Author Topic: Let's Get Down To Business  (Read 277 times)

Komi Banton

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Let's Get Down To Business
« on: August 12, 2017, 03:05:49 PM »
Komi lay on her side in the cool chill of her cell, her head pillowed on her arm and her face damp with tears. Her ankle ached where the shackle had dug into it during her tug-of-war with Minerva, but Fable had ebbed the worst of the fight out of both of them.

Unlike the otter in the next cell, Komi couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t nightmares keeping her awake tonight, though.

It was words.

Words, like those that had passed between Minerva and her daughter. Words that tore a hole in Komi’s heart.

Hapley’s words, roared in his drunken rage, calling her a waste, mocking her for failing in something he deemed so simple.

And Aldridge’s words, both recent ones and long ago, and the feel of his muzzle, gentle on the top of her head.

“Damn you, Alder,” she whispered into the dark cell. His name came out as a sob. She gritted her teeth and curled tighter into herself.

The last time they’d been together, all those seasons ago, Aldridge had told her he was going to leave. Galleran’s drunken boasts about attacking Redwall someday had really rattled him. He was leaving the horde.

And he’d asked Komi to come with him.

She’d laughed him off. Dismissed his fears about Galleran. Given him a kiss and told him not to worry.

By the time Komi changed her mind, when she went looking for him to tell him she would go with him, it was too late.

Aldridge had gone.

“Three times I was ready, and I came to your tent and you weren't there.”

She hadn’t known.

Another sob threatened to burst out. Hearing a snore and a mutter from the otter who wore the other end of Komi’s chain, she swallowed down her tears. She tried to drag up the wall of anger that Aldridge had temporarily knocked down.

You still left me. It doesn’t matter that you tried.

Komi wanted to sing, to distract herself, but her eyes followed the length of chain to the grate and to Minerva’s sleeping form. Waking the otter up with song seemed too cruel after everything that had happened. The fox across the hall would likely just berate her and find one more reason to call her a coward.

So instead, Komi rolled on her back, placed her paws on the stone and began to tap out a steady rhythm. It had been the first rhythm she’d learned on a drum and a common one she’d used for many of her songs.

Tic tic taka taka tic taka tak. Over and over and over. Little by little, the tension in her shoulders loosened and she finally felt in control again.

The chain on Komi’s ankle tugged sharply. “Will ye stop that infernal tappin’!” Minerva snarled from the next cell. “What are ye, part woodpecker?”

“Ah, shut up, yourself,” Komi snapped. “I had to try to sleep through your snoring earlier. You can sleep through some drum rhythms.”

“That ain’t no drum! Sounds like bug claws on the stone.”

Bug claws… like the hard shelled legs of the scorpion as it scrabbled down the tunnel towards her in the dark.

Komi stilled her paws and shivered.

She heard the thump-clump of a beast with a wooden leg coming down the stone corridor and she sat up, ears pricked forward. Hargorn the weasel, one of the trainers who’d supervised the slaves’ training, came into view, keys jingling in his paw. Several of the blue-clad guards stood with him.

“Yer both lucky beasts. Sometimes Nire let’s ye stew for a day or two down here. Not his new little pet Monster, though.”

He went first to Minerva’s cell and unchained the otter. He left her under guard before coming to Komi’s cell.

“If I’d been Nire,” he said as he dragged Minerva’s shackle through the grate, “yew woulda been food for them scorpions.” He gave the chain a sharp tug. “Up.”

Komi climbed to her feet. “If you were Nire, you’d already be dead.” She ducked under the backhanded slap he tried to land on her, but he yanked her end of the chain hard and she fell to the ground. He pinned her down with his twisted peg-leg.

“Yew threatenin’ me?”

Komi grimaced as he dug his peg leg into her ribs. “No. Sir.” She hissed the words between her teeth.

The weasel snarled at her, but stepped back. Without waiting for her, he dragged the chain back over to where Minerva stood, then fastened it back around her ankle. Komi stumbled upright, rubbing a paw against her ribcage where the peg leg had pressed. A few slow deep breaths helped ease the pain.

“Yer up ter the mess fer breakfast, then report ter Hapley in the trainin’ yard,” Hargorn snarled, giving Komi a shove as she passed. “Nire wants ye ter have special instruction on fighting as a team, though he’s daft ter let that beetle-brained fat-gut instruct ye.”

Komi glanced at the fox in the nearby cell, curled up in a tight ball. She doubted that the hungover trainer would be much good for anything.

Flanked by guards, Komi followed Minerva up the tunnel, their long chain dragging behind them. Back by Hapley’s cell, there was a sound like a hunk of wood being run over bars, followed by Hargorn’s sneering taunt. “Wakey, wakey. Th’ almighty Crane ought ter be wavin’ whips, not nursin’ headaches.”

Halfway up the tunnel, Komi and Minerva stumbled to a halt, their shackled footpaws catching at the same moment. They both turned in time to see one of their guards raise his footpaw off the trailing chain. Minerva growled and the rat guard snickered.

“Keep walking, you two,” he said.

They continued on, only to be brought up short again by the same guard. Komi watched him out of the corner of her eye when they started again and she gave her ankle a little flick when she stepped forward, causing the chain to skitter ahead of the footpaw about to trod on it. The rat gave a short bark of a laugh, but still stepped on it next time.

In the mess hall, Komi hesitated in the doorway, while the otter walked on, head high. Another one of the gladiator slaves tripped over the chain trailing between them and swore. Then, Minerva stumbled as she reached the end of the chain.

The guard shoved Komi in the back. “Get in there, stoat, or else you and your partner are going to be hungry.”

Komi shuffled in a few steps, squared her shoulders, then walked purposefully into the mess, ignoring the eyes that followed her.

The whispers were harder to avoid.

“That’s her. Komi the Coward.”

“Tried to escape during the Culling.”

“Oi ‘eard she were danglin’ o’er the scorp pit, cryin’ for ‘elp.”

“Ain’t she the one been cryin’ at night?”

Komi’s ears burned as the whispers continued, barely consoled that Minerva and her fight with Hammerpaw was also a popular topic.

A sharp tug on her chain reminded her of the otter and she hurriedly filled up her trencher with the morning’s breakfast. When she turned around to look for a place to sit, she hesitated. Though breakfast was winding down, plenty of seating was available. The room was far emptier than it had been yesterday.

How many died during the Culling? she wondered. The stoat was no stranger to death after years in Galleran’s horde, but such a waste of life hit her like a paw to the gut.

When the crowd moved outside for training, Komi and Minerva tripped at least three other beasts, and were tripped up twice themselves by the long dangling chain.

A red-eyed Kentrith Hapley stood with a mug in a corner of the training yard, his clothes rumpled and his headfur spiked as if he’d just hastily washed. Behind him lay a pile of practice spears and several shields propped up in the sand. A second chain lay coiled nearby.

For several long moments, the three beasts stared at each other. Komi remembered the night before when Hapley had raged at them. Now, his tail and ears drooped, though she wasn’t sure if she should attribute that to the headache or not.

The fox glanced at Komi out of the corner of one eye. "What I said last night… It wasn’t fair. Only knew of one beast who escaped that way. I'm sorry."

Komi’s mouth opened, then she closed it again. She just nodded at the trainer.

To Minerva, he said simply, “I’m sorry.” The otter snorted in reply.

The fox took a long drag from the steaming mug, lowered it, and said, “Nire has decided the two of you are partners now. Hargorn and I used to fight like this, so I know the tricks and the pitfalls of fighting chained.”

“Is that what happened t’ him?” Minerva asked.

Hapley blinked at her, but rubbed the back of his neck. “Yes. We faced off against one of the big spiders. I made mistakes and Hargorn paid the price of them. Which brings me to the first point of fighting paired. You have to trust your partner. Trust goes both ways. You have to trust that they’ll watch your back and vice versa. Because if your partner falls in the arena, your chances of survival drop dramatically.”

The fox picked up a practice spear from the pile and thrust it point down in the sand. “Second is communication. You have to talk to one another. Constantly. Every move you make has to be coordinated. If you go left and she goes right,” he pointed first to Komi, then to Minerva, “you’ll get three steps before you run out of chain.

“Third is cooperation. You have to work together. Learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and use them. Never forget that you are a team. You walk into the arena together and that’s the only way you’re walking out again.”

Komi and Minerva both shared a look with each other. Trust, communicate, and cooperate with a woodlander? Komi thought. They may as well just dump us both in the scorpion pit and be done with it.

Hapley gestured to the spear. “Nire’s said that your team will use one shield and one spear. Take that one for now and get a shield you feel comfortable with.”

Both stoat and otter stepped forward and laid paw on the spear. Komi tried to pull it towards herself. “There is no way I’m trusting a woodlander with a spear at my back. You take the shield.”

Minerva yanked back. “And ye think I want the Coward at my back with a spear?”

Komi placed two paws on the spear and tugged harder. “I am no coward, and I used to command the spear beasts in Galleran’s horde. I know this weapon better than you.”

Minerva bared her teeth at Komi. "Do ye now? Please, I held my first spear before I could walk and spent twenty of my seasons in Holt Summerdale scatterin' beasts like Galleran t' the winds. Besides, wasn't it Galleran's whose horde was wiped out at Redwall? Ye must be a fine commander of the spear t' lose t' beasts wieldin' window poles."

Hapley’s rough paws grabbed them both by an ear and knocked their heads together. “Are you two Dibbuns or are you grown beasts? Work together!”

Komi rubbed her ear while glaring at the fox and Minerva wrestled the spear away, teeth bared in Komi’s direction.

“I am not going in the arena with just a shield,” she told the otter.

Hapley rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “Let’s try it this way.” He went to the shield rack and grabbed a heater shield then held out his paw for the spear. Minerva handed it over and he stuck it point first in the sand again, then propped the shield up against it. “Commander Nix?” he called, and the pine marten stepped away from the wall where she’d been quietly watching.

As Komi and Minerva watched, the marten and fox each fastened one shackle to their own ankles, then Nix grabbed a shield while Hapley picked up a second spear. They placed the weapons in the sand next to the other set.

They positioned themselves opposite Komi and Minerva, an equal distance from the weapons. “On the count of three, we go for the weapons,” Hapley said. “Fight starts immediately. Let’s see how long you two live.”

Komi and Minerva shared a glance and Hapley counted down.

“Three, two, one, go!”

Four sets of paws churned the sand and two lengths of chain jingled as they sprinted across the sand. Once more, Komi and Minerva reached the spear at the same time and began a tug of war over the weapon.

Next thing Komi knew, she was face down in the sand, the blunt, yet insistent point of Hapley’s spear pressed against her back.

“You’re dead, stoat,” he said.

Komi spat a mouthful of sand and looked to her left, seeing Minerva pinned down by a stone faced Nix with a shield.

“Up,” Hapley barked. “You’ll do it again.”

Once more, weapons were placed in the center and once more, Hapley counted down. Komi sprinted for the spear, still reaching it in the same breath as Minerva. She let go a second later, lunging for the shield as Nix came at her with a blunted spear.

Nix left her winded in the sand.

“Again!” the fox said.

And again they wrestled for possession of the spear, Komi elbowing the otter in the eye in her fervor to win the weapon. Nix struck Komi hard in the stomach before she could bring the weapon in to block.

“You are on the same side!” Hapley snarled. “Fight each other like that in the arena and you’ll both be dead!”

Three times more they attempted Hapley’s drill. Each time Komi and Minerva reached for the spear. Hapley bashed Komi’s nose with a shield, bloodying it. Minerva’s eye started swelling shut from Komi’s earlier elbow to the face. They’d yet to last more than a few seconds against the fox and marten.

Body aching and blood running over her muzzle, Komi tried again to win over the otter. She noticed, too late, Nix and Hapley circling around them, their chain gripped in their paws. She got one footpaw out of the loop the trainers made around them, but then the chain cinched tight, hobbling them together.

Nix and Hapley yanked the chain together and Komi and Minerva both yelled as they crashed onto the sand.

“Enough!” Nire’s high-pitched voice rang out over the training yard. The lynx stalked towards them as Komi and Minerva untangled themselves. “I must not have been clear in my wishes, Trainer Hapley. I want the Monster of Mossflower to have the spear.” He grinned at Komi. “The Coward gets the shield to hide behind.”

“I am not going into that arena without a weapon!” Komi snarled, kicking free from the chain.

The feline’s grin widened. “Oh, but you are. At least for your first fight. Consider it part of your punishment for trying to run away, Coward.”

Komi stood and rubbed a paw under her snout, wiping blood away from  her mouth. Coward was what Jossia had called her after the battle of Redwall, and the name had followed her to this distant place. Never had she hated it more than now. She, who used to sit at Galleran’s right paw, valued for her advice and council. She, who had stood shoulder to shoulder with Galleran’s spear beasts, leading the charges.

I will prove to you that I am no coward. Komi picked up the shield from where it lay in the sand.