None of his tribesmen were killed. But four were wounded, one severely so. That one had taken a deep slash across the leg, through skin and fat and muscle, exposing white bone. Two of the less-wounded were binding his wound with a white herb-impregnated cloth, rapidly soaked through with blood. Alejandro knelt next to the casualty, removing a wooden canteen from his backpack.
“Drink,” Alejandro urged.
He drank, wincing with every swallow. The potion reinvigorated him, returning the color to his cheeks.
“That’s enough,” Alejandro said, putting it away. “Too much will harm you.”
“Maestro, is it safe?” Bayani ventured.
“Yes. They’re all dead.”
The chill in Alejandro’s voice froze Bayani’s thoughts. For a moment he couldn’t speak. A timeless moment, his brain thawed, and from the meltwater a question emerged.
“You said they were Inrun. Is this an invasion?”
“We don’t know yet. This could merely be a raiding party.”
“Their last invasion was in the time of our fathers,” one of the volunteers added, picking at a cut on his arm. “They wouldn’t be so quick to try again.”
“First, we need evidence,” Alejandro said. “Bayani and I can carry on. The rest of you—”
“We can still fight, Maestro.”
“Do you risk the jungle-rot? If the Inrun were truly invading, then we need you at full strength. Go. We can complete the mission ourselves.”
The men did not argue. Wrapping their injuries and downing potions, they supported each other and hobbled away. Alejandro clapped Bayani’s shoulder.
“Come. We have work to do.”
Gruesome work it was. They searched the bodies of the dead. Bayani’s stomach rebelled, but Alejandro seemed not to care. The Inrun had brought only their weapons and loincloths, and the duo found no traces of cached supplies in the area.
“That’s not good,” Alejandro said. “They didn’t intend to stay here long. That means they are an advance force. A picket, perhaps. They will have friends nearby who will resupply them. Or join them.”
“What should we do?”
“Find them. We need to get an accurate count of the Inrun force, and where they are heading. Now, quiet. The trees have ears.”
They proceeded in silence. Alejandro was a ghost. He stepped in perfect silence, the ground seemingly giving way to him. His feet were quick and sure, and the rest of him moved in total harmony. Not once he needed to balance himself by grabbing a root, and where he stepped left no noise or footprints. Compared to that, Bayani was a rampaging sounder of boars.
Alejandro picked up the pace, moving the rest of the day and most of the evening. He granted Bayani a few hours’ sleep before moving on in the twilight, breaking off the established trail. It made for a longer journey, but they were less likely to run into any more Inrun. By the first light, they breached the treeline. Bayani forced his tired eyes to sweep the horizon, and spotted the Abiguay village to the east.
What was left of it.
He remembered a bustling village of stilted huts, with docks that stretched out over the glittering sea. Now, most of the huts were blackened and burned, reduced to kindling. Sakayans painted in deep black lined the beaches, their sails the shade of brilliant turquoise. Men—and only men—assembled in the beach, waving glittering swords and yelling. No, not waving. Training. The Inrun used a different art, but even so a slash was a slash, a thrust was a thrust.
Alejandro held up a strange device to his eye. It looked like five sections of progressively larger metal tubes linked together, with a glass on both ends. It was a telescopio, Bayani remembered, a Hesperian device. Alejandro peered through the lens.
“Madre do Dios,” the Maestro whispered.
Alejandro handed the device to Bayani. “Tell me what you see.”
Bayani mimicked his teacher. Suddenly what was so far away seemed to be right in front of him. He blinked, adjusting to his new perspective, and looked again. “Warriors training with swords.”
Bayani looked closer. A body of men didn’t have swords. They had muskets. Fitted with bayonets. But these were Hesperian weapons. How could the Inrun have them?
“I see muskets,” Bayani said.
“Good. How many warriors do you see?”
Bayani counted. There were many, so many. “A hundred swordsmen, I think, and thirty musketeers.”
“There’s more in the village.”
“There are so many of them. Is this…an ejército?” His tongue tripped over the unfamiliar word.
“Not even a tercio. But there may be more elsewhere.”
Tercio? “But this is an invasion force.”
“Agreed. Do you see any sign of the villagers?”
He looked again. Most of the huts were burned to the ground. Some boys were re-painting the Abiguays’ boats black, dying their sails green. These were Inrun boys, their skin lighter and their hair straighter than the people of the island. Inrun men bustled about the village, carrying supplies. The men deferred to an older man, his symbol of authority a wrap dyed green and black around his head. Everybody else’s heads were bare, Bayani realized. And where most of the men had kampilans, this one had a shorter sword with wavy edges. A keris. This one must be the headman.
The headman strutted to the centre of the village. There were…cages. Huge cages, half the height of a man. And they were stuffed. With people. The headman laughed, running his sword into the gaps between the bars.
“In the cages,” Bayani whispered.
“Yes, that’s where they are holding the women and children. And the men?”
“I don’t see them.”
“We have to do something—”
“We will, when we have more information. Find the men.”
Bayani kept looking. The wind picked up, and it carried the smell of roast pork left out for too long. He hadn’t seen any cooking, so he turned his eye to the source of the smell and saw the pit at the eastern end of the village. And the blackened bodies in them.
“The…the fire pit,” Bayani whispered.
“How could they do this?”
“Some beasts wear human skins. Some humans wear beast skins.” The Maestro retrieved the telescopio, folding it away. “We must go, Bayani. We don’t have much time.”
“Why? They aren’t going—”
“Once the headman had had his fun, what do you think he will do to the prisoners?”
Bayani gulped. “But my mother?”
“If she is among them, all the more reason to hurry. We must get help.”
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