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            Afoot, with no armor, empty quiver, and not even a shield for protection, Tyree stood, sword in hand, before the Logalla army charging toward him. He hoped his Kodiak eyesight would find The Scar among them, thus trading his own life for The Scar’s. The Scar did not appear. Above the din of clattering armor, battle cries, and four thousand horses galloping, Tyree heard someone call his name.

            “Tyree!” Shuyah called out again as she galloped toward him from the east pulling along a saddled horse.

            No time to slow down for mounting. They were already in range of Logalla arrows which began to clank off the hard lava rock all around them. Tyree turned and ran away from Shuyah’s approach, allowing the two horses to overtake him at full speed. Tyree grasped the mane and saddle of the Tranca horse as it went by and swung up onto its back. Tyree and Shuyah galloped away. The Logalla army gave chase. Tyree showed Shuyah the Kodiak way of outdistancing a large pursuing force. They would swing wide to the north, and then cut sharply back to the east. The Logalla were well trained and organized, but turning was always cumbersome for a large army. At full gallop, turning becomes complicated; a large force bumps into itself. It slows almost imperceptibly. The single horse methodically stretches the gap and the large force falls behind.

            The Logalla pursued for less than a view then their commander raised his arm, bringing them all to a halt. He’d seen this ploy before, and they’d already been bloodied. Another Tranca trap may await them ahead. They were, after all, surrounded by Tranca.

            “Two Tranca are not worth the risk,” the Logalla commander said.

            “The male was a Kodiak!” his second in command growled.

            “Even more troubling,” the commander muttered.

            “Is killing Kodiak not our first duty?” the brash second raged. He was thin but strong, an ambitious young lieutenant. Thus far life had not been kind to the young lieutenant. His beard was scraggly, one of his eyes had been poked out, and all his teeth were nearly rotted away.

            “Our orders are to hold Verdanta,” the commander said. “If we fail we will be killed, either by the Tranca clan, or by our own. If we are dead, we cannot do our duty.”

            The commander held up his arm and circled it briskly in the air. The crack Logalla army turned in amazingly organized and orderly fashion, and went back into the mystifying mists of Verdanta.

            The four thousand Tranca that took part in the Verdanta mission returned to the clan’s encampment. They would have their wounds tended, they would eat, and they would rest. The balance of the Tranca military forces, more than twelve thousand warriors, maintained the siege.

            Rolak went to his large central hut where attendants had a fire blazing. After a battle, Rolak always took off his armor before entering his hut. His attendants took his armor away to be cleaned and repaired. He stood in his undergarments at his fire while others doused the sweat drenched and bloodied Rolak with buckets of frigid water.

            It was theater.

            “Let the people see that beneath his armor their leader is a man,” Rolak said to Shuyah one day when she was teasing him about his ritual.

            “You do it for other reasons,” she laughed.

            Though his nose was rather large and his complexion ruddy, Rolak had a certain appeal to the young Tranca women who gathered outside his circle of royal guards each time he returned from battle, or a hunt. His tall angular body glistened and he knew he was causing the girls’ hearts to flutter like a fawn’s when it sees a wolf. Add to that he was now their king, and Rolak had his pick of all the available ladies. Rolak always remained aloof, however, never looking at the girls nor letting anything betray his interest. It worked like a charm, though it lacked charm to the highest degree. His captain of the royal guards, Tarik, would then come to Rolak. Rolak would describe which one of the girls he wanted, and Tarik would arrange for her to pass through the circle of guards and into Rolak’s hut.

            But this day would be different. He knew it as, while his attendants toweled him off, his left flank commander from the Verdanta mission passed through the royal guard.

            “I fear your sister may have been killed or captured,” Rolak’s commander said.

            “What of the Kodiak?” Rolak asked.

            “He, too, has not returned.”

            “Find me Tooka. He was in the raiding party. Perhaps he has knowledge of the Kodiak.”

            “But what of Princess Shuyah?” the commander said.

            “She was unharmed and riding at my side after the battle. But I soon lost sight of her. Find me Tooka. Perhaps Tooka will know.”

            Rolak’s commander bowed, turned on his heel, and went back past the royal guard. Guard captain Tarik was just now arriving from his own mission. He looked to his lord and he and Rolak locked eyes briefly. An understanding passed between them. This was the man who crippled Tyree’s horse and left Tyree to die on the weather hardened lava around Verdanta. Rolak went into his hut and got dressed.

            Covered in blood and grime, Shuyah and Tyree rode slowly into camp. No sentries or outriders on the outskirts challenged the Kodiak, for their Tranca princess rode at his side. Word came to Rolak’s quarters in a few heartbeats.

            The Kodiak lives!

            Belting on his sword, Rolak came out of his hut and looked to Tarik. Another understanding passed between them, and Tarik melted away into the throng of available ladies who had gathered to watch Rolak’s display. It was not long before the crowd parted and Shuyah and the Kodiak rode up. The royal guards parted, for their princess had arrived. Tyree and Shuyah stopped before Rolak.

            “Are you happy to see me, brother?” Shuyah glared.

            “I knew you were unharmed,” Rolak shrugged.

            “Are you happy to see me?” Tyree said with neither hint of a smile nor of his patented impishness.

            “I give no thought to a Kodiak,” Rolak growled, his hand feeling the hilt of his sword in its scabbard.

            Tyree and Shuyah dismounted. Tyree used the Kodiak way of throwing one leg over the front of the saddle and sliding to the ground, both feet planted and ready for any encounter. It was also a way of not showing one’s back to anyone standing on the ground.

            “Tarik, your captain of the guards?” Tyree said, now a bit more lighthearted. “I understand he’s a capable horseman. I’d like to give him some advice on the subject.”

            “I haven’t seen Tarik since the battle,” Rolak lied, as he pretended to search his royal guard for Tarik’s presence. “Perhaps he was killed or wounded.”

            A murmur in the crowd caused Tyree and Shuyah to turn. Again the crowd parted and through it walked Tarik, still in his battle armor. Tarik was smart. He’d used his considerable warrior skills to work his way into Rolak’s personal guard. Over time, he moved up in rank to captain. Now, Rolak was High Lord of the Tranca and Tarik was one favor away from being named a battle commander. Then came the Kodiak, and the favor followed. Tarik was smart. He knew hiding or lying would not change the reality. The Kodiak saw who tried to kill him and this fight to the death would come, if not now, soon.

            “We have matters to settle, Kodiak!” Tarik sneered, sword already drawn. Tyree drew his sword as Tarik approached at a crisp walk.

            “Hold!” Rolak shouted. “A Kodiak may not kill a Tranca. It is our law. Any from another clan that kills a Tranca shall himself be put to death. Equal combat or not.”

            “I forgo the law!” Tarik shouted as his brisk walk went into an attack run.

            “I will not forego it!” Rolak shouted back.

            Shuyah looked at her brother with loathing she’d never before felt. She knew that if Tyree killed Tarik, Rolak would see to Tyree’s execution. As Tyree readied for Tarik’s first impact, Shuyah drew her blade and stepped forward in one fluid motion. She ran her sword through Tarik’s throat a pony length before he reached Tyree.

            Tarik fell face first into the snow and slid up against Tyree’s feet. Tyree looked at Shuyah with a mixture of shock and admiration. Shuyah was looking at Rolak.

            “But a Tranca may kill a Tranca at any time,” she said, tears welling, “if he has betrayed Tranca honor!” She walked briskly to Rolak and shouted the last words into his face. “Even if he was ordered to do so by his lord!”

            “I have no knowledge of what you speak!” Rolak shouted back. “I didn’t order Tarik to do anything!”

            “He brought Tyree a horse after the raid, but as we all withdrew, he cut the horse from under Tyree,” she said.

            “Perhaps Tarik did it out of misguided loyalty to me.” Rolak turned his glare to Tyree. “There are many in this camp that wish the Kodiak no longer breathed our air. I among them. But I fight my own fights. I don’t send others!” Rolak drew his sword. “I will gladly face my accuser!”

            Tyree looked down at the fallen Tarik then at Shuyah then Rolak. “Enough blood has been spilled today,” he said.

            Tyree then sheathed his sword and leaped lightly up into his saddle as if he weighed no more than a rabbit. He turned his horse and rode slowly away. Shuyah paused for one more glare at her brother, knowing that, because he was her brother, Tyree had spared his life. She got on her horse and followed Tyree into the village of huts where intrigue and melodrama flourished like a modern day soap opera.

            Verdanta was always hot and usually sunny. Tyree and Shuyah speculated that the updrafts from the hot springs dried and scattered the clouds so that it snowed far less than anywhere else in the wilderness. What snowfall there was turned to rain over Verdanta and nourished the greenery. The occupants had food that would last a month, but they had no water. They had only hissing cauldrons of salt water, alkali and sulfur. These bubbled up from the jagged lava rock surrounding the lush circle of volcanic soil where the Verdantans planted their crops.

            The rain catchers had solved the water problem. It was water to drink, and to irrigate their crops when the dry spells came. It was a pleasant life. Then, the Logalla came. Now, Verdanta was occupied. Now, the rain catchers had been destroyed by Tyree and the Tranca war party. The precious supply of fresh water was lost. Tyree’s reading of the wind before the raid had predicted ten to twelve days before it rained again in Verdanta. It was as long a dry spell as fertile Verdanta ever knew. After eight days of no water and blistering heat, the Logalla occupation army broke out.