my arms up, I appealed to him with my eyes, wide with genuine fear and the regret of thinking it would be fun to observe him for a while.

“Child spies,” he spat.

He aimed his arrow at the spot I’d erupted from.

“Spies,” he repeated.

Reluctantly, Jenya stood as well, shooting me a glare of scathing reproach before hardening its defiance in the face of the mercenary.

“Who sent you?” He asked.

“Ourselves,” I answered.

Jenya made the faintest of sounds, as if she was being strangled. Her silent scream strummed in my ear. Idiot!

“Right,” the man answered cautiously. Slinging his bow over his other shoulder (so many weapons), he unsheathed a knife and took one step forward, then paused.

“They don’t care about you, do they?” He muttered at length.

“Our parents? They-”

Jenya coughed, a signal that I should stop.

The man glanced from Jenya to me and back again, raising an eyebrow.

“Alright, who’s first?” He asked.

Jenya stiffened, making that faint strangled yelp again. My mouth took this as a chance to test its limits.

“I am! My name is Grin and my friend Jenya and I were venturing into disputed land because I remembered that there was this incredible spring my brother told me about when-”

“-you ran into me and decided to hide?” The mercenary asked with a slight smirk.

“Exactly!” I exclaimed. “And I was wondering just now how you could carry so much on you-”

“That’s enough. Thanks,” the mercenary dismissed. He lifted an eyebrow at Jenya, “Anything to add?”

She muttered something I couldn’t catch. “Speak up,” the soldier ordered.

“He’s an idiot,” she replied.

“Is that so?” The hint of a smile played on the man’s face but it quickly hardened. “Take me to this spring.”

Taking care not to turn my back on him with arms still up, I led him crabwise, asking about his weapons on the way but never getting anything more than a nod and a vague statement.

“How do you carry so much?”

“Yes, they train you.”

“Which one is your favourite?”

“Yes, they’re all useful.”

“Are they heavy?”

“Yes, it depends.”

“Yes?”

“And no.”

I shot a confused glance at Jenya but she turned away. The mercenary’s knife loomed closer in warning.

Finally, we parted tall reeds to emerge onto a smooth slab overlooking a large spring, as clear as it was dark. All around it a cascading bank made of jutting slabs of rock and the naked roots of amphibious trees reached into the water. From our vantage point as well as tree branches, we could swing and dive into the depths, emerging when we only had air enough to giggle elatedly at the feat. Hoping to convey this glee, I grinned at the mercenary, “Isn’t it great?”

He lunged with his knife. I was surprised, but quick to slip along the length of his arm and guide it towards the edge while Jenya slunk behind him and kicked him into the water. He landed with a resounding splash, followed by the twittering of startled birds and the whizzing of a dozen arrows amid their rustling feathers. I watched to see how long the bubbles would take to disappear.

We are at war, I remembered my brother say.

Pop went another bubble.

Therefore we are all soldiers.

Pop.

“This one only lasted five minutes,” I grinned.

Yet Jenya turned away.

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