Sunday, August 31, 2014

Roads of Bone, Chapter 12: The Greatest Victory

(This is my 250th blog entry, I did nothing to commemorate this, and just continued with my random fantasy story.  Mostly because I have written 100+ blogs on my facebook before moving to this one so the idea of numerical milestones is a bit lost already.  Enjoy.)

I am doing a little experiment.  I am going to write a series of chapters in a fantasy world of my creation and see if it goes anywhere.  Since I have not prewritten this story and have no outline, it will probably end up a convoluted mess.  I do not know how often I will be able to update this or if it will ever finish.  This is the link to CHAPTER 1.  (I have also found that I have to go back and clean up very broken sentences in previous chapters.  This is why I need an editor.  I understand what I am writing, but I need to make sure other people do too.)

Chapter 12: The Greatest Victory
            "Apple," said Malachite.  "The first thing you must learn about being a soldier for hire, and I cannot emphasize this point enough: you never want to get into a fight."
            "What?" asked the girl.
            The day was hot, and aside from the flashes of the occasional fish the water was clear.  The Color Line was perfect for the sort of lazy lecturing every pontificating jackass never tires of.  As such Malachite was sitting in a wooden folding chair under a parasol drinking a bottle with a foreign label that looked beautiful with a fading wax seal and a shimmering, cloudy, and sweet smelling liquid in it.  Apple was sitting cross legged next to him in a big floppy hat that afforded her relatively the same level of cover, but she was drinking orange juice.
            "Fighting is an abhorrent activity," said Malachite.  "It is full of confusion, pain, loss, and death, far more death than anyone has any right to wish on anyone.  The key to being a successful warrior is to live a long time, collect a lot of pay, and tell great stories, none of which involves getting stabbed, burned, crushed, or having your foot cut off because you had the poor luck to step on something dirty while running thru a field."
            "But if you don't fight, what are you getting paid to do?"
            "The greatest victory is the battle not fought," said Malachite to the confused towheaded girl.  "So you have to do some calculation.  Which side is the one willing to fight the most?  Which side has the most troops?  Which side has the best fortifications?  The best weapons?  The best leader?  Or offers the most amicable peace?
            "If a group will fight no matter what, you want to avoid them, whether for or against, they will drag you into conflict that could be side stepped.  If a side has lots of other troops, then that means you are less likely to even be in the fight, you are insulated; same with fortifications.  You have to look at each situation and think of which side is going to win, and then just be there with a helpful little push, a rousing speech, that sort of thing.  Also helps if they have drab uniforms, allows you to make yourself look busy and everyone notices."
            "Isn't that cowardly?"
            "Sadly, yes," said Malachite.  "We live in a world in which physical conflict is glorified and lauded, so rational self interest is seen as a weakness of character.  I have been told more than once that the worst parts of hell are reserved for those who maintain their flexibility during times of great conflict.  Luckily, I have concocted the ultimate escape plan from such punishments, I have chosen not to believe in hell."
            "So are you going to teach me how to fight with a sword?" asked Apple.
            "I was getting to that part," said Malachite turning to frown at her a bit.  "But I needed to teach you the first best lesson: you never want to get into a fight, but if the other person is set, then you had better win."
            He let that hang in the air.  She was a little girl.  Surely she had had a hard life and understood the necessity of things, but fighting is a gruesome business, she should know that in the abstract before the immediate.  "And also, no you can't learn to fight with a sword yet.  You are too short for the one I have."
            Apple's mouth fell open in disappointment.
            "No," said Malachite.  "We'll have to start you out on a gun."
            He stood and walked over to a big long box.  Apple's mouth opened even wider in excitement and her eyes lit with delight.
            "Any damn fool can use a gun," said Malachite.
            The box was 4 feet long, 2 wide, and a foot deep, it had a gold name plate with the words "Blow Horn" written in the same swirling letters used on Malachite's "The Wonderful" codpiece.  Black with dings and scrapes the crate had two locks on it, each looked like they could weather raining blows from pick axes and not give up the treasure within.  "It is incredibly inconvenient but necessary for me to keep this secure to such a degree, so I am not going to teach you the numbers that unlock these, understood?" Malachite asked Apple.
            "Yes Uncle."
            As he popped each lock open Malachite took a second, strumming his fingers on the box looking across the water to shore.  This can't be a good decision.  But it isn't uncommon, I would have a squire already were I at home and this would be part of the training.  But I'm not at home, is this something I should just let be left there?
            "What?" asked Malachite coming out of his hesitation.  "Yes, let's get this show started."
            The box opened to reveal an abus gun.  Abus guns were first used by the Caliphate as tiny siege weapons, larger catapults would just get lost moving thru the desert and anything smaller wouldn't be able to knock down a door thru repeated or concentrated firing.  The gun Malachite had was made with some upgrades to style.  The barrel was gold plated and had flowing red lines swirling across is eliciting the gun smoke, or the spray of a hit artery it was also slightly smaller than most, firing a stone or led shot that was only 3 inches across rather than most that were in the range of 4 to 9.
            "Apple," said Malachite.  "this is the smallest gun they make that qualifies as a siege weapon, any smaller and it would be a rifle, since it is intended to be shot at walls and door, known for being stationary and huge, this thing is maddeningly inaccurate and should only be firing at something equally large.  Like a formation of troops.  At least when you are using a normal shot, I have made some modifications."
            The barrel was affixed to the wooden stock by silver rings and the butt of the stock had golden engravings of the Hasenburg two headed bull.  This was also one of only a handful of breech loading weapons in existence, allowing fresh ammunition and charge of explosive powder to be loaded via a trap door near the handle, rather than thru the muzzle like most guns.  "Let me show you how to load it."
            The rest of the case had gun powder that was black, different than any Apple had ever seen before.  "Why are you carrying soot?"
            "That is black powder," explained Malachite.  "It fires with less smoke and more power than the typical stuff, it was only invented in the last decade by the court wizard of the Shah of White Sand, a city in the Caliphate.  Getting that stuff and the formula to it was the week I ate nothing besides soup and harem girls.... Forget that last part."
            "You ate people?" Apple was aghast.
            "I misspoke," said Malachite backpedaling.  "I meant... You know what I can't think of anything to cover that.  When I said I ate them I meant that I kissed them.  Don't tell anybody that, I am confident there is some kind of death penalty in place for them and me if anybody finds out she met the Wonderful Malachite."
            The next thing Malachite removed from the box was a tripod covered in the same gold engravings.  "This thing is always a bitch to keep clean.  Every grove ends up with mud in it, but if I didn't take my fancy one into battle I couldn't bill whoever hired me for its use and clean up."
            "Also makes for a better story to have the best looking weapon," said Apple.
            "You're learning," said Malachite affixing the gun to the tripod and pointing it out to the river.  "An abus is a small cannon and should only be fired with a tripod to anchor it in place, the kickback of firing this one is less than most, which means you can aim, fire, and load quickly, but unanchored the kick will damage your shoulder and make the thing so inaccurate you might as well just throw the gun in anger.  More likely to hit something that way."
            "So never fire without the tripod?" asked Apple.
            "Never say never," said Malachite attaching a set of metal pieces and a lens to the top length of the barrel.  "If someone is standing as close to you as I am now, and he intends to hurt you, fire the fun, hope it hits, and expect a lot of blood to get on you."  Malachite paused a bit while aligning the lens.  "Also, if you are sprayed with blood remember to clean the gun soon after.  Blood is corrosive."
            "Corrosive?" asked Apple.
            "Between you and the wizard its like I am teaching letters," said Malachite.  "Corrosive means that it damages metal that it is left on.  So you clean it off before that happens, it is important to keep stuff clean."
            "Like boots," said Apple.
            "Precisely," said Malachite.  "Now let's continue," pointing to the lens and the metal bits he had attached to the silver rings along the barrel.  "These are sights.  Using them is said to improve accuracy.  Most people without sights just point the gun in the general direction of what they want to hit and fire the gun, but if you look down the barrel, so that the front sight sits between the tines of the back sight, and you make sure that a target is just behind those then you will almost certainly hit what you are aiming at.  Unless they move, there is too much wind, the bullet is misshapen, something gets in the way, the gun fails to fire, or any number of other stupid things that invariably happens just when you don't want it to."
            At this point Apple was salivating at the thought of getting to fire the Horn Blower.
            "Alright little one," said Malachite.  Good or ill, here we go.  "Try and hit that tree on the bank."
            Apple stood behind the gun, looked down the sight and listened as Malachite told her a hundred little things, "Move your foot here, no here" "Hold it tight to your shoulder" "Now look at the lines on the lens, if those cross over what you want to hit that is good, now look at the front and back sights..." and after what seemed an eternity of anticipation he said as softly as possible, "Remember every part of this, we're going to do it a hundred times before we are off this boat, but ultimately it needs to start here, because one day this will mean life and death... Now, FIRE!"

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