Hsrandtuss looked around. Yessonarah didn’t look appreciatively different than it had yesterday, or the day before, or for that matter, ten days ago. The dam was still under construction. The roadway down to the river was still being lined with gravel from the riverbed. There were more wooden houses situated around the hill—over a hundred, but the great buildings that he had envisioned were nothing but foundations, at the most. The lizzie population had grown though. He shook his head.
“What is the matter, my husband?” asked Szakhandu.
“Things are not moving fast enough.”
“We are making great progress.”
“It’s not fast enough. We don’t even have enough houses for all our people yet.” He pointed toward the hill. “I’m supposed to be looking at Yessonarah there. Does that look like a city worthy of the one remaining god to you?”
“Tsahloose was not built in a day.”
“Was it built in ten days?” he asked. “We’ve been here ten days now.”
She hissed mirthfully. “No, Great King. I don’t think it was built in ten days either.”
“I’m glad you find things so amusing.”
“My husband, you have to look at the positive side of things. We have made contact with seven of the nearby villages and we’re already trading with three of them. Game is plentiful. We’re feeding all our people. Workers are quarrying stone. In another ten days, it will begin to look like a real city.”
“I don’t want to wait,” he said petulantly.
“Why don’t you take a walk? That will make you feel better and it’s good for your health.”
Hsrandtuss grunted, but started down the path toward the river. It was a hot, humid day. Insects filled the air—more and more so as he approached the water. He hadn’t even reached the edge of the trees before he spotted half a dozen feathered runners scavenging the refuse piles. His people were dumping their garbage too close to the settlement. The six velociraptors, as the humans called them, lifted their heads to watch him pass. They didn’t approach, but they didn’t flee either.
When he reached the river bend, he stopped. About a hundred lizzies were moving large stones into place. The dam, having been started on this side, about halfway spanned the riverbed. On the far side of the river, several channels detoured the water around the work area. He didn’t see any crocodiles. The hunters had killed one two days earlier and the others might have moved down river. Then again, maybe they were just hiding under the surface. The gigantic beasts were known for their swift and savage attacks, but not their intelligence.
Turning southwest, Hsrandtuss followed the bank upstream. As the forest grew a bit thicker, the patches of dappled sunlight grew less frequent. Here he stopped to examine some blackberry bushes, but they had been denuded of fruit.
He heard the rustling of brush behind him and turned, expecting to find more of the raptors, but it was instead four lizzie males. He didn’t recognize any of them.
“If it isn’t the great Hsrandtuss,” said one of the males, “out for a walk in the woods with no weapon.”
Without looking down, the king ran his hand along his belt. It wasn’t completely true that he was weaponless. After all, he had his knife. But he had gone and left his sword and spear at home. He rested his hand on the knife handle, but didn’t pull the blade from its sheath. One of the males moved to the left, while two others moved to the right, so that they quickly had him surrounded.
“I think it’s time somebody showed you that you’re not so tough. You can’t just move in wherever you want and take over the country. People have already claimed this land. It isn’t yours.”
Hsrandtuss hissed with annoyance. He hated when they wanted to talk. If he had his sword, he would have used the opportunity to attack, but since he didn’t, he had to wait for them to make the first move, and this warrior apparently thought he should give a speech first.
“I’m not sure I understand,” he said. “You have weapons, but it seems you’ve decided to bore me to death.”
“Die invader!” hissed the warrior to Hsrandtuss’s right, thrusting his spear at the king.
Hsrandtuss sidestepped and grabbed the spear with his right hand, jerking the now off-balance warrior forward. Spinning around, he unsheathed his knife and jabbed it into his attacker’s neck. The talkative male jumped toward them with his sword raised above his head. Hsrandtuss shoved the wounded lizzie, a fountain of blood now spraying from his carotid artery, into the other’s path. Then he launched the spear he had taken at the male originally on his left. It skewered him through the middle of the chest. The lizzie with the sword tried to swing, but only managed to hit his already bloody companion. As the poor wretch dropped to the ground, Hsrandtuss reached over him and stabbed the first warrior in the eye with his knife.
At that moment the king felt an impact on his back and a suddenly excruciating pain. He knew the fourth lizzie had hit him with a sword. Stabbing the first male again, he left his knife stuck in the warrior’s face and reaching up, took the hapless male’s sword. Swinging it around, he decapitated the male who had hit him in the back. Then spinning back around, he did the same to the warrior with the knife still stuck in his face. A quick look at the other two told him they were in no shape to fight, though still alive. He retrieved his knife from the severed head.
Sitting down on a log, he felt his back. There was a pretty deep slice, at least a foot long, which was bleeding freely. It was a recoverable wound, assuming he made it back home safely. The smell of blood would attract predators. After catching his breath, he stood up and stepped over to the warrior with the spear stuck through him.
“Where are you from?”
The warrior said nothing, just looked up with his yellow eyes.
“I can find out from your war paint, assuming the feathered runners leave enough of you for my people to find.”
“We are from Achocktah.”
“Did your chief send you?”
“No, it was Stohla.” He looked at the body of the talkative lizzie. “He wanted to be king. Killing you would have given him much suuwasuu.”
Kneeling down, Hsrandtuss rolled the warrior on his side. Then he used his knife to cut the bindings holding the spear point to the shaft. Once the stone tip had been removed, he rolled the male back over and pulled the spear out. The warrior cried out in pain.
“I don’t know if either of you will survive or not. I think your friend will bleed to death, but you might make it, if that spear didn’t hit anything too important. Maybe you can help each other. You can try to get back to Achocktah or you can go half a mile to Yessonarah. If you make it, my people will give you aid. Just don’t expect me to help you up the hill.”