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Chapter 20

Nukurren regained consciousness the next day, and never lapsed back thereafter. Under the ministrations of the healer demon Mariyaduloshruyush and her assistants, the wounds began to heal quickly. Most of the assistants were demons, but two were gukuy Pilgrims from Anshac. One of them, a former helot named Ertatu, told Nukurren than she was healing much more quickly than the demon herself had expected.

"Mariya says you are the toughest gukuy she's ever seen," commented Ertatu, as she changed Nukurren's poultices.

"You can say that again."

Nukurren swiveled her good eye and saw the figure of Dzhenushkunutushen standing in the entrance to the hospital. The white demon advanced to Nukurren's side.

"How are you feeling?" he asked her. To Nukurren's surprise, he spoke in Anshaku. Very good Anshaku. During the long trek up the Chiton, Dzhenushkunutushen and the female demon Ludumila had spoken only Kiktu, and seemed not to comprehend Nukurren and Dhowifa when they spoke to each other in Anshaku.

Shrewd. The demons are cunning as well as ferocious.

Nukurren made the gesture of acceptance.

"I am alive and it seems I will remain so. That is unexpected."

"I am sorry about your eye," said the demon.

"It does not matter. It is a just punishment for my sins. It is only right that I should lose an eye, in payment for the Old Ones I helped enslave."

The demon opened his—mouth, Nukurren had learned, was the name for demon beaks (except the demons claimed their real name was ummun)—and began to speak; then fell silent.

After a pause, he said: "I would like to talk to you, but I cannot. I must return to the training field."

"You are a trainer of warriors?"

"I am the—" Nukurren made him repeat the term until she could pronounce it. Sharredzhenutumadzhoru.

She understood the meaning of the title at once. So I suspected. He is a centurion of the human legion. As was I, before I was sent to the Motherguard.

(The actual term which Nukurren used, of course, was not "centurion." It was gurren otoshoc, which translates roughly as "chief troop leader." But the essence was the same as the ancient Roman term, which, over the centuries, was duplicated in different words in different human languages. Whatever the word, it referred to the sinew of all great armies—top sergeant.)

"You are preparing for war?" asked Nukurren. Interpreting the strange movement of the demon's face as hesitation, suspicion, she made the gesture of indifference. Then repeated it in words, realizing that the demon might not understand the curl of her arms.

"It does not matter to me, Dzhenushkunutushen. I am no longer a warrior, nor do I care what happens to any realm on the Meat of the Clam. It is true that you are demons, but—" The gesture of resignation. "You can be no crueler than any gukuy."

Dzhenushkunutushen stood. "There is no reason not to tell you. We will be fighting the Utuku soon. Very soon, I think, and we are not well prepared."

"The Kiktu have been defeated, then?"

"Destroyed completely, by all accounts."

Nukurren made the gesture of regret.

"I am grieved to hear it. Of all the peoples I encountered, the Kiktu were the best. Barbarous and crude, but rarely evil."

"So it is said. But they are gone now. Slain in battle, or food for the Utuku."

"Go then, Sharredzhenutumadzhoru." The gesture of amusement. "I would not wish to see you in the bellies of the Utuku."

Dzhenushkunutushen turned away, saying: "Any Utuku who bites me will die horribly."

Nukurren appreciated the humor of the remark. Then, after further thought, wondered if it was a joke.


Two days later, the white demon reappeared in the hospital. He was accompanied by the female demon who was skilled in the healing arts, Mariyaduloshruyush.

"Mariya tells me that you are now able to move about," said Dzhenushkunutushen.

"That is true. Not easily, and not very well. But I am able to walk."

"I would like to ask you—" The female demon began rapidly speaking in the human language. Enagulishuc, it was called. Nukurren thought she was displeased.

"She is angry with me," explained Dzhenushkunutushen.


"Because what I wish to ask of you will not be good for your health."


The female demon left abruptly, after making that odd motion of spreading her arms which Nukurren suspected was the demon equivalent of the gesture of disgruntled acceptance.

"I would like to ask you to come to the training field and observe."


"You are the best gukuy warrior we have ever encountered. I think you could teach us much. Yoshef—he is the" (Nukurren made him repeat the term until she grasped it) "kapitanu of our army—did not like the idea. He is suspicious of you. But I insisted."


The demon paused. Two small, bright blue demon eyes stared into one large, iron gray gukuy eye. Then:

"You know why—Sharredzhenutumadzhoru."


Three days later, feeling her health returning quickly, Nukurren went to the training field. She was accompanied by Ertatu, but Nukurren had no need of her guidance to find the way. The harsh sounds of demon voices were the only guide she needed. Much harsher sounding than usual. It was the demon battle language, she knew.

At the edge of the open field, Nukurren squatted and observed the demons racing back and forth in complex maneuvers. It took her some time to separate the logic of the actions from the sheer dazzling display of speed. By now, of course, she had come to understand the demon way of moving, and so they no longer seemed to flicker. Still, they were so fast; so agile; so—different.

And then, as she watched, not so different. They were practicing tactical maneuvers, and once Nukurren became accustomed to the blinding speed of the demons, she was eventually able to discern the basic patterns of the exercises.

Nukurren's only previous experience with the demons in combat had been the attack on the slave caravan. That episode had been too chaotic for her to have made any assessment of the demons' tactical methods. Now, seeing those methods displayed in training exercises, Nukurren was puzzled by what she saw.

Eventually, the demons paused in their exercises and made that bizarre folding motion with their bodies which enabled them to rest on the ground. The word for that in Enagulishuc, Nukurren had learned, was sitting. She was fascinated to see water (at least, she thought it was water) dripping down the faces of the demons, and quickly deduced that such was the demon method of eliminating excess heat. It seemed bizarre to her, as well as messy and slightly disgusting. Gukuy expelled excess heat through increased evaporation in their breath.

Soon, Dzhenushkunutushen approached and sat down facing her.

"What do you think?" he asked.

Nukurren considered her reply. It would be unwise to offend the demon. He, and to some extent his lover Ludumila, had been the only demons to show some signs of friendship toward Nukurren and Dhowifa. On the other hand . . .

Nukurren decided. Whatever else, Dzhenushkunutushen was gurren otoshoc, and thus entitled to respect.

"A question. How many of you will mobilize for war with the Utuku?"

The demon hesitated. Then: "Triple-eighty."

"So few?"

Silence. The demon looked away for a time. It was, Nukurren realized, a critical moment.

Dzhenushkunutushen turned back. His bright blue eyes were unwavering.

"There are no more ummun than that on this world, Nukurren. Except a very few too old to fight."

Nukurren made the gesture which, in Anshaku, is called unnudh wap kottu. The gesture expresses a sentiment which is not readily translatable into English. A different human culture had an equivalent—that particular bow by which one samurai acknowledges another.

"I am honored by your trust," she said.

Suddenly, the demon rose partly erect. His stick-peds (legs, Nukurren had learned) were strangely bent, and he rested on the joints. He clasped together his forelimb extremities (hands) and nodded his head. Nukurren immediately understood that Dzhenushkunutushen was reciprocating the unnudh wap kottu. It did not seem a practiced gesture, and she thought that the demon had invented it on the spot.

Her surmises were confirmed.

They are terrible in war, yet they are not really warriors. They use the tactics of barbarians, yet they are more civilized than Anshac. Their arts and crafts are crude, judging from the poorly built hospital, yet their knowledge seems immense. They are a mystery beyond any I have ever encountered.

"Your tactics are crude and stupid. That would not matter, if your numbers were great. Against equal numbers of gukuy warriors, of any people, you will always win, because you are so much faster. After a time, however, when gukuy become accustomed to your skills, you will suffer losses which you cannot afford. Against Kiktu, you will always do well because the Kiktu fight much as you do. Stupidly. Against a good Anshac legion, you would be defeated by the third battle. Against an excellent legion, by the second. You have no chance against the Utuku. The Utuku tactics are crude, but they always send huge numbers into battle, and they are highly disciplined. You will break against them."

The white of Dzhenushkunutushen's mantle (no, the demons call it "skin,") was flushed with pink.

He is embarrassed, interpreted Nukurren, but this time, I think, he is not pleased.

The demon took a deep breath.

"I guess I asked for that," he said softly, looking down at the ground. He raised his eyes. As always, Nukurren was struck by their dazzling color.

"Can our chances be improved?" he asked.

Nukurren made the gesture of uncertainty.

"The question has no simple answer. It depends on many things. Some of these go far beyond battle methods. But—insofar as your question involves tactics, the answer is: perhaps."

"Perhaps? Why—perhaps?"

"Because the true question you must ask of yourself. Are demons willing to learn? Or are they as full of their pride as most gukuy?"

Suddenly, Dzhenushkunutushen was laughing, and making that side-to-side motion of his head which Nukurren had learned was the demon gesture of negation.

"You still do not understand, Nukurren. We are not demons. We are ummun, and barely beyond childhood. If there is one thing we know how to do well, it is learn."

Nukurren was unconvinced. "Of you, that may be true. But I do not think it is true of your kapitanu, Yoshefadenukunula."

Again, Dzhenushkunutushen made the gesture of negation.

"You do not understand him, Nukurren. It is his color which confuses you. You think he is implacable. He is actually the most uncertain of us all, but because we depend on him so, can never show it."

Nukurren was silent, unconvinced.

"You will see," said Dzhenushkunutushen.


That night, in the hospital, Dhowifa prattled happily of the events of the day. Again, as had been true since they arrived among the ummun, Dhowifa had spent most of his time in the company of Ushulubang. Only at night did he return to the hospital.

Nukurren did not begrudge Dhowifa his absences. It had been the worst of Dhowifa's pain when they fled Shakutulubac, other than losing his malebond, to lose the company of Ushulubang. And now he had found her again, and was able to spend entire days in the sage's company, instead of a few hours snatched from under the watchful eyes of the Ansha.

On this night, however, Nukurren would have preferred it if Dhowifa had been silent. His incessant chatter was distracting her from her own thoughts, which were focussed on the problem Dzhenushkunutushen had set before her.

By what tactics could a few demons defeat the Utuku hordes?

That night, Nukurren found no answer. But she did find many useful questions.


The next day, and for five days thereafter, she squatted silently by the training field, watching the demon exercises. She said nothing to Dzhenushkunutushen, and he, as if guided by some unspoken understanding, said nothing to her.

On the seventh day, Nukurren decided that her health was sufficiently restored. She told Dzhenushkunutushen to take her to the armory. Asking no questions, the ummun led her to a large wooden hut located some distance away. There, laboring with simple and primitive tools, Nukurren found several Pilgrims. Most of them were Anshac. To her surprise, she recognized the leader of the group. Her name was Utguko, and she had been, long before, the armorer for Nukurren's first legion.

Nukurren turned to Dzhenushkunutushen.

"I will need certain things to be made here." Dzhenushkunutushen made the gesture of assent and gave instructions to Utguko. Nukurren was interested to see that they conversed in Enagulishuc instead of Anshaku. They did so, she knew, not to keep secrets from her but because it was the wishes of the sage Ushulubang that Enagulishuc become the language of the Way.

"It will be done," said Dzhenushkunutushen to her, speaking now in Anshaku.

"Is good," she replied, in Enagulishuc. She interpreted Dzhenushkunutushen's stillness as surprise that Nukurren was learning Enagulishuc so quickly. Nukurren herself began to stiffen then, feeling the old hurt return, that she should be thought stupid simply because she was big and ugly. Then, after a moment, she relaxed. In truth, Nukurren was learning more quickly than would most gukuy.

"Tomorrow," she continued, still speaking Enagulishuc, "at training field. We see if demon can learn. If will learn."

After Dzhenushkunutushen left, Nukurren explained to Utguko her requirements. The old armorer was surprised, but she made no objections.

Early in the morning on the following day, when Nukurren returned, the materials she had requested were ready. Thoughtfully, Utguko had wrapped them in a reed-bundle, which made the bulky items easier to carry.

Hoisting the bundle onto her mantle, Nukurren made her way toward the training field. Her route took her through the demon village, past the longhouses of the warriors and the small huts of the older leaders. As she passed through the village, many demons emerged from the longhouses and began following her. To Nukurren's surprise, the Mother of Demons herself emerged from her hut and joined the crowd.

By the time she reached the training field, it seemed that every demon was present. On the field, in a small group, were those whom Nukurren had learned were their battle leaders. The kapitanu, Yoshefadekunula; the three liyutenanatu, Ludumilaroshokavashiki, Anadurumakfurrushen, Takashimitodzhugudzhi; and the Sharredzhenutumadzhoru, Dzhenushkunutushen.

Nukurren advanced to the middle of the field and stopped before the small group of demons. She unrolled the reed-bundle and selected, from the pile, a training fork and flail. The instruments were designed much like actual weapons, but were deliberately blunted and wrapped in resinous cloth to prevent serious injuries.

For a moment, Nukurren was tempted to speak in Enagulishuc. But she decided to use Anshaku instead. It was important there be no misunderstandings.

"First, you must learn you can be defeated. I do not believe you know this yet. Now you will learn. I do not know if you have such things as training spears. It would be better to use them. If you use real spears, I will be forced to move very quickly, and I may not be able to keep from harming you seriously."

The demons stared down at her. After a moment, the kapitanu called out a command. Soon thereafter, a male demon came onto the field, bearing spears which were simply blunted wood instead of metal-tipped.

The five battle leaders each took a spear.

"Your armor also," instructed Nukurren. Seeing the hesitation, she whistled derision.

"You are fools," she said.

The five demons donned their battle armor.

"Which of us do you wish to practice with?" asked Dzhenushkunutushen.


"All? That's ridiculous!"

"Great fools." Nukurren fell upon them.

The combat which followed was savage and short. This time, Nukurren had the advantage of surprise, and she used it ruthlessly. Before the demons had even begun to react, Anadurumakfurrushen and Takashimitodzhugudzhi were sprawled half-senseless on the ground. Ludumilaroshokavashiki was able to avoid Nukurren's first flail-blow by virtue of her incredible speed, but, as Nukurren had foreseen, she was temporarily off-balance. Nukurren now pivoted against Dzhenushkunutushen, forcing him against Yoshefadekunula, and then hammered the white male mercilessly with both fork and flail. As she had suspected, Dzhenushkunutushen was very strong, but he was not as strong as Nukurren. He went down under the blows, entangling the demonlord in his fall.

That allowed Nukurren the time she needed to finish Ludumilaroshokavashiki. Again, she was impressed by the speed and dexterity of the female warrior; but it availed Ludumilaroshokavashiki nothing. She was overconfident, as Nukurren had known she would be. The demon lunged in with a headthrust of her spear. It was a clever feint, designed to draw forth a missed fork-stroke. But Nukurren's battle-experience was by far the greater. Instead of the fork-stroke she expected, Ludumilaroshokavashiki found her spear entrapped by Nukurren flair; and then, helpless, came the fork-stroke which spilled her to the ground, her armor splintering under the impact.

Nukurren spun about and, without even looking, rolled to the side. The demonlord's spearthrust missed her completely. She lashed with the flail and then, pleased beyond measure, saw that Yoshefadekunula had again avoided it by that impossible upward spring.

But I know it now, demonlord.

She could not deny the satisfaction it gave her to swat the demonlord in midair, with a stroke of the fork which was, perhaps, excessively harsh.

She spun about. Three of the demons were beginning to rise, but Nukurren stilled them with quick touches of the flail. These were not blows, simply touches. But they were enough to drive home the lesson. All were now at her mercy, and there would have been nothing, had they been using real weapons in a real battle, to prevent her from slaying them.

She stepped back and set down her fork and flail.

"That is the first lesson. There will be no other today. Tomorrow I will begin teaching you the Utuku way of war, so that you may learn how to combat them. But today's lesson is the most important lesson of all, and you must think upon it."

She rolled up her instruments in the reed-bundle and carried them back to the hospital.


Late that night, Dzhenushkunutushen came to the hospital and sat by Nukurren's pallet. He said nothing for a time, nor did Nukurren.

At length, Dhowifa spoke.

"Are you hurt?"

Dzhenushkunutushen's face crunched. The ummun crunched their faces many different ways, but Nukurren thought this was the gesture of ruefulness.

"I hurt all over."

"Good," said Nukurren. "It will prepare you for tomorrow. Where you will hurt again, but will be wiser."

Again, the crunch. Slightly different.

"Some friend you are!"

Only her long years of shoroku kept Nukurren's mantle gray. For some time, she did not trust herself to speak. Dzhenushkunutushen rose and began to leave.

Softly, to his back, Nukurren said: "I have never had a friend. Except Dhowifa."

The demon stopped in the doorway. He turned around and came back to Nukurren's pallet. As always, she was struck by the strangeness of his colors, the white passion of his skin and the blue fury of his eyes.

"I have never known loneliness," he said. "I think you have never known anything else."

"That is true. Except Dhowifa." She felt her lover's soft touch.

Dzhenushkunutushen lay down on the floor next to the pallet. "Tonight I will sleep here, Nukurren. There are lessons which you need to learn also."


Soon, Dzhenushkunutushen fell asleep, as, shortly thereafter, did Dhowifa. Nukurren remained awake long into the night. Never once did her shoroku waver. But the time came when one of the great palps which had brought terror and death to so many over the years reached out. Reached out, and gently touched the soft yellow hair of the demon lying next to her.


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