The Riders of the King's Own

Week Seven
Murali

Nyan rana yn Murali, di nyan yn Maralu.

Injury report. I’ve broken my finger, hence why I haven’t started writing until now, three days since we met back up with everyone. Still, it’s a minor injury in the scheme of things.

Inel has definitely come out of it the worst. That group—him, Nimay, Ulkar and Nol—had nine Kazinians after them, apparently, and they were incredibly malicious. They actually killed Inel’s horse, and the four of them agree it was definitely a deliberate act. In the fall, he collected Ulkar, and both of them ended up with a broken bone—Inel his leg, and Ulkar his left wrist. Ulkar’s horse is fine though.

You just don’t do that. Steeds do not get attacked; it’s an unwritten rule that both kingdoms are adamant about, and it’s more enforced by the warriors themselves rather than the Generals. It’s just disgraceful behaviour.

Inel wants to single-handedly kill off the entire Silronan army now, which is understandable. Now that we’ve reached the actual city of Silrona, we’re going to have to get him another horse. It wouldn’t have worked taking one of the black horses of the Kazinians—they’re trained to only allow the one rider to ride them. Anyone else would be bucked off the second they were in the saddle.

The ironic thing? Inel broke the same leg on our last mission. You have to laugh, otherwise you’d be crying.

Garuk’s gone and broken his arm, which was not a smart move. It would figure that our best archer can’t draw strength to lift a bow, let alone pull its string. Rumal wound up with a black eye, which has closed over enough that he can’t see out of it, so that does great things for his depth perception.

Everyone else has just been shot and cut up quite badly, and I believe there are another two or three broken fingers floating around. I know Haenel has one. He was complaining about it before Inel’s and Garuk’s groups showed up, at which point he promptly closed his mouth. You learn quite quickly that a broken finger is pretty minor in this business. Getting out of this kingdom with your life still in tact is good enough.

Which brings me to another point: in light of the death of Inel’s horse, does this count as a mission without a “hitch,” as Majesty likes to term them? I guess it depends on whether we manage to eliminate all the bandits in the region. At least we don’t have any black horses to worry about now, so once everyone’s mobile again we’ll be able to just focus on the mission, or so we hope.

The select few of us who aren’t spending tonight in Silrona’s main healing house are staying at one of the three Raykinian-run inns in the city, very originally named The Raykinian. The other two are Nonamé’s and the Mountain Thrai, all well-worth staying at should you ever find yourself in Silrona. The Raykinian is undoubtedly the warmest of the three, which is a big thing up here, especially now that we’re heading for the Winter end of Autumn.

We haven’t really emphasised it enough, but it’s seriously cold now. It’s gotten to the stage that the cold is honestly painful. Yes, it’s only the middle of Autumn, but unless you’ve actually been up here, you can’t know how honestly painful the cold gets. Think the coldest of Raykinian Winter nights, add water so it just clings to you, then you’ve got the average daily maximum for the middle of Autumn in southern Kazin. At night, it’s impossible to sleep because it’s so cold.

We haven’t had a decent campfire in a week, because it takes so much effort to just get the thing started with wet wood, and once it does get started, it either starts raining or starts blowing a gale so there’s nothing left of it. So we all huddle around this pathetic little flame pretending we can feel heat coming from it, but honestly, you wouldn’t be able to feel any heat unless you sat on it.

So spending a night or several at an inn and just about sitting on the fire in the bedroom to defrost a bit is an absolute blessing. Well-worth the three gold pieces each it costs to stay here.

Nonamé’s is fantastic because she serves meals the closest as you’ll find to Raykinian in this kingdom. She uses Kazinian ingredients, because it’s as expensive to get Raykinian food up here as it is to get Kazinian food in Raykin, but cooked in Raykinian style. Fantastic stuff.

The Mountain Thrai is probably our favourite though, because they have genuine beer. None of this ditchwater or fermented rose petals and potato juice that the rest of Silrona insists upon, but real Raykinian beer, direct from Ni-Horia. I guess if you drank the same brew in Raykin it would be pretty average, but compared to anything else you’ll find in Kazin, it’s as good as anything the Golden Thrai will serve up.

Of course, half the time we’re up here, they’ve run out, since by that point the trade routes are all but closed, and the wagon that brings the beer up here hasn’t been seen for a month or two. Riding in this afternoon, nobody wanted to mention that maybe they’d run out this time as well, for fear of jinxing it, but it didn’t work. The last drop was sold the better part of a month ago. I could really do with a beer right now, but it looks like we won’t be getting any until we’re back in Ni-Horia, which won’t be for a while yet.

Broken bones, at an absolute minimum, take six weeks to heal, as we’ve learnt from personal experience. So we’re essentially an archer (our best archer, no less), a swordsman and a pikeman down for the next month and a half. We’ll all take the next week off, because blood of the goddesses do we need it, but a month and a half is too long to just hang around Silrona. Long story short, the rest of the mission is going to be carried out by twelve of us, then we’ll come back here in a month, pick the missing three up and hope we don’t run into too much trouble on the way back to Raykin.

Keep dreaming, Murali, keep dreaming…

For the curious, Silrona is nothing like Ni-Yana, or indeed any other Raykinian city. It’s probably got about as many people as Ni-Mytaa or Ni-Aneka, but that’s where the similarities end. The houses are all built from wood and stone, but that by no means says that everyone in the city is rich. Wood and stone are plentiful up here, and mud brick houses would melt before they’d been built, what with all the rain.

The stone is, of course, all grey, none of the rich red we have, but in Autumn the leaves on most of the trees turn as bright a red as any desert we’ve got. In a month or so, when the leaves have turned brown and drop from the trees to bank up in drifts beside the buildings, the children run around everywhere, kicking at the leaves and giggling at the rustling sounds they make. Everyone else seems to get incredibly annoyed by them, but they’re still something of a novelty to us, even though I’ve been with the Own for nine years. Snow I could live without, but Autumn leaves brighten the place up a bit, albeit briefly. In a month, there won’t even be that.

Kazinians also have this interesting concept of a food forest. Basically, they have fruit trees planted all through the city, and anyone can pick fruit from them when they feel hungry. The idea is that since it’s raining all the time, the trees are able to sustain themselves without the need for gardeners or farmers, so there’s free food for all.

They’re more effective in the northern regions, where there’s always some tree bearing fruit, but the mountain cities and towns have their fair share. In Autumn in the mountains, there’s really not a lot. It would be great to have such a thing in Raykin, but the only fruit-bearing tree that’s really self-sufficient is a date palm, and it’s not as easy as picking the fruit from the branch as you’re walking by. It takes more effort to get up to the dates than it’s worth.

Military presence is everywhere, but in the city they’re more like the police in Ni-Yana rather than actual warriors. Outside Silrona, anyone bearing arms and/or not obviously Silronan is fair game, as we’ve already established. Technically, there’s no police or law system at all. People just take it into their own hands, which I think is why the whole place seems to be in a state of constant war.

Say, for example, someone accidentally rolls their cart over someone’s pet cat and breaks its tail. The next morning, the owner of the cart finds his cart-pulling horse with a broken leg, so he goes and kills the cat, the owner of the cat kills the horse, the owner of the horse kills the owner of the cat, the cat owner’s family kill the horse owner, and war breaks out between the two families, which then extends to the town, and possibly the rest of the region.

In Raykin, of course, it would stop not long after the cat broke its tail. Everyone knows their place in the law, and in general, nobody meddles with it. In Kazin, the only law is what you physically can or can’t do, without somebody planting an arrow in your chest.

It’s generally not quite as dramatic as that, and as long as you stay in the more savoury parts of Silrona, the worst you’ll receive is hostility and overpriced food and drink. Silronans are too preoccupied with their own problems to bother attacking Raykinians. Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you.

Unless they’re bandits, of course, but we’re dealing with that. Give us a week and we’ll be right back onto it. For the moment though, none of us have ventured beyond the bar downstairs. We’ll probably check on the guys in he healing house tomorrow, jab Garuk about how he’s managed to get out of cooking, then do some more recuperating.

Bored of recuperating now. It’s kind of like a heatwave, in that you’re itching to just do something, but you can’t. I’ll just rest easy in the knowledge that I won’t be here for six weeks. We had a good time teasing Garuk, Inel and Ulkar about that yesterday. Of course, they’re still in pain right now, but the boredom will set in. I give it until the day before we leave—which Nimay is indicating will be in three days—before they start telling us they’re fine and able to pull a bowstring or ride a horse.

For the rest of us, we’re just getting stir crazy, as you do. You can only watch Nol, Melraan and Anganur win drinking contests against poor, ignorant Kazinians so many times before it gets old, and of course the blade archers’ dagger toss triumphs were old years ago.

Yes, stupid as it sounds, we’d rather be out breaking fingers and killing Kazinians than relaxing in a bar. You have to remember, we are in a beer-free nation. Pubs aren’t half as fun without beer, and Kazinians don’t make the greatest of drinking company.

So today, in a vague effort to relieve boredom, we went shopping, as you do. Just the archers, minus Garuk because he’s somewhat incapacitated of late, and we wanted to rub it in.

We have a tradition of buying some sort of a souvenir every time we come up here, then give it to the lovely ladies in the palace healing house in Ni-Yana. They do more for us than for anyone else, so they deserve something in return.

Everyone puts a gold piece into the kitty, then one group of us—obviously the archers this mission—goes to spend it on something. Whenever we’re in the tropics, Kurae always gets a big tin of cocoa, which is this brown powdery stuff that looks like dirt. You mix it in with hot milk and a lot of sugar, plus some other stuff you’d have to ask Kurae about, and drink it. It’s the solution to all problems, seriously.

We’ve also bought them a wind chime a few years back. In tropical Kazin, they get barely any wind, and when it comes, it’s generally in the form of a cyclone, which is similar to a twister, only much bigger and lasts for much longer. So they have these wind chimes that make tinkling sounds when there’s wind, to warn everyone of a possible cyclone. In the healing house in Ni-Yana though, they’re just there to sound nice.

This journey, we’ve bought five carved wooden horses, three gold each. There’s one rearing, carved from red gum, a pine horse with a foal, another rearing one carved from oak, and a beautiful dark one carved from mahogany, so it’s not technically from the mountains, but it’s Kazinian at the least.

So that’s about all we can actually do for the week beyond sitting around one of the three Raykinian pubs or sleeping. We can’t even do any training, because of course that would look as though we were fighting, and then the rest of the city would want to join in, which is really not what we’re after.

We can’t use the army barracks and archery range in the city either, not without being set upon by a multitude of Kazinian warriors. We tried it once, and while they started off no more hostile than any other Silronan, they started to get annoyed when they decided we were only there to show off. Unfortunate really, because they’ve got a pretty good archery range there, easily as good as the one in Ni-Yana, it’s just a pity about the company there.

So that leaves the outskirts, beyond city limits, at which point we’re open for attack whether we’re bearing arms or not. So we’re back into what we term the “do nothing.”

We would leave tomorrow, but there are still a few aches that mean some of the guys can’t wield their weapon as they’d like to, namely Melraan, who as I mentioned got shot in the elbow, and Anganur, who got a cut from his palm right down to his elbow. I think Haenel’s still worried about his broken finger too, but that won’t heal in three days, and it’s hardly worth staying in Silrona for another week for the sake of a few fingers. I can draw a bowstring with a broken finger, he can manage to swing a sword.

The three of us remaining archers convinced Kurae to cook tonight, because we’re just that bored that we felt like going hunting. I think Kurae was privately wanting to do something too, so he’s taken over Nonamé’s kitchen for the night.

Hunting makes good target practice, actually, especially rabbits. Unless you can see the entrance to their warrens, their movements are completely erratic, and since they’re really only active at dawn and dusk, it makes them hard to see in the failing light as well.

It was even more of a battle between Nol and Gylepi today. Normally they’re fighting for second place, because Garuk’s unquestionably the best of the four of us, so he always bags the most of whatever we’re hunting. However, with him unable to draw a bowstring, they’re vying for first.

Nol probably wins two out of every three, but today… we’re not sure. They were both sitting on six each, and I had three, so that meant we had enough for the fifteen of us, and Kurae always gets annoyed when we get too many. Even so, we made a deal that the next bunny wins. Naturally, they both hit the same bunny, at the same time, in pretty much the same spot. So in the end they were even on six and a half. Nol insists he shot first, but Gylepi’s convinced his arrow was the fatal one.

I’m not saying anything, that’s always the safest bet.

Still, we got some target practice done, and it killed an hour or so, which was what we set out to do, so we’re happy. I guarantee those two are going to be arguing about it at least until we get back to Ni-Yana. Joy of joys.

Week 6      Week 8