Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

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Airborn Press

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 Sword Called Kitten Serial    EPISODE 4

Gordon A. Long


Published by

Airborn Press


Lord Skonric strode into the sitting room. "We have a problem."

Theobald turned away from the window where he had been watching the rain pour down on the garden. "What problem, Father?"

"I just got a message from Nadorst. The river is rising."

"It always rises when it rains like this. How fast?"

"Faster than the old people have ever seen."

Theobald nodded. "I believe the old people. The lower end of the village is going to be in danger. What should we do?"

"Someone has to go out and oversee the evacuation. Otherwise they'll just get in a muddle, run around in circles and save their own belongings and nothing else."

Albercas looked up from the dagger he was honing. "I'll go."

"No, I need you here for the Conclave in two day's time." His eye swung to Theobald. "Are you up to the task?"

"I guess I'll have to be, won't I? How soon should I leave?"

Bad question. Take command.

"I don't know. Figure it out for yourself, Theobald."

"Of course, Father. I'll leave immediately. There's still plenty of time to get out there and get things moving before dark. Do you have any specific tasks for me?"

"Just make sure there's no looting, and get any flour that's in the mill lifted to high ground."

"All right, Father. I'll do that."

With a flush of pride, Theobald strode out. He ordered his horse…

…and an escort.

Why do we need an escort?

Because it might be dangerous. Because you don't want to look weak. Because nobody of any station travels alone in this realm.

Right. Two men?

However many your father can spare.


In good time they were mounted, and started carefully out over the slick cobbles of the city street. Once out the city gate and on the road, they rode more quickly, skirting puddles and fording streams that had swollen to bursting. The rain had settled to a light drizzle, and they stayed warm in their rough woollen surcoats.

It wasn’t late, but the grey day made it seem like dusk was approaching as they neared the castle, safely up on a knoll looking over the river. The village below was not so lucky.

The hooves of their horses set up a splatter of water on the main street, and down at the low end Theobald could see only the dark swirl of current where the dock used to be. He turned to his retainers and sized them up.

Aelthed seems a steady type.

“Aelthed, go up to the castle and find a couple of wagons. If there aren't any there, go out to the Home Farm. Herelt, ride down to the mill and estimate the number of sacks of grain there. Meet Aelthed on his way down and make sure he has enough wagons.

"Yes my Lord."

The two rode off in different directions, and Theobald sat his horse a moment, thinking.

Doesn't seem to be any looting or running in circles, my Lord.

Not at the moment. Let's take a look around.

He kneed his horse over to a nearby house, and peered through a crack in the shutter. "Too dark in there to see anything."

He tapped on the door, but no one came.

“Maybe they've gone to higher ground already.”

That's the logical solution.

He dragged his horse's head around and started up the hill towards the castle. As they mounted the winding road, they began to overtake people carrying their belongings up the hill. He pulled alongside a woman pushing a heavily laden wheelbarrow up through the mud. "How are you doing, Goodrund?"

She glanced up, brushing a wet strand of hair from her cheek. "Oh, I'll make it, my Lord." She grinned. "T' river's not comin' up that fast."

"Is that all you have to move?"

"I left a buncha' stuff up under t' thatch. That'll be fine 'less the house washes away."

"I will leave you to it, then. If there are any spare hands around the castle, I'll send someone to help."

"That'd be nice, my Lord, but not to make a pother. Make sure all else is moved, too."

He clucked to his horse and they spattered away up the hill.

A cheerful sort.

Yes, she's one of the good ones.

There are bad ones?

In every demesne. Look at that. They’ve started already. He pointed to a townsman who was struggling to lug a heavy chair across the field. There was no place to get his horse across the stone fence, so Theobald dismounted and clambered over. His hand on the Sword’s hilt, he strode down the field, the gravity of his bearing somewhat affected by the slippery grass. Nonetheless, he tried.

“Ho, there, my man! Where are you going with that chair?”

The man, who looked to be a craftsman in his thirties, took his time, setting the chair down and stretching his shoulders. “I’m gonna take it somewheres dry, my Lord.”

“Somewhere dry, is it? And I don’t suppose the owner of that chair knows you’ve taken it.”

“Probably not, my Lord. He was busy savin’ his cloth and sewing tools.”

“And you took the chair when he wasn’t looking.”

“There wasn’t time, my Lord. In case you didn’t notice, the river’s still comin’ up. See that tree, down there? The water was just touchin’ the bottom at sunrise. Now it’s up to a man’s waist.”

“Don’t change the subject. I’m trying to decide what to do about you and this chair.”

The man looked puzzled. “Do, my Lord…? I don’t need no help…”

“That’s not what I meant. I’m entertaining the idea that you took that chair without the owner’s permission. Do you know what that means?”

“I guess I’ll have to tell him I got it safe. When I find somewheres dry to put it.”

“Oh. So now you were only taking it somewhere dry.”

“That’s right.” The man was looking even more puzzled. “My Lord.”

What if he’s telling the truth?

“What do you mean?”

If he’s a criminal, then arrest him, although I don’t know what you’re going to do with him. But what if you’re wrong, and he’s a public-spirited citizen, helping out? What if he’s the mayor’s brother?

Oh. But how can I tell if he’s lying? He looks shifty to me.

Put your hand on his shoulder.


Touch him for a moment. Do it!

All right, all right.

He reached out and laid a hand on the townsman’s shoulder, allowing the Sword to catch the emotions, which were easy to read. This man had a very open mind.

Ask the questions again.

“Who owns that chair?”

The man had flinched at the touch, but he stood firm under the lord’s stare. “It b'longs to Coen the tailor.”


But what if he’s stealing it?


“What are you going to do with it?”

“I dunno, my Lord, but Coen, he sets great store by t'is chair. Says it’s good for 'is sore back. He sits in't all day when he works. I’m gonna look for a dry place for it. Somebody said Hrostan’s barn on t'rise o'er yonder is empty. That's why I was cuttin' 'cross t' field, here.”

Truth again, my Lord.


Now what?

The Hand’s mind spun quickly. “In that case, you take the chair over to Hrostan’s barn, and you tell Hrostan I said to store everyone’s belongings. Keep the dry ones separate from the wet ones, and keep the wet cloth separate from everything else. I’m sure the women will know what to do with it. Have you got all that?”

“Yes, my Lord. I’ll get right over there. Thank you, my Lord.”

“Away you go then, my man.”

The man nodded deeply, not quite a bow, hoisted the chair again and trudged off. The Lord watched him go. “Well, Sword, we handled that well, didn’t we?”

I suppose we did.

“Now all we have to do is check to make sure he really did take the chair where he said. Drat! I don't know his name.”

I believe it’s Sudusen.

“How do you know that?”

I don’t often get actual words from people, but he had a very open mind, and the name is one of the first things you discover.

“Fine. We’ll just keep an eye on Master Sudusen.” The Lord slapped his muddy gloves against his leg. “Drat. Why do we have to waste time on such petty details, instead of getting this rescue organized.”

I suppose we really don’t have to, do we?

“What do you mean, Sword?”

If we trusted these people to be honest and pull together in a time of crisis, then we wouldn’t have to police them, would we?

“That is an exceptionally naive idea, Sword. The kind of thing I would expect from one so young. That is why you were Joined to me. To learn of the world.”

Yes, my Lord.

“Now, let’s just look around…say, over there. Doesn’t that woman look furtive?”

The Cat kept her thoughts to herself this time. She looks cold, wet and discouraged to me. But what do I know of the world?

When they reached the castle, the bailey was a complete shambles. Families, stock and wagonloads of household goods were jammed in every which way, to the point where people had to crawl across others' wagons to get anywhere.

Theobald reined his horse to a stop in disgust. Rising in his stirrups, he gazed over the melee until he spied the seneschal, vainly trying to get a woman to back her oxcart out of the main doorway to the hall.

It looks like a competition to see which can be the most stubborn.

He took a deep breath.

"NADORST!" The sound reverbrated through every mind in the castle. Instant silence fell, and Theobald found everyone staring at him.

Did you do that?

I thought you wanted him to hear you.

It seems he did. Him and everyone else.

I will work to refine my skill, my Lord. At the moment, I suggest you say something.

Theobald stared around.

Not quite so loud this time, please, Sword.

"What is going on here? We are not under attack. There is no reason for stock to be inside the bailey. I want all the animals out immediately. Yes, Hrethrid, I mean all of them. What do you mean they'll all mix together? What does it look like they're doing now? I assume you know your own stock. Nadorst, where is the nearest big paddock? The Home farm. Right.

"Every family who has stock here must provide one herder. Take all the stock to the north paddock on the Home farm, and take turns patrolling. Two outside and the rest can stay out of the rain.”

The little girl is worried about her lamb.

"Friedwynn, if that lamb is a bottle-feeder, you can keep it here.

"Now. Wagons. Let's back the wagons together against the west wall and take the draft animals over to the paddock as well. Haragund, Coen, and Coenfri, your wagons are light enough to move by hand. Get those donkeys outside with the kine.”

He continued giving orders from horseback, with his Sword feeding him information and bolstering his voice. Eventually there was a version of order in the yard, and he dismounted and handed his horse over to a groom.

The Seneschal, an older man in a tunic that contrived to look dusty and wet at the same time, finally caught up to him.

"Now, Nadorst. That's better. What are we doing about tonight?"

The man ran a hand through damp, tangled locks. "We'll have to feed them, I suppose."

"You suppose right. Has the kitchen been told?"

"I imagine they've got it figured, m'lord, but I'll go and talk to them, now that this lot is cleared away." He turned away, then back again. "That was very well done, my Lord. I don't know how you got them to listen so good."

Theobald smiled. "Military training, Nadorst. You have to be able to get men to pay attention."

"Yes, m'lord. You certainly did."

"Is the Home Farm all right?"

"I believe so, m'lord. It's well above river level."

"Any of our people in real trouble?"

"All accounted for, m'lord."

"Did Aelthed get a wagon?"

"Not here, m'lord, but there's a couple of hay wains at the farm."

"So it's just the townsfolk, then. Any reports of looting?"

"No, m'lord. I believe Sygwin sent most of the troops to help move everyone. That way they could keep an eye out as well."


"I assume he is still covering the regular patrols, but you'd have to ask him, m'lord."

"I most certainly will. Thank you, Nadorst. You seem to have everything under control."

"Thank you, m'lord. I'll go talk to Freide in the kitchen, now."

"You do that."

The level of emotion has dropped considerably since you came, my Lord. They are all reassured.

That's good, Sword. I'm glad to be of service. I wonder if I could snatch a moment to put on a dry cloak?

I think you deserve that.

So do I.

"My Lord! My Lord!"

Theobald turned to see the soldier striding towards him.

"Is there a problem, Sygwin?"

"I'm certain glad you're here, my Lord. Report from the sentry. A party of men just rode into sight. The north road."

"What kind of party?"

"Too far to tell, but could be armed knights, my Lord."

Two problems: the castle and the herd. We need to know if they split.

"Have the sentry in the north tower watch for them. See if they split up."

"Yes, my Lord."

"Get the main gate closed, but keep the postern open for stragglers. Where are your men?"

"Mostly here, my Lord. They were helping with the townsfolk, and…"

"Fine. Get a message to the Home Farm to beware. Have them prepare for a seige. Forget the stock. If they drive it off, we'll just go drive it back once this is all over. Any men outside the castle walls are to go to Home Farm."

"Yes, my Lord." The guard captain strode away.

We need a vantage point.

Without comment, Theobald strode to the stairs. From the battlements he looked out to the north. Nothing. He patrolled the whole circumference of the wall, checking the river, the town, the farms within view. The Home Farm was just visible at the edge of the woods, with a slowly squirming eddy of animals filling the north paddock.

They had just reached the north battlements again when a party of armed men rode out of the forest down the north road, headed with singleminded determination towards the castle.

Good. Better to deal with a single threat. Any idea who they are?

"Too far away. It’s getting dim."

Maybe I can help. She entered her Hand's mind, focused his eyesight.

"That's better. I can see the device. It's Maridon. I think…yes, it's da Tienna."

Who is…?

"Our nearest neighbor to the north."


"Keeps to himself, mainly. Don't know if he's antagonistic, biding his time, or just antisocial. He was ceded the demesne when the Inderjornian family had no heirs."

Legitimate, then.

"They were all killed in border raids. So we still don't know his intentions."

We're about to find out.

"That we are." The Hand strode along the battlements to the gatehouse. He stood in plain sight as the party rode towards them. He motioned the four archers in the gatehouse to stay back.

A knight in half-armour, four light lancers, four archers, and six armsmen with halbreds. Hardly seige potential.

But enough to take this castle if they caught us unawares.

True. But we aren't.

So do I invite him in?

It would be impolite not to.

Could be suicidal.

Why don't we leave it up to him?

What do you mean?

I mean that a reasonable man will recognize the situation, understand your problem, and solve it for you. If he doesn't, you are justified in assuming that his intentions are evil.

Well, let's hope he's reasonable.

The party rode very close to the gate and stopped. Lord da Tienna looked up. "Lord Skonric?"

"I am Theobald Skonric."

"Good day to you, Lord Theobald. Is all well?"

"As well as can be expected, considering, Lord da Tienna."

The other lord looked around, then up at the sky. "All your people are well?"

"Damp but not too unhappy."

"Good. I was told the river was rising, and I though to come and see how things were."

"That is kind of you. And your men."

The lord glanced back. "All I could spare, I'm afraid. One can't be too careful, these days."

"I must agree."

"Well, if you have no need of aid…"

Do we dare?

Too many men. Half, perhaps.

"Would my lord like to come in for a hot drink before he returns? I apologize that we have little room. All our people are inside."

"It would be appreciated." da Tienna looked around. "Perhaps my men can shelter in those trees."

Perfect. He understands.

"There are sheds around the back. I will send a groom to guide them."

"Thank you." The lord dismounted, and one of his men ran forward to take his horse and lance. Nadorst had been listening, because a lad came out and led the soldiers away. The Lord and two of his men entered the postern, and Theobald hurried down to meet them.

"Welcome to Skonricholm, my Lord. I regret we are not showing our best face today."

Da Tienna's dark face creased with humour. "Your people seem admirably calm, considering. I'm afraid mine would be running around like hens with a fox in the coop about now."

"It did take a bit of organizing, my Lord. This way, please." He motioned to Nadorst, and gave orders for food and drink to be sent to the men outside.

Sygwin is with the men on the walls. The soldiers are camped in the byre.

Thank you, Sword.

He turned to the Maridon lord. "Your men have been seen to. Please come inside."

They threaded their way through the mass of people in the main hall to the lord's inner chambers, and were soon seated, and flagons of hot mead appeared. There was a moment of silence as they all sipped.

"It is good of you to be concerned. We have not had the opportunity to meet before this"

Da Tienna smiled, but there was a twist to his lips. "I was unsure of my reception. I have spoken to your father at court, but he seems a man who plays his cards close. I took this as an opportunity…"

"It could have been taken amiss."

"I hope not. What would I do? Run off your stock?"

Theobald shrugged. "I'm sure you have seen that they are conveniently gathered."

"I did notice. I also noticed ten men armed with very sharp farming tools standing guard."

"They have their orders.”

"I observe that the 'Jornese peasants have their own idea about what following orders means."

"I assume they do, my Lord. I have never met the peasants of any other realm."

"Well, then I may help with your education? The peasants of Merida do what they are told to the letter, and take no liberties."

"Hmm. That must make it difficult for you here. Or difficult for your people."

The lord flicked his fingers. "We cope."

He drained his cup and rose. "I am keeping you from your duties, and I want to get home before full dark. I am pleased that you are in no need of our services, and also that my little visit has been received with such tact. I am not completely aware of 'Jornese customs, but in Maridon practice, you would be now expected to initiate the return visit. Please feel welcome to do so at your convenience."

He means it.

"I will do so, my Lord. The moment the weather allows."

Da Tienna turned to go, then turned back. "I must be honest, young man. The reason I offered my help was because I knew that your father was in Koningsholm and I was concerned of the effects of a lack of leadership in an emergency such as this. I did not expect to find such a self-possessed young man in charge. I'm sure your father is very proud of you."

There was a moment's silence as Theobald tried to think of something to say.

"…er…thank you for the kind words, my Lord."

Da Tienna grinned. "There. I have finally broken your aplomb. I feel better. Thank you again for your hospitality." He strode from the room, followed by his officers. Theobald escorted him to the postern gate where his men were waiting. There was no further speech. The two bowed briefly to each other, then the Maridons mounted, formed up, and rode away.

They need following.


"Yes, my Lord."


"Of course, my Lord." He pointed. Two homespun-clad men on horseback broke from the far side of the castle and entered the forest out of sight of the Maridons.

"Very good. Shall we patrol?"

"A good idea, my Lord. I had the horses saddled when I heard the warning."

As they rode away from the castle, Theobald glanced over at the guard captain.

"What did you think of them, Sygwin?"

The soldier pondered a moment. "Well armed. Seemed competent. Carried themselves with assurance. Of course all the Maridons do that."

"Anything else?"

The captain regarded Theobald out of the corner of his eye. "In what way, my Lord?"

"I don't really know, Sygwin. We're going to have to live with the Maridons, and these are our closest neighbors. I'm trying to understand who these people are, how they think, how they look at us. You just spent some time with a group of them, soldiers like yourself. Maybe you noticed something I wouldn't have."

"I see. Since you mention it…” He shrugged. “I got the impression they were soldiers like myself, my lord."

"Not a whole lot of difference?"

"Not really. If I disregard the accents, I'd say they acted like any group of soldiers who have been told to mind their manners."

Theobald grinned over at the captain. "Told to mind their manners, were they? Now, that's exactly the kind of answer I need. Thank you."

The soldier nodded his head in response, then his attention moved to scanning their surroundings.

Why do you seem surprised?

He's never said anything like that before. Rather taciturn, our Sygwin.

Maybe you never asked anything like that before.

That I didn't.

The Hand had a lot to think on, so the Sword was content to let him be, amusing hereself by trying to see what the land looked like from the point of view of the guard captian, whose mind was sensitive, alert, and very observant.

It occurred to her that if she was going to spend her life with humans, it wouldn't do her any harm to understand who they are, how they think, and how they look at each other.


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