Sunday, 26 June 2011
#SampleSunday – 26th June 2011
Sumto rescues a pig in The Invisible Hand.Still in editing mode with this, book III of Freedom's Fool.
"You should help her."
It was the first thing Anista had said in several minutes, and predictably enough, it was a demand that I do something. Kathan was right, his sister didn't listen to what she didn't want to hear. It was becoming a problem. We had ridden slowly through the valley, following the narrow paths that wound where the lie of the land was easiest and least fertile. Farming of any kind is a fairly labour-intensive business and there were not as many people active on the land as I knew there should be. Crops were growing, but so were weeds. There were women and children in fair numbers, tending herds and channelling water and weeding crops; but there was hardly a man in sight. The heavy work went undone, or was attempted but not achieved; like the porker that had managed to get itself into a hollow but couldn't get back out. It stood in the mud, forelegs up on the muddy ground and struggling to get purchase with its hind legs, squealing and grunting as it wriggled in the narrow channel. A woman and a boy stood by, watching, mud splattered; she worried and thoughtful, the boy wary and dejected. I guessed they'd tried to lift the animal out. He'd tried his strength against the task and found it beyond him.
I steered closer, keeping to a walk. "And when she needs help tomorrow? What then? And the next day? Come harvest, what then?"
"Everyone helps at harvest," Anista said. "Everyone wants to eat, don't they?"
The woman and the boy had looked up at our approach, both wary and hopeful, and I gave them a friendly smile as I swung down out of the saddle. "Going to give me a hand, soldier?"
"Not my pig," he turned in the saddle, scanning our surroundings.
"Exactly," I muttered as I passed him my reins. "Keep an eye out, then."
"Rider coming out of the west, patron. Was that an order?"
"No." Like he said, it wasn't his pig. I looked. He was right. One rider, well over a mile away, not in any hurry. I looked back the way we had come. The second guard was on his way to join us, and would be with us sooner than the other. I wondered over toward the pig, shooting a brief glance at Anista, who had frozen in the act of dismounting, glaring at the indifferent soldier and then at me. I shrugged and focused on the problem.
The animal had reached as high as it could, had its forelegs out of the hole and flat against the muddy ground; it hadn't enough strength to pull itself out and couldn't get purchase with its back legs to push its own weight higher. I briefly imagined straddling the hollow and reaching down to get my hands under its chest to lift it high enough and forward enough that it could get clear. Good way to throw your back out, I thought. And it would only work if the pig cooperated, which it wouldn't, being a pig; it would wriggle and struggle and fuss and make the task impossible. Get in the hollow with the pig and lift? Not a plan of genius.
I looked up at the woman and grinned. "I suppose you could always butcher it where it is."
A look of horror, almost fear, flitted over her features and she dropped her head to look at her feet. I could see she wanted to say something but was afraid to voice her concern.
"Bad jest," I told her, looking at the boy who didn't look quite so terrified. Just wary, maybe a little angry. Much better.
"Sow's pregnant, sire," the boy muttered, gaze drifting away from mine, face flushed.
"Worth more alive, then. And it's patron, lad. I'm no one's king. Do you have a shovel?"
The lad nodded.
"Go get it then," I could see a dwelling not much more than a hundred yards off. From a walled pen I could hear other pigs; so maybe only this one had gotten loose, or maybe they had fixed the wall and dealt with the rest, leaving only this one that had gotten itself into trouble. I couldn't tell how much damage the pigs had done while loose. Any was too much. The boy looked to his mother before going at her nod of assent.
"How did you get them out from the town?" Pigs don't herd easily.
She shot a glance up at me, then hurriedly lowered her gaze again. "Didn't have time to take 'em in, s..." She broke off, flushed. "Had to leave 'em." She shrugged helplessly; flustered, she looked for help and found Anista.
"Don't worry, Nila," Anista soothed, "I won't let him hurt you."
Hurt her? When I don't understand something I generally ignore it. "I'll dig the pig out," I looked over the hollow and pointed back of the pig, "there, then we'll get her to back out," I shrugged. "It shouldn't take long." I'd probably get blisters, though.
They ignored me; Anista put an arm around Nila and walked her off, talking too softly to be heard.
You’re welcome, I thought, and sympathised more with the soldier’s answer. Not my pig.
The boy brought two shovels. I took one and we got started on the task. He was too young and small to be much help and there wasn't enough room, so he more got in the way than anything else. Still, I let him, worked round him, and made sure he saw how I was approaching the task. Siege work is mostly digging, when magic isn't available. I'd done my share, thanks to my Uncle. I settled into the work and we got it done, talking only as much as needed. I hit rock pretty quickly and adjusted the plan, filling in as much as digging out. I warmed to the work; liking it. It felt good. Nothing hurt worth talking about. I felt well. The porker ignored the whole process apart from being spooked by the noise and motion behind it, occasionally scrabbling with its back legs and getting nowhere, grunting and sometimes squealing. After a while I got down in the trench, stamping down on the loose earth, tamping it into the exposed rock to firm up the impromptu ramp and getting pig shit on my boots and trousers. I walked out the way I intended the pig to back out and made it without much trouble. The other guard had joined us and both sat their mounts watching the approaching rider. He was close now.
"Scout," one of them said, seeing me look.
The pig was still resting against the end of the trench, forelegs splayed out in front of it. I walked around to the front, gesturing the guards to move. They hesitated. "I don't want the porker to run off," I said. With identical shrugs the two men walked their horses, leading mine and made a kind of wall of horses a little way back from the trench. The boy moved to plug a gap. Content with the arrangement, I stepped close and slapped the flat of my shovel against the pig’s nose. It gave an outraged squeal and shuffled back, dropping into the trench and then kept moving, head turning from side to side, it backed slowly up the improvised slope and out. "Get it in the pen," I said, turning away and tossing the shovel aside. The scout was close now and heading our way. I gave a wave and moved to meet him, ignoring the grunting of pig, huffing of horse and muttering of men behind me. My work there was done. In a moment I'd see about getting something for it; the least Nila could do for payment is feed me, I figured. Nothing is for nothing, after all.