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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 38: Kondor 143
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 37: Brown 166
As Kondor listened to the Caliph’s briefing, he was distracted by Derek. He had given the boy an anti-emetic, but there hadn’t been time to ask what caused the problem. It probably wasn’t something he ate, as the food was always fresh, and anyway Derek had said he’d had a shock. How he could have had a shock just sitting there Kondor couldn’t fathom, but then, he knew that Derek had a lot of unusual abilities, and it might be that something surprised him that no one else had noticed.
The situation was rather straightforward. There were bandits east of the valley who raided the range and farmland for food. The Caliph maintained patrols to drive them back, which created a sort of balance--the patrols couldn’t stop all the raids, but did enough damage to the raiders to protect most of the crops and herds. However, recently there had been an upsurge in raider activity, as the raiders had gone on the offensive against the patrols. One patrol had been ambushed and almost totally destroyed--the messenger who made it back to the city with news died of his injuries shortly after his arrival, and they did not know whether any of the others had survived.
It has long been suspected that King Fassad backed the rebels, part of his longstanding desire to conquer the valley which is thwarted in part by the difficulty of bringing armies across the wilderness. The new aggression is starting to impact crop yields, not to mention the cost in peasant lives and farm buildings, but although it has been happening for several months the Caliph’s efforts to identify the cause or locate the source has yielded nothing.
Slade said that he was confident his people could have an impact, perhaps persuade the raiders to fall back, perhaps find the raider base and crush it. In any case, he said they would be ready to leave at dawn, and would appreciate having a local guide who could bring them to the area of the most recent attack.
The Caliph thanked Slade enthusiastically, and they withdrew.
On their way back to their rooms, Kondor moved alongside Derek. “So,” he said, “what’s this shock? What’s bothering you?”
Derek walked for a moment in silence, looking up and around, before turning his attention to Kondor.
“The Caliph’s lying.”
“Lying?” Kondor found that difficult.
“O.K., not lying. He’s not telling us everything he knows.”
“And you know this how?”
Derek tilted his head and shrugged. “I sort of followed him when he went to speak with the messenger.”
“But you didn’t leave the dining room.”
“No, I didn’t. But when I was a sprite, I learned how to project my senses outside my body, and explore the world by what Lauren would call clairsensory abilities. In essence, I sent my senses like an invisible body out into the hall and followed him.”
Kondor had seen stranger things, and suspected something like this of Derek already. “So, what did you learn?”
“The messenger was badly burned--I think they call it fourth degree burns, the kind you get from nuclear incineration.”
“Are you saying that the enemy has atomic weapons?”
“No, I don’t think so. He said--and my Arabic isn’t very good--”
“You speak Arabic?”
“Right. So, he said?”
“He said it was some kind of creature that breathed fire. He didn’t seem to know what kind of creature, but it was small.”
“That’s interesting,” Slade suddenly said. “Sorry for eavesdropping, but I’ve been wondering how the djinn and the efreet fit in all this, and that sounds like some kind of fire elemental working with the bandits. I can’t imagine that they’ve got a wizard powerful enough to summon and control such a thing, although I suppose they might, but that’s rather dangerous. The alternative is that the efreet are involved in something here, and that means a much bigger issue than a bunch of bandits raiding farmland.”
Kondor was not surprised that Slade would come up with some explanation that involved supernatural spirits. On the other hand, the only creature he’d ever heard of breathing fire was a dragon, and dragons were never described as small, even if perhaps it were possible that they might exist. He said, “So we’re up against something that uses very hot fire to attack. We’re going to have to figure out how to protect ourselves from that. It won’t be simple.”
“Well, we’ll want to take plenty of water with us,” Slade said. “Fire beings tend to be weak against water, and anyway a good dousing can protect to some degree against burns.”
That actually made sense.
“So we’ll have to ask for some casks of water and a wagon, and some beasts to haul it.”
“All right,” Slade said. “Everyone get some sleep, I’ll be rousting you all before sunrise so we can get on the road. If you’re not going, speak now.”
No one spoke.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twelve other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #284: Versers React. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: