Monday, March 24, 2014

3 Swords, pt 6

Soon they sat on pelts around a low table inside a voluminous cured-leather tent. The three sword fighters sat together, with Rone closest to the warchief. The old, balding Urugan sat to Gourlak's right and a weasel-faced Urugan with greasy hair sat to his left. Dahlia recognized him with a thud in her chest. The silver-tongued exile. His eyes met hers and they were full of mischief.
Serving women handed around platters of roasted game and blackened grains, hearty food that left a burnt taste in everyone's mouths. As they ate, Gourlak spoke with a deep commanding voice. 
"Rone, either you have not beaten your servants enough or you are not what you say you are. My shaman, Soolteg," he gestured to his right, "tells me the Dreads of this land are moving among the moot but he cannot divine their destination. Then I find your so-called servants brawling among one of my clans and you sneaking in the dark. At the same time you arrive, my exiled son, Faugh, also returns and names you as Hidden Evils. Explain this."
"That man is a liar!" Dahlia shouted, pointing.
"Silence, woman. Faugh is a liar and a thief. But neither means he is wrong," Gourlak said. "Where you find spoor, game is ahead. What I must know is whether you are the spoor or the game."
Gourlak turned to Rone. "Since you let your woman speak freely, I assume she is not your servant. More liars than my son sit at this table." Dahlia's face flushed at being found out. Rone's face was impassive.
"We Urugans have a tradition that you outsiders will not know. Once you enjoy a man's hospitality, you must tell your story with honor and honesty. Now that you have eaten, Rone, I would hear your story."

Rone looked placidly at his plate as he finished chewing. "My story is humble. I was raised in the mesas of Ashur-kun among the warrior-monks. There I learned the sword skills of the Wavering Way, and how to live in patterns. I have seen under the Macrocosm. I have been catechized by the Scions of Shadow and Silence. Now I wander searching matters that defy understanding. I see movement in stillness. What can still surprise one so schooled? The only enlightenment is in the unpredictable."
Gourlak's mouth turned down. "That's no story! That's a recitation. Tell me your story before I take offense, Wanderer."
Rone looked back at him quiescently. "I was still a student in the way of Kurtul-maal, studying with the masters above the sandy floor of the Ashur-kun. There was a girl among the boys, loved intensely by us all. The masters had never accepted a girl before because it interfered with concentration. 
"And Aulita interfered with everything. Silky black hair and eyes blue like still water. She carried deep sorrow with her. But when she laughed at something you did, the world was new. You would rather please her than ten masters.
"I did not stand out among our coterie. Larger, yes, but not the smartest or fastest or the quickest study. I think the stillness is what drew her to me. I wanted her attention desperately, but all I knew was quiet. Yet quiet was the shelter she sought." Rone fell silent and shifted in his seat before continuing.
"The rainy season in Ashur-kun brings torrential flood. Raging for a short time, then a trickle, then gone. The masters told us to stay indoors during the rains, but Aulita was deep in meditation and did not feel the rain on her skin.
"A fist of wind threw her from the mesa into the waters. In half an hour the rain had stopped and the water subsided. We never found her body. Sometimes I consider that she is still alive, though I know not how.
"Aulita taught me flexibility of the spirit. Partly I wander for her."

"Your storytelling is more humble than your story," Gourlak said, staring into Rone's eyes. "But I can see your truth." He finished a great hank of venison and wiped his hands on a rough cloth held by a servant girl.
"Well, eating and storytelling are done. I must decide what to do with you three." Gourlak stood to his full height, hair brushing the hanging lantern above him. "Killing my warriors is impressive, but cannot go without redress." He picked up his great club. "Rone, let us settle this the traditional way."
Azurdanak stood as well. "Rone is not the one who began this tumult. It was my doing. I will fight you, outside, where all can see."
All eyes turned to Azurdanak. Gourlak looked surprised at the interruption. "Hm?" he said. "I just meant for you to give me your woman and go free. But a duel sounds interesting. Let's do that." 
Dahlia glared at a dozen backsides as the tent emptied. Faugh was the last and the only one to look back at her. And smile.

Two huge fires were stoked to a blazing height casting long eerie shadows off the standing stones out into the darkness of the steppes. In the sudden arena, Azurdanak stretched his arms out to his sides to get a measurement of the space. He watched Gourlak swing long, thick arms in huge, swooping circles, limbering up for the battle. Geometry was not in the thin man's favor. 
Nearly the entire moot gathered in a circle just outside the firelight. Several other clans had also heard the news and come from their camps to watch: the noise was a dull roar. Only Rone noticed, in the far distance, fires lighting up the grounds around the trading post. Furtive heads poked over the battlement, wondering whether the Urugans massed for an assault.

 Gourlak hefted his shield onto his left arm and gripped the leather bindings of his club with his right. His bronze breastplate was etched with a panorama of beasts fighting. The fire shone on the fresh warpaint on his face, arms, and legs. He had killed hundreds of men. With leonine poise he prepared to add another to the godskept list of his fallen.

Azurdanak's brow nearly folded in on itself as he studied the fighting grounds and his opponent. Size, strength, and experience were his foe's powerful assets. He would need to stay in the center of the field. The chief could toss him into the fire with club or shield and no form will save a duelist from immolation. The war chief would win a long fight. Therefore, Azurdanak would need to move inside Gourlak's reach quickly and puncture his unprotected armpit. He recited the incantation to conjure his ley rapier. His form would need to be flawless. 
Fortunately, flawlessness was his strong point.

1 comment:

  1. I like the character development of Rone in this section. However, how we got there seemed a bit contrived. It does not seem to fit with the Urugans nature to have a tradition of honest storytelling. That transition just kind of felt like, "ok, now tell me interesting things about yourself now."

    How you got to the duel also seemed a bit strange. The punishment for killing several of his warriors is to leave the woman? What if they didn't have a woman?

    Lastly, you said that the chief would have the advantage in a long fight. Why? Wouldn't the smaller, faster duelist have the advantage, as the larger brute would get exhausted from swinging his club? Not saying that the chief *wouldn't* have the advantage, but it seemed like you just stuck that in there without explaining why.