[Continued from Tlisli Gets a Job]
Tlisli spent the rest of the day and a good part of the night being surprised. It started when she met Zerdanin, captain of the guard. Inraline used one name, and then the connective “ir” which meant “descendant of” and a parent’s name. Only in a formal introduction would the full name be used.
The guard captain was Tlisli’s first surprise. She introducted herself as Zerdanin ir-Ketran, and informed Tlisli that Ketran was her mother. In Ixtlen, while a person was known as a descendant, there was “son of” and “daughter of” and it was always of the father. She learned that in Inralin one had a choice, though tradition held, in order, that one chose the higher ranking person, the parent whose profession was more similar to one’s own, or in the absence of such distinctions, a daugher was descendant of her mother, and a son of his father.
While she was being lectured on names, Tlisli was absorbing the shock of Zerdanin’s apparent age. She looked, well, old. She looked even older than old. Aterin was old, in late middle age. How could one be captain of the guard and be that old. Surely she would be slow!
A couple of hours testing with weapons and then with hand-to-hand combat cured Tlisli of the thought that the captain was too old for her job. It turned out, however, that Zerdanin considered herself too old to be a front line fighter. That, she told Tlisli, was what she had lieutenants, sergeants, and yes, new recruits for.
Zerdanin, it turned out, was a veteran of the Tevelin garrison, where she had risen to the rank of Evnor, which mean someone who commanded in the area of 900 troops. Why the number was stated as 900, when nearly everyone on this continent would have used multiples of 12 (a gift of the Tlazil Empire, Azzesh had told her), while she had heard that others would use multiples of 10, Tlisli could not understand. The Inraline used base 10 numbers, as she had heard were common elsewhere, yet they used companies of 300 and a sort of regiment of around 900. The structure was quite different. In general, however, she was pretty sure she had been told about the numbers so she would be impressed by Zerdanin’s command experience.
The guard on their riverboat, however, was very different. Guards worked in teams of three with a lead guard in command. These were then divided into three shifts, and on this riverboat, each shift consisted of two teams. One of the lead guards would also be designated as the sergeant for each of the shifts. After her weapon skill was determined, Tlisli was assigned to work with the lieutenant. Lieutenant Uxinen was, in Tlisli’s opinion, an arrogant ass. She hadn’t had the opportunity to work out with him, but he just didn’t impress her at all.
There was a certain amount of consternation among the guards, however, when Tlisli was assigned as a sort of junior lieutenant. That put her above the sergeants in rank, and they were none too sure this as a good idea. To be honest, Tlisli wasn’t that sure it was a good idea either!
Before nightfall, Tlisli received another shock. All of the guards, including the officers, were required to know how to work one of the oars on the riverboat itself and to row one of the boats. Zerdanin assured Tlisli that she would be unlikely to row the riverboat other than to experience it, as she was too small, and would actually be a hindrance. But it was quite possible she’d wind up rowing one of the smaller rowboats. That skill could come in handy. Tlisli had no difficult with that task. Small boats on rivers were something she knew.
That night they stopped in a small village by a tributary creek. The riverboat carried some letters and packages which they dropped off and picked up others. Tlisli learned that there was no official mail service outside of Tevelin and its official outposts, and so there was a considerable traffic in carrying mail between the various villages. It didn’t surprise Tlisli that there was no official mail service; what surprised her was that there was mail service at all.
The next day was market day in the village. Tlisli wondered whether it was market day because the riverboat had arrived or whether Aterin had arranged to arrive on market day. She didn’t have time to ask. She was told that she would be going with one of Aterin’s commercial assistants up the creek for about two hours along with two of the oarsmen whose job it would be to row the boat. She would be the sole guard for the expedition. If she hadn’t seen the look on Uxinen’s face as he gave the order, she would have thought she was being honored, considering how little anyone knew of her. She was pretty sure, however, that this was considered grunt work. Uxinen told her to intimidate any bandits who might come along.
On the way up the creek, Tlisli and the commercial assistant, a local named Tlorin, had plenty of time to chat. Tlisli took the opportunity to learn whatever she could. Basically, he said, they were delivering mail, and also watching for opportunities to buy certain fish—Tlisli was acquainted with most of those Tlorin described—and various herbs. They’d also be willing to pay for information that would lead to finding certain types of lumber that were highly desired for furniture making.
“I saw that a great deal of our load was of rockwood,” said Tlisli. “Is that the sort of thing we’re looking for?”
“Most of the stands of ironwood, which is what we call it,” said Tlorin, “have already been located, marked and are regularly harvested. The woods we’re interested in are used in making luxury, decorative furniture.”
“Can we make enough money on an expedition like this to make it worth Aterin’s effort?”
“Not on any regular basis, but the fact that we carry the mail makes us popular with the local people.”
They pulled up to the wharf at the quiet village. Tlorin seemed to be quite delighted as he threw a rope to a man on the small wharf. Tlisli sensed something wrong. She saw at least three men holding spears. It was not unusual for a man to carry such a weapon in the jungle. But these looked like they were ready to move. There was a tension among the men waiting, those who didn’t have spears as well. She grabbed an arrow and her bow (which she had kept strung most of the way), still keeping both inside the boat. Then she tried to whisper a question to Tlorin, but she had hardly turned his direction when one of the men with the spears threw it and hit him squarely in the chest. Tlorin was standing, and fell into the river.
Tlisli’s reaction was automatic. She raised her bow from a seated position (it was quite small enough for this), and loosed that arrow, not at the one who had thrown the spear, but at one of the others. He had started a move toward her, and he stumbled and plucked at the arrow that was in his belly. His companion was moving too quickly to stop and check, and stopping would have been a bad idea for him in any case, so he moved forward.
Tlisli simply dodged his spear with the same movement as she picked up her sword from under her seat on the boat. He continued forward, apparently intent on fighting her bare-handed, and was completely unprepared as she brought her sword up. She had no time to really choose. She just rammed the point upward and let his momentum help impale him on it.
The first man was now holding a spear. It had to be the one dropped by the one she had shot, but she hadn’t seen it happen. He was apparently not going to throw it, but instead try to fight her with it. She remembered Azzesh’s words, “When someone is about to do something remarkably stupid, be sure that you’re not missing something.”
In this case, however, Tlisli couldn’t think of any wonderful thing the man might know that would make that crude spear adequate against her sword. Using a move with which she had often cut Azzesh’s sticks in half during practice, she sliced the spear in two at an angle. While the man was still trying to figure out his next move, she jumped to the wharf and stabbed the tip of her sword directly into his heart.
She crouched and looked back and forth, trying to evaluate the situation. She didn’t know who belonged here and who didn’t. Was the battle over, or was someone waiting nearby to surprise her as she had the three men?