Tlisli Decides

This is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and events are totally products of the author’s imagination (as should be obvious).
Copyright © 2017,
Henry E. Neufeld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bandage him,” Tlisli ordered nobody in particular.

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

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  1. [Continued from Tlisli Gets a Job]
    Tlisli spent the rest of the day and a good part of the night being surprised. It started when she met Zerdanin, captain of the guard. Inraline used one name, and then the connective “ir” which meant “descendant of” and a parent’s name. Only in a formal introduction would the full name be used.
    The guard captain was Tlisli’s first surprise. She introducted herself as Zerdanin ir-Ketran, and informed Tlisli that Ketran was her mother. In Ixtlen, while a person was known as a descendant, there was “son of” and “daughter of” and it was always of the father. She learned that in Inralin one had a choice, though tradition held, in order, that one chose the higher ranking person, the parent whose profession was more similar to one’s own, or in the absence of such distinctions, a daugher was descendant of her mother, and a son of his father.
    While she was being lectured on names, Tlisli was absorbing the shock of Zerdanin’s apparent age. She looked, well, old. She looked even older than old. Aterin was old, in late middle age. How could one be captain of the guard and be that old. Surely she would be slow!
    A couple of hours testing with weapons and then with hand-to-hand combat cured Tlisli of the thought that the captain was too old for her job. It turned out, however, that Zerdanin considered herself too old to be a front line fighter. That, she told Tlisli, was what she had lieutenants, sergeants, and yes, new recruits for.
    Zerdanin, it turned out, was a veteran of the Tevelin garrison, where she had risen to the rank of Evnor, which mean someone who commanded in the area of 900 troops. Why the number was stated as 900, when nearly everyone on this continent would have used multiples of 12 (a gift of the Tlazil Empire, Azzesh had told her), while she had heard that others would use multiples of 10, Tlisli could not understand. The Inraline used base 10 numbers, as she had heard were common elsewhere, yet they used companies of 300 and a sort of regiment of around 900. The structure was quite different. In general, however, she was pretty sure she had been told about the numbers so she would be impressed by Zerdanin’s command experience.
    The guard on their riverboat, however, was very different. Guards worked in teams of three with a lead guard in command. These were then divided into three shifts, and on this riverboat, each shift consisted of two teams. One of the lead guards would also be designated as the sergeant for each of the shifts. After her weapon skill was determined, Tlisli was assigned to work with the lieutenant. Lieutenant Uxinen was, in Tlisli’s opinion, an arrogant ass. She hadn’t had the opportunity to work out with him, but he just didn’t impress her at all.
    There was a certain amount of consternation among the guards, however, when Tlisli was assigned as a sort of junior lieutenant. That put her above the sergeants in rank, and they were none too sure this as a good idea. To be honest, Tlisli wasn’t that sure it was a good idea either!
    Before nightfall, Tlisli received another shock. All of the guards, including the officers, were required to know how to work one of the oars on the riverboat itself and to row one of the boats. Zerdanin assured Tlisli that she would be unlikely to row the riverboat other than to experience it, as she was too small, and would actually be a hindrance. But it was quite possible she’d wind up rowing one of the smaller rowboats. That skill could come in handy. Tlisli had no difficult with that task. Small boats on rivers were something she knew.
    That night they stopped in a small village by a tributary creek. The riverboat carried some letters and packages which they dropped off and picked up others. Tlisli learned that there was no official mail service outside of Tevelin and its official outposts, and so there was a considerable traffic in carrying mail between the various villages. It didn’t surprise Tlisli that there was no official mail service; what surprised her was that there was mail service at all.
    The next day was market day in the village. Tlisli wondered whether it was market day because the riverboat had arrived or whether Aterin had arranged to arrive on market day. She didn’t have time to ask. She was told that she would be going with one of Aterin’s commercial assistants up the creek for about two hours along with two of the oarsmen whose job it would be to row the boat. She would be the sole guard for the expedition. If she hadn’t seen the look on Uxinen’s face as he gave the order, she would have thought she was being honored, considering how little anyone knew of her. She was pretty sure, however, that this was considered grunt work. Uxinen told her to intimidate any bandits who might come along.
    On the way up the creek, Tlisli and the commercial assistant, a local named Tlorin, had plenty of time to chat. Tlisli took the opportunity to learn whatever she could. Basically, he said, they were delivering mail, and also watching for opportunities to buy certain fish—Tlisli was acquainted with most of those Tlorin described—and various herbs. They’d also be willing to pay for information that would lead to finding certain types of lumber that were highly desired for furniture making.
    “I saw that a great deal of our load was of rockwood,” said Tlisli. “Is that the sort of thing we’re looking for?”
    “Most of the stands of ironwood, which is what we call it,” said Tlorin, “have already been located, marked and are regularly harvested. The woods we’re interested in are used in making luxury, decorative furniture.”
    “Can we make enough money on an expedition like this to make it worth Aterin’s effort?”
    “Not on any regular basis, but the fact that we carry the mail makes us popular with the local people.”
    They pulled up to the wharf at the quiet village. Tlorin seemed to be quite delighted as he threw a rope to a man on the small wharf. Tlisli sensed something wrong. She saw at least three men holding spears. It was not unusual for a man to carry such a weapon in the jungle. But these looked like they were ready to move. There was a tension among the men waiting, those who didn’t have spears as well. She grabbed an arrow and her bow (which she had kept strung most of the way), still keeping both inside the boat. Then she tried to whisper a question to Tlorin, but she had hardly turned his direction when one of the men with the spears threw it and hit him squarely in the chest. Tlorin was standing, and fell into the river.
    Tlisli’s reaction was automatic. She raised her bow from a seated position (it was quite small enough for this), and loosed that arrow, not at the one who had thrown the spear, but at one of the others. He had started a move toward her, and he stumbled and plucked at the arrow that was in his belly. His companion was moving too quickly to stop and check, and stopping would have been a bad idea for him in any case, so he moved forward.
    Tlisli simply dodged his spear with the same movement as she picked up her sword from under her seat on the boat. He continued forward, apparently intent on fighting her bare-handed, and was completely unprepared as she brought her sword up. She had no time to really choose. She just rammed the point upward and let his momentum help impale him on it.
    The first man was now holding a spear. It had to be the one dropped by the one she had shot, but she hadn’t seen it happen. He was apparently not going to throw it, but instead try to fight her with it. She remembered Azzesh’s words, “When someone is about to do something remarkably stupid, be sure that you’re not missing something.”
    In this case, however, Tlisli couldn’t think of any wonderful thing the man might know that would make that crude spear adequate against her sword. Using a move with which she had often cut Azzesh’s sticks in half during practice, she sliced the spear in two at an angle. While the man was still trying to figure out his next move, she jumped to the wharf and stabbed the tip of her sword directly into his heart.
    She crouched and looked back and forth, trying to evaluate the situation. She didn’t know who belonged here and who didn’t. Was the battle over, or was someone waiting nearby to surprise her as she had the three men?
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  2. Tlisli took a moment to thoroughly survey the people. She didn’t see any further weapons, but was extremely conscious of the fact that she had missed the fact that the man she had just defeated was carrying a knife. At the moment, she couldn’t recall whether she had seen the knife, and not categorized it as a weapon, or whether she had simply not seen it. She could hear Azzesh castigating her for either mistake!

    This is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and events are totally products of the author’s imagination (as should be obvious).
    Copyright © 2017,
    Henry E. Neufeld

    She looked sternly at the villagers. “What happened here? Where is Isteriss, your headman?”
    One of the men started to approach here, but jerked back as she gestured at him with her sword. Then he knelt on the ground where he was and started to speak in a whining tone. “Please, agent of the great merchant Aterin, do not blame us for what has happened. We were set upon by this man and his guards. They killed Isteriss and there was nothing we could do about it.” He nodded toward the man on the ground as he identified him.
    Tlisli was fairly certain that much was being left out, yet she wasn’t sure how she was to sort all this out. “Who is in charge of the village now?” she asked.
    The men started to look at one another. It seemed nobody wanted to claim to be in charge.
    “Speak up! Surely someone is in charge in your village when the headman dies.”
    “Yes, great mistress,” said the spokesman, as Tlisli tried hard not to laugh, “the Shaman leads a ceremony and the new leader is selected when he reads the entrails of a goat that has been sacrificed.”
    “And who is in charge in the meantime?”
    “I am,” said the Shaman, getting up from tending the wounded man.
    Tlisli sent the one guard who was on the pier to check that the man was still thoroughly bound. It appeared that he was.
    “So can you take the mail and exchange some of the other goods that we have?” asked Tlisli.
    “I can,” said the Shaman. He was easily the oldest person there.
    Tlisli watched him and his two companions closely. She kept expecting someone else to challenge her, but nobody seemed willing to take any action.
    Following the instructions she had learned from Tlorin, she delivered the mail and bargained for the supplies that she had. Despite having gone over the instructions thoroughly on the trip up there, she had never expected to be called upon to do the actual bargaining.
    When she was finished, she prepared to leave. She was interrupted by the Shaman’s voice.
    “Please great lady,” he said. Again, Tlisli had to fight the urge to laugh. Her? A great lady? But perhaps it seemed so in a village of a few dozen people at most.
    “Yes?” she asked.
    “You can’t just leave us. What will we do for protection?”
    “For protection? What have you done up to now?”
    “Nobody was trying very hard to kill us then. Perhaps a thief or two, a couple of bandits, but nobody organized.”
    “So tell me what happened?”
    “The man there,” he gestured toward the wounded man, “came with his guards, killed Isteriss and claimed he was the new headman.”
    “Why did nobody challenge him? There are many more of you.”
    “But they were armed with warriors’ spears. They are professional guards. We have only our bows and arrows and fishing spears.”
    Tlisli could understand the problem. Their bows and arrows were suitable for hunting small game and birds, and their spears were good for reasonable size fish, but they were not the weapons of warriors.
    “Did they say where they came from?”
    “From out that way,” said the man, gesturing generally toward the west.
    Tlisli would have suspected the Grand Empire of the Sun, which was in that direction, though she knew that the nearest likely outpost was hundreds of kilometers away at the closest. She also knew the grand emperor’s soldiers would have been better equipped.
    “Did they way what they were doing?”
    “They said that we were to trade with them, inland, rather than down the river to the sea people.” Tlisli assumed he meant Tevelin and the Inraline.
    “And why do you think there will be more?”
    “Because he said so!”
    “And you have found him trustworthy and truthful?”
    “Why should I doubt him?”
    “Perhaps because he killed your headman and held all of you as hostages!”
    The man just looked at her. It didn’t seem that he could imagine why the killer would lie.
    She nodded to her guard who was with her on the shore. “Get him in the boat,” she said.
    The two guards moved him without much ceremony.
    “I’ll tell you what,” Tlisli said to the Shaman. “I’ll take word to the great merchant Aterin that you are having this trouble. He will decided whether to send you any help. In the meantime, I’d grab the spears and the knife that the men have left behind and I’d do my best to learn how to use them.”
    There as a sullen silence on the shore as Tlisli left.
    Once there were in the center of the creek and headed downstream, Tlisli addressed the man she had wounded.
    “I’m interested in what you were doing in the village,” she said casually.
    “I’m sure you are.” Before this encounter, Tlisli would have sworn one couldn’t croak and sneer at the same time, but she thought the man had succeeded.
    “So tell me,” she said.
    The man laughed. “I’ll tell you nothing!”
    Tlisli watched him for a couple of minutes, as though she hadn’t figured out quite what to do with the man’s statement.
    When the silence became too long the man continued, “Well?”
    “Well what?” asked Tlisli.
    “Well, what are you going to do about that?” Tlisli was fairly certain he thought the answer was “nothing.”
    “I was just thinking that if I get no information from you, all my efforts to keep you alive were for nothing, and right now you’re weighting down this boat and making me keep my eye on you.”
    He eyed her, not quite sure he followed. He still really couldn’t fathom a girl as a warrior, and certainly not as someone who would treat a captured man poorly.
    “As I meditate on all those facts,” continued Tlisli, “it becomes continually more clear that I’m wasting my time. I’m thinking that it might be better if you die of your injuries and we throw out the body.”
    She drew her sword and began to poke very gently at the bandages. “Perhaps it was a mistake to leave you alive. Perhaps I need practice. Come to think of it, who knows what that Shaman might have actually done to you.”
    The wounded man stared into her eyes, and what he saw there frightened him. He didn’t see the girl who had run from her home. He saw the girl who had survived near death and traveled for weeks through the jungle. That girl was dangerous.
    “I work for the headman of a village about a day’s journey toward the setting sun, he said.” And he spun for her a lovely tale.
    Was it the truth? Tlisli wasn’t certain she’d ever get to find out. But it would doubtless interest Aterin.
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