Tlisli and Village Politics

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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Tlisli Decides

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

Tlisli was still scanning the area when one of the men still standing stepped forward. Tlisli thought this was either very brave or very stupid, considering he was unarmed. He started to open his mouth, apparently to speak.

Tlisli ignored him, turning toward the boat. The two oarsmen were just beginning to react to the situation, and their reaction was clearly confusion. The current this close to shore was just beginning to catch and move Tlorin’s body. She didn’t want it to get too far away.

“Get Tlorin’s body into the boat,” she said, not loudly, but quite firmly. Her voice was quiet enough that the sputtering of the man who had stepped forward, only to be ignored, partially drowned it out. The oarsmen were willing, but the shock of the situation still had them frozen. It wasn’t that they weren’t capable enough in their own way, and they had spears, but this sort of expedition was routine and safe. That’s why there was only one real guard. So they didn’t seem to have considered using their spears for anything.

“Now!” shouted Tlisli. That finally got the men moving. Tlisli couldn’t recall ever having shouted in that tone before. She had copied it from her father, who frequently used it with employees and with slaves.

The exchange had given the headman time to feel slighted. He was not used to being ignored. “Girl,” he said. “When a man of rank  speaks, you listen!”

Tlisli looked back at him. A lifetime of obedience urged her to treat the man with respect, yet fear, anger, and the knowledge, practically bred into her, that letting anything slip in such a situation could mean death, took over.

“When the person with the sword says ‘shut up,'” she replied, “you shut up.” She didn’t even turn totally toward him. Working with her brothers back in Ixtlen and later with Azzesh, she had learned the importance of being able to keep track of a wide arc of activity around her.

She watched as one of the oarsmen drew Tlorin’s body to the side of the boat, using one of the neglected spears, and then brought the body on board. She pointed at one and said, “Guard the boat.” To the other she said, “Grab your spear and come with me.” He didn’t seem to have any problem with that.

The headman, on the other hand, was still livid. He was keeping his mouth shut, yet he managed to look as though he wanted to kill.

“Why have you attacked Aterin’s boat and killed his agent?” she asked, holding her sword loosely in front of her. To someone unacquainted with her, it might appear that she was unready, but with Azzesh she had practiced moving from this lazy looking stance to an attack quickly.

“Are you not the agent of the great merchant prince Aterin?” asked the headman with some surprise.

“No,” said Tlisli. “I’m the guard. Your men killed the agent.”

“Not my men,” said the headman. “Those were bandits who were holding us hostage.” As he spoke even more people were gathering around. None of them were carrying obvious weapons. The headman had a knife in a scabbard at his waist, but other than that, Tlisli couldn’t see anything threatening.

The problem was that she had talked to Tlorin about this village, and he had told her that the headman was elderly, and that he and Tlorin had been acquainted for years.

“What happened to Isteriss?” she asked, naming the old headman.

“He died. I am the new headman.” His hand was moving slowly and skillfully toward the knife. The move was skillful in that it was concealed as he gesticulated with his hands while talking. With each move, however, his right hand came closer to the knife.

If he’s that good with concealed movement, thought Tlisli, I don’t want to give him time to get the knife!

“Keep your hand away from the knife,” she said conversationally.

It seemed that was the moment when the headman, if such he was, knew that the game was up. He grabbed for the knife. Tlisli moved in with her sword again, trying again to stab the man in the chest. This time she was not so lucky as in her previous two stabbing attacks. The headman dodged to her right, and she just managed to nick him in the side. Meanwhile he brought the knife up and in, intending to stab her in the abdomen.

It would have worked, too, except that Tlisli had learned something else from Azzesh: If your natural momentum will take you out of the way, even if you got that momentum by tripping, go with it. Because Tlisli had learned that she really didn’t have the strength for mighty blows with her sword (or anything else), she had thrown her weight into it. When the man moved, she was quite agile enough to have kept her feet, but instead she let herself fall forward and rolled further away from the man. His knife still caught the edge of her tunic, and in fact nicked her in turn, but not enough to even distract her. Azzesh had caused much more damage than that in training!

The man then made a critical mistake. In one way it was hard to blame him. Where he came from girls weren’t warriors. Because she was small, Tlisli looked like a child to him. He knew about women as warriors because he lived near enough to Tevelin, but deep down he just didn’t believe it possible. That’s why he had assumed she would be the agent and the man would be the guard in the boat. Now, despite what he’d seen of her capability with her sword, he still assumed it had to be luck. In his mind, he was cursing his guards for their failure to kill a mere girl. To him, her fall could be nothing less that the inevitable failure of her uncanny luck.

He threw himself on her, intentionally dropping his knife. His whole purpose had been to capture the agent, and now he had his chance. Tlisli just pointed her sword upward and braced it, allowing the man to impale himself on it. Her move was to late to give him time to change his move. Tlisli pushed at the man and managed to move out from under his body, pulling her sword with her. He was still alive, but he wouldn’t be for long.

“Bandage him,” Tlisli ordered nobody in particular.

Three villagers, including one who appeared to be the village shaman, moved to obey. It appeared that everyone was willing to accept that Tlisli was in charge. Finally!

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Tlisli as a Merchant’s Guard

[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?

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Tlisli Gets a Job

[continued from Tlisli – A Lesson in Geography and Politics]

After a few moments of silence, Tlisli worked up the courage to ask another question. “Why would taking the fort do the Grand Empire little good?”

“Good question! For the same reason that it would be hard for them to actually take it. Clearing the town would be easy, but the fort is, as you have noted, not that far up the river, and the Inralin Navy is pretty much without peer, at least in these waters. So they would take the town itself back quickly. At the same time taking the fortress would place a relatively small number of troops out at the far end of a very tenuous supply line with logistics that can be cut easily by those same troops. How many troops did they have when they attacked Ixtlen?”

“I heard it was a couple thousand. I don’t remember precisely.”

“And how many do you suppose they left home with?”

“I have no idea. Nobody discussed that.”

“That is as I expected. Rulers of a city state are not used to dealing with the logistics of an extended campaign. Ixtlen is more than 1500 kilometers from the nearest Grand Empire outpost. So they have to deal with losses along the way, with setting up outposts, and establishing some sort of a supply and communications chain. My guess is that the overall expedition started with 10 times that many.”

“So if the city had decided to resist, we might well have succeeded. There weren’t necessarily tens of thousands more troops just around the corner.”

Azzesh laughed.

“Hardly!” said Aterin. “I have no idea how your guard would have done against a couple thousand troops. Make no mistake, Grand Empire troops are well-trained. At the same time they are not extraordinarily well-equipped, and they are loyal as long as there are officers and enforcers in range.”

“Of course, once they had established a route suitable for communications and resupply, they could have followed up with more troops. Travel time would only be a couple of months,” said Tlisli.

“Very good!” said Aterin. “You know how to think about these things!”

“It would take considerably less time to bring troops from Ixtlen to Tevelin or to the fort.”

“True, but first they must be at Ixtlen. Which is the point of taking the city. Once they have built up their troops there, they will move south.”

“But they’ll eventually do that, and they will threaten Tevelin.”

“Again, true, and so we will warn the authorities, and they will prepare. One should note that sailing from Terinor to Tevelin takes less time that the fastest conceivable transit from Ixtlen to Tevelin.”

“Wow!” said Tlisli.

“You’ve lived inland all your life. You have never seen an Inraline sailing ship. Fortunately, the Grand Emperor doesn’t really understand sea power either.”

“Oh, I’d say he understands it quite well,” said Azzesh, cutting in.

“How’s that?” asked Aterin.

“He shows that he understands it by what he’s obviously attempting here.”

“What’s that?”

“He means to take Tevelin and make it a Grand Empire base. It may look like an impossible task to you, and he’s certainly not going to move quickly as Tlisli here says.” She turned to Tlisli. “Besides being stringy and bland and not thinking enough you are filled with romantic ideas of single combat and decisive, swift strokes that decide an issue quickly. Your addled brain thinks in terms of heroes, villains, and glory. Yet perhaps Azzesh’s efforts are not totally wasted and you may come to understand reality enough so that you understand that war is a nasty, brutal, never-ending business.”

“The current Grand Emperor’s grandfather started the expansion of the Grand Empire,” said Aterin. “At the time, Sun Home was little larger than Ixtlen is now.”

“While his troops, and girls such as you think in terms of days and weeks, he doesn’t even think in terms of months,” said Azzesh. “He thinks in terms of years and decades.”

“The process,” pronounced Aterin in a tone intended to end a topic, “is to make Tevelin unprofitable so that in the end Inralin will be happy to let it go. Then he will use Tevelin to cut off the Keretians at Mazrafel and to harass the Marahuatecan navy.”

“And you just go on engaging in commerce?” asked Tlisli.

“Why of course? Do you have a better idea?”

“You must require a large number of guards.”

“Absolutely. Which leads me to you.”

Azzesh started to interrupt him, but Aterin waved her to silence. That he could do so was astonishing to Tlisli. “I will let her know how things are. I won’t try to cheat her because she’s naive.”

He looked directly at Tlisli. “You’re going to need to decide what you do next. You’ll need a way to make a living. Did you have any plans?”

“Not really,” said Tlisli. “I don’t really have any skills. Girls weren’t expected to have careers in Ixtlen. It wasn’t so brutally enforced as in the Grand Empire, but it was still true.”

“Actually,” Aterin replied, “you do have one skill set. This conversation wasn’t entirely idle. I wanted to see if you could carry on a conversation about politics and commerce. Of course, we’ve only touched a few minor concepts. You’re not well informed, but you do have the ability to follow the conversation. But that isn’t the skill set I’m talking about. You traveled for weeks with Azzesh, and she hasn’t yet eaten you for lunch. That’s an indicator of skill. I’m hardly going to hire you at the wages of a veteran of the Governor’s Guard, but you are well above the skill level of the average new hire I get as a guard.”

“I hadn’t thought …”

“Just so,” said Azzesh.

“How could you have?” said Aterin. “Here’s what I propose. You will serve with my guard during this trip and my stops while we go to Tevelin, and then I will make an offer. I would expect that I will offer more than you can make as, say, a barmaid, yet less that I would offer someone with actual military experience. I get someone with better skills because I trust Azzesh’s word. She recommends you, despite her insults. You get a bit more pay than you could get otherwise. Over time, you can get to the point where your value and your pay match more closely.”

“So you’re paying me less than you think my skills would be worth because I don’t have formal proof.”

“Yes, and because you don’t have the level of experience of others. On the other hand, because you grew up in a home involved in politics and commerce, you do have some acquaintance with how these things work.”

“That makes sense to me,” said Tlisli. “I would have been suspicious had you offered me some sort of full wages.” She paused then laughed. “Well, I would have been suspicious after I found out what normal wages were.”

“So do we have a deal?”

“Yes,” said Tlisli.

“Very well, let me introduce you to my ship’s guard commander, and she’ll put you to work.” He noticed her surprise. “Yes, the captain is a she,” he said.

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Tlisli – A Lesson in Geography and Politics

The commercial riverboat looked a bit odd to Tlisli, who had grown up with canoes and small boats made of skins. This one was made of wood and looked heavy to her. Besides a bank of oars on either side, it had a single square sail, which was furled. While she could see men sitting on the benches, no oars were out. Since she had never been in a boat with a rudder, it felt odd and somewhat dangerous.

Azzesh, it seemed, had friends here too, and she found that she was invited to lunch with the owner of the vessel, one named Aterin. She was surprised that he appeared racially to look more like her than the lighter skinned Inraline. She had quickly gotten the idea that the Inraline related to the natives here much as the Grand Emperor’s people did to the citizens of her home town, Ixtlen.

“You look surprised,” said Aterin, again surprising Tlisli. She didn’t realize she had let her emotion show on her face.

“Forgive me if this is rude,” she said, “but you appear to be as native as me, yet you’re owner of this boat. How is this possible?”

“Well, actually, I’m owner of many boats,” said Aterin, as Azzesh chuckled. I run a trading company both up and down the river and and along the coast. I have several vessels that are sea-going ships for the coastal trade, and even one that makes the run from here to Terinor in Inralin itself.”

“So a native can be a person of power and substance?” Tlisli ignored Azzesh’s laughing.

“Well, yes, but that’s not the issue here. I’m a full citizen of Inralin by birth. Those born in the colony of Tevelin—and you should learn to distinguish the city from the colony—are full citizens of the kingdom. My parents were citizens as well. But a native, as you put it, can own a business here as well.”

He paused a moment. “Azzesh here is as native as it gets, more so than you or I—by ancestry, of course—yet she is a citizen by virtue of residency and service to the governor and crown.”

Tlisli tried, but failed, to conceal her shock. Tlazil as full citizens? How could that be? They were primitives. Well, except for Azzesh.

The subject of her thoughts locked eyes with her as Tlisli came to that point. “Yes, small human, unsuitable even for a good lunch, Tlazil. Any Tlazil who will obey the laws (within reason), and become a part of society, can become a citizen. The Inralin government is very open.”

“You were thinking of Azzesh here as some sort of exception,” said Aterin.

“I wasn’t thinking, I guess,” said Tlisli.

“Indeed, it is your great flaw, other than being too stringy and bland to make a good lunch,” said Azzesh.

“Well,” continued Aterin, “Azzesh is indeed an exception to many rules. But those rules would apply to anyone. Azzesh is luckier than most, stronger than most, and really quite intelligent.” He paused. “Almost intelligent enough not to eat humans for lunch.”

Azzesh just laughed.

Tlisli was anxious to change the subject. “How long will it take to get to the city?” she asked.

“Well,” said Aterin, “I would expect it to take a week, perhaps a little longer.”

“Are we moving that slowly?” asked Tlisli. “I thought we were less than 200 kilometers from the city, and that it would take a couple of days just flowing with the current. I was a bit surprised that we were using neither sails nor oars.”

Aterin looked at her for a moment. “I’m hoping,” he said slowly, “that you understand that the reason we’re not using this square sail is that the wind is blowing almost directly upstream, a truly wonderful situation if one is sailing upstream, but somewhat of an impediment if one is going downstream at the time.” He licked his finger and held it up into the wind, looking at it judiciously as though judging whether he could make use of the sail.

“Yes, I know that,” said Tlisli. Azzesh snorted.  “What I don’t understand,” she continued, “is why we aren’t using oars either. I would have assumed we would normally use one or the other.”

“What’s the hurry?” asked Aterin. “I prefer to keep my employees happy, and the oarsmen are happier when their work load is more reasonable. So I use them when I need the speed, and not so much when I don’t. They’re useful for loading and unloading cargo in any case. Right now, I will get to the next town well before my next appointment without the oars, so speeding up accomplishes nothing. And the reason we will take a week is that we will make several stops along the way, all while not hurrying.”

“I know I’m going to sound stupid,” said Tlisli, “but I’m used to that. You mean the people who row your boat and load the cargo aren’t slaves?”

Azzesh snorted again.

“No,” said Aterin, “they aren’t. In fact, slavery is illegal in all Inraline possessions.”

“It was not in my city,” said Tlisli. “It’s not in the Grand Empire. I hadn’t ever heard of a place where there are no slaves. What do you do with them? I mean, with the people who would be slaves? What do they do?”

“Well, normally I employ them, pay them their wages, and get much more value from their work than any slave owner would,” said Aterin. He was looking at her without any sort of condemnation or condescension, very much unlike the way Azzesh would.

“Inralin is a very different place,” she said after a moment.

“Well, perhaps,” said Azzesh, “though I should point out that in the Keretian colonies and Marahuatec there is no slavery either. You humans here in Porana inherited some good things from the Tlazil Empire. Too bad you chose to keep the bad as well. Slavery is bad. I’m a realist, not a moralist. It’s not that I think slavery is wrong. I would, after all, go further, and eat you for lunch were you not bland and stringy. It’s that I think those countries that practice slavery eventually pay for it in efficiency. The Grand Empire has found itself blocked by smaller but more efficient societies on three sides so far.” Tlisli continued to note how much more sophisticate the Tlazil sounded now that she was in a more sophisticated society.

“I thought the Grand Empire’s armies were essentially unstoppable. When they arrive you will eventually fall.”

“You haven’t seen very many armies, small human. The armies of Marahuatec to the north and northwest stopped them cold. The Keretian colony of Mazrafel holds them to the north, and the alliance around Qenixtlan [See We Have Always Failed] holds them to the south and west. The sheer weight and size of the jungle holds them to the south. So now they are coming east.” Azzesh rattled off a list of countries and cities with ease.

“So isn’t it critical that we move rapidly to reinforce the fort if they’re coming east?” asked Tlisli.

“No,” said Aterin laughing. “Orlin may think the most important thing is to guard his fort, and since he’s the fort commander, that’s not such a bad attitude for him to have, but two points: 1) The Grand Emperor’s troops are nowhere near ready to attack the fort, and 2) It would do them little good if they did.”

That left Tlisli to wonder just how a fort like the one she’d seen could be unimportant as a target.

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(To be continued. The “Next episode” link will be made live when the next episode is posted.)

Note: For those who pay attention to languages in fiction, while I have stolen phonemes from some ancient Central American languages, the language spoken by Tlisli is not in any way related. If I manage to match a lexeme in those languages it is entirely unintentional and should not be considered relevant.

Copyright © 2017, Henry E. Neufeld. All rights reserved.

Tlisli Argues Strategy

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any character, place, or event to anything in the real world is purely coincidental, not to mention ridiculous. This is part of the Tlisli Series.
Copyright © Henry E. Neufeld, 2013

The Inraline had a relaxed way of dealing with authority when in small groups, but became more formal as the group got larger and the rank of the official got higher. The fort commander, Orlin by name, stood in silence at the door while nobody moved or spoke. The idea of the commander walking in on the court was so shocking that many in the room scarcely breathed. Either someone was in serious trouble or there was an extreme emergency.

“Adjourn your court, Super,” said the commander. Then he listed several names, including Azzesh and Tlisli, and ordered them to his bridge.
Tlisli had no idea what the various ranks were or what a “bridge” might be. Later she would learn that the Inraline built their entire military around naval traditions. “Super” referred to their intermediate ranks, sort of like petty officers. Those in the regular ranks were called simply sailors, though they would be called soldiers when on duty based on land. Commanders came in junior, senior, and full rank, and served as officers junior to a captain. Then there was the rank of Captain-Commander, which was equivalent to a ship’s captain when not commanding a seagoing ship. Orlin was a Captain-Commander, but tradition denied him the title as his command included no seagoing ships. Riverboats did not count in Inraline minds.

To Tlisli, however, it simply seemed that she was surrounded by people who had titles of rank and knew where they were going, while she did not.
The reason a command center was called a bridge, even in a fort like this, was that Inraline officers tried to feel like they were on a ship. Orlin’s bridge was in the outer tower of his fort, overlooking the river. Azzesh thought the commander very foolish. The odds that an attack would come directly down the river were poor. Any reasonably competent foe would realize that the Inraline troops were much more prepared to defend from the water side. Indeed, those despised riverboats would be considered decent small ships by many navies. On the other hand, fighting in the jungle was not an Inraline strength. She had said as much to Orlin, but he didn’t quite get her point. Any real attack would come down the river, would it not? Thus obviously the best defenses must face the river.

So as they sat down in the room called the bridge they could look out windows over the river and see the confluence. One couldn’t look far to the west, because the bulk of the fort was in that direction. Azzesh and Tlisli couldn’t see the palisade that formed the jungle side wall. That palisade was largely designed to keep the animal life out, and not as a major defensive barrier. Across the river one could see the towers on the eastern shore of the river, as well as the one on the tip of land  between the rivers. Again, Azzesh thought these were fairly foolish ideas. It was probably worthwhile to have forts there to watch river traffic, but these towers were not well equipped to defend themselves from land, and could easily be isolated.

On the positive side, there were regular towers or high points around the area, and the Inraline maintained a good signaling system, using mirrors in sunlight, flags in appropriate conditions, and lanterns at night.

Despite the seriousness of the way Orlin had summoned them all, when doubtless a messenger would have done, he seemed in no hurry to get them settled down and tell them what they were all here for. Azzesh was ready to resent being called in this fashion, unless Orlin got to the point quickly and offered her money or other advantages in exchange for her involvement. She didn’t work for him. Tlisli, on the other hand, was just bemused at being called. She had no idea what she was doing here. The very idea of being in a room filled with officials frightened her in a way nearly dying in the jungle had not. But Azzesh was busy greeting various people and generally ignoring Tlisli, as was everyone else.

Finally Orlin called the meeting to order. “We got news yesterday courtesy of Azzesh that there was a patrol of the God-Emperor’s troops with a boat up the eastern branch. Now this morning we get word that Sun-troops are actually holding a village to the north. One young man escaped and brought word. We need to decide what to do about this. I have already dispatched messengers to Tevelin to inform my superiors of this threat. We had previously known that there were occasional GES agents in the jungle around here, which was not surprising considering their ambition. But to have them around the area with boats is a new variety of threat entirely.”

Azzesh seemed rather taken aback by this speech, Tlisli thought. She was trying to understand the issue with the boats. If there were Grand Empire of the Sun troops around in the jungle, why would one be particularly concerned if they had boats. In fact, from what she could see, about the stupidest thing the GES troops could do would be to try to use boats to assault this outpost. On the other hand, from what she’d seen of the western side of the town, there was very little to prevent the GES troops from invading from that direction.

The room had devolved in chaos, as various people argued about recalling patrol boats, reinforcing the waterfront, and making certain that nobody could approach unseen via the river. She would certainly not attack this city (as she thought of it) from the river. But it would take less troops than her home town had had available (before the GES came) to isolate this fortress. And with the fortress isolated, commerce would come to a halt. Using the cover provided by the fortress itself, it would be possible to besiege, and eventually to take the fortress unless it was resupplied by river very early.

Azzesh looked at Tlisli, watching the girl’s expression change as the debate went on. Azzesh was of the opinion that these debates on his bridge provided the best explanation for why Orlin had been assigned to command this fortress. He simply was not at all decisive, and in his view, the river was the world. It wasn’t an ocean, to his great disappointment, but it was water, and water was the key.

“So you think they are thinking poorly,” she said quietly to Tlisli.

“I would not attack this town from the river.”

“I thought your brains were more functional than you ever allowed me to see. Tell me how you would attack this town.”

“I’d bring troops in from the western side, overrun the town quickly, and then besiege the fortress. A few simple siege engines could then take this fortress with relatively little problem.”

“Don’t underestimate the fighting capability of the Inraline soldiers.”

“No, I think they seem very skilled as fighters, but if the GES is nearby in any numbers, they’ll be outnumbered by as much as ten to one, and if there is any one thing that the GES is good at, it’s disciplined, coordinated attacks.”

“So you listened as your father and brothers discussed the military situation around your town.”


“And now things start coming together for you.”

“I suppose.”

They didn’t notice that things were getting quieter and quieter in the room.

“Lady Azzesh,” said Commander Orlin suddenly. Azzesh grimaced. When Orlin, or any of the other Inraline she knew, called her “Lady Azzesh” it usually meant that they were trying to get her officially involved in something.

“Yes?” she said.

“Did you and Tlisli have something to share with us?”

“Well, no, we were just discussing how we would conquer your outpost if we had the job of doing so.”

“And how would that be?”

Azzesh looked at Tlisli. “Tell him, why don’t you?”

Tlisli paused to gather he thoughts. The idea of a mere girl getting involved in such a council bothered her, and that feeling made her realize how much of her upbringing was still with her. At the same time, she was losing some of her exaggerated respect for people with official positions.

“Well, if I were your enemy, which I’m not, and I had anything more than a few hundred troops with me, I would simply attack your town from the west. It wouldn’t take any great master strategy. I think you’d be overrun in a matter of minutes. This fort would hold out, but with the town out of action, it’s days would be numbered. Even if the troops then withdrew, the basis of your commerce would be destroyed.”

“But we’d still have the docks and the forts themselves!” said Orlin.

I’m in it now, thought Tlisli. Aloud she said, “But the docks aren’t the basis of your commerce. I’m new here, but I’m guessing the reason people trade with you is that they have confidence in these fortresses and in your power to protect them. If you lose that sense of power and confidence–and the destruction of the town would accomplish that–then the basis of your commerce is gone.”

“But where else will people sell their goods?” asked someone.

“The GES will kill people who try to trade with you. They will then quit selling their goods to you because they are afraid. All this happened around my home city before they took over.”

Azzesh was nodding agreement. She was delighted to hear Tlisli using some of her knowledge. The girl had been so passive. Of course, she would never let Tlisli know that she felt that way!

An argument broke out again all over the room. It went on for another half an hour. When it was over, nothing new had been decided. It appeared that the staff of the fort and its commander couldn’t imagine anything except defending the fortress itself. They disagreed with Tlisli that the GES troops would attack from the land and continued to expect any substantial attack to come by river.

As the meeting broke Tlisli turned to Azzesh. “So why did they invite us?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s simple,” said Azzesh. “They want to make sure that friends of mine in the city know that I was at the meeting. Then if something goes wrong they can point out that I was at the meeting and hope nobody notices that I didn’t really approve of their plans.”

As she said this, Azzesh was leading Tlisli out of the room. She briefly acknowledged Orlin, who tried to act cordial. He was clearly hoping that Azzesh’s contacts in the city would not get a bad report. He did not believe that there was any real threat to the fort, or any long term or significant threat to their commerce.

[Previous episode]

Tlisli – An Inraline Court

Tlisli had never felt so low in her life. Even when she was running from home and facing the forbidden ground or looking for the first time into the face of Azzesh the Tlazil who, she was sure, was going to eat her, she had not felt this low. But her only experience of the law was in her home town where being arrested was pretty much the same as being convicted. But what was worse was that she now knew that the two men she had fought had been town guards. She had protested that they had attacked her and hadn’t told her they were guards, but the soldiers just told her to save that for the hearing in the morning.

When she heard about the “hearing” in the morning, she assumed that would be her trial. She’d never make it to meet Azzesh, and the Tlazil would abandon her, she was sure. Why go look for a girl who couldn’t keep a simple appointment? She slept very little. At least she was alone in her cell. She certainly didn’t want company, especially the sort that might be spending the night in jail. Of course, she was doing that too!

But Tlisli was wrong about Azzesh. When Tlisli didn’t show up at the dock, Azzesh went to look for her. It really required no effort to track her to the hostelry, and from there to the main castle of the Inraline Army for the outpost, the same building, in fact, where they had met with the commander the previous afternoon. The soldiers had gone to the hostelry to pick up Tlisli’s possessions, and so everyone knew where the girl was.

Azzesh asked the duty lieutenant what was going on with Tlisli, the foreign girl who had been arrested the night before. As with many folks around Tevelin, he knew of Azzesh the Tlazil, and was impressed that she should be taking an interest into the girl they had arrested the night before.

Now Inraline court procedures require just a little explanation. Azzesh understood them quite well, but Tlisli had no idea whatever. In her home town (a city state), the police had the power to arrest and punish. Any trials were conducted by those police courts. Though people didn’t realize this, it was a procedure that went back to the Tlazil empire five centuries before when the humans had been slaves. In throwing off the Tlazil Empire’s authority, the humans had changed the players, but had kept the procedures alive. So Tlisli’s view that arrest was much the same as conviction was quite correct–back home.

Inraline courts, however, derived their practice from naval procedures, even their civilian courts. The general practice when there was a fight was to arrest everyone involved, unless there was a very clear explanation and guilty party or parties. Then there would be a preliminary hearing which was military in style, though all participants might well be civilians. They would determine if there was to be a trial. If there was a trial, the decision would be made by a panel of three or five judges, led by one professional, with the remainder being chosen from among qualified people in the community.

In this outpost, Tlisli would be taken before a panel of military officers who would determine what had happened and would vote whether or not to charge any participants with a crime. Rather than arrest being equivalent to conviction, quite frequently everyone would be released. There was even a provision for compensating someone for the inconvenience of arrest if it appeared they were completely innocent. “Completely innocent” in Inraline law meant that the person had contributed nothing to any crime being committed, i.e. had done everything possible to keep the peace, even if those efforts failed in the end.

So when Azzesh heard the story of what had happened, even though she found out that one of the two attackers was now dead, she was not concerned. There was little chance that Tlisli would actually be charged with anything. She doubted she would be compensated for her night in jail, because one could argue that she behaved in a belligerent fashion and might reasonably have been expected to resolve the situation without anyone ending up dead.

Unfortunately, Azzesh never thought that Tlisli might not realize that this was going to come out OK.

It was mid-morning by the time Tlisli was led into the hearing room. Her first shock was seeing that one of the men who attacked her was also being led in. She had assumed, once she knew the men were police officers, that they would not be under arrest. It appeared she had been wrong. The second shock was when she saw Azzesh in the audience. The Tlazil hadn’t left her. Perhaps there was hope after all.

Three officers entered the room, everyone was told to stand, and then told to be seated. It happened so fast that not everyone even made it to their feet. There were two cases that came up before Tlisli’s, and both were charged with various crimes and scheduled for trial. The officers seemed bored. Then Tlisli was called and also the guard at the same time. One of the soldiers who had conducted the arrest got up and told the story of what they had seen and done. The chief of the panel then asked the guard for his story.

“My friend and I were off duty, just walking down the street. We tried to talk to this woman, just friendly-like, and before we knew what was happening she pulled her sword. She killed officer Abil before either of us had a chance to draw our weapons. If the soldiers hadn’t come along just in time, we’d both be dead and she’d be gone.” He was clearly trying to look sincere, but he kept looking around the room, and sweat was breaking out on his forehead.

“Had you ever met this woman before?” asked one the the judges.

“No, sir. We were in the bar earlier, and there were lots of people there, so she might have been there. But we didn’t meet.”

“OK,” said the lead judge. “Tlisli? What is your story?”

“Both of the men bought me drinks at the bar. They offered to buy more, but I didn’t want to get that drunk. They clearly wanted me to do more, but I wanted to get some sleep. I was supposed to leave for Tevelin by the river boat this morning with Azzesh.”

“By Azzesh, you mean the Tlazil?” he waved toward Azzesh.

“Yes, sir. That’s her.”

“So what happened in the street?”

“This man,” she said, pointing to the guard who survived, “tried to grab me in the street. The other one, the one I stabbed, came out of the alley.” Tlisli wished she had a convincing way to claim she hadn’t killed the guy, but she couldn’t figure out what story these judges would like to hear, so she stuck with the truth.

“Right after I stabbed him,” she continued, “the soldiers came and arrested us.”

“Has anyone checked what happened in the bar?”

“Yes,” said one of the soldiers. “Tlisli was definitely in the bar, and this man was seen approaching her.”

“So he’s been lying to us?”

“Yes,” said the soldier.

“Well,” said the chief judge, looking to either side, “I don’t see anything we need to take care of here. Tlisli is ordered released with no charges, and we recommend this police officer be fired.”

There was no gavel. He just waved them away.

Tlisli didn’t know what to do. She just stood there for half a minute. Then she felt Azzesh’s clawed hand on her arm as she was led away. As they approached the door, however, the entire room was called to attention. The outpost commander was standing in the door. The relaxed atmosphere disappeared.

(To be continued …)

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Tlisli – Ambushed!

*It was nearly a week after her first lesson with the sword, and if Tlisli had only had a mirror, she would hardly have recognized herself. Many days of travel with Azzesh had already strengthened her body, not to mention toughening her mind. She didn’t even notice things that would have had her crying only weeks ago back home.

They followed the river closely, and progress was slow, because the jungle was thick. In addition, Azzesh stopped frequently to collect various plants which she added to her already rather heavy pack. Even though Tlisli knew that Tlazil were much stronger than humans, she was shocked at the load that Azzesh could carry.

The day was generally normal, though Azzesh had mentioned to Tlisli that they were within a few days of the city. “If we pressed on quickly,” she said, “we would reach the city in about four days. As it is, it will probably be more like five or six. We must watch carefully now as we travel.”

“Why must we be more careful? Don’t things get safer as we come closer to the city?”

Azzesh laughed. “Not precisely, small human. When we were far away there were many dangers, but they were far apart. If bandits want to rob travelers, they are going to stay a couple of days away from the city to avoid the guard patrols, but then they won’t go more than a couple of days travel further out because they need to have targets to attack. Further out in the jungle the targets are too few and far between. Bandits don’t enjoy having to hunt for their dinner, indeed they don’t!”

So Tlisli watched closely as they walked. Azzesh liked to stay where they could see the river from time to time, but where they also had plenty of cover in case someone (or something) on the river should decide they looked like lunch. “Just as I could eat you for my lunch, so there are other creatures who might eat me,” was Azzesh’s comment. “That’s not to mention groups of smaller creatures who might do the same!”

So when Tlisli thought she heard something that sounded suspiciously like oars dipping in the water and human speech from the river, she quickly hissed a warning to Tlisli, before dropping behind the nearest cover. “It’s always best to get a look at them first,” Azzesh always said.

Azzesh was actually reaching to push her down, and was pleasantly surprised to realize that Tlisli was already on the ground. The problem was that she had been closer to the river than Tlisli at the time, and she was almost certain that the men in the boat had seen her. Had she just been paying more attention to the river, and less to her effort to catch a rather rare Xiril snake, from which she hoped to milk some venom, she would have seen it earlier. She would never admit to Tlisli that the girl had actually noticed the danger first.

She motioned to Tlisli to crawl away from the river. They both did so until they were perhaps a hundred feet away.

“Are they bandits?” asked Tlisli.

“No, unfortunately.”


“They are much worse. I suspect you would recognize the yellow sun, surrounded by rays, on a black background.”

It took a moment. Tlisli had practically forgotten the folks who had driven her from her home city. “They can’t be chasing me, can they?”

Azzesh was momentarily stunned into silence. “And to think I thought I had educated you. Oh how vain are my pretensions to being a teacher! Of course they aren’t chasing you! But we are probably a hundred kilometers closer to the Grand Empire than you were when you left your home city. I had not expected them this close, but I imagine these are scouting ways to cut Tevelin off from its trade routes.” Tevelin was the port city they were approaching.

“So what do we do now?”

“Do? We continue northward to the coast and to Tevelin. I think they saw me, and likely you as well, and so they may try to catch us. If so, they’re going to do so further north. I know their boat continued downstream.”

“Isn’t it possible they just decided to go on?”

“I’m sure they hope we think so, and knowing that the boat will travel faster than we can walk, they hope we’ll think they are no longer a threat. But I suspect they want to capture us.”

“So what do we do?”

“We try to avoid them, but if all else fails, you will get to see how Azzesh fights, and you will get to try your sword in actual combat. I assume you don’t want to be captured by the Grand-Emperor’s forces, do you?”

“No!” said Tlisli.

“I will lead,” said Azzesh, “since unfortunately I cannot be  both advance and rear guard. I’m going to assume we’ll spot them first. If they come from behind, you need to move first to get behind a tree, and make sure to yell immediately when they have seen you. You carry a bow with one arrow easily available, just as when you hunt, but you only use that one arrow, then draw your sword. In this jungle, our fight will not be at long range.”

“OK,” said Tlisli nervously. The thought of actually fighting still terrified her, even though she knew her skill with the bow was almost unimaginably improved over what it had been just a few short weeks ago.

As it turned out, Azzesh was wrong. The scouting troops of the Grand-Emperor were very skilled at sneaking, and they let Azzesh move right past the first of the ambush. She didn’t notice a thing. In order to keep her from noticing, however, they had to stay somewhat back from the path she was following, so when they moved out to cut Tlisli off, they had several meters of jungle to cross.

Tlisli was tense and alert, and heard them approaching almost instantly. With a loud shout, she turned, and drew her bow and loosed the arrow at an attacker to her right. A yelp and a crash let of her know that she had hit something. She had no time to decide whether she had stopped or merely inconvenienced that attacker. There was a second warrior coming from her left.

Tlisli had never been very big on obedience, and on this occasion it was a good thing. Seeing the distance between her and this second attacking warrior, she grabbed another arrow, drew her bow and loosed the second arrow. This time he was coming straight at her, there was no foliage in the way, and the arrow went straight to his heart.

It was fortunate for Tlisli that the Grand-Emperor’s scouts tended to wear little armor in the jungle. Her arrow went straight to his heart, and she saw him fall. At the same time, she could hear from the other direction that the other attacker had in fact not been killed or incapacitated by her first shot, and he was coming right at her with a short spear. She barely had time to dodge neatly avoiding the spear point and buying herself time to draw her sword.

While on that first pass he had been so sure he was going to hit her before she realized he was there, as he turned, he was much more careful, feinting with his spear to try to get her off-guard. She had gone immediately into the defensive stance that was so necessary in practicing with Azzesh, and she now realized it’s value.

He stabbed at a point to her left, and she simply moved her sword inside to protect her torso. It was a good thing, because that was where he moved immediately afterward. Had she parried the mis-aimed blow, she would have been out of position, and he could have stabbed her right in the chest. As it was she parried his next attack with her sword, and took advantage of the time his spear was out of position from her parry to step in closer.

It was the last thing he was expecting. There was nothing deeper in the mind of a Grand Empire soldier than disdain for women. To him, Tlisli was just a girl. She might wiggle out of his reach, but she would not be a direct threat.

He was wrong. As she stepped forward and stabbed his gut with her sword, he had only a moment to realize it. She withdrew the sword and struck again, then checked to be sure her other opponent was still down.

She had been hearing sounds of fighting, about where Azzesh would have been, and she guessed that she had been subject to the smaller attack, probably because the attackers underestimated her so much. These two warriors were to separate her from Azzesh, while presumably the larger force attacked the larger target.

Despite the short distance between them–less than five meters–there was a tree between her and Azzesh. She came around that tree with her sword at the ready, and saw Azzesh lying prone a large human standing over her, preparing to stab his spear into her. There were already three bodies on the ground, testimony to the speed and thoroughness of the Tlazil’s attacks. Yet she was bleeding, on the ground, and helpless.

Without thinking, Tlisli charged forward. The warrior jumped back, leaving Azzesh lying between them. Then he made his big mistake.

“Give it up, girl!” he said. “There’s no way you can defeat me. Your Tlazil master is dying and can’t save you. In fact,” he twitched his spear point back and forth carelessly, “I won’t kill you. The men of my patrol need some entertainment, and though ugly, you will doubtless be adequate.”

Tlisli didn’t pay attention to the speech. She watched his spear twitch back and forth. He began to criticize her sword stance, pointing out that in that position, she would be best able to go for one of his toes. Tlisli remained quiet and just watched. Hours of being insulted by Azzesh had inured her to the sound of such criticism.

Suddenly he lunged forward, and swung his spear at her like a stick, aiming to hit her in the side and knock her over. That was Azzesh’s favorite punishment for inattentiveness during training, and this warrior wasn’t as good at it as was the Tlazil. As he swung she carefully angled her sword to catch the haft of the spear at just the right angle, and cut it nearly through. What was left was no longer functional as a spear.

He had his moment of surprise, and found himself too far forward. She got in one swing with her sword before he drew a long knife from his belt, but she only managed a cut–nothing disabling. Then he let out a war cry and turned to flee. Tlisli guessed he was calling to the remainder of the soldiers at the boat, and planning to to get them and return.

But now he learned the error of his ways. He had assumed that Azzesh was dying, too far gone even to employ any form of healing herbs or magic. But he was wrong. He had given her long enough to find and use a healing amulet. She was still not at full strength, but she was far from dying. As he turned to flee, she brought up her sword and very nearly cut him in two.

“Quick!” she said to Tlisli. “Get behind the crotch in that tree. His companions will be here in minutes. Keep an eye out for them trying to slip around, but I think they will abandon subtlety and come straight at us. We will gain the advantage with our arrows. I’ll check that these others are dead, though I believe they are.”

“How many do you think there are?”

“I would say about the same number again as we have already killed, but the advantage will be ours.”

And so it proved. In fact, there were only four more warriors who came to investigate, and they should not have done so. They came carefully, but were unprepared for what they found. When the first two in site sprouted arrows, all fled, but only three were left to run back to the river.

With a glance around at the bodies on the ground, Azzesh charged after them, and Tlisli followed. It was less than 40 meters to the river’s edge, where the boat was tied to a tree. The three fleeing warriors jumped into the boat while the one remaining warrior who was waiting there cut the rope with his knife. As he pushed away, both Azzesh and Tlisli loosed arrows. Then as Tlisli grabbed another arrow, Azzesh jumped into the water and grabbed the side of the boat. Her weight was substantial and the boat capsized, throwing the remaining warriors into the river where they were at a serious disadvantage over the amphibious Tlazil.

Then all that was left was to collect the spoils of battle …

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* This is obviously a work of fiction. All places, persons, and even things are products of my imagination. Part of the Tlisli Series. Copyright © 2010 Henry E. Neufeld

Tlisli and the Tlazil II

Tlisli* jumped up from lunch and reached for her backpack.  Azzesh had again provided an excellent meal, cooked quickly and yet tasty and well seasoned.  There was more meat than Tlisli would have preferred, but she would never think of mentioning that to Azzesh.

The reason she had jumped up and reached for her backpack was that Azzesh had gotten up and was reaching for her own pack.  Tlisli had learned to respond quickly when Azzesh wanted something done, and one thing Azzesh never permitted was wasting time on the trail.  And while Azzesh was neither like the smothering discipline of her childhood, nor like the brutality of the grand-emperor’s people, she could make life uncomfortable.  Tlisli was convinced that she had been tripped several times, had stumbled into a couple of trees, and even fallen into a large thorn bush because she had managed to put the Tlazil in a bad mood.

It was two days since her conversation with Azzesh regarding the sword she had found (see Tlisli and the Tlazil – I).  Azzesh hadn’t discussed it, nor had she said she was taking the sword, but she had stuffed it in her own pack, and Tlisli hadn’t objected.

“What are you putting on your pack for?” asked Azzesh.

“I thought we were leaving,” replied Tlisli, puzzled.

“No.  It is now time for you to learn to use this sword of yours.”

“Mine?” said Tlisli.  “I thought you said I didn’t deserve it.”

“I don’t think you do, but the gods are more gracious than I.  They have given it to you.”

“I found it,” said Tlisli looking down, and downcast at the same time.

“The gods are gracious,” said Azzesh, “But they give gifts that require our efforts.  Do you think you found this sword on your own?  Do you think you survived on your own?  No!  The gods brought you here.  The gods let you find the sword.  The gods helped you survive.  That is surely the only reason I don’t eat you for dinner.”  Azzesh paused.  “Well, that, and the fact that you would be stringy and doubtless bland in flavor.  But with Nistl roots and seasoned with serriss, doubtless even you would be edible.”

She held out the sword.  “Take it and prepare to defend yourself.”

Azzesh immediately grabbed a stick that Tlisli hadn’t noticed and began to attack without any warning or instruction.  Tlisli tried to block her attacks, but she was largely unsuccessful.  It seemed that wherever she moved the sword, Azzesh’s stick was coming at her somewhere else.  She was being poked or hit every few seconds, though the blows were not that heavy.

Suddenly Azzesh swung hard, and as had been the case nearly every time, Tlisli was trying to parry a blow somewhere else, one that never came.  She staggered back, startled by the pain.

“What did you do that for?” Tlisli asked.

“To motivate you.”

“But that hurt!”  Tlisli was still rubbing her side.

“And had I been swinging a sword, you would now be in two parts, quite ready for me to cook for dinner.”

“I thought the main point of a sword was to attack the other person.”

“And what did you expect to do to keep from getting chopped in half yourself?”

“Use a shield.”

“Shield?” asked Azzesh, looking around dramatically.  “What shield?”

“Well, I imagine I would get one.”

“And if someone tried to kill you before you got a shield?”

“Well …”

“No, small human.  You have to learn to defend yourself.  Your sword is designed for it.  Do you feel how light it is?”

“I thought it was a bit light, but then what do I know?”

“Wisdom at last!” exclaimed Azzesh.  “Exactly the right answer, no matter how depressing.  What do you know indeed?”

“But why is the sword light?”  Tlisli was so used to being insulted that she hardly noticed.

“It was built of a special metal.  I don’t know any craftsmen these days who know how to make it, but it is harder than our ordinary steel and lighter at the same time.”

“So what does that mean about the sword.  I know it is easier to carry and to swing.”

“True, but that is both a blessing and a curse.  You can wield it more quickly and with less strength, but then your blows may be less effective.  It is, in fact, intended for someone who plans to use it for defense as much or more than for attack.  There are other features such as the guard on the hilt that suggest the same thing.”

With that, Azzesh swung the stick again, and hit Tlisli on the other side before she had even raised the sword.  By now she knew better than to complain and simply tried to get her sword into position as quickly as she could.t

To be continued … next episode – Ambushed!

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*This is part of the continuing story of Tlisli. It is obviously a work of fiction, and anything that resembles anything in the real world is purely accidental.  I am finally resuming this series after more than a year’s break.  I am also trying to return to the original plan of short episodes.  (Return to Top)