Kingdom of the Silver Sea

by Sawyer Grey (UNEDITED PROOF)
 

Chapter 4
THE VENGEANCE OF MOR TERAL

 
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Chapter 1 - Trapped in Odusar
Chapter 2 - The Death of Kent
Chapter 3 - Return to Stanleyville
Chapter 4 - The Vengeance of Mor Teral
Chapter 5 - Assassins in Ehnvar Darsic
Chapter 6 - The Karthasa
Chapter 7 - The Silver Sea
Chapter 8 - Among the Martians
 

Two days later we set out for the east again. Mor Teral and I rode as passengers along with Hicks and four Maatgon tribesmen from the Cydonia Company's native infantry who had oath-bonded to him after Odusar. Over the four-day journey we had little time to socialize with the crew; Jackson had only the bare minimum number of men needed to keep Aurora flying, and during the day they were busy with their endless tasks. At night when we moored the airship in some inaccessible location the passengers kept watch while the crew slept. This quickly became quite tedious because we allowed no lights after the sun went down, to minimize the chances of being seen by hostile Martians.

On the morning of the fifth day we spotted the towers of Odusar glowing like a mountain of molten gold in the distance. I instructed Jackson to bring the Aurora in from the north, rather than coming up from the south along the river the way we had before. Since the anarchists' base was in the far north, it seemed foolish to traverse the entire length of the city and risk being seen by the warriors of Mor Teral's tribe. Coming in from that direction, we figured that even if they saw us there was a fair chance that they would just assume that we were anarchists ourselves and not give us another thought.

None of us, not even Mor Teral, had ever been in this part of Odusar before, though, and we could only guess at the general direction of the base. I had Jackson reduce our speed to twenty miles an hour; I did not want us to run up on the anarchists before we knew it. If they spotted us, our chances of ever infiltrating their base again would vanish, along with my hopes of rescuing Charlotte. We crawled along the northern rim of the city with men positioned at every window looking for the squat red towers we sought.

At last Mor Teral called out and pointed to a structure soaring high above the buildings around it to the southwest.

"Ahnval e'Delak," he said. "Thrones of the Gods."

That gave us the point of reference we needed, and Mor Teral guided Aurora's crew to a spot about three miles north of the anarchists' base. The remnants of two mighty towers stood here, twin victims of some awesome cataclysm during the downfall of the Martian civilization. Both towers had been broken off about halfway up, their tops falling away to the north in a massive swath of devastation. The rubble made it almost impossible for any enemies to approach from the north, and Commander Jackson used the towers to screen Aurora from the south. It was as secure a spot as we were likely to find for the airship.

"Three days," I told Aurora's captain. "If you haven't heard from us in three days you aren't going to, and you can go back to Stanleyville. In the meantime, if I were you I would keep Aurora low and hidden in the shadow of these towers during the day, and then moor her to the top of one of them at night."

They lowered us to the ground one at a time using a rope and pulley so they would not have to vent any precious helium. Once we were all safely down I let Mor Teral take point. He set off down the echoing, empty streets like a bloodhound on the scent of its prey, pausing now and then to give the rest of us a chance to catch up. I was playing it cautiously; I wanted no repeats of the surprises we had walked into before.

"Are you all right, Lieutenant?"

Hicks spared me a quick glance then went back to scanning the streets around us for signs of danger. "I'm fine, sir. I have become less than fond of this city, that's all."

"Believe me, I know exactly what you mean."

"Do you think we can avoid the tunnels this trip, sir?"

"I'm not making any promises."

He gave me a pained look and lapsed into a silence that none of my little jabs could draw him out of. Keeper, indeed. I let a little smile play on my lips. The excitement grew inside of me with every step; every inch forward put me that much closer to Charlotte. I could practically feel her ahead of me, drawing me towards her.

After about three hours Mor Teral paused to take his bearings and called a halt.

"The anarchists' base is on the other side of this tower," he said, jerking a thumb at the building behind him. "All of you wait here while the captain and I go take a quick look."

I followed him to the edge of the building, and then we slowly crawled into the street running towards the base, our bellies dragging the ground to present as small a target as possible. When we had a good angle on the four dark red towers and the square in the middle of them we stopped and carefully lifted our heads.

The anarchists' airship was not in its usual mooring spot in the open area between the towers, and though I watched for several minutes I could not spot any sign of movement. I shot a questioning look at Mor Teral, who shook his head.

"Use your goggles," he whispered.

I ducked my head, slipped the Martian goggles I had found in an abandoned house over my eyes, and looked back at the anarchists' towers. I dialed up the magnification until I could peer into the gaping black holes of the open loading docks, but I could still see nothing moving, and the tall stacks of crates and boxes we had hidden among during our previous forays were missing. I also noted piles of rubbish beside many of the docks that had not been there before, and saw that the airfield had been stripped of cables and everything else that could be easily removed. Even the windsock was missing from its pole.

"It's abandoned. They're gone."

Mor Teral grunted and tried to get a better view. "Perhaps it is a trick? They make it look abandoned so we walk in where they can grab us?"

"Maybe," I said, biting my lower lip. "I can't imagine why they would bother going to that trouble, though. All they really have to do is post a few extra guards inside and out, and they'd have us stopped cold. It isn't like we would be valuable prisoners, either; not like Charlotte or Prince Alexander John."

"True. Well, there is only one way to find out for certain, Jack."

"Wait for nightfall, or do it now?"

"If they are laying a trap for us, I do not think it will make much difference."

"All right, get the rest of the men."

I ran up the street, trying to stay in the deep shadows at the base of the towers as much as I could. I tried to determine which tower the anarchists had kept the prisoners in, and finally got the complex turned around the right way in my head. We had approached from the south before, but coming in from the north it would be the one to the right of the landing field. I crossed to the west side of the street and into the intersection with the first of the stubby red towers. Still nothing moved anywhere that I could see. I looked behind to make sure that Mor Teral was on his way with the others, took a deep breath, and sprinted across the open square between the four towers. Exposed like that I half expected a bullet to find me at any moment and it was difficult not to tense up. I reached the loading dock door and hurled myself over the threshold, and then flattened myself on the cool floor with my heart hammering and my chest heaving as I gasped for air.

Aside from a couple of smashed wooden crates and some trash piled in the corners, the warehouse was empty. I held still and listened hard over the pounding of my heart, but the building was silent as a tomb. I felt my throat tighten as the truth sank in. The anarchists really were gone, and Charlotte could now be hidden anywhere on Mars.

When Mor Teral and Hicks arrived we split the men into two teams and scoured the buildings for any clues the anarchists might have left behind that could tell us where they had gone. The anarchists had eliminated all of the Martian wildlife dwelling in the towers when they found the base, and not enough time had gone by yet for new creatures to move in, so we were able to move about unhindered by the usual concerns when exploring Martian ruins. Unfortunately for us the anarchists had also been quite thorough when they cleaned their belongings out the towers. Very little of anything had been left behind, and certainly nothing that might have been of use to their enemies. After three hours of wandering from one bare room to another I gave it up as a bad job, and we descended back to the ground floor.

As we stepped into the light of the square outside, the shriek of bullroarers shattered the silence. We immediately dropped to the ground and readied our weapons, but the streams of rinnian-mounted barbarians pouring onto the airfield became a flood and I knew we did not have the faintest chance against the kind of odds we faced.

"Hold your fire," I ordered.

"We could retreat into the tower," suggested Hicks.

Mor Teral surveyed the host surrounding us. "They would follow us inside, and there are not enough of us to hold all the entrances."

"Well, what do you suggest we do?" asked the lieutenant. "Give up?"

"Exactly right."

To Hick's astonishment, Mor Teral stood and walked sedately forward to meet the advancing rank of barbarian cavalry. When he was twenty paces away I heard a deep thrum and a line of arrows buried themselves in the ground before his feet.

"Stop," ordered one of the men, who nudged his rinnian out of line and forward a few steps.

My barbarian friend drew himself up and announced, "I am Mor Teral."

"I see you. Why have you come here when Ul Pek has given orders that any who find you should slay you out of hand?"

"Because Ul Pek is a lying coward and traitor. It is time that someone demonstrated that to the tribe."

A susurrus of indignation swept through the ranked barbarians, but their leader quelled them with a sharp gesture of his hand. It may have been my imagination, but I thought I saw the faintest of smiles, just a hint of amusement, creep into his face.

"You wish to challenge?"

"I stand accused by Ul Pek of betrayal and murder. As there are no witnesses to the deeds of which I am accused, it is my right to demand trial by combat with my accuser."

This time the smile was unmistakable. "That is true. And clan-right takes precedence over Ul Pek's order to kill you. Ul Pek will not be pleased." He did not sound the least bit unhappy about that.

He gestured at the tower behind us. "The flying men left nothing behind?"

"No," answered Mor Teral. "They took everything with them except the walls."

"They had promised to help Ul Pek defeat the tribe across the river, making him ruler of all Odusar. He gathered his forces at the great silver bridge, but the flying men never showed up. He sent us to capture whatever we could of their machines and weapons. He will be very angry when he finds they left him nothing."

"It's just not Ul Pek's day, is it?" I murmured to Hicks.

"Mor Teral, you know me, Solan Dus. You will come with me to our dwellings and repeat to the tribe what you have said here. Ul Pek must answer your challenge." He turned to the men behind him. "Collect their weapons, but do not bind them or molest them further."

Hicks and the rest of the men looked at me, unsure whether to go along, and I nodded. "Hand them over. We're not going to get out of this mess by fighting. We have to trust Mor Teral."

Once they secured our weapons, the barbarians formed a tight circle around us and set off to the south. Mor Teral strode at the front of our party, looking quite pleased with himself. I moved close to him so we could talk without being overheard by our captors.

"What are you so happy about?"

He laughed. "I have been waiting a long time for this. When Ul Pek had our tribe's leaders slain, he appointed his friends to fill the voids. Any of them who captured me would not have troubled themselves over my right to challenge; they would simply have taken my head off and presented it to Ul Pek for a reward. I have been waiting for the day when one of my old friends should rise to a command such as this." He waved a hand at the riders around us.

"Solan Dus is your friend?"

"Yes. He will see that we survive so I can challenge Ul Pek. His men have all heard the challenge, now, and they will not allow clan-right to be set aside. Ul Pek will have no choice but to answer when I stand before him."

We had little breath to spare for further conversation. Solan Dus set a brisk pace, and we were on foot trying to keep up with his mounted warriors. My men had already been on their feet for hours, and by the time we reached the barbarian encampment at dusk we were all exhausted.

Solan Dus and our escorts dismounted, and we entered a great, crowded plaza filled with a rainbow mélange of tents. Knots of tribesmen gathered around blazing fires for the evening meal, while half-naked children swooped through the mob, laughing and squealing. There was a sudden hush when the crowd spotted the strangers in their midst, followed by an eruption of howls and shrieks that echoed off the walls surrounding us as the barbarians surged forward. Solan Dus' men fended them off, although we were shoved together in a tight bunch in their midst by the mass of people pressing in.

I caught a glimpse of Hicks beside me, his face pale and his jaw tightly clenched. He had witnessed these people torturing British soldiers to death in this same plaza less than two weeks before. I gripped his arm and he gave me a firm nod; he would not fall apart on me under pressure. The other soldiers just looked resigned. They expected nothing but death at the hands of our captors, because that was what their own tribe would do with prisoners. For all that they were probably right, I did not allow myself to give up hope. I had faith in Mor Teral.

Solan Dus halted us before a dais built against a tower on the east side of the plaza where eight men sat laughing and talking loudly on rough wooden stools and benches beneath a vivid green canopy. Even among their gaudily dressed people they stood out, and their silk-like clothing would have shamed the most garish parrots from the jungles of Brazil. Gleaming ring mail made from Martian metal peeped out from the sleeves and collars of their tunics. Gold hilted swords in intricately inlaid scabbards hung at their waists, and they speared hunks of roasted nilkur meat from their trenchers with elegant jeweled daggers. Half a dozen young women swarmed among them, refilling the trays with steaming slabs of meat and topping off their mugs with ceslin. They were so absorbed in their banter that we stood there for a couple of minutes before they noticed us.

The talk died off and one of them, a hulking giant of a man with dirty blond hair hanging past his shoulders, surged to his feet.

"You," he shouted, a thick finger pointing at Mor Teral, "what are you doing here?" He turned to Solan Dus. "What is he doing here? I told you to kill him, you witless fool."

Solan Dus shrugged, unperturbed by the outburst. "He claims the right of trial by combat, Ul Pek. It is his clan-right, and I could not refuse."

The noise of the throng around us completely died away. Everyone was staring at either the ar-dhras or the knot of prisoners. I looked at Ul Pek, then over at Mor Teral and felt my earlier confidence begin to slip. Ul Pek stood almost a foot taller, and outweighed my friend by at least eighty pounds.

Ul Pek blinked down owlishly at Solan Dus. "You could not refuse? Why not, when your ar-dhras ordered it? You should have brought me his head."

"Would Ul Pek have me violate our laws, which have been passed down from generation to generation for a hundred centuries?"

The giant spat on the dais. "That for your law. When I speak, I will be obeyed. Get out of my sight, and be thankful I do not have you killed alongside this traitor for your insolence." He turned to the men on the platform beside him. "Kill him," he said, pointing to Mor Teral.

My barbarian friend threw his head back and laughed. "I do not think so, Ul Pek. Our people are not so quick to cast the law of our fathers into the dust as you. As one who stands accused of crimes that have no witnesses, tribal law says that I have the right to challenge my accuser. You may either face me alone in trial by combat, or you may find the whole tribe set against you for violating its laws."

Ul Pek's face suffused with fury, but the looks on the faces of the people in the crowd surrounding us convinced him it was useless. Having his men kill Mor Teral would bring doom down upon himself as well. He flung away his thick, fur-lined cloak with a curse and stalked to the edge of the dais.

"Very well. Let it be done according to law."

Ul Pek's companions jumped down from the platform and shoved people aside until they cleared an area about thirty feet across, and positioned themselves around the perimeter. When this was done Ul Pek waved at Solan Dus. "Give the traitor back his weapons."

I slid close to Mor Teral. "Are you sure about this?" I asked. "The man is built like a bull nilkur."

"I'll try to be careful."

Solan Dus handed him back his sword and a knife, and Mor Teral stepped into the circle. Ul Pek strode in from the other side, his long, curved sword gleaming like wet blood in the light of the dying sun. There were no formalities; at some unseen signal they both tensed and went on their guards, blades sweeping forward to eye level a few inches apart. They circled one another warily, the tips of their swords clattering lightly as they took each other's measure. They made no gross movements, just a flick of the wrist or the slight shift of the angle of an elbow to send the point of their sword dancing an inch or two around the tip of the other.

The ar-dhras took a sudden step forward and their blades flashed together too swiftly for the eye to follow, the blows ringing in a martial music that gripped the heart of everyone in the audience. For a brief instant they stood close to one another, then Ul Pek stepped back and they resumed their circling. A dark stain began to spread through the grey cloth of Mor Teral's left sleeve.

They continued to feint back and forth until Mor Teral lashed out. There was another vicious flurry of blows and he reeled back under the hammer strokes of his larger opponent. He was barely able to ward off the attack, his blade beaten further and further back towards his body until he threw himself to the side to avoid the ar-dhras' hungrily thrusting sword. Ul Pek let out a harsh bark of laughter.

"You should have stayed out there hiding with the mewricks, little man," he rumbled.

Mor Teral did not reply, saving his breath for the next attack. His foe swept out with a vicious backhanded blow that could have beheaded an ox. Mor Teral met his blade and deflected it, but we all felt the shock as their swords met and I knew that my friend's arm must be half-numb from the force of the impact. He seemed to be having trouble holding the blade steady after that, and two lightning quick lunges left dark stains on his right arm and leg. Ul Pek continued to taunt him.

"Are you ready to die, yet, traitor? Or will you beg me to allow you a few moments more of life?"

"Oh, as you please," Mor Teral panted from the edge of the clearing, halfway bent over as he tried to catch his breath. "I know you must be a busy man. Do not feel that you have any obligation to entertain me."

The ar-dhras snarled and attacked again. Rather than staying back and trying to ward off his sword strikes this time, though, Mor Teral stood firm and traded him blow for blow, their swords shrieking as they met. Ul Pek grunted in surprise, and redoubled the force he put behind each stroke. The smaller barbarian continued to match him effortlessly, and allowed a small mocking smile to curl his lips. Almost casually he darted through Ul Pek's guard twice, each time carving a small cut in one of his opponent's cheeks. When he saw the sudden shock in the ar-dhras' eyes he flew into furious motion, his sword a blur of silver as he pounded Ul Pek's blade aside with a strength that astounded us all and drove the bigger man back into the middle of the circle. Mor Teral kept him there for a minute, long enough for Ul Pek to realize that his hated foe held his life in the hollow of his hand and to taste despair. Then he twisted his blade in a complicated movement that sent the other man's sword spinning into the air and swung back around to slice cleanly through his neck.

In the utter silence that reigned over the assemblage Ul Pek's head and body fell to earth with a meaty thump. A second later his sword struck point first beside them, its heavy hilt swaying back and forth a few times before it came to rest. Shock gripped the crowd for a few seconds, then a dreadful howling erupted from its depths, and Ul Pek's men raised their weapons and made as if to step into the circle with Mor Teral. They found themselves held back by Solan Dus' men, who faced them grimly.

"No," Solan Dus said, pitching his voice to be heard above the clamor. "Mor Teral has proven himself innocent by rite of combat. Any man who touches him shall be outcast as our law states, his women and possessions to be split among the tribe."

He leaped up onto the dais and faced his people. "Our ar-dhras is dead. Before Ul Pek, every man here would willingly have followed Mor Teral. Will you have Mor Teral as your new ar-dhras?"

It started slowly, but a deep roar built up within the crowd. Mor Teral raised his hands and slowly lowered them. "No. I will not be ar-dhras. My place is no longer among you. But if you will heed my advice one last time you will take Solan Dus in my stead. He alone among you was brave enough to stand up against Ul Pek, and demand that you follow the laws of our fathers rather than the whims of a tyrant. He will be an ar-dhras whose name will be remembered down the long generations."

Solan Dus stepped back as if to refuse, but the cheering of his people gripped him and dragged him back to the edge of the dais. At last he nodded once, slowly. "Very well. If that is the wish of the tribe."

We found ourselves standing alone then, a bit of flotsam in the eye of the hurricane. The people around us all seemed to want only to give as wide a berth as possible to Mor Teral and his sword. All but one.

She slipped through the crowd to drop to her knees before Mor Teral, a young infant clutched tightly to her breast. A long mane of sandy blonde hair swept back from a lovely, pale face with slanted green eyes and an upturned bob of a nose dusted with faint freckles. Mor Teral stiffened, then his face sagged and he closed his eyes, a deep sigh forcing itself through his lips.

"Mor Teral," she whispered, hardly daring to look at him.

"Nivis Andeness." His voice was flat, devoid of any tone.

"Will you not stay and take up your place among us as dhras once more?"

"I will not. My own people hunted me at the word of Ul Pek. After today I shall never again set foot in Odusar."

A slender hand stretched tentatively out and touched his knee. "I would go with you, wherever you fare."

"No."

She was weeping now, her head bowed in anguish. "Please, Mor Teral. Forgive me, forgive me."

He reached down and tilted her face up. "You could have followed me into exile. You could have come looking for me and demanded the truth of what happened to your father. I watched, I waited, I prayed for you to come, day after day while Ul Pek's patrols swarmed the streets looking for me. Instead you let Ul Pek take you as wife, and take you to his bed, and now you have his child.

"Forgive you? Oh, you are forgiven; I cannot look upon you and do otherwise. But I cannot forget."

Heartache warred with bitterness on his dour face, but he did not relent. He stepped back a pace, and the girl's hand fell back to her side. "Solan Dus will need a wife who can help him reunite the factions of our tribe. He is a good man, and he will care for you. Do not fail him as you failed me."

For a moment I thought she might throw herself at his feet, but she drew herself up and rose unsteadily, tear streaked face looking anywhere but at Mor Teral, shoulders still quaking with repressed sobs, and walked away.

Mor Teral watched her until she vanished, and then turned to us. "Let us go and reclaim the rest of our weapons from Solan Dus. I would not spend another night in this city."