A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Among the Great States

TOF has previously cautioned Faithful Reader with the opening scene from "The Journeyman: Among the Great States." He now proposes to daunt you with a further tease. Teodorq has been brought to Cuffland to form and take command of the Roy's Own Savage Archers, trained in the horse archery and compound bow of Teo's homeland. One night, to escape the importunings of his major officers, he has bedded down in the grass behind the colonel's quarters.
He felt more at home sleeping under the open sky anyway. So he found a shadowed location behind the building he had been assigned, doffed his boots, rolled up his tunic for a pillow, and stretched out in a swale in the ground.

He was awakened three hours later, to judge by the position of the stars, and he lay very still with his eyes closed until he could determine what had awakened him. It was a two-moon night and their light would reflect on his opened eyes. So his ears had to do the work for him.

He made out a jumble of whispers.

(Hope he sleeps sound,) said one.

(Which window is the bedroom?) said another.

(Think we kin open it without awaken him?) That was a third man.

(I still say we should just kick in the front door,) said the first.

(That would a-give him a warning.)

(That’s what this is supposed to be, fool.)

(You think this man, he is the right one?)

(Who cares? Cain’t be more’n a handful of his kind on all of Cuffland.)

This struck Teo as a conversation of more than passing interest, so he eased from the ground and padded on his bare feet through the grass to the side of the colonel’s residence. There he saw three men bundled in shadow-ware: black trews and black blouses with hoods drawn up over their heads. Their green faces barely interrupted the darkness of their silhouettes. Teodorq stood behind them as a fourth man and peered over their shoulder.

(What’s his name again?) whispered the second man.

(Who cares?) said the first. (A job’s a job.)

(Name’s ‘Dorq,) said the third and snickered.

The window slid open and the first man expressed satisfaction. He stood a-toe and peered into the room. (The hell! He ain’t in his bed!)

Teo tapped the third man on the shoulder and whispered to him. (Maybe he likes to sleep outdoors like a savage.)

The third man stood very still while he did some mental arithmetic. Then he turned about, alerting the others. “I found him,” he announced. That wasn’t quite right, but Teo did not correct him.

The other two shushed him, but he pointed and they noticed Teo standing with them.

“What are you doing here?” demanded the first man.

Teo considered the matter. “Stopping you, I think. Why, am I wrong?”

The stalkers were regaining their confidence and arranged themselves in a line. They were fourteen stone each, most of it in the chest and shoulder and none of it fat. The way they held their short “pilli” clubs suggested expertise in their use.

“There's three of us,” the first man pointed out.

“I see the problem,” Teddy said. “Do you need more time? To get help, I mean. I wouldn't want folks to say this fight weren't fair.”

“Why, I'll knock you clean out of your socks!”

Teodorq laughed. “I don't think you can do that.”

His eyes narrowed. “And why not?”

“Cause I ain't wearin' any.”

The guy couldn't help it. He looked down at Teddy's bare feet. That positioned his head for a knee-kick to his face. The kick knocked him back and Teddy put a left to the side of his head, then a right to his brisket. He fell without a word.

Teddy threw his arms out in frustration. “Now there's only two of you,” he complained.

There was a moment of silence, then the man on the left shrugged in resignation. “We already got paid.”

“I understand,” Teo told him. “Yuh got it to do.”

They made the usual mistake of two men attacking one. They separated to take him from either side. But that put them out of support of one another and a maxim of combat was never to divide your forces in the face of a superior enemy. Teodorq did not consider it brag to count himself the superior force, just plain fact.

What two men facing one never seemed to expect was that the one would attack the two, but Teo never did see much sense in waiting around. He turned to the man he judged the greater threat and went at him “fist and foot” as they said on the Great Grass, and left the second man isolated in his rear. He began counting.

The right hand man expected many things, but to be punched in the side of the head with Teodorq’s left foot was not one of them; nor that this self-same leg would block the pilli. He found himself effectively stopped by Teo’s flank attack and dropped stunned from the temple-kick just as Teo completed his count and spun to catch the second man by the blouse and throw him with a hip roll through the air to land with a whoosh of breath on his back.

All three men were groaning on the ground, clutching at sundry parts of their anatomy. The first two men were out. The third was gasping for air. Teo went to stand above him.

“Who paid yuh, if yuh don’t mind my asking?”

“Shoon Buliq.”

“Never heard of him. Why’d he want a beat-down on me?”

The man sucked in another breath. “He don’t know you from Grosbeak’s dam. He’s a broker works out of Lodervee. Don’t know who contracted him.”

“Hunh. If it ain’t too personal a question, how much he paying yuh?”

The bully-boy grimaced. “All things considered, not near enough.”


  1. Has Teddy ever been seen in the same room as Chuck Norris?

    1. Patience! I'm sure Chu K'no-Rys will join the party in due time!


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