They have simple minds and I’m not really lying. It could be the good life they all dream of sometimes. I gain three men that way and stop my recruiting. That’s it; we have our complement and are set. Now it’s up to the engineers, the Cydroids and the weather. We wait. Was it too easy? I feel serious discomfort in my mind but cannot locate the source. Maybe I’m nervous. Maybe I just want it all to be over.
End blog post #102
Start blog post #103
While I wait Tiki and the Concubine are involved in two more fights. They are a deadly pair. Twice in one day they are pitted against drooks and twice they defeat them and kill them, sharp and clean. With the many tricks I’ve taught and demonstrated plus their single-mindedness as fighters the two are simply unbeatable in any reasonably fair fight. The day will come when they will be tested in unfair fights, especially Tiki because she is small, pretty to watch and young. Money flows more freely where basest emotions of sexual lusts are stirred. I have warned them not to get over-confident and to expect the unexpected, always. Treachery is always around the corner. It’s the way of life here, basically.
This I teach all women fighters, no longer using their pidgin in my exhortations. I am the representative of the goddess now, and the voice of the crone from the other side: “One day, I sense, you will enter the arena expecting the usual one-on-one fight and you will be faced with double the number of men, two on one, four on two. You will not be permitted to protest and will have to fight for your lives. You will get hurt in those. If a team, one will likely be killed and the other have to finish the fight to stay alive. Think about that. Think about your state of mind when your partner receives the death blow. What will your instinctive reaction be? That is what will determine if you live or die, at that moment. You are all excellent fighters but you are not immortal or super women.
“Train for that one eventuality now. Train also for weapons switch. It will be done to you. Arena fighting, because of the many losses and the new phase of wars with Estáani, is entering a dark phase. They are angry that less women die at the hands of challengers than used to be the case. Ordinary challengers, the ones who did it just to show off for their friends; who made bets while under the influence of brew or chakr, are becoming rarer. Now you mostly fight condemned men or drooks and less money is flowing through the gambling houses. Investors are pulling out or going broke. This means desperation and treachery. Know your place, and your changing times. Adapt to them quickly, I warn you.
“Now I have this to add. When I arrived in Hyrete I was shown the legal array of weapons fighters needed to be familiar with and would be challenged by. Of those we have consistently ignored one set because it is, well, antiquated and ridiculous. So it was pulled out at my suggestions some years later as no one in their right mind would use it. Who remembers this particular set?”
The women look at one another, staring especially at the oldest in the training line-up. They all shrug negatively.
“It was a lance and buckler. A lance is like the staff, a kind of long spear only much more unwieldy, easily broken if a weight, such as a man’s body is thrown against it. Basically it can only stab a challenger. The buckler is a small round shield with a short spike sticking out of the center, with which, if you break your lance, and expect you will, you try to stab your opponent. Idiotic? Totally but I’m going to request this weapon be re-instated in our sets because I sense that very soon some drook from a distant town where they use this stupid weapon to kill women will demand to face one of us with it.
Yes, it is a man’s weapon. It is very effective against us because of our small size and light weight. It works against our speed. A clumsy weapon designed on Túat Har, another world, in another dimension and at another time, to be used by tall muscular fighting men called soldiers; also used by fighting men, usually slaves, called gladiators, who, as with us, fought to the death unless given mercy by the crowds. Later the combination lance and shield was used for one-on-one combat using heavy four-footed beasts called horses who could carry a man in a heavy saddle while both man and horse were covered in steel chain link armour. The lance rested on a stand when not in use.
“Tomorrow we begin training with lance and buckler if I can find enough of them. Back to your training please, women fighters of Hyrete!” I salute them to give them that extra edge of pride. I have thoroughly trained them in the art of the self-empowering mantra and I can see their lips moving as they repeat the old mantra against fear:
“I will not fear. Fear is the mind killer. I will face my fear. I will let it pass over me and through me. When it has gone, I will look and only I will be standing there.”*
Action processes, when engaged properly, tend to move in a reverse spiral, from slow to tight and fast as they approach the center. Our commitment to the escape is tightening up. The storms are all but certain now. Great winds are arising over the desert I am told via Tieka from the on-duty Cydroid in the kitchen. We can see the sands being sucked high into the atmosphere, dulling the sun’s light. Sand builds up in our washing and drinking troughs, on our benches and tables and even our straw we have to kick and stir before we can lay in it. The flagstones are covered with moving, snaking sand. On the horizon, what we can see of it, are great grey clouds with white thunderheads climbing high in the sky by late afternoon then receding in the night, only to return again the next day and climb higher each time. So we know the prevailing winds are weakening to be replaced by a type of sirocco rising from the desert, crossing the sea and dumping its wet, oppressive sand-filled humidity upon Elbre.
I do not envy those untrained and poorly equipped soldiers out there in their sandy dug-outs and eroding trenches attempting to defend Hyrete, the royal city; waiting for death to find them in the way of concussion bombardments or swallow them in quicksand in the sudden collapse of newly formed dunes or washed away to drown in the sand-filled waters of flash floods from rain storms sweeping the foothills to the north east.
I get word that a confusion plan has been worked out among the Cydroids. I really think they enjoy all this cloak and dagger stuff. They have ‘recruited’ two of the legitimate security personnel to escape as well, using these individuals as the fall guys in what should be seen as a security breach allowing an Estáan commando force to enter the keep and steal five carriers as well as taking some thirty five captives for slave labour and sex in their offensive. So that’s to be the official cover story. It should leave all of us in the clear. And that, I hope, takes care of the last detail.
We wait, not without some anxiety. The way I feel, you’d think I was one of those escaping. But these are my people, these young women my children. Long ago there was a change of energy towards me in the compound. I became the head mother, especially to the newly arrived trainees. I sought them out to encourage them and protected them from particularly vicious fighters to whom they were given. I had one fighter taken out and flogged to death for abusing a trainee. That example was needed at the time both to protect the young and to establish my authority in the cages. Serious infractions to our own ‘rules’ were reported to me and I administered the punishment in a totally fair way. It was done on the training ground. I’d ask for the perpetrator to be matched against me in training, then I’d let her have at me to see who was right and who walked away in pain.
Now I’m also the Teacher. That’s my personal beachhead on Malefactus. Over time, I’ve embellished our silent and sacred ‘cult’ to our goddess. The women’s prayers, always including their chosen name, have become more personal and specific. I’ve taught them that prayers are not begging for miracles, but for strength and patience. For understanding when nothing makes sense. For compassion towards one-another when one is afraid or hurt. For courage the day a killing orgy is announced and the cages are culled for the slaughter. I have given them something to look to, beyond their physical life and we have lived longer, had less suicides and many less executions. Also I’ve noticed the women respond better if I use my own language, not their pidgin, and they are learning to speak more fluently.
Now eighteen of my children are heading out into the unknown to attempt the building of some kind of normal life they have never experienced. They and their men hitching rides in the open on flimsy carriers are the seeds of a new culture, the hope of Malefactus. Much hinges on the success of this venture, and taken one part at a time, it is a simple plan. But put all those pieces together to happen simultaneously and you have a complex structure that can collapse on itself from the outset. I’ve never been one to overlook possibility of trouble. Life has not been so easy on me that I can afford to do that. But at this stage, what can I do but join in the women’s prayer and offer mine to our ‘goddess’ in hope?
* Bene Geseritt mantra against fear – Dune, by Frank Herbert
End blog post #103