Home of Sword and Soul
Pasoweu ( Paso-weho)looked up at the frowning Dekesle, (Dec-ezlee) who stood over him, patting her fishskin leather boot on the room's spattered, dried out, and verminous thatch which covered the floor.
" The next one's aimed for your head!," she said angrily. Pasoweu clambered to his feet, rubbing where she kicked him. Even standing, the woman still looked down on him.
"Ga' mornin' to you too! What brings you around?" " It's afternoon, and we got a job-"
"Oh no! Not 'We' anywhere around that camp! Yo ass gotta a job, Fine! I'm happy fo ya! But I still got some spending ta do, thank ya very much!"
" At a bathhouse to get your ass deloused!", Dekesle said with folded arms and a squinting left eye. Pasoweu burped. As usual, she had a point , as he felt a colony making a roadway along his skin. Moments later, a sobered and refreshed Pasoweu sat down to eat at the table of a more upscale wajkhino than that he had been residing. " Fruit juice?" he said on sipping from the goblet beside the plate of steamed vegetables and thick slices of roasted pork.
" Good to see you can still tell the difference," Dekesle said across the table from him. " I was goin' to order up some milk for you, seein' as you had your water ration for the day."
"I like you too! What have you got yourself into lately?" " We've," Dekesle ignored that jab, "been hired by a shaman or some such, to escort her little troup to Banoboswhey!" Pasoweu stopped chewing, then gulped it down, followed by a long pull of the pomergrante juice.
" That's where this wahoo wants to go? At the time of this moon? Nobody goes there, during this time!"
" He wants to." "Well, let his ass go on then!" Dekesle tossed two pouches of fresh minted silver on the table. "That's the down payment for you now. Three more when they're ready to leave. I like you too."
Banoboswhey was the name of a region as well as the name of a city. A city that didn't Feel Right. The earliest of the Ludociewo people came into the area to already find it already standing; abandoned, seeming as if minutes before their scouts came upon it. The elements had marked it, there was vegetation sprouting from the joins of the monumental walls, and from the streets, clumps of grass grew and pothole pools lingered after the rain of but two hours before its discovery. Dust clustered in the corners of the houses along with great sheets of spider webs. But it gave of that feeling of a hasty flight. Overturned chairs and tables, and wide open doors. The dessicated remains of meals prepared or being thus on stoves in now sand strewn kitchens. The leader of the scouts came back with his head down and shaking it from side to side, with an occaisional look back. His remark is now a part of Ludicewo vocabulary describing a negative. "Something fell into the thorn bushes back there!" Eventually, a caste of holy people chose it as a dwelling site. Which was fine with the oldtimers. There had been serious thoughts of annihilating them and their particular cult. Out of sight in an out of the way place, they could do as they like. But others thought on that. " The bastards could inadvertently bring down harm on us all." "Better to have some sacred sites and a pair of large military garrisons close by." The king at that time, Maloagavta II would have the apellation 'the Wise' added to his name, for agreeing.
Dekesle led Pasoweu after his meal, where he found he did like fruit juice, to a district near the temple to Shango was. Pasoweu felt badly for a moment having to burp. He had been raised that this was a sacred place, not fit for such defamations. They had gone a short ways up the main street,passing the businesses that were allowed, such as shoe makers, tailors, and smiths of gold, silver, and swords.The two turned on a side street and soon came upon a walled manse where several individuals were just then coming through its open gate. If one thing Pasoweu noticed it was that everyone was finely dressed. Even the four who were carriers wore vests with intricate filigrees with buds of semiprecious stones, and the two armed ones wore what a High Stepper would wear if at a ceremony, in arms. " A show offy lot, it seems," Pasoweu said noticing the gemstoned pommels of swords and knives. " That's why they're paying such a large amount, trying to impress the others of their class," Dekesle replied, stopping just within sight of the party ahead. A smaller than the others around her, broadly smiling woman with a tall red headwrap upon her round head, turned to look upon them, then gestured for them to approach. "That is Wokale who has hired us. A shaman from the north Lanshana River country. So listen carefully picking through her accent, okay?" Pasoweu just nodded his head. He was from the north border country, the Ludicewo Stairs, that ran along the border with the kingdom of Ne Varii. He had often been told he sounded strange!
The High Stepper whose manse it was, looked on the pair with the eyes of one discerning whether or not the purchase done in his name was appropriate. He looked upon the shaman and said something. She smiled up at him and patted his arm, as if in reassurance. On nearing them, Dekesle said " May I present he who I have spoken of, good people?" from her bowed at the waist position. Pasoweu had done likewise and was studying feet. The shaman was in thick soled travel slippers, the two armed ones wore heelless boots as thick soled. The designated carriers just had thick soled barefeet. " Please do bold Dekesle. It is always a pleaure to be in the shade of an authentic hero," the shaman Wokale said with only a hint of the accent of the riverfolk. Pasoweu looked at Dekesle briefly, then turned his sight on the shaman,who seemed to posess a natural attractiveness,not enhanced by makeup or the combination of that and spells.
" You put me in the 'Hero' class?" Pasoweu asked as final preparations were being made. "You've stayed alive this long, you rather've been called extremely lucky?" Dekesle had her bow and zebra skin covered wooden quiver and its thirty five arrows,with her He sat on his pack provided for him by the High Stepper,Diobodum Hax, with three javelins. He wore his long, twin edged sword in his scabbard, attached to his baldric across his chest. He'd decided to put on his boots,thinking it was no telling what may be slithering about in the land of Banoboswhey. " It would have been true! Why not this Wokale just not up and hire a troop of Freelancers? " Dekesle frowned and rubbed her chin. " It had me wondering too. See that bravo putting on the mail shirt? He was going through an excercise when I 'volunteered' us, that said he had every reason to swagger on the Iron Road." Pasoweu looked as the said swaggerer shook the shirt into place. Though he may have been dressed like some ceremonial figure, when Pasoweu saw him from a distance, but when Pasoweu passed him coming from the manse's kitchen, with covered plates of food for he and his mate, he gave off "I know what to do!"
The Shaman Wokale and her very small retinue set out that late afternoon and spent that first night in a harvested field that was but one of those that surrounded the mid size town of Swotatoma in all direction. After a sparse ( no liquor) breakfast, they left the site and took to the road that lay as straight as as a well made spear haft. Pasoweu whistled and hummed as the fields gave way to pasture, then to open land. The great sea of grass to the far northeast in the land of Ne Varii, made a narrow bay or became a spike of the savannah in this part of Ludicewo. The few copses of woods were like isles in their raising from the floor of the grass bay. It was in the shade of one such that they made a camp. And here Dekesle and Pasoweu noticed the land begans its resemblance to an impromptu made bed with its covers forming waves caught in mid roll. Pasoweu knew this as the land showing its reaction to the rising of the Ludicewo Stairs; the range of mountains and high hills that formed a barrier to the ancestors of the Varii in their sweep of the savannah. If Pasoweu's ancestors had not made their stand in those hills,the Varii barbarians would be where he and Dekesle now stood. " My goodness! Something made you go to attention!" Pasoweu grinned as he looked at his long while friend. " I was thinkin' of the Stairs, that's all. I'm a goin' back 'fore I get to old and useless. This little affair might bring that about." " I never throw piss on anybody's fire." " Wattaya tryin' ta say?" Dekesle slapped her friend on his back, then gave a quick flick to his ear. " I'm sayin' you got the journey bug in your veins,Pasoweu. Maybe the thought of heading back to the Stairs has bubbled up to the surface of that brain of your'n lately. But I distinctly remember hearing the Same thing two months ago." Pasoweu was about to say something, but Dekesle had her " You know it's true!" look on. Just then the second original guard came up, making appropriately loud steps. Whereas the taller guard could be called handsome, this one would take that appellation as sarcasm. " Ta marrah, the Shaman Wokale wants yer two to take the lead about a half mile forward of us. That thoid hill from heah is where the road ends." Pasoweu let pass his dismissal of the rise as a "hill". " Is that a tower or something up there?" Dekesle said after stepping to the edge of the tree she and Pasoweu had been standing unders shade. " Watchtower, yeah," the guard said with approval. " It ain't the only one either."
The road abruptly ended at the summit of a gently sloping hill. At the feet of it and the opposite as easily rising hill was a stream. A long since withered, starkly thin, trunk of a lightening blasted tree stood over it. It's cleaved bole's remaining branches reached for the other bank like some gaunt skeletal remains frozen in a last act. A narrow trail or pathway began on the opposite bank. Dekesle fitted an arrow to her bow's string and with now more cautious steps went down the slope. Pasoweu looked around the area. There were some bushes along the banks of the stream but not anyhing that spoke of "Ambush!" He walked downward after Dekesle. " How convienent! There's a drowned bridge across the water," she said indicaticating the small stones walkway crossing the stream submerged. " That's nice. Real nice," Pasoweu said once he stood by Dekesle. He hefted one of his javelins, leaving the spear and the other two upright, warheads down into the soil. The water was warm and rose to his calf. Once across, he looked both up hill and down both directions of the new territory, warily. Then he whistled. Dekesle took up up his arms and crossed. Together they walked up the slope at an angle, so as not to make to direct a silouhette against the sky when at the top. They both crouched then finally stretched out as they topped it. Raising their heads they looked out over a wider expanse of open ground the pathway now lined at a distance from it with time weathered slab-pillars. All were overgrown now with grass,brush even small trees. A few leaned drunkenly in all four directions or had fallen completely over. " I'd say we're on the right way to Banoboswhey, what say you Dekesle?" "The watchtower is on that hill across the way," she said, nodding her head toward the lone upright stone edifice. "I'd also say it's looking and feeling strange around here." Paoweu scratched his chin. " No argument there. You want's to wait here, or go on to the tower?" "Let's go."
It was an old tower: unmortared stone piled atop one another. Neither an outside rampart nor a closed door guarded it. In the doorway at odd angles, hung the hinges, the door itself looked as if had been pushed into the tower. Inside was a stair, leading upward to another open doorway, a bright light in the shade tinted place. When Pasoweu and Dekesle emerged, they saw the waist high wall that completed the ovaloid top of the watchtower. " Okay! That should keep one's mind on things!" Pasoweu looked away from below, the rippled landscape of tall grass and single or small copses of trees. Dekesle pointed with a nod of her head at the entryway. Embedded in its lintel was a skull with its mouth in an ever shout. And two horns, one of them sheared down to a jagged remnant, growing from its forehead. " Dekesle, I think two naudos of Freelancer would be more adequate for this job, and I would be more than willing to go fetch them for Wokale the Shaman." "You gettin' cautious?" "I'd like to grow older!" Dekesle laughed and went to the otherside of the watchtower. The Wokale party was not too far behind, she saw. Then her good humor left her. Behind them and on their right was a dry mist rising of dust. Horsemen! "It maybe your goin' to see how determined you are about gettin' grayer! Riders coming up!" Pasoweu ran to where Dekesle stood and saw the horsemen rounding a low hill. He put a hand over his eyes to attempt to see better. " Somebody's retinue, they all are riding in a two front formation." Dekesle looked between the oncoming groups. The horsemen looked to be attempting to cut Wokale off. "They ain't pushing all out," Pasoweu said. "But that means they feel they got this easy," Dekesle said. They both cursed, aloud and at the same time.
Wokale and her group stopped at the foot of the slope across from the watchtower. The horsemen, numbering sixteen, proceeded on to the watchtower's base. Both Pasoweu and Dekesle noticed their gear,the equipment of a certain type of Freeholder. These wore quilted armor in a checkboard grey and tan color, extending to their heeless boots. Their helmets were plumed and square shaped, just covering their ears. These had thin bent trestles meeting each from the other direction, to encircle the lacy plume which rose through it. Teardrop shields hung from their saddles, and they carried upright thin hafted lances with dual lanceheads, one more of a spike. While the other was taller with a fat curved blade that seemed wedded from an axehead. " Just fun and joy," Pasoweu said grouchily. " Firatarises." " Oh good grief," Dekesle drew back her head from the sight and said. There had been a time not to long gone when the Firatari horse made themselves the owners of a cart laden with a hard won payment the two had earned. They had barely contained their rage, but they were outnumbered heavily. " Is this their home grounds," Pasoweu asked. " I thought the scat slurpers lived around where they robbed us," Dekesle said from gritted teeth. " They said they were collecting toll." "The whole damn cart?" " Times had been tough and stark, said that one, right there," Pasoweu pointed to a horseman seeming to give orders to the other fifteen. These dismounted and three pulled their mounts away to a space on the east slope of the Watchtower hill. Dekesle showed great restraint not loosing as yet she had said she would. Though an interlude in a roadside wajkhino a week back brought a smile. She had been looking for Pasoweu, when she came on a pair of such, ungeared up as these and the robbers had been. " You don't suppose their collecting a toll these bastards," Pasoweu said looking down on them facing Wokale. Thinking on the watchtower's layout and how the riders now were below, Deskesle slowly shook her head no. " I don't think it be in their best inerest." "Well Hells, it wasn't when they took from us, either!" "Getting particular are you?" Dekesle asked looking upon Pasoweu's angry visage.
The Shaman Wokale looked upon the summoned horsemen with both her sights and became satisfied that they were truly of this world and not just the images of Others dressed as such. Coming to her self, Wokale smiled most contentedly and signaled for her senior escort, the today garbed in orange robes Sadox the Tall. Sadox who stood beside the head carrier to tell him to be ready to move immediately, then strode over to stand within the Shaman Wokale's presence, who had turned to see him approach. Sadox first began a deep bow, then going to both knees and touching his head to the ground. " You make me feel important, good Sadox. Arise,and come with me to the watchtower." " My mistress, good Wokale. If I hadn't learned who to honor and who to be polite to at an early age, another would be in the shade of your gracious self." "How can that be? Only the great Sadox fits. Come my friend. It is time to knit this disparate group together." She led them as if she and he were on some city's street, taking in all its sights and smells on a particularly pleasant evening.
Jadnulvo sniffed and hunched his shoulders. No missle as of yet was vibrating between his shoulder blades, so he was contented that the ones manning the watchtower were a part of this. What that was, Jadnulvo sniffed again. Glembogassisi walked up and slapped him on his knee,for attention. " Tell me now,why we're out in the no roof country? Or is this pair of strollers somehow involved," nodding his head towards the approaching Wokale and Sadox. " They're involved. Very much so." " What is it about? Can you tell me that, so I can tell the others? This ain't the way to hold a crew together, Jad." " If I really knew, I'd tell you Glem." Glembogassisi looked up at his longtime friend and leader. This was not what he wanted to hear him say. They had been hired on as an escort detail, perhaps. Or to be the added weight to a particular side in a dispute, something normal like that, he could deal with. This, this sudden scrounging up of the mates, their being out here for three days and two nights, to wind up here on the hill of an old watchtower in the midst of the wild and waiting for a pair of Mystery's Favorites to come up to them. All this had Glembogassisi thinking the stress of command had finally crisped Jadnulvo's mind. "It's gonna be 'plained to all us, why we got picked." "It is?," Glembogassisi said with both brows arched. " She looks like tha 'plainin' type, ta me," Jadnulvo said indicating Wokale's fast approach.
Pasoweu and Dekesle had heard no spoken voice, just a brief flare of thought to come down to hear the speech of Wokale. The idea dimmed and faded as they neared the door. It was Dekesle who stepped out into the light to stand before the assembled quartet of the mounted one, one of her height, but a broadly built slab of muscle standng beside the mounted one, the Shaman Wokale and the tall swordsman. She snarled. The one mounted had been the one who had robbed them! That forced upon them to make amends by mingling in the affairs of a daughter and her more than steady boyfriend. A peril and dank filled romp through a manse and the tunnels it was built over. Jadnulvo closed his eyes and hung his head. That spate of ill luck gambling and damages done at that roadside wajkhino in their home province, led he and his squadron on a 'toll collecting' mission. And here was one who had to pay. The Shaman Wokale was giggling at the sight of each's reaction to the other.
" People! Be of attentive ear, if you please!" Sadox's sudden loud voice caused Pasoweu to jump to his feet and run down to the entrance. Even those across the way stopped what they were doing. " Thank you good Sadox. I think we have their attention," the shaman said with a smile and a nod of her head to the escort. Being a short of height person, among these examples of warriordom she was practically petite and dainty. " It is good that you and your fellows were able to arrive on time Captain Jadnulvo." Jadnulvo was happy she was happy, so maybe she had something to do with his urge to gather up his squadron and leave for here. Dekesle now knew the name and proper rank of the one she planned on killing. Glembogassisi and Pasoweu had locked eyes for a moment, before turning warily to the shaman who had walked over to the officer, who dismounted and bowed deeply. She placed the palm of her hand on his capless head, Jadnulvo holding the steel cap to his chest. "Arise my good man." "How may my command be of service?", he said, using both hands to put the cap on his short shaved head, as if he was crowning himself. Wokale was petting his horse, then with hardly any resistance, took the reins from Jadnulvo and proceeded to mount up, with the ease of a regular rider. Dekesle did have to admit the shaman did have an added aura of authority, mounted. Dekesle's question of why,was answered, as Wokale pointed to the cloud shaded slope to their northwest. "Behind that low hill is Banoboswhey, good people. With proper timing we arrive there before the Moon rises."
They didn't crest the hill, instead they proceeded around it. Dekesle was upfront with the Shaman Wokale and her two swordsmen. Pasoweu found himself hurrying up with the carriers. Their leader Basu, led them to the right of the monumental gateway, where they set their bundles down and began going through them, bringing up what was to become a frame. The Freehold/Freelancers hung back from all, but were mounted in a double rank. They were looking all about. Jadnulvo and his people were doubly wary. There were no one walking the ramparts, the main gate was wide open, enabling one to stare down its maw and onto the empty main street. And it was quiet. Only a single nightbird and a duet of night insects sounded. Pasoweu watched as Basu and a carrier lifted what was to him an oblong, misty or milky-white mirror, from a bundle that seemed too small for it ! Others attached a gold framework, its design reminding Pasoweu of whorls, with green and red gemstones. At the tip of each whorl, a pearl,either of the faraway ocean or the banks of the Lanshana, was embedded. Wokale walked up her horse and nodded approval. "You even have it set just right, good Basu! Thank you!" Basu bowed, smiling as if having been rewarded a high decoration from a noble. "Will you take my reins, good Vamalho?" That one, the shorter swordsman, took the reins from Wokale's hands with a deep bow, then turned about to look over the walls of Banoboswhey. Dekesle came over to stand with Pasoweu. " Don't ask me anything but 'How do you do?' " "I don't wanna know how!" Pasoweu whispered. Wokale closed her eyes and raised her arms skyward. Sadox drew his sword and with two flourishes held it extended from himself, tip pointed up, his feet parted. The Moon began cresting a distant hill line. Above it and to its left, a red star appeared. As the Moon rose, so did the red star's light grow. And come closer. Wokale began intoning some language neither one had ever heard before, and didn't wish to again. A yell, came from the city, and out cartwheeling from it, was a quartet of the least uniformed figures either had seen before. Short, tall, lean, fat, young, middle aged, and someone's grandparent, came spinning from the gate, with each change of direction, a yelp, or bark, or some lost speech's command, was uttered. The Moon rose higher and the red star's light grew brighter and closer. Behind Pasoweu and Dekesle; "Jad, my friend! I love ya like a brother! But I'm leavin'!" "You don't wanna find out what this is all about?" " Hells Naw!" Pasoweu said the same curse words as the cartwheelers came towards him. Dekesle grabbed his arm. "Stay your ass here!" Wokale grew silent and dismounted. The cartwheelers jumped to attention before her. And the red star, now liken to a metallic mushroom's cap, stopped directly above them!