The Riders of the King's Own

Week Two

Nyan rana yn Emon, di nyan yn Maralu.

I am the happiest Iíve been in months. In parts the saddest, but mostly happiest, I think.

Weíve just left Ni-Mytaa.

Not only did I have my first decent meal for a week, sleep in a real bed, and generally have a bit of relaxation after nothing but sand and Sugarís saddle for the past week, but Iíve been able to spend time with my beautiful Olylia. It seems that half the time I see her is en route to Kazin. Weíre talking about her moving to Ni-Yana, but sheís as tied to her city as I am to mine, so itís going to take a while for that to happen.

Sorry. Iíll stop now. This is supposed to be a straight out telling of a mission with the Kingís Own.

So as I said, we came into Ni-Mytaa early yesterday morning. When we first spot Ni-Mytaa as a jagged dark lump silhouetted against the lightening horizon, I think everybody feels the same relief. Itís a beautiful city made even more so by the complete lack of civilisation weíve had since leaving Ni-Yana. I donít know that the other guys would feel quite the same spark as I do, but thatís different.

It was an hour or so after sunrise when our horses clattered over the bridge, so the city was well and truly awake by that point. We, of course, were just about ready to bed down for the day, but now that weíve met up again with the Ra-Lin, weíll be travelling by day, which means staying awake at least until sunset to fix the sleeping pattern as quickly as possible.

We all have different ways of trying to stay awake. Most of the guys go on something of a pub crawl for the day, but without quite the same vigour as if they were in Ni-Yana. Fatigue will do that to you. Iím sure theyíd stay in the same pub for the whole day if it didnít mean theyíd probably all fall asleep. The effort of getting up and finding the next one at least keeps them moving and awake.

Yoryl and Kaen are usually a part of that pub crawl, but Kaen of course had his dead thrai to take to a skinner to have turned into a belt. Heís tried to make us stay in Ni-Mytaa for another five days so he can proudly wear the thing to Kazin and back, but Nimayís decided sheís going to run a tight ship. Much as it doesnít feel like it yet, we are on a mission.

Kurae tends to go to the markets and buy food, since heís always the one to cook the night after we leave. Rejoice! I have no idea what he bought, but heís sent the archers off to shoot down a few geyas, so that should be nice. Iím more a fish man myself, but Kurae could probably even make chicken soup appetising, so Iím quite happy with geya.

Rumal and Ulkar like to train, since most of us wonít have picked up a sword since leaving Ni-Yana. Iíd probably join them if I didnít have prior engagements. Haenel, the newest member, apparently went out and trained with them, which was very dedicated of him, I must say.

I naturally spend the day with my Orylia, doing whatever it is she has planned. She owns a restaurant in the trendy part of Ni-Mytaa, so whenever the Own passes through she closes for the day so I can treat her to a nice dinner in the evening. It happens to be her birthday in a month, too, so I let her choose her present from the markets.

Itís a pale blue dress with beading around the neck, just a simple thing to tide her over until I get back from Kazin. Iím sure sheíll look stunning in it, but Iíve made her promise not to wear it until her birthday, since I canít be here for it as I have been in the past. Iíll buy her something more special in Kazin and weíll have more of a celebration when I get back.

The archers, I learnt this morning, were curiously absent from todayís pub crawl. They left under the impression they were going to be cliquey and have a pub crawl of their own, but Kurae told the rest of the swordsmen as we were leaving that he spotted them in the markets. One can only assume they were buying things for their planned attack on the blade archers.

Archers are disturbing people. Both varieties. Doubtless Gylepiís written something of their plans for Kaen and Yoryl. I have no intentions of reading about them. Iíll just let the battle run its courseóthe second any outsiders get involved, theyíll be the target of both parties of archers, blade and bow, for the duration of the mission, so itís best to just let it lie.

That, and Iíve already been threatened with casuarina nuts by both blade archers to know what Gylepiís written, and threatened with chicken soup by Nol to not let them know.

I should probably explain the chicken soup. Itís become something of a running joke among us now, but as a threat it certainly carries more weight than casuarina nuts.

We have a roster for cooking when weíre on the road, for the simple reason that flatbread gets incredibly boring after about a week, and we need a bit of variety. Itís easy to forget that Nolrynís actually royalty when weíre on the road, in that he acts nothing like what you may otherwise expect a prince to act, but itís painfully obvious once itís his turn to cook. For the whole of his first mission and about half his second, he cooked nothing but boiled eggs.

Melraan was the one who stupidly suggested that he try something else, and the something else ended up being chicken soup. Neither Nol nor Melraan will ever live that down.

Every member of the Own was sick for a full week after eating that soup. I donít know what in Linís name he did to the stuff, and to be perfectly honest I donít want to, either. Just never make me eat chicken soup a lŗ Nolryn again.

Needless to say, I wonít be reading whatever Gylepiís written about their plans, nor will I be letting the blade archers know. Iím tempted to read it, I have to say, but I still have nightmares about chicken soup.

I bet it has something to do with that thraiís head. Murali will have picked it up and theyíll hide it in a saddle bag or somewhere equally childish. Archers are like that.

Thatís not to say I donít enjoy seeing a blade archer get what heís been asking for, but there are better ways to go about it. Still, I may be thinking too early. They may surprise us with something well thought out. I doubt it, but they may still surprise us. Maybe.

Anyway, that will happen when it happens. Until then we can all live in anticipation.

Hats off again to Kurae, who, through the over-zealous efforts of the archers yesterday, roasted enough geyas for the entire township ofÖ wherever we were last night. Ni-Lonkua, Ulkar tells me. I know, I should know this by now, but those villages all merge together after passing through so many of the same. Sorry to everyone upstream of Ni-Mytaa, I know youíre all incredibly proud of your villages.

Ni-Lonkua is one of the smallest of them all, only holding nineteen people, all of whom work on the same farm, so itís too small and too close to Ni-Mytaa to warrant having an inn, let alone one that can hold the fifteen of us plus our mounts, so we pitch the tents just outside what passes for town limits and tie the horses to one of the posts the villagers have stuck there just for us.

So since we had thirty-odd birds (thank you, archers), Kurae gathered everyone around the campfire, which was more of a bonfire last night, with the number of people we had to fit around it, gave everyone a geya and got us to pluck them. Made for an interesting evening, I must admit, if slightly bizarre. I suppose itís perfectly normal for a lot of people, but the Own doesnít tend to pluck poultry around the campfire.

Of course, the normality was probably stripped slightly for the Ni-Lonkuans when they realised that every single bird had been shot straight through the head. Kurae says it makes them better to cook, since thereís no hole in the skin from the arrow. I think. Iím not a chef. I can cook a bit, but I donít think an arrow hole in a bird would make much difference to how it would turn out.

Still, as I say, hats off to Kurae, delicious as always. One woman asked if we could all cook like that. Some of us burst out laughing straight away, the rest exchanged glances first, then burst out laughing. Blood of the goddesses, if we could all cook like that!

We bedded down not long after, because the sleeping patternís still not quite fixed. It should be back to normal by tomorrow though.

Weíre in Ni-Okina now, meaning Melraanís turn to cook, meaning porridge. We all have our ďsignature dishesĒ (meaning we canít really cook anything else) and thatís Melraanís. The bonus, if it can be termed as such, is that we all have a different signature dish, so thereís at least some variety.

I finally got some training done this evening too, because I havenít done much beyond unsheathe my sword to clean it since we let Ni-Yana. Terrible of me, I know, but in the desert, every waking hour is spent riding so we can get to Ni-Mytaa as quickly as possible, in Ni-Mytaa Iím with Olylia, and last night I was too tired. Tonight I would rather have been sleeping, as all but the most dedicated of us are, but I really do need to train.

Ni-Okina is a good deal larger than Ni Lokua, but still no more than perhaps sixty people, which is still quite an audience for just the four of us swordsmen, being myself, Kurae, Rumal and Haenel. He really is quite dedicated, though I think Rumal and Kurae still scare him. The four scars on the back of Rumalís wrist tend to have that effect, even though theyíre all thatís left of his southern districts days. That and a slight accent, which heís still mocked for.

Kuraeís just a hard person to get to know. He doesnít take compliments well, and heís generally quite stony-faced to just about everyone save the swordsmen of the Own, and he is even to us when heís training. HaenelÖ heís getting there. Iím sure heíll feel more at home by the time weíre back in Ni-Yana in a few months time.

But yes, first training in a while. Iím still not entirely confident in my abilities. On the last mission I lost the little finger of my left hand. That was my own fault. I was paying too much attention to the man I was fighting and not enough to the blade archers on the side lines. For some stupid reason I stuck my arm up to try and defend myself from the flying blade instead of ducking out of the way or using my sword, or even the Kazinian I was fighting, so naturally the dagger hit my knuckle and severed the finger enough that it wasnít worth trying to save.

Yes, it paints a gruesome picture, I know, but Iíve dumbed it down as much as I can. Doubtless Rumal will tell all the gruesome details of how he lost his. And for the countless masses whoíve asked me over the months since, and indeed will for years to come, yes, it still hurts, but not half as much. Itís not a constant pain, just when I knock it on something too hard, then it stings for a minute or two afterwards. Rumal assures me that will stop soon enough. Iím just thankful thatís all I lost.

Even so, Iíve lost a lot of power with my sword swing. Or not so much the swing as when I make contact. Iíve developed a bad habit of loosening my grip with my left hand on impact, because it still stings a bit, but that of course means thereís less power behind the swing, which already has less power because there are only nine fingers gripping the hilt, however tightly they grip it.

Nol was nice enough to rank me at number two among the swordies, but heís an archer, and hardly one to talk about swordsmanship. Iíd put myself somewhere around the bottom. Iíve still got the same skill, but a lot less power and more hesitancy. I wouldnít be surprised if Iím the one to go next time someone challenges us from First Company. A year ago? I donít know, maybe forth or fifth. Rumal and Kurae have picked up that I fight one-handed more often now too. I can only hope this wonít cost me in Kazin.

Even worse than if I die or lose another digitóor even limbódue to my missing finger, would be if someone else does because of it. Iíd relinquish my place then and there, no questions asked. Just head straight back to Ni-Mytaa and go no further. I donít even know if Iíd go that far. Orylia has told me countless times sheíd stay with me if such a thing did happen, but I wouldnít want to test that theory out.

To be perfectly honest, Iím not entirely comfortable with this mission. I never am, but this one even less so. Weíre actually going up there with the single intention to kill people. Killing in defence I can handle. When weíre attacked by an angry mob of Silronan army men, I can defend myself easily. Bandits with no army training to speak of is harder, but when someoneís coming at you with all blades swinging, as it were, thereís little else one can do but fight back.

But actually having the intention of killing these people before weíve even left Ni-Yana is something else entirely. Itís like going looking for trouble. It is looking for trouble. I know itís highly unlikely, but what happens if the bandits do all mob together? Especially when they find out that the Raykinian Kingís Own is coming up to kill them all. They may not do it consciously, but they could well all decide in their own little groups that theyíre going to come after us before we reach them, then we really would have fifteen against two hundred.

I know Nimayís trying to put a positive spin on the situation, but Iím just very uncomfortable with the situation. Thereís too much complacency. Everyoneís underestimating the Kazinians. They may be a rabble with no defined leader, but they all have the ďkill RaykiniansĒ mindset, and thatís all they need really. They donít need anyone to tell them to attack; theyíll just do it on their own.

Iím really not looking forward to this. I justÖ I donít like it.

Am I supposed to be writing this thing daily? I tried to at the beginning of the week, but Iíve missed out the last few days. Thereís not much to say, in all honesty. River, sand and spinifex, interspersed with the odd tiny village and mediocre beer.

Only in Raykin would a town of eleven people have a bar and no healing house, even if it is quite literally just a bar bench with a keg or two of beer stowed beneath it. Itís more like a stall at the market than a proper bar, and the brew itself is, as I say, mediocre, but itís better than nothing, which is essentially what weíre going to have in Kazin. Honestly, the fifteen of us are what keeps most of these tiny bars in business.

The archers have still done nothing beyond make the blade archers nervous, but I think that effect is beginning to wear off. Theyíve started pelting pebbles at people again. I curiously seem to escape most of their attention, I think because Iím not ďfunĒ enough. It takes a lot to make me get annoyed enough to say anything, and precision-aimed pebbles arenít enough. Iíve also learnt from having a younger brother that the quickest way to stop someone from annoying you is to not react at all. If a pebble rolls down my shirt, I donít touch it until theyíve well and truly given up.

Of course, Iíve received a few more than normal over the past week, because I havenít been telling them what the archers are planning, but no more than anyone else.

They must be planning their attack in the next day or two, surely. They canít keep Kaen and Yoryl dangling for too much longer, else the effect will have completely worn off.

Archers are strange, strange people.

Week 1      Week 3