The Writer in Black

The Writer in Black

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Defense against terrorist attacks

In 2008 after the Mumbai terrorist attacks, I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper.  I also sent versions of the letter to State and Federal representatives.

After the Mumbai terrorist attacks, there has been talk about how to prepare for an attack here. One item that is frequently missed is that the choice of when and where to attack lies with the terrorists and, therefore, the police can do little to prevent them. The terrorists will simply attack where the police are not. If you put guards on Chase Tower, the terrorists will attack the Marriott. Put guards on the Marriott, and they will attack a shopping mall. Put armed guards on the malls and they'll attack the next Pacers home game. There simply are not enough police to be everywhere so they'll simply go where the police are not. And since these terrorists are willing to die for their cause, the thought that the police will eventually arrive and stop them will not deter them. And if India with its highly restrictive gun control could not stop the terrorists from getting the weapons they used to kill, no such gun control legislation in the US could stop similar attacks here.

Fortunately, however, Indiana has a second line of defense against these terrorists. According to a 2004 article in the Indianapolis Star, there were then 300,000 residents of Indiana who were licensed to carry handguns. That's one in twenty people in Indiana, and the number has likely only gone up since then. In most large crowds there will be some who are licensed to carry. Not all will be carrying at any given time and not all will have the fortitude to stand up to the terrorists and stop them from killing the people around them, but some will. And so we are guarded even where the police are not--by our own citizens.

Unfortunately, there are areas where those guards, provided without charge to the State or to the people so guarded, cannot go. There remain soft targets where terrorists like those in Mumbai could find fertile killing fields. Those targets are our schools, our universities, and our day cares. The threat is to our children and youth who are the very future of our nation. The very one's to whom we should be giving the greatest protection are instead the most vulnerable.

It is vitally important that our schools and universities be protected from terrorists such as those who struck Mumbai. One way would be to hire and train armed security personnel for every school and university in the country, enough to have several in every building whenever children are present. This would be a costly undertaking and would take considerable time to implement. The other solution is far less expensive and that is to allow individuals who have a clean criminal record and no serious mental health issues--people, in fact, who can successfully obtain an Indiana handgun license--to be armed in such places and to encourage teachers and facility in such places to do so. This will provide the same, free, armed security that the rest of our State enjoys.

I got one reply back, from Representative Andre Carson (hack, spit), dismissive of the entire concept but claiming he'll "keep [my] thoughts in mind.  I wrote the following response to him:

Thank you very much for your thoughts concerning gun control. I will keep your thoughts in mind when I vote in 2010.

You see, a person in your position cannot be ignorant of the facts unless he is willfully so.

A person in your position cannot help but know that there is a strong positive correlation between "gun control" and violent crime--the more "gun control," the more violent crime.

A person in your position cannot help but know that the foreign examples of low crime or low gun crime had their low crime even before they enacted gun control legislation, and the trend has been for crime to increase after gun control is enacted.

A person in your position cannot help but know that India's severe gun control, amounting to an outright ban for all practical purposes, did not stop the terrorists from obtaining guns and killing large numbers of people with them. That "gun control" only ensured that the victims could not fight back.

A person in your position cannot help but know that every time easing the infringement on the right to keep and bear arms is proposed (as, for instance, when a State proposes "shall issue" on handgun licenses) the predictions of "blood in the streets" are made, but every time the easing actually happens, the predictions fail to come true.

A person in your position cannot help but know that, for stated purpose of reducing individual risk of violent crime, gun control does not work.

Since you cannot help but know these things, I have to presume that there are other reasons for your stated position in favor of "strong restrictions" on guns.

Aside from the date, I see nothing I need to change in any of that.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Hordes of Chanakra ebook available for Pre-order



Pulled into an alternate world mired in the middle ages, Kreg finds allies in Kaila, a rough swordmistress, and her wizardly father. He’s also found their foes – an unending horde pouring forth from the small nation next door.

Now, he’s in a race against time to find the true source, before everything he cares about ends in fire and death!

Monday, May 30, 2016

On This Memorial Day

In Flander's Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

 Among your barbecues and other holiday celebrations, take a moment to remember those who fell.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Hordes of Chanakra, Snippet Seven

The series starts here


Sparks popped in the campfire behind Kaila as she leaned over Kreg to bathe a cut on his cheek.  A faint breeze kissed the skin of her arms heralding the coming night chill.
Kreg’s eyes flickered open.

"Shillond," Kaila said. "He wakes."  She stood and stepped back to allow Shillond to take her place at Kreg's side.

"Easy, Kreg," Shillond said. "You took some rude blows.  I have used wholesome herbs that will heal you.  Until they do so you must rest."

"What happened?" Kaila felt an edge of fear at the weakness in Kreg's voice.  Had he taken more hurt than Shillond had apprised her?  Already, he had become a friend dear to her.  She pushed the fear away.  Shillond had said that Kreg's injuries were light and no doubt no more than pain and fatigue took the strength from Kreg's voice. "It burns like fire just to breathe." Kreg squirmed to the side as if trying to avoid a flaming brand, then stopped as a shudder racked his frame.

"Well now." Shillond smiled. "You should expect that with broken ribs.  You were fortunate to avoid worse."

"I take it the good guys won?" Kreg started to laugh but the sound became a fit of coughing instead. "Ooh, that hurts."

Kreg sat up, shaking off Shillond's restraining hand to do so. "My thanks, Kaila.  It seems I owe my life to you."

"Marry!" The compliment surprised her. "I was overlong in coming to your aid and for that I crave pardon.  'Twas your own leap at the end that gave me the opening to slay the beast.  Once again you have proven yourself a man of much courage."

"Courage?" This time Kreg did manage a weak, albeit painful, chuckle. "I was scared witless."

"The more proof of your courage," Shillond said. "Doing what you must despite fear is courage.  Facing a hungry sand devil at the bottom of its pit without fear would not be courage.  It would be foolishness."

Kaila nodded vigorously. "Shillond speaks sooth.  Many times I have seen men whose fear did cause them to quail in their boots, yet still did they proceed and thus accomplish much.  Oft' also have I seen men who knew no fear plunge foolishly to their deaths and accomplish naught." So Shillond had told her and so she believed.  And yet, what of that part of her heart that strove to drive fear away from her, that condemned her at any thought of fear for herself.  Fear for another, that was a worthy thing and could lead to great acts of valor, but fear for herself?  Those were deep thoughts that she could not well hold in her head.

Shillond laid his hand on Kreg's shoulder. "Now lie still.  Rest.  Let the herbs do their work.  Tomorrow you will be fit enough to travel and the day after it will be as if you were never injured."

"I can see where magic has its advantages," Kreg said.  He lay back down, groaning.

"Sleep now." Shillond waved a hand over Kreg's face. "Sorthenkal!"

Kreg's face relaxed, smoothing away lines of care and pain.  A pleasant face he had, Kaila thought. Some might not agree as it lacked the boyishness of many of the swains at court, but Kaila thought it a face well suited to an adult.

#

The sun in his eyes woke Kreg and he sat up.  He groaned and said, "Toenails, toes, feet, ankles, knees, thighs--" His clothing cracked with the motion as dry blood flaked away.

"What do you?" Kaila asked.

"I'm checking everything that hurts," Kreg said. "Hips, back, stomach, chest, shoulders...."

"You should not be up yet,” Shillond said. “The spell should have kept you asleep a while yet." Shillond handed him a cup. "Drink.  It will ease the aches."

Kreg sipped at the drink.  As the liquid hit his throat he choked, then coughed, spraying Kaila and Shillond.  He had been expecting another of the herb drinks and instead the cup contained brandy, strong brandy.  He drank again, more cautiously.  The drink burned its way down his throat to light a fire in his stomach.  The warmth spread. "That's potent stuff."

"Come," Kaila said. "The day is young and we have far to go.  We have lost time already and I hunger to be home." She practically leaped onto her saddled horse.

"Really, Kaila." Shillond helped Kreg to his feet. "Have we been gone so long?  If I did not know better I'd think you pining for Keven."

"My motives are my own, mage." Kaila tossed her head. "Has't become sinful to desire a return to one's home?"

"Did I say that?" Shillond hung an innocent look on his face. "Did I ever say that?  Come, we have far to go."

During this exchange Kreg stood staring down at his saddle.  Someone, Kaila probably, had removed it from the corpse of his horse and dragged it out of the pit.

"Kreg?" Shillond's voice interrupted his thoughts. "Allow me to give you a hand?"

Kreg turned to face him.  Shillond knelt next to their pack animals.  The packs had been consolidated from four to three, leaving one of the horses free. "All of the pack horses are saddle trained and while you are fit enough to travel I don't think you are well enough to consider walking the distance we must go."

Kreg sighed.  He had to admit that Shillond was right.  He glanced over to where Kaila circled them, her eyes scanning the desert.  Her gaze kept drifting to the east where vultures circled.  To Shillond, he said, "All right.  Let's get to work."

In a short time they had the remaining horse saddled.  Kreg placed his left foot in the stirrup and lifted himself into the saddle...almost.  As he raised his right leg to swing it over the horse's back his left folded beneath him, depositing him on the sand.

"Kreg?" Shillond brought his horse close.

Kreg stood up and dusted himself off, wincing at the new aches. "It looks like I walk after all."

"Must still be weak from your injuries," Kaila said.  She urged her horse next to him as Shillond backed his away.  Leaning down, she placed her arm around Kreg just under his shoulders.  She tensed then heaved.  He felt himself lifted into the air and set on his horse.

"Thanks," Kreg said wryly.

"Let Shillond's magics work their way," Kaila told him. "They will strengthen you.  Give them time."

Kaila's eyes again drifted eastward. "I wonder what draws yon carrion eaters."

Shillond shaded his eyes with one hand and followed her gaze. "Probably some animal, dead or dying."

"Or perhaps travelers, like us, travelers in difficulty."

"It is not likely."

"But it could be," Kaila said, looking back at Shillond.

"Aye, it could be." His voice held resignation, a tone that puzzled Kreg.

"It is no more than an hour's ride from our path," Kaila said, "Come." She urged her horse in the direction of the circling vultures.

Shillond shrugged and, motioning Kreg to accompany them, followed her.

Other stories set in this world: 

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Hordes of Chanakra, Snippet Six

The series starts here
 
CHAPTER THREE

Kreg, Kaila, and Shillond left Trevanta late the next morning.  They spent the early hours loading the pack animals and finding a horse for Kreg.  The horse, and provisions for the journey which would take a month, expended the last of Kreg's funds.  When Kreg had asked about the amount they had been able to buy, Shillond had said that Trevanta so starved for coin that even small amounts could purchase a great deal.  Even so, Kreg suspected that they had added to his funds from their own.

When Shillond suggested that Kreg give Kaila charge of his money and allow her to select the horse and conduct the bargaining Kreg happily complied.  As she paid the proprietor of the stable Kreg examined her selection.

The horse was the biggest Kreg had ever seen, not that he had seen many up close.  None, actually, except the nomads' small ponies.  Kaila had said it stood about sixteen hands high at the shoulder and had measured out the width of her own palm to show him what a hand was.  The horse's shoulder came to just under Kreg's chin when he stood next to it.  A blaze of light gray on the forehead and white socks on the forelegs gleamed against its black coat.  The horse's heavy hindquarters and broad chest made it look powerful even to Kreg's untrained eye and he guessed that it weighed nearly a ton.

“What were you thinking, child?” Shillond asked Kaila on seeing the horse she had chosen. “We are crossing the desert and you bring this monster?”

“Spells you know well,” she said, “but of horseflesh you know scarce more than Kreg.  Despite its size, this horse is bred to dry climes and its size would suit one of Kreg’s stature far better than would one of the mountain ponies you prefer.”

“And how do you propose to keep that bulk fed on what the animals can carry?”

“Fear not, mage, for this horse is an easy keeper and will thrive on less food and drink than you might imagine.  And no fool I, I chose the smallest of the type in the corral.  He will serve us well, methinks.”

“All right.  If you say so.” Shillond shrugged and mounted his horse.

From where she sat on hers, Kaila extended a hand downward to help Kreg onto his.  They rode through bustling crowds, Shillond leading and Kaila in the rear, leading two packhorses and two other animals that Kreg had never seen although he assumed they were the local equivalent of camels.  They passed through the gates and down the road toward the desert.

A carpet of stones, from small pebbles to fist sized cobbles, crunched under their horse's hooves as they walked.  Occasionally a crystalline rock would catch the sunlight in a bright flare.  Scattered tufts of twisted scrub provided the only signs of life.

"Is it desert all the way?" Kreg swept his hand along the horizon when they broke out onto flatter ground.  The desert seemed to go on forever.

"Nay," Kaila said. "We travel ten days in desert 'ere we reach the Amber mountains.  Eight days of march will see us through the pass, which the town of Elam guards, and into Aerioch.  From thence we travel twelve days more to Norveth, the capital."

Kreg nodded. "I see."

#

The two weeks Kreg had spent with the nomads had made the desert almost familiar when compared to Trevanta.  A lizard, interrupted in sunning itself on a rock, ambled out of their way.  A mouse, digging at the base of a cactus, was the only other sign of animal life.  At their approach the mouse ran for the shelter of a larger rock.

In time, Trevanta slipped below the horizon behind them.  Finally, as the sun began to sink toward the horizon, they gathered the sparse scrub along their path for firewood.  In the red light of the setting sun, they stopped.  Shillond built a small fire while Kaila hobbled the horses and Kreg spread their bedrolls near the fire.

With camp thus set, Kaila took Kreg aside to continue his sword training.  Unlike their previous day's workout, they did not spar.  Instead, she had him defend against her attacks and attempt to deflect her powerful sword strokes.  By the time Kaila called a halt, Kreg's wrists shook from fatigue.

The soft popping of the dying campfire formed a counterpoint to the distant yipping of coyotes as Kreg drifted off to sleep.

#

Kreg awoke the next morning with every nerve aflame.  His wrists and forearms ached, but that was nothing compared to the agony in his backside and along his inner thighs.  He groaned.

"What ails you?" Kaila asked.  The corners of her mouth kept twitching upwards.  Reflections of sunlight played in her eyes.

"Who took the hot iron to my muscles?" He sat up, voicing yet another groan. "I had heard about being saddle sore, but I never imagined...." He reached back to knead the knots out of his hips and down to the insides of his thighs.

Shillond chuckled where he sat tending the fire. "I expected that.  Come, I have some steeped herbs here that will ease your pain and relax your muscles.  We ride far today."

"Again?" Kreg sighed. "How do you guys stand it?"

Kaila laughed. "The time will come when you feel not a whit of discomfort," she said. "For the nonce, drink." She handed him a steaming cup.

He drank.  The beverage had a faint, minty flavor, followed by a bitter aftertaste.  True to Shillond's promises, he felt the pain ease and the knots in his back and legs untie themselves.

#

Three days later the carpet of stones ended, opening into a field of broken, hard-packed earth.  The cracked tiles of dry ground surrounded them all that day and three more.

Kaila and Shillond knew the path well for sometime in each day they passed near either a water hole or a dry riverbed where some digging could produce a small temporary well.  Kreg watched how the stock of provisions shrank and calculated in his head how that compared with the time it would take to reach the mountains and wondered if those provisions would last the trip.  But he said nothing and trusted that Kaila and Shillond knew what they were about.

Kreg was riding a little to the side of Shillond and Kaila's path.  His horse stopped, refusing to go further.

"What is it, boy?" Kreg asked.  He squeezed with his legs, urging the horse forward.  It stepped forward gingerly.  The horse tossed its head, whinnied and again refused to advance.

"What’s the matter?" Kreg asked in frustration.  The horse had not acted like this before.  He drove his heels into its sides.

As the horse took another step forward, Kreg saw Shillond look back, "What's the problem?"

Again Kreg drove his heels into the horse's side. "This horse doesn't want to move."

Shillond's expression turned to one of alarm as the horse took yet another step forward.  Its foreleg broke through the ground.  The horse screamed and toppled, bursting through a thin layer of dried earth.

Kreg leaped, scrambling to keep from being crushed under the horse's weight as they both rolled down a short, steep slope.  Air burst from his lungs as he struck the floor at the bottom of that slope.  He lay for a moment to catch his breath before sitting up.  He was at the bottom of a steep-walled pit.  A thin shell of dried earth had once covered it and now lay in scattered chunks around him.

The horse lay behind Kreg screaming, a sound that sent shivers through him.  He turned to look and saw the horse try to climb to its feet.  As it put weight on one foreleg it screamed again and fell to its knees.  It tried again with the other leg, and with the same result.

"Kreg?" Shillond called down, barely audible over the horse's screaming. "Are you hurt?"

"'Tis passing strange for this to have appeared since last we passed this way." Kaila looked around warily. "I like not the look of it."

"I'm okay," Kreg shouted. "It looks like the horse broke both front legs."

"Slay it," Kaila said. "You do it no kindness to leave it in pain to starve, or to be slain by some beast."

Kreg stared at the horse then looked up at Kaila, unsure what to do.

"You must." Kaila knelt by the lip of the pit. "Your horse is in agony.  End its pain."

"Sorry, old fellow," Kreg said under his breath.  He drew his sword then thought for a moment.  Cutting the horse's throat would probably be the most humane way to kill it but he doubted he could hit it accurately the way the horse was thrashing.  He darted in and grabbed at the bridle and missed, his momentum carrying him into the horse's flank.  That was enough to knock the horse off its knees and onto its side.  As Kreg fell, he found himself sitting on the horse's head.  The horse heaved upward, nearly throwing Kreg in its effort to lift its head and rise, its back legs kicked as if it were trying to run.  It heaved again and Kreg barely managed to avoid being thrown once more.

Keeping his perch on the horse's head, Kreg reached out to retrieve the sword from where it had fallen.  He lifted and chopped downward at the horse's neck.  The sword bit deep and Kreg drew the blade back toward himself, slicing even deeper.  Blood sprayed from the wound, showering Kreg and he leaped back, choking.  The horse shuddered and died.

"Kreg!" Kaila's cry jerked Kreg's attention upward.

"'Ware behind you!" Kaila pointed beyond him.

Kreg spun.  He saw a creature that looked like a sand-yellow alligator.  That impression Kreg caught in an instant and discarded as the creature's open mouth caught his attention.  Filled with rows of gleaming teeth, it gaped wide as if to engulf him whole.  Kreg backed an involuntary step, nearly tripping over the carcass of the horse.

"A sand devil," Shillond said.

"Have you no spells, mage?" Kaila drew her sword with a swift, reflexive motion.

"Not that would harm the beast and leave Kreg alive."

The tableau held for just a few seconds.  Then the beast charged.

Kreg leaped aside, avoiding by inches the toothy jaws.  He swung his sword in a heavy, wood-chopping swing, striking the beast in the side.  His stroke drew blood but he did little damage against the creature's thick scales.

"'Ware the tail!" Kaila pointed with her sword.

Kreg heard the warning and leaped back in time to evade the worst of the blow.  Despite his leap, the tail struck hard enough to hurl him fifteen feet through the air.  As he struck into the sand he heard, more than felt, the crack of bone in his rib cage.  Pain speared into his side.  He lay gasping for breath while agony burned in his lungs.  The creature turned to face him.  It waved its head from side to side, eyeing Kreg with first one eye, then the other.

"Enough of this!" Kaila shouted and leaped full on the beast.  The fall left her lying on the ground stunned.  Her fall distracted the creature long enough for Kreg to rise to his feet.  His right knee wobbled under his weight but held--barely.

Kreg lifted his sword overhead.  With a yell, he dove at the beast driving the sword point first into its head.  The combination of his weight and momentum drove the sword through the beast's snout, pinning it to the sand.

With a bellow, the sand devil shook its head, ripping the sword free of the sand and hurling Kreg away.  Kaila's sword rose and fell on the creature's neck as Kreg's world faded to black.

Other stories set in this world: 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Hordes of Chanakra, Snippet Five

The series starts here
The estimated release date for the book is July 8

 Kreg glanced over at Kaila and saw a wide smile gracing her face as they left the shop. "I take it he was as pleased with the price of the sword as you seem to be?"

"Pleased to have any coin at all, I think." Kaila smiled still more broadly. "Still.  ‘Tis a puzzlement." She shook her head.

“A puzzlement?” Kreg asked.

Kaila nodded. "Despite all I said, the sword is of excellent make, although--" She smiled again. "--not quite the equal of the claims that yon smith made for it.  Should you be so unfortunate as to meet a krayt, rely not on this sword to behead it at a single blow, but do as I would do and flee to the protection of stout stone walls.  So if the smith made this sword, why then did he not put his maker’s mark upon it?  And if he did not, from whence came it?  A puzzlement.”

She shook her head again then said, "Also, did you note the manner of my speech while we bargained over the price?  'Tis the manner in such things, to speak in only the most formal of language.  You must learn this as well.  Doubtless you will lose many a raben before you catch the knack."

"Doubtless." He guessed she meant bargaining in general and not just the mode of speech.  He also suspected the most important factor was one she had not mentioned--knowing the approximate value of an item before one began to dicker. "Since you've mentioned language, there's something I've been wondering."

"Say on," Kaila said.

"You and Shillond," Kreg said. "He's your father, but your speech is so different it could almost be different dialects."
"Truly this confuses you?"

He laughed. "Truly, there is little about your world that does not confuse me."

Kaila joined her laugh to his.  Kreg braced himself for another clout, but Kaila's hand only came to rest on his shoulder.

"As to our speech," she said, "in my early years, I lived at court.  My mother died in battle scarce one year after my birth and a witch in Shendar held Shillond in captivity while all thought him dead.  The King raised me in his own household until Shillond escaped and returned to claim me as his own.  And so, my speech has the flavor of the court, although not the full measure of those who lived their entire lives within palace walls.  Shillond's speech is that of his own southern province.  And so, my own is a mix of his and that of the court.  Do you now understand?"

Kreg nodded.  He slapped the sword hanging from his side. "So how do I use this thing?" he slid the sword farther back around his waist, trying to find a comfortable position for the unfamiliar weight.

"I remember spying a training yard, used by the city guard, yonder." Kaila pointed ahead and to the left. "They should have such as we need to begin your training." She stopped and looked at him. "Do not imagine, however, that you will be able to stand against a blooded warrior for some time."

"As you say," Kreg said.

#

"No!" Kaila shook her head. "Hold your sword higher, thus.  One could with ease penetrate your guard."

Kreg shook sweat out of his eyes and raised the sword in both hands, trying to imitate Kaila's stance.  His forearms ached from lifting the weight of the sword and his thighs burned.  His ribs, on his right side, still smarted from the last time Kaila had rapped her training sword against them.

Kreg and Kaila practiced alone in a large courtyard.  At one end stood several pells, short wooden posts set in the ground and used as targets for sword practice.  Along one side of the courtyard ran a roped-off lane at the end of which loomed a jousting dummy.  The dummy could pivot on its post so that if the jouster did not hit it perfectly it would swing around and strike him on the back with a sandbag.

The sun had drawn all trace of moisture from the ground, eradicating all evidence of the previous night's rain.

"Again," Kaila said.

Kreg attacked, dancing the quick footwork Kaila had taught him.  He struck in a middle line, aiming at Kaila’s rib cage.  She neatly diverted Kreg’s sword then hers flew straight at Kreg's neck.  He twisted his hands over, interposing his blade before hers.  He succeeded but the force of the blow drove him back.  Before he could recover, Kaila's sword whistled around again.  He stepped back and parried, barely avoiding her blade.

Kaila's sword plummeted from above.  As Kreg lifted his sword to parry, he met empty air.  The lack of resistance where he had expected it threw off his balance.  He recovered quickly, but Kaila's sword smacked the side of his leg, dropping him into the dust.

"Ah, Kreg," Kaila said as Kreg stood up and dusted himself off, “you seek to strike my blade with yours in the old manner.  One does not use the shashyn that way.  You need to guide your opponent’s blade away from you, not hammer at it like a blacksmith at his forge.”

"You're fast," Kreg said.  He kneaded the sore spot.  A ridge of bruised flesh marked where her sword had struck.  She had hit hard. "Strong too.  I'd hate to think what would have happened if that had been a real sword."

"You learn well, like one with a true gift." Kaila let her arms hang loosely, her right hand held the grip of the training sword while the fingers of her other hand curled gently around the blade. "Already you master the details of footwork.  Indeed, your balance is like none I have ever seen.  Your handling of the sword though?  Ah, this is most difficult.  I can see the flaw in how you control the sword, but I lack the tongue to explain it.  I can only hope that with practice you will come to it on your own.  What most is needful is drill to build the hand and the eye, and drills to strengthen your wrist, which is still weak.  Is it sooth that never have you studied the art of the sword?"

Kreg shook his head. "Still, once I stopped fighting the sword and started to think of it as an extension of my own arms it came a lot easier."

"Truly?" Kaila looked him up and down. "That is well done indeed.  Many months was I in learning the lesson of oneness when first I began my own training at arms.  You have a true gift for the sword to accomplish so much in but a few candles.  Join passion and training to that gift and few there will be who will stand against you."

"I think I'm going to be one big bruise tomorrow." Kreg stretched, feeling the knots in his muscles and the stinging of welts raised by Kaila's sword. "Well, I guess I'm ready to continue." He took a ready stance.

"Nay." Kaila shook her head. "'Twill suffice for the nonce."

"In that case--" Kreg let his arms fall to his sides.  His feet kicked up little clouds of dust as he scuffed over to the rack where they had hung their weapons. "I'm starved.  What say we go find a good eatery?" He used his cloak to wipe sweat from his face and hair.

"'Eatery'?" Kaila scratched behind her right ear. "Your words are strange, but if you mean an inn or a tavern I would say 'aye.'"

"Right," Kreg said.  He stared at the cloak wadded up in his hands for a moment then shook it out.  Since the buildings provided shade against the sun he did not really need to wear it so he slung it over one shoulder.

"Now as to food," Kaila said as they stepped through the gate onto the street, "the common room at the inn is as good as will be found in Trevanta.  In earlier days, perhaps...well, board is thin in Trevanta in these times.  Moreover, Shillond should soon return from his business and we may meet him there."

Kreg nodded. "One thing I have to do is find employment of some sort, and that fast.  Not much money left.  I don't want to get more the same way I got this." He tapped his belt pouch.

"What skills have you?" Kaila asked as they left the courtyard.

"I'm not sure," Kreg said. "At least as far as what's useful here.  I don't think my former line of work exists here."

"What is this occupation?" Kaila asked. "Mayhap you will be surprised."

"Have you ever heard of computers?  IT?"

“Eye Tee?” Kaila asked.

Kreg smiled. "Don’t have it here?  I thought not.  If you don’t have IT how can I be an IT consultant?"

"Ha!" Kaila said. “Still, I am sure you will find your calling."

"That reminds me." Kreg turned to face her. "What is this thing with the nomads?  For a second there I thought the smith was going to hit me for being one, never mind that I'm not."

"It is simple enough.  The lifeblood of the city is its merchants.  When they travel by sea they face pirates, by land, they face....” She paused and looked past Kreg’s shoulder for a moment, then shook her head. “They face raiders.  To them one desert tribe is like another and all are raiders."

Kreg nodded.  "One more thing I didn't know that could have tripped me up.” He looked over his shoulder in the direction Kaila had but did not see what had drawn here attention, just a shadowed alley. “What?”

“I thought I saw someone,” Kaila said. “No matter.  There is no one there now.”

“I was lucky to fall in with you and Shillond," Kreg said thoughtfully. "Had I not, I would be in dire straits by now."

"In truth," Kaila said, "how could I refuse one possessing such courage, and a defender of the weak?  And too, there was something about you that drew....  But stay.  A thought has occurred to me.  Mayhap you could teach your 'way of yielding'.  There is not much call for teachers of combat without arms but mayhap you could make a living thus."

"Perhaps," he said, unconvinced. "On the other hand, there's still a bit of time before I have to make a decision.  I think I'll wait a while and see what happens." He glanced down at his pouch ruefully. "A very short while."

"I would not worry over much, were I you," Kaila said. "One may always make one's way if he has courage, determination, and a stout sword arm.  The first two I have seen you to possess.  For the third, have you not the best warrior in the eight kingdoms instructing you?"

Kreg started to retort, then stopped.  While he was no judge of swordsmanship, he suspected that Kaila had ability far beyond what she had displayed in their training.  While he had never touched her with his sword, she had always carefully measured her strikes on him.  They bruised and raised welts, but no more than that.  And when she had given blows against more vulnerable targets, such as neck or head, a much lighter touch.

After some minutes of walking, they reached the inn.  Shillond ambled up to them.

"You seem in good spirits, father," Kaila said. "I trust all went well?"

"'Father' is it?" Shillond smiled. "My, my, my.  It is not often you call me that."

"Shillond!" Kaila said, her voice pleading. "The treaty?"

"Oh, as to that." Shillond winked at Kreg before turning back to Kaila. "The Lord Mayor was right glad to come under the protection of Aerioch's armies.  It seems that Schah has made a number of threats of late.  Why Schah would threaten even a free city such as Trevanta, I do not know, but it seems that they intend to replace the Empire of Shend with the Empire of Schah.  In return for our protection, our trade will pass through at a quite favorable taxation rate and Trevanta will pay a tribute amounting to eight thousand gold norbeni annually.  In truth, I think they welcome our shipping more than our armies, for where our ships go, others will follow.  I think they would have welcomed us had we come to annex Trevanta, but that would have been more trouble than it's worth.  All in all, it has gone well.  In fact, as everything has been concluded, we may return home on the morrow."

Shillond's words, about threats of war from Schah, reminded Kreg of something, but the aching in his head drove the thought away.

"These are glad tidings!" Kaila clapped her hands. "Too long have we been away."

"And you, Kreg?" Shillond turned toward him. "You will come with us, of course?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Kreg said and then grinned. "Either one."

END CHAPTER TWO

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