The Writer in Black

The Writer in Black

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.

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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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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Election dynamics

New snippet for The Hordes of Chanakra later today.  In the meantime, some political philosophy.

People invoke a "conspiracy" to ensure that the candidates are "the same" creating the illusion of choice.

No conspiracy is necessary. All that's necessary is that politicians want to win elections.

Consider the typical election (at least at the national level) in the US: person currently holding office got a majority of the vote. In order to win you need to get a majority. Even if you get every one of the people who did not vote for the current individual, that's not enough to make a majority (if it were, someone else would be the current officeholder). You need to get at least some of the voters who voted for the current officeholder.

Say you do. Now, next time around the opposition wants to do the same thing. They want to win. The folk who voted against you aren't enough (or you would have lost) so they need some of the voters who voted for you.

Repeat over a bunch of elections and both sides are trying to appeal to a lot of the same voters. However much they may differentiate themselves "on paper" what they do starts to look a lot alike, not because of any puppetmaster pulling their strings but because they're competing for voters who want the same things. Well, those voters may way they want one thing, but demonstrate by what/who they vote for what they really want.

This similarity causes some people to object. What they want is different from the group both sides are wooing. They may suck it up and accept that they're not going to get all they want and instead try to push for a little bit of what they want through one of the existing sides, or they may abandon the existing sides and try to create a new one that can win elections. But, again, unless they can get a lot of the voters voting for the existing sides, which means appealing to their wants. it's a forlorn hope. This is what we have had to date with the Libertarian, Socialist, CPUSA, Green, and other "third parties".  These generally have not been numerous enough to be worth going after at the expense of the larger numbers who could go either way between the major parties.

The thing that changes that dynamic is if enough people abandon the existing parties to force a reassessment of what it takes to get that majority.  That requires either a major change in what the population wants--something that generally doesn't happen quickly--or a "crystallization" of gradual changes with the parties having moved slowly one way while the population has slowly moved another, then reaching a tipping point to overcome inertia which can be heralded by mass "desertions" from one or both of the existing major parties.  The interim can be chaotic and ugly until things settle down to a new dynamic with both (all) sides seeking to woo many of the same voters, but a different group that wants something different from the previous dynamic.

This may be where a Trump candidacy is taking us.  Before Libertarians were generally getting less than 1% of the vote at the national level.  Before Trump became the sole remaining Republican candidate they were polling 11%.  Now running around 20%.  This could be the "sea change" that either forces a reassessment of the Republican party to a more libertarian viewpoint (and then, since the Democrats want to win elections, they have to woo many of those same voters and so are forced as well to move in that direction), or that leads to the collapse of the Republican party and the rise of a new major party in it's place.  The last time that happened was in the 1854-60 timeframe with the founding of the Republican Party itself and its winning of the Presidency for Abraham Lincoln.

The other scenario, of course, is that the "mass exodus" will fizzle leaving two parties appealing to the "goodies that other people pay for" crowd.

I have my own views on which way I want it to go, of course.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

On the recent meltdown of the Republican Party

I have long been arguing that the way to get back to a free society is not to find some magical third-party candidate who will magically give us all back our freedom magically in a single election. And been scorned and called names by the Paulbots and other “Big ‘L'” types (an interesting take on “win friends and influence people” but there you are).

The same tactics of look for someone who has a reasonable chance of winning, who gives you at least a little bit of what you want who might even give up a bit in one area to gain in another so long as you can get a net gain that the Left has been using against us can be used right back at them.

In 2008 I could point out that McCain had a history of voting “pro gun” twice as often as Obama (Out of 4 votes on gun issues Obama voted “pro gun” once–yeah, surprised me too. McCain voted “pro gun” about half the time). He also had a history of supporting more conservative picks for judges. Just a couple of examples that come to mind. Thus, there were actual areas where McCain for all his faults–and they were legion–was better than Obama.

In 2012, I could point out that 11th Article of Faith (statement of some of the core beliefs of the LDS religion) that’s basically a statement of freedom of religion and that unlike, say, Reid, he actually seems to follow his religion. We would, therefore, expect him to support freedom of religion, unlike Obama. Just one example that comes to mind. So there, too, I could point to actual areas where Romney for all his faults–and they were legion–was better than Obama.

Now it’s 2016 and we’ve got Trump (or are about to get him but nothing can stop him now). Um. Well, there’s some campaign rhetoric most of which he’s already walked back but his actual history of supporting positions and politicians… Um. Sorry. Coming up blank here. In the past I could admit to a lot of overlap between the two parties–has to be; they both want a majority so they have to compete for at least some of the same voters, but I could also point to differences. Now? Hillary with a combover. I can’t think of a single policy position where I can expect Trump to be better than Hillary on anything.

At the moment, I’m probably going Libertarian, not because I expect it to help but because while we really do have “Hillary” vs. “Hillary with a combover” there is absolutely nothing to be gained by voting either of the main parties. Eventually it is my hope that either the GOP will break up and a new “major” party will emerge and I can get some difference even if only a little bit, or, it will get its head out of its collective rear and I can start working on the “get even a little net gain, then build on that to get a little more” that has worked so well for the opposition. Otherwise, well, I’ll be marking time to the final collapse of this Grand Experiment.

Couple of on-the-way things.

1) A lot of people in writing and other fields who are non-liberal are "in the closet" regarding their politics for fear that editors, directors, producers, whoever has power over them in the field will not work with them.  (See the reaction of a lot of "professionals" in the field to the recent Sad Puppies campaigns to learn the truth of that.  No the Puppies are not racist, misogynist, white supremacist, or even monolithic.  They're just folk who want "story" to come before "message".  Who think message is okay so long as its wrapped in an entertaining story, but that when it's allowed to take the place of story you have a problem.) I, however, have always been “out” politically as a libertarian leaning conservative. I can never be otherwise. Entirely too forthright. So, I guess I’m at least one of your tripwires. Use it well.

2) Not giving up my guns. Not turning them in. No way. No how. If Hillary does manage to “get the NRA shut down” (First Amendment? What First Amendment?) and get handguns (among others, I’m sure) banned? Not gonna comply. Decision already made. Let the chips on that fall where they may.

Will we succeed or not in the end? Don’t know. Like to think we will but feeling very discouraged at the moment. Still doesn’t mean quitting. If it means going down fighting well, I’m good with that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Hordes of Chanakra, Snippet Four

The series starts here

 Late the next morning Kaila hid a smile as Kreg tried, unsuccessfully, to hide the way aches pulled at his body.  He had slept the night bunking on a pallet of folded blankets in the room she shared with Shillond.  He was still wearing the light cloak of a style favored by the desert nomads.  Knowing how the local people felt about the nomads, Kaila thought that Kreg would find the cloak a burden in more ways than one.

"'Twere best if I did the bargaining," She told Kreg. "Just watch and learn."

"As you say," he said.

Trevanta by day was a far different place from Trevanta by night.  Hawkers, selling from wagons, lined the streets, extolling the virtues of their various wares.  Crowds surged through the streets, passing in and out of various shops that claimed to sell a plethora of goods.  Wagons and carts bounced over the deeply rutted, muddy streets, splashing mud and slop on anyone too slow to get out of the way.  Hogs wandered freely, set loose to eat the garbage dumped into the streets.

On closer look, however, the wares hawked from wagons were spare indeed, with more space than goods on the racks.  The crowds too, were thin, only seeming thick in their frantic energy.

Shillond had been right.  The city was dying and only pretending to health.  Few of the ships, which had been the life-blood of Trevanta, docked here anymore.  Trevanta was yet one more casualty in the collapse of the Empire.  Had old King Cael been right, she wondered, to venture down the path of independence from Shend?  Much evil seemed to have sprung from it.  And yet....  She sighed.  Such matters were beyond her.

Sometime during the night the storm had spent its fury.  Now the sky was clear, with only an occasional wad of cloud to mar its deep blue.  Yet even after the cleansing rain, the city stank of waste, filth, and decay.  Kaila longed to be back in Norveth, the capital of Aerioch, with its cool breezes and streets not so choked in filth.

"First, a stout sword is needful," Kaila said, turning back to Kreg. "When I did examine the briganti’s sword I found it too slender for serious combat.  A pretty toy, fit only for petty duels or for frightening townsmen.  We must obtain training swords as well for 'twould please me not to carve you up in practice."

"No," Kreg said. "I don't think I'd enjoy it much either."

Kaila laughed and clouted him on the shoulder. "'Tis but the truth, I warrant.”

Although she had masked her strike as a friendly clout, she tested Kreg as well.  Despite his height, his slim form bore little muscle.  Yet she had found that what muscle he had was hard and well toned, and his slim frame was stronger than it seemed.  Strength he would need, for she had seen that he had little of the skills that served a man well in the world.  Untutored he was and innocent as a babe.

But had not Shillond once said that knowing ones ignorance was the greatest wisdom?  If true, then she suspected that Kreg was wise indeed.  Although Kreg had strange humor several of her former squires could have learned much from Kreg's willingness to listen and to assay.

“Ah, but what do I espy?” Kaila said after a moment. “If yon sign speaks sooth, we approach Trevanta's master weaponsmith."

"Then let us enter," Kreg bowed, sweeping one arm to invite Kaila to precede him.  Kaila stepped through the shop's doorway with a quick glance over her shoulder to see that Kreg followed her.

"Pay heed and act as I do," She whispered over her shoulder.

She leaned forward to peer at the swords that dangled in racks along one of the walls.  A collection of spears, swords, and axes festooned the other wall but these Kaila ignored.  She slid one, the best of a poor lot, free from the rack and held it before her eyes. "These are truly poor blades," she said. "It warrants me that these all are apprentice work.  Behold the looseness of the joining between blade and hilts.  Note the quality of the wire wrapping of the grip.  I find it appalling that such should be displayed for sale." She handed the sword to Kreg.

"Oh, I agree," Kreg said, although his voice sounded none too certain.  In this sword, wood peeked through gaps in the wire wrapping of the grip. "You only need to look at them to see."

"May I be of service, Lord and Lady?" A man approached them.  The top of his head just came up to Kreg's armpit.  The man bowed and waited, wiping his hands on his knee length, black, leather apron.  Muscle bulged under his tunic, his right arm thicker than his left. Dozens of small, puckered scars dotted his arms.  His proportions, his clothing, the scars, all cried out "Smith" to Kaila's eyes.

Kaila ignored the man for some seconds, while Kreg shuffled his feet nervously.

"Mayhap," Kaila said with a slight lifting of her shoulders, "if you have better than these to offer." She waved at the rack of swords. "It may be that we can make do."

"Certes, I have wares which may please such a fabulous warrior as you no doubt are." The smith bowed. "You are obviously a person of much discernment to note that these blades are of inferior make." He bowed again. "If you will be patient for the nonce--" Bow. "--I shall display for you the master's own work." Bow.

The master's own work, Kaila thought, meaning his own work, no doubt.

"As you will." Again, Kaila lifted her shoulders a bare finger width, then let them drop. "As I am here already, 'tis as well I see what you have, though it be little enough.  Bring these swords."

"At once, Illustrious Madam." The man bowed yet again and backed out through a door leading into the rear of the smithy, still bowing.

"Do always remember," Kaila whispered to Kreg as the door swung shut on leather hinges. "A master will oft display goods of inferior make, apprentice work or his own failures, and then deal evilly with any possessing not the wit to know the difference.  But be wary.  As like for pieces of true merit to be concealed among the poor as a test of ones discernment.  Here, there are none such."

"So that was all true?"

"Aye.  Save that yon smith was likely the master himself."

He started to ask another question but Kaila raised a hand to warn him to silence.  The smith had returned.

"Do examine these, Madam," the man said. "Mayhap you will find what you seek among them."

"An' they are better than those I have already seen, then mayhap."

Kaila suppressed an inrush of air as she saw the swords on the counter.  One of the swords was a shashyn, a serpent, the great sword of Aerioch.  As quickly as excitement brushed her mind, she quashed it.  Poor copies of the Aeriochnon shashyn sometimes appeared in nations bordering Aerioch, toys for the local nobles to play with and pretend that they could match the Knights of Aerioch.  Yet without the secrets of its making, secrets closely guarded by swordsmiths in Aerioch, any foreign made shashyn could be scarce more than a plaything, fit for children to play at being knights.

Paying no particular attention to the shashyn, Kaila inspected the swords the smith laid on the counter.  She paid particular attention to the edges and the ricasso, the unbeveled area in front of the guards.  She held in turn several swords by the grip and swung them slowly in graceful arcs, using only her wrist and forearm, trying their balance.

In the end, she turned to the shashyn.  The blade and grip were the correct length.  When she set the point on the ground, the blade came up to her hip while the pommel just reached the height of her short ribs.  About a hand long for her but, she eyed Kreg critically, it should be perfect for Kreg’s longer frame.  The blade was also the correct width and thickness, with a wide, shallow groove that ran half the length of the blade.  The ricasso was short, the edges starting almost immediately in front of the guard.  And, how strange, there was no maker’s mark.

From the hilts, it tapered gracefully to the point.  The edge was not particularly well honed, but the basic shape was correct.  Some candles with a stone would correct the flaw.

The steel of the blade did not have the delicate serpentine patterns produced by whatever secret techniques went into the making of the true shashyn of Aerioch and Kaila was dubious that it would be both strong enough to stand in combat yet not so brittle as to shatter at the first blow.

She decided to test it anyway and placed the point of the sword against one of the stone tiles of the floor. She leaned her weight against the blade judging the amount of bow.  With a twist of her wrist, she let the point spring free of the stone and watched the blade snap back to straightness too fast for the eye to follow and leaving no residual curve to the blade.

She looked at the smith. “Pells?”

For answer the smith gestured at a door at the side of the shop that led to a small courtyard.  In the middle of that yard stood a wooden post.

Kaila approached the post then looked back at the smith.

“As the Lady pleases,” he said.

Kaila slid her right foot forward, leaving the sword trailing behind on the left, sloped down so that the tip hovered a few fingerwidths above the dirt.  She paused for a bare moment then struck, driving the sword with measured force into the pell.

Three more times she struck at different angles, striking with different parts of the blade.  For the final strike she closed with the pell and drove all her strength and weight behind the base of the blade, with the cross hilt just kissing the wood.

Wrenching the sword free from the wood she held it up and sighted along its length.  Still as straight as when she had begun.

Gods’ Iron, she thought.  The sword had to be made of Gods’ Iron.  It would suffice.

"Verily, there is little enough of value here," Kaila said.  She walked back into the shop. "What ask you for this blade, though it is fit only to skin some farmer's fat hogs?"

"Ah!" The smith beamed. "Trust Madam to select the best sword in the shop!  A true warrior's sword!  Note the edge, keen enou' to behead a krayt at one blow.  Note the balance.  Note the weight.  It is heavy enou' to withstand the stoutest of broadswords, yet light enou' to be swift on the attack and on the parry.  Surely such a blade will be a joy to use."

"I note," Kaila said, "that you say naught of the temper.  Will the edge hold true or will it be blunted at the first strike?  Still, for the nonce, it will suffice." She shrugged. "What ask you?"

"Why, madam." The smith bowed. "Such a fine sword could not possibly be sold for less than the price of twenty-five rabeni."

"Twenty-five rabeni?  For this tin billet?" Kaila dropped the sword, shaking her hand as if the sword had burned her. "I will give you ten."

"Ten!" The smith shrieked.  He grabbed his dull brown hair as though to pull it out by the roots. "Were I to part with the swordsmith's pride for so paltry a sum, he would have me flayed alive then boiled in oil.  And then he would have my flayed hide made into scabbards!  I will sell to you for twenty-three."

Kaila frowned and sighed. "'Tis theft at half the price.  Nevertheless, I will pay thirteen."

"For that sum--" The smith shook his head. "--I would avoid only being made into scabbards.  Still, in honor of your companion who stands looking on and is so bold as to wear the garb of desert raiders--" He frowned. "--I will sell for twenty."

"Fifteen," Kaila said.

"Eighteen," the man said, "and not a ve'ib less."

Kaila shook her head. "'Tis robbery, but eighteen if you will also supply two whalebone training swords, balanced and weighted thus--" She held up the shashyn. "--in trade for my companion's rapier."

"Although of a surety the smith will punish me," the smith said, "I will do as you bid."

He stalked into the back of the shop, grumbling, and returned with the training swords.

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Hordes of Chanakra, Snippet Three

The series starts here

Smoke hung heavily in the crowded room.  In one corner, men threw knives at a target stuffed with straw.  A shout rose in another corner as a rotund man won an arm wrestling match against a somewhat slighter opponent.  The loser groaned and money changed hands as the winners of bets collected.  Beside the large fireplace a minstrel wailed a ballad, badly off-key.  About half the patrons of the tavern wore rain-soaked clothes and water ran in tiny rivulets down their faces.  The sound of the rain was more muted here than in the rooms above.

Kaila led Kreg and Shillond to the only unoccupied table in the room.  The crowd swirled around them but always left a gap before them, more, Kreg suspected, in deference to the way Kreg and Kaila towered over them than from any notion of courtesy.

"These places always like this?" Kreg sidestepped a stumbling drunk and sat.

"Aye." Kaila said then looked over her shoulder. "'Twould please me mightily an' yon bard be silent.  I am near of a mind to clout him aside the head an' he continue."

Shillond sighed as he sat. “The people carouse, I think, to forget that their city is dying.”

A barmaid dodged a groping hand and arrived at their table. "May I help you, Lords and Lady?"

"Roast venison and a tankard of ale!" Kaila slapped her palm on the table, causing its legs to bounce off the floor.

"Whatever is by the board and a flask of wine," Shillond said.

"Aye, Lord." She turned to Kreg. "And you, my lord?"

"Uh." Kreg hesitated for a moment, uncertain what to say, and then decided to follow Kaila's lead in choice of food. He did not know what Shillond’s “by the board” meant. "Roast venison, I guess.  Uh, what do you have to drink?"

He looked at his companions for assistance.  Kaila bit back a laugh.  Shillond raised his eyebrows, the twinkle in his eyes brightening, but he offered no advice.

"Why, sir." The barmaid sounded as confused as Kreg felt. "We are as well stocked as any tavern in the city."

Kreg groaned.  He sighed and tried again. "I am a stranger here.  Could you be more specific?"

The barmaid's face lit with understanding. "Oh?  Does the Lord wish companionship?  For three rabeni, and one for the innkeep, I could...."

Kreg raised his hands in warding. "No, no.  That's fine."

Kaila could no longer restrain her laughter although she tried.  Tears rolled down her cheeks as she half-choked with the effort.

"Well, my Lord." The barmaid frowned for a moment. "I am sure you would find me more pleasant than this boy thing." A flip of her hand dismissed Kaila. "Send her, it, on its way and let me be your companion instead."

Kaila's laughter vanished.

Shillond broke in. "My friend will have wine."

A fresh look of understanding crossed the barmaid's face. "Oh?  Is that the way of it?  My pardon, Lord, if I intruded.  I shall see to your food and drinks."

As the barmaid scurried away, Kaila started to rise.  Shillond laid the tip of a finger on the back of one of her hands. "Kaila, no."

Kaila sighed and sat. "Aye, father. She is what this foul city has made her.  The insult from such a one is not worth the back of my hand, let alone the staining of my blade."

Kreg looked from Kaila to Shillond then back again.  Something had happened that he had missed. "How much did I just spend?" he asked to change the subject.

"About a raben," Kaila said.

"Which is?"

"The pouch from the briganti?" Kaila held out her hand.

"Yes." He produced the item and handed it to her.

"This--" She held up a silver coin about the size of the dimes he knew, "--be a raben." She shorted. "Yon wench's price was high.  She asked for rabeni where ve'ib would suffice.  One raben be equal to five less than a score of copper ve'ib and eight rabeni be equal to a gold norben.  Understand you this?"
Kreg considered for a moment.

"Fifteen ve'ib to the raben.  Eight rabeni to the norben." He nodded. "Got it but...."

Shillond leaned forward, resting his chin on his folded hands. "I think you had best remain with us until you learn how to fend for yourself."

Kreg agreed wholeheartedly, more than happy to remain with anyone who could help him learn his way around.  With every passing moment, he regretted more leaving the nomads.  Would living the rest of his life as a desert nomad have been so bad?

"We will remain in Trevanta just a few more days before we return to Aerioch." Shillond's face took on a thoughtful expression for a moment. "I have a feeling there is more to you than anyone may guess.  You have an aura that...." He shook his head. ”Well, no matter.  We will discuss this later.  We have more immediate concerns."

"Aye," Kaila said. "'Tis needful to instruct you in some manner of weapon's work. Your skill unarmed was good enough against unskilled bravos such as the briganti.  Nor like I the sword you took.  Such a light weapon would be all but useless against a good broadsword, or a mace, or an axe, or....

"I'm sure he understands, Kaila." With a sigh, Shillond waved her to silence. "You may go tomorrow to buy a good weapon and I can leave his training in that to your capable hands."

Shillond looked at Kreg then cast his eyes upward.  Kreg was beginning to get the picture.  Kaila seemed to think that a strong sword arm was the answer to any problem.  She reminded him of Billy, the man who watched the shop where Kreg had worked--good-natured, but blunt.  Billy had seemed to think that the answer to most problems was to pound on them until they stopped being problems and Kreg suspected that Kaila felt much the same way.

"Look," he said. "Teaching me to fight is all well and good, but there is more to living than that.  You saw how helpless I was in so simple an act as ordering a meal." He scowled at Kaila, attempting to look fierce, but Kaila's impish grin told him that he had not succeeded. "Things you learned as children, I have never experienced.  For instance, if magic works here--and thanks to your demonstration, Shillond, I have to accept that it does--well, it doesn't back home."

"Absurd!" Kaila burst out. "Such things are of minor consequence.  A good sword arm will see you through all matters of import."

Shillond pretended that she had not spoken. "Perhaps we should see about finding a way to return you to your own world as quick as may be.  Your background may cause you problems here."

Kreg shook his head. "I wouldn't even know where to begin," he said. "Would you?"

Shillond sighed and shook his head.

Kreg sighed. "Then I guess I'm stuck here...for a while anyway."
"Our food comes," Kaila said.

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