Extracts torn from forgotten books
by Jim Johnson
Sinopeya reached the top of the low ridge that partially enclosed the massive Free City of Taray. Nestled in the protective semicircular shape, the city had been built and rebuilt dozens of times for as long back as her memory and the memories of her people could reach. It seemed like for as long as there had been an earth, the Free City had existed in one form or another. Perhaps it had been originally built by the gods. Sinopeya didn’t know such things.
She rested on her heels, using her longbow as support, shading her eyes with her free hand. The city teemed with activity, and thin smoke rose from a hundred chimneys and dozens of smithies closer to the shoreline to the north. Merchants throughout the city traded their wares with the local inhabitants and the many travelers who came through the city’s thick gates. The Free City was the center of commerce for the southeastern part of the known world.
Sinopeya took a mouthful of water from her waterskin, swished the dirt and grime out of her mouth, and spit it out to the side. This was a critical day for her and her people, and she wanted to make sure she made a good impression. The Elders had repeatedly impressed upon her how little understood her people were outside the tribe, and so she came to the city partially to help set that to right.
Word had come to the people through traveling merchants that the ruling council of the Free City has a great festival planned for the next several days. There would be dancing, singing, more food and drink than any mortal could stand, and, of key interest to Sinopeya, tests of skill and feats of arms.
She possessed modest ability with the bow, though many of the experienced scouts in her tribe, the ones who had earned six or more feathers for their headdresses, claimed firmly that she truly had the gift. Her name was even known in two of the other great Tribes, though Sinopeya was reluctant to admit as much. She was still just a small girl in her own mind, having earned no feathers, no glory for herself or her people, had not yet even taken a man to her bed. At fifteen, she knew she still had plenty of time for that. It didn’t hold great interest for her, for one thing, but more importantly, the mother goddess, Korkora the Bountiful, had told her in a vision to be patient and to wait to give herself to a man until she was sure. Sinopeya trusted the Good Mother in all things, and so had declined all offers of coupling.
She stood, stretched her calves and back. The merchants had told her that the tests of skill would begin on the morrow, so she had time to get to the city and secure lodging for the duration of the festival. She slung her bow over her shoulder, hiked up her cured leather satchel and made her way down the inside of the semicircular bowl.
Once on the main cobbled road, her pace slowed, her feet in her soft leather shoes unused to such strange terrain. After a few minutes of rough going, she moved off the road and made better time on the soft grass.
A merchant’s wagon ahead of her had thrown a wheel, blocking the road. Several merchants and the members of the merchant’s family milled around the wagon, watching a young dark-haired man work with hammer and wedge on the damaged wheel. Sinopeya paused to watch him.
With deft movements that could have only come with long practice, the man secured the wheel’s spokes. The merchant made as if to help, but sharp words from his mate made him pull back. Sinopeya didn’t understand their language, but the inflection and results were universal. She smiled. She’d seen many old matrons in her tribe use a similar tone with their mates, even remembered her mother railing at her father in like manner.
The young man seemed to sense that he was being watched, and looked up from his work. He turned pale blue eyes on Sinopeya. He had a warm smile and a giving face.
Sinopeya returned the smile. In rough Tarayan she said, “Bright day to you.”
His grin widened. He nodded over the repaired wheel. In the same language, he said, “And a brighter day to you.”
When he didn’t add anything else, other than a longer stare, she nudged her chin toward the wheel in his hands. “You fix that?” She wasn’t embarrassed for her broken tongue. Few in her tribe had bothered to learn even the basic greetings, feeling a foreign tongue beneath their mouths to voice.
His ogling broken, he blinked then looked at the wheel. He tested the tightness of the spokes. He grinned back at her. “Yes, I have.”
“Yours are clever hands. Fair day to you.”
She walked away, but not before she saw him stand and make as if to follow her. Loud protestations from the merchant stopped him in his tracks. She turned to watch him accept the verbal harangue from the merchant, as they gestured between the wheel and the wagon. The young man looked at her and gave her a grin that she thought to be reluctant, then turned back to his work.
She smiled to herself and resumed her travel to the city. The young man was good to finish the task he’d started. No doubt his friends considered him reliable. And, she thought, recalling his eyes, his open expression. An honest man.
She worked her way through the thickening throng milling outside the tall, open gates of the city. Her elders had warned her about the merchants who set up shop outside the city gates. They often sold their wares for much less than you could get them for inside the city, but the quality was often half as good, and they were not bound by the rules of commerce the city’s Ruling Council set down. A buyer outside the walls was entirely at the mercy of the sellers. She brushed off their incessant cries for good deals and avoided offering an open hand to anyone.
She made her way through the city gates, boldly ignoring the look of scorn she received from one of the city guards standing watch with a long spear in his hands. She had evaluated him with a glance; little more than a local spirit-swiller given a breastplate and some authority. Not a warrior like her or the others in her tribe.
She made her way into the city, seeking out lodging for the duration of the festival. She knew she couldn’t afford the finer rooms, so moved to the lower-cost districts. Proprietor after proprietor turned her down, insisting they didn’t have rooms available. She suspected otherwise, but her weak skill with their tongue didn’t help her cause.
Working her way deeper into the city, toward the port district, she did find a foul old woman standing in front of a beat-up building, wearing a dirty pleated skirt that might have been white once, and a silky shawl wrapped around her shoulders and sagging breasts. She leered at Sinopeya as she approached.
“Greetings, little missy. I have a room for you if you want it. All you have to do is entertain some guests.”
Sinopeya caught every third word or so, but the lurid sign posted outside the building, coupled with sounds of rough lovemaking coming from the open windows, told Sinopeya all she needed to know about that establishment. If she was waiting to give her body to a man, she certainly wasn’t going to trade it for three days’ lodging. She’s sleep on the ground outside the city if she had to.
A rough hand grabbed her from behind and spun her around. A tall Northman, judging from the heavy clothing he wore, smelling of bad spirits and heavily spiced meat, leered at her through lank greasy hair.
“What’ve we got here, mates?” He glanced at a couple of his fellow Northmen arrayed behind him. “A juicy lillit from the southern tribes by the look o’ her.”
Sinopeya understood some of the words, but the man’s intent easily filled in the blanks. She glanced around her. The woman was no help; indeed, she seemed to be encouraging the man on. Several other people milled about, either waiting to see what would happen or averted their eyes and moved on to wherever they were going.
She tightened her grip on her bow and tried to back away from the man. “I have no interest in you,” she said, hoping most of the words were the right ones.
The man pulled her close. “That’s all right, missy. I have enough interest for the both of us.” He leaned down to press his lips against hers.
She stomped down on his foot with all the strength in her leg and backed away in a smooth leap, swinging her bow around at his face. He had just started to howl in pain from his foot when the tip of her longbow caught him right across the nose. Blood sprayed out of his broken face, flecking his comrades.
The man raised his hands his nose and fell to his knees, howling in anger and pain. Blood poured out from between his fingers. “Kill that bitch!”
His two cohorts drew long bronze knives and started toward her. She glanced behind her, saw a wide space had been made around her and the others.
She took two long steps back, drawing an arrow from the quiver at her hip and taking aim at the closest knife-wielder. Her blindingly-fast draw and nocking made both men pause in their steps. They glanced at each other.
Sinopeya kept the bow leveled at the taller of the two men. “I have no quarrel with you two,” she said. “Leave me and we all live.”
The two men alternated stares at her and at each other. She guessed they hadn’t expected to be staring down a loaded bow at near-point blank range. The spirit of her people thundered in her veins, energized her muscles, her actions. Her fingertips tingled.
A call to halt broke out of the crowd around them then, and a pair of armored soldiers broke through the crowd, having blazed their path through them with their tall shields. Each wore heavy breastplates and metal greaves and bracers, and each had a blue plumed helmet atop their heads. Their shields carried the device of the blue dragon, the symbol of the Free Provinces Dragon militiamen.
The older of the two soldiers took in the scene and glared at Sinopeya. In her tongue, he said, “Put up your weapon, bow-maiden. There will be no further bloodshed.”
She obeyed his request, more in surprise than in submission. Few outside the tribes could speak her people’s language. The Dragon turned to the two Northmen. “You two. Sheathe your blades and take your friend to a chirurgan. He’s had enough fun for one night.”
Angry but compliant, the two men stuck their knives back in their belt sheathes and helped their friend stand up. The blood still oozed out of his fingers, and he walked with a noticeable limp. The man gave Sinopeya a blood-filled stare, then limped off between his friends down the street.
Sinopeya returned her arrow to the quiver with its sisters. She bowed low to the Dragon. His comrade waved off the crowd, breaking them up.
In her tongue, she said, “I thank you for your intervention, mighty Dragon.”
He gave her a gruff smile, and returned the nod. “I don’t think you needed our help, but you’re welcome all the same.”
He glanced at the brothel across the street, then at her. “This isn’t the place for you, bow-maiden. And I’m sorry to say there isn’t a hostelry in all the city accepting of your people.”
She frowned. “At worst, I had hoped to find a stable to stay in for the night. I don’t require a bed or a cot. Clean rushes or even a clean swatch of dirt will do for me.”
He nodded. “I know the ways of your people.” He gestured at her to walk with him. He motioned to his fellow Dragon to follow. “I spent several years on border duty to the south. My regiment traded with the Bright Falls and the Unbroken Sky tribes.”
She nodded at him and smiled. “Both these tribes are allies of my people. I am of the Wide Shadow tribe.”
His eyes widened in surprise. “Do I have the honor, then, of speaking to a daughter of Kora?”
She shook her head and corrected him. “Korkora, yes. The Mother Goddess.”
“Of course. We call her Kora. No doubt the same Great Lady.”
She smiled and pressed her hand to her chest. “I am called Sinopeya.”
The Dragon grinned. “A beautiful name. I am Mobus, sergeant of the Free Province Dragons.”
She nodded. “The renown of your tribe is well known to me, Sergeant. The Blue Dragons and my people have been sometime allies in recent years, and rarely enemies.”
He inclined his head. “We are in good company then, Sinopeya.” He paused in the street. “I assume you are here for the festival.”
She nodded, indicating the bow in her hands. “I am here to prove to the Free City and all the world that my people are civilized, and not savages living in the dirt and hills. I am here to secure respect and honor for myself and the Thirty Tribes.”
He smiled as she stated her intentions. He removed his helmet and bowed to her. “May your arrows fly true and find their mark, then.” He glanced down the street, then back at her. “I sense you’ll do well at the festival, Sinopeya. May I offer you a place in my tent for the duration of the festival?”
She frowned. “I don’t mean to share my…”
He raised a hand, cutting her off. “I don’t mean sharing it with me, of course. I can sleep outside my own lodge easily enough for a few days.” He rested a hand on his breastplate. “What is mine is yours for a few days. Will you do me this great honor?”
She considered it, looking into his face. She saw the eyes of a veteran warrior and a caring man. Sudden insight struck her. “You are a husband and a father.”
He blinked, apparently surprised at the sudden statement. “As a matter of fact, I have a wife at home with our two children—two dear daughters.” He looked at her with a strange smile. “How did you know?”
She shrugged. “The Great Mother whispered in my ear that you were a man honorable and reliable.”
He glanced up toward the clouds, then back at her. “Then the Great Mother does me much honor. Please,” he gestured down the street, “follow me.”
Sinopeya fell into step with Mobus and walked with him and his companion, a younger Dragon named Coric. Mobus’s regiment of Dragons had made camp within the city walls, near a good watering hole and a square paddock large enough for their twenty-odd mounts. Their camp was military-neat and orderly, straight paths through the rows of tents, weapon stacks at strategic points.
Several Dragons gave Sinopeya curious glances as she walked into the camp with Sergeant Mobus, but they tended to their own business. Coric took his leave of them, heading toward his own tent, and Mobus soon stopped in front of a simple square tent. He pulled the entrance flap opened and indicated Sinopeya to enter.
It was a simple affair, with a low cot and one closed trunk. She smiled. “It’s more than satisfactory.”
He grinned. “A sight better than a stable, I would think.” He led her back outside and pointed down one path. “That way is the washing pond. We, ah,” he looked a little embarrassed, “have both male and female Dragons in this regiment, and we’re comfortable sharing bathing ponds.”
She nodded in understanding. “I have no modesty when it comes to bathing. My people share water as needed. Nakedness of the body is not to be red-faced about.”
He smiled in understanding and pointed down another path. “That direction lies the cook tent.”
She fancied she could smell the cooking food wafting from that direction. She hadn’t eaten since the morning, a rabbit she had snared and broke her fast on.
Her face must have betrayed her stomach, because Mobus grinned. “Shall we get something to eat? We have plenty of provender to spare one more mouth at our table.”
She paused. “Will I be welcome by your regiment?”
He grinned. “Once I tell them what you did to that Northman, they’ll warm up to you easily enough. Besides, you’re here for the archery test. I bet a few of my people will ask you for some advice.”
He paused, stared at her. “Do you possess any of the gift?”
She veiled her eyes. “Perhaps a little. Will you be attending the tests?”
He led her down the path toward the cook tent. “I had intended to participate in the sword and shield tests, but now that you’re here, I’ll be sure to watch the archery test. I’ll cheer you on, even if no one else does.”
She nodded her thanks and followed him into the tent that smelled of roast meat and herbs.
About the Author: Jim Johnson is the author of the Pistols and Pyramids series as well as other prose fiction series currently under development. He has written sundry other pieces of fiction, including several stories published in the Star Trek universe, and has freelanced for pen and paper roleplaying game companies, including Decipher and White Wolf. Please visit www.SCRIBEINETI.com for more information on Jim and his interests and writing.
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