RAZE - a weekly fantasy web serial

RAZE – 043 – A Razor, A Tripwire Taut

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As Mire Storm came into the fort to watch the sentencing, the next thing I saw was a column of soldiers starting toward her. At their head was Captain de Trastorces. His face was a mask in the dark and distance across the yard, but I knew why he was going to confront her. A civilian, a foreigner at that, going armed into a fort, one where a judicator was in office?  

A wicked grin lit my face. Now we’d see her embarrassed, see her brought down to her rightful station. But, as de Trastorces and ten other soldiers approached, a cold knot formed in my guts and spread about inside me. Something was wrong. I could feel it, a razor, a tripwire taut between Mire Storm’s hand and her sword, her attention shivering between me and the judicator and the approaching contingent.

I broke from my place and walked, quick as I could without running, to intercept the captain. Mire Storm stood just inside the great open gates. Where were the guards? How was it she came in armed without a sound or fuss? Captain de Trastorces was halfway to her, but I got in front of him a dozen paces from her.

“Captain.” I saluted even as I glanced over my shoulder to see if Mire Storm had moved. She hadn’t. She didn’t even look over, but the cold in my stomach had turned to abject fear. What was she?

“Not now, corporal.” He moved to brush past me, but again I got in his way, this time dropping to one knee, staining my uniform in the mud.

“Sir. Please, it’s about the intruder.”

At that, he stopped beside me. He folded his arms, glanced at her and down at me. “Stand, corporal. You know this woman?” He motioned to a couple of his guards and they started around me.

“Hold them off, please sir.” The two guards stopped, looking confused. I stood, drawing close to de Trastorces.

“Did you contradict me, corporal?” The expression on the captain’s face was incredulous. He put his fists on his hips and cocked his head.

“Please sir, just one moment. Listen.” I realized I was speaking Lonireilan and lost my thought in momentary elation. I sputtered for a moment in Serehvani, then recovered as he grew more impatient. “She’s some kind of warrior. She said she was…”

“Crade.”

We both looked up at the word, but I knew the voice. Weckar. She had drifted up next to us in silence and stood now, facing Mire Storm. I turned my eyes to the mud.

“What?” de Trastorces’ voice lowered.

“She is a Crade Warrior, claimed and Honed,” Weckar sighed out. “She must not stay here.”

“But.” Trepidation carried in de Trastorces’ voice. “What if she won’t leave?”

“Ask her.”

Ask. The word hooked into my ears. I must have thought of the wrong translation. Missed a modifying word. No, she’d said “ask.” I couldn’t imagine de Trastorces, much less Weckar, asking for anything. Weckar told.

“She has met with Yamurik. They are old friends.” How could she know that? “We must know why she is here, if she will not leave.”

De Trastorces cleared his throat, squared up his shoulders. The muscles at the back of his jaw flexed. “I will speak to her.” He waved his men forward and crossed the remaining dozen paces, more slowly, less aggressively. Rather than be left standing beside Weckar, I gave a bow as I backed away.

“If she comes to Yamurik again,” Weckar said, without turning. “Watch her. Stay close to them.” I bowed again and hurried back to my position.

The sentencing was done, but my eyes were fixed on Mire Storm and de Trastorces. He backed away from her and marched off, stiff and tense, and she ambled back out of the fort the way she had come.

* * *

No rest for il Lonireil. He is not a child, but a man. He does not tire or slack. He does not feel. No rest. Rest means remembering.

I slept the hurried, irritated sleep of one who dreams of that which he does not wish to dream, of one who has many plans and little time. In a habit that would persist through much of my life, I had stayed up later than I should have, working on my Lonireilan. I was learning to read and write.

I awoke in the guardhouse within Yamurik’s compound, where I had been staying as much as possible since my assignment as his chaperone and jailer. The Tash woke me, prodding silently, but I sat quickly in the dark, ready to begin. Some of those I commanded stayed up a little and drank. As long as they were quiet and completed their duties, I let them. It made them like me. I, however, took no drink, stole no poppy, and I slept as if on guard detail, with all the rigor that one can display when one is sleeping, and awoke with headaches and in need of more sleep, sleep I denied myself for years. As I said, rest means remembering. My dreams were, let us say, not pleasant.

The Tash, as usual, wordlessly delivered a report from the night watchers, who would be completing their final rounds before our shift change. I struggled through it. It seemed Yamurik had gone back to his house, as usual; there had been no sign of Mire Storm overnight. I perused the rest of the report while I hurried into my uniform, a clean one to replace the muddy one from yesterday. Last, I pinned on my badge of office, my one little brass star. I shined it with my stiff uniform sleeve till it could have lit the barracks.

Rouse them; Ecena, Ahdan, and the rest. Inspect, in case Uruverres should show up. Run, morning exercise around the compound. I would not have weaklings working beneath me, for then I would be a weakling too. I ran at their head, ran fastest of all despite my wound. When we were done, my face burned red and my wound pulsed like a glowing ingot in a forge. Though it pained me, morning training would have to wait. I needed to watch for Mire Storm, this Crade warrior, whatever that meant, and watch Yamurik, and that meant trooping into Onappa-ka proper as soon as possible.

Back in front of the offices, I leaned on the front porch and called Ecena, trying not to grit my teeth. Inside, where I was wounded, something felt like it had popped. My entire hip throbbed and I thought I was going to be sick. The nausea roiling about inside me threatened to make me heave my empty stomach up into my mouth, but I gripped the wooden post at the edge of the porch and clenched my insides, making it hurt worse but differently, and willed the pain to ebb.

Ecena approached from where she and the other conscripts were talking and recovering. It gratified me to see her face was as red as mine in the lamplight, and that sweat soaked her dark hair. It was not warm that day; the morning moon hid behind clouds and the sun had not yet risen. The workers would not be along for another hour or so. The ground was thick, sticky mud, drying from the previous day, and the moisture hung in the air as clinging fog that worked under your clothes and filmed your skin like grease.

“Corporal?” She saluted, lazily, as I straightened, and I held my own salute a little too long just to make her wait. I could see the annoyance struggling to remain masked on her face when I finally let her drop her hand.

“Ecena, I need a report. Visit the fort, any scholars from Lonireil. Ask the judicator’s assistants.” I struggled to dredge up the words and speak fast enough that she wouldn’t think me stupid. “See if there is a…” I hesitated. “Book place.”

“Library?”

“Obviously,” I snapped. “In Onappa-ka. Or any teachers. I need to know about the Crade.” The final word was not Serehvani, nor Lonireilan. It was older, something primitive. It weighed on my tongue and tasted of metal and rock.

“A report.” She pursed her lips, then her face went impassive again. “Should…” she stopped.

“Should what?”

“Nevermind. I’ll see to it, Corporal.”

I took a few deep breaths as she left, pressing my hand to my wound. Worried, I opened the coat of my uniform a little and peered inside in the dark, then stuck my hand in. Damp. That didn’t mean anything. I pulled my hand free and turned, so no one would see, and smelled my palm. Blood. My bandages had come undone, the wound opened. I should not have run so hard. I swallowed, tried to take a step, and thought better of it.

A shadow darkened the doorway of the office and I looked up. The lanky shape resolved into Estevo, who looked dog-tired. “Why are you awake?” I asked.

“Just getting to sleep. You alright?” He leaned out and squinted. “Hurt yourself?” I nodded. He gestured for some chairs on the porch, outside the door then watched me as I levered myself into motion like an old man. “Usually the point of running is getting faster, not slower.”

I took a deep breath and forced myself up onto the porch and over to a chair. “You’ve never moved fast in your entire life.”

He grinned. “I’ll get you a new bandage.” With that, he turned, put his hands  behind his head, and began to stroll away, slowly, whistling. It elicited a bark of laughter from me, cut short by a groan of pain.


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