Zulu Heart by Steven Barnes

Zulu Heart by Steven Barnes

Author:Steven Barnes [Barnes, Steven]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: alternate history
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Published: 2018-04-24T16:00:00+00:00


20 Dhu’l-Qa’dah A.H. 1294

(Monday, November 26, 1877)

As the sun kissed the western horizon, the air was finally beginning to cool. Aidan, who had spent another agonizing day battering his body, gave a silent gasp of thanks as the breeze dried the sweat on his back. He bent, lifted a cast iron cannonbell, and heaved it as four of Kai’s orphans cheered him on. Not “cannonball”—no battlefield implements were these. Although the cannonbells were of cast iron and about the right size and shape as those deadly projectiles, they also had thick looping iron handles jutting from their sides. The one that currently deviled him weighed about five sep, and he was utilizing it in a curious ritual: throwing it as far as he could, then immediately sprinting to the spot where it landed, picking it up with a bend and dip, then heaving it again to begin the pattern anew.

Kai rode by. “Ho there, the warrior,” he called.

“Ho there, the lazy noble,” Aidan panted in ritual response. Kai’s charges had been alarmed by Aidan’s familiarity at first, but taking their cue from the lord of the house, had swiftly learned to giggle instead of wince.

Kai climbed down off the horse. “Not so lazy,” he said.

“Oh. No? Well, your orphans have me heaving these great bloody chunks of iron. Have you ever lifted one of these damned things?”

Kai cocked an eye at the iron ball. “Upon occasion.”

“Favor us,” said Aidan. “I have ten deben on you, so I don’t expect you to hit my mark, but still—it would do my soul good to watch you flail about.”

Kai grinned. “Guests first.”

Aidan selected a heavier ball from the selection afforded him: this one, a nine-sep monstrosity, seemed appropriate to the task at hand. He bent, levered it to his shoulder, then torqued his hips and heaved the cannonbell about five cubits. His orphan audience applauded. “Beat that?”

“Doubtful,” Kai said. “Very—” He bent his knees and swayed gracefully, almost like a woman dancing. The bell floated back, and then he snapped his hips and it sailed a dozen cubits, thudding into the earth. Aidan gawked.

“Very doubtful indeed.”

Aidan glared at him. “Well. I’d heard that sexual frustration increases power.”

“Is that why you heaved your stone so heroically? Or should I inform Sophia that you’ve found a softer bed in Ghost Town among your old friends?”

“Ouch,” Aidan said, and then sidled closer. “Honestly, Kai … how long will Nandi make you wait?”

Kai shrugged. “Tonight is the ninth night. Tomorrow the tenth.”

“Ah … and then the gates of heaven open?”

“It would be indiscreet—”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Aidan agreed. Then he whispered, “But you will tell me about it?”

“Of course,” Kai whispered in return, and they both laughed uproariously.

Aidan wiped his hands on his pants. “The bells await.”

“They are a jealous mistress,” said Kai.

Both turned as the sound of racing feet grew louder. They turned to see a boy, perhaps twelve years old dashing out from the main house. His name was Conair and his father had died raiding the Aztec encampment.


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