I was driving along one day, and I was thinking about what it would be like if an animal played dead, allowing itself to be consumed whole by a larger animal, such as a snake, and then came out of its hibernation to fight its prey from the inside. This led to me having an idea for a young girl who learned of this type of animal from her instructor in biology, and suggests a similar tactic to her King to win an impossible war. So, when I got home, I started writing. I never even got to the part I wanted to write about because the story literally flew out of me. I went to bed before I was done, and unfortunately, the same inspiration hasn’t struck again.
I believe Brandon Sanderson said that writing is about discipline– not about those moments where the stars align and a story flows out of your fingers. Well, I’m not there yet. I’m still working on seizing those moments where the stories jump out of my mind. Maybe once I have that down, I can work on writing even when I don’t feel inspired.
So, this story was way more fun to write than it is to read. In my head, I imagined a character in a second and immediately knew his or her background and future. So for me, writing this was incredibly exciting. My heart pounded and my eyes well up with tears… because the characters are already real to me.
For the reader who can not read my mind, this fragment of a story may not be as fun to read. Hopefully, I’ll get around to writing the rest of this story. I only wish I could extend those times where I feel inspired– and not have pesky things like sleep deprivation standing in my way.
I’m thinking of trying out Scrivener and Scapple to write this story… or maybe my dragon story. I’m not sure if my writing style is that structured, so we’ll see how it goes.
A New Battle Tactic
by Amanda Carr
Characters (because if you’re reading this, you’re being thrown into the middle of a story):
- Ja’Anya: A Ja ward, under the care of Kine. Strong, intelligent, athletic and naieve, studied under Trident Azray for at least one season of every year. Scholar to Kine, a position which is part servant, part counselor.
- Kine: Sea Commander, next in line for Sea Lord. Honorable man who values discipline, strength, and intelligence.
- Dexel: Struck with admiration for Ja’Anya, does not care about her Ja heritage. Nephew of Tan-Low, chef on Tan-Low’s ship.
- Tan-Low: Second Sea Commander only to Kine, Always fights with Kine
- Ranger One: Head of the Rangers, About to turn 25
- Ranger Bans: The scout who witnessed the Ja’King kill the Sea Lord Perran and Sea Captain Faithe
- Sea Captain Faithe: Kind of cocky, one of Tan-Low’s captains, eaten by the Ja’Huskun
- Trident Azray; A monk who has a ball and board that he balances on and does acrobatics on, godless, seeks divinity in nature, Primary care giver for Ja’Anya, taught her many things in the study of biology and other physical sciences.
Every man at the table stared at the soldier, a low ranking ground scout, who shook as he delivered his report. He declined the seat offered to him and drained the warm ale Ja’Anya poured for him before he began his tale.
“My orders were to assist Sea Captain Faithe in an effort to infiltrate the Ja’Huskun war camps and find what fate Sea Lord Perran suffered. Sea Captain Faithe did not make it past the forest’s cover before he was taken by a single Ja’Huskun patrol. I did not abandon the mission, but infiltrated the camp, despite my commanding officer’s capture. Sea Captain Faithe was beaten and dragged into the Ja’Huskun encampment, where he revealed his mission to the Ja’Huskun whisperers and that he was accompanied by one other scout. The Ja’King took the Sea Captain’s confession and ordered that the lone scout was to witness to the fate of Sea Lord Perran and Sea Captain Faithe and return to Sea unmolested with a message to the Seamen: Any seaman found on solid ground would pay for his trespass in the same manner as the Sea Lord.”
The ground scout shook harder, but his voice sounded calm and clear as he continued, “Three hours passed, and the Ja’King brought out Sea Lord Perran. A gash crossed Sea Lord Perran’s face, and his left arm ended in a grotesque stump at the elbow. Sea Captain Faithe was brought out beside the Sea Lord. The Ja’King held a small golden knife to Sea Lord Perran’s ear and sliced off the lobe. Holding the flesh against the knife, he raised it high before dropping it into his open mouth. He chewed for a moment, and then repeated the act against Sea Captain Faithe. Then, the Ja’King passed his golden knife to his wife, who sliced off the cheeks of both Seamen and consumed them in a similar fashion. The knife was passed around, and the two Seamen were eaten alive by the Ja’Huskun. I… I watched until Sea Lord Perran died of his many wounds, which took much longer than it took for Sea Captain Faithe to pass. Then, I left the camp in the same manner I had come, and if any Ja’Huskun suspected me, the orders of the Ja’King were followed and I was permitted to pass without interruption.”
His report delivered, the ground scout lunged at Ja’Anya. Ja’Anya screamed and dropped the ale as she threw herself away from the scout. The scout caught the ale and drained the entire flask in single, smooth movement.
Ja’Anya’s flight ended in the arms of Sea Commander Kine. “Still waters, child.” His cold grey eyes froze her in place, and she felt the fear drain in an instant.
“Yes, Sea Commander Kine. Still waters.” Ja’Anya said.
“Go straight to Trident Azray. You are to remain with him until I join you. You will not leave his company for any reason, not even by my own messenger’s command, except that I accompany you in his stead. Is that understood?” Sea Commander Kine said.
Ja’Anya nodded her head, and she strode away as if she were the Sea Lord now. Trident Azray was one of many seamen who would not touch foot on solid land if he could help it. Ja’Anya knew he would be on the stern of Sea Commander Kine’s ship, Thirteen Winds, longing to return to the open sea. Ja’Anya walked up to a small craft with three sets of oars and began pushing it into the water. A group of rowermen had found some spirits and were trying to bring themselves to order in the presence of a Sea Commander’s scholar.
Ja’Anya did not want to row all the way to the Thirteen Winds on her own. She was strong enough to do it, but it would leave her exhausted and sore for days. She didn’t want drunken rowermen for company, either. Sea Commander Kine’s instructions had carried more than just an order… Ja’Anya was a Ja ward, traded to the Sea Lord as part of a treaty that ended the last war nearly twenty years ago. It was well known that Ja’Anya was one of the Ja’King’s many daughters, and though she had never met the Ja’King, none of the Seamen ever let her forget her heritage. Once the word spread that the Ja’King had cannibalized the Sea Lord, plenty of the Sea Commanders would want to exact revenge on the many Ja wards, especially the only ward that was so close at hand.
Ja’Anya spotted a group of galleymen gathering crabs from the tide pools and shouted, “Ho! I need two hands!” The men glanced at her and returned to their task. Ja’Anya felt her face flush red and suppressed the urge to row the craft without the aid of drunk rowermen or the self-important galleymen. Instead she shouted, “A full skin of wine for the first two men to assist me.” The drunken rowermen perked up and asked if it was a full skin each or to share. She heaved the small boat into the surf and jumped in as the surf pulled her craft away from the beach. “Each!” she shouted as she pulled on the oars. One of the rowermen, who had found the promise of more spirits motivating, regardless of whether it was a full skin or a half skin, splashed into the surf a full ten strides ahead of his mates. One of the galleymen tossed his pitiful bounty onto the shore and jumped off a rock into the surf. Ja’Anya rowed, using slow, strong strokes, and did not stop for the men who swam toward her. The unsuccessful fisher reached her first and nimbly climbed inside the rowboat without disrupting Ja’Anya’s stroke. “Behind me,” she ordered the man. The intoxicated rowerman bobbed in front of the rowboat and cried that he couldn’t get in if she was rowing away. The fisherman found his oars and Ja’Anya’s craft left the drunken rowermen to swim back to the shore.
The galleyman barked a laugh, “I’ll be expecting two full flasks still, Scholar, maybe three if you make me row back alone.”
“If you manage the rest of this journey without another word, I’ll trade your two flasks of wine for a cask.” Ja’Anya said. The galleyman, probably the illegitimate son of some Sea Commander, did not respond, and Ja’Anya ignored the torrent of concerns in her mind. She focused on each stroke. Push with your legs. Power through with your back. Pull with your arms. Strength of the tenth wind. Legs. Back. Arms. Sea Commander Kine had taught her to row, and she always heard those words in his calm, patient voice. She envisioned herself with the strength of ten men and the control of a Trident. The land in front of her drew away and as darkness fell, she was consumed with her focus.
The galleyman clicked his tongue twice. The sound startled Ja’Anya who had forgotten him entirely. Ja’Anya stopped rowing and shouted to the deckhands on Thirteen Winds. “Ho! Scholar Ja’Anya and hand.” A rope lattice was lowered, and Ja’Anya scrambled up, leaving the galleyman to secure the rowboat. Before the deckhands could react, Ja’Anya ordered a cask of wine to be delivered to the man on the craft. Ja’Anya strode away to the stern of the ship.
A heavy hand tugged at her elbow. Ja’Anya spun around. “You dare?” The galleyman was gesturing wildly.
“Tides take you man! What do you want? You may speak and keep your cask!”
“I have never seen a scholar row with such grace and strength on the seas. I find myself struck…” the galleyman trailed off and shuffled around like a rat climbed up his sleeve, “Well, if you require any additional errands, I’m Dexel in service to Sea Commander Tan-Low. He’s my uncle, I mean.”
“Ja’Anya. Ward and Chief scholar to Sea Commander Kine.” Ja’Anya wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say. No one outside of Sea Commander Kine’s personal command had ever treated her this way. Half the people she encountered treated her as a slave and the other half treated her as if she were merely an extension of Sea Commander Kine. This man seemed to be inviting her to ask for him again.
Dexel opened his right hand, palm upward, in a show of respect. Ja’Anya met his eyes and whispered, “You are a strange one, Nephew of Sea Commander Tan-Low. Good evening.” Ja’Anya turned and sought Trident Azray.
Trident Azray was in his customary place on the rear deck of the ship. He balanced on one foot on a long skinny board set atop a perfectly round stone. The ship was stable in the water, but Ja’Anya had seen Trident Azray perform this feat just as effortlessly in storm swells.
“Kine sends word, does he?” Azray asked.
Ja’Anya nodded and added, “I believe he sent me here for protection, though he did not say so.”
“Ah. Then our poor Sea Lord Perran has perished at the hands of the Ja’King, and our Sea Commander fears for his little Ja ward,” said Azray.
Ja’Anya told Azray all that she heard, and when she got to the part about Dexel, she found herself grinning. Azray admonished her, “Any man would admire a woman who gives him a full cask of the Sea Commander’s best wine. Your infatuation is misplaced, little wave.”
Ja’Anya’s smile melted from her face, and she brought up the neutral expression she had so carefully practiced since she was a little girl. Azray nodded to her, “Still waters. You have learned well. I’ve seen Sea Queens unable to control the fires in their heart, and you do so with such ease.”
Ja’Anya let the impact of what she had learned work its way through her mind. “Trident Azray, will Sea Commander Kine face any opposition before he is named Sea Lord? We have only the word of a single scout, and that word is successful only because of a thin miracle and it is a gruesome, in-human story.”
Trident Azray shrugged. “Join me. It’s a good day for meditation.” Azray motioned toward a round stone with a noticeably flatter edge. Ja’Anya pushed it beside the Trident, and placed a board on the top of it. She stepped one foot onto one side of the board and the other foot to the end that stuck up in the air. She adjusted her balance until the board leveled out on top of the rounded stone. She shuffled her feet carefully and wheeled her arms in the air to keep her balance as she brought her feet closer to the center of the board. The very slight motion of the ship made her tip one way and then the other. She bent her knees and struggled to keep her balance and did her best to ignore Trident Azray as he danced circles around her on his ball and board. His bright yellow robes whipped in the wind and Ja’Anya held the color in her mind to keep from remembering the color of Dexel’s eyes.
Sea Commander Kine watched as Ja’Anya strode away. She could be headstrong and deceptive, but he was certain that she would obey him this time. He considered sending an escort for her, but that would raise suspicions. Ja’Anya went where she pleased without an escort, even to the deckhands’ berth, and placing her under escort now would only start a wave of rumors.
Sea Commander Kine looked at each man in front of him and noted which of those met his gaze and which found some interesting facet of the table, their boots, or their fingernails. The gathered Sea Captains stood around the room while the Sea Commanders they served stood or were seated around the table. The head of the table was empty… where Sea Lord Perran should be. The Ground Commanders met his gaze, as did the Ground Captains. Kine found himself surprised at their show of confidence. The Groundmen of twenty years ago were the laughing stock of the Sea Lord’s forces, but that force was gone and they were replaced with an exceptionally disciplined army of skilled soldiers. Kine looked at the soldiers for familiar faces and realized that not one of the Groundmen was old enough to have been part of that war. Kine addressed the Ground Commander, “Your name, Ground Commander?”
The youth answered in a quiet voice, “I am Ranger One.”
Kine continued, “Very well, Ground Commander Ranger One.”
The youth interrupted in a booming voice. “Ranger One. Just Ranger One. My men are not ground men. We are rangers, Sea Commander Kine.”
“I see,” said Kine, “It is obvious that the Groundmen of my prime are gone. Ranger One, please give me an estimate of your scout’s report.”
“What would you like me to estimate, Sea Commander Kine?”
“By the black tide! I want to know how reliable the report is,” snapped Kine.
The youth stood taller and puffed out his chest and his hand went to his sword hilt. “I estimate with utmost certainty that Ranger Bans gave a reliable and accurate report.”
Kine was not expecting to hear anything to the contrary, but he felt like there were too many headstrong men in the room to get to the point too quickly. “Sea Commanders, I suggest we relieve our Sea Captains for the evening while we discuss today’s events,” said Sea Commander Kine.
Sea Commander Tan-Low pulled his gaze away from the table and shouted, “My men will not go anywhere until we have the truth of the matter!” The other Sea Commanders began shouting over each other and the Sea Captains joined the argument. Most of Kine’s own Sea Captains were defending him. Besides a handful of his own Sea Captains, only Ranger One and his men kept their composure. Kine nodded to Ranger One, and then he picked up a discarded Warhammer and used both hands to swing it over his head and down onto the table. The wood of the table exploded under the hammer. Splinters of wood flew into the crowd of shouting men and the table crashed to the floor in three pieces.
The room was silent, except for Sea Commander Tan-Low. “Sea Commanders, it is obvious that Sea Commander Kine is under an exceptional level of stress, and I move to relieve him of duty until his presence of mind returns. All those in favor, show respect,” said Sea Commander Tan-Low as he held his right hand out, palm up. His Sea Captains followed immediately, even though they had no voice at this meeting. Four of the other Sea Commanders raised their right palms in a show of respect.
Without skipping a breath, Sea Commander Tan-Low stated, “Five of Thirteen in favor of relieving Sea Commander Kine. The motion is overturned. Please proceed, Sea Commander Kine.”
Sea Commander Kine felt annoyed that Tan-Low appeared to give him permission to continue, but at least, his play had forced everyone to realize his authority in the meeting. Kine said, “Sea Commanders and Ranger One, find a seat. The Sea Captains and Rangers who were not party to the previous outburst may remain. All others are relieved for an evening meal and will return in one hour’s time. Sober.”
Sea Commander Kine waited for the men to leave. Only 5 Sea Captains remained, and all of them were his. Ranger One had more men than he did though. Kine admired the Rangers’ discipline. Sea Commander Kine met the eyes of every man at the table. When he reached Tan-Low, he had to wait for the other Sea Commanders to begin clearing their throats before Tan-Low would meet his gaze. Then, Sea Commander Kine walked to the head of the table and said, “Based on the reliable report of Ranger Bans, vouchsafed by Ranger One, Sea Lord Perran has been taken in battle and slain while imprisoned by the Ja. Additionally, the Ja’King and his royal company cannibalized Sea Lord Perran and Sea Captain Faithe who served Sea Commander Tan-Low. As First Sea Commander, I succeed Sea Lord Perran. Gathered Sea Commanders, swear your sails to me, Sea Lord Kine. If any will not swear his sails, show respect and you will be given safe passage to the port of your choice and a new Sea Commander of my choosing will assume your title and assets.” Sea Lord Kine paused and looked at each man, daring him to abandon his post. Then, he continued, “Ranger One, I do not believe the Rangers have ever sworn their efforts to a Sea Lord. Will you do so now?”
Ranger One’s voice boomed, “No Sea Lord has ever asked a Ranger to swear his boots, but every Ranger has served the Sea Lord since his boots first touched land.” At this, the group of Rangers stomped their boots in a short cadence and shouted, “Rangers Serve. On Land. On Sea. In Life. In Death.”
Sea Lord Kine was amused when the gathered Sea Commanders jumped at the Rangers’ cadence. “Still waters,” he thought to himself and addressed the group, “Sea Commanders, you serve me by default. Until such a time that we are at peace and a choosing can take place, I am Sea Lord. Ranger One is my second. If an ill tide befalls me, Ranger One will succeed me as Sea Lord.”
Kine expected the Sea Commanders to protest and had a sound reasoning already prepared, but no one, not even Sea Commander Tan-Low, who should have been second complained. Kine doubted that the Sea Commanders agreed because a war with the Ja would be fought on land, where the Rangers were best prepared to succeed. Kine was certain that Tan-Low and his group of supporters would begin scheming against him the moment they were free of the meeting.
Sea Lord Kine gave his first order, “Twenty years ago, we outnumbered the Ja and won the war. We took hundreds of their children as wards to keep the peace. The Ja turned their backs on the wards and sent assassins to slay those wards who were old enough to give us information about the Ja culture. We ignored these acts of aggression, certain that the Ja would not court another crushing defeat. Well, my comrades, they were very busy in the 20 years since. Every Ja child born has been trained as a soldier, and they outnumber us 3 to 1. They have wiped out three of our provinces and slaughtered every man, woman, and child in those provinces. They built small, fast ships that harry our fleets. If we are going to win this war, we need a solid strategy. By morning, every Sea Commander will have a solid plan of how they could win this war before the storm season. Assume that all of our forces are at your command, and be prepared to present your plan at dawn. Get some rest. Tomorrow will be a long day.”
As the Sea Commanders filed out, Ranger One approached Sea Lord Kine. “Will you meet with me?” Ranger One asked. He moved his fingers in subtle movements that appeared to be fidgeting, but Kine noticed that his men watched his fingers and then turned and left as if they had just been given an order.
“As my second, it is expected that we will work closely together, but I’d like to give the appearance that our alliance is distant,” Kine responded.
“With your permission, I will board the Thirteen Winds in two hours without being detected,” said Ranger One.
Kine said, “Excellent. I’ll tell my deckhands to expect you.”
Ranger One smiled, “If you wish, but they will not see me. It may help give rumor to our uneasy alliance, if they feel I disrespected you by not showing.”
Kine nodded and realized that he still underestimated Ranger One. Kine said in a loud voice for all to hear, “Join me on the Thirteen Winds two hours before dawn.” By then, Ranger One would be gone before anyone thought to look for him.
On the deck of Thirteen Winds, Sea Lord Kine addressed his 25 Sea Captains and a number of hands. “From here on out, you will be the most disciplined, organized, and dedicated force in this war. I will never have cause to dismiss even a single deck-hand for lack of discipline. Understood?” Every man on deck stretched out his right palm in respect. Kine said, “Good. Double the watch. Odd-numbered corps rest tonight and assemble on shore an hour before dawn. Even-numbered corps take shifts.”
With that, Sea Lord Kine turned to Trident Azray and Ja’Anya. He said, “We will retire to my cabin. I seek your counsel, and I passed an intoxicated young man who was lauding the beauty and strength of Ja’Anya to the moon, the sea, and the fishes.” He raised an eyebrow and glared at Ja’Anya.
“I came straight here. I didn’t even wait for anyone to help me row. I shouted to a group of men that any who offered assistance would be rewarded in drink. He was the only one who was fast enough or sober enough to catch me as I rowed alone.” Ja’Anya said, and then she added, “Trident Azray assures me that any man would admire a woman who gives him fine wine to drink, and do you truly expect less of Sea Commander Tan-Low’s own nephew?” The words stung her heart. She knew that Dexel was nothing like Tan-Low, but she made the quip before her mind could assess the words for truth.
The trio made their way to the Commander’s cabin. A knock, three quick raps followed by two slow raps, interrupted their discussion. A galleyman brought them fish and seabean salad with lemon water to drink. As was Trident Azray’s preference, they ate in silence. As they finished eating, the same coded knock sounded on the door, and Ranger One entered.
Trident Azray said, “It would appear that our watch leaves something to be desired.”
Ranger One responded, “Not really. Your men are on high alert, and I am quite certain that there are only 467 men in the world who would be capable of sneaking past them, and every single one is loyal to Sea Lord Kine.”
Kine said, “Indeed. The Rangers are proving to be quite an elite group… capable of slinking around the Sea Lord’s ship without notice, communicating with fidgeting fingers, and infiltrating the Ja’King’s own camp unnoticed. I’ll learn the fidgeting speak. I believe it will be most useful.”
Ranger One responded, “It is of limited use. Please understand that my men have been using this method of communication since they were weaned. When I tap my thumb to my second finger, it means something different than if Ranger Two makes the same movement. It was improvised as much as it was designed, and even though I’m surprised that you noticed, there are a few things I would like to teach you. If something recently mentioned makes you uneasy, please rub your thumb behind your ear as if you are having difficulty wiping dirt off. This will be the sign to my men to find out more about any topic, person, or even a meal brought into a meeting. You can do this, even if you believe my men are not present. I have four pairs of eyes on you at all times, excepting of course in your private quarters.”
Kine rubbed his fingers behind his ear and found that it was quite dirty.
Ranger One responded, “Just like that. Excellent. It looks like a completely natural movement, but to my men, it’s as serious as a cry for help. The next thing I would like to teach you is to request that a person be spied upon. All you need to do is press the palm of your hand against one eye like you’re suffering from a lack of sleep. Then, if you are in a small group, count from the left to the right and rub the corresponding finger over your eye. Please show me what you would do if you want Ja’Anya followed.”
Kine was surprised, but he rubbed his palm against his eye, and then his second finger, according to Ja’Anya’s position in the room. He added a yawn for good measure.
“Very good,” said Ranger One. “We will add a couple more of these signs every day. Please refrain from practicing them anywhere but in this room. I don’t want my men to be overtaxed. We are only 467 and your force is over 400,000.”
“Very well,” said Kine. “For starters, I would like Sea Commander Tan-Low’s nephew, Dexel watched. He seems quite smitten with my ward. Also, I would like to know if Ja’Anya is safe in roaming the camps without an escort.”
Ranger One said, “She is not safe roaming the camps without an escort, but she always has two of my men nearby. In fact, a couple of my men are quite impressed with her ability to convince a kitchen boy to play at rower man for an evening. It would be safer, Ja’Anya, if you were to either stay aboard Thirteen Winds or stay in a confined area of the camp, but you can travel at your leisure in relative safety.”
Sea Lord Kine liked the idea of Ja’Anya staying on the ship, but he had come to rely on her as his scholar. “Ja’Anya will be in my presence if she is in the camp, and otherwise, she will be aboard Thirteen Winds. Now, Ranger One, tell me… what became of the Groundmen I knew twenty years ago?”
Ranger One nodded, “Dead, mostly. The Groundsmen were treated like fodder in the last war, and the many injured were not tended before the Sea Lord sailed away. Many wounds festered and many died. Many more died because they could not survive as Groundsmen with their new injuries. The Ja still hunt us to this day. Some died fighting over our few women. At one point, we were only 7 healthy Groundsmen. These 7 were picked for ranging missions and difficult feats that would benefit the group as a whole. Small boys were picked for missions that should have been too dangerous, but there was no one else. When one of the seven was injured or killed, another took his place. Always, there were 7 Rangers. The young boys made a competition of running, sneaking, swimming, fighting, and practiced often. We watched the Ja train and trained harder. We listened to the old stories of war and honor, and we aspired to greater glory. We imagined every scenario and developed strategies for them. We found abandoned Ja infants in the forest and we raised them when we could save them. We stole orphans from the Sea Lord’s provinces and raised them, too. For a long time, we wanted to be Ja. The Sea Lord used us poorly, but the Ja hunted us savagely… and then, the first Ranger Seven was caught. The Ja flayed him and then they ate him. We felt fear and terror for the perversion of the Ja people, and so we watched the Sea Lord and his people to see if they were any different.