Rough Obi
by Rod Hunsicker
copyright 4/29/01

"Garvos questioned me about our project today," said Richart.

"He's too noisy for his own good," muttered Maeve as she adjusted the sharpness of the image before her.    Her pretty, regular features were wrinkled in concentration; she didn't bother to look at Richart who had just walked in.  She dressed in simple white clothing, soft and comfortable, as was Richart.

"My dear friend, he is more than too noisy, he is interruptive," Richart said quickly.   "He had that old Scythian savapim with him."

"Inomoroti!   Its amazing how long that man has lived," exclaimed Maeve, looking up from her work.

"He's a genius at survival and at getting the job done.   Perhaps, two thousand years of service," admitted Richart.   "And he's totally in Garvos' camp."

"His camp?" questioned Maeve.

"Oh, come on, Maeve.  Get your head out of the clouds.   Its no secret that Garvos thinks our program is advancing at a snail's pace.   He wants to speed things up.  And having the premiere savapim of all backing his suggestions makes them that more important."

"Where did he question you?" asked Maeve.

"As I was leaving the practice room.   I had just finished a round of swordplay with Jipson.   He and Inomoroti were waiting at the door.  Or at least, I think they were waiting," Richart informed her.

Maeve frowned as she wondered if she should be concerned for Richart.   At one time he had tried being a savapim, despite the fact that he was a born Savanti and native Savanti almost never become savapims.   After several successful missions, Richart had declined to go on any more.  The bloodshed and the killing had been to repulsive to him.   Like many of her people, and nearly all of her friends, Richart had a kind heart.

Although he had not been an active savapim for over a hundred years, Richart kept his body muscular and trained by fencing and wrestling with some of his old savapim friends.  Jipson was the foremost of these friends.

"What do you think his agenda is?" asked Maeve.

Richart laughed.   "We both know his overall agenda.  For apims to inherit Kregen.    His agenda regarding us and this project?   I suspect he wants to know if you have been  successful in extracting more superior candidates for the savapim program."

"Nothing more?"

"With Garvos there is always more." replied Richart.

A quietness settled between them.   During this time Maeve rubbed her eyes and face.   Then she asked, "Will he make trouble for us?"

"I don't know.   He is aggressive in his programs, but aggressiveness is not inappropriate in Aphrasoe.    He had never broken custom or law in the Swinging City and there is no need to think that he will now.   Its just the appearance of Inomoroti that troubles me.   The Scythian as grown more ferocious as he grows old, and he is very old even for a man dipped in Vanti's pool."

"We'll have to keep an eye on things.   I'll talk to Trieta.   She knows what is going on in larger circles," said Maeve.  "I  need to go back to monitoring Cat Smiling.   I think he is just about to make contact with the clansmen."

"Really," said Richart dryly, "that should be interesting."


The wind blew across the plains and tumbled her black hair about her face.
She was out alone, looking for roots because she was tired of eating prairie
bird and rodent.   If she was lucky she might come across a berry bush.   Cat
Smiling had made it clear that it was her job to supply them with gathered
food, and it was his job to supply them with fresh meat.   As the daughter of
a farmer, Eroin knew many of the edible foods that grew on Kregen, even
those that grew on the distant plains of Segesthes.

Cat Smiling had a need to wander that she resented in part.   She remembered
the small, fledgling garden she had begun back at the pond.   Those
memories hurt because by now that garden might have produced food that
she didn't have to go out searching for.   She rubbed her hand over her
slightly swollen belly and thought that her unborn child would be better off if
raised near a garden.   Better off with a roof over his head.   Tilting her face
upward she saw the blue Kregen sky and remembered Cat Smiling saying that
the sky was the only roof a man needed.

"That is well to do for a naked savage," she said to herself.

Like some bird she wanted to build a nest.   It was a strong urge within her.
She just didn't understand the way of life that the Comanche loved.   All
around her was tall grass.   Cat Smiling called it the hair of the earth.   He told
her that the prairies were a warm place because the hair made the earth
warm.   That might be true for him, but to Eroin, the prairies were a wide,
open,  lonely place.

She knew it was the child growing within her that was forcing her
dissatisfaction to the surface.   In many ways she was happy with the 'naked
savage'.   Most of the time he was kind to her.   He protected her, and her life
with him was infinitely better than being a slave.   And, if she admitted it to
herself, she was growing an affection for him that approached love.   As yet,
she would not admit that to herself for fear that such an admission would
condemn her to remain with him on these dreary plains.

She heard his zorca walk slowly through the tall grass and turned to greet
him.   Seated upon the pinto marked zorca, the Comanche presented a picture
of relaxation and confidence.   His black eyes twinkled as the fixed on her.
He turned slightly and patted the rump of an antelope tied across his close
coupled mount.  There was scarcely room for the man and the antelope on
the zorca's back.

"We will eat well, tonight, Eroin.   Deeper in the plains, I have found many
antelope.   They are not buffalo, but they will do."

She grimaced inside with the thought of more work to do until her hard
working Hamalese nature took over, and she braced herself for the task.

He led the way back to their small camp.   He gave her the antelope, expecting
her to skin and prepare the meat.   While she did this he looked to his
weapons and rested.

She worked as he had taught her to work.   Skinning the beast in a way that
preserved the hide.  Later she would cure the hide and make clothing of it.
She slaughtered the antelope and prepared their supper.

After eating, she had to admit that antelope tasted much better than rodent.


"If the things you are teaching me are woman's work, how is it that you know
so much about them?"

It was a bold question.   It spurted from her mouth as she scraped  the
antelope hide with a broad knife he had stolen from the slavers.   Although
she knew he cared for her as a person, she was not certain what her exact
status was with Cat Smiling.   He was learning the Kregish language very
quickly, but there were concepts that he seemed to ignore.   He rarely spoke
clearly on the subject of slavery, and in their relationship, the only thing that
was certain was that he was the dominant party.

The Comanche stared at her blankly.   Eroin knew him well enough to realize
that although his face showed nothing his mind was regarding her question
with utter seriousness.   The boldness of her question had been prompted by
the fact that he was not violent with her.  In fact, he never even threatened
her openly.   His dominance was more a matter of understanding between
them that came from the way he acted and the way she reacted.

"As a boy I watched my mother and grandmother do the things I teach you.
Unlike other boys I paid attention.   It is not fitting that a man do woman's
work, but he must know the simple things in case he doesn't have a woman to
do the work.

"I was taught by my grandmother to learn everything I can."

His voice was not angry.   He was simply answering her question.

"Your grandmother sounds like a wise woman," ventured Eroin.

Cat Smiling grunted his agreement.    Then he returned to what he was
doing.   He had found some good wood, and from that wood he was making a
thunder arrow.   This was an arrow marked with the sign of the Thunderbird.
It would fly truly toward his enemies.

They worked side by side, each at their own tasks in a comfortable silence.

A brown and white dove circled overhead.


Four men rode up on the camp quietly.   They were mounted on fine zorcas,
spirited beasts that lifted their hooves high and held their head proudly.   The
men were clansmen, though they sported clothing and weapons that were
found to the south.   The man who led them was a mature warrior, with sandy
blond hair that was beginning to frost with a touch of gray.  Behind him rode
the other three, one man of middle years and the other two were much younger.   As she watched them ride into her small camp, Eroin felt naked.   Cat Smiling was away from the
camp, as was often the case, though in all hope and honesty she expected
him to return at any moment.

There was nothing she could do.  No where she could run.  The plains
stretched out endlessly around her.   These men would ride into her camp and
do what they wanted.   Like most Kregans they were armed to the teeth.
And more important they were men of war.   Around the neck of their leader
she saw the gold of a great warrior.

Self-consciously she tilted her face away from the men so they wouldn't see
the leem scar.   She was dressed in soft animal skin, and for the thousandth
time since she was taken as a slave, Eroin wished her body was not as
beautiful as it was.

As they rode into camp they noted the zorca remuda.   They noted
everything.   The two young men toward the rear kept their eyes on Eroin.  In those
eyes she saw signs of lust that spread horror through her mind.

The big man in the front stopped his zorca in front of her and stared at her
with a lopsided smile.   He leaned forward and said in a deep voice, "Tangle
with a leem, did you?"

Looking up at him, she decided not to hide the leem scar that he had already
seen anyway.   "Until my man killed it," she said proudly.

"Ha," said the second man.   "You were lucky the beast just touched you
with his claw.   A leem can smash a man's head with one swipe."

The first man swept his gaze over the small camp.  "Where is your man?"

"Hunting, roaming.   He'll be back soon," said Eroin confidently, although
she didn't feel so confident.

One of the young men laughed and leaped off his mount.  He stamped over to
Erion and surveyed  her boldly.   As a man would examine his slave.   He did
not touch her, however.   His eyes lingered over the full swollenness of her breasts.

"Shopping, Wasto?" asked the fourth man.

"Why not?   I've been too long without a woman.   Cover up that ugly scar,
and this one ain't half bad," said the other.

The big blond man, obviously their leader, grunted.  "She's not available,
Wasto.  Not yet anyway."

Wasto cupped her head and ran his hand down Eroin's long black hair.   "Yeah,
not yet."

The man behind the blond man sneered, not at Eroin's plight, but at Wasto.
"We'll wait for her man to return.   Let's see what he has to say about it."

Wasto turned and glared at this man, who had calmly told him to keep his
hands off the woman for now.   The woman's closeness, the scent of her
womanhood nearly forced him to challenge the other man's suggestion, yet
when he spoke he did so in favor of the other man.

"As you suggest, Wrevo the Spear, as you suggest."

The blond man leaped off his zorca.   He spoke to the woman in an
authoritative tone.  "I am Valcon the Blade.   I hear from your words that you
are from Hamal.   That is a long way away, and I have no doubt that there is a
tale that explains how you have come to Segesthes.   Perhaps, I will hear it
someday.   Now, I want you to get wine for me and my friends.  If you do not
have wine, then water will do.

"And something to eat," he added as an afterthought.

Eroin jumped to do as Valcon demanded.   This man was a great warrior, a hyr-paktun.  As she served the men she wondered what would happen when Cat Smiling returned to the camp.  Suddenly, she feared for him.

There was no wine.  The men drank water and nibbled on some prairie bird
jerky.   They spoke to each other freely in her presence, and from that conversation
she learned  what connection was between these men.   Valcon and Wrevo
were sword mates and close friends.   Wasto and the other man, who was called
Mation the Cut, were mates, though they did not seem as close  as Valcon
and Wrevo were.   Perhaps the blond man and his friend had been together

With their thirst and hunger sated, the big blond man walked over to Eroin.
He had a pleasant smiling way about him.  When he spoke to her, he did so in
a friendly tone.

"Do you know you are on the Great Plains of Segesthes?"

"Yes, horter Valcon."

"Horter?   I doubt that.   Are you familiar with the men who ride these plains?"

"Not very," she admitted.   She wondered why he was talking to her.  Why
was he taking the time?

"The Clansmen of Segesthes rule this great plain.  I left the clans in my youth
to seek my fortune in southern lands."   He touched the gold around
his neck.   "I have not done  too badly.   Still, there comes a time when a man
needs to go home.   I think you understand this."

Eroin sighed and held back a tear.

"Yes, I see that you do.  Yet, you do not return to Hamal.   You remain here so
far from the land of your birth.   Does the man keep you here?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Who is this man?   I can see by his camp that he is no clanner.   He is a man
who cares for zorcas.   He is a man who knows the nomad life and the life of
the great plains.   If he is no clansman, then who is this man who holds you
to this place?"

Eroin stepped back, startled by his perception.   Even more startling was her
realization that she didn't have the whole answer.

"He is a strange man.  I think he is lost.   Far from his home.   I have never
seen a man like him before," she said softly and looked out on the plains in
the direction he had left.

"I think I should like to meet this strange man," said Valcon, "and, indeed, I


The Great Plains of Segesthes rolled in an undulating fashion.   There were
small hills and there were depressions.  It was wise to make camp in a
depression because that might afford protection against the eternal winds.
Cat Smiling's camp was in such a depression caused by a very gradual
decline from the surrounding area.  So it was that the Comanche saw that his
camp was occupied by strangers.  He saw this a quarter mile away.

When he came close enough so he was sure the trespassers would see him,
he stopped his zorca and took two arrows from his quiver.   He waited, frozen
against the setting suns to see what the strangers would do.   So quietly and motionless did he wait it took a few minutes before they noticed him , and
when they did it was Wrevo pointed his spear up at the Comanche  with a silent grin.

The clansmen spoke among themselves until Valcon broke off from the
others and drifted his zorca slowly toward the Comanche.    He held himself in
an easy way.   He was a man who could appear friendly and non aggressive
while at the same time appearing competent and dangerous.   Cat Smiling let
him drift within ten yards before he put up one red-bronze hand to signal he
should stop.   Valcon stopped.

For almost a minute the sat staring at each other, evaluating each other.   This
was the first time Cat Smiling had seen a clansman close up.    He was
definitely a white man with his sandy hair, blue eyes and sun burnt tawny
white skin.  This coloring  and a great beard were the only things that colored
him white,  though, for he was outfitted in weapons that Cat Smiling did not consider "white".
The stranger sat on his zorca with the ease of a Comanche brave.

From his point of view, Valcon surveyed the stranger with genuine interest.   He thought this reddish brown man might be a diff.   He had never seen the face of a Comanche
before.   The wide prominent cheekbones, the slightly slanted, almond
shaped black eyes.   His short, powerful body with its barrel chest and thick
stomach.   The long, thick, greasy black hair that looked as if it had never
been cut.   Valcon looked beyond this to his weapons, and was pleased to
see a bow the weapon of the stranger's choice.   There was no sword, only a
knife and a great ax.   In many ways, this red stranger reminded Valcon of his
own people, yet  he was so very different.

"Llahal and Lahal,"  said the clansman in a clear, strong voice.  "I am Valcon
the Blade."   Here he paused, waiting for the Comanche to introduce himself.

"I am Cat Smiling," said the Comanche.  Instinctively, he stated his name in
Comanche, then as an afterthought, he said it in Kregish.

Valcon the Blade frowned in interest at the Comanche's name.   The way he
said it in Kregish it sounded like Cat the Smile.  This was the way Eroin told
Cat Smiling that his name would be said in her language.   Valcon noted that
the stranger spoke Kregish with a harsh accent, and he suspected that the
name he had given was not the name that the stranger called himself.

"We have made the papputtu," said the clansman, "I will not ask for obi.   I
have been too long in the south to jump on a stranger like that.   You are not
of the clans, that's for sure.  From where do you come?"

Cat Smiling paused, not knowing what to say.  How could he answer that
question?   He knew the place he had once lived, but he didn't know where it
was in relation to where he was now.   He decided to answer in general terms.

"From far away.   Country similar to these plains," he said.

The white man smiled.   He had an engaging and infectious smile; the
smile of a friendly man without fear.   His white teeth split his bearded face
and his blue eyes crinkled.   Regardless of the white man's friendliness, Cat
Smiling remained aloof.   He had learned not to trust  white men; at least, not
until he got to know them better.

"So I've heard, Cat the Smile.   By the look of your camp you appear to be a
man who knows how to survive on the plains.  Your zorcas were well
treated.   Your woman is content and wears skins of animals that you killed.
You sit on your zorca with the ease of a clansman.  Yes, I'd say you come
from country similar to these great plains.

"There are customs here that you may or may not know.  Do you know obi?"
asked the hairy man.

"I do not know the word," admitted Cat Smiling.

"Then you should learn it.   If you meet the men of the clans they will ask for
obi.   If you do not give it they will fight you.  At least some of them will.
There is a man down in your camp right now, a clansman, who has been in
the south working as a mercenary, who will ask you for obi.   If you give him
obi he will be your better.   He will be you superior.   In many ways he will
command you and take from you the things he wants.   Do you understand

Cat Smiling did not understand.   Oh, he understood most of Valcon's words;
he just didn't understand the concept of obi.   He paused a minute without
speaking as he thought about what Valcon said.   One thing was for sure, this
Valcon the Blade was warning him that there was a man below in his camp
who wanted to fight him.

"Why are you warning me?"  asked the Comanche.    "If this man is part of
your band, why help me?"

Valcon nodded his head, suddenly serious, and leaned forward in his
saddle.   "I don't care much for the man who wants your woman.   I think he's
a bully and a get onker.   He and his sword mate have been trouble to my
small band since they joined us back on the coast.   We travel together to
reach the northern clans.   We have agreed to 'tolerate' each other for your
mutual protection," said Valcon grimly.   He turned in his saddle and looked
back at the three men waiting in Cat Smiling's camp.

"I have my reasons for not liking this man.   If he challenges you, you will
have your reasons for fighting him.   I just want you to know what is going to
happen.  Not because I'm a very fair man.   Not because I'm your friend.
Maybe I'd like to see if  Wasto is as tough as he claims to be."

"If I am challenged by 'Wasto' will it be just the two of us.  Is the fight to the
death?" asked Cat Smiling.

"Yes, just the two of you, and to the death if you so chose," said Valcon with
a smile.   "Or he chooses."

The Comanche sat stoically on his zorca.   For a long minute neither of the
men said anything.   Thinking that they had been silent for long enough,
Valcon smiled a little and offered further comment.

"You could just ride away.   Turn your zorca around and flee.   There would
be no need to fight Wasto then.   Of course, that would mean that Wasto
would take your woman and your property."

Black eyes lingered over the camp below.   Valcon saw them sweep over the
traveling necessities, linger affectionately over the remuda of zorcas and halt
when they rested on the woman.   Cat Smiling's eyes were hard when they
returned to Valcon.

"Comanches do not share their women, nor do they allow them to be taken.
If Wasto tries to take her I will kill him," he growled.

Valcon nodded his head.  "Wasto is not a true paktun.  He is little more than a masicher, but do underestimate his ability to fight.   All clansmen are born
in the saddle, and he will challenge you in that kind of fight  if you ride down."

"All the better," said Cat Smiling.   He gestured for Valcon to ride ahead of
him.  There was no true trust between them.   If this were a trap, Cat Smiling would kill Valcon
first, shooting from behind if necessary.   The big bearded man realized this
and laughed out loud in his cheerful, carefree way.   He turned his zorca with
easy skill and rode down ahead of the Comanche.

As they rode into the Comanche's camp Wasto  bristled, drew in a great
breath and spat loudly on the prairie grass.   Cat Smiling pulled Grass Burner,
his pinto zorca, to a stop and waited.

He didn't know anything about obi, carts or swords, but he knew
men.  Rough, savage men of the trail.   He was one himself.

Wasto the Duff  kicked his mount over to the Comanche.  I am Wasto the
Duff.  Who are you," he barked.

Cat Smiling felt no urge to answer him.   He did so because he knew it would
speed things toward the inevitable.

"I am Cat Smiling," he said in a low voice.

Wasto laughed and lifted his clansman's bow.   "Now that we have made the
papputtu  I will fight you at once!"

Cat Smiling remained silent   He held his own bow in his hand with a few

"Or you can give me obi and avoid death," suggested the clansman with a

Cat Smiling lifted his hand and glared at his challenger.  "I waste no words on
a dog like you.  Let us fight," he said with great dignity.

Wasto pointed to the Comanche's bow.   "I see you have a bow.   We will
fight with that weapon."

Cat Smiling nodded in assent.

Valcon spoke up then.  "Meet out on the open plain!"

Wasto laughed again.   There was great confidence in his laugh because he knew of no other person than a clansman who could shoot a bow from zorca
back as well as a clansman.   Under his superb command, his zorca bolted
away from the others until it was about fifty  yards away.   There Wasto
waited with bow and arrow in hand.

Cat Smiling had never fought for obi.   He  understood dimly what Valcon had
told him.  What he truly understood was that here was a warrior waiting to
kill him.   He did not bother to glance at Eroin.   This was man's work.   He
kicked his zorca into motion and rode about fifty yards in the opposite

Separated by 100 yards, the fight was started by Wasto, who shouted an
insult  and charged boldly at the Comanche.   Cat Smiling, caught up in the
thrill of the moment, shrieked his war whoop and raced directly at his enemy.

What happened next, happened very fast.   When they drew close enough to
fire, Wasto sent an arrow at the Comanche which missed as Cat Smiling
disappeared.   He reappeared under Grass Burner's tall neck and shot three
arrows at Wasto.   Two thunderheads thudded into the clansman's chest while the third
grazed his hairy head.

Wasto's mount, still in the madness of the attack, thundered on.   Somehow,
through clansman instinct, Wasto stayed in the saddle, wobbling and staring
dumbly at the arrow shafts protruding from his chest.   Cat Smiling turned
Grass Burner sharply and rode after Wasto.  When he got close he pulled his
mount to a halt and carefully put an arrow in the base of Wasto's skull.

The clansman jerked straight up, went limp and fell from his mount, lifeless.

Cat Smiling directed Grass Burner over to the body, leaned out and spit on
Wasto's lifeless form.   He gathered Wasto's zorca and led him back to the

The others waited for him with a variety of reactions.  Eroin was happy,
relieved that Cat Smiling had won.   Valcon sat on his mount and watched the
Comanche with a serious, examining gaze.   Wrevo the Spear remained silent,
a small mocking smile on his long face.   Mation the Cut's reaction was more
severe.   He was fuming, red under his bushy brown beard.   Wasto had been
his sword mate and friend.   The easy way with which Cat Smiling had killed
his friend was unbearable.

He marched over to the Comanche with his hand on the handle of his big
knife.   It was obvious to all present that the knife was his weapon of choice,
despite the sword on his hip and the long handled ax across his back.

"Llahal, I am Mation the Cut, " he sputtered, barely able to contain his anger.

"I am Cat Smiling," replied the Comanche, knowing that he would have to
fight this man.

"We will fight at once!   Let it be with knives," declared the clansman,
drawing his blade.

Cat Smiling frowned and looked at the other two clansmen.   He was reluctant
to drop his bow.   To do so would have made him more vulnerable to an
attack from all three men.   Still, they had not interfered when he had killed
Wasto in single combat.  It was logical to believe they would not interfere

Valcon and Wrevo said nothing.   They gave no indication that they would
do anything more than watch the next fight.   Cat Smiling had to take a
chance and relinquish his bow.   He quietly gave it to Eroin.

"Cat, " she started to say, but he silenced her with a finger on her lips.

Again  two men stepped outside the limits of the small camp and began to
fight with no further ceremony.   Cat Smiling held his knife in a reverse grip,
blade extending from  the bottom of his fist.  Mation's  style was different; he
held his knife in a forward grip, the blade making a line with the forearm.   His
knife was a long, double edged blade specially made for knife fighting, while
Cat Smiling had a more crude single edged blade he had taken from a slaver.

Eager to kill his enemy, Cat Smiling rushed forward in the manner that most of
his people fought with the knife, feigning with a downward, stabbing motion
that brought a smile to Mation's face.   The clansman backed up, encouraging
Cat Smiling to lunge forward aggressively, then, when the Comanche had
done so, Mation pivoted sweetly on the balls of his feet and laid a long thin
white line across his opponent's chest.   The white changed to red as blood
seeped from the shallow wound.

 Cat Smiling  back pedaled defensively away from the clansman, though there
was no need to do so because Mation had paused to grin at him.  The wound
had not severed any muscle.   It had not meant to seriously hurt the
Comanche.  Mation had decided to play with his opponent.

"You ain't got no skill, red man.  I'm gonna slice you up piece by piece," taunted
the clansman.

Cat Smiling frowned.   His enemy might be speaking true words.
Uncharacteristically, the Comanche hesitated; he was at a momentary loss of
what to do.   Charging and stabbing were the major knife tactics that he
knew.   If the truth were told, his people did not often fight with knives except
when forced to because they had lost their bow, lance or war club.   Most
warriors preferred the bow.   Engaging in hand to hand combat was a sign of
great bravery among the Comanche.  Even attacking with a lance revealed a
man to be of exceptional courage.   If a man carried a lance into battle in preference to the bow he was a special warrior.

Cat Smiling had often carried the lance, but for a fleeting moment he wished
he had not discarded his bow.   Only a moment of regret was allowed to him;
the danger was in front of him, and he flatly forced himself to focus on his
grinning opponent.

Mation continued to taunt him.  The clansman feinted, rushed and laughed.
Cat Smiling began to grow angry.  He didn't like being laughed at, and he
really didn't like not knowing how to handle this hairy white man.

Suddenly, Mation's demeanor changed.   He left behind his taunting and came
in to cut Cat Smiling.   This time his feint was crucial to his attack.  Cat
Smiling was almost fooled, and only his unusual speed and reflexes twisted
his body out of the way of the slicing sweep of Mation's knife.

For the next few minutes they danced.  Mation attacking; Cat Smiling
escaping.   Most of those escapes were because of the Comanche's Earth
born agility, but many of his escapes were partial and several bloody wounds
opened up on Cat Smiling's arms and shoulders.   Considering Mation's
impressive skill, it was almost a miracle that the Comanche had avoided a
very serious wound.

The three spectators to the battle struck different poses and affected
different attitudes as they watched the fight.   Eroin clenched her hands to
her breasts,  her face wrinkled with concern as she prayed that her man would
win what looked like a losing fight.    Wrevo leaned against his zorca and
viewed the fight with pleasant interest, unconcerned for either of the
combatants.  Valcon cradled his chin in one callused hand and watched the
fight with some seriousness.  He had never seen a man move with the
quickness of Cat Smiling.   He was sure that it was the only think keeping the
red skinned stranger alive.

"Your man shows far less skill with a knife than he did with a bow," Valcon
commented to Eroin.  "Mation could have killed him in the first pass.   The
Smiling Cat left himself wide open in his initial attack."

"He's still fighting," whispered Eroin.

"Maybe not for long.   He has superior reflexes and speed, but I don't think
that will save him in the end.   You might find yourself looking for a new
man," said Valcon dryly.

Eroin stared at the big, blond man with wide eyes.   Why would her nightmare
never end?   She had long given up hope that she would ever return to
Hamal, except in her secret heart of hearts where hope never dies.   Her life as
a slave had been horrid; the only moments of happiness had been with Cat
Smiling.   She had grown to care for him, and she stopped short again, shyly, of
admitting that her concern for him was true love.   When she was in his
presence she knew she was with a man, and so far, he was her man.   Now,
seeing him close to death, his bronze body painted vulgar red by the
clansman's blade, she felt closer to him than any other man in her life.   Closer
than any romantic fantasy she had harbored in her girlish past.   More than
anything she didn't want him to die.

From somewhere in her soul she summoned strength.  "The fight isn't over,"
she said, evenly, her hands clenched in tight fists.   "Cat Smiling is more of a
man than that rast."

Valcon smiled.   "We shall see."

Unaware of the conversation between Valcon and Eroin, Cat Smiling shook
his head in frustration.   Mation's blade sliced him at will, opening large and
small wounds in his arms and shoulders.   He was humiliated.   He knew the
clansman was toying with him.   Cat Smiling had killed his share of men in
close combat and, usually, he had a cool head when fighting, but as Mation
backed him up, touching him with his blade  Cat Smiling began to tighten up
with bitter anger.   Tightened, he lost some of his fluid speed and agility.
More cuts appeared on his red coated body.   Something had to be done.
Changes had to made if the Comanche was to survive.  Sooner or later,
Mation was going to decide to end the contest.   A single, decisive stab
could do it.

Suddenly, the tension in the Comanche snapped.   Perhaps he would die this
day.   Should he be afraid of that?   A slow smile twisted his brutal face  and
fluidity returned to his body.  It would serve him no good to think of himself
as waiting to die.  If he was going to die, then so be it.  If he was going to
live, then he had to find some way inside Mation's defense.

Cat Smiling stared at the clansman.   With Earth born agility, he skipped away
from Mation, putting more distance between them so he could observe the
clansman more closely.   The Comanche stared, trying to feel every move that
the clansman was making, as if these movements were his own.   Essentially
he began to stalk Mation.   He circled Mation as if the clansman were a bison
and avoided Mation's blade as he would avoid the horns and hooves of a
buffalo.   He kept a safe distance between himself and the clansman and
waited, not to die but for the opportunity to strike.

Mation sensed the change in his opponent.   The red man kept his distance,
no longer willing to fight.  Now, Mation began to suffer frustration because
Cat Smiling was able to utilize the prairie's open space to thwart Mation's
attack.   It was at this time that Mation decided to end the fight at the earliest

Cat Smiling and the clansman circled each other.   The Comanche tried to
detect some pattern in the clansman's footsteps.   He avoided Mation's blade
several times before he saw it.   When circling, Mation would take two or
three short steps to the side and then one long one.
Cat Smiling let him do this a few more times, then he attacked on the long
step.   A lighting fast rush brought him close to Mation's body.   Cat
Smiling's knife swept at Mation's leg.   He cut the clansman's thigh, though
Mation turned with the slash so it wasn't as deep as the Comanche wished it
would have been.

Mation cursed.   No longer was the fight amusing.   It had to end, and this
was something that  Cat Smiling knew also.   The Comanche lowered into a
crotch and kept his glittering black eyes on his enemy's face.   This was more
to intimidate Mation than to anticipate the clanner's next attack.   There was a
shift in the relationship between Cat Smiling and Mation.   The Comanche
was not so much a rabbit to be speared.   No longer was he an easy kill.    The
stare of the predator fastened on Mation's mind.  Tough as the clansman
mercenary was, his resolve began to weaken.   Cat Smiling searched for an
opening; a natural opening that prey offers the hunter.

Mation just couldn't catch the nimble Comanche.   Soon, Mation's lunges
began to extend; his knife sliced outward and didn't retreat immediately as it
must do in a knife fight.    With his fighting arm extended, just a second too
long, he exposed himself to a counter attack.   Cat Smiling saw these small
opportunities but did not attack.   His instincts told him the time was not

Then it came.

"Kleesh!   By Babo's Hairy armpits, hold still," shouted Mation.   Again he lunged,
again he left his knife out a bit too long and again he opened his stance a
little too wide.   Like a leopard, Cat Smiling came in.   A rush of savage stone
age fury that smashed into the clanner like a tidal wave.  Both men were
hurled back by the impact and hit the grassy ground hard.   Cat Smiling
rolled off the clansman, holding a new bleeding wound on his left side where
Mation had stabbed him.  His own knife was buried to the hilt in Mation's chest.   The Comanche crouched,  waiting, until Mation's labored breathing stopped.

"So that's that!" snapped Wrevo.   He hadn't moved from leaning on his

Valcon walked over to Mation's body.  "He's given up his ib."   He turned to
Cat Smiling and said, "You've had a rough day."

Cat Smiling stumbled over to Mation's body and pulled his knife free.   He
waved Eroin away when she tried to tend his wounds.

"Are you next?" he asked.

Valcon smiled.  "A good fight.   A small jikai.   You were overmatched and
still won."

Cat Smiling glared at the sandy haired man as if to communicated in belligerent
body language that he was ready to fight again, if need be.  Valcon shook his

"No need to worry," said Valcon.  "Your fighting is done for today.   Neither
Wrevo or myself wish to take your obi.   Anyway, you are too wounded to
make it an interesting fight."

Cat Smiling glanced over at Wrevo.   The spear man shrugged and leaped on
his zorca.

Encouraged, the Comanche beckoned Eroin and retrieved his bow and
arrows.  Only then did he allow  her to bind up his wounds.  He stood
stoically while she cleaned and stitched his cuts.  Valcon watched with that
small smile on his face.  When it was done, the blond man spoke again.

"Quite a show, Cat Smiling.  I have never seen a man move as fast as you
did.   Mation's knife work was far superior to yours.   If you had not battled in
this open place I think Mation would have killed you easily.   He was one of
the best knifemen I ever saw.   You did well against him."

"What now?" asked the Comanche.

"You may take the possessions of Mation and Wasto.   You've won them
fairly.  There are more things in our camp.   If you come there and claim them I
warn you that there are other renegade clansmen.  They might challenge

"How many men must I fight in one day to satisfy this obi?" asked Cat

"I told you no more today.   I lead my band.   Your woman and possessions
are safe from us.  Later, if you like you can join our band.   There is safety in
numbers, and we can use a fighter like you."

"I will rest today and decide tomorrow," said the Comanche with
quiet dignity.

A brown and white dove circled above.

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