By Rod Hunsicker
The Comanche guided his tired zorca pass the remuda and the circle of wagons
into the center of camp. Most of the party was asleep,
as the first sun had not yet risen, so he made as little noise as possible.
When he got to the central fire he slid off his beast and squatted beside
the man who was going out to ride guard next.
"Everything quiet out there?" asked the man. His name was Avil Tarks.
He was a large, muscular brute of a man with ruddy golden skin and thick
brown hair. As Cat Smiling helped himself to a cup of strong
Kregen tea, Tarks rose and stretched his long powerful arms.
"Everything is quiet. No trouble," the Comanche reported.
He was thirsty. The tea felt good going down. He squatted
on his heels and sipped from his cup.
"Things have been too quiet, lately. It’s a big place out there,
big enough to hide a lot of trouble, but I expected some long before this,"
commented Tarks. The big man adjusted his harness and inspected
his weapons. Like most adult Kregans he was fully armed.
On a world as dangerous as Kregen, that was a stark necessity.
"Then get out there and make sure things stay quiet," grunted a man who was
joining them at the fire. A big, blond man, he stood with the
confidence of a natural leader. Tarks nodded sharply and walked
quickly to his waiting, saddled zorca. There were two moons
racing overhead, and like it was on most cloudless nights on Kregen, it was
fairly easy to see. The two men squatting by the fire watched
as Tarks mounted his zorca and drifted slowly, unobtrusively, out of camp.
"He's a good man. A superior scout. Found him in
the Hostile Territories. Takes a tough man to survive there," mused
the blond man, one Valcon the Blade and leader of the group.
Cat Smiling nodded. "Tarks is not a clansman.
Few of the people in your group are clansmen. Why do they follow
you? Because you are a good leader?"
Valcon laughed as he sat down and stretched his long legs. "I
am that. I suppose I learned leadership when I took obi as a
young man among the clans."
"You lead because you are successful? Or because they have bound themselves
to you?" asked the Comanche.
"Because I am successful they are bound to me. Many things can
bind men or women to a leader. Most of those things are centered
in success. There is no custom of obi beyond the Plains, Cat
Smiling. At least, not as the clansmen practice it. I have
been trying to impress these people with the meaning of obi.
Some understand it, and some will have to learn. What they do
know is that I am the unofficial obi leader of this group should we encounter
clansmen who wish to take obi of us. That way I can deal with the problem.
At least, at first," explained Valcon.
"Your plains are a big place. We have traveled far and have encountered
the clansmen rarely," commented Cat Smiling.
"That's because I have good scouts like Thipar Crodan, Tarks and you.
You've done a fine job of avoiding trouble from enemy clans.
It may take a while before we find my clan," said Valcon.
"In some ways your people are like mine. In other ways, they are not.
On the great plains of my country the Comanche are all one people.
There are different bands, which might be the same thing as your clans, but
all are Comanche. We do not fight among ourselves very often.
There are plenty of other enemies to fight," said Cat Smiling.
"The Clansmen like to fight. Too much. Obi is a good
thing between such fighters, but too often there is bloodshed before obi
can be taken or given. That's why I've warned you to avoid all
clansmen. More than likely, they would attack you first, ask for obi
"Always, there is obi. Is there obi among your women, too?"
"No," smiled Valcon, "but they have their own ways of working things out.
Don't worry so much about obi. It is not as much like captivity, as
you seem to think. It is more about loyalty and responsibility
The Comanche grunted and looked pointedly at Valcon's eyes. "You
have said you will deal with obi. It is your worry."
Again, Valcon laughed. It was easy for this big, blond man to laugh.
"Surely, Cat, surely, unless I am killed, then your worries begin again."
"I think you are a hard man to kill, Valcon the Blade," testified the Comanche
as he took a sip of strong Kregish tea.
Eroin missed her man. For most of the day he was out riding.
One third of the day he rode alone and another third he rode with one of
the other scouts. One third of the day he rested. That
left little time for him to be with her.
Her belly was becoming heavy with child. They had been wandering
for a long time looking for Valcon's clan. Eroin hoped that they
would find them before she gave birth.
When she was worried she thought about her home back in Hamal.
She had been safe there with a life of relative comfort. Her
baby would have been delivered by the best of medical hands to be found in
her community. She had expressed this concern to Valcon once,
and he told her that many babies are born on the Plains of Segesthes.
The strong live, and the weak die. He was certain that the child
would be as strong as its father and mother.
She took some comfort in that, but on the colder, darker nights she still
thought of her father's house and wished she were there.
She started. Whirling around, she saw Cat Smiling standing nearby.
His zorca wasn't nearby, and that was why she hadn't heard him approach.
It was rare when the Comanche was not mounted. He never walked when
he could ride.
"Sneaking up on me?" she asked, half irritated that he had surprised her.
The Comanche didn't reply. He stared at her with coal black eyes.
Unconsciously, she turned her leem scar away so he could only see her beauty.
It was something she did because she was a woman. While the other men
in their party noticed the scar and sometimes pitied her, Cat Smiling never
commented on it, nor did he look away. Still, she wanted him
to look upon her with pleasure so she turned her scar side away.
"What can I do for you? Are you hungry?" she said, putting her
hands on her hips.
"Almost hungry enough to eat dog," he said softly.
He used the Comanche word for dog. It was a word Eroin recognized.
She also knew that Cat Smiling’s people hated to eat "dog", whatever animal
"Let me get you something," she said with a smile. "I was just about
to prepare breakfast, anyway."
"You are an early riser, Eroin. Valcon has said that is a good
thing in a civilized woman," said Cat Smiling as he squatted down beside
"I knew you'd be coming back about now. I wanted to have something
ready for you," she said.
He watched her prepare his breakfast. She was not as nimble with
a belly full of baby. The women of Cat Smiling's tribe often
worked before and after giving birth. It was expected of them,
but Cat Smiling looked beyond that tribal expectation and remembered all
the babies that had not survived their birth. It was difficult
for the women of his tribe to bear children under the harsh conditions of
the plains. The one thing that his Comanche mother and his Apache
grandmother had agreed upon was that it was wise to take special care of
a mother when she is ready to give birth.
This child would be his first born on Kregen. It would be a special
event. If it required special care, then that was what must be provided.
"There is no hurry, Eroin," he said. She turned and looked at
him, surprised at this statement because she knew he was hungry.
As it normally was, his bronze face was impassive, but there was something
about the slump of his shoulders and the way he shifted his weight under
her gaze that told her he was concerned. This made her happy
even if his concern was only for their child.
After she served him his meal she spoke again. "You were watching
me, Cat. You do that often. Why?"
The Comanche didn't answer quickly. When he did his voice was
rougher than usual.
"Because you are beautiful, Eroin."
"Beautiful?" she repeated. Again he surprised her.
"Beautiful with this horrid scar running down my face."
"The scar is only one thing. The rest of you are everything else.
You are beautiful," said Cat Smiling. He rose to his feet and
held out his arms. She came to him, choked up by his unprecedented
sentimentality, and they hugged each other tightly.
With her swollen belly pressed against his, Cat Smiling could almost feel
the life of his son within. His face buried in her long black
hair, the cat smiled warmly and freely.
Cat Smiling sat on his zorca and looked out over the rolling plains.
He turned to his scouting partner and spoke, "Why haven't we found Valcon's
people in all these months of traveling?"
The man from the Hostile Territories laughed. It was a harsh,
bitter laugh for Tarks was a hard man. "Maybe his people are
Cat Smiling didn't respond to his companion's cynicism. Instead, he
said,” Maybe they don't exist anymore. Valcon has told me that
the clans are constantly fighting among themselves. Sometimes they
merge smaller bands into a larger band. He has been away a long
time, according to his testimony, and many things could have happened."
Tarks nodded, and turned serious. "Kregen is a violent place.
Where there is violence, there is change. Valcon tries to return
home. That is something very hard to do."
The truth of the scout's words struck home in the Comanche's heart.
He wondered how difficult it would be for him to return home. There
was no trail to follow. No landmarks, and the stars were different.
Everything was different. The worst part was he did not know where
he was. He could not begin the journey because he didn't know
where to go.
"If you ever had a home in the first place," continued Tarks with a deep,
almost growling tone.
They were quiet for a few minutes. Both kept their eyes on the
yellow grass before them. Nothing was in the distance.
No trails, neither animal or of man were in sight. The day had
"Home is a treasure on Kregen. In the Hostile Territories or
any other place, I think. Home means stability. Ain't
no stability when you need to defend against slavers, raiders and conquerors,"
commented Tarks. He kept his bronze face pointed away from the
Comanche as if to hide his deeper thoughts from his companion.
"And then there are the monsters," he added, in a lighter tone.
"So many monsters."
Cat Smiling was silent. There was nothing for him to say.
Instead, he urged his zorca forward, hoping to cover another few miles before
he and Tarks would return to the main party.
"Why don't we separate a bit," suggested Tarks. "I'll go to the right.
You go to the left. Not far apart. Maybe half a mile."
The Comanche nodded and turned his mount to the left. The ground
rolled in grassy slopes and soon Tarks was out of sight. Cat
Smiling went on, looking down for signs and looking up and around for enemies.
Like all Comanche he was wary in unknown territory, and it irked him that
everywhere in this world qualified as unknown territory. Valcon
rarely stayed in one place for long in his search for his own clan so just
when Cat Smiling learned the lay of the land he had to move on with the rest
of the group.
It was not long before he saw the tops of some trees in the short distance
ahead. He walked his mount over and discovered the beginning
of a large gully that led down into a small grove. These trees
grew in an indentation in the plains, caused by some ancient geological disturbance.
Cat Smiling could almost smell fresh water in the draw and angled Grass Burner
down. Then he stopped and retreated before going in too far.
What if this were the only readily accessible entrance into the draw?
With Comanche cunning he began to circle the trees, looking for some other
way to go down. If he couldn't find one he would be very reluctant
to go down.
Riding slowly around the little glen, he found no sign and no other way down.
Once around the rough circumference, Cat Smiling returned to the descending
path. There he sat on his zorca and stared at the trees and greener
grass below. By right it was his duty to investigate the tiny
valley below, but by Comanche wisdom it would be foolish to do so alone.
So he waited, knowing that Tarks would soon double back and rejoin him.
He had not waited long before he heard the sound of men and zorcas below.
Tired of waiting, five clansmen rode out of the glen and up the path toward
Cat Smiling. Five to one odds was too great a risk, so the Comanche
turned his zorca around and sent it flying away from these men who would
have ambushed him. It took some time for the clansmen to climb
up the tiny, steep valley path so it was that Cat Smiling opened up one hundred
yards between himself and the clansmen. They rose up from the
glen, laughing and yelling and spurring their mounts in pursuit.
The Comanche led them a merry chase. Displaying a riding skill
that matched or surpassed their own, he increased the distance between them,
urging faithful Grass Burner up to full speed. It was in his
mind that he might escape until he saw several more clansmen riding toward
him from the south before him. Cat Smiling cut away from these
new riders in an attempt to avoid both pursing parties, but it was not long
before they began to converge on him. They sent some arrows over
his head and yelled for him to stop.
With a sigh, the Comanche did just that. With his bow in his
hand, and an arrow ready to set fly, Cat Smiling sat on his zorca and waited
for the clansmen to come upon him.
Confronted with only one foe, the clansmen were not as bloodthirsty as they
might have been upon meeting a more numerous enemy on the open plain.
They circled the Comanche with grinning faces and brandished weapons.
Cat Smiling knew that it was their custom upon meeting strangers to fight
first and talk afterward. He considered it a fortunate break
that they had not just attack him outright, and because of this a plan formed
in his wily mind.
He raised his left hand, which held no weapon, and said, "Llahal, I am Cat
Smiling of the Antelope clan."
They stopped laughing and stared at him with their white man's eyes.
Frowns wrinkled their ruddy tanned faces. One of them was prompted
to answer Cat Smiling's greetings. After all, they weren't savages.
"Llahal, I am Gig Anton, of the Clan Terentz," growled a big man who was
apparently their leader. He sat back on his superb zorca and
scrutinized the Comanche with a puzzled expression on his face.
The first hurtle had been crossed. The clansmen were not immediately
intent on violence.
Or so Cat Smiling thought.
"Why speak to this odd looking diff? Let's just kill him and move on,"
said another of the clansmen. He angled his zorca close to Grass
Burner and sneered at the Comanche.
The other clansmen shifted their gaze from the man who wanted to kill Cat
Smiling to Gig Anton. Soon everyone was looking at Gig.
He remained silent and smiled at Cat Smiling.
The Comanche spoke to the outspoken clansmen, "I have given my name.
What is yours?"
Like many of the clansmen, this one was big, burly and aggressive.
His face was scarred and bitter as he spat at Cat Smiling.
"I am Rou Tigant, of the Clan Terentz! I don't like diffs on
the Plains. I will kill you," snarled the clansmen.
"Ah, I understand," said Cat Smiling calmly. "Now that we have
made the papppattu, we will fight at once. For obi!"
"Obi?" ejaculated Rou in surprise.
"Certainly," retorted Cat Smiling with dramatic indignity. "Are we
beasts not to observe obi. We have been introduced. Now
we will fight. You and I!"
The rest of the clansmen looked at the Comanche with equal surprise.
They had not thought him to be well versed in their customs, though there
was slyness in Gig Anton's eyes that spoke of a different estimate of the
stranger. There remained one question in their minds, however.
"Are you a diff?" asked one of them. "I never saw a man with
your coloring or eyes before."
Cat Smiling drew himself up in the saddle. "I am apim."
"So be it," grunted Gig Anton. "What is your answer, Rou?"
The clansman brute snapped a glare at Gig Anton. "Answer?"
"Do you give obi to this Cat Smiling?"
The question was ridiculous. Rou wondered briefly why Gig wanted
him to fight the stranger, and then remembered that Gig had never liked him.
There was a light dancing in Gig's blue eyes that shined his amusement to
his fellow clansmen. Rou shrugged his bear like shoulders. It
didn't matter. He had intended to kill the stranger, anyway.
"Of course not! Let the little man take it, if he can!"
Rou waved his hand toward the Comanche. "You hold a bow in your hand.
Let us settle the matter with that."
It was as Cat Smiling had hoped. If there was any weapon with
which he might have an advantage over these men it was the bow.
He had been born with one in his hand. His black eyes glittered
at Rou. The big clansman recoiled a bit. He had never
seen such intent in another man’s eyes. For a brief moment, Rou
felt a bit queasy as he realized that there was nothing more that this small,
dark man wanted to do than to put an arrow in his body. Then
the courage that was well known among clansmen took over, and the big man
laughed. It would take more than a mean look to settle their
The issue was quickly put to the test as the two combatants faced each other
on the open plain. They rode fiercely at each other, bows ready
to fire and after they passed, Rou fell to the grass with an arrow through
The clansmen were silent as Cat Smiling rode up to them. He had
made no attempt to flee after passing Rou.
"I am Cat Smiling. I have no intention of dying or being captured.
I will fight each of you, one at a time, until you discard the idea of killing
me," said the Comanche in slow, solemn words.
The clansmen were silent for a long moment. Then Gig Anton laughed,
"What is the point of killing you? You can't take obi from a
“I will not be killed or captured," said Cat Smiling.
"You have a marvelous skill with a bow, Cat Smiling. I think you may
be right if all of your challenges are met with that weapon.
Are you equally good with your other weapons?" asked Gig Anton.
"If you insist on fighting me, you will find out. I hope that
we may continue in peace, however," said Cat Smiling.
"Ah, peace is not our way, stranger. We are first met and we
have made the pappattu. Let us fight over obi," said Gig Anton
with almost tiredness in his voice. "You do not carry a sword so we
will use axes."
The fighting was to be done mounted. No clansman or Comanche
would choose to fight on the ground. Cat Smiling returned his
bow to its sheath and took up his axe. Valcon had been giving
him instructions on how to use the axe properly. For a brief
moment, Cat Smiling wondered how good Gig Anton was with an axe.
They came together on zorcas. Axes flashed through the air. Both
men had masterful control over their mounts so that it was almost as if they
were fighting on the ground. Anton was taller and had a longer
reach, but the Earthman was quite a bit faster. Cat Smiling was
not good enough with the axe to try to disarm the clansmen, as he wished
to do because he had taken a natural liking to Gig Anton, so to compensate
for his lack of skill he fought with unrestrained ferocity. He
did not want to lose. The fight was decided when their axes came
together with jarring force, and the lesser axe broke. Gig Anton
sat on his zorca without a weapon, staring into a savage Comanche face.
The fight was over. Given Cat Smiling's speed and weapon in hand it
was nearly hopeless for Gig Anton. He conceded the fight and
gave obi to the Comanche.
He sat upright in his saddle and entered the obi ceremony. He covered
his eyes, ears and mouth with the palms of his hands and then held them over
"I make obi to you, Cat Smiling. With my eyes I will only see good
of you, with my ears I will only hear good of you and with my mouth I will
only speak good of you. And my heart is yours to feast upon."
Cat Smiling accepted this and waved his hand to the other clansmen.
"What about them?"
"They may do what they wish, but since I am the best man here, I doubt they
will challenge you," said Gig Anton.
Cat Smiling waited and received no challenges. Though his face
was impassive, his mind was racing with all he had learned about obi from
Valcon. It was true that when a new papppattu was made and there
was a challenge for obi, all other obis died. Valcon said that
this meant that anyone could challenge anyone else, though this seldom happened
unless a man had been waiting for such a time to change his obi status.
Usually, only the top men fought and the lesser men went along with the outcome
of the fight. It appeared that this was going to happen now.
The other clansmen were standing down.
They all stared at the Comanche, waiting for him to decide what they were
going to do next. Cat Smiling felt the power of obi.
Command over other men such as he had never known among his own people except
for the power that a man had over a slave. These warriors were
not slaves, however, and that made his command over them far more fulfilling
“Where are your people camped, Gig Anton?” Cat Smiling asked.
“Our herds graze ten miles to the west. We are a small hunting,
“A rider approaches,” reported one of the clansmen. Cat Smiling
turned in the direction that he pointed and saw Tarks slowly walking his
zorca toward them. The Comanche grunted and spoke to the clansmen.
“Wait here. I know this man. We ride together. I will go
talk to him.”
Seeing that Cat Smiling was coming to him, Tarks stopped and waited.
As the Comanche came closer, the badland scout grinned.
“Find some new friends, Cat?”
The Comanche shrugged. “We found each other.”
“Valcon won’t be happy. We are supposed to avoid Clansmen parties.”
Cat Smiling said something in his native tongue that meant something like
“shit happens”. “Its not so bad. I have taken obi from
their leader. They follow me, now.”
“I see a dead man lying in the grass. You didn’t get obi from
him,” Tarks said with a laugh.
“He was a fool. Now his spirit rides in the Land of Mist that
Valcon has told me of.”
Cat turned in the saddle and looked back at the clansmen. They were
waiting patiently where he left them.
“Valcon told us to avoid contact with the clansmen, but that’s blood already
drawn. I think he wants no complications as he tries to
find his own Clan. Do you think they would return to their own
people if I order them to do so?
Tarks shook his head. “What’s the good in that? They know
about you. They know about me. They’ll guess there are others
with us. They’ll tell their people. I say bring them with
us. Let Valcon decide.”
“You are right. The only other thing to do would be for us to
ride with them to their camp and pretend that there are only two of us.
I doubt if that would work. They are not stupid. They’d
send out scouting parties and search the area.”
Cat Smiling waved to the Clansmen, indicating that they should join him,
and they did so immediately. When they arrived, the Comanche introduced
Tarks to them. Tarks and Cat Smiling waited for the challenge
of obi, but none came.
“Where do you ride, now?” asked Gig Anton.
“To the camp of my party.” He kicked his zorca ahead.
Tarks rode beside him with an odd smile on his face. The clansmen rode
behind. Cat Smiling knew what his fellow scout was thinking.
What would Valcon say?
“Ah, the plot thickens.”
Richart leaned back in his chair and smiled at Maeve. “No more
periphery. He’s going to get directly involved with the Clans
now. Is that what you want?”
Both of them smiled at the ridiculous question. Or was it?
Richart was beginning to wonder what it was that Maeve wanted exactly.
“What I want is proof that my scanning device works. The Clans
Richart lingered his gaze on her pretty face and wondered if he would ever
understand the totality of his friend. So much theoretical intelligence
in a woman’s head was something of a wonder.
“Have you heard the news about Inomoroti?” He asked.
“Oh, what news?”
“He rides for Segethes. Can there be coincidence in that?”
Maeve turned and faced him directly, abandoning the screen before her.
She grimaced in alarm. “No, I don’t believe so. No coincidence.”
“I don’t know, Richart. We’ll just have to keep an eye on the
situation. More data will provide more accurate conjecture.”
Richart nodded and returned to his work. She watched him for a few
more moments until the concern she was feeling faded from her face.
The Scythian in the field meant that Garvos was involving himself in the
Clans. If that was going to involve Cat Smiling she did not know,
yet somewhere in the back of her theoretical mind she knew it was going to.
“Your man is late coming back?”
Eroin looked out over the plains. The smell of grass and earth
swept across her face with the breeze. One of her hands stroked
her swollen belly absentmindedly. It had occurred to her that
Cat Smiling was late. For this reason she was gazing out across the
rolling plains instead of finishing her work.
“A little, I know. I’m not so worried. He always comes
back,” said Eroin with a soft smile. As she said it she was hoping
that she had spoken the truth.
”What would you do if he didn’t come back?” asked Valcon. Turning,
she frowned up at his open, blond face.
“Why do you ask?” she wondered. Concern for Cat Smiling speared her
Valcon shrugged. “Just curious. You and Cat are very different.
You come from different cultures. From what he has told me of
his people I don’t think they bear any resemblance of the people of Hamal.”
“That is true,” admitted Eroin.
“So I wondered what you would do if you were not his woman. I
like to know things about people,” explained Valcon, comforting her with
one of his friendly smiles.
Eroin looked behind her at a hide stretched out on a frame of sticks.
She had been scraping the hide to make material to fashion a new shirt for
Cat Smiling. That was the kind of tedious, hard work that she
would never have had to do back in Hamal. Eroin rarely permitted memories
of her life back in Hamal to surface into her consciousness.
When they did come they were mildly disturbing. How could it not be
disturbing when she remembered her previous life? She thought,
now, of her father’s large house. She recalled her large
bed with its dark wooden bedposts and frilly trimmings. She thought
of her vanity, with its large mirror and the many small drawers that contained
her perfumes and other womanly items. Her closets had been filled
with beautiful, wonderful dresses and other expensive articles of clothing.
She could imagine, Renma, her personal slave, fussing over her things now,
taking care to maintain them in perfect order as if her personal worth was
somehow tied into how well she kept her mistress’s things.
Looking out the window of her room she had often gazed over the expansive
fields of grain. Many slaves worked for her father. He
was a stern man, expecting a full days work from each slave. Now, she sighed
and replied to Valcon, “I don’t know. I suppose I’d try to get
back to my father’s farm. I was happy there. Life held the usual
promise. I think my child would have a better life there.”
Valcon nodded. “An honest answer. Have you told Cat Smiling that?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “Once.”
“What did he say?”
Valcon smiled. “Of course. He is a man. He expects his
woman to be with him. That would be the end of the story.
May I ask what you think of your life here? I mean, on the Plains of
Of course, she knew what he was asking. How did life here compare with
her life at home? She studied him closely, wondering why he was
asking these questions. He looked like he always looked in those
moments when he was not acting as the commander of their little party.
He was big, blond and friendly with a soft smile on his handsome, masculine
face. How would her life have been different if this man had
“rescued” her from the slavers and not Cat Smiling?
But she knew that was not the question. He had a genuine interest
in her thoughts without coveting her body. Somehow that made
him more endearing to her. It was as if he were a good friend.
Eroin drew in a deep breath. “Life isn’t so bad here. It’s
a struggle though. A barbaric land for a barbaric people.”
Valcon laughed. “Don’t call these Clansmen barbarians. They consider
themselves above that. You might be right, though. And
don’t worry about your man. I think these old eyes see him coming now.”
Eroin searched the plains in the direction Valcon pointed. Yes,
a group of men were riding toward the camp.
“He’s returning. He’s not alone. What went wrong now?”
Valcon wondered in a gruff voice. The big man ran over to his
zorca, leaped into the saddle and rode out to meet the returning party.
There was no need for Valcon to shout a warning. His people were
trained to be alert. By the time he reached the approaching party,
most of them had mobilized and were riding out to support him.
Meanwhile, Cat Smiling, Tarks and the clansmen had stopped to await their
Valcon jerked his zorca to a sliding halt. He shot his two scouts a
scalding glance before he faced the clansmen.
“What’s this?” he demanded.
Tarks leaned back in the saddle and smirked. With a little laugh
he nodded at the Comanche. Valcon glared at Cat Smiling.
“Let’s hear it,” he growled. He was very angry. The
last thing he had wanted to happen was for the clansmen to find his party.
He glared at Cat Smiling with an expectant air that the scout’s explanation
had better be good.
The Comanche kept a stoic face as he briefly explained what had happened.
He had never seen Valcon so angry before. During the explanation,
Valcon kept glancing over at the Terentz clansmen with troubled eyes.
“Damn, this isn’t what I wanted to happen. I thought you were good,
Cat!” Growled Valcon. By this time the others of his party
had arrived and formed a semi circle around the clansmen. They
were an eclectic crew, apims from all parts of Kregen. Among them were
only a few recognizable clansmen. The Terentz clansmen looked upon
them with amusement.
Gig Anton spoke. “I am Gig Anton, of the Clan of Terentz.
Who are you?”
Valcon faced the clansman who had spoken to him. The big blond
man hesitated to reply, his expressive face twisted with reluctance.
His left hand closed on the pummel of the long sword that hung at his side.
Then, he gathered himself and replied, “I am Valcon the Blade.”
“You are more than that,” observed Gig, “you have the look of a clansman.
Tell me who you are?”
Valcon remained silent. His face was a stone mask.
“If you are of the Clans, you must tell me who you are. Are you
not a man?” asked Gig Anton.
The blond man flinched at Gig’s words. Still, he hesitated as
if he were making a serious decision.
“I am a man, Gig Anton. A man who has been gone from these plains
for more than a hundred years,” said Valcon slowly. “Once I was
a clansman. Now I’m not so sure.”
Gig’s eyes narrowed. His fellow clansmen shifted in their saddles
behind him. All of them seemed to sense that something was very
wrong. No clansman would fail to identify his clan. All
of them were proud of their heritage. A few moments of silence
prevailed over them all. All that could be heard was the gentle
whine of the soft prairie wind.
“I am Gig Anton of the Clan Terentz,” repeated Gig. The clansmen
stared at Valcon expectantly.
Valcon drew in a great breath. He raised his head in pride and made
“I am Valcon Kreeg, of the Clan Gisgedalt,” he said slowly, softly as he
looked at Gig as if to say, “do you have a problem with that?”
Gig Anton hissed. His fellow clansmen moved restlessly
behind him. One of them spit on the grass before Valcon.
Before Gig could reply, a tall sinewy clansman pushed his zorca forward and
growled at Valcon.
“I am Tither Amil of the clan of Terentz. Now that we have made
the pappattu, we will fight at once!”
“Hold on, Tither! I’m not sure this traitor is worthy of obi,” cried
one of the other clansmen. “We should just kill him outright!”
Sitting on his zorca beside Valcon was the long lean form of Wrevo the Spear.
He replied in his usual, dry, laconic voice, “That wouldn’t be a good idea.
You’re outnumbered. Look around.”
Tither Amil laughed as he waved toward the semi circle of strange warriors
that surrounded the clansmen. “Weak foreigners. We outnumber
Valcon sat on his zorca with an odd contemplative look on his handsome face.
It seemed that his anger had passed. With a slow movement he pulled
an amulet from under his shirt and let it drop on his chest and dangle by
its silken chords. The clansmen recognized it as a pakzhan, and
it signaled to them that Valcon was a renowned warrior, a hyrpaktun.
“That changes nothing, zhan. You are still part of a traitorous
clan. You deserve death!” cried Tither.
“Bullshit!” came a cry from Hastan Opine, the short clansman who tended the
remuda. Valcon silenced him with a sharp glance.
“Before we fight for obi, you should know that I have been away from Segethes
for a hundred years. I have done nothing traitorous toward the Clans.
I have come home to discover the truth or falsehood of these vile accusations
against my old clan. I refuse to accept that I have done anything
dishonorable. If you fight me, you do so with this knowledge
in your thick head, because when the fight is over, and if you are not dead,
you will give obi to me. I am Valcon the Blade, and there are
few men my better.”
Tither, with typical clansman braggadocio, laughed and said, “That’s because
you have been too long away from Segesthes. Let us fight so I
can end this matter quickly.”
Valcon nodded. There was nothing more to be said. The two
men met on the open plains with axe and zorca. Tither was a youthful,
energetic fighter, but when it was over he lay on the tall grass with a bloody
right arm. Valcon dismounted and towered over him.
“Well?” asked the big blond man.
Tither staggered to his feet, holding his wound together with blood soaked
fingers. There was a moment of silence as the young clansman
tried to decide what he should do. Although, his clan had been
declared outlaw, Valcon had not been among his clan for many years.
Of course, Tither had only the Blade’s word for this, but the fact that he
was accompanied by a motley band of mercenaries seemed to testify that Valcon
was telling the truth. Then, begrudgingly, he made his decision.
He gave obi to the victor.
After accepting obi, Valcon turned to the other clansmen. “I suppose
I’ll have to bloody the rest of you too. I hope not. None of
you can defeat me. Let it go. I am as disturbed as
you are about the disgrace of the Gisgedalt clan. All I want
to do is investigate and see what is true and what is not.”
Gig Anton, clearly the leader of the Terentz clansmen, spoke. “I believe
that none of us could defeat you. I believe that you are truly
a hyrpaktun. When you called yourself the Blade I thought you meant
“I am Valcon the Blade. All blades.”
“So I see. There need be no further trouble between us.
We will let our elders decide on the matter of Valcon the Blade.”
“That’s good,” Valcon said with a smile, “take your wounded clansman
and go back to your people. Let me and my friends discover the truth
about the Gisgedalt in our own time.”
“We will go, Valcon. What the elders of our tribe decide is not
for us to predict. For now there is peace between us,” said Gig
Anton. He turned to Cat Smiling, “With your permission, we will
The concept of obi still amused him. These men had given obi
to him, yet one fight over obi with Valcon seemed to confuse the issue.
Clearly, these men considered Valcon to be the man present most superior
and were prepared to follow Valcon’s directive with the Comanche’s nearly
tacit permission. Cat Smiling nodded his assent.
Wrevo the Spear grunted as the young Terentz clansmen rode away. “I
was afraid you’d have to kill them all, Val.”
“Me to. I didn’t want to do that. I just hope I haven’t
put us all in jeopardy by letting them return to their clan.”
Wrevo grunted. “Yeah, you might have made a bad choice.
They could come back in strength and kill us all.”
Valcon turned a concerned face to his friend. “That worries me,
Rev. I don’t want you and the others to die because of me, my
old sword dom. Perhaps, you should go your own way. It
might be too dangerous now?”
Wrevo laughed harshly. “Why do I have to hear that rast shit?
What’s danger to two old paktuns like us? I think the others
feel the same. Besides, we’ve ridden together too long to part
ways now. And never because of danger, dom.”
Valcon gripped the tall man’s thin shoulder. “You’re a good friend,
“Let’s not start wailing like women. What do we do about the
“Nothing. They know where we are. Its unlikely we
could evade them, now. It’s up to their elders what they are
going to do. Trust to luck and the whim of the gods, Wrevo.”
“Bah,” muttered the lean man, “I’d rather trust my right arm and my spear.”
“So would I, old friend,” said Valcon with a bitter smile, “so would I.”