“I don’t think ‘make’ had much to do with it,” Ariga replied. “I’d say that ‘picked up’ would come closer. The swords they’re carrying are the same as the ones your men are carrying, and the spears appear to be of Trogite origin. People do get killed in wars, you know, and I’d say that our enemies roamed around various battlefields picking up all those lovely free weapons.”
“They wouldn’t really know how to use them, would they, Narasan?” Sorgan asked.
“They’ve been watching us during the course of two wars, Sorgan,” Narasan reminded his friend, “so I’m sure they’ve got a general idea of how to use those pillaged weapons. They won’t be very good right at first, but I’m sure they’ll get better as time goes by.”
“It’s just not fair,” Sorgan growled. “Everything was going along just fine, but now we’ll have to face all those thieves who’ve been stealing our weapons every time we turned our backs on them.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Maag use the word ‘thief’ before,” Narasan said mildly.
It was three days later, and as yet there had been no sign of the now-armed creatures of the Wasteland, and that was making everyone just a bit edgy.
Then, not long after noon, Prince Ekial of the Malavi rode in, and as the days passed, more and more of the Malavi horse-soldiers that had been diverted to the meaningless war in the northern part of Matakan arrived in Crystal Gorge, and they ranged out farther and farther to the south to disrupt and delay the gathering of the enemy forces.
There was a kind of independence about the Malavi that Narasan found to be a bit disturbing. Soldiers were supposed to be a part of a larger entity—an army, in most cases. They weren’t supposed to dash off and do things on their own the way the Malavi all too frequently did.
“Don’t let it bother you so much,” Gunda said when Narasan privately told his friend of his discontent. “They do things a bit differently, that’s all. We build forts, and then we sit in them waiting—and waiting, and waiting—for our enemies to mount futile, and stupid, attacks on our impregnable defenses. The Malavi prefer to harass our enemies while they’re marching toward our fort. I’m not saying that the Malavi will drive our enemies away before they ever reach our fort, but they’ll probably thin out the herd quite noticeably.”
“You’re even starting to talk like a Malavi, Gunda. ‘Thin out the herd’? That’s horse-soldier talk.”
“So beat me. Relax, Narasan. Our Malavi friends are having fun—and they’re reducing the number of enemies who’ll still be alive when they come here to attack our fort. Do you have any idea at all about how much longer it’s likely to take Longbow and the others to get down here?”
“Ekial says just a few more days,” Narasan replied. “They move independently rather than marching in groups the way we do, so they can go quite a bit farther—and faster—than we can.”
Gunda rose up just a bit and looked back along the front wall of their fort. “Do you need someplace to hide?” he asked.
“Here comes Trenicia. If you give her half a chance, she’ll talk your ears off before the sun goes down.”
“Very funny, Gunda,” Narasan said.
“I’m glad you liked it.”
It was several days later when Padan, Longbow, Keselo, and Rabbit came down through Crystal Gorge to join their friends at Gunda’s wall. Narasan chose not to make an issue of it, but it seemed that just about everybody heaved a sigh of relief when Longbow arrived. There was something about Zelana’s archer that seemed to give just about everybody a sense of invincibility. Longbow was one of the best. There was no question about that, but Narasan was fairly sure that it didn’t rub off.
“Now we get to find out exactly what happened to the crazy man from Atazakan,” Sorgan declared. “What in the world was it that made you decide to let the bison kill him instead of driving one of your arrows right through his head?”
Longbow shrugged. “They were right there, and they could do a much more thorough job than we could have. I suppose we could have made war on Holy Azakan and his ‘Defenders of Divinity,’ but a few of them would quite probably have evaded us and returned to Atazakan to stir up more trouble. The bison killed almost every one of them, and I didn’t have to waste any arrows—or friends—in the process.” He smiled faintly. “The nice thing is that so far as we could tell, not one single bison was killed during their stampede.”
“How were you so certain that those wild animals would do what you wanted them to do?” the warrior queen Trenicia demanded.
“Everyone who lives here in Matan knows that bison are afraid of fire,” Longbow explained. “Of course, almost all animals are afraid when fire breaks out. Keselo and his men had built catapults, and they knew the proper mixture of various liquids to make what the Trogites call ‘fire-missiles.’ In a peculiar sort of way, we were able to steer that bison herd in much the same way as Maags and Trogites steer their ships. All we really had to do was set fire to the grass in every direction that we didn’t want the bison to run. We left them one option and only one, so they ran in the direction that we wanted them to run, and they ran much, much faster than anybody from Atazakan could.”
“And that killed every single one of those invaders?” Trenicia asked.
“Not quite every one,” Two-Hands said. “The bison—who probably didn’t even see them—ran right over the top of them. After a thousand or so bison run over somebody, there isn’t much of him left out in plain sight. Most of him is probably a foot or two down in the dirt in very small bits and pieces.”
Trenicia shuddered. “I really wish you wouldn’t say things like that, Chief Two-Hands,” she said.
Tlantar shrugged. “He was one of our enemies. We want bad things to happen to our enemies, don’t we?”
“Maybe so, but we don’t have to talk about it, do we?”
It was early the following morning when Padan roused Narasan from a sound sleep. “We’ve got company,” he said.
Narasan stretched and yawned. “The bug-people are coming to call?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Padan replied. “I’m a bit surprised that you’re still sleeping. The thunderclap almost shook Gunda’s fort down. Actually, Lord Dahlaine stopped by—with family—to see how things are going.”