Jandrax 29

The labels had been reversed. For two hours I had been reading the Pertoskan Monomythos and had not known the difference.

I resolved to read neither thereafter, but the fascination of the flittering words in an otherwise barren room drew me back. For three days no one came near except to feed me and at the end of that time I had read both Monomythoses twice and realized for the first time how tiny were the differences between them.

We went on patrol then as we had done so many times before. I had been a prisoner five months by that time and my fourteenth birthday had come and gone. The first night we stopped at an isolated farmhouse. Major Bass tried to persuade the man and his wife to leave for the valley, warning of the danger from Dannelite raiders, but he would not go. It was his land, the man said, and no one could take it from him.

He had two daughters, one about the age Jennie would have been, sixteen or perhaps a year older, and the other about six. As I sat chained to a tree, apart from the family and the soldiers, the younger approached in shy wonderment.

“Why are you chained?” I did not reply, for I had cultivated silence as the only answer due to Bass and his allies. “What did you do?”

“Nothing.

“Nothing? Then why are you tied up?” She turned to her sister who was approaching, “Anne, why is this man tied up? He didn’t do anything.”

The elder sister pulled her back. “Yes, he did, Honey; he’s the son of the man who leads the Dannelites.”

“Is that any reason to treat him like a dog and tie him up?

The question seemed to trouble the older sister, and, somewhat puzzled, she looked at me. “Now, Honey, he isn’t just the son of that man. He was a raider himself. He raided houses like ours and killed people like Daddy and Mummy.”

The younger sister turned to me, big-eyed and unbelieving. “Did you really do that, mister?”

I opened my mouth to say, “No,” then closed it again and turned away.

Later, when the soldiers had eaten and had given me my ration of dried meat, the girls returned with a bowl of fresh milk. The elder sister held little Honey back and extended the bowl to me, carefully not coming within reach. I took it and drank gratefully, but her reticence burned me. “What do you think I’m going to do, pull you down and strangle you on the spot?”

She squatted on her heels and watched me drink.

“Maybe. Maybe not, but maybe. How am I to know what you are capable of doing? Some of your kind have done worse.”

“Then why give me this milk?”

She gestured toward Honey, squatting big-eyed some distance away. “Because I want her to learn kindness.”

***

Two days later we returned to the farm after an unsuccessful scouting mission. The barns and house were gone, leaving only ash and embers to mark their passing. The man who had refused to leave his land lay sprawled in the yard. His wife lay in the doorway of the house, so badly burned as to be unrecognizable. The soldiers fanned out searching for the daughters.

Major Bass came to where I was tethered, his face more pale and angry than was usual, and dragged me along behind him. They lay beyond the bushes where the grass and flowers made a soft bed. Honey was crumpled, her back stained with dried, blackened blood. Anne lay beyond. She was dead. She was naked. She had been raped.

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