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Chapter 23

Indira watched the battle from the southern slope, standing on a rocky outcropping which overlooked the plain. Four beings stood there with her: Julius, Andrew MacPherson, Rottu and Ghodha.

They were the nucleus of what Indira had told them was one of the secrets of war.

Create a general staff.

She would have preferred to have Joseph himself alongside her. But, reluctantly, she had agreed with Joseph's argument that his personal command was necessary in the colony's first full-scale battle. Of the three lieutenants, Andrew had been selected as the future Chief of Staff. It was a good choice, thought Indira. Andrew was a quiet and thoughtful young man. Not flamboyant, but very hard-working. And, while he had done the job capably, he did not have either Ludmilla or Takashi's flair as a platoon leader.

Indira watched Ludmilla's platoon racing in a loop around the right flank of the Utuku army. Ludmilla herself was leading the platoon, and setting a brutal pace. The ranks of the Utuku were already becoming ragged, as they tried to reform in the face of this new and utterly bizarre foe. Their attempts were hopeless, of course. Gukuy were faster than owoc, but they were still much slower afoot than humans. Any humans, much less the young warriors trained under Joseph's brutal regimen.

Not brutal enough.

"Andrew—make a note. We must emphasize long distance endurance as well as wind sprints. The Apaches could run a hundred miles a day. Faster, over long distances, than the cavalry of the US Army."

"Yes, Indira." He jotted in his notebook.

Still, there's a problem. Food. What good will it do for our warriors to be able to run a hundred miles a day—if they starve at the end of it? Our army cannot remain tied to the slow owoc.

"Julius—make a note. Resume the experiments with puke jerky."

"But—ah, yes, Indira." He jotted in his notebook. Muttering, under his breath. He was not altogether sure what to make of this new Indira. He had always adored her thin-featured face. Why did that face now remind him of a sword?

As Indira watched, Ludmilla's platoon suddenly wheeled and raced directly toward the Utuku right. Even from the distance, she could hear the drums, transmitting orders from the battle leaders. Raggedly, she thought. And it was obvious that the Utuku ranks were beginning to unravel.


But she had misjudged. Ludmilla had a better grasp of the immediate tactics. She held the charge for another few seconds, before she suddenly halted and cast her javelin. A split second later, the rest of the platoon followed.

The volley sailed over the front rank of the Utuku and fell among the battle leaders beyond. Like so many lightning bolts. Utuku shieldwork was designed to protect against looping flail-blows, not spears. And the wicker-like visors protecting the battle leaders' heads were like matchsticks when struck by heavy spears instead of blowpipe darts.

"Andrew—make a note for general consideration. Most of the great armies of human history placed a premium on low-echelon initiative and tactical flexibility."

"Yes, Indira."

Ludmilla's platoon was now racing away from the Utuku. Their assegais were strapped to their backs. In their hands they carried javelins. Each warrior in Ludmilla and Takashi's platoons had been given four at the beginning of the battle.

The javelins had been invented by Joseph, in the course of the new training which he had developed in consultation with Nukurren and Jens Knudsen. They were better designed for casting than the heavy-bladed assegai. And the blades were made of bronze obtained from the Pilgrims at Fagoshau. The irreplaceable steel-bladed assegai were saved for close-in work.

"Rottu—a question. How much bronze can we make every eightday?"

The gukuy hesitated before responding.

"I am not certain, Inudira. Not much, at Fagoshau. We can expand the bronze-works, of course. But there is no copper on the Chiton, and very little tin."

"Make a note, then. We must immediately establish reliable sources for the two metals. And expand the bronzeworks."

"Yes, Inudira."

Down on the plain, Ludmilla's sudden retreat had achieved its purpose. Large sections of the Utuku right were lumbering in pursuit. Very unevenly. Confusion and the sudden killing of many leaders were eroding the famed Utuku discipline.

And it is very hard to resist the temptation of chasing what appears to be a foe in flight.

She watched, gauging the moment.


But, once again, Ludmilla was right. The platoon leader did not order the counterattack for several more seconds, until the pursuing Utuku were strung out even further. Suddenly, her platoon divided and curved sharply right and left, racing back toward the Utuku. The bewildered barbarians were thrown into utter confusion.


Once again, Ludmilla was right. Two more seconds elapsed before she gave the command. The ensuing volley came at pointblank range, ripping through the Utuku like a scythe.

"Andrew—that last note?"

"Yes, Indira?"

"Emphasize it."

Racing off again, the platoon reformed in files and curved back around to the southeast. Discipline in the Utuku right flank was disintegrating. The warriors were little more than a mob now, all of them turning to face these terrible demons who were circling them. Within moments, they were faced completely away from the center of the battlefield.

Indira looked to the center. Takashi's platoon was drawn up there, holding the attention of the Utuku center while Ludmilla harrowed the right. They had no difficulty in doing so. Takashi's first volley had had a catastrophic impact on the battle leaders of the Utuku center. Since then, he had kept the attention of the warriors by trotting his platoon back and forth across their lines, feinting and lunging.

Her eyes moved to Joseph. The Captain was standing back, on a small knoll rising slightly above the plain, high enough to give him a view of the entire battlefield. Twenty young human warriors stood at his side, Jens Knudsen looming above the others.

Not far from them, off to the side, stood Nukurren. Gazing down at the huge, scarred figure, Indira felt a sudden sadness. They were deeply in debt to Nukurren, and had tried to express it. Ushulubang herself had offered Nukurren the command of the Pilgrim warriors who were even now approaching the battleground.

But Nukurren had refused. Had even refused to explain her refusal.

Yet, in the end, she had chosen to come to the battleground. The morning the little human army set off, Jens Knudsen had entered Nukurren's hut. In his arms he bore the great flail and twofork Nukurren had won years before in the Anshac legions, and her armor. He had saved them from the wreckage of the slaver caravan where he and Nukurren had first exchanged wounds, he explained, and now it was time to return them to her. Saying nothing else, he had left the hut.

Some minutes later the column of human warriors set off, followed by more than a thousand Pilgrims. All of the Pilgrims were armed with flail and fork; some with armor. Most were former warriors. Some were former helots, fumbling with the unfamiliar weapons in their palps, but determined to do their duty.

As the column passed Nukurren's hut, she had emerged. In armor, bearing her great flail and two-fork. To the humans, she had been awesome. To the gukuy . . . The Pilgrims had begun hooting then, in a fierce and wavering manner which Indira had never heard, but had no difficulty recognizing. So had the Bedouins ululated, saluting their champions.

But Nukurren had refused to acknowledge the salute. Had returned the admiration with bleak isolation. Had spoken to none. Had not taken a place in the column, neither with human nor gukuy. Throughout the long march which followed, she had remained to one side, parallel but alone.

As the march progressed, the Pilgrims lagged further and further behind, unable to match the speed of the human warriors. Of all the gukuy marching to battle, only Nukurren had been able to keep pace. But, always, she marched to the side. What role, if any, she intended to play in the coming battle, no one knew.

She least of all, thought Indira now, watching Nukurren standing alone on the slope.

Indira tore her eyes away, and looked back at Joseph. Stretching on either side of him were the remnants of Andrew MacPherson's platoon. Most of the warriors in Andrew's former platoon had been reassigned to the other two. But a small number had been organized into a new formation, led by Jens Knudsen. They were to serve as Joseph's reserve, for the critical moment of the battle.

Gazing down at Jens' new formation, Indira began to feel the old, paralyzing anguish. She fought it desperately. It had been she herself, after all, who had commanded its creation.

The warriors in the new formation were more heavily armored than the other humans. They carried no javelins, only the largest assegai. Theirs was not the role of Ludmilla and Takashi's platoons, the fluid ravaging of the opponent. Theirs was the role of shock troops. It was they who would be thrown into the schwerpunkt. Not for them the rapid maneuvers of the platoons; not for them, the tactical subtleties; for them—the shattering smash of the hoplite.

They had been selected, as individuals, for that purpose. The emphasis had been on sheer strength, rather than speed. Upper body strength, in particular. Only that kind of strength could sustain a warrior in the savage close-quarter combat for which that formation was designed.

They were all male. For the first time in the history of the human colony, the sexes had been segregated. Indira herself had commanded it. She had hated the truth, but would not shy from it. Only Ludmilla, among the human women, had the strength to serve in Jens' new formation. And Ludmilla was needed as a platoon commander.

She gazed down at Jens Knudsen. Even covered with heavy armor, his golden hair and milk-white skin was easy to spot. Indira thought that of the younger generation of humans, Jens' was perhaps the gentlest and kindest spirit, for all his brutish size and musculature. Indira herself had named the new formation the "shock squad." Jens, with his usual self-deprecating humor, had called his squad the "meatheads."

"Too slow to run, and too dumb to figure out anything else," he had joked. But Indira could not mistake the pride in his stance, and that of his new squad, as they stood by Joseph's side.

Alexander's Companions.

They would suffer the highest casualties, and they knew it. But they were not afraid, because a new emotion was insinuating its way into their souls, like a serpent.

For the first time in the history of the human colony, an elite had been created. At Indira's own command. She began to look away, then forced herself to look back.

Not now, no. Not with Jens, never. But—Jens will die, and his children, and their children, and their children—and then, someday ... the Diadochi. And the Praetorian Guard, and the Janissaries, and the knights who savaged Jerusalem.

Nightmare visions flashed through her mind, ending with the Waffen SS. She felt her face grow stiff.

Julius gazed at her quizzically. Indira pointed to Jens.

"I was just thinking how the old Waffen SS would have drooled over him." A rueful grimace; trying to cast off despair with humor. "He could have served as the model for their recruitment posters."

Julius looked down.

"Oh, I don't know. He's much too ugly, with that great beak of a nose, and besides—" He looked back at Indira, his expression oddly cold. "Did I ever tell you my family's history?"

"Not really."

He shrugged. "Nothing spectacular. And most of it's long forgotten. But there's one episode, from two centuries ago, that was passed on from generation to generation. My family was in Denmark during the Second World War. They lived in Copenhagen, as a matter of fact, the same city where Jens was born."

Julius pointed down the slope to the young warrior.

"I stand here today because of his ancestors." His voice suddenly shook with anger. "Damn your fears, Indira! Damn them all to hell!"

His words were like a sudden, brilliant ray of sunlight, shattering all the darkness of the future. The nightmares fled from Indira's mind, gibbering in terror; and new visions came.

She remembered the small nation which, conquered and occupied, had still managed to save almost all its Jews from the Nazi butchers; had, through the unorganized and spontaneous actions of thousands of ordinary Danes, smuggled the Jews to safety. The blond-haired, blue-eyed people who had hurled defiance into the face of their racial brethren.

The kindness of that deed, toward a people of a different race, had come from the common pool of human decency. But the courage had come from their own history, and their own legends, and their own heritage.

They too had remembered Barbarossa. And if the Germans had chosen to remember the sword of the conqueror—had even named their brutal invasion of Russia after him—the Danes had chosen to remember the shield of the lawgiver.

The Nazi vision, she knew, had been closer to the truth of the past; but the Danish vision had been true to the future. If, in reality, kings had been unjust tyrants, yet, still, it had been within the shell of kingship that nations forged their justice. The kings were gone, long gone; but justice remained. And if the kings had been hard as iron, the justice was harder still. For justice had been long in the making, and it was not a feeble reed. It was the gleaming steel sword Excalibur, born of ancient dreams, shaped by myths and legends, forged by human struggle, and tempered in the blood of centuries.

As Indira watched the battle unfold below her, she felt as if her mind were split in two. One half observed the present carnage—attentively, coldly, objectively. The other half ranged across the breadth of human history, like a shaman taking the form of an eagle, spotting all the possibilities of the future. And, finally, leaving all fear behind, filled with the joy of flight and the glory of distant vision.

Joseph's powerful baritone suddenly rang above the din of battle. Refocusing her attention, Indira saw that Joseph had sent Takashi's platoon plunging into the fray. The Pilgrims had finally arrived, and were taking their place before the Utuku center. Takashi's platoon made a sudden lunge. The Utuku drew back, clustering their shield wall. The feint had succeeded, and Takashi's platoon was now racing across the enemy's front, toward the east.

As planned, the warriors of the Utuku center were paralyzed. The Pilgrims surged forward, to keep them immobile. The Utuku center would be completely out of the action when Takashi fell—

Indira looked back to the southeast.

—on the rear of the Utuku right. Whose attention was completely fixed on Ludmilla's confusing maneuvers.

Takashi was setting an even more brutal pace than Ludmilla. He and his warriors seemed to fly across the ground, as if possessed by a determination to match the exploits of Ludmilla's platoon.

"Andrew, take a note. We must give each platoon a name, or a number. Some title by which they can be remembered, and to which their soldiers can identify. In human history, that was called the regimental tradition. It will help develop the morale of the army."

"Yes, Indira."

A minute later, the slaughter began. Watching the ferocity with which Takashi's platoon ripped into the Utuku, Indira felt a moment's fear that they had forgotten what she had told them.

But, again, the commander on the spot had simply gauged the timing better. When they broke off and raced away, not one of the human warriors was more than slightly scratched. But they left a mound of bodies behind them.

"Andrew—that note. The one concerning low-echelon tactical control."

"Yes, Indira."

"Carve it in stone. Better yet, cast it in bronze."

Ludmilla's platoon now copied Takashi's maneuver, from the other side. Lunge in, at a speed which was almost incomprehensible to the gukuy, and butcher the front ranks. Race away before the ranks behind could overwhelm you with their numbers.

Working from two sides, Ludmilla and Takashi's platoons were ravaging the Utuku right. Their javelins were now used up; they were wielding the assegai. Fifteen hundred gukuy warriors were now nothing more than a hooting mob, milling about in confusion, their mantles rippling red and ochre, while less than two hundred and fifty human warriors continued their systematic slaughter. Only three human casualties had been suffered so far—and Indira had been relieved to see one of them hobbling off the field under her own power. Winny Mbateng, she thought it was.

Thank God. Even if your daughter's crippled from the injury, Janet, there will be a place for her. Adrian has been howling for help.

Indira saw an Utuku piper take aim at one of the human warriors. She caught her breath—then released it a moment later, when the piper's aim was thrown off by the press of the mob around her.

It's ironic. The gukuy consider pipers nothing more than auxiliaries. But they're what I fear most. Those darts have a range of thirty yards, blown by a gukuy with a powerful siphon. And they're quite accurate within half that distance. Light, of course. Even against a thin-skinned human they can't do much damage unless they strike the eyes or the throat. The light armor which our warriors wear is probably enough to turn most darts, as well as absorbing some of the shock of a flail-blow.

But if they ever learn how utterly vulnerable we are to animal product—

"Ghodha—and Rottu. Do any gukuy armies use poisoned darts?"

Rottu's mantle remained gray, but Ghodha's rippled orange.

"No, Inudira," replied Rottu. "There are a few small clans of savages in a swamp far to the southeast who are reputed to use poisoned darts. But no civilized people does so. Not even the barbarians. Not even the Utuku. It is a foul abomination in the eyes of Uftu and Kaklo alike. And the war goddess of the Utuku as well."

Indira was simultaneously relieved—and intrigued. Goloku, in her teachings, had not attempted to deny or undermine the existence of the old religious pantheons. She had simply absorbed them within a new and profoundly more philosophical approach to reality.

Like Vedanta Hinduism. Sort of. Oh, stop trying to find an exact analogy, Indira. There is none. The Way is unique to itself—and better, I think, that any of the great religions of Earth. I can think of no Terran religion, at least, which from the outset based itself on the principles of dialectics rather than formalism.

She remembered the schismatic Patriarchs of the later Roman empire. The persecution of the Arian heretics, and the Nestorians, and the Monophysites. And the rigid Aristotelean logic of the medieval churchmen. And the Inquisition; and Bruno burning at the stake. And Galileo's trial.

Perhaps that much we can avoid. Ushulubang and I, together, can sow much salt in the ground of future dogma.

Then she remembered the statue at Fagoshau which Ushulubang had shattered with her flail.

But neither she nor I will live forever. And it is indeed true, as Goloku said, that beings will always lapse into the error of the Answer.

She straightened her slender shoulders.

But we can try. And, in failing, shorten the road to the future. And its pain.

And stop day-dreaming about the future! There's enough agony on today's road.

She forced her eyes back to the plain. The human platoons were continuing their butchery, like a well-oiled machine of destruction.

God, these kids are good. It's amazing how well they're carrying out my proposal—which they only heard two days ago.

The night she made her decision to throw their strength to the aid of the Kiktu, Indira had spoken to the little army of human warriors. She had told them the story of the battle of Liegnitz, in a place called Poland. There, Subedei's Mongols had met the forces of European chivalry under the command of Duke Henry of Silesia. Those forces included knights from all the major militant orders as well as Henry's own troops—Knights Templar, Teutonic Knights, Knights Hospitaler.

She had described the European knights. Heavily armored, dangerous at close quarters. And—very slow; easily confused by any tactics beyond a simple, direct charge.

She had described Subedei's Mongols. Lightly armored; extremely fast; extremely disciplined; shrewd and cunning; well coordinated in battle.

Then she described the battle itself. And told them how the Mongols had cut to pieces the flower of chivalry.

Joseph and his lieutenants had taken over from there. The new tactics which they had been developing recently, with Nukurren's advice, fit perfectly into the plan which they developed for the coming battle. The plan which they were now implementing on the plain below—with, it was obvious to Indira as she watched, the same result that had ensued centuries before, on a planet light years away.

After another minute, Indira looked away. Even from the distance, it was impossible not to hear the hoots and whistles of the Utuku being butchered.

Not a trace of what she was feeling showed on her face.

And what am I feeling, anyway? Joseph and his lieutenants would have arrived at the same plan on their own. With Nukurren's help, they were already almost there. My lecture on Mongol cavalry tactics only added some polish.

No, that's a lie. Don't hide from it, woman. They're not superhuman. Only the Mother of Demons could have given them the confidence they needed, in their first real battle.

She took a deep breath.

So be it. There will also be hospitals. And medical academies. And trade. And religious toleration, enforced by the demons. All that the Mongols gave—and more. We are not, after all, Neolithic barbarians. Whose cruelty derived, in part, from their naive understanding of the world.

When she now spoke her voice, for the first time that day, had a trace of its usual softness.

"Julius—make a note. We must found a university. At once—regardless of other things."

He smiled. "Yes, Indira. Does that mean I get to go back to research?"

Indira looked at him; and reached out and stroked his cheek. But she did not smile in return.

"Yes, love. But the first thing you must study is the problem of making puke jerky."

She looked away. "And the problem of poison darts. Abomination or not, they will be used soon enough. We must try to find an antidote, if possible. If not—"

Her voice was like iron.

"—we will develop our own poisons. Remember the gukuy who killed Adams—and then died herself? As you said at the time: it cuts both ways, asshole."

She heard Julius sigh, and mutter something. She was not sure, but she thought she heard the words correctly. She suppressed a laugh.

"Like Damascus steel," he had mumbled. "No, worse—like a damned blade of Toledo."

Indira turned her eyes to the west. That part of the battle which the humans were waging was progressing well. She now had time to study the methods of their new—allies? She was not sure of their status, for there had been no opportunity to establish communication with the Kiktu. By the time the human platoons had reached the plain, the battle had already started.

Crude and primitive, was her first thought. The battle on the Utuku left seemed nothing but a swirl of confusion, so unlike the precision she had watched on the human side.

Her eyes were almost immediately drawn to the huge figure at the center of the Kiktu lines.

"Ghodha—a question." Indira pointed. "Is that a battlemother?"

"Yes, Inudira. There is another, as well. Further along the Utuku lines."

Indira followed Ghodha's gesture.

"Yes, I see her now." A moment later: "But—she seems different from the other one. The one in the center."

Ghodha's whistle combined, somehow, humor and awe.

"All battlemothers in the world are different from the one in the center, Inudira. The one in the center is a—what is the word, Rottu? The one the Kiktu use?"


Indira was not familiar with the term. Rottu explained.

She looked back. And felt a certain awe herself. She had seen gukuy mothers before. There were several of them among the Pilgrims. Huge beings, as big as elephants. Immensely strong, she imagined. But extremely slow-moving and awkward.

The battlemother on the plain below bore a certain generic resemblance. Huge—bigger than any gukuy mother Indira had yet seen. Almost as big as an owoc mother. And, compared to the warriors around her, slow and awkward.

There the comparison ended. If a normal mother could be likened to a gigantic St. Bernard, the battlemother on the plain below was like the Fenris wolf of Nordic mythology. Indira winced, watching an Utuku warrior smashed into jelly beneath the battlemother's club. And another. And another.

"She fights with two clubs, I notice. But the other battlemother only with one."

"Yes, Inudira. The other battlemother is fighting in the usual manner, with mace and shield. Battlemothers need shields to protect them from darts. They are always the main target of pipers. The one in the center is taking a great risk. She seems to be relying on her visor alone—and that odd shield on her cowl."

Indira looked for the Utuku pipers. She spotted one almost immediately. Sure enough, the piper was taking aim at the battlemother. Indira held her breath. Suddenly, however, the piper reared back, clawing at her eyes.

At her side, Indira heard Ghodha's hoot of surprise.

"Look! I did not see them earlier! There are males on the battlemother's cowl—with pipes! Behind that strange shield. They are protecting her from the pipers."

Indira looked back. A moment later she saw another Utuku piper reel back.

"Is that common?"

"It is unheard of! True, the Kiktu have the custom that a mother's consorts are her personal guard of pipers. But it is not taken seriously, even by the Kiktu. Not even the barbarians, for all their loose habits regarding males, allow the silly things to participate in battle. Males are too emotional for battle. They would lose their heads."

Indira watched another piper blinded. When she spoke, her voice was harsh.

"Welcome to the new world, Ghodha. Where Answers are falling, and Questions are being asked."

From the corner of her eye, Indira saw Ghodha's mantle ripple ochre and pink.

Between Ushulubang and myself, she thought fiercely, I intend to see a lot of those colors in the future.

A moment later, she relented.

Ghodha is not, after all, one of Ushulubang's close apashoc. A new Pilgrim, hoping that there may be an end to evil, somewhere. Selected for her new post not for her profound grasp of the Way, but simply because she is the most experienced war leader among the Pilgrims.

Do not sneer at such people, Professor Toledo. However often they fumble the task, they are the creators of the future.

"Explain to me what you are seeing, Ghodha. You are more experienced in such things than I."

The warrior's scarred mantle became tinged with faint green. She began pointing with her palps.

"The Kiktu are fighting better than I have ever seen barbarians fight before. Not as well as the Anshac legions, of course. But better."

The gesture of grudging admission.

"Much better, in fact. You see how they are not simply swarming mindlessly, as usual?"

Indira looked again. After a moment, she saw what Ghodha was pointing to. Order began to appear out of chaos.

"They are fighting in organized groups. I can see it now. Sloppy, I think, but—organized."

"Yes. They are very sloppy." A whistle of derision. "You should see the Anshac legions!"

Again, pink and ochre rippled.

"What am I saying? Even the Anshac are nothing, compared to your own ummun apalatunush."

Ghodha turned and looked to the south. Indira's eyes followed. Ludmilla and Takashi's warriors were racing back and forth, slicing the Utuku flank to ribbons. The platoons had broken into squads, now, each of which operated independently—but still within the organized control of their leaders.

Indira turned and pointed back to the west.

"Explain further."

Ghodha looked away, slowly. Indira was amused at the veteran warrior's obvious reluctance to forego the pleasure of watching master craftsmanship in her trade.

A moment later, Ghodha continued.

"The Kiktu possess three strengths in the art of battle. As individuals, their warriors are excellent. It cannot be denied. There are none on the Meat of the Clam who surpass them in the use of fork-and-flail, and few who can claim to be their equal. Look there! You will see what I mean."

Indira followed Ghodha's pointing palp. She saw, at the edge of the battle, that a Kiktu had somehow managed to lure a single Utuku away from the lines. The single combat which followed was horrifyingly brutal, but illuminating. The Kiktu warrior picked apart the Utuku's clumsy defenses. Within seconds, the Utuku shield was stripped away by a flail-blow that was almost too fast for Indira to follow. Seconds later, the Utuku's right ped was a bloody mass of shredded flesh, and the Utuku slumped. A split-second later, the Kiktu's fork slammed into the left side of her opponent's mantle. The Kiktu threw herself to the side, levering the Utuku onto her back. The four flail-strokes which followed completely disemboweled the doomed warrior.

More than disemboweled, thought Indira, repressing a sudden taste of vomit. All the vital organs of a gukuy, except the brain, are located right under the belly, with no cartilage or shell or thick integument to protect them. That's not just guts being strewn all over the plain. That's her heart, her liver, her inner lungs—everything.

Somewhat shakily, she asked Julius: "This is what you were telling me, isn't it?"

Julius' face was pale, but his gaze was steady.

"Yes, love. Although—I won't be so smug about it, anymore. Not after seeing that."

He took a deep breath.

"The gukuy pay a price for the way their bodies evolved. In their manipulatory limbs as well as their peds. For reasons I can only guess at, gukuy evolution put almost all their fine control into their arms. Wonderfully precise and delicate organs, those are. Maria told me she's planning to train gukuy surgeons. She thinks they'll make better surgeons than humans, once they learn the skill.

"But their tentacles lost something in the bargain. They're very strong, and fast. But they don't begin to have the fine coordination of human arms and hands. That's why the gukuy can't really use weapons like spears. Or swords. With spears, they'd miss their targets. And with swords, they'd be more likely to hit with the flat of the blade rather than the edge. What results is—"

He pointed to the battlefield. Then, suddenly, turned away. Indira could see him struggling with his own stomach.

When Julius turned back, his face was even paler.

"But, like I said, I won't be so smug about it any more. Never having seen a gukuy battle, I expected something much more clumsy. I never dreamed that you could do so much damage with a flail."

Indira turned back to Ghodha.

"Continue, please."

"Their second strength is their speed."

Somehow, watching the battle, Indira no longer found the term "gukuy speed" an oxymoron.

"The Kiktu are very swift and agile. Nothing, of course, compared to"—a quick, admiring glance to the south— "ummun, but for gukuy—very fast. Very fast. You see how they lure Utuku after them into little traps?"

Indira watched for a minute or so, and nodded.

Ghodha made the gesture of admiration.

"The Kiktu excel in the art of ambush. Many foolish and arrogant Anshac legion commanders have led their warriors to disaster, from underestimating the cleverness of the barbarians."

Ghodha now pointed to the center of the Kiktu lines.

"Finally, they have the battlemothers." Faint ripples of blue and yellow appeared on the warrior's mantle.

"It is a barbarous custom. But—"

The blue and yellow vanished.

"—I admit, it is terrible to face a Kiktu battlemother in battle. Especially one with good flankers."

Ghodha paused, examining the battle.

"The flankers of this battlemother are excellent. You see how they force the enemy to face their battlemother's maces? Leaving them nowhere to dodge aside?"

Indira nodded.

"Nothing can withstand the strength of a battlemother. The strongest armor is like paper beneath the blows of her mace."

Indira winced. Just that moment, an Utuku warrior burst—like a ripe tomato—under the mace of the battlemother.

"Faced with a battlemother, a warrior can only rely on speed and agility. That is the purpose of the flankers—to nullify the enemy's maneuvering room."

The sound of Joseph's bellow drew her eyes back to the center. He had decided, Indira saw, that the climatic moment of the battle was upon them. Quickly scanning the field, Indira thought his judgement was correct. The Utuku right had been shredded by the platoons; the left, forced to fight the Kiktu alone, were on the verge of collapse; there remained only the huddled center to be—smashed.

Joseph was already racing off the knoll, straight toward the Utuku center. Jens and his squad kept pace with him. A moment later the human warriors drew even with the Pilgrim line. The Pilgrims immediately followed the charge.

The drums of the Utuku center began beating frantically.

Ordering what, I wonder? What orders do you give your butchers—when the demons come?

Of the human warriors plunging toward the Utuku center, only Joseph held a javelin. At the last moment before reaching the enemy line, he cast his weapon.

Indira watched—first with surprise, and then with awe—as Joseph's javelin rose higher and higher into the sky. Higher and higher. Beyond its flight, far back, stood the figure of the ogghoxt commander.

I don't believe it.

"I don't believe it," whispered Julius. "That's a gold medal in the Olympics."

The javelin reached the top of its arc and began sailing down.

"No, Julius," she said.

Straight toward the ogghoxt commander.

I don't think she even sees it coming.

The javelin struck right between the commander's eyes, and sank at least two feet into her head. She fell like a stone.

"That spear cast belongs to an earlier time. Only Homer could have done it justice."

Joseph and Jens, side by side, smashed into the Utuku. The other members of the shock squad formed a wedge behind them. As the ferocity of their attack split open the Utuku center, the Pilgrims poured in behind, widening the breach.

On the left, Ludmilla and Takashi now ordered a change in tactics. The platoons abandoned all subtlety and fell onto the Utuku, assegais flashing. The Utuku right flank, already demoralized, began to give way completely.

On the right, Indira heard a sudden burst of gukuy voices, speaking in a tongue she did not know.

Kiktu battle language, she realized. Far back, perched upon a battlemother who had remained out of the fray, she spotted the figure of a gukuy. The new commands were issuing from her, and being passed forward. Suddenly, the Kiktu warriors abandoned their fluid maneuvers and smashed directly into the Utuku.

That must be Kopporu. She, too, realizes that the decisive moment is here.

The Utuku left began to collapse.

"Oh, shit," she heard Julius whisper.

She looked to the center, and held her breath. Joseph, Jens, and their small squad of shock troops had become isolated. Inexperienced in a large battle, using combined forces, they had overestimated the ability of the Pilgrims to keep pace with them. They were surrounded now by Utuku warriors. Here, in the relatively unblooded center, the Utuku battle commanders had been able to maintain a semblance of discipline and control. Now, seeing the demons finally immobilized, the Utuku took courage and began a frenzied assault.

The Mother of Demons watched her children begin to die. The combat was furious, the carnage incredible; and for every human boy who fell, a dozen Utuku were slain. Some strange, new, cold part of her mind took satisfaction in the fact. But—

Indira watched the blood gush from Harry Jackson's neck, half severed by a flail blow, and knew he would be dead within seconds; and remembered the time she had held him in her arms, trying to console a sobbing eight-year-old boy desolated by the death of the little owoc spawn he had tried to shelter. She watched an Utuku warrior, with her dying effort, wrestle Esteban Sanchez to the ground. Watched as the flails of other Utuku rained down upon him. Watched Jens try to save him, be driven back, then rally. Watched the methodical fury with which he butchered the Utuku assailing his comrade. Watched his heroic effort fail of its purpose. For even at that distance Indira could read the lifelessness in Esteban's body, when Jens finally reached him. Watched a cluster of Utuku surge over Ahmed Khoury and Ed Kincaid, stripping flesh from bones. And saw them recoil, their murderous work done, from Joseph's terrible vengeance.

The Pilgrims pushed forward, trying to break through to the isolated humans. The shield wall held them back. The Utuku warriors in the center were regaining courage, seeing the demons finally die. The Utuku flanks were now caving in completely, and Indira thought the battle would be won. But not in time to save the handful of boys trapped in the center pocket.

And now we're learning the oldest secret of war, she thought bitterly. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

Were it not for Joseph and Jens, she knew, the little pocket of human warriors would have been overrun by now. But those were the two strongest of the human warriors, the greatest, and they were now in the fullness of their rage, and their power, and their glory. And while a part of Indira's mind wept for her dying children, and another part quailed at the fearsome slaughter Joseph and Jens were wreaking in their downfall—

Some other part, some ancient part, some grim and savage part she had never known existed, tracing its long and twisted lineage back to the Incas and the Mahabharata, howled its banshee triumph and shrieked fierce exultation.

Die, cannibals, die. You face the true demons now. The great ones! The old ones born anew! The ones from the deepest pits of damnation. You do not know their names? I will name them for you, cannibals. Tremble! Wail! The one, you may call Shaka Zulu. The other, Ragnar Lothbrook.

It was only that part of Indira which kept her gaze steady, and her eyes dry. The Mother of Demons had sent her children into battle, and she would not flinch at their death.

A sudden movement to the side caught her eye. A figure was racing down the slope. Was already at the bottom. Was already crossing the plain. Was already approaching the battle zone.

"No gukuy can move that fast!" protested Julius.

"Watch, ummun," commanded Ghodha. "We too have legends."

To Indira, what followed seemed a slow-moving dream. Her mind felt suspended.

To the Pilgrims, Nukurren passed through their lines like a wraith, sweeping them behind her in sudden hope, hooting renewed confidence and determination. The Pilgrims poured into the great gaping hole Nukurren was tearing in the Utuku center, ululating, their mantles blue and black. Hesitation was cast aside, uncertainty scorned, all fear abandoned. Of high caste or helot birth, it mattered not at all. They were the Warriors of the Coil, now, the Flails of the Way, and there were none who could withstand them, led by their champion.

To Julius Cohen, biologist, Nukurren struck the shield wall like a charging grizzly bear, scattering warriors like so many leaves. During the carnage which followed, as Nukurren ripped through the Utuku ranks with mind-boggling ferocity, Julius found it impossible to think of her as a gukuy warrior armed with weapons. All his learned theories vanished. All his professorial estimates of the limitations of the molluscan Bauplan seemed a mirage. Watching Nukurren now, he could think of nothing, at first, but some great predator from the Terran past, a tyrannosaur stalking the earth of an alien planet. Until a different image came, of that dragon which lives only in the dark imagination of mankind.

To the Utuku also she was a monster beyond belief, whose fork struck like a flail and whose flail struck like the very lightning. Under Nukurren's blows, their shields shattered, their armor splintered, their tough mantles shredded like jelly, their blood gushed forth like fountains and their entrails shrouded the earth. Every blow of her flail, every stroke of her twofork, was kutaku. They could no more withstand her than they could have withstood the Great Kraken itself, and, in the mounting terror of her passage, their courage fled with the wind. Scarlet-mantled, half-paralyzed, they fell like gana beneath the flails of the Pilgrims who followed.

To Joseph Adekunle, and Jens Knudsen, and the other young men in the center who still survived, Nukurren came like something out of their distant past. An alien creature, bringing to life the history which they had learned, but not really understood; had heard, but not truly grasped. A misshapen, tentacled, colorless form, who brought them all the rainbow hues of their ancestry.

Separated from their origins by light-years and centuries, orphaned, cast adrift save for a handful of adults, the human youth finally came into their inheritance. All of it. The truths, the myths, the legends; and, foundation of them all, that bleak, unyielding, boundless courage which made all myths, all legends, and all truths possible.

They knew, now, the Spartans at Thermopylae; and the sunken road at Shiloh; and the impis at Isandhlwana; and Chuikov's 62nd Army in the shattered factories on the Volga. Despair and exhaustion vanished. Bleeding, bruised, maimed, they hurled themselves upon the shield wall which surrounded them. And broke it; and then slew, and slew, and slew, and slew.

The young men, fiery savage children of a gentle civilized mother, slew with neither ruth nor pity. Because they knew, now, in the freshness of their youth, what their mother was only beginning to accept, in the fullness of her wisdom.

Watching Nukurren come, they knew Horatius at the bridge, and heard Roland's horn at Roncevalles. They hailed Musashi's honor, saluted Pendragon on his throne; and knelt to Saladin's mercy. And felt, beneath their feet, shaking the very mountain, the giant Barbarossa, waking from his sleep.

But all Indira saw, or ever remembered, was floating beauty on a plain of death. The strange grace of an huge and ugly gukuy, scattering destruction like seeds of grain. The utter silence of a warrior, in the bedlam of a battlefield.

Above all, throughout the years to come, she remembered the shoroku of a helot born to hopelessness. That royal, imperial shoroku. The color of that scarred mantle, bearing the burden of a new world's hope as if it were but a feather. That gray, that beautiful gray, that glorious gray, that impossible gray. That gray which never wavered.

Indira scanned the battlefield. A vast scarlet wave swept across the mantles of the entire Utuku army, a tsunami of terror. The same color was everywhere, within seconds. And followed, moments later, by a cacophony of hoots and whistles. The Utuku ranks dissolved completely before her eyes. Most of the enemy warriors were still alive, but they were nothing but a panicky mob. Even as she watched, she saw an Utuku battle leader trampled underfoot by a mass of warriors seeking nothing now but their own lives.

Dimly, she heard Ghodha say, with a tone of great satisfaction: "The battle is won. And wonderfully! The Utuku have been defeated before, on occasion. But there is no record of them being routed. Today, we have done it!"

Wonderful, yes. New legends were forged this day, and will be chanted, again and again. And will give courage in the future. Courage we will need.

Courage I need now.

The next voice was the one she dreaded—that of Andrew MacPherson. Born in Scotland, not twenty years ago. Hardly more than a boy. The Chief of Staff of the Mother of Demons, and her army:

"What are your commands?"

She postponed the moment.

"Rottu—a question. I have asked it before, but . . . I will ask again. The Utuku warriors who have been recruited from other tribes. They can—"

Rottu immediately understood the question.

"Yes, Inudira. Their old clan markings will have been carved off their mantles. They can be easily recognized by those scars."

Rottu answered her next question before she even asked.

"And, yes, it is easy to determine which are recent recruits. And which have been long accustomed to the Utuku savagery."

The moment could be delayed no longer.

"Any of the recent recruits who surrender will be taken alive."

"And the others, Indira?" asked Andrew.

She thought of the Sixth Army, dying in the Russian winter. Nazis, some. Most—ordinary workers and farmers, many of them barely beyond childhood. Each of them a unique universe, never seen before, never to exist again; in all the eons of the galaxies. Her voice froze in her throat; until, far below, she saw Nukurren standing over her bleeding children, guarding them from the swirling chaos; and found the color gray.

"Kill them," she said, in a voice that never wavered. "Kill them all. Make certain they are all dead. Spear the wounded. Spear the mortally injured. Spear any of which there is any doubt at all. There must be no survivors from this battle, except the captive new recruits. Perhaps those can be salvaged. If not, we will kill them later."

The eyes which she turned on Andrew were like ice.

"Do you understand, Andrew? Not one survivor. No Utuku who can bring the tale of this battle back to the Beak. That monster must be kept in darkness, for as long as possible. We need as much time as we can create for ourselves, to prepare for the future battles. And—if this army simply disappears, even the most hardened Utuku warriors will be filled with terror. We will need that terror."

"I understand." A moment later, he was racing down the slope.

Indira turned away and began walking up the slope. After taking a few steps, she stopped. Julius enfolded her in his arms, and she began sobbing like a child.


Behind her, Rottu watched. Very carefully. She had never witnessed it before personally, but she had listened to reports from the Pilgrims who had spent time among the ummun. She knew she was seeing the ummun equivalent of brown grief. Dark brown, she judged. Very dark brown.

Satisfied, Rottu turned away. She had learned much, this day. Her report to Ushulubang would be long and full. And even the old sage would admit that some questions have answers. Answers, at least, which are good enough for the perils of the present.

The answer to one question was obvious. The Mother of Demons was, indeed, as Ushulubang had suspected, the mistress of the art of war. Rottu had thought the sage was probably correct, in this as in most things. But she had not been certain—until she watched triple-eighty ummun warriors destroy half an Utuku army.

But that was a small question. Now, she would be able to answer Ushulubang's big question as well.

She gazed down at the plain. Below her, the massacre was already underway. The Kiktu and the Pilgrims were methodically butchering the mass of the enemy, milling in stunned confusion, while the fleet warriors of the ummun apalatunush relentlessly brought down those Utuku who tried to flee.

She looked away—not from horror, but from the indifference of long experience. She was an old gukuy. Not as old as Ushulubang, but old enough. Old enough to have seen more cruelty and brutality than she could remember. The world had always been so. She had thought it always would, until she met Ushulubang.

I have your answer, Ushulubang. A good enough answer, at least, to lead us forward to the questions of the future. And the Way is no longer a narrow path. It has suddenly broadened into a wide road. Full of pain, as ever. But also, I think, a glory beyond description.

She looked up at the gray canopy of the sky, trying to imagine the things which the demons said lay beyond. Trying to imagine the splendor of that Great Coil of Beauty.

* * *

Indira might have found some small comfort, then, in that terrible moment, had she turned back. For she would have seen Rottu, for the first time in years, relax her shoroku. And allow rich shades of green—in all of that color's many hues—to wash across her mantle, like great waves in the sea.


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