The Hordes of Chanakra: A snippet

I have, from time to time, posted snippets from the sequel, which is in progress.  Here’s a snippet from my published novel “The Hordes of Chanakra”

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Shadow was beginning to fall over the valley when Faron returned.  Kreg looked up at Kaila’s pause to see him sitting astride his pony observing them.  He rode over and dismounted next to them.

“You are teaching him the shashyn?” Faron said. “I was not knowing the true shashyn were made outside of Aerioch.”

“Nor did I,” Kaila said. “When first I saw the sword in the swordsmith’s shop in Trevanta, I thought it but an imitation, but whether by chance or by skill it is sound and seems to be made of true God Iron.”

“Longsword and shield are easier for a beginner to be learning, are they not?  Better for the battlefield than the dueling style?”

“But, Faron, I…”

“Peace, Kaila.  You are doing well enough.  Kreg seems to be learning swiftly under your tutelage.  And yet, his play is not without faults.  If I may…”

“Please,” Kaila bowed and stepped back.

Faron held out his hand to Kreg, “If you please.”

Kreg nodded and handed Faron his training sword.

“The first fault is the greatest.  Kaila’s strong hand is her left.  She is grasping her sword with her left hand at the hilts. Her right is near the pommel.  You are doing the same.  Your strong hand is your right. Your right should be grasping the sword at the hilts. Be letting the left guide on the pommel.” Faron demonstrated. “When you are striking, you are swinging too much with your arms.  Punch out straight with your arms.  At the last instant, be using your left hand on the pommel to guide the sword in the direction you choose.  Observe.” Faron launched a series of fast attacks, each one angling in at different directions from the previous.

“Kaila, be attending,” Faron said.

Kaila stepped forward and took a ready position in front of Faron. “Be remembering, Kreg, when fighting with the shashyn always be guarding the center line.” He nodded to Kaila who attacked. “Halt” he said in the midst of the attack and Kaila froze. “When you are parrying, do not be striking your sword to the side. Thrusting forward, toward your opponent.” He pushed forward and the angle of his blade forced hers out and to the side.  “Be continuing forward to strike.” With Kaila’s blade driven out of the way, Faron made a simple turn with his wrists and laid his blade alongside her neck.

Faron stepped back, returning to the position where he had just blocked Kaila’s attack. “If your opponent is driving your blade aside you no longer are guarding the center.  You must be regaining it.  Kaila.”

Kaila shifted her weight and drove her own sword forward, this time pushing Faron’s back and out.  Faron responded by stepping back and to the side.  Once again, he had his sword square in front of him, guarding his center line and Kaila was suddenly in a position where she would find it difficult to defend against his attack.  Kaila responded with a circling movement of her own and, once again, they faced each other.

“Continue,” Faron said.

Kaila moved, striking with serpent-like speed.  Faron moved, giving ground before her superior strength and speed.  Yet always she found the path for her sword blocked.  Mindful of Faron’s words, Kreg saw new complexity in the movements, a dance far more elegant than the simple bashing of metal bars that he had thought swordplay to be.

At length Faron raised his blade in salute and bowed to Kaila.  He returned the sword to Kreg.

“That is enough swordplay for tonight, I am thinking,” Faron said. “There is something else I would see.”

He studied Kreg, “Kaila is telling me that you have some skill without arms.  This I would see.”

“I thought you might,” Shillond said as he ambled up to them. “I have seen the way Kreg fights and so I’ve cleared an area of stones.  I think neither of you will damage the other more than my ability to heal.”

Kreg hesitantly followed Shillond to the area he had prepared.  He had marked a circle in the grass about 20 feet across.  Faron took a position at the edge of the circle and Shillond indicated to Kreg that he should stand at the other.  He then waved Kaila to the center.

“This contest shall be by tournament rules,” Kaila said once she had reached the center. “It shall be ended when one cries ‘Hold! Enough!’ or when it seems to me that one cannot continue.”

Kreg looked at Faron warily as Kaila backed toward the edge of the circle.  He was older, perhaps not as old as Shillond, but clearly at least in his fifties.  Even so, he was still strong and fast.  His bout with Kaila had proven that.  He was shorter than Kreg, but broader.

“Begin!” Kaila called from the edge of the circle.

Kreg stepped cautiously forward.  Faron charged across the circle at him and caught him around the waist with both arms.  Kreg felt steel in those arms as they closed around him, cutting off his breath.

Kreg stepped back and bent at the waist, letting his chest press down on Faron’s shoulder.  He reached down and took his own grip around Faron’s waist, then let his weight fall backward while heaving upward with his grip around Faron’s body.

Faron lost his grip as his feet left the ground.  He landed hard on his back behind Kreg, the breath knocked out of him.

Kreg rolled to his hands and knees but saw that Faron had recovered quickly and he, too, was rising to his feet.

This time, Faron approached more slowly.  From a distance of just beyond an arms length away, he stepped forward suddenly, hands outstretched to grab Kreg’s tunic.

Kreg deflected Faron’s hands while catching his own grip with his left hand on Faron’s right arm and stepped forward himself.  He reached forward with his right leg, intending to sweep Faron’s left leg from under him, but striking that leg was like striking a tree.  Kreg shifted his weight and swung his foot back across to the left.  He caught the back of Faron’s right heel with the inside edge of his own foot.  Faron’s foot skidded forward and Kreg’s pull on Faron’s right arm combined with a push against his left shoulder twisted Faron so that he fell hard on his back again.

Before Faron could recover, Kreg dropped to the ground beside him, still retaining his grip on Faron’s arm.  He used his legs to immobilize Faron while trapping his upper arm between Kreg’s thighs.  He brought his right hand up to join his left in grasping Faron’s arm.  Kreg pulled on the wrist, extending Faron’s arm straight and beyond, increasing the pressure against Faron’s elbow.

Kreg had just decided to release his hold, not wanting to injure Faron’s arm regardless of what Shillond might have been able to do with his healing, when Faron called, “Hold! Enough!”

Kreg released his grip, untangled his legs from around Faron and stood.

Kaila clapped at the edge of the ring. “Splendid.”

Faron came to his feet and held out his hand to Kreg. “You fight well, youngling.”

“‘Well’?” Kaila said. “Kreg, know you that Faron was five years the champion wrestler in all of Aerioch.”

“That was being many years ago, child,” Faron said. “Still, I am thinking few could be besting Kreg in such a match.”

#

Although they had seen no hint of any pursuit by the army that had besieged Elam, they had set watches through the night.  Kreg had the last watch and so, as the sun began to peer into the valley in which they camped, he used took advantage of the time to stretch the soreness out of his muscles and to begin packing their gear for the day’s climb.

As Kreg had surmised, the step along the fault line was their path to the top of the cliff.  It was only wide enough for them to pass up it single file, each leading a pony.  Once the four had reached the top, Kreg and Kaila descended the cliff again to bring up the pack ponies.

The streambed at the top of the cliff was narrower and more rocky than it had been below the cliff.  The valley was also narrower and the walls on either side steeper.  Tufts of grass were more scattered, seeming almost defiant in the rockier terrain.  Occasionally, smaller rivulets would trickle down the walls on either side to join the stream.

Soon after Faron had left them in his daily hunt for meat, Kaila reined in her pony and dropped back to Kreg’s side.

“I have been thinking on the shaman’s words,” she said. “He said I must learn the lesson of bending.”

“I remember,” Kreg said.

“You say your fighting style is called the Way of Yielding.  Perhaps that is what he meant.”

“I don’t see how,” Kreg said. “My fighting training never came up while I was with them.”

“But if the Gods spoke to him through the smoke?” She shook her head. “Such things are beyond me. Could you tell me of this way of yielding of yours?”

Kreg shrugged. “If you wish.  On my world the Far East is famous for having many organized fighting styles.  On one small nation there were many styles which had an element of softness, of yielding, to them.”

“What do you mean by softness?”

“Basically, it means moving along with your opponent’s actions. Think about when Faron attacked me in the circle and grabbed me around the waist.  I stepped back, in the same direction he had been moving.  This pulled him off balance and kept him from picking me up.  I kept moving, rolling backward and was able to throw him to the ground.”

“But what does my knowing this have to do with saving untold numbers from suffering?”

“I don’t know, but the founder of the The Way of Yielding said there were two great principles to the art.  One was mutual welfare and benefit.  The other was maximum efficiency with minimum effort.  The principles were supposed to go beyond the fighting art itself.  Students were to take them into their lives.  Perhaps that’s what the shaman meant.”

“But…bending? My mother survived because she didn’t bend.”

Kreg leaned forward in interest, “Your mother?”

“She was married when she was very young,” Kaila said. “Raiders came across the border of Zantor on her very wedding day.  Her husband, the Duke of Zantor, rode that evening, before even he could bed his new wife.”

When the silence had dragged for several seconds, Kreg said, “and then?”

“The Duke’s army was ambushed.  Archers on horseback, much like your nomad friends, attacked from the trees.  The Duke fell in the first attack.  The Duke’s forces fled.  The raiders harried them all the way back to the castle.” Kaila’s pony started at some falling rocks and she reached down with one hand to soothe it. “I know not what would have happened had my mother not been there.  She spoke defiance to a council frantic with fear.  And people rallied to her voice.  She was…small.  And yet her courage and will spoke to people’s hearts.  Or so I am told.  And when the remaining forces sallied against the raiders, my mother rode with them.  She was barely able to sit a horse or lift a sword, but she rode facing death alongside those she sent into battle.”

They rode in silence for a bit then Kaila said, “They were unable to break the siege themselves.  The forces remaining to Zantor were too weak, the raiders too strong.  Still, each time they sallied, my mother rode with them.  And each time they returned to the castle, she rode back.  In time, an army came from Norveth, the capital of Aerioch.  Shillond rode with them.  The raiders had no wizards of their own and so Shillond was able to drive them away.”

“And your mother remained as Duchess?” Kreg asked.

“Things are not so simple,” Kaila said. “There was no heir to the duchy.  Zantor had always been first in battle and so many of its men died young, courageously, to be sure, but leaving no heirs.  Indeed, my mother’s father had perhaps the best claim to the Duchy but no one is certain.  In the end, it was Shillond who decided the matter.  He was smitten, you see, with my mother and prevailed on the King to rule that my mother would hold the Duchy until she produced an heir of her body to become the new Duke.”

Kaila laughed. “How disappointed the nobles at court were that my mother soon wed Shillond and, one year later, their firstborn child was me.  My mother had continued to take up arms and received training with the best arms masters in Aerioch.  Soon after I was born, she left me with a nurse and rode with a peace envoy to Shendar.  One of the Barons of Shendar struck the envoy most treacherously.  A witch in the service of the Baron captured Shillond and all thought him dead.  The rest the Baron and his men slew, including my mother.  And so there was no heir of her body but me.  The King, nevertheless, held to his sworn word and I became Duke and a peer of Aerioch.”

From a bit ahead of them, Shillond called, “Kreg, Kaila, we’ll be camping here.”

“There are still hours of daylight left,” Kaila called back.

“The trail is more difficult up here.  There’s no guarantee we’ll find a suitable spot before nightfall.”

“As you will, father.”

Before Kaila could ride away from Kreg, he reached out a hand and touched her arm. “Thank you for telling me that.”

Kaila smiled, and then her face grew stern. “It is as well that we stop early,” she said. “Once camp is set we will continue your training.”

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