Tlisli took a moment to thoroughly survey the people. She didn’t see any further weapons, but was extremely conscious of the fact that she had missed the fact that the man she had just defeated was carrying a knife. At the moment, she couldn’t recall whether she had seen the knife, and not categorized it as a weapon, or whether she had simply not seen it. She could hear Azzesh castigating her for either mistake!
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and events are totally products of the author’s imagination (as should be obvious).
Copyright © 2017,
Henry E. Neufeld
She looked sternly at the villagers. “What happened here? Where is Isteriss, your headman?”
One of the men started to approach here, but jerked back as she gestured at him with her sword. Then he knelt on the ground where he was and started to speak in a whining tone. “Please, agent of the great merchant Aterin, do not blame us for what has happened. We were set upon by this man and his guards. They killed Isteriss and there was nothing we could do about it.” He nodded toward the man on the ground as he identified him.
Tlisli was fairly certain that much was being left out, yet she wasn’t sure how she was to sort all this out. “Who is in charge of the village now?” she asked.
The men started to look at one another. It seemed nobody wanted to claim to be in charge.
“Speak up! Surely someone is in charge in your village when the headman dies.”
“Yes, great mistress,” said the spokesman, as Tlisli tried hard not to laugh, “the Shaman leads a ceremony and the new leader is selected when he reads the entrails of a goat that has been sacrificed.”
“And who is in charge in the meantime?”
“I am,” said the Shaman, getting up from tending the wounded man.
Tlisli sent the one guard who was on the pier to check that the man was still thoroughly bound. It appeared that he was.
“So can you take the mail and exchange some of the other goods that we have?” asked Tlisli.
“I can,” said the Shaman. He was easily the oldest person there.
Tlisli watched him and his two companions closely. She kept expecting someone else to challenge her, but nobody seemed willing to take any action.
Following the instructions she had learned from Tlorin, she delivered the mail and bargained for the supplies that she had. Despite having gone over the instructions thoroughly on the trip up there, she had never expected to be called upon to do the actual bargaining.
When she was finished, she prepared to leave. She was interrupted by the Shaman’s voice.
“Please great lady,” he said. Again, Tlisli had to fight the urge to laugh. Her? A great lady? But perhaps it seemed so in a village of a few dozen people at most.
“Yes?” she asked.
“You can’t just leave us. What will we do for protection?”
“For protection? What have you done up to now?”
“Nobody was trying very hard to kill us then. Perhaps a thief or two, a couple of bandits, but nobody organized.”
“So tell me what happened?”
“The man there,” he gestured toward the wounded man, “came with his guards, killed Isteriss and claimed he was the new headman.”
“Why did nobody challenge him? There are many more of you.”
“But they were armed with warriors’ spears. They are professional guards. We have only our bows and arrows and fishing spears.”
Tlisli could understand the problem. Their bows and arrows were suitable for hunting small game and birds, and their spears were good for reasonable size fish, but they were not the weapons of warriors.
“Did they say where they came from?”
“From out that way,” said the man, gesturing generally toward the west.
Tlisli would have suspected the Grand Empire of the Sun, which was in that direction, though she knew that the nearest likely outpost was hundreds of kilometers away at the closest. She also knew the grand emperor’s soldiers would have been better equipped.
“Did they way what they were doing?”
“They said that we were to trade with them, inland, rather than down the river to the sea people.” Tlisli assumed he meant Tevelin and the Inraline.
“And why do you think there will be more?”
“Because he said so!”
“And you have found him trustworthy and truthful?”
“Why should I doubt him?”
“Perhaps because he killed your headman and held all of you as hostages!”
The man just looked at her. It didn’t seem that he could imagine why the killer would lie.
She nodded to her guard who was with her on the shore. “Get him in the boat,” she said.
The two guards moved him without much ceremony.
“I’ll tell you what,” Tlisli said to the Shaman. “I’ll take word to the great merchant Aterin that you are having this trouble. He will decided whether to send you any help. In the meantime, I’d grab the spears and the knife that the men have left behind and I’d do my best to learn how to use them.”
There as a sullen silence on the shore as Tlisli left.
Once there were in the center of the creek and headed downstream, Tlisli addressed the man she had wounded.
“I’m interested in what you were doing in the village,” she said casually.
“I’m sure you are.” Before this encounter, Tlisli would have sworn one couldn’t croak and sneer at the same time, but she thought the man had succeeded.
“So tell me,” she said.
The man laughed. “I’ll tell you nothing!”
Tlisli watched him for a couple of minutes, as though she hadn’t figured out quite what to do with the man’s statement.
When the silence became too long the man continued, “Well?”
“Well what?” asked Tlisli.
“Well, what are you going to do about that?” Tlisli was fairly certain he thought the answer was “nothing.”
“I was just thinking that if I get no information from you, all my efforts to keep you alive were for nothing, and right now you’re weighting down this boat and making me keep my eye on you.”
He eyed her, not quite sure he followed. He still really couldn’t fathom a girl as a warrior, and certainly not as someone who would treat a captured man poorly.
“As I meditate on all those facts,” continued Tlisli, “it becomes continually more clear that I’m wasting my time. I’m thinking that it might be better if you die of your injuries and we throw out the body.”
She drew her sword and began to poke very gently at the bandages. “Perhaps it was a mistake to leave you alive. Perhaps I need practice. Come to think of it, who knows what that Shaman might have actually done to you.”
The wounded man stared into her eyes, and what he saw there frightened him. He didn’t see the girl who had run from her home. He saw the girl who had survived near death and traveled for weeks through the jungle. That girl was dangerous.
“I work for the headman of a village about a day’s journey toward the setting sun, he said.” And he spun for her a lovely tale.
Was it the truth? Tlisli wasn’t certain she’d ever get to find out. But it would doubtless interest Aterin.
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