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I waken in a surprisingly comfortable bed. Soft mattress, feathered pillow and plenty of blankets. I can't remember how I got there. I'm still straining my memory when the door bursts open and Makri enters. I nod at her genially. Normally I find it annoying when Makri arrives without knocking -growing up in the Orcish Gladiator pits, she never learned any manners - but I let it pass.
"Good morning," I say.
"Thraxas you cusux," she barks, using a foul Orcish obscenity very rarely heard in the West. "Could you possibly be any more of a fool? No, you couldn't. You're number one chariot among fools." She leans over the bed. "Do you have any idea of the trouble you've caused? Lisutaris is trying to organise a war against the Orcs and you almost ruin everything because you couldn't wait five minutes before getting drunk and behaving abominably."
I spread my hands wide. "I was on a boat for eight days. I needed a beer or two. Anyway, I'm sure you're exaggerating.'
"Exaggerating? You accused Baron Mabados of being coward! And mistook his wife for a serving wench! Lisutaris has got enough problems without having to cover for your oafishness."
I attempt to protest but am unable to get a word in.
"Thraxas. Stop talking, stop complaining, stop drinking, and get your obscenely fat carcass out of that bed. We're sailing up-river to Elath with the Baron and Kublinos to see the King. The barge leaves in ten minutes but if you'd rather stay here and roll around drunk in a tavern, no one will miss you."
Makri storms out. I get out of bed with a struggle, cross to the small sink in the adjoining room, and splash water over myself. No one is leaving me behind. I've been in Elath before. It's a small town not far from the capital, known for its hot mineral baths. It's also the place where they hold the sword-fighting contest. I have to rush to get ready before the barge leaves, but an old campaigner like myself is used to moving in a hurry. No more than ten minutes after Makri's appearance, I'm rolling up to the quay with a small keg of beer under one arm and a bag of bread and pastries under the other.
"Thraxas," says Lisutaris, glancing at me frostily as I stroll on board. "You made it."
Lisutaris has made a swift return to her former elegance. I wouldn't say she was ever classed among Turai's greatest beauties, but she's a very attractive woman, always well presented; expensive robes, nicely coiffured hair and so on. Makri has also tidied herself up, though in her case that just means wearing an even more unsuitable man's tunic, brushing her ludicrously huge mane of hair in approximately the same direction, and cleaning her weapons. She now stands on deck with a sword at each hip and an axe at her belt, looking like the savage she is. Her appearance, reckoned as strange even in cosmopolitan Turai, is even more outlandish here among the solid citizens of Samsarina. In Turai, which borders on the wastelands, it's not unknown for a few people with Orcish blood to appear every now and then, but in Samsarina, I'd guess it's virtually unheard of. Crewmen eye her warily, probably wondering if she's the advance guard for the Orcish invasion. I offer her some breakfast out of the bag I'm carrying but she refuses, either because she's still annoyed with me or because she never eats that much anyway. Makri never complained of hunger when we were castaway. It's another odd trait.
Also on-board is the Sorcerer Kublinos. I greet him genially. He doesn't respond. Obviously he hasn't been impressed by his first experience of Thraxas, private investigator and warrior. I brush it off. He'll soon come to appreciate my finer points, as I say to Makri in the cabin below decks.
"You don't have any finer points," replies Makri.
"What's got into you? All right, I got drunk. So what? It's not the end of the world."
Makri's face softens a little. "I suppose not. Though it was crass, even by your standards. I'm on edge anyway. Everyone here keeps staring at me like I'm a freak. And I don't like the way Baron Mabados spoke to Lisutaris. I'm getting the impression the Samsarinans don't think she did enough to keep the Orcs out of Turai. It's ridiculous. Lisutaris was sick when the attack came. Anyway, if it hadn't been for her warnings, the city would have fallen sooner."
That's true enough; Lisutaris was the only one to correctly foresee the Orcish attack. Without her warnings, the city would have fallen earlier. But it looks bad for her that when Turai did eventually fall, it was because Deeziz the Unseen, most powerful of the Orcish Sorcerers, managed to sneak into the city undetected. Her sorcery outwitted everyone, including Lisutaris.
"Have you been to Elath?" asks Makri.
"Yes. It's just a small town in the foothills. No one would go there if it wasn't for the hot baths. Have you thought about entering the sword-fighting tournament?"
Makri shakes her head. "Tournaments are foolish."
Makri was involved in a tournament in the Elvish Isles. She trained a young Elf, very effectively, but had little patience for a fighting competition in which only practice weapons were used.
"This tournament isn't like the junior Elves' tournament," I explain. "They used wooden swords because the Elves didn't want their children getting hacked to pieces. This is more serious."
"With real weapons?"
"Not quite," I admit. "The points are blunted, and contestants generally wear enough armour to prevent them being killed. But it's serious enough. Plenty of injuries, and a few deaths on occasion."
Makri looks disgusted. While she's an enthusiastic fighter, the idea of not doing it for real doesn't appeal to her.
"You can't tell who's the best fighter with blunt swords and a lot of foolish rules. Either you fight properly or you don't. I'm not getting involved in some pointless sham."
I find her attitude annoying. Makri's always got to make out she's the only one who knows anything about fighting. "It's not a sham, it's a tough contest. It takes a special sort of skill to win it."
Makri raises her eyebrows. "Like you did twenty years ago?"
"It's strange that no one else in Turai knew about this triumph."
"I told you. I had to enter under a false name because I was absent without leave from my unit. Wait till we get to Elath, there will be plenty of people who remember old Thraxas, terror of the fighting arena. Of course, if you're too scared to enter…"
"Your pathetic attempts to make me angry won't work, Thraxas. I'm not entering. I don't want to. Anyway, I'm too busy being Lisutaris's bodyguard."
"But it's a wasted opportunity. You should enter."
"Why do you care?"
"You'll enjoy it."
"No I won't."
"Yes you will. Besides, think of the gambling opportunities."
"Aha!" yells Makri. "I knew you just wanted to gamble!"
"What's wrong with that? Think of the odds we'll get. An unknown woman entering the greatest tournament in the West? We might get something like a hundred to one. Can we, as responsible citizens, refuse odds of a hundred to one?"
Makri looks momentarily interested. When she first arrived in Turai she had no interest in gambling. Since then I've managed to improve her character somewhat. These days she can get excited about a good wager. She sets her mouth firmly against it.
"No. I'm here to help Lisutaris rally the Sorcerers, get the armies organised and march against the Orcs. I'm not getting distracted by anything else." Makri looks angry again. "Lisutaris is worried they might not even acknowledge her as head of the Sorcerers Guild any more. Kublinos heard that Lasat's already suggested he should be the new chief."
This makes me frown, though it's not really a surprise. If the Sorcerers Guild believed that Lisutaris had perished, they'd need a new leader quickly, and there would be no time to organise a proper election. Lasat Axe of Gold would be the obvious choice. The Samsarinan Sorcerer has acted as temporary Head of the Guild before.
I shrug. "Well, now Lisutaris is alive, there's no problem. She's still Head of the Guild."
"She has to be War Leader too," says Makri.
"Now you're getting ahead of yourself. It'll take a lot of discussions and negotiations before they choose a War Leader."
"I won't put up with any nonsense," says Makri. "Lisutaris is going to lead an army straight back to Turai."
I don't disillusion her, but it's unlikely to be that simple. The armies of the western nations have had some time to prepare for the Orcish assault but I doubt if they're ready yet. Then there's the Elves to consider. We don't have much chance of defeating Prince Amrag without them on our side, and it'll take them a while to sail up from the Southern Isles. It could be months before we're in a position to attack. Even then, it's by no means certain that the disparate forces of the West will put the retaking of Turai at the top of their priorities. They might decide just to hold the line at the Simnian border, and wait for Amrag to come to us.
Makri is irate at the thought. "So we just give up the city? Leave Turai in the hands of the Orcs? I can't believe anyone would think of doing that."
"Since when did you love Turai so much?"
"Since I got into the Imperial University," replies Makri. "The Deputy Consul said I could go and I'm going, even if I have to throw the Orcs out myself."
Well, it's a point of view, I suppose. Makri was studying at the Guild Community College. She was the top student there. Academically, she's now qualified to attend the university. In reality, she had no chance of going, because she's female and she has Orcish blood, two things which absolutely disqualify anyone from attending. However, after her considerable service to Turai during the siege, Deputy Consul Cicerius did say he'd use his influence to allow it. But Cicerius is probably dead, and I don't know if there will ever be another class at the university.