The First Cavalry of the Cretaceous, Part Six: Snakes in the Grass

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Stone Wall Village

 

A massive, dragon-like head poked out of the forest's shadow-filled edge, nostrils open wide and sniffing deeply. Drawn by the scent of fresh blood and the clamor of conflict, it licked its six-inch long fangs in expectation. It was such a wonderful thing to let other creatures fight their battles, then move in to pick off the combatants when they were exhausted and weak from the struggle. Still, caution was always best. It watched the chaos unfolding on the fields with its hawk-like predator eyes for a long while, perplexed by the strange scene. Never had it witnessed carnage on a scale such as this, and, most amazingly, wrought by creatures so small and helpless looking! At last, it cocked its great head in puzzlement, then withdrew back into the forest's cool embrace, retreating for now to go find breakfast of a more comprehensible nature. It would return here later, of course. When whatever was happening out there had finished, there would be plenty of juicy carcasses left to feast on!

****

The initial engagement had been a success. The forces of the Mesa had accomplished much of what they had hoped for, catching the enemy off guard and putting a sizable dent in their numbers and morale. Now it was time to face the enemy forces holding their main camp on the far side of the wide fields and meadows stretching out below Stone Wall Village. They had a few minutes of peace before this more dangerous action began. Ni-T'o began to ruminate as he brought his Spanish warhorse, ebony Bella, in line behind Nate and his oddly-spotted Poppy, of a breed the Texan called an Appaloosa. Behind them the rest of their cavalry rode something that resembled a horse in most respects, the sturdy yet swift animal Nate had dubbed the 'mesa cayuse.' According to Nate, these proud creatures were proving themselves to be excellent warhorses. Their natural stubbornness made them brave and unshakable in battle while their cleverness helped them form a partnership with their riders.

Even so, Ni-T'o regretted having to take such magnificent animals from the wild and bend them to human will, making them fight human battles at risk to their own lives. Ni-T'o's people were taught that all living things have a spirit, and all those currently alive have ancestor spirits. He whispered a prayer to the spirit grandfathers and grandmothers attending these noble cayuse. "I apologize for the dangerous deeds your children are made to do this day and beg you to think our cause just. Please lend us your aid!" He thought for a moment, then added, "For your blessings in this we promise to protect your children from the lions, wolves, and terrible great beasts, thus ensuring your kind never vanishes from these lands, as had come to pass in our former time."

Ni-T'o felt a bit better after that. He was proud of what they had accomplished so quickly and felt privileged to lead such fine men and animals even if it was into a war they did not want, a war they had no choice but to fight to free their besieged brothers and sisters. He hoped they could win despite the numbers being stacked against them. If they did, it would be thanks to the swift and doughty mesa cayuse giving them an advantage over the enemy's foot soldiers. They would know the outcome soon enough.

The morning light cast long shadows across the vibrant green grass, patches of corn, and various other useful crops, which the Mesa forces took care not to tread upon if it could be helped. Once the rattlesnake warriors had realized what had happened to their less fortunate comrades, they had rousted quickly to form a long, angry line along the edge of their camp, muttering and gesturing menacingly with their weapons. The command tent was on a slight rise, and bustling activity could be seen within its open sides. An enemy warrior in full rattlesnake paint left the tent carrying a spear flying a white cloth. He made his way slowly across the field toward their line.

"What is he doing?" Ni-T'o asked.

"In my time the white flag means either surrender or parley. I am guessing the latter. Let's go talk to him."

Nate and his wife the Raven Priestess dismounted Poppy while Ni-T'o followed suit. The Raven Captain gave his lieutenants the order to stay put and remain vigilant, then took his customary place at his priestess's side.

Following Nate's lead, the four of them raised their hands in a sign of detente as they walked toward the man in the field.

****

T'cumu, who had accomplished his goal of capturing most of the enemy's small herd of horses, rode hard across the wide expanse of the fields toward the two forces facing each other. To his surprise, an enemy warrior bearing a white flag left his lines to walk across the open space separating them, then came to a stop in the middle. T'cumu was still around three hundred yards away, but slowed Okilinchi's swift gallop to a walk, taking a moment to study the situation before moving in any closer.

A group of four from his own side, people he knew very well indeed, left the mesa's line and began to walk toward the flag bearer. From the enemy side an opposing group of four now made their way to meet them—their leaders, T'cumu supposed. It was some kind of parley, of that he was sure. Part of him wanted to hurry over to join in, but he was confident in his friends' abilities. They would handle the situation. All eyes were on the meeting in the field. A wan smile came to the young brave's face. With a light press of his left knee into her side, he urged his sturdy mesa cayuse mare Okilinchi into a gentle trot, aiming in a wide circle around toward the back of the enemy encampment. It was best to go slowly as he knew too well that nothing drew the attention of the human eye more readily than quick movement. He would take advantage of the lull to do a little spying.

****

As Nate and his party drew near, the rattlesnake warrior stuck his spear into the ground, waved a signal, then stood glaring at the approaching enemy delegation with a frightful scowl, repaid in kind by the Raven Captain who could be heard growling, such was his hatred of the Rattlesnake warriors and priests. Nate's group paused a few yards from the flag and waited for the enemy contingent to arrive. As they drew nearer the Mesa leaders studied them carefully.

Striding along with a confident gait was a tall, imposing-looking white man wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a loose, ocher-dyed tunic in the style of the city folk. He had a full head of sandy hair and piercing blue eyes. By his demeanor it was plain that he was the one in command. To their amazement he had a live rattlesnake draped around his neck and was stroking its scaly head with one hand as if it were a kitten!

Beside him came a man who could only be another of de Soto's conquistadors, dressed in a style of armor much like their own Gonzalo's, a scabbarded sword swinging from his wide, gold-buckled leather belt. He wore a toothy grin on his long hatchet face. A trim black goatee gave him a devilish appearance, and the aura of malice he exuded verified that a devil he truly was.

Next there was a lanky, young black man with soulful eyes and close-cropped hair, wearing the faded remains of what had once been a prison uniform under a tan leather jacket of tribal design. His demeanor seemed hesitant, showing a man who would much rather be somewhere else.

And finally there came a Rattlesnake Priest in all his cult's regalia, smoldering with hatred from head to toe. Something about him seemed familiar, and they were all certain he had been one of those miscreants who had escaped the carnage wrought by the giant alligators. Nate saw Ni-T'o's usually serene expression darken at the sight of that one, a man who had been complicit in the cruel murder of his brother F'vni.

"I would gut that rattlesnake priest from head to tail," Ni-T'o muttered grimly.

"I reckon I'd like to do that myself, but he's all yours," Nate replied, his voice filled with contempt for the evil creature.

The enemy representatives joined their waiting warrior. They all stared at each other for a long, tense moment.

A bit unexpectedly, it was the Spaniard who spoke first, in heavily accented, but passable English.

"Greetings! We thank you for coming! We promise there shall be no hostilities while under the banner of truce!" he told them his voice a cheerful baritone dipped in poison. "May I introduce you to our esteemed leader, the Reverend Matthias Clay, Grand High Priest of the Reformed Rattlesnake Sect, and Prophet of the Antichrist, Lucifer, the Unholy Serpent Reborn! Welcome to Hell!" he finished with a somewhat insincere-looking bow toward the tall fellow who was wearing a confident smirk that Nate thought only a true agent of Satan could manage. This so-called high priest was about to say something when Nate, who they had all agreed should speak first for them, abruptly cut him off, causing a shadow to pass across the man's disarmingly handsome face.

"And who might you be, Spaniard?" Nate asked the conquistador in clear, sharp Spanish, a tongue he was nearly as fluent in as his own thanks to growing up in the Republic of Texas with its long, ill-defined border with Mexico.

"Ah, so you speak the language of my country, albeit with an odd accent!" the man answered using the same "It has been long since I have met a gentleman of culture. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Blas Cristobal de Carrasosa, formerly in the service of the late Hernando de Soto, may he have found his just rewards, currently serving as Field Marshal of the Infernal Army of the Unholy Serpent." Switching back to English he asked, "And now, may I humbly inquire, who are you?"

Nate stood tall, his voice icy cool and confident.

"I am Nathan Theseus Tucker, a son of the Republic of Texas, former US Army cavalry scout, now a Great Chief of the Mesa People, and a General of its First Cavalry. My associates are my fellow Great Chief, General Ni-T'o, a son of Stone Wall Village here, and the Raven Priestess, who I doubt needs any introducing, charitable in peace and implacable in war, who is also my wife, accompanied by her chief warrior, the Raven Captain. Together we represent the Allied Tribes, whom you have attacked without provocation!"


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About Garrett W. Vance

GWV

I grew up like a tumbleweed in the arid wilds of Eastern Washington State, riding horses and motorbikes through the sand and sage brush, enjoying great freedom from a very young age. I was always headed out on expeditions to see what lay beyond the next shady canyon or rolling hill, a curiosity which eventually led me to travel widely in Europe, Asia and Africa. When I wasn’t traveling, I went to college on and off, and worked a wide variety of odd jobs- delivery man, lab assistant, hotel bellhop, tour guide, Japanese translator, aquarium store manager, teacher; I learned a lot about the world, and a lot about people- some of whom I still actually like!

I have been fascinated by science fiction and fantasy my entire life. The first adult novel I read was Asimov’s I Robot. From there I went on to devour the works of the masters; Burroughs, Tolkien, Niven, Cherryh, Le Guin, Anderson, and countless more. Their visions opened my eyes to the wonders of the universe.

After living in Japan for three years, I returned to the University of Washington to finish my English degree. I give a lot of credit to the great teachers there, whose wisdom helped me become a professional author. The last ten years I have lived happily in Bangkok, Thailand, with my wonderful wife Mochi. I work from my computer, and enjoy hearing about how cold it is back in America! I love it here in The Kingdom, its a fun and fascinating country.

I am also a visual artist, and have served as the Art Director for the Grantville Gazette for the last seven years. I was briefly Art Director of Jim Baen’s Universe for its last three issues, as well as their cover artist for two exciting years, a childhood dream come true. Doing all of the art for every issue of the Gazette is a big challenge, but I enjoy it a lot. I often say that those who work here should get college credits, there is so much research involved! It’s been a very rewarding experience.

I have now finished my first novel, Second Chance Bird, published as a serial here in the Gazette. It was hard work, and I learned a lot from my many mistakes! I am now giving it a much needed revision to ready it for publication with Ring of Fire Press. Currently I am writing stories set in another part of the 1632 Assiti Shards Universe, the wild and wooly world of Time Spike. Someone recently compared my work to that of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and I just about jumped over the Moon! I will try hard to live up to such high praise! Please look for the continuing adventures of The Conquistador and the Cavalry Man in upcoming issues!

My two proudest achievements as a writer (so far!) are:

1. The publication of my novella Riders of the Three-Toed Horse in Jim Baen’s Universe, which enjoyed a great review from Lois Tilton of the Internet Review of Science Fiction, and was chosen for the Locus Magazine Recommended Reading List for 2009.

2. My story All God’s Children in the Burning East appearing in Ring of Fire III- my first print publication! It also received very positive reviews, and people are still asking for a sequel- yes, I AM working on that!

Thanks for reading folks, now I had better get back to work!

-Garrett W. Vance