#TuesdaySerial – Company of the Damned, Part 3
Company of the Damned, Part 3
Odi awoke the next morning to the smell and sizzle of bacon, and the bitter scent of boiling coffee. The sky overhead was still tinged the bruised purple of night, lightening to a pale red just above the tops of the trees. Jaime sat on a stone next to the small fire, rolling a cigarette and humming to himself. He had just finished rolling the paper between his fingers when he noticed the boy stir.
“Got bacon, beans and some hardtack, boy. And some coffee if’n you’d like it. Ain’t got no sugar though, so it’s as black and bitter as the Deceiver’s soul.”
Odi pushed himself up from the rough dirt, and stumbled over to the fire. Rubbing his eyes, he leaned close to the coffee pot and took a whiff. Shaking his head, he scrunched up his face in disgust and sat down. Jaime just nodded as though this was expected and pulled a small tin plate and fork from the saddle bags laying on the ground next to him. Pulling two small biscuits from the pack, he plunked them on the plate, ladled beans next them and slid some bacon from the pan onto the plate. Handing the boy the plate and fork, which he took carefully, Jaime leaned back and put his cigarette in his mouth.
“Don’ eat too fast now you hear? Belly like yers is like to burst you fill it too fast.”
Odi, mumbled something incoherent and began to fumble awkwardly with his fork. He had just managed to get a forkful of beans to his mouth when Jaime snapped his fingers. A small, golden tongue of flame appeared above his thumb, dancing in the open air. Jaime lit his cigarette off it, then opened his hand and let the flame disappear.
The fork clattered off the plate and fell into the dirt.
“Is you a wizard?” Odi asked, eyes wide and mouth agape.
Jaime laughed, “Ha! That I surely ain’t me boy. That I surely ain’t.”
“But you just made fire with yer hands! That’s magic ain’t it?”
“Aye, well… I got a bit of the Knack, just enough to light a fire or throw me voice. But I ain’t no wizard. No, me only real magic is that of blade and bullet. “
Jaime puffed a bit on his smoke, and stared off into the growing dawn, ignoring Odi as he retrieved his fork from the dirt and polished it on his shirt. Going back to work on his meal, Odi tried to follow the old man’s advice and eat slowly; but it was a long time since he’d had a real meal, and he the only thing he really took his time with was the tooth breaking hardtack. While he ate Jaime filled a tin mug with coffee and slowly sipped it down as he finished his cigarette.
The boy was quiet for a few minutes as he ate, then he looked slowly up at Jaime, “Can you teach me?”
The man turned his steel blue eyes on the boy, searching him for several long moments. There was nothing of amusement or playfulness in his gaunt face. With his tanned, windburned skin and serious brown eyes set above hollow cheeks, there was very little childlike about him. It was clear he was deadly serious about learning magic.
“Might could teach you some of what little I know. But not today. Finish yer breakfast boy, we’ve got a trail to find.”
Odi nodded halfheartedly, obviously disappointed by the answer, and went back to scarfing down his meal. As the boy finished eating Jaime moved about the campsite, picking up his poncho, saddling his horse, preparing to leave. He picked up Odi’s stone, laying on the ground when the boy dropped it last night, and brought it over to set beside him. When he finished eating Jaime took his plate and scrubbed it with sand, as well as the pots and utensils, before tucking it all into his saddle bags. He surveyed the camp once more, before kick dirt over the coals and motioning for the boy to follow as he lead his horse from the stand of trees.
Odi sat for a moment more, puzzling over the events which had lead him to follow this gruff stranger. Then with a shrug he grabbed his stone, and stood to follow him out of the trees. This time it was a much more pleasant passage back to the plain. The sun had risen far enough to begin filtering through the trees, dappling the wood in green and gray, as shadows swayed in the morning breeze. He did not trip, or stumble, or walk into any branches this time around. When he emerged from the trees Jaime was mounted and waiting for him.
“Come on boy, hop up,” he said, extending his hand to Odi, “Now that I know you ain’t like to kill me, no reason you should have to walk the whole way.”
Odi approached him slowly, darting glances at the horse. He stepped carefully to within arms reach, then bolted back a ways when the horse nickered softly at him.
“Don’ mind Ohanzee son, he’s just saying hello. Long as I’m around he won’ hurt you.”
Odi cautiously crept back to the horse, and took Jaime’s hand, clutching his stone to his chest in the other. In a flash Jaime hoisted the boy up in front of him. After giving him a moment to settle in they set off at a fast walk, heading east into rising sun, returning to the dead men’s camp.