"Warlord" is the third novelette in a series that began with "Warfriends" (Asimov's, Dec 2010), and "Golva's Ascent" (Asimov's, March 2012). and ends with "Bogdavi's Dream" (in inventory) . The entire series is itself a sequel (after 44 years!) to my Ace Double The Tree Lord of Imeten. For more information on The Tree Lord of Imeten, see the ninth installment of my literary memoir When I Was Writing. Readers who prefer the convenience of an ereader can purchase When I Was Writing for the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook.
They came down the river on antigravity sleds and the warning songs of the itiji soared ahead of them. The sleds were moving twelve times faster than an itiji could run but sound traveled faster and watchers had been posted all along the river.
They came from the great plateau in the mountains, high above the forest. Harold the Human had told the itiji and the tree people about the settlement the humans had established there. The strange young itiji called Golva Arn Letro had climbed the cliffs—higher than any itiji had ever gone—and seen the settlement with his own eyes. And escaped from torture and captivity.
The humans on the sleds peered into the shadows under the trees and searched for glimpses of the dark, four-legged creatures who were surrounding their progress with a chorus. The humans couldn’t understand the languages of the itiji but they knew the itiji’s big round heads were producing words, not animal howls, and they knew the words relayed information along a chain of voices.
They ride on three of the sleds that glide on the air. There are five humans on each sled. They all carry guns. They do not look afraid.
To most of the itiji, Harold Lizert was the hero of their latest epic—The Song of Harold and Joanne. He and Joanne had come down out of the mountains, the story ran, after they had been cast out of the human settlement, after a quarrel among the humans. Tree people from the city of Imeten captured them. Harold and Joanne saw how the tree people turned the itiji into slaves and their minds revolted. Itiji slaves helped them escape and in return they led the itiji in a war against the Warriors of Imeten. They made weapons for the itiji—weapons that four-footed creatures could never have made for themselves. They assaulted the city of Imeten with towers fitted with ramps so the itiji could climb into the trees of the city and fight the Warriors on their own territory.
And then came the greatest miracle of all. The great assault failed. Warriors and itiji faced each other across battle lines neither side could break. And Harold made a decision that would be praised as long as there were itiji who could raise their voices in song. Harold declared that the Goddess who ruled Imeten had decreed that itiji and tree people were equals and the itiji must be accepted as full citizens of the city. He would deliver her decree, he announced, in the place where the Warriors of Imeten received her commands—in the great grid, at the base of her statue, where a fight to the death would determine her will.
And Harold had gone into the grid. And fought a Warrior who was fighting in a place where tree people could swing from bar to bar and humans had to cling and hope they wouldn’t slip. And transformed Imeten into a city in which tree people and itiji fought against a common enemy, the conqueror King Lidris of Drovil.
It was a good story. It was even true, in the sense that all the facts were accurate. If you wanted to believe Harold the Human was a warrior hero out of the Iliad, nothing in the facts could contradict your fantasy.
Harold passed the grid every day, as his business took him along the walkways that connected the houses and public buildings the Imetens had constructed in the trees, and he still had to fight the impulse to look away. Had he really gone into that thing? Had he really balanced on one of its crossbars, left hand clinging to an upright, war hammer in his right, and faced a creature who could move through the trees like an acrobat?
The memory of the last moment of the duel could flash through his brain at any moment. He would be eating dinner—he might even be making jokes—and Joanne would rest her hand on his arm when she saw him wince.
Harold had indulged in a few warrior fantasies when he had been a child. The videos stored in the human settlement’s databanks had included the achievements of the three musketeers, Conan the Cimmerian, and most of their mythical colleagues. He had even pursued a boyish fascination with the long, hypnotically dramatic saga of human warfare. But his personal dreams of glory had centered on exploration and scientific research. He had dreamed of discovery, not mayhem.
Who had had ever heard of a nearsighted warrior?
Harold the Weak Eyed?
Harold Fog Vision?
Copyright 2012 by Tom Purdom. All rights reserved. This document may be printed out and archived for personal use. All other use is strictly prohibited.
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