By Ailad's BootstrapsKurt F. Kammeyer / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction
By Ailad’s Bootstraps
Kurt F. Kammeyer
Copyright 2015 Kurt F. Kammeyer
By Ailad’s Bootstraps
Ailad loved working in his uncle’s printing shop. The process of setting the type, casting the plates, inking the press and “pulling” the printed sheets fascinated him endlessly. Today, Uncle Brynmor had put him to work as his ink-boy.
“Now, make sure to ink the plate nice and even,” Brynmor said as he watched. “Don’t miss the corners, but don’t slather it on too deep, either.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Ailad replied while he daubed his leather ink-ball across the plate.
When Brynmor saw that the plate was well inked, he gave a mighty heave on the lever-arm and quickly released it. Aliad turned the crank and slid the sheet back along the bed.
Brynmor bent over and squinted at the sheet: a broadside for the Stroma Sentinel newspaper. “Not too bad…” he mumbled. “for an apprentice, per’aps.”
Uncle Brynmor was always short on praise, so Ailwyn took this as a high compliment.
Just then the front door jingled, and a very pretty young girl entered the printing shop. She was carrying a wicker basket covered with a red checkered cloth. She approached Ailad and smiled. “Hello, Ailad.”
Flustered, he stammered, “Uh, hello, Lleucu. What brings thee?”
“Why, lunch, silly,” she said, blushing. “Thinking I was, me and thee could eat by the river—that is, if not over-busy tha’ be?”
Ailad took the basket and glanced at his uncle, who nodded his approval. “Go, but mind you, be careful! The river, ‘tis in full flood now.”
“Thanks, Uncle Brynmor. I promise we’ll be careful,” Ailad replied.
Ailad and Lleucu walked down to the Spey River on the edge of town, and sat on the riverbank next to a cottonwood tree.
Ailad noticed that the Spey River was in full flood, just as Uncle Brynmor had warned. Ailad wasn’t worried. He’d seen the river crest before, and now that he was fourteen turns old he knew how to avoid danger. Besides, orphans knew better than most people how to look out for themselves, he figured.
Lleucu opened the basket and pulled out a loaf of rye bread, some cheese, and an apple-cake that her mother had baked for them that morning. Ailad’s eyes widened, and Lleucu smiled. “I know… ‘Tis tha’ favorite, aye?”
Ailad and Lleucu eagerly tucked into their lunch. A minute later she looked up at him. “So then, Ailad, hast thou considered that which we discussed, our last time here?”
Here she goes again… Ailad thought glumly. All girls ever think about is marriage.
He wiped the crumbs from his mouth with his sleeve. “Uh, sure, Lleucu… when I’m twenty-one, I promise we’ll get married, aye?” He hoped this would end the conversation.
Lleucu and Ailad’s parents had betrothed the two children to each other when they were just five turns old. Then Ailad’s parents had died, and he forgot about the troth. By now Ailad had lived so long with the pledge that he seldom gave it a thought—except when Lleucu mentioned it. He thought, Twenty-one… that still gives me seven turns… who knows if we’ll even still like each other by then?
Ailad decided to change the subject. He jumped up and said, “C’mon, let’s play a game!”
Lleucu stood, shook the crumbs off her apron and said, “Well then… what game?”
Ailad thought. “I’ll be Nordish King Akamar, and tha’ll be Princess Gudrid of Menggu.” He pointed to a small island near the riverbank. “That’s Akameria, and thou’rt in Menggu, agreed?”
She grinned at him. “Ailad… thou knowest how this tale ends, aye? Gudrid kills Akamar.”
“Not today,” he replied, picking up a branch for a sword. He challenged her in Nordish. “Fram, Nordskona!”
“Oh, very well…” she said reluctantly, and picked up another stick. Ailad could see that she was not very enthused about this boy’s game. She raised her sword and smiled at him. “I warn thee… I shall be riding a team of four elephants, so beware!”
“Huh… we’ll see,” Ailad smirked.
“Gongji!” Lleucu cried as their swords met. They dueled for a time, as Ailad slowly retreated towards his little island-kingdom.
The channel between the mainland and the island was spanned by a log. Ailad had crossed the log many times before, but today it barely bridged the gap over a fork of the swollen river.
“Hah!” he cried, as he parried Lleucu’s blow and jumped back. He was now standing on the log, inching his way back towards his “kingdom.”
Lleucu looked down at the rushing stream, paused and said, “Ailad, be careful!”
He made another thrust at her. “I be Akamar, king of Iskaldurey and Suthurl–ahh!” he cried, as he toppled backwards off of the log into the rushing river. Lleucu screamed.
Ailad surfaced and gasped for air. Lleucu ran down the riverbank, knelt down and extended her sword to him, but he was already too far out to reach it. Frantic, she cried, “Ailad, swim!”
Stunned by the freezing, roiling water, Ailad desperately tried to swim to shore, but the current quickly swept him into the main channel. Gasping and choking, he looked at Lleucu’s anguished face disappearing in the distance. His last thought was, So, this is what it’s like to die…