Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The King's Challenge #225 and #226

TKC 225 and 226

He is older and obviously in command, for soldiers scatter from his path. The man comes to rest before us, arms akimbo, and gives each of us a searching look.

“So this is what Massinians look like,” he says in a gravelly voice. “Not so different, but you lot have more hair, haven’t you? You,” and he points at Kay, “are soldier material. What is the matter with you? Why are you hiding out with women and an old man?”

I dare not look, but I can imagine how Kay’s jaw ticks as he seeks to contain himself.

“Can any of you speak? I know you understand me,” the man barks. “You,” and he points at Hal, “introduce yourself.”

Peripherally I see Hal step forward. “You first,” he growls. “This isn’t your world.”

Weapons all over click as they are armed.

I jerk my head to right. “Hal! Just answer him.”

The man lifts a hand, and more clicks sound. Weapons lower, to my relief. He then flicks me a glance before returning his attention to Hal. “Hal, is it? Is there more to add?”

“You heard him,” Kay drawls. “You first.”

By the stars! What is the matter with the men in my life? Always with the attitude. I hold my breath, but no one lifts a weapon this time.

A bark of laughter, in fact, follows Kay’s words. The man slaps his thigh. “Well, clearly you are not cowards! That I am able to work with. Fine, allow me to introduce myself.” He steps even closer to stand almost nose to nose with Kay. “I am Athol Gennirin, commander of the Ilfin 9th … ah, I seem to have surprised you. How is that?”

“You are Ilfin?” Kay blurts.

Commander Gennirin blinks. “You thought we are Glonu? Man, that is a terrible insult.”

“Did you drop the bomb?” I demand.

The commander moves to stand before me. “And you are?”

“I am Siri Mur. The four of us are the sole survivors of the explosion to the south. We were hiding in the caves there.” My fear is gone. If this man wants to imprison us, so be it, but if he gave the order that killed everyone, I will hate him for the rest of my life.

“Siri Mur, we landed an hour ago. We did see a crater to the south and assumed the Glonu have already started their campaign. Please introduce your companions.”

Swallowing, I do so. “Kay Laremer, Hal Das and Marian Sumpt.”

Snapping his fingers, the commander summons a nearby soldier. “Fetch the fork.” He faces me again. “Fear leaves all of you, I notice. I believe you thought we are the enemy you run from, which makes you Ilfin. I, however, must confirm that before I will know what to do with you.”

I assume the ‘fork’ is something again to the wand device the slavers were using on us in Porlese. We thought they were checking for talents, but Horin says it was to determine Ilfin from Glonu.

I incline my head. “Of course, commander. The situation on Massin is not normal and a man or woman’s word no longer holds water, does it? I hope you do not mind if we test your word as Ilfin also.”

Kay snorts his delight nearby and Hal utters a sigh. Marian does not move or speak.

Commander Gennirin laughs. “Tit for tat? Typical Ilfin!” He bows in amusement. “You are welcome to test us.”

The soldier arrives then carrying a rectangular metal strongbox. It is about an arm’s length in size, narrow, with a device filled with numbers set into it. The commander presses a series of digits and opens the case. Inside is what looks like a tuning fork, only larger than the forks our local bards use.

Lifting it, he says, “You first, Siri Mur.”

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