PART 31 - RAISED EYES
As soon as the launch hit the sandy tidal shallows of the beach Gwen, Jane, Loretta, and Dorothy leapt out and splashed alongside the boat, dragging it further ashore while Cord manned the tiller. He reached over and killed the motor as Vanya, Junko, and another Jane came rushing up to help unload. A few quick words from Gwen sent the usagi hurrying across the sand to the sleeping hut.
Gwen and Loretta helped Kaleia over the side and led her up the beach after the pale furred rabbit doe, as Jane and Dorothy followed propping the exhausted otter up between them.
The petite Vanya stared up at the looming figure of Zoltan as he stepped over the side of the boat and bent to take up Marta's stretcher, assisted by the remaining Jane who clambered up into the launch to help steady her as they lifted her over the side into the hulking male's waiting hands.
The rabbit doe stood up in the boat and pointed toward the huts. "Okay, darlin'. Y'all wanna take her t' th' hut on the left. They'll make her nice n' comfortable."
The young canine cocked her head as she studied the new arrivals, speaking to Zoltan in Steppesprecht. "<You are Steppelanders, like me! My name is Vanya Cook. Vhat is your name?>"
The towering dog looked down at her for a moment, then looked over toward the huts. "<My name is Zoltan. This is Marta.>"
With that he turned and started to trudge toward the huts, leaving deep
footprints in his wake as the golden furred female trotted along at his
side, peering curiously at the stricken female as she lay swooning on
the stretcher in his hands. "<Vhat happened to her?>"
Zoltan kept walking, his eyes fixed ahead of him for a long pause before he answered. "<She vas stabbed. In the belly. I do not know if she vill live much longer.>"
Vanya put her hands to her mouth as she rushed to keep pace with the
towering dog's stride. "<Oh! That's terrible! Who did
A melancholy look flickered across his face, darkening into a smoldering eyed scowl as he headed toward the hut Jane had pointed out. "<His excellency our master did this. He vill not do it again...>"
The young female looked up at him, wide eyed. "<Vhy vould he do that?>"
Zoltan stopped in his tracks and looked down at the unconscious female in his arms, his lower lip beginning to quiver slightly. "<Marta raised eyes to him and refused a command.>" His stolid features contorted into a grimace of misery as he looked down at Marta's drawn features. "<So he... he stabbed her. And then I... then I...>"
He gnashed his teeth and shook his head, blinking back the tears as the diminutive female at his side looked up at him agape.
A moment later, he got control of himself and started walking toward the hut once more, staring straight ahead. "<He vill not do it again.>"
He paused as he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, cocking an ear back as Vanya's soft voice spoke up to him. "<I understand. I vill pray to Father God for you. If you are sorry for vhat you have done, I know he vill forgive you.>"
He gave a small shake of his head as he continued on his way. "<It is too late for me, little golden maid. There is no forgiveness for me. I only live for my Marta now. Vhen... vhen she is gone, I vill valk into the ocean until it closes over my head, and I vill be gone too. Not even the Sylvanian cat and her rabbits vill be able to stop me.>"
Vanya hauled back and punched him on his arm with all her might, hopping into the air to reach. He paused again, turning and looking down at her with a cocked eyebrow. Her warm brown eyes glared up at him as she shook her finger up at his face, her voice coming out as a low growl. "<I vill stop you! If you go into the vater I vill bring you back out!>"
He gave another small shake of his head, and resumed walking. "<You cannot stop me, little vun.>"
Vanya's fists clenched at her sides, and she turned and called out to Jane, who'd been following them up the beach with a guarded expression, watching them intently as they made their way across the sand. "Jane? Are you having the red-sided knife that does the folding? If you please I vould have the liking of you letting me have the borrowing of it."
The tan-furred rabbit doe fished in her back pocket and proffered it to her. "Here, y'all can keep it, darlin'. I got a bunch of 'em in my bag."
The golden furred canine bobbed her head in gratitude and walked around in front of Zoltan, stopping his plodding forward progress with an upraised palm and a fist on her hip.
He looked down at her with a furrowed brow. "<Please get out of my vay. I must take my Marta inside.>"
Vanya shook her head. "<No! Set her down, and get down on your knees.>"
Zoltan let out a soft sigh, and made to go around her. She leapt into his path and bared all of her teeth, roaring at him with such force that it brought her up onto her tip toes. "<SET THE FEMALE DOWN AND GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES YOU UNRULY CUR, OR VITH THE BACK OF MY HAND I VILL SMACK YOU!>"
The hulking male canine was brought up short by the sheer force of her command, and before he knew what he was doing, knelt down on the ground and gently set Marta's pallet down between him and the petite golden furred female who stood before him with clenched fists taking deep, heaving breaths through her teeth. She hurried around behind him, snapping the blade out from the Alpine knife in her trembling hand.
She spoke softly in his ear. "<Now hold still, I vill not hurt you.>"
He inclined his head as he felt the cool flat of the blade working down between his sinewy neck and his collar, then gasped as he felt the band of leather that had been around his throat since he was a puppy suddenly go loose and drop away. Vanya walked around to stand before him with the spiked strap in her hand as he reached up and felt the gap of worn down fur at the base of his neck. "<Vhat... Vhat have you...>"
The young canine female regarded him levelly. "<That vas the last command you vill ever have to obey from anyvun. Here.>"
He numbly took the severed collar in his broad hands as Vanya knelt down beside Marta. By the time Zoltan looked up at her in disbelief she had cut away the wounded female's collar as well. She nodded in satisfaction as she folded the knife and pocketed it along with the remains of the slim leather band, then bent down and ran a gentle hand along the unconscious canine's sunken cheek, whispering to her softly. "<There. Now you can breathe free.>"
She looked up at Zoltan with a fierce resolve in her liquid brown eyes, and pointed a golden furred finger at Marta. "<This vun, she is now my sister! You! You are my brother! You are free dogs. You may go vhere you vant and do vhat you vant.>" Her expression softened as she clasped her hands in front of her. "<But I vill be very sad if you and my new sister go off and leave me behind vhere I cannot follow. Please don't make me sad.>"
Zoltan blinked at her, holding the collar in his trembling hands, then up at her with tears welling in his eyes. He choked back a sob, and bowed his head to her. "<I do not care about myself, my golden little vun, but knowing that vhatever time my Marta has left vill not be spent as a thrall is... is...>" He wiped his eyes with the back of his muscular arm. "<Ve... ve thralls don't have the words for being so happy.>"
Vanya looked back at Jane, who gave her a thumbs up and a broad smile, then reached up and took the massive male's shaking hand in her own. "<Thrall no more, my brother. Now let us take our sister inside and make her comfortable. I vill sit vith you both and keep vatch.>"
A gentle smile came to Zoltan's blunt face, as he bent down and carefully scooped the stricken Marta up on her pallet, and walked side by side with Vanya to the sleeping hut.
The mustelid writhed and gritted his teeth as he strained at his bonds. "Nothin' good, Salidez. I can tell ya that much. Now shut yer trap n' let me concentrate on gittin' my hands loose while them dames ain't watchin' us."
He stiffened as a casual voice spoke out over him. "Who says we ain't watchin' y'all, bub?"
The startled mustelid rolled on his side to see the tan furred rabbit doe standing over him with a tommy-gun in her hands. His scarred muzzle twisted into a fierce snarl as a stream of multilingual gutter curses streamed between his bared teeth.
The rabbit tsked. "Dang, buddy. That ain't very ladylike of y'all."
She flicked her toe in the sand and sent a gout of it into his face, making him spit and splutter.
He glared up at her. "How in blazes are you even alive, girlie? I shot you yesterday! I seen it with me own eyes!"
A cold look came to her eyes, and she crouched down beside him with the gun propped on her shoulder. "Yeah. I remember y'all, and yer yellow water weasel buddy too. Ain't so tough when y'ain't got one o' these babys t' shoot at unarmed bunny gals, are y'all?"
She brandished the gun as a predatory grin spread across her face. "Well maybe y'all did kill me. Maybe I'm a pissed off ghost come back t' take y'all t'hell."
The brutal sailor's lip curled away from his fangs to spit back more invective, but his face went slack when a duplicate rabbit doe suddenly appeared beside the one crouching beside him. Then another, then another, until he was surrounded by sinewy female forms who grinned down at him, cracking their knuckles and chuckling ominously.
He squealed and began to thrash as they took hold of him and lifted him from the sand, carrying him across the beach and over the surf, unceremoniously dumping him into the launch. He barely had time to struggle into a crouch when his kodiak crew mate was tossed in on top of him, bearing him down to the deck. Followed by another, then another, each one blubbering in terror and shivering from more than the stinging sea water that drenched them.
Finally, the tan-furred rabbit in the cutoff shorts, loose khaki shirt, and tiki-face ball cap hopped out of the water and sat down in the seat next to the launch's tiller, slinging the sub-machine gun across her back. After some thrashing, cursing, and kicking, the sailors had finally untangled themselves, and now huddled fearfully at the prow of the boat, as far as they could from her. They shrank back as a voice from the shore caused their inimical captor to turn and cock an ear.
It was the she-cat with the terrifying ice blue eyes, sauntering through the surf towards the little boat. "Got room for one more?"
The rabbit doe nodded. "Hey, jest th' gal I was hopin' fer. Ayep, gonna haul these losers over t' the freighter, then take 'em down below."
At this, the martin let out another squeal and fainted.
The tabby nodded and hauled herself over the side, her eyes glittering
as she settled in beside her cohort. She gave them an ominous grin as
the motor sputtered to life and the boat set out across the turquoise
expanse of the lagoon.