Fiction: People of the Sword and Stars by Seth Johnson
(Sovereign Press, 2003)


For a moment Jeros thought the angry shrill was a bird, until the Karnuan ambush erupted from the brush in response to the whistled command.

Jeros had warned his father that the route travelled by the Dunkargan caravan was taking them perilously close to the Western Wall, but the aging merchant had assured his son that their hired sellswords would be more than enough to protect them from any Karnuan foolish enough to attack a caravan of Tuul Mordyn. Now he watched as the Karnuan spearmen hurled their weapons from an incredible distance to knock the guards from their horses, while small groups of Karnuan swordsmen were simultaneously covering one another and cutting down the line of Dunkargan footmen like so much chaff. Jeros searched for the mage of the Burning Hand mage-guild that had ridden with the caravan since Armrah ‘Lin, and found him held tight in bands of energy stretching back to the fingertips of a robed figure just inside the treeline—a Karnuan war wizard. Next to the war wizard was an archer, who stepped forward and put an arrow through the throat of the Dunkargan mage.

In less than a minute it was over. Only Jeros and his father remained, sitting high atop the lead wagon. Jeros fumbled for the crossbow his uncle had given him during the last Festival of the Sun, but dropped it as a Karnuan officer stepped forward. Still breathing heavy from the frenzy of battle, he tossed his bloody sword to a nearby soldier and climbed the wagon until Jeros could count the line of earrings hanging from his ear. “We bring the greetings of the Caliph, noble Dunkargans,” he said in the harsh eastern dialect, twisting the final words in the Karnuan way that made even compliments an invitation to combat. “We will be taking your cargo,” he continued. “And we will be taking your lives as well. But I believe a merchant might appreciate the chance to purchase a painless death.”

Jeros’ father stood and threw aside the reins shouting, “You tell the Caliph that Hazah el’Mordyn would sooner give--" A flash in the Karnuan captain’s hand passed the merchant’s throat and the old man gurgled, choking on his own blood as he toppled from the wagon.

The Karnuan brought the blade to his lips and licked its edge. “Nothing, boy,” he said, licking it again. “There’s nothing I like more than a taste of warm Dunkargan blood.” He pointed beyond Jeros, back down the Kingsroad. “You came from that direction?”

“From Armrah ‘Lin,” Jeros said, nodding.

“Any patrols in that direction?” asked the Karnuan.

“We saw one yesterday, near Ryli ‘Nar,” said Jeros. “But they were headed back to Dunkar.”

The Karnuan shook his head. “You’ll have to sell your lies at another market, Dunkargan.” Grabbing Jeros by the collar he tossed him off the wagon to the waiting soldiers. “String him from that tree, and cut out his tongue if he makes a sound. If the scouts were right, we’ll have enough food here to eat our fill, and then we’ll have our fun.”

Even through his terror, Jeros had to swallow a smile as he was lashed to the oak tree. The Dunkargan Army regiment of Trevanici soldiers was at most an hour behind the caravan, and in the meantime the damned Karnuans would have a hard time filling their bellies from a cargo of Kaldus lace…