Best Friends | C.R. Gardner


Best Friends

C.R. Gardner

The Heineken Memorial Award


He’s dead, Mariana.

‘I didn’t mean to kill him,’ she said, nudging the body with her boot.

You used magic! The Patriarch will know. We must leave on any ship that will take us.

‘Not until we’ve found the others. Where are you?’

Behind the tent.

‘What do you see?’

Inexperienced fools with few seasoned warriors among them.

‘Who are they? Why are they here?’

It doesn’t matter, Mariana, they are our enemy.

‘Any sign of our friends?’

I smell their blood, shit and tears.

‘They’re dead, aren’t they?’

I suspect so.

Mariana closed her eyes, recentering herself. She’d not felt their auras for a while now…She looked around the inside of the tent. They’d taken her weapons, laughing that a girl was pretending to be a man. ‘You’re not laughing now are you?’ she said, undoing the dead man’s sword belt, cinching it tight around her own waist.

She executed a basic form with the sword, testing its weight and balance, and then examined the other weapons she’d seen, selecting some daggers and a pair of small crescent moon battle axes. She repeated the form with the axes, their balance was better than that of the sword. She slid them, and the daggers, into her belt.

What is your plan?

‘Find our friends.’

And then?

‘Kill them all.’

Should we capture one for questioning?

‘I doubt it will change the Patriarch’s mind. Besides, I already killed the most important one.’ She sliced through the hide wall, ‘You’re not invisible?’

They will not see us, said Bintu, kneeling so she could mount.

Mariana seated herself behind his shoulders, far enough back so his neck spikes wouldn’t impale her when he raised them. Magic sparkled across his dark blue fur shimmering as they crossed the threshold into the frosted silver spirit world.

At the edge of the encampment they found the bodies. Mariana pulled her scarf up over her nose and mouth, trying not to breathe. Her eyes sliding across the mangled dead. Golden hair shone pale in the silver light. Bintu padded over.

Tatiana’s arms and legs were broken. Her hands bloodied lumps of meat, every finger missing. She’d been sliced open from breasts to pubic bone, her intestines spilling onto the rock. It was the same for Nala and Keele, their bodies close by. ‘This is what they planned to do to me,’ she whispered.

Bintu’s neck spikes bristled, he growled low in his throat; she could feel him vibrating. The bodies were all women and children. What had happened to the men? Did the Patriarch know? Surely the man who could sense whenever a woman used magic would know?

He knows, Bintu answered her thoughts.

‘I am going to kill him.’

Then we must leave so you can grow skilled enough and powerful enough to do so. But…

‘Vengence!’ said Mariana.


Invisible Bintu leapt up the rocks slamming into the encampment like a tornado, flattening tents, extinguishing fires. He became visible as the moon appeared above the treetops. Mariana swung the battle axes, her warcry a counterpoint to Bintu’s roar.

They were ferocious, like a forest fire tearing through their enemy with teeth and claws, battle axes and magic. Those who fled were cut down as they ran. Those who begged for mercy received none for neither Bintu or Mariana had any to give. Panting, Mariana wiped the blood from her face with her sleeve, surveying the carnage, shivering as a cold wind blew through. ‘The Patriarch comes.’

He cannot capture what he cannot see. Hide your magic. We go to the Harbour and we get on the first ship that will take us.

‘The Patriarch will have men waiting for us. They will be trained warriors.’

Won’t that be fun?

Mariana laughed.