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Episode 1 - The Amulet of Rebuklon

Chapter 1 - Of Sheedmu, Bantu, and One Young Krocyon

Note to Reader: All races in The Wild Earth are genetic blends of Humans with animals and there of hundreds of unique races most having their own languages. Chybrinhi is spoken by most races brought to them by the Bantu traders, for our purposes Chybrinhi will be English since you probably don't have the time to learn actual Chybrinhi. The Krocyon character (a half human half red fox by the way) has a very thick accent imposed by her learning Chybrinhi later in life and her pronunciation will be phonetically literal in italics, actual English words pronounced close to normal in normal font, but translations will be provided enclosed in the triple parentheses that follow her actual statements ... Enjoy!

 

 

Deese ees dee fierced tie-em I see deese shop”
(((This is the first time I see this shop)))
-commented Seneca dryly as Kenoshilla fed the lantern bugs. It was a double wide carriage about 30 by 30 feet of floor space with four large square tables. Each had a gray felt-like surface and a raised wooden edge standing about 10” above the gray surface. Kenoshilla finished feeding the last of the lantern bugs and inserted two additional wooden partitions going from two adjacent corners to the center of the opposite side forming a triangular surface on the table with two acute triangles on the surface outside of this one. She proceeded to set up all four tables in this way and to lay down mats into each of the smaller sharp triangles on the surfaces of the tables.

Kenoshilla finished this preparation and looked up, “The Sheedmu love to gamble, and their favorite tables are the cubes, specifically the ‘straight cubes.’”

Dee gam-bell you half prepared on deese tay-bellss?”
(((The gamble you have prepared on these tables)))
-Seneca guessed inspecting the mats covered in rows and columns of small square mats each with a successive number written within it.

“The game, Sweetie,” Kenoshilla pleasantly corrected the rather stoic and ageless Krocyon. “Don’t your people play games?” she asked, more wondering out loud to herself than actually posing the question.

Wude not know,”
(((Would not know)))
-answered Seneca in her thick Krocyon accent-
“Do not see dee poy-ent too eet, so much.”
(((Do not see the point to it, so much)))

Kenoshilla chuckled approvingly, “Few people do- FENNIC!!”

Immediately a small, about 4½ feet tall, thinnish child faced, buck-toothed person, a Gumbril, leaped through the door, “Yes Madame!”

“Clean the floors in here, they are covered in dust,” Kenoshilla commanded then turned to Seneca, “Well I have some business to attend, Sweetie, so I’ll see you later then.”

Uff course, Madame,” Seneca agreed bowing deeply as the lady glided passed her and out the door.

“Sweetie? Interesting name,” commented Fennic with a grin as he took up a small pail with some liquid in it and a rag.

Eet ees poh-see-bell for you to leaf a long and wun-dare-fool life,”
(((It is possible for you to live a long and wonderful life)))
-Seneca began-
“Only eef you neh-vair ah-gain yoos dee ward ‘Sweetie’ to ree-fair to me.”
(((Only if you never again use the word ‘Sweetie’ to refer to me)))

“Long? Yes. Wonderful? Not likely … My apologies,” Fennic recoiled transforming his gleeful look into that of a casket pallbearer, “Where are my manners? My name, though probably still ringing in your ears, is Fennic.” He bowed deeply, although to Seneca she couldn’t help feeling that he was mocking her.

“I am not one uff dee Bantu here, so peek up your face,”
(((I am not one of the Bantu here, so pick up your face)))
-she tried to say in a level voice, but it definitely came out as a half snap, half growl.

“Yes, I know who you are,” Fennic responded maintaining his most grim prose, “It is Gumbril law to pay homage to all queens.”

Eef I am no Bantu here, very much less am I roy-all-tee,”
(((If I am no Bantu here, very much less am I royalty)))
-she managed to keep that one a little more unemotional.

“So it is my error,” Fennic breathed almost shocked and horrified, “It was my understanding that all Krocyon ladies were fertile.”

Somehow, she managed to stop her hand on its way to her throwing dagger, she paused contemplating how upset Kenoshilla would be if this miserable little creature’s blood were to stain the floor or one of the game tables. Then admired her own self control, then allowed her hand, more slowly, to reach the grip of the dagger.

“My fair-teal-ee-tee ees wun sub-ject uff con-vair-say-shawn for you dat can carry quite ah pry-ess,”
(((My fertility is one subject of conversation for you that can carry quite a price)))
-she marveled at how cool the words poured into the air. That was much better.

Fennic’s eyes were the only things that moved as he strained them into the corners of their sockets to see that her hand was on something at her waist, and her eyes were almost as glassy as death itself.

“I meant no disrespect,” his voice wavered with fear, “Few Gumbril ladies are, “ he gulped, “and those who are,” he gulped again, “are honored royalty…that is, in the Gumbril land…to the Gumbril people.”

Ond dee mailss?”
(((and the males?)))
-she asked in that nice cool calm voice that precedes the storm.

“As well,” Fennic continued with mortal trepidation, “the few ones that are – (gulp) – are honored royalty.”

“Not saying dee ward duss not chay-enge dee meaning, so say eet,”
(((Not saying the word does not change the meaning, so say it)))
-she snapped, again annoyed that she allowed this miserable creature to affect her.

“So den you are not fair-teal?”
(((So then you are not fertile?)))
-she asked easing her voice again.

“No and great thanks unto the Talwa gods for that,” Fennic spoke with a renewed conviction, which instantly irritated Seneca, she realized that she greatly preferred his mortally terrified demeanor.

“How old are you, Gumbreel?” she snapped again, this time to remind him that her hand was still gripping the deadly missile.

“Thirty seven years, did I spend awaiting my chance to leave the Gumbril land,” Fennic noted, “and almost one year have I spent in the service of the gracious Bantu.” Wow, this miserable creature was older than her, yet it seemed almost a child. It was a great relief, however, to know that she could deliver the weapon with a completely clean conscience now.

“I accept your plea uff sorry, 'shebekitcha'. You may ree-fair to me oss ‘Lady Seneca’”
(((I accept your plea of sorry, ‘shebekitcha’ You may refer to me as ‘Lady Seneca’)))
-she narrowed her gaze to reinforce the concept that his survival was still being negotiated.

“Yes, Lady Seneca, I am honored by your grace,” Fennic began to bow again-

“Just do not bow- a nod wheel do.”
(((Just do not bow, a nod will do)))
-She remanded.

“Yes, as you wish, Lady Seneca.” He nodded long and deep. As she turned to go he interrupted her motion, “-um, Lady Seneca?”

“Speak.”

“What is a shebechika?”

“An eensect bite.”

“Oh. Well I was just curious-“

“A ‘shebekitcha’ ees a male who had heese test-ee-kells cut off een pun-eesh-maint for breaking dee law. I see you feet ee-dare dee-scrip-shawn,”
(((A ‘shebekitcha’ is a male who had his testicles cut off in punishment for breaking the law. I see you fit either description)))
-she turned to leave the carriage-

Eet woss ny-ess to meet you, Eensect Bite.”
(((It was nice to meet you, Insect Bite)))

 

(At the central carriage of the Bantu Caravan)

 

A great being suddenly dropped with absolutely no sound onto the deck out of the pitch darkness of the pre-dawn sky to light next to an old bearded Bantu with large tusks emerging from the upper sides of his mouth outward and curving upward and around toward his face again like a giant pale brown curly mustachio. He was peering intently through a long thin tube, a mariner’s telescope, and did not flinch at the incredibly stealthy arrival of the great winged being which resembled the silhouette of a man but also a six foot tall owl, for the great lightly colored wings, his large round disk of a face covered in light down hiding his nose or mouth if he had them. He wore a small bag with a cross shoulder sash and spoke to the grizzled old Bantu who appeared to be ignoring him, “Shall I report?”

“Yes, of course,” responded Geb, the sky captain of the caravan.

“The Sheedmu landing site is 5 miles south-east bearing 160 grades. Winds increase in strength and turn higher grades steadily until they point due south, 200 grades, at below 2000 feet.” The great owl being, a Martukkan, reported.

“How strong do the winds get? They are running 12 miles per hour here at 8,000,” asked Geb with a calm but authoritative demeanor.

“They increase lightly until about 3000, and pick up to gusts around 30 miles per hour.”

“Did you go below 2000?”

“No.”

“Must be some bounce back near ground level, sounds like a vertical sheer, but I’ll need you to verify that.”

“I can go now if you wish.”

“At those winds speeds we need to begin our descent now, so yes if you can do it.”

The Martukkan leapt from the helms deck of the central carriage of the sprawling rings of carriages, roughly 100 in number all tethered together by simple ropes or rope bridges, each hanging below four great showoks, immense beetles strapped to booms extending from the four corners of each carriage, each beetle had a hot air balloon sack emerging from where a mammals shoulders would be, about a sixty foot tall narrow cone with the spherical ball at the top of it about 30 feet in diameter. It was these creatures that carried the great Bantu caravans across the entire planet of Chybernisee and their successful domestication and cross breeding of these beasts in particular who were capable of long hauling up to ten times their own weight that made the Bantu practically the sole force of commerce on the planet.

“Start a sharp descent to 3000,” barked Geb to no one in particular, but dozens of Bantu burst into action at the command. There was activity around many of the showoks and the whole caravan began to descend.

The Martukkan returned in a moment and spoke immediately, “There is a strong gusting northerly wind, 0 grades, below 2000, as you suspected, Captain.”

“Thank you, Marcelios, you’re off until we launch again.” Geb nodded, glanced at him and raised his hand showing the flat palm to him as if to wave but he held it upright and still. Marcelios raised his right foot high next to his face revealing a great clawed hand’s flat palm, turned and left the helm’s deck. He did not care for the salute much, or even the officer’s commission in the Bantu Sky Guard that Geb had assigned to him, but there was in all of the world exactly one man who knew more about the sky than anyone with wings including himself, and that was Geb. So he saluted him, respecting the man if nothing else.

Geb continued barking orders loudly from the helm’s deck of the pilot carriage, making sure that each carriage reduced buoyancy evenly and masterfully navigated the altitude’s changing wind directions and speeds guiding the great floating merchant’s city to the center of a grassy clearing about a mile across ringed by stout stone pillars about ten feet in diameter and about 20 feet tall. The barest first light of dawn in the east began to soften the star studded black sky toward indigo as the Bantu caravan came to rest in the Sheedmu Territories.

Before the showoks and the tethers and rope bridges could even be secured, and the merchants many shops opened, the Sheedmu poured into the clearing from all directions where they had until then been patiently awaiting the great caravan to settle to the ground. The Sheedmu themselves were slightly taller and thinner than the Bantu, and the men easily identified from afar by the pair of long thin black horns that emerged from their heads above their eyes and curved slightly back as they rose, some fully four feet above them. The women had no horns and the young males had nubs where they would start to grow as they began puberty. All of the women and children carried great baskets on their heads filled mostly with various grains which the Sheedmu would sell to the Bantu. Since they usually did not buy much, the traders had to carefully plan their routes across the continent so that they would land in a country that tended to buy quantities of heavy merchandise, prior to landing in a country like that of the Sheedmu who tended to sell large quantities of merchandise.

The grain traders quickly set up folding tables one each at the four quarters about 100 yards out from the carriages and the Sheedmu women and children carefully lined themselves up at the nearest vendor’s table.

Negotiations were brisk, the traders made sure not to look at the Sheedmu women or children, but instead the long horned male standing to the side of them. Each Sheedmu would balk and sputter at the price being offered as his women and children placed their baskets on the scales, but the traders would politely inform them that they couldn’t offer any more money and still make a profit at their coming stops. The recalcitrant and argumentative men would invariably accept the offers and receive their pay in the form of evenly split values of copper and silver Bantu coins. They would give the silvers to the women and stuff the coppers into their side pouches. The women with the children would proceed relieved of their burdens toward the caravan shops to spend the day buying mostly necessities, and giving their overly excitable and inquisitive children hard glances if they removed their hands from their pockets.

The Sheedmu men, on the other hand, immediately left the clearing, leaving the women and children to do as they wished for the rest of the day.

Seneca stood at the doorway to the gambling carriage with Kenoshilla while Fennic hurried about touching up random spots throughout the carriage as if it were a great struggle of work that might easily cause him to pass out at any moment.

Kenoshilla noticed Seneca’s irritated sidelong glance back at him.

“He is a rascal, but let him rush about wearing himself out trying to impress me, its still morning and the Sheedmu men will work all day and only come back after dark. By then he really will be tired of running about pretending to be working hard- FENNIC!”

“Yes, Madame!” he cried running immediately over to where the two stood at the doorway. Get the table broom and sweep the surfaces of the tables flawlessly clean and smooth.” Kenoshilla commanded.

“Right away, Madame!” Fennic nodded deeply as he turned, “Lady Seneca.”

“Eensect Bite,” she returned the greeting with a slight nod, which caused Fennic’s nose to curl disapprovingly as he scurried off.

Kenoshilla chuckled with great approval.

“I can not see why you keep dat mee-sair-ah-bell rodent air-round,”
(((I can not see why you keep that miserable rodent around)))
-Seneca snarled.

“Fennic’s kind are certainly an unadmirable lot,” agreed the Bantu proprietress, “but they are excellent and tireless workers…the infertile ones anyway. Just look, in a half hour he has this whole place so spotless it makes me think that he must live on dust.”

Seneca took in the room as Kenoshilla gestured at it with a broad sweep of the hand, and there was Fennic at the far corner table sweeping expertly at its surface standing on the tips of his toes to do it.

“Use the dealer’s chair Fennic!” she commanded a little irritated, then turned back to Seneca, “I’m surprised you’re not hanging out with Sed,” Kenoshilla presently observed.

Heese really beese-ee buying ah lot uff dee Sheedmu gray-in,”
(((He’s really busy buying a lot of the Sheedmu grain)))
-Seneca remarked.

“Nonsense, Sweetie, they’re done. See there, he is already tabulating his fortunes with such a miserable frown…he must have done very well today.” Kenoshilla finished off laughing. Seneca didn’t get the joke, but kicked on a pleasant smile out of respect.

“Dear, tell that old hog I’ll rent him Fennic to store all his merchandise for two coppers.” Seneca looked at the Bantu proprietress with a doubtful raised eyebrow. Kenoshilla nodded reassuringly and Seneca stepped off of the front porch of the carriage and strode out to Sed’s table having to go around the area of piled baskets of grain on the ground between it and the caravan.

The scowling old Bantu, grizzled, thin, bearded, bald and long tusked, peeked around under the brim of his large hat at the approaching foot falls and managed a randomly-missing-toothed grin, “Well, you’re up and about early.”

Cude not sleep much,”
(((Could not sleep much)))
-observed Seneca glancing away from his delight at seeing her.

“Oh?” he reacted with a feigned interest as he too glanced out toward the Sheedmu fields. After a bit of an awkward silence, which Seneca actually appreciated in that he did not attempt to pursue her idle conversational response to his comment, she remembered Kenoshilla’s offer.

“Oh, by dee way, Kenoshilla told me to tell you-“

“You’re not that fat old sow’s messenger,” Sed grumbled in disgust, “She can carry her lard ass out here if she wants to tell me something, or she can send that little bastard rat of hers.”

Seneca couldn’t hide the smile no matter how hard she compressed her eyebrows trying, but Sed was still studying his totals, thankfully.

“On dee subject uff dat deese-gusting lee-tell 'shebekitcha', she wants to sell heem too moof yor mair-chon-dy-ess for you.”
(((On the subject of that disgusting little ‘shebekitcha’ she wants to sell him to move your merchandise for you)))

“Does she? That gold sniffing old tick,” Sed grumbled.

“Just two cah-pairs too moof all uff eet,”
(((Just two coppers to move all of it)))
-Seneca teased the offer at him still smiling.

Sed snorted though she couldn’t tell if it was approval or disdain, “I’ve got 157 baskets here that probably weigh more than him, he’s got about a 300 yard trip to my storage car, that puts him running his own weight for about 35 miles. That should kill him. The offer’s tempting enough.”

“Ex-act-lee,” Seneca nodded breaking open a grin.

It was Sed’s turn to screw his face into a grimace to avoid leaking a smile. “Guf’s got more than twice as much to move,” he said flailing his hand in the direction of another merchant still walking around the great heap of baskets in his possession off in the distance. “He’s got Buj to help him move it all in, but it’ll take them two a while to get it done and its getting hot. The jackass was probably offering the Sheedmu more money for the grain. I saw one of the Sheedmu men come over to the back end of my line and a bunch of them carted all their baskets over to there. So I guess if he’s rich enough to overpay for the merchandise, he must be rich enough to pay that old bag’s rat to haul it to storage for him too.”

“So shude I tell eet too heem, or to hair?”
(((So should I tell it to him or to her?)))
-Seneca crinkled her nose in confusion.

“What you should do is pick up ten coppers to help this old hog haul all of his crap to storage, and to hell with both of those gold sniffing carrion eaters, they’ll sniff each other out with no help from either of us.”

As he said it, Fennic went racing out across the clearing toward Guf.

“‘Ahalay’ to you, but no Sed. Lub tells wheel be fighting too-ny-ett, I wheel get ah ny-ess pay just for being een dee pool.”
(((A-ha-lay’ (Krocyon for ‘thanks’) to you, but no Sed. Lub tells we will be fighting tonight, I will get a nice pay just for being in the pool)))

“Sure enough. OK then well I best get started and I’ll see you later.”

She placed her hand gently on his shoulder to hold him down in his chair-
“I mean dat you do not half to pay me, not dat I wude not help you moof all uff yor stuff.”
(((I mean that you do not have to pay me, not that I would not help move all of your stuff)))

Sed made a half hack half growl that definitely rang of disapproval, “Ridiculous,” he grumbled vigorously, “You don’t owe anyone in this caravan a damned thing, especially not me.”

“I wheel be oh-nord to do you dee fay-for,”
(((I will be honored to do you the favor)))
-Seneca objected not understanding his self-denigration.

“Ahhh,” he gargled again even louder, “And I will be shamed if you do.”

“How much deed you say you wheel pay to carry deese load?”
(((How much did you say you will pay to carry this load)))
-she quickly diverted in respect.

“Fifteen coppers and not a penny less to haul exactly half of them and not one basket more.” “Let us get to work, so,” she proclaimed wrapping her arms around the nearest basket and turning toward the caravan at a brisk pace.

“Ok,” Sed sighed hopping up and stuffing his totals papers into his pocket, “You damned well don’t have to run…”

 

It is almost two thousand years after the fall of the great Empire that spanned the
galaxy with millions of inhabited planets, some of them terraformed to meet the ancient
Talwa gods requirements, while others were occupied via bioforming – the Talwa gods
modified life to meet the planet’s requirements. The world’s name is Chybernisee, which
means ‘government’ in an ancient extinct language of the gods who ruled the galaxy
for over 1500 years. It was here, on the ninth moon of the great ringed gas giant
Concordia, the fifth planet of Epsilon Canis Majoris, where the representatives
of each planet met to exchange ideas, conduct commerce, settle disputes and to
ultimately govern the entire galactic empire until it was destroyed. A population of
several hundred different species of bioformed beings managed to survive here, totally
cutoff and lacking power sources and technical support and ultimately reverting
to a primitive state, only now are their various nations slowly approaching a
renaissance of invention, innovation and culture...

 

(Later as night falls)

 

“There you see, Sweetie?” Kenoshilla pointed out into the night as the last of the Sheedmu women disappeared into the darkness at the edge of the area lit by the lantern bugs and the torches atop the Sky Guard’s turrets at the outer edges of the caravan. Seneca could see a distant line of tiny bobbing flames, torches being carried across the grain fields’ roads leading to the clearing.

“Yes I can see dem coming…many,” Seneca nodded.

“All of the Sheedmu men in the region, and all of those who traveled across their lands are coming,” noted Kenoshilla.

“And why are all uff dee wee-men leafing now, wayne dee men ar-ry-eff?”
(((And why are all of the women leaving now when the men arrive?)))
-Seneca wondered.

Kenoshilla chortled with understanding at her confusion, “They are the same species in flesh only,” she explained, “The women are very modest and preoccupied with concern toward the feelings of others, you saw how polite and quiet they were.”

“Yes, I saw eet,” noted Seneca, “Very poh-lye-ett. Very ny-ess.”
(((Yes, I saw it … very polite. Very nice.)))
“The men on the other hand are the opposite, loud braggards only concerned with themselves and their own pleasures, and they like pleasures,” Kenoshilla concluded her explanation.

“What play-sures?” wondered Seneca.

“My Sweetie,” bubbled Kenoshilla’s laughter, “ALL of them.”

Within moments a large loud group of Sheedmu strode up and ringed themselves around the front porch of Kenoshilla’s parlor. One shoved and threatened the others with his horns and made his way around until he stood directly in front of Kenoshilla.

“Woman,” he began loudly, “you host the cubes?”

Seneca’s hand instinctively climbed onto the handle of her favorite tool for quieting problem people. Kenoshilla noticed and placed her hand softly on that hand, “Be a good girl and fetch Fennic from the back.”

“Be a good girl and fetch my-,” laughed one of the Sheedmu.

“Hup!” barked Kenoshilla, “She’s a fighter. You wouldn’t want her to start early would you?”

“She can start with him, no problem,” the gang leader grinned. The others roared their approving laughter at their leader’s joke, while the target of the jest gritted his teeth and head butted his nearest laughing fellow who sobered quickly and stiffened to deliver a response.

“Enough!” bellowed the gang leader glaring at the one sizing up his retort who slowly relaxed as the others quickly swallowed their laughter and grew serious again.

Presently he turned back to Kenoshilla who answered his question before he could ask it again, “I host the cubes here, and you are?”

“Prince Sotor, Heir to the throne of the Sheedmu Territories,” the gang leader toothed loudly, “And we’re here to play cubes and get drunk enough to give all of your little fighting girls a fair chance.”

The Sheedmu roared loud with laughter.

Kenoshilla noticed the glaring Seneca had returned with the cowering Fennic hiding behind her. Seneca opened her mouth to respond to the gang leader but Kenoshilla cut her off, “Oh thank you Sw- Seneca, now would you be so kind as to fetch Mub for me…”

“Fetch me, Seneca,” laughed one of the Sheedmu who renewed their uproar.

“Come in Gentlemen,” Kenoshilla stepped aside and waved her arm into her carriage. They all in unison stabbed the sharpened bottoms of their torches into the ground where they stood leaving them lit, and began to shuffle together swarming the bottom steps of the porch in front of the open doorway.

Seneca stayed glaring at the one who had joked with her name but he was already whispering more jokes and exchanging laughter with another Sheedmu huddling in toward the doorway as if he had already forgotten it.

Kenoshilla sidled up next to Seneca who breathed through her teeth-
“Day do not half ah fair chay-ance sobair ah-gay-ens deese ‘leet-tell fighting gear-ell’”
(((They do not have a fair chance sober against this ‘little fighting girl’)))

“That’s not what they meant, Sweetie,” Kenoshilla commented under her breath smiling and nodding to each Sheedmu as he bowed low to get his horns through the doorway.

“What?” Seneca snarled, her nose crinkling, perplexed.

“Sheedmu would cut their own man to ribbons rather than let him take up a weapon against an innocent, a weaker opponent, or a woman,” Kenoshilla explained but could see from Seneca’s blank stare that she still didn’t understand.

“Sheedmu consider their own women to be the only beautiful women,” Kenoshilla explained patiently, “So they have to get drunk enough so that other women look good enough for them to-“

“Oh,” Seneca started with sudden comprehension, then really grew angry.

“Now hurry along Sw- Seneca and tell Mub to bring a table and some alcohol or he’ll miss out on plenty of money,” Kenoshilla urged with a begging squinch of her face.

Seneca nodded and shot out the front entrance past the last Sheedmu as he bowed to enter. Presently, the gang leader was bellowing for quiet and looking around for Kenoshilla, “Woman?”

“Yes?”

“Oh,” he huffed swiveling his gaze in her direction, “We only need one table, where can we move the other three to?”

“Oh, uh,” she thought for a split second, “Well out front here will be fine.” And as soon as she had said it, the Sheedmu had already grabbed up three of the tables and were hustling them toward the door.

“Wait! Wait!” she cried, “They won’t fit until I fold their legs up!” In unison, the Sheedmu laid down the tables on their sides and she flitted to each one unlatching the legs and folding them up, then reapplying the latch to hold them up. As she finished the Sheedmu hefted the tables again in unison and herded them out and leaned them up against the sides of the parlor. As they did this, four others hefted the last of the tables up onto its side and awaited Kenoshilla who stared at them perplexed.

“Will the table work with its legs folded?” inquired the gang leader.

“I suppose it will,” she contemplated the thought, “but it will be on the floor,” she finished the thought objecting.

“Excellent, would you?” He pointed up at the tips of his horns and with a slight straightening of his neck tapped the ceiling with them. Kenoshilla’s face transformed from confusion to comprehension as he motioned to the latches.

“Yes, yes,” Kenoshilla folded the legs of the last table and as she stepped back, they placed it in the center of the parlor on the floor.

“Woman?” the gang leader bellowed.

“Yes?”

“Where are the cubes?” he roared laughing and the others joined in.

“Here! Here!” shouted Fennic who could barely be heard amid the raucous din of laughter.

“Good then, Rat,” the gang leader grabbed the cup from his hand with a mighty swipe, ”What’s the table fee?”

“I…uh…” Fennic glanced at Kenoshilla in horror.

“What’s wrong, Rat? Can’t count?” the gang leader yelled causing another explosion of laughter.

“Running the table is not his job,” Kenoshilla explained.

“Oh? And what is his job? To wash our hooves?” Amazingly, distant roars of laughter could be heard mingled between this group’s renewed raucous, coming from other parlors of the caravan.

“He will be your waiter, Prince Sotor, heir to the throne of the Sheedmu Territories,” she smiled.

“Simply Sotor will do tonight, proprietress,” he spoke in a slightly lowered bellow, “And your name?”

“Kenoshilla, and I will run your table, Sotor,” she smiled even wider.

“You can run my table, Kenosheelah!” laughed another much taller, but much shorter horned Sheedmu standing behind her. He grabbed her shoulder and with a flick of the wrist turned her around and with his other hand reached down, but before he could accomplish whatever his plan was, Kenoshilla had already pulled his pants down, grabbed his testicles with one hand and held a small but sharp knife that had appeared from nowhere with the other hand up to them.

“What do you suppose you would do without these?” she mused, “Carry baskets of grain and comparison shop for linens?”

The room exploded with laughter as if they had been whispering up until this point.

“I only meant it as a compliment,” the young Sheedmu blushed, hands held out palms open. “Bantu women are not interested in your pipe, Kufru,” interjected Sotor, “They are interested in gold,” he continued and reached his hand into her view with a gold coin held in it palm up.

She turned her gaze over her shoulder to his, and the Sheedmu chuckled all-knowingly. “He’s only showing off to his elders,” Sotor spoke again lowering his yell a notch, “and he did pay you a compliment, Kenoshilla,” he continued down another notch, “making you an offer…(laughing loudly again)…while still stone sober!”

The room shook with laughter again.

She smiled and loosened her grip on the young Sheedmu’s most valuables and he snapped them away and hauled up his pants and slinked into the background to the continued roars of their laughter.

“So, kind proprietress,” Sotor smirked, “What will this buy me?” he bellowed flipping the gold coin into the air, and the room hushed down to a murmur to listen.

“Perhaps a quick glance,” she smiled as the Sheedmu chuckled knowingly but also appalled at the price versus the product delivered.

“A bargain for sure,” nodded Sotor to the other’s chuckling amazement, “but to be granted but a glance of such a woman and then have to watch her walk away would only serve to put a man in a bad mood.” The others laughed and nodded in agreement.

“Then for your sake,” she quipped, “I hope you brought all of the rest of the gold of the Sheedmu Territories with you.” An earsplitting din of laughter exploded with that said.

“So,” Sotor, face contorted with a wicked grin, “What’s the table fee?”

“Three coppers to join the table, starting player sets the first pot bid,” she smiled as he produced three coppers and dropped them into her open palm.

 

(at the backdoor way to another Bantu double-wide parlor)

 

Seneca listened through the curtains to endless bellowing insults and raucous laughter and wondered if it would be wise for her to enter. Luckily at that moment, Mub came up from behind her cursing under his breath. He was a typical old rich Bantu man, long curly tusked, balding though better dressed in a plain white shirt and straight black trousers. He was wheezing struggling with a large round tub filled with bottles of liquor.

“Ummm,” Seneca began.

“Sorry little lady,” wheezed Mub, “but I’m a little busy just now.”

“Yes, uff course,” she agreed taking the tub from him. He began to object when she motioned toward the back doorway-
“Get dee kair-tain, wude you?”
(((Get the curtain would you?)))
“Yes, yes,” Mub said apologetically, “Of course, of course!” And he pulled it aside and made a half turn leaving the entrance fully available to her. She stepped into the room and dozens of pairs of eyes hit her and every mouth fell empty.

A young tuskless Bantu man behind a bar counter in front of the left side wall motioned for her to bring the tub over and as she turned to do so, one of the young short horned Sheedmu managed to locate his tongue again.

“And so!” he bellowed, “Who have we here?”

The others all murmured in fascinated anticipation of her response.

“Dee lost wu-man you wheel evair osk eet,”
(((The last woman you will ever ask it)))
-she snapped but it only resulted in feigned oo’ing and ah’ing and more hysterical laughter. As she approached the end of the bar counter, the same Sheedmu hurriedly stepped in her way, “and why is it that a scrawny little hick fox will be the last woman I will ever pay a compliment to?” he bellowed and the room hushed down to murmurings again to hear her response.

“Ah com-plee-maint? Ha! Krocyon wee-men wude pree-fair be slowly tor-chaired to dett, dan to make ah fuck weet you!”
(((A compliment? Ha! Krocyon women would prefer (to) be slowly tortured to death than to make a fuck with you)))
-she growled flashing her back molars as she struggled to be clear.

“Both are indeed intriguing ideas!” he roared to the room’s response of another round of raucous laughter.

“Wheech boat?”
(((Which both?)))
-she snapped starting to forget the fortune of liquor bottles she was still carrying for Mub.

“The part about the torture,” he began with a toothy grin, “and the part about the-“

“You done with her, Kenek?” loudly interrupted a much longer horned male from behind him standing at the bar, “because I would like to taste the contents of one of those bottles you’re going to keep her holding there until the END OF ALL DAMN TIME!”

The room exploded with laughter, stomping and the clacking of horns between Sheedmu standing next each other.

Kenek said something too softly for her to hear, stepped aside and motioned her to enter in behind the bar counter. As he stepped aside the young Bantu bartender slipped down the few steps to stand in front of her and yelled just loud enough for her to hear, “I’ve got it! Thanks!”

As she released the tub, her hand instantly hit the grip of her favorite throwing dagger as she whirled on her heel and almost knocked over Mub who had just rushed up behind her, “I…I…am so sorry-“

She released the dagger and held up the same hand to stop him from talking and demonstrate that he had successfully aborted the murder. Then she curled a finger at him to follow her. He did so blushing as they pushed through the curtains of the back doorway to the bar. He immediately broke out, “I…I…got called-“

She held her hand up to stop him again and said-
“Kenoshilla osked eet to me to tell you dat she needss you to poot up ah tay-bell een hair cubes parlair so queeckly dat you can or you wheel meese out on ah lot uff money. I only came here to carry you deese may-sah-edge.”
(((Kenoshilla asked it to me to tell you that she needs you to put up a table in her cubes parlor so quickly that you can or you will miss out on a lot of money. I only came here to carry you this message)))
-she spat still angry that Mub had interfered with what would have been such a sweet and fast move that they would still be trying to figure out what had happened.

“Yes, yes!” he continued sheepishly, “Of course, of course! Well thank you lovely lady, I’ll get a table over there right away, thank you.”

Seneca bowed to the Bantu proprietor starting to calm down, but still kept her eyes down from his so as not to glare a hole through the back of his skull (very disrespectful) and turned and left.

 

(Back at Kenoshilla's Gambling Parlor)

 

“Three coppers each to sit at the table!” Sotor yelled and the players settled into positions seated around the table with folded legs and each held out the required Bantu coins. Kenoshilla moved around to the edge of the table where the triangle’s point met the edge in the middle of it and waited for the dealer’s chair as the Sheedmu passed it over head to each other and placed it there as she started to sit down.

She had grabbed a long pole with a cup attached to the end of it and maneuvered the cup in front of each player who carefully let his three coppers drop one at a time into it for clarity as the laughter hushed down to a whisper.

One of them farted starting another raucous round of laughter, as it settled back down to chuckles, another short horned male bellowed, “Relax Mento, she put the knife away.”
(Explosion of laughter)

Sotor, rubbing his eyes and still fighting off giggles, “Ohhhhhoho, Kay, OK, one silver starts the pot.”

There was a momentary hush, then one of the long horns at the table a few players to Sotor’s left leaned in, “Damn it, Sotor,” he growled toothily, “You’re the only damned son of a King here! Us peasants want to play too!”

The others chuckled their approval of the quip as each player dug out a piece of silver. Kenoshilla was already holding the cup in front of Sotor who let his piece of silver drop into the cup which made its way around the other nine players at the table.

“Sides?” bellowed Kenoshilla and about a dozen Sheedmu knelt to the left and the right of her near her end of the table, several produced what appeared to be paper money and she bellowed Fennic’s name out.

“Rat!” bellowed Sotor as he suddenly popped up next to Kenoshilla.

“Get Mub over here, now,” she breathed angrily as the end of a long thin table pushed through the back door curtains almost striking one of the Sheedmu who dodged it then grabbed it to lend a hand, as he carried it in angling toward the wall behind all of the players at the table, the carrier of the other end of the table sprang into view, a tiny woman about five feet tall with a short slicked down black haired school boy style haircut. A white knife of a horn a few millimeters wide and about an inch deep emerged from the top of her otherwise normal nose and rose vertically about five to six inches, and another smaller, and shorter such horn emerged from her forehead just above the eyebrow line to her hair line though deeper it was slightly thinner and rose straight up as well, but did not reach as tall as her nasal horn. Her ears edges were flat as if a normal humans curled edges had simply been flattened out with the trailing edges elongated straight back slightly. These were the only apparent physiological features alluding to her possession of some small quantity of rhinoceros DNA. Her linen white skin was covered in painted (or tattooed) bright blue interlocking rings of various size and haphazard arrangement. The skin tone together with the bright pink irises of her eyes attested to the fact that she (and indeed all Antibwan females) were albinos. She wore a very thin wisp of a bright orange thong and a thin orange strap across her surprisingly healthy torso, just enough to cover her nipples. Many of the Sheedmu had never seen an Antibwan female, or any female for that matter who would venture about so scantily clad before, and the entire room’s eyes locked on her in hushed astonishment.

The nearest Sheedmu to her, a young shorter horned one leaning against the wall near the doorway where she stood, spoke loudly, “Allow me to ed-jee-cate everyone,” he reached his arm straight out and pointed straight down at her head and explained, “Its called a woman.” (From somewhere in the uproariously laughing crowd) “She’s real little! She must ‘fight’ like a trapped raptor!”

She smiled slightly which changed the guffaws into knowing chuckles. Presently Kenoshilla barked, “That useless old hog Mub behind you, Sweetie.”

The Antibwan turned to answer, but an old tusken Bantu man popped his head through the curtains directly behind her, “Yes that useless old hog is, what of it?”

“Can you change this local money at your table?” Kenoshilla waved her hand at all of the Sheedmu still patiently holding their side bet money out in her direction.

“Boros!” bellowed Sotor above the din.

“Ho!” came a shout back.

“You got enough Bantu jingle to make change over here? Most Bantu don’t take farmer’s receipts.” Sotor explained, to Mub’s grateful nodding glance.

“Coming!” Boros responded and made his way around the walls and started taking the notes, reading them at a glance and dropping mixtures of coppers and silvers as needed into their hands. As each got paid he dropped his bet in Bantu coin into a square in the narrow side triangles of the table to Kenoshilla’s left and right and then picked up the numbered thin square of felt as he did so thereby holding onto his side bet claim.

Presently Mub and his Antibwan employee spread a large red silky thin cloth over his table that hung down to almost touch the floor, Mub then pulled several bottles from the large tub he had been lugging and placed them on the table in front of the Antibwan woman. He then produced stacks of what looked like large transparent plastic cups face down to her left and her right.

He proceeded to pop the corks on the bottles. Sotor took a massive hissing lungful of a sniff, the room hushed as many others were trying to get a good whiff as well. Sotor blurted while still sitting at the cubes table with his back to the serving table, “Mub, are you waiting for us to beg?”
(laughter)

“No, no!” Mub protested drowned by the laughter, “What’ll you have?”

“Your strongest in-tes-tine straightener!” Sotor roared toothily to everyone’s approval. “Pour…pour!” Mub urged his employee pointing to the bottle to her far right. She deftly poured half a glass and began to leave to deliver it, “No, no!” Mub panicked at her under his breath, “Fill it, fill it!”

“Fill it to the top, tiny ‘fighting’ woman! Sotor doesn’t want to run the rat to death getting drunk!”
(Mighty knowing approval laughter)

Fennic started at Sotor’s glance and mention of him as he was just starting to sink back toward the curtained rear entrance, and craftily negotiated his way through the milling mob at the serving table, the Antibwan woman handed him Sotor’s drink and he quickly disappeared with it surfacing next to Sotor with it in an instant.

“Ah!” Sotor’s face lit at the sight of his drink, “Mub! What does the rat need?”

“Uh, wh…what?” Mub muttered perplexed.

“The rat here!” Sotor howled, “What do I owe him for the drink?”

“That’s a double of the strongest Martukkan whiskey I’ve got,” Mub explained.

“Before I die of thirst, Mub!” Sotor bellowed to approving laughter.

“Two…two silvers!” Mub yelled back cringing.

Sotor dropped three silver pieces into Fennic’s palm one at a time, “Keep the third for yourself, Rat, and don’t go anywhere until the party’s over, understand?” Sotor narrowed a pair of intimidating eyes at him.

“Yes, yes, oh thank you, Prince, oh-“

“Go pay Mub and get the rest of these people taken care of before they die of thirst, Rat!”

“Yes, oh-“

“Shoo with you!” Sotor waved him off and turned his attention back to the table.

He turned to take the cup with the cubes in it from Kenoshilla, he peeked in it and pulled the one with six different colors, one on each side, out and handed it back to her. “We’ll play ‘straight.’ Three rolls per game, bet after each round, high total wins.”

“The Talwa gods be damned, Sotor,” protested the same Sheedmu who had mentioned his royal lineage moments ago.

“You want to play with Sotor? Bring your money…ALL of it!” Sotor guffawed loudly as the room roared their approval.

“Final call for sides!” bellowed Kenoshilla as a few more Sheedmu dropped their three coppers in her cups for the table fee and then placed their bets in the desired squares and snatched up the felt numbers.

“So you know our rules, Kenoshilla?” The young one she had threatened with a knife asked from the corner to her left.

“Of course,” she responded bobbing back and forth trying to see through the crowd, “Kufru, is it?”
(Explosion of laughter)

Sotor, wiping tears from his eyes, “Kufru-“ he busted some more giggles at her blank expression, “means ‘stillborn calf’ in our language.” They all laughed some more and as they settled back down Kenoshilla stated clearly: “Let. Ong. Eme.”
(‘I am aware of that’ in perfect Sheedmu – another roar of laughter)

Still giggling, the Prince of the Sheedmu Territories rattled the two dice in the cup, one white, the other black. Each side held a number of small circular dents filled in with the opposite color of the faces, one through five and a blank side meaning zero, then flung them from the cup to hit the side wall of the large otherwise empty triangular region of the table so that they would land near to Kenoshilla’s corner of it. They each showed three pips.

“Hard six! Double it and score a twelve, that high side bet’s looking good.” She bellowed. “Fuck! He’s going to roll like that all night!” growled the same long horn that had damned him for the expensiveness of his game and some of the Sheedmu stamped their hooves and clacked their horns with their neighbors.

“Don’t scare away the rich young one’s after my first roll, Sekong!” Sotor admonished between laughs and grimacing gulps at his ferocious liquor.

“Five, Sotor’s roll still looks safe!” Kenoshilla bellowed out and with a whisk of her pole pushed the cup reloaded with the dice to the next player.

“Mub!” belched a Sheedmu standing at his serving table, “We ALL want to drink what Sotor’s drinking!”

“Ho! Mub!” hollered Sotor over his shoulder, “These Sheedmu are here to get drunk, they don’t want to drink that thin piss you call Bantu ale, that got its alcoholic content by passing through the same room where real liquor was once kept!”

“Of course, Sotor, Of course!” Mub agreed wearily through the swell of laughter, “Go now! Go! Fetch another tub and bring only Martukkan Whiskey, the Shelios Golden Devout”

“Ho! Mub! We don’t want to stare at your ugly face until she comes back so you go and fetch us all of the Shelios Golden Devout you can carry!” Shouted one of them from the crowd kicking up more of their apparently endless mirth.

“Oh! Ummmm,” he hesitated trying to find a way to object and keep them all happy.

“Hurry up, Mub!” bellowed the Sheedmu at the serving table waving his empty glass, “Don’t you worry, we won’t let your tiny warrior woman kill us while you’re gone!” The Antibwan woman flashed a grin at their uproar as Mub hustled angrily out lugging the empty tub as if it was going to give him a stroke.

“Seven!” howled Kenoshilla, “Has a fighting chance to win the game.” She pushed the cup to Sekong.

“Throw those neck bones, Sekong!” encouraged Sotor, “Kenoshilla said I’m going to need to empty your pockets to stand a chance with her!”
(another burst of laughter)

“Rolling like that, you damned sure will!” Sekong barked and flung the dice viciously at the corner of the triangle, one popped almost straight up and came down disappearing as if by magic, but Sotor saw where it went and bellowed and wheezed like he was going to die from the fit of laughter, everyone else grew quiet glancing about trying to figure out where the missing die was and why it amused Sotor so much.

“Tell us your joke, Sotor,” snapped Sekong who had apparently missed it also, “We peasants like to laugh too!”

“The cube,” Sotor paused for a few more giggles, “left the table, Sekong. It’s your call if you want to roll again, or take what our kind Kenoshilla’s breasts reveal!”
(laughter, stomping, clacking of horns at a hysterical level)

“Well I got a four already on the table,” Sekong pondered bellowing for all to hear, “I’ll take what the breasts give me!” he roared still managing to scowl though.

Kenoshilla snatched it out of the front of her dress like lightning and placed it on the playing surface next to the other die, “Hard eight! Double it makes sixteen, likely to win the first round!”
(hushed murmurs) The Sheedmu weren’t sure what to do, they had no way of knowing what the number had been while it was lodged where it had gone, and she had touched the die, a definite breach of even her own rules posted on the wall behind her.which also clearly stated that if either die left the table it had to land flat and clearly visible to any two players without them having to move from their playing positions, in order for it to be an acceptable roll. Obviously no one could see the value of the die except her, but Sotor himself had given her the chance to possibly cheat him out of the winning score for the round. But how would he react at her blatantly taking the opportunity to do so?

As he suddenly burst into laughter, so did the rest of the room.

“That may be the friendliest, a pair of tits has treated Sekong in his life!” Sotor roared to the ecstatic mob.

“It was worth the wait!” Sekong roared breaking down into laughter himself.

“And you Kenoshilla,” Sotor managed between thunderous guffaws, “Actually think he’s got more gold than the throne?”
(Renewed explosion of mirth)

 

(Outside the Rear Entrance to Kenoshilla's Gambling Parlor)

 

Seneca stepped back from the curtains as Mub came scurrying back with the tub full of Martukkan Whiskey.

“What’s going on in there now?” he panted.

“I woss about to osk you dat,”
(((I was about to ask you that)))
-she stated with her typical stoicism.

“Hell.”

“What?”

“That’s what’s going on in there: Hell,” he looked at the curtains as if an eternal bath in flames was indeed awaiting him, “Oh dear would you? Could you take this tub in to Kelless?” Seneca lowered her head slightly but lifted her eyes so they would stay locked with his.

“Eef I go een to dot room,” she stated with her lovely thick cool Krocyon accent, “Many dead Sheedmu wheel come out uff eet.”
(((If I go in to that room … many dead Sheedmu will come out of it)))

“Fair enough, fair enough,” mused Mub, “Fennic!” he yelped.

(a Sheedmu from within the parlor) “Raaaat! Check the back door!”

A moment later Fennic’s face pressed through the curtains.

“Oh,” started Seneca, “Halfing a gude tie-em, Eensect Bite?” She grinned.
(((Oh … having a good time, Insect Bite?)))

“I can’t remember having a better time,” he grumbled, his nose crinkled in disdain, “ever.”

“Good,” Mub agreed hurriedly and swung the tub full of Martukkan Whiskey bottles at him. Somehow he grabbed it and managed to keep it and himself off of the floor, barely, with a grunt, “Get that whiskey to Kelless. Go now! Go on!”

With a herculean effort he managed to stagger backwards back into the room, he was met with an uproar of a cheer. Seneca and Mub listened in morbid fascination.

(from within the parlor) “Rat! Give me that before you explode a testicle!”

(Fennic’s almost drowned out response) “I don’t hav- well thanks.”

(Kenoshilla’s clear bell-like yelling) “Last roller of the round!”

(loud stomping, cheering, and horn clacking)

(Kenoshilla) “Sekong’s score of sixteen is looking pretty tall!”

(loud stomping, cheering, and horn clacking)

(Kenoshilla) “Eighteen to one against beating it!”

(loud stomping, cheering, and horn clacking)

“I don’t know how that old sow does it,” Mub muttered into his hands.

(A loud Sheedmu nearby) “Rat! Get me a refill quickly before these Sheedmu drain those bottles and that cowering old Mub has to take the other half of the night to waddle after more of them!”

(Kenoshilla) “Three! Sixteen takes the round! Sixteen side bet where are you?”

(loud stomping, cheering, and horn clacking)

(A loud Sheedmu nearby) “Rat! Where’s my whiskey?”

“I truly don’t know how she does it,” Mub sobbed into his hands again.

“Well,” Seneca said sternly, “Eef she can, and Eensect Bite can, den I can,” and she disappeared into the curtains to Mub’s gasp.

Sotor glanced over at the swirling curtains and his eyes locked with Seneca’s emerald green ones. “Tekor!” he bellowed, “Hide yourself in a basket, the little fighting girl is back and she’s looking for you!”
(loud laughter)

Kenoshilla shot her a wicked glance and waved her over. She came quickly.

“Sweetie, I’m not sure this is your crowd,” she whispered.

Seneca leaned into her ear, “I am very sure eet ees not,” but she added before Kenoshilla could pretest, “But eef dee rat boy can take eet, so can I.”

Kenoshilla met her gaze long and hard.

“Kenoshilla!” Sotor bellowed, “I’d like to finish this game while my hair is still black!”
(loud laughter)

She stuffed the two dice into the cup and pushed the cup over to him, he met Seneca’s gaze again, “Krocyon sorceress!...” he bellowed over the din, “… tell us what I will roll!” The room fell silent like a switch, only the rattle of the dice could be heard.

“Come now,” he urged, “Don’t be a shy little Krocyon witch …(scattered chuckles) … foretell for us the number I will roll!” All of the Sheedmu held their breath for the long awkward moment they locked eyes. Seneca realized that he would not roll the dice until she made the prediction or she ended the awkward moment with the removal of his head. 99% of her was convinced to perform the latter idea, but Kenoshilla would more than likely disapprove.

“White cube…see-ro,” she began, her emerald eyes staring unflinching into the back of his skull, “Black cube…two.”
(murmurs)

“This,” announced Sekong, holding up a gold piece, “Says our little red fighting sorceress is exactly right.”

“I’ll take that!” laughed a short horned Sheedmu from behind him, holding up his own piece of gold for all to see.
(loud stomping, cheering, and horn clacking)

Sotor let the dice fly toward Kenoshilla’s corner of the triangle with a deft flick of the wrist, they danced with an enthusiasm and then jostled to a halt: white cube zero, black cube two.
(shocked silence broken by the loud snap of Sekong’s fingers)

“Bring me that piece of gold, young fool,” he chuckled, “and you’ll leave a Krocyon woman severely alone; having paid a high price to learn it!” He finished with a roaring laughter that they all joined into.

Sotor bowed to her with an eerily knowing smile on his lips and in his gaze. Then she realized that she was smiling, something that she couldn’t remember doing with strangers in a long, long time even though she was smiling that he had made a miserable score on the roll that might cost him the game – or so it would seem.

(Sekong) “Thanks for the fast piece of gold!” laughing, then with a serious bark, “Where you going?”

The young Sheedmu stammered in confusion then followed Sekong’s finger pointing to the rules on the wall directly behind and to the left of Kenoshilla, “Rule number four, no off table betting,” he explained to the juvenile, “I already paid the table to play, give the lady her three coppers!”

“Best give her the copper, boy,” guffawed a long horn having just gasped at his first bolt of Shelios Golden Devout standing at Mub’s table, “healthier for you than the other thing she’s been trying to collect from short horns tonight!”
(massive explosion of laughter)

“Mento!” Sotor bellowed, now that he was just reminded of him.

“Ho! Sotor!” the young one retorted from his hiding spot in the corner.

“Come take my place here!”

“What?” the young Sheedmu marveled as he worked his way over to stand next to where he sat by the table. Sotor hopped up and pointed at the spot on the floor he had vacated, “Sit there!”

“But-“ he began to protest.

“Go on,” Sotor barked, “I would much rather see you lose the game to that lucky bastard Sekong, than myself.”
(chuckles all around as Mento sat at Sotor’s spot)

“Nine! High roll of the round! Gives Sekong twenty five points! He’s going to be hard to beat!” howled Kenoshilla above the stomping and the clacking of horns.

“See?” laughed Sotor loudly “RAT! My whiskeeeeeeeeeey!” he thundered.

“Here, sir! Here it is!” Fennic whined holding it almost straight up so that it reached his chest. He grabbed it and took a deep face contorting whallop and reacted with an involuntary shudder and a hideous “hhhhraaaaaaaag!” He then dropped the coins into Fennic's waiting hand who disappeared instantly chasing after another bellowing Sheedmu.

He straightened his face and stepped in front of Seneca, “So, little polished copper haired sorceress,” he spoke in a normal tone for the first time since he had arrived, “Will you be fighting tonight?”

“Deepends on where deese con-vair-say-shawn ghos,”
(((Depends on where this conversation goes)))
-she said struggling to turn her smile into a vicious scowl – it was normally so easy…

“The duty of a prince,” he motioned over his shoulder, “Is to the people.” But she stared at him with a blank expression, so he persisted, “Not to himself…and certainly not at the cost of offending another nation’s representatives.”

“Oh!” she started and then smoothed her surprised face quickly. As she did so he looked at her longing for her to speak, she remembered what he had just said and commented wryly, “I do not represent dee Krocyon. I am an een-dee-penday-ent.”
(((I do not represent the Krocyon. I am an independent)))

“And … so? … are you fighting tonight?”

“Oh! I do not know!” she remembered his original question as he reiterated it and noticed his skeptical look at her now.

“Dee mana-jair uff dee fights peeks dee fight-airs at random. Some-ting ah-bout keeping eet fair.”
(((The manager of the fights picks the fighters at random, Something about keeping it fair)))

“I, too, desire fairness,” Sotor agreed, “and so if your name should be called for a fight, I shall wager every penny…” he turned to bellow over his shoulder, “That miserable lucky bastard Sekong does not take from me!-“ then turned back to her lowering his voice instantly, ”On you.”

“How can I win, now that you have revealed your cunning strategy,” roared Sekong, “of substituting the numbers genius, Mento, in for yourself?”
(more loud laughter)

“After he chases your hard doubler roll with a soft two,” objected Mento, “No amount of figuring can save that roll.”

“You will, Mento,” he reassured him over his shoulder, still studying Seneca’s emerald eyes, “I have complete faith in you.” (Sekong snorted his whiskey out his nose, and desperately tried to grimace from the wicked burning and laugh at the same time, the resulting half hacking half chuckling sounded so bizarre, that Sotor turned to see what he was doing, noticed he was putting down his drink and wiping his nose and chuckled adding) “And keep your hands away from the proprietress until the end of the game. I’d like you to still have a pair when you make my last roll!”
(loud laughter all around)

“It will be the greatest fairness,” he turned back around and continued in his normal tone again, “That the emerald eyed sorceress who cost me this game’s wager, will most assuredly win it all back for me, if she is selected to fight.”

 

(About an hour later, in the Mayor’s carriage)

 

“Alright, now,” the old tusken Bantu mayor sloshed a thick stack of paperwork onto the table to his left, turned and picked up a few sheets of new paperwork from the table on his right, glanced at them, and continued still studying them, “Grain purchases. Sed? Guf? Wahnetilla? Feg.”

The four stepped up to stand at the large desk in front of Jud, Mayor of the Bantu caravan. They each placed a small stack of carefully prepared totals and receipts onto the table arranged side by side in front of him and facing him. He glanced up from the papers he was reading and leered over at them as if they were going to bite, then lowered his gaze to his sheets again.

“I see you all have significantly different totals and prices that were paid out,” he frowned, “add to that, this merchandise has a ‘Writ of Mandatory Delivery’ on it from the Office of the National Secretary of the Bantu King’s Court. So we will have to figure out how much to keep in storage until we get back to the capital, and how much you can sell off starting with our next stop in the Kassanthica’s Land.”

“Oh hell,” grumbled Sed, “How the hell much of that crap does the Secretary want?”

Jud flipped a page to check and still didn’t look up, “1500 bales.”

“Well I took in the lightest load from what I could see,” Sed glanced seethingly at Guf, “so keep all of mine for the Secretary.”

Now Jud looked up, “You know they will only give you a miserable amount of copper for your trouble with …” he reached out and pulled Sed’s stack of totals closer trying to see the grand total.

“157 bales,” Sed provided, “That’s fine. I’ll take it rather than have to grind away half the night here trying to figure out what the projected taxes will be. Keep it all.”

“Done,” Jud shrugged and scribbled a note on a sheet of paper, dropped on top of Sed’s stack of reports and dropped the mess onto the top of the stack of completed paperwork on the table to his left.

“And if we want to sell our purchases to the Kassanthica?” asked Guf a little perturbed.

“You can do whatever you want, Guf, but the Writ says,” Jud looked down at his papers, “that this caravan … ‘shall deliver the sum total of 1500 standard weight bales of various nonperishable grains unto the Office of the National Secretary upon arrival at Nyeth’,” the Mayor then looked back up at Guf, flipped the page up to face him pointing at a spot on it, “And the sentence ends in a period, not a question mark. The king is not asking for the grain, or the taxes on your sales of it, he is ordering its delivery to him.”

“So am I done here?” Sed grumbled.

“Quite,” commented Jud as he placed a blank pad of paper square in front of himself and began to sharpen a thin piece of charcoal apparently to begin working on the calculations.

“Alright then,” Sed turned and headed for the front doorway, paused and asked over his shoulder, “Coming later?”

“If I can get all of the daylight sales reports finished,” Jud sighed. Sed nodded and left.

 

(Inside Lub's Office, the Manager of the Fights)

 

Sotor enters into a small room with five other Sheedmu behind him. Lub never looks up from his paperwork, “Yes?”

“You are Lub? Manager of the fights?”

“Yes?”

“These four men are entering the circuit of champions on behalf of the Sheedmu Territories,” explained Sotor.

“And him?” Lub waved in the general direction of the fifth Sheedmu standing next to Sotor. “Kolor, here wishes to sign up for the circuit as an independent,” explained Sotor. Lub looks up at them both, then looks back at Sotor, “You understand the independent contract is for one full circuit?”

“A full circuit?” Sotor pondered.

“He must stay with the caravan for one year, until we return here next year,” moans Lub having given the explanation more times than anyone would care to remember.

“Ah, yes,” nodded Sotor, “One full circuit or until he’s killed, whichever comes first I suspect.”

“Whichever comes first,” Lub moaned repeating the joke and produced a stack of papers from his frenzies of them and pushed the pile to the edge of the table where Kolor stood, “Sign your name at the bottom of each page,” he sighed as if it caused him great pain.

“What do they say?” asked Sotor leering down at the pages as if they were covered in deadly poison.

Lub stops his writing and looks up with a true emergence of irritation and boredom, they fought for control of his face for a while before it relaxed into a completely emotionless expression, “That he agrees to all of the rules of the caravan, the rules governing the fights during the circuit, the rules of the fights at Nyeth, that’s the Bantu capital, and the various specific rules of the fights that are conducted under sovereignty laws in the seventeen different nations who have insisted upon them and signed reciprocation agreements concerning them with the Office of the Bantu King and Court.”

“Quite a few rules,” Sotor noted, “He agrees. Sign him in and make sure he is in one of the elimination fights during your stay against any of the other four here.”

“Hup!” Lub stood pushing his chair back with the backs of his knees.

“Yes?”

“Independent fighters are strictly selected at random and do not fight in the local nation’s elimination matches,” Lub grumbled, “Page 2, Paragraph 2, Match contestant selection.”

“You need to check Page 9, Paragraph 2 – Sheedmu Territories Sovereign Territorial Exceptions.”

“Requires the seal of the Throne to override any Bantu rules concerning the matches while in the Sheedmu Territories,” Lub quoted almost verbatim as he sat back down.

Sotor pulled a small box from his trousers, looked up at Lub and grinned, “What must I seal with it?”

“Here,” Lub grunted, huffed, and fussed digging through papers until he found the right one, read it quickly, snapped it around to face Sotor and laid it flat on the surface of the table although it rested unevenly on layers of other papers including Kolor’s sign in stack.

“Where?”

“Center of the page is fine.”

“Sotor pulled out a block of wood about the size of a deck of cards from the small box, carefully painted one side of it, with a dark colored fluid from a small vial, blew softly on the painted side of the block for a moment, then pressed it onto the page, lifted it, inspected the image it left, appeared satisfied and began painting the seal again. “You only have to apply the Seal of the Sheedmu Throne once,” Lub grumbled reaching over and snatching the page away, carefully inspecting the image himself for a moment, before setting it aside to fill in later.

“Per rule change override I believe?” Sotor added matter-of-factly.

“Yes?”

“Therefore I will need to seal another one of your pieces of paper, Lub” Sotor smiled and snapped his fingers toward the surface of the table in front of him.

Lub scrambled producing another paper and placed it down in front of him, “What’s this one for?”

“I believe you plan to run a foreign eliminator match tonight?” Sotor noted as he impressed the page.

“Yes, starting in about an hour.”

Sotor closely inspected this second seal and spoke without looking up, “The first seal gets Kolor here into tomorrow’s Sheedmu eliminator match – random opponent, and this second piece of paper here puts the Krocyon woman, Seneca, into tonight’s fight – random opponent.” Lub muttered to himself as he grabbed the original sealed sheet back and filled out the notes section. As he finished, he set it aside again and took the second paper Sotor held out to him and scrawled some notes on it as well.

“Thank you, Lub” he grinned, “Now what do I owe you?”

“One piece of gold for each combatant representing the Sheedmu Territories,” he began still writing on yet another sheet, “A sponsor fee for each independent you take management of by overriding standard rules and placing them into matches.”

“How much?”

“Two pieces of gold…each.” Lub stated still writing.

He then looked up at Kolor who simply stood there. “There’s the pen, “he grumbled and motioned toward the ink bottle and the long thin white stick protruding from it, “Start signing those pages.”

Kolor started forward and began inking his name at the bottom of each sheet as Lub produced four more sheets of paper and placed them on top of the mess on the table next to each other to Kolor’s left. “Each of you sign one page at the bottom,” he then turned to Sotor handing him another sheet, “Write in their four names in the spaces provided near the bottom, place you seal over their names. That is the official notation that they are entering on behalf of the Sheedmu Territories and will abide by all Bantu rules of the fight circuit up to and including the games at Nyeth and includes the notation that you have delivered to me four pieces of gold to cover their expenses for the eliminator circuit.”

Sotor was already done writing in their names, pressed the seal over them, returned the sheet of paper, then held out his hand.

“Flissy!” Lub bellowed.

A 4 foot tall, round faced little female Gumbril entered the room and flitted over to Lub. “Take the payment and hand the Prince his receipt.”

“Yes, sir” she chimed in a pleasant little voice, turned and held out her hand. Sotor laid the coins into her tiny palm gently one at a time. She disappeared them into the folds of her dress and handed him the receipt with a pleasant smile on her cherubim-like face. Sotor received it rather emotionlessly observing her.

The four official Sheedmu combatants held out their sheets and Flissy reached over the table and took them, Lub handed her the sheet Sotor had just sealed covering them, “File that stack in a minute,” he groaned.

“Here’s his receipt for sponsoring one of tonight’s fighters,” he added grumpily handing it to her. Sotor watched her graciously glance at it through the corner of her eye as she turned a full 180 degrees and held it out to him.

He dropped the two pieces of gold into her hand and she quickly disappeared them as well. “And here is the receipt for sponsoring Kolor as an independent to bump one of the national reps in tomorrow’s match,” Lub sighed hoping the Prince was done.

She whirled snatched the sheet from Lub, again craftily snuck a peek at it with the corner of her eye and held it out to Sotor.

“How much?” he asked her. Lub looked up at him with a start.

“Two pieces of gold,” she stated as sweetly as possible.

“You don’t miss a thing, do you, lovely little Gumbril?” noted Sotor as she nodded ‘no’ with no change in her serene smile as he dropped the two pieces of gold into her palm. “No,” she continued sweetly, “revered Prince, it is my job not to miss a thing.”

“Indeed!” he said a little too loudly for Lub, “Well then, now that you all have taken my money, I’m done here,” he turned to Lub, “Evening.”

“Evening,” Lub moaned as Sotor turned to the other Sheedmu, “If you can’t make the Sheedmu nation proud, well …” he paused trying to find an apt thing for a crown prince to say, “Fuck it and at least have fun.”

He nodded to the cascade of smiling ‘Yes, prince’s’ turned and strode through the doorway and departed. The five Sheedmu stood staring at Lub again.

“Flissy,” he hacked, “Show them their quarters, settle them in, and give them their evening stipends.”

As she motioned them all out and was about to step through the doorway behind them he cleared his throat. Flissy turned her head back to acknowledge him.

“And get me Seneca, before you do any of that.”

 

(Outside the Front Entrance to Jud's Office)

 

“So how deed eet go?”
(((So how did it go?)))
-Seneca asked Sed as he stepped out of Jud’s office.

“Oh,” Sed pondered, “Like hell as usual.”

“Oh,” she smiled, “So are you coming to dee fy-ett?”
(((Oh … so are you coming to the fight?)))

“Tempting,” Sed pondered, “But it’s been a long day, and now I find out that you might have made more money on my merchandise today than I did.”

“How ees dat?”
(((How is that?)))
-she crinkled her nose perplexed.

“Aw nothing,” he moaned, “Just boring old Bantu politics and finance.”

“No ting ah-bout dee oh-nord Bantu ees boring,”
(((No thing about the honored Bantu is boring)))
-she ventured hoping to cheer him up.

“You obviously haven’t been exposed to our politics or our finance,” Sed quipped.

“Well I work for Lub and he hass more pee-sess uff pay-pair dan dee place dat makes eet,”
(((Well I work for Lub and he has more pieces of paper than the place that makes it)))
-she offered in defense.

“Fair enough,” Sed chuckled, adding, “Now that’s one license I would never take, just because of all that damn paperwork.”

“So you see,” she drove home her point, “I half been ex-post to … well I do not know … ees all uff dat pay-pair dee Bantu po-lee-tics or dee Bantu fy-ya-nance?”
(((So you see … I have been exposed to … well I do not know … is all of that paper the Bantu politics or the Bantu finance?)))

“Yes,” Sed answered.

“Yes what?”

“Yes it is the Bantu politics and yes it is the Bantu finance,” Sed clarified the joke.

“Well,” Sed sighed noticing his joke accomplish nothing, “You go on now, you’re going to have to sign in with Lub soon, the foreign eliminator match is tonight and you could get drawn.”

With that said her face turned serious.

“Well that’s a switch,” Sed noted.

“What do you mean?”

“Well you are usually itching to get drawn,” Sed explained, “Tonight I mention the draw and you turn solemn.”

“Oh,” she realized his confusion, “Eet ees not dat. I am eetching to get ah draw, eet ees just some-ting else, some-ting someone said air-lee-air.”
(((Oh … it is not that. I am itching to get a draw, its just something else, something someone said earlier)))

“Something? Someone said?” Now Sed’s forehead creased up with seriousness, “Who said what?”

“Oh eet ees stupeed. Really. You are ry-ett. I shude let you go and rest and I shude-“
(((Oh it is stupid, really. You are right. I should let you go and rest and I should-)))

“Oh there you are!” a small voice cried out, “I was starting to worry I wouldn’t find you!”

“Fleessy?” Seneca asked the darkness down the path between the two inner rings of the carriages where they stood.

“Yes,” she answered as her dark silhouette drew close enough that they could see it, “Lub sent me to find you immediately, and that was a little while ago.”

“What duss he need? I do not half to report for ah half ow-air.”
(((What does he need? I do not have to report for a half hour.)))
-Seneca muttered a little irritated.

“It appears that the Sheedmu royalty has the authority to override Bantu laws concerning the fight rules and has entered you into tonight’s match,” Flissy explained.

“Dat fucking boss-tard,” she breathed like fire, “I knew dat fuckair woss op too some-ting!”
(((That fucking bastard … I knew that fucker was up to something!)))

“What fucker?” Sed interrupted.

”Son uff ah beech!”
(((Son of a bitch)))
-Seneca continued bearing her teeth.

“What son of a bitch?” Sed insisted. “Oh,” he suddenly made the realization wide eyed, “This has something to do with the ‘something someone said earlier’ that screwed your face on sideways just now,” he nodded and chuckled wryly, “So, who said what?”

“Ar-rogue-ant, self wor-sheep-air, tick skull…”
(((Arrogant, self worshipper, thick skull …)))
-Seneca continued breathing fire.

“Are you going to say the arrogant, self worshipping, son of a bitch’s name or are you going to make me guess it?” Sed huffed getting a little irritated himself.

“I wheel not do it,”
(((I will not do it)))
-she announced flatly.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I wheel not fy-ett, I wheel not gheef eet too heem dee sah-tees-fock-shawn,”
(((I will not fight. I will not give it to him the satisfaction)))
-she announced again for clarity.

“Oh!” squealed Flissy, “Oh, you can’t do that, Seneca!”

“Oh yes I can,” Seneca growled throatily flaring her eyes at the little Gumbril.

“Seneca,” Sed snapped angrily enough that she jumped, “That’s enough. You’ve had your little fit. Now, what the hell happened?”

“No-ting, he…” she tried to remember exactly what did happen, “I do not know, heese just man-ee-pool-ating dee seet-way-shawn, I do not know, trying too eem-pray-ess me, or heese friendss?”
(((Nothing, he … I do not know, he is just manipulating the situation, I do not know, trying to impress me or his friends?)))

“He .. who?” Sed barked.

”Prince Sotor,” chimed in Flissy.

“Boss-tard Sheedmu,” Seneca breathed more flames.

“What do you know about it Flissy?” Sed turned to her to see if she could get out a coherent sentence.

“Nothing,” she began, “He came into Lub’s office with five other Sheedmus and paid Lub the expense retainers for four of them…”

“OK,” followed Sed, “National reps. Go on.”

“The fifth signed on as an independent,” she continued.

“Hmmmm,” Sed continued following the story, “Go on.”

“Then he wanted Lub to place the independent against one of the National reps in tomorrow’s local eliminator match.”

“Hup!” Sed interrupted, “Now that is screwball.” He stroked his tusk between his thumb and forefinger for a moment. He got into this habit when he realized how much it irritated all of the other Bantu.

“What duss eet mean?” Seneca asked him, settling down.

“Don’t know,” Sed shrugged, “But it makes you wonder, why would a Sheedmu prince foot the bill for the national fighters and then pay to have an independent fight against basically one of the people he is financing? Like pulling at both ends of the same rope, makes no sense, but I’ll agree this guy is definitely manipulating something and he is up to something.”

“Dare dat duss eet!”
(((There that does it!)))
-Seneca flashed, back on fire.

“Settle down!” Sed snapped at her again, “Flissy’s not done!” He turned back to her again.

“Oh,” Flissy thought with her finger on her chin, “Oh yes, then … he paid Lub to override the Bantu rules again, this time demanding that Seneca be placed into tonight’s foreign eliminator match.”

“Against who?” Sed snapped which got Seneca’s attention; that was a good question.

“Random opponent he stated,” Flissy continued, “He didn’t appear to care, as long as Seneca was in the fight tonight. He left the opponent of the independent Sheedmu he placed in tomorrow’s fight random also.”

“That one doesn’t really matter,” Sed noted, “its bizarre enough sponsoring one of his own to fight against one of his own who he is also sponsoring,” Sed noted, “and apparently he had a run in with Lady Seneca here, more than likely exchanged words, teased her up a bit…”

“Son uff ah fucking beech,” Seneca flamed, “I wheel not fy-ett for heem!”
(((Son of a fucking bitch! … I will not fight for him!)))

“Ahhhh yeahhhh,” Sed chuckled, “and now you are going to throw away your contract- when did you get on this caravan? In the Vikun country?”

“Dee Mo-pow-ree cone-tree,”
(((The ‘Mopauri’ (she actually said it rather well) country)))
-she corrected him.

“Mopauri … that’s right … that was three weeks ago, this is our third stop since then right?”

Seneca and Flissy nodded.

“And as I recall,” Sed continued, “You haven’t been called for a single fight yet.”

They both nodded affirming his statement.

“And you have been itching at the chance to fight,” Sed went on and they both nodded affirming this statement as well, “And now this jackass comes along and spends his money and probably not in silver-”

“Two pieces of gold,” Flissy piped in.

“A significant chunk of money,” Sed went on, “to basically throw out the roll of the cubes and put you at the front of the line to get what you have been desperately waiting for: a match. Well!” he flailed his arms in dramatic emphasis, “We damn sure can’t have that! It makes much more sense to throw it all away, break the contract, put Jud in the position where the best thing he could do is throw you off the caravan, if Lub doesn’t have you thrown in shackles for breaking the contract-”

“Troh me off dee carafan,” Seneca nods, “Do you tink dat ees what deese man-ee-pool-ating boss-tard weesh-ess? For me to get mad, ree-fewss too fy-ett, knowing I wheel get locked or get tro-een off dee carafan? Deese wude poot me ry-ett een dee mee-dell uff dee land he roolss.”

(((Throw me off the caravan … Do you think that is what this manipulating bastard wishes? For me to get mad, refuse to fight, knowing I will get locked (up) or get thrown off the caravan? This would put me right in the middle of the land he rules.)))

“Well,” Sed stroked his tusk again.

“He ees smart ay-nuff, see-mee-lar to you Sed,” she added, “He cude tink such ah ting out ah-haid uff tie-em ly-eck you are tinking eet all now.”
(((He is smart enough, similar to you Sed … He could think such a thing out ahead of time like you are thinking it all now)))

“Then yes,” Sed concurred, “We know he is up to something with that other even stranger deal with the other fight, so it fits his style that he is up to something with you, but my point is,” and he pauses and leans close so she can see the severity in his eyes, “The jackass has paid a lot of gold to hand to you exactly what you have been wishing for, so why would you throw away your independent contract because he gives you what you want? It still doesn’t mean you owe him anything.”

“Oh, but I wude!” she breathed.

“What would you owe him?” Sed objected toothily.

“Some-ting, I am sure uff eet, but you are ry-ett, Sed, I wheel not troh ah-way my con-trahct and poot myself een dee po-see-shawn where I am locked or tro-een out onto dee street dat boss-tard roolss.”
(((Something, I am sure of it, but you are right, Sed … I will not throw away my contract and put myself in the position where I am locked or thrown out onto the street that bastard rules.)))
-she paused to be clearly understood:

“I wheel fy-ett.”
(((I will fight.)))

 

(About an hour later)

 

Hundreds of Sheedmu rekindled their torches and stabbed them into the ground forming a great circle about 60 yards in diameter, they lined up between the torches and stood waiting. Antibwan women walked around behind them with trays and each turned and dropped 2 coppers into the bowl each one carried. Once they had returned to Lub’s table just outside the ring, another set of Antibwan women left Mub’s table to Lub’s right and started their rounds, each carrying a few bottles of Lesethmi Dark Ale and cups.

“First Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!” bellowed an old and grizzled Lub through the small end of a large cone and the crowd hushed.

“Esuc representing the Mopauri Nation!” Lub paused for effect, and there were scattered weak shouts and horn clacks.

“Versus! …the independent … of Krocyon descent … Seneca!” this was followed by a significant rise in the level of shouts and horn clacking.

A chair atop two long poles carried by four young Bantu men emerged from the darkness behind Lub’s table. On the chair sat a Mopauri, slightly taller and much heavier built than the Sheedmu men with immense hands like suit cases. They veered left behind Lub and carried Esuc around the half circle all the way around toward the far end of the circle as another chair, also mounted on two long poles carried by four Bantu men appeared from the shadows behind Lub and also veered left behind him to start around the circle toward the far end, in this second chair sat Seneca riding calmly and wearing her same leather vest, pants and boots, this time bristling with the handles of instruments that were designed to do nothing kind. She sat straight up and forward on the front edge of the chair turned sideways to her left allowing for a great black scabbard slung across her back at a 45 degree angle, extending about 18 inches beyond her left shoulder, to extend about 2 feet down past her right hip.

The Mopauri continued past the farthest end of the circle coming back up the right side toward Lub’s position. Seneca’s shoulder coach stayed on the exact opposite side of the circle from him headed away from Lub’s position around the left side of the circle. The Sheedmu carefully examined each fighter as their shoulder carriage passed by. Esuc, had returned to Lub’s position as Seneca reached the exact opposite end of the great clearing. They continued around so that Esuc returned once again to the far end, and Seneca completed her first circuit back to Lub’s position. They continued around the circle clockwise bringing Esuc back to Lub’s position and taking Seneca to the opposite far end. At this point the shoulder coach carriers placed the fighter’s chairs on the ground, but the combatants remained seated.

Another flurry of Antibwan women scattered away from a table to Lub’s left and began swishing finger cymbals and calling out, “Betting here!”

All of the Sheedmu in Sotor’s vicinity were waiting and watching him to see what he would do, and most of the others all the way around the circle were craning their necks trying to see as well, so he yelled out in a voice for all to here, “I will bet last, so that all are free to bet as their hearts tell them!”

“Well I am not going to doubt a Krocyon woman again!” yelled the young Sheedmu who had lost his piece of gold to Sekong earlier. Most who had been in the cubes parlor laughed as he strode over to the nearest Antibwan woman, held a piece of gold up high and dropped it loudly into a wooden bowl on her tray, then repeated the gesture with two more pieces. With that most of the Sheedmu relinquished their positions at the edge of the circle and crowded around the Antibwan women placing their bets.

Once everyone had placed their wagers to Sotor’s satisfaction and most murmured still watching him, he strode over to the nearest Antibwan woman and spoke in a loud clear voice that everyone could here: “Three pieces of gold on the Mopauri!” And dropped the coins into the appropriate bowl.

Seneca perked up at that and narrowed her glare in his direction, about half way between Lub’s end and her end to her right, but he was looking down at Esuc’s end and pointing and conferring with others in his entourage acting much more seriously than he had been in Kenoshilla’s parlor. They all were acting much more seriously now, she realized.

“Last call for bets!” howled a familiar voice from a table near Lub’s at the far end; Kenoshilla.

No one seemed to move from the vantage points that had settled into around the circle, with the front row of spectators kneeled on the ground, shorter men half leaned over with their hands on their knees behind them, and tall men standing full erect behind them.

“Betting is completed!” Kenoshilla confirmed loudly.

With that Seneca deftly hopped up off of the chair onto the ground to its right facing the open path to the inside of the circle that the four Bantu men who had carried her there had carefully cleared of spectators and roped off to the shoulder carriage during the betting round.

“Fighters! … Preee … Paaaaaaaare!” howled Lub from the far end.

She could feel the blood pounding through her, hear her heart beating in her throat. She took long soothing breaths of the light comfortably cool spring air and could see that Esuc at the far end had already reached the rope hanging between two of the large torches that kept him from entering the arena.

She strode the twenty yards toward the rope hanging between the two torches at her end and as she did so she swept the huge scabbard from her back and held it chest high horizontally in front of her. She slowly pulled out with a loud stone on stone grinding sound a surprisingly long, thick, and wide very straight stunningly bright silver broadsword that looked like it must have weighed more than her, it rang like a bell in the still crisp air of the night as its tip cleared the end of the scabbard accompanied by a wave of gasps at it. She tossed aside its scabbard there outside of the arena bounds and took a few graceful figure eight swings at the air. It flashed like bolts of lightning when the flames of the torches caught it right and it barked like a small whipped dog at the air with each swing, eliciting another wave of gasps and murmurs at the ease with which she handled a weapon that many of them would have had to practice with for years before they would try to wield it so deftly.

She now stood at the rope and settled to stand at it as still as a statue.

“Fighters! Ready!” Lub howled.

“HI!” went out Esuc’s deep bellow in the distance.

“HI!” she snapped out in a taught high pitched scream that startled many of the Sheedmu at her end of the circle, though she didn’t notice it.

“Until! One! Remaaaaaaains!” Lub yelled.

The two young Bantu men responsible for the action, one at each end of the arena, dropped the restraining ropes to the ground. This, she thought, was it. It had begun.

 

(The Fight)

 

In the blink of an eye, Esuc had knelt with a deep knee bend and plunged his enormous hands straight into the hard ground and had plucked a boulder out roughly spherical about two and a half feet in diameter.

With a “Whoop-WHIP!” of her sword, it was held high in the air over her left shoulder. Esuc stood straight up again and lowered his right hand holding the boulder as easily as anyone else might hold a small stone. It passed his leg and continued back as if he were going to toss a bowling ball, then like lightning he lurched forward and the arm came forward over his right shoulder and released the boulder which for a moment looked like it was a hovering blur in the air in front of her – but instead it was coming straight at her in a straight line…

(More Coming Soon!)

 

Copyright©2009 Brian K. Robinson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED