Letting Life Lead
“Old King Glory on the mountain. The mountain reached so high, it nearly touched the sky…” a small voice wavered in the twilight.
Eztli sniffed the misty air, peering between bush and tree. She was hungry; her mouth watered.
By lamplight, the child continued to sing the same lines over and over while bent on her knees. She stretched out one hand when the elder male she was with barked at her in a lilting, foreign tongue. A gang of children strung together by ropes coiled around their necks stood barefoot or crouched, shivering upon the ground.
I should leave trouble to itself, Eztli thought.
The male’s garish garb reflected the lantern’s glow. He lifted his long blade high, aiming for the slender wrist of the little singer who held her chin up. Eztli shouted, burst from cover, and shot bolts from her weapon. One to the head. There was no need to waste ammunition on the the thin skull. Even if he were not dead by the time he hit hard earth, Eztli’s deft cut to his neck finished the job.
She didn’t bother to wait to feast.
The children didn’t scream but un-looped themselves. Older children grabbed beaten and exhausted youngsters. They scattered like roaches in the light. All except the little singer who curled her feet under, tucking her hands into her armpits. She watched Eztli remove her long coat and gorge on the blood of the slaver.
Eztli slurped and paused. “Go on with you. I don’t much like the taste of children.”
“Don’t got no wheres to go,” the little singer sniffed back the string of snot running down her upper lip. “You gonna finish him? That’s an awful lot in one sit.”
Eztli snorted. “You’ve a river’s mouth. I should eat you on principle.”
The child tilted her head and bit her lip, showing off side gaps where adult teeth had not yet filled in. “Been through worse than that. Besides Drinkers don’t never kill kids. That’s why Stakers send the littles to scout dens. Least that’s what my Ma says — said.” Her lip quivered.
Eztli patted down the body and searched for useful items to pocket or stash. She rolled him to a bare patch and piled up brush and wood for a pyre in the way of his kind. The last thing she needed was to alert any passers to her presence. She’d been over the area already; the slaver had been alone. A lesser beast who could only manage to snatch half-starved children from nomad camps.
The girl began to sing the same song in a mutter.
“Who was your Ma then? A Scholar of the forbidden tomes?” Erzli cursed herself for continuing the conversation. Solitary meant safety. She had no more kin and even if she had, it was better to have leagues between. Nothing to keep you and nothing to hold onto. She set the fire with the pyre-oil the slaver’s people always carried in expectation of their final step. Eztli walked away with the slaver’s satchel of supplies and didn’t look back.
The child followed light-footed several paces behind and hummed Old King Glory. “Ma knew lots of the old tunes. Villages like them. We had a good caravan ’til the raiders come and broke it.”
She hummed again.
“By the moon, child. Don’t you know another song?” Eztli stopped and pointed her knife. “Tell me which way you want to go, so I can go the other.”
The girl jutted out her chin and refused to let the tears fall. “I know lots. Only I ain’t ready. I’m not strong enough yet.”
“Shit.” Eztli sighed. “You don’t look useful.”
She brightened. “I can cook and clean.”
“Do I look like I have a stove in my pocket? And I can’t say that the trees need sprucing.”
“Sprucing.” The girl laughed. “When’s your babe coming?” When Eztli lifted a brow, she continued. “Only girl Drinkers take blood and only that much when they’s gots a babe. Ma said ain’t no safer place for a wee one to be than with a mamma Dri–”
“You talk too much. And I’m not a girl.” Eztli walked on. “Hum that song again and I’ll shove your face in bear scat.”
“Want to know my name?”
“No.” Eztli snapped.
The full moon’s dappled light in the forest lit the way. Eztli glanced over her shoulder, halved her strides, and picked a more careful path over rock and root.
Observations, Thoughts, and Daydreams
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