Doomsday Warrior 17 - America’s Sword (9 page)

BOOK: Doomsday Warrior 17 - America’s Sword
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The king clapped his hands together. The guards on each side motioned for the men to rise and then led them out of the Royal Swamp Castle.

Ten

R
ockson and his men were brought to another stilt-house about a hundred yards from the last of the outer circle of “Ringling dwellings.” It was a large single storey, fortified structure with a vine and leaf thatched roof and no openings except for a heavy door that bolted from the outside.

Why in hell would they need a jail out here? Rockson wondered, after they were herded up a thick ramp to the house and locked inside. He surveyed the place, trying to line up escape possibilities in his mind. They stripped down their ’brids which had also been locked in with them, set up a remuda at one end of the wide stilt-raised dwelling, and put their own gear at the other end.

Suddenly, just as Rockson was completing his walking-tour, there was a commotion and a loud baying. Some kind of huge bee was stinging at a ’brid’s nose. Hybrid horses have tough hides, but their noses are less protected. After the tenth or so quick jabbing sting, the ’brid ripped free of its tether, and bolted across the wooden floor. A bunch of the Freefighters reached out to stop it, though it would be almost impossible without the bridle in its mouth. Three of the men went flying onto the stilt-house floor, as the hybrid tore right toward the side as the damn swamp-stinger kept after it.

Suddenly it reached the wall and, without a moment’s hesitation, crashed through it with all its strength. The foundation stilts of the prison were only five feet above the water, so the animal didn’t fall very far. It landed in the thick scum-blackness of the swamp waters with a loud splash. The creature swam in circles around itself as the bee, satisfied that it made its point, flew off, buzzing arrogantly.

“Here, boy, here,” Detroit yelled out from the hole in the wall, trying to guide the animal back. It had just started getting its bearings when something grabbed it from below. The animal’s whole body jerked and it got a look of absolute terror on its hairy face. And without another breath, it was pulled down hard and fast.

For a second, Rock thought he saw the predator—a crocodile—this one a good twenty-footer, wide as a barrel, its yard-long fangs around the hybrid’s head. Then it was gone, into a low mist that was floating across the surface of the swamp lake.

“Damn,” Detroit said. He knew the animal wasn’t coming up again.

“Keep a sharp eye on the ’brids, make sure they’re tied up tight. And watch your own asses as well,” the Doomsday Warrior added with a sharp tone. “If you fall in that—you’re dead.” Things continued to swim around them, just under the surface as bubbles rose up here and there. Rock could see why no guards were necessary. Nature provided all the escape-proofing the place needed.

He gathered his top men and held a conference at one end of the stilt prison.

“Any ideas?” Rock asked, opening the meeting of Chen, Detroit, Sheransky, McCaughlin and Archer, who he knew didn’t understand a lot of what was said, but loved being part of it all.

“Yeah, let’s open a pocketbook store,” Detroit cracked as he glanced off at the village of the Ringlings, “Alligator bags.”

“HAAAATE SNNNAAKKES,” Archer groaned out, “AAANDD CROCS!”

“I don’t think any of us are too fond of them,” Rock grinned. Then his face took on a serious look. “The king seems peaceful. They’ve let us keep our weapons—not that they would do a hell of a lot of good against a whole swampful of predators. But at least that shows good faith.”

“I don’t think they give a shit about our weaponry,” Sheransky spoke up. “They feel they have the situation in control so totally they don’t even have to give it a thought.”

“And they’re damn right about that,” McCaughlin said with a shudder. “I ain’t going swimming any time soon.” He turned his head to the black foulness that floated below them and then turned quickly away, as he didn’t even like looking down there.

“What do you think, Rockson?” Chen asked, not volunteering his own thoughts on the subject.

“We gotta play it by ear,” the Doomsday Warrior replied. “It’s just too wild a situation to make any plans yet. Keep an eye out for anything that could help us—a boat, a bridge. Try to start memorizing the layout of the village whenever they move us around. You get the message.”

“Yeah, Rock,” the men replied gruffly.

“And keep a close eye on your squads. One of those guys will go to the side to take a leak—and—and wham, he’ll have something with fangs wrapped around his family jewels.” The team laughed at that statement, and then split up to check out their charges.

The evening came on fast. One minute sunshine was trickling down all around the vines and monkey-filled trees that stood off from the platform village, the next the place was a chirping and growling darkness. As the blackness descended, eyes lit up the surrounding marshlands. Lanterns, looking like twinkling fireflies, were put on all over the Ringling village. Hundreds of them, so the light reflected off the swampy waters with a bizarre kind of beauty, Within minutes of the collapse of the sun, a raft was being poled over to them. It moved slowly across the slime surface of the swamp, three lanterns, two up front, one in the rear, bouncing around as the Ringlings poled their way patiently along.

“Get on,” one of the Snake-men spoke up harshly, as he slammed the raft against the side of the prison-platform. “King Bailey wants the one called Rockson and his top generals. The rest stay.” Rock told McCaughlin and Sheransky to stay behind and handle the rest of the fighting force. Both of them could be stern disciplinarians when it came down to it. Rock and the rest of his elite squad loaded up onto the raft and headed out into the sweeping low mists.

All around the raft Rock could hear the snake herds that apparently accompanied these raftsmen whenever they were deployed. They were headed through the center of the village when the Freefighters heard them—drums, strange rattle-like sounds ahead.

Music, of a sort. The party had begun. They went through the main canal and out the back end. Here was a three storey affair, nearly as nice as the king’s own palace. It was lit up all over the place by lanterns which burned some kind of oil.

They reached the side of the party and were led inside. It was a wild scene; a huge balcony swept around the second floor opened up in the center so the king, who sat up there on a different throne, could see all the action at once. And action there was, with feasting, tables filled with numerous kinds of fruit, meat, fish—and snakes. Off to the side, the band now pounded logs in bizarre, shifting beats, shook rattles and blew the hornlike gourds that made screaming sounds.

“Up here,” the guard said, probing them with the double-pronged spear poles. Archer growled and the rear guard pulled his pronger back again. They walked up a set of crude stairs and then to the balcony, about twenty feet wide, that ran around the full four walls. It was like some kind of crazy little three-ring circus, snakeskins flapping in the low breeze with jugglers, trapezists, and acrobats.

“Welcome,” King Bailey said with good humor as he sat on the throne, a huge table in front of him, taking single bites of things in the hundred-course spread. What didn’t taste right he was throwing over his shoulder into the water, where the snakes bubbled around like dogs around a kitchen table and gulped down whatever splashed near them.

“Thank you, your excellency,” Rockson replied, with all the sincerity he could muster. “We’re all, of course, deeply honored to be your guests.” It never hurt to compliment kings.

“The honor is mine,” King Bailey said, taking another huge bite of something that looked squirmy and round. Servants in full snake gear came walking in and presented a table full of delicacies to the Freefighters. Sitting down on snakeskin pillows, they dug into the myriad gourd bowls, each filled with a different steaming food, most of them unappealing. Some of the foods were things that looked like brains, and others were membranous masses of various kinds.

Actually most of it was quite good, with flavorings to suit a master chef. Archer kept popping little peach-sized pink things in with gusto, like they were pretzels.

“What are those?” Detroit asked, nodding toward Archer’s appetizers.

“Monkey gonads,” King Bailey replied, slurping down one of his own. “My favorite, I must confess. Said to make a man virile.” The rest of the Freefighters coughed, looked around at each other, and tried to find something on their tables a little less slimy. Below, the music grew ever louder and wilder. Suddenly, from out of the shadows, came a dozen snakewomen. They were clothed in just small swaths of semitransparent skin, and they danced lasciviously around in the center of the wide floor. The horns screamed out insistently and the snake dancers began weaving madly around the room. The Freefighters’ mouths froze as they watched the dancers.

“Huh, don’t mean to break the wonderful atmosphere here,” Rockson said, at the king’s side, after about ten minutes. He could see the man was inebriated from the beer-like drink that stood in big mugs on every table.

“No, go ahead, what is on your mind?” the king asked, goofily.

“Hum—you are going to let us leave, aren’t you? Because after we sleep off your great shebang here, we have to be on our way. My city is counting on us to return with much-needed supplies. Many men and women’s lives, young children by the thousand, depend on us. All will perish, if we should fail to return.”

“Of course you can leave, Rockson! Just can’t deny a bored king twenty-four hours of company. You can’t imagine how dreary it gets around here, with the same faces to look at all the time. Ninety-nine percent of them are not a tenth as intelligent as you. Now, tell me about the outside world. As I told you, my people haven’t ventured outside this great valley for a century and more.”

Rockson told him what was happening—with the Freefighters versus the Red armies, the mutations, the deserts and earthquake-zones. The king seemed impressed, and the girls down below danced faster. Rockson felt his head begin to swirl from the beer. The last thing he remembered was a dancer straddling a huge snake as the music reached a fever pitch.

Eleven

R
ockson woke up with just about the worst hangover he’d ever had. His skull was throbbing like a pig stuck in a bear trap. He tried to slowly open his eyes, but the dim amount of light that seeped in cut into his skull like a buzz saw on full overdrive. He sat up, not even sure for a few seconds just where the hell he was. It was a dreamlike state that was not particularly pleasant. Then his eyes focused more and the blue sky filtered down through the vines and trees around the island-prison Rock and his men were on. In a flash, everything came back into comprehension, and he remembered he was among the snake people and that he had feasted and drunk enough to keep him in headaches for a year or two.

Around him, other elite Freefighters were groaning. Each man looked pale and a little unsteady, as if his stomach was thinking of sending some of what it had taken in back up again. Even Archer, who could drink down whole barrels of brew, sat up and then rolled over on his side with a lopsided grimace on his bearded face.

“All right, Freefighters,” Rockson said, as he stood up. He had to lean against a tree-pole, as he felt as if he might fall over. “Let’s get our asses in gear, get some blood in our veins.”

The men slowly got up from their sleeping bags and walked around, yawning and stumbling, to their ’brids, tethered at one side of their guest island. They took out food bags and strapped them on to the hybrids’ faces, as the animals snapped at them in hunger. There was nothing like a night of no food to make the mutant steeds get pretty ornery.

“How you feeling, Rock?” Chen said, walking over to Rockson, who was making sure Snorter’s feed bag was in place as the animal began chewing lustily. “Everyone looks pretty screwed up.”

“Yeah, I know,” the Doomsday Warrior replied, squinting as the morning sun came down through a wall-slit like a sword into his eyes. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we were all drugged last night. But it doesn’t make sense. Why not just bump us off? If they slipped something in our food and wine . . . It’s as easy to make a man puke as it is to kill him.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure,” the Chinese-American said, handing Rockson a small bottle of something red and strong-smelling. “Not enough for everyone,” Chen said, with a smirk. “My personal stock. Just take a sip—it does wonders for hangover—and other ailments. It’s my all-purpose, colon-cleansing, mole-removal, fungus-ridder, and snake-bite medicine. Handed down from generation to generation in my family, for the last two thousand years.”

“Yeah, right,” Rockson said, cynically. But he took the sip. Chen sure as hell looked a lot better than the rest of them this fine swampy morning. Maybe the stuff worked. He handed it back and looked around. Already the air was getting thick and sultry. A gray fog was hovering over the swamp and crawling up toward the island they were on. Rock could feel sweat starting to well up under his arms and along his shoulders. It was going to be one of those days.

“Okay, men,” Rock said, addressing all the men whom he quickly gathered together. “We’re going to be pulling out today—hopefully, in a few hours. So get your pissing done and all your gear together. I’m going to have me a little talk with Emperor Snakeface back there.” He paused as he thought about how to say the next few sentences, while the men looked on in that kind of bemused expression of someone who doesn’t really want to go. Hell, it was pretty comfortable where they were staying. Yet at the same time, the environment was not exactly conducive to good fighters.

“Now, I don’t want to give anyone ulcers,” Rockson went on, “but I want all your weapons cleaned, loaded, and in firing order.

“If something goes wrong—we damn well better be ready to kick booty to get the hell out of here.” That brought some pretty nervous glances to their eyes and their energy level shot up like the mercury on a dying man’s thermometer.

BOOK: Doomsday Warrior 17 - America’s Sword
12.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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