This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of the next plus one Cat novel. Rada has gone to Drakon IV for some peace and quiet. You’d think by now she’d know better . . .
“Fewmets!” Commander Rada Lord Ni Drako spun around and ran toward the sounds, teeth clenched against the pain spiking from her bad knee. She ducked a low branch, went around a clump of crimson-claw, and swung wide of the weeping spring. She slowed as soon as she caught a glimpse of Azdhagi in motion. Four on one, and the one was a female with an improvised pole arm of some kind. Oh hell no, not on my lands you don’t. Rada braced the naginata for a stabbing attack and charged, aiming for the back of the male closest to the young female. “Ni Drako hai!”
The blade slipped between his ribs. Rada slid it sideways and out, pulling free of the dying reptile. She spun the blade up, blocking a second male’s blow with the stout wooden pole, dodged and found herself between the remaining males and the female. The larger of the two came at Rada with a scythe, swinging high to behead her. Rada feint-blocked, ducked, and stabbed him in the throat just above the neck spines. He dropped the scythe and staggered, brown blood gushing.
Thunk, thunk! Rada spun in time to see the female delivering a third blow to her attacker’s head. Her small wooden pole cracked but he went down hard. The fourth male disappeared, probably fleeing into the forest. Rada planted the iron-shod end of the naginata into the rocky soil and leaned on it. The female tried to copy her but the pole broke.
Rada hurt. Her knee and leg threatened to quit, she’d pulled a shoulder muscle and probably a tricep, and she had a stitch in her side. I’ll need a long soak tonight, assuming I can make it back to the manor house. I hate aging. And where in Shi-dan’s name are my guards? Once she got enough breath back to talk, Rada demanded, “Who are you and what in the name of the nine hells is going on?”
The young female gulped and bowed. “Lord Mammal, I am Kleel, Gleet of Greykin is my sire. Forgive me, lord mammal, but I, they, they don’t like my sire.”
“Let me go! I wasn’t doing any— oof!” Rada closed her eye and did not sigh. She opened it again and turned, keeping the weight off her bad leg as much as possible, and beheld her bodymales looming over a chunky, dark-green male with torn robes and a muzzle full of leaf litter.
At least he’s alive. But that means documentation and investigation, damn it, and possibly an adjudication just to finish ruining my time away. And killing him for inconveniencing her would be extreme even for Azdhag law, although only by a claw-tip width.
“Lord Mammal, he ‘wasn’t doing anything’ at a high rate of speed through the forest while yelling about evil spirits and a demon mammal and a female ridden by an ancestral spirit,” Sgt. Teeklee announced. “And ran into Cpl. Sleekt.”
“As in collided with, Corporal?”
“Affirmative, lord mammal. Almost knocked me flat, my lord.” Rada had a few doubts about the “almost” part, judging by the amount of foliage and dirt on the corporal’s robe, but she held her peace. Instead she limped over to a sturdy looking log, poked it to confirm no rot, and sat. She cleaned the blood and sundry off the naginata’s blade with the rag she’d tucked in her belt.
“So, Kleel of Greykin lineage, I repeat, what in the nine hells happened?”
“She attacked us!”
Rada and her soldiers looked from the flat male to Kleel and back. The huffing snorts that served Azdhagi as guffaws erupted from the males, and Rada removed her iron war fan from her belt and opened it, concealing her lower face as she struggled not to laugh. A true Azdhag noble would not show emotion so openly.
Kleel looked down. The grey-green female had settled onto all fours and she scuffed the leaves and dirt in the clearing a little. “Ah, um, lord mammal, my lord, my sire Gleet upset some of the males of the settlement by cutting down the wrong tree.”
That’s new. They try to kill a female because her father dropped the wrong tree. “And when did this happen?”
“Four year-turns before my birth, my lord.”
Rada swallowed another sigh. Why could cases never be simple? Rada wanted to thump all the parties involved. Instead she stood and limped over to the still unconscious male. He should have started waking up by now, and she prodded him with the butt-end of the naginata. No response. She crouched and felt for a pulse. That he did have, and she closed her eye and reached with her Healing gift. She felt the subdural bleed and swelling, and eased them, against her better judgment. Kleel did not need a blood feud on her head. The little female had hit the perfect spot, and Rada made a note that Kleel needed a little more training but not much more. Then she staggered to her feet and limped back to her log. “What happened?”
“The storm-catch’s stupid sire killed four males with his carelessness, and then refused to accept blood guilt,” the male laying in front of her soldiers declared. “Then he took a second female to mate, the daughter of one of the dead males, and used her mating gift to bribe the justicar into ignoring illegal logging and the deaths. My sire’s son is owed blood-price and he will have it one way or another. And now Gleet owes more, for the three dead here.”
Rada gave him a sour look. She was the justicar, and she’d not gotten any bribe money, nor heard of a blood-debt at either Singing Pines or Burnt Mountain. “Which settlement is involved, Kleel?”
“Deathwater, my lord.”
Sgt. Teeklee’s neck spines twitched and he made a negation with his strong-side forefoot. “Deathwater’s only been settled ten year-turns.”
“Ah, it started back at Schree’s Rest, sir, my lord.”
A headache only slightly smaller than Burnt Mountain itself erupted into Rada’s skull. You know, being shot at on Ter-tri is sounding more and more relaxing. I wonder if Joschka needs a shepherd for that summer pasture way the hell up in the mountains? Becoming a hermit sounds nice, too. “I see. Sergeant, call for transportation, two dead, one unconscious. Everyone comes back to Singing Pines and stays there until I sort this out.” What ever became of my quiet vacation?
Kleel gave her lord a hopeful look. “My lord, does that mean I can watch you practice some more?”
“How long have you been watching me?”
“Um, three double-moons, my lord? I started practicing not long after the spring planting festival.” Kleel’s hopeful and eager look reminded Rada of all the juniors who lined up for pieces of dried meat, or a puppy begging for a treat.
Her guards seemed to be watching the tops of the trees around the clearing with studious care, but Rada saw their tail-tips wiggling with amusement. Blessed St. Michael, what have I done to deserve this? No, take that back, please don’t answer.
Three days later Lord Ni Drako and “his concubine” stared at the computer screen and made identical negations. “I’m impressed by their tenacity. Not their intelligence, but their tenacity.”
<<Agreed. If they nursed that grudge any better, they could become chief palace Healers.>> Zabet, Rada’s True-dragon business partner and House Boss, pointed to one of the lines of testimony with a blue-silver talon. <<The logging master ruled it an accident caused by equipment failure. No blood claims were made at the time, and the case was closed and sealed. I’m curious how Greykin lineage ended up at Schree’s Rest, but that has nothing to do with the case or this feud.>>
“Agreed, and I seem to recall that I gave, no, no, it was the skinny-tailed steward, er, ah, blast it to shards. You know who I mean.”
Zabet sent a mental picture of the individual.
“That’s him. He gave permission for several families and single males to leave, after that drought year when everyone was hungry.” Rada skipped to the bottom of the legal file. “So no grounds for blood damages, no reason for attacking the daughter of the party involved. Yes, he took the youngest female of one of the deceased as mate, but that had already been arranged and they were only waiting until she reached the age of consent. And that’s not much of a mate gift.”
Zabet leaned forward and Rada felt her whiskers brushing her neck. <<Heck no. That’s no more than a token payment. One bolt of fabric and her clothing and foot-covers? Strange.>> Rada pointed to the line above the settlement. <<Oh. OK, makes sense.>>
“Indeed. The youngest of fifteen? That may be a record for one mate.” Rada’s hips ached just thinking about it, and she’d never given birth.
“So whatever Tsloh is claiming, it doesn’t apply,” Rada stated, nudging Zabet to move. The lithe reptile backed up and dropped onto all fours, then climbed onto the padded bench on the other side of the computer table. “I’ll sort that out later. Different topic. I want you to put Kleel through all the staff-fighting moves you know.”
<<Why? She that good?>>
“She learned enough from watching me practice in the woods that she held off three males and almost killed one of them. Put the end of her stick right at the skull notch, hard enough to bleed into the brain and the spinal canal. She might make a fantastic body-guard for the Lady Queen or the other females of the Imperial household.”
Zabet gave her Pet a shrewd look, sapphire-eyes narrowing a little as if she suspected an ulterior motive. She didn’t say anything, and Rada ignored it. Yes, getting the female out of Burnt Mountain-Deathwater had something to do with it. Why was Kleel out in the forest on her own to begin with, especially out often enough to have found Rada’s practice area and to mimic her?
Well, based on the original case as she had it, no one owed anyone blood price. That meant that the attack on Kleel could possibly start a feud, except, except. Rada leaned back and rubbed her forehead, then under her bad eye. Kleel had barely reached the age of adulthood. And she was a female. Formal demand for blood payment had not been entered into the manor records thus far, and so for Kleel to defend herself could not bring a feud, especially since Rada as manor lord and daimyo had rendered on-scene justice by her own forefoot.
After some thought Rada sent for Tsstaen, the current imperial estate manager. The dark brown male appeared a few minutes later and bowed. “How may I be of service, my lord?”
“Has anyone spoken to you about initiating a blood claim from another manor resident?”
The lean reptile blinked, thought for a bit, then swirled his weak-side forefoot in negation. “No, my lord, nor have I received formal notice of such a claim. Is one missing?”
Interesting way to phrase it. “No, or at least, not to my knowledge either. It would have been filed against one Gleet of Greykin lineage at Deathwater, originating from Schree’s Rest.”
Tsstaen’s tail thumped the wooden floor as he made a stringer negation. “That I would remember, my lord, because such claims coming from off-estate require the permission of all liege lords or lineage heads involved, as well as of the injured party.”
<<Interesting, and good to know>> Zabet said privately.
<<Yes, given who that would be for a claim from Schree’s Rest.>> Aloud Rada said, “Thank you, Tsstaen. I had suspect as much concerning the claim, but I wanted to make certain that the attack against Gleet’s daughter had not fallen between filing and official declaration.”
“My lord, who makes the claim against Gleet?”
“Tsloh of Schree’s Rest, acting through Rahtsee of Burnt Mountain.” The manager’s neck spines twitched as his tail and strong-side hindfoot made the gesture that served Azdhagi for an exasperated eye roll. “I sense a lack of surprise.”
“Indeed, my lord. Rahtsee,” he paused, perhaps weighing word choices. “Rahtsee is known to many on the manor, my lord.”
And not for his generosity and kindness to his fellow reptiles, I suspect. Oh rapture, bliss, unbounded joy. “Thank you very much for your assistance, Tsstaen, and I apologize for taking you from your other duties.”
Tsstaen bowed. “No pardon is required, my lord, when the good of the manor is involved.” He departed, closing the door behind himself with one hindfoot. Rada made a few notes, closed the ink and cleaned her writing stick, then stood. She needed to practice, and to watch Zabet with Kleel.
As Rada worked on a sword pattern, Zabet put Kleel through the basics of staff fighting and using the Azdhag version of Rada’s naginata. Azdhag females never learned the arts of sword and talon, but all females could defend themselves. No male attacked an unwilling and conscious female unless he wanted to lose his privates. A few tried, and the results usually dissuaded the rest for a few years or decades. Many females learned how to use a pole to fend off attackers and to protect their juniors. Farm females and scythes or pruning-hooks came up in a number of tales, and the abilities of females from Schree’s Rest with log-poles were legendary. Rada had trained the imperial females and several females of court in using the bladed pole, and they also carried blade-edged fans not too different from Rada’s own ancient reh-dakh schleera from which came her court name.
Rada watched out of the corner of her good eye as Zabet and Kleel warned up in the roofed-over practice area that had been built beside the manor house. For once Zabet wore light armor. Kleel had no idea how to pull blows, or so Zabet assumed, and the True-dragon didn’t care to get hurt by a novice. They started with basic parry and attacks, and after a few minutes Rada stopped her sword work and watched. Kleel didn’t have Zabet’s stamina, but she moved better on her hind-legs than most of the males, and she flowed from blow to blow. Zabet got several stinging licks on the young female, but Kleel learned quickly, and she had a natural balance that made Rada jealous. Kleel did not know how to defend against a pole, but seemed to catch on after watching Zabet block her. She also acted as if her practice pole had a blade on the end. Which makes perfect sense, because she’s only seen me with the naginata and I always practice blade to blade, not staff against staff.
Sgt. Teeklee stopped beside Rada, also watching. “The female has promise.”
“Yes, she does. Do we train it higher or send her home, since no cause for feud has been found and no blood claims are registered?”
“My lord, she’s the youngest of five, fourth female. Unless her sire finds a gold mine or invents a new starship drive system, she’s never going to have a mate-gift.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. That confirms the rest of my suspicions. Has Sneel stopped whining?”
“No my lord. Request permission to give him something to whine about.” He sounded disgusted with the prisoner.
“Not yet. I have to hold a formal manor court. If he keeps whining after that, he’s all yours.”
“My lord is most generous and wise.” They shared fang-baring smiles.
Thunk thump. “Ow.” Kleel lay on her back, staring up at the raw wooden roof. Zabet tapped her throat with the end of her practice staff, then mimed sliding the blade down Kleel’s gut.
<<That is why you never lose track of your opponent,>> Zabet stated. She planted the end of her staff in the sand of the work area, then dropped to all four feet and carried it to the weapons’ rest where she left it. Rada limped over to where Zabet stood. <<She’s fine, just seeing stars. She saw you and the sergeant talking and got distracted, so I thumped her.>>
<<And the verdict is?>>
Zabet’s round ears twitched and her whiskers fluttered briefly. <<Train her, then take her to the palace. She’s wasted here, and she’d do very well as a guard for the females of the court.>>
“How is she on defense?”
<<Sucks like a gravitational singularity, which I expected. The fact that she defended herself and caught the males by surprise is what saved her, that and your arrival. First time I hit her staff, she almost dropped it.>> Zabet didn’t sound too unhappy, and Rada nodded. Kleel wouldn’t know how to anticipate the blows and absorb the force of impact, since she’d only watched Rada and mimicked her, not actually fought an opponent. Still, Rada was impressed.
Kleel rolled onto her belly, stood, staggered a little, and turned to face Zabet. She bowed, just like the soldiers did when they finished a bout. “Good. You are dismissed to the hot pool to soak, Kleel. After, please report to my quarters.”
“Thank you, lord mammal.” Kleel favored her weak-side hind leg as she eased away to put up her staff and then depart. She’d probably pulled a muscle or strained the joints. Even females had to train to spend long periods on their hind legs, especially with things in their forefeet. Rada’s soldiers hated marches and runs on their hind-legs, which was why they did so many of them. Rada moved into the center of the practice area once more and drew her sword. Break over, time to work some more. That low right side defense still gave her fits.
Happily for Rada, she’d already scheduled a manor court, so it was only necessary to call the parties involved to meet then. She sent Tsloh an official notice of the hearing, and forwarded a copy to his Imperial Majesty’s office for the Free Cities, since as king of Drakon IV, his majesty acted as liege lord for residents of Schree’s Rest and the other independent settlements. Gleet and Rahtsee got summons, delivered in person by a court warden, and Sneel and Keektae were already in custody. Zabet looked over the paperwork and snorted.
“You have a better idea, oh silver dancer?”
<<No, but can’t you just thump Sneel a few times and be done with it? His moaning and whining are an embarrassment to reptiles.>>
Rada stretched in her chair and grinned. “So I’ve heard. There is a waiting list for the first time he gives the troopers a reason to discipline him. I had to remind the sergeant that they need to take turns.”
<<I’m adding my name to the list.>>
“Feel free. His majesty has given me leave to judge in his name, all options.”
Zabet blinked and flowed off the bench to come around and look at the electronic document. <<All options? Why specify?>>
“How long has it been since I’ve had a capital case?”
Zabet rubbed under her muzzle with the back of one talon. <<I can’t recall. Capital case? Really?>>
Rada shrugged, then made an Azdhagi negation. “Probably not, Boss, but you never know. If Rahtsee tries to go after Gleet before the hearing, or during, or Tsloh comes here and decides to take matters into his own talons, then it could go to a death case. And I’ve not had to adjudicate one of those for two generations.” She raised one hand. “That doesn’t count. You and I are the only ones who know I had anything to do with his demise.”
Zabet gave her a shrewd look. Rada stared back. Zabet looked away first. She still didn’t approve of Rada’s extrajudicial execution, but had agreed that the creature had more than earned the death penalty for two murders and then attacking Rada herself. <<Anyone stupid enough to attack in the court room in front of a pack of witnesses deserves whatever happens.>>
“I’d call it natural selection, personally. Weeding out the terminally stupid.”
<<No argument here. Almost as stupid as that female who went after the juniors on wash day. She was lucky to survive.>>
Rada snorted but nodded. She’d had to help Heal the scalded female. The juniors had tipped a large pot of boiling water and cloth onto her in their panic. That ended the attack but also drained two Healers trying to keep the female alive. Rada still though they should have saved their efforts, but she wasn’t the village head and hadn’t known the background to the incident.
(C) Alma T. C. Boykin 2016 All Rights Reserved