The Tranca and the horses stood at what they thought was a safe distance. They looked on in horror as they watched the Kodiak cartwheel in the air half way to safety. They knew that by falling even the fleet footed Tyree had no chance of outrunning the collapsing tower behind him. But then the Kodiak did a miraculous thing! Eight feet off the ground, the Kodiak twisted his body, taking control of what was totally out of control an instant before. He allowed his inverted body to complete the backward somersault, so that he fell back to the ground feet first. He hit the ground running, having barely broken stride, and continued to race for his life. He lost little time, but a heartbeat of precious time might be too much.
As he ran through the driving rain he could hear the cracking and groaning of the huge mass of timbers falling toward him from behind. The roar of the collapse grew louder and louder. Tyree just cleared the danger area when the structure crashed into the ground. The water in the catcher, however, flew out in a tidal wave. The momentum given the water by the tower’s collapse made it a deadly flow. It picked up Tyree in a rush and hurled him toward the standing group of work horses and warriors. The men on horses and those standing suddenly realized what was happening. They turned and raced further away, still they were struck by the wall of water and floating debris. It hit with incredible force, actually carrying away the big work horses like leaves in a rushing stream. Two Tranca were drowned and one work horse suffered a broken leg. But Tyree survived nearly unscathed and pulled himself up from the mire to regroup his war party.
That’s when—the rain stopped.
“We’ve lost so much time on the first two towers,” commander Dak shouted, soaking wet and panting, “we’ll never be able to topple the other two and the reservoir!”
“They must all be destroyed!” Tyree said sharply. “It will not rain again for some time. The Logalla must not be allowed to make it through the dry days ahead.” Then Tyree paused in thought. “I have a notion. Position all the horses on the west side of the reservoir.”
“But that’s the direction it will fall! It will be ten times the force of what we’ve just experienced!”
“We’ll pull the supports from the sides,” Tyree said, demonstrating by putting his two fists knuckles-to-knuckles then pulling them apart. “We should be able to get clear.” Then he pointed to each thing he mentioned. All their eyes followed in unison. “When it falls the rush of water will go westward. It should take down the two remaining towers. Those will add to the flood. Discourage the Logalla army coming from that direction.”
Commander Dak looked over the reservoir and the two rain catchers still standing. He then looked over his men, dedicated Tranca warriors asked to risk their lives following the orders of a Kodiak. The men’s eyes told Dak their thoughts. He turned to look at Tyree.
“That could work,” commander Dak smiled. “We’ll have to call back our scouting party.”
“See to it,” Tyree said.
“Sound the withdrawal!” Dak shouted.
One of Dak’s men took up the goat’s horn he’d been carrying around his neck. He looked to Dak, and the Tranca commander nodded. The man blew a long woeful blast on the goat’s horn that could be heard from one end of Verdanta to the other. Now the Logalla army would surely be alerted.
As they were hitching up the remaining horses Tyree’s peripheral vision caught a movement from the west—something coming quickly out of a forest of poplar trees. “Hold!” he shouted.
They all stopped their work and stared off across Verdanta in the direction Tyree was looking. They could see nothing but the two remaining rain catchers. But Tyree could see far beyond. Four Tranca warriors had come out of the trees. These four had to have been running well before they heard the withdrawal. Tyree knew instantly what the running warriors meant: the Logalla were very close behind them. Then, eleven more Tranca rushed out of the poplars, some obviously wounded. Five of the twenty sent would never return.
“We can’t fell the reservoir until our brothers are clear,” Tyree shouted to the others. “Hitch up securely and prepare to pull on my command!”
Dak looked at the Kodiak, whose own eyes were focused on tying one of the traces more securely to a support pole of the reservoir. How strange it was judging as an ally the worth of a former enemy. The Kodiak had just called the Tranca his brothers. Dak had never thought of the Kodiak that way, but Dak made friends easily. This Tyree could be such a friend, if only he were not Kodiak. Dak was also aware that this time his men didn’t look to him for permission to lash up the horses when the Kodiak gave them the command.
All got into position. The first four fleeing Tranca returned exhausted, a terrified Tooka among them. They fell down panting atop a rise beyond the reservoir. All eyes at the traces looked to Tyree for the signal. He’d taken the most hazardous position on the traces, nearest the center of the base. It seemed to take forever for the hobbling group of eleven warriors to cross the expanse to the reservoir on foot. Tyree looked off across Verdanta and saw before he heard the oncoming horde. First their advanced guard of two or three hundred then four thousand mounted Logalla galloped out of the poplar forest and toward the exhausted, decimated Tranca war party. The Tranca could see none of this. They had to rely on the Kodiak. Tyree had to judge how long it would take for the Tranca to reach safety.
“Now!” Tyree shouted.
They whistled and yelled, and the horses pulled. Dak noticed that the others again did not look to him for permission. Timbers groaned. Some snapped free and three horses had to be re-tied. At last the scouts crossed into the safe area beyond the towering structure. Still, the structural supports of the water reservoir refused to budge. “Again!” Tyree shouted, as the Logalla grew closer, the hooves of their horses now thundering even in the Tranca’s ears. The second pull proved as unsuccessful as the first. The panting, exhausted Tranca warriors gathered just beyond the reservoir saw the dilemma.
“Come on, men!” a voice shouted. “Let’s lend our backs to it! Hurry! Hurry!”
It was a voice familiar to Tyree. It was Tooka.
Tooka and the other survivors of the scouting party, some even wounded, moved to the traces. All pulled together. The horses’ hooves dug into the moist soil. The charging Logalla army was just reaching the first water catcher when the timbers all collapsed at once, and the reservoir went over. The wave swept away the advance ranks of the Logalla to the man. Many were drowned and hundreds killed by the debris, sharp broken timbers hurled at them in a rush of water moving at incredible speed. The two rain catchers were hit by the wave, and they went over, too, adding their catch to the flood. The later ranks of the Logalla main army were scattered, but mostly unscathed. Still, it gave the Tranca time to run for their desperate rendezvous. Back past the horse pens they went, helping the wounded that could run and eventually ride a horse. The more severely wounded had to be left behind for the Logalla to execute.
The Logalla had regrouped and were in mounted pursuit, closing the gap fast. Into the steam ran the battered war party, down now to a little over sixty exhausted men. Tyree was not leading them this time. It was Dak at the front. Tyree was last, making sure that as many Tranca as possible could get out.
Outside the ring of steam surrounding Verdanta, Shuyah and Rolak led the galloping legion that was to cover the war party’s extraction. They were behind schedule, too. Daylight was in full form, boasting a nearly cloudless blue sky. The Tranca raiding party hobbled out of the mists and into the cold. They kept going, well out onto the collar of hardened lava rock. They heard the sound of many hooves galloping on the snowless surface inside the mists. They turned and saw the Logalla come out of the steam like phantoms from a dark nightmare. As they bore down on the small knot of beaten warriors, the sound of the hooves suddenly seemed to double. The galloping Tranca legions led by Shuyah and Rolak hit the Logalla from the side like a bull mammoth. They engaged in a deafening symphony, swords and lances finding their marks, armor and shields taking many blows, men and horses screaming.
Tyree saw Shuyah cut the first Logalla warrior she faced from his mount. He was twice her size, but off balance for a heartbeat at finding a Tranca woman crossing swords with him. That moment was his last. One after another she killed. She was elusive and agile, like a snow tiger. Logalla men had faced Kodiak women many times. Few lived to tell their comrades about the experience. This caused a legend to grow among the superstitious Logalla. Kodiak women warriors were not viewed as women at all, but as evil spirits created by some Kodiak magic. She-men the Logalla called them. This superstition the Logalla warriors instantly transferred to Shuyah, even though she was Tranca. As it did with the Kodiak women warriors, this chauvinistic tendency gave her an edge over the Logalla.
Logalla women were used primarily for breeding. Even when pregnant, they were made to do all the menial work in the enormous Logalla camps of the twisted forest. Gathering firewood, berries and brush hen eggs was a night on the town to Logalla women and their daughters. The men and boys did the hunting, but the women prepared the food, built the fires, served the men, and cleaned up after. Not that hygiene was of any particular importance to a huge but primitive clan that thought bathing a waste of water.
Tyree also saw Rolak killing Logalla, taking blows on his shield and responding with bone crushing downward strikes that unhorsed his opponents, or lopped off their limbs. Once Rolak’s large powerful blade split a Logalla shield in two and the warrior behind it as well. Rolak and Shuyah had a kind of two-person defense, each fighting forward, but protecting a flank of the other. This proved most successful at killing Logalla in close quarter combat.
The one hundred riders pulling empty saddle horses for the war party veered off from the rear of the Tranca force that was driving the Logalla army eastward. Only sixty horses would be needed. They slowed so that the horses could be mounted on the run by the war party.
One of the riders seemed to seek out Tyree, still well behind the other foot bound warriors. The rider made for Tyree, saddled Tranca horse in tow. Tyree recognized the man, but couldn’t place him. Tyree mounted on the run, and took up the reins. The instant he did, the rider drew his sword and slashed the front legs of Tyree’s horse, causing it to somersault on the hard volcanic surface. Tyree hit with incredible force. His already damaged body was scraped and bruised anew as he tumbled on the hardened rock. He was dazed and looked up, only to see the face of the Tranca warrior who looked back as he rode away.
The Tranca army disengaged and rode off behind the war party survivors to cover their escape. The plan had worked perfectly. It was a good plan, a successful plan, but one that somehow left Tyree alone just outside Verdanta before an angry regrouping army of Logalla.
Tyree painfully gained his feet. He turned and saw the Logalla, half a view away, milling into an attack force, every eye on the lone Kodiak standing on foot. Then, the entire force of four thousand charged straight at the hated Kodiak. Tyree, weak and battered and defiant, drew his sword.