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Guardians of Riverswams
Book Two of An Age of Heroes Saga
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-311-5
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Science Fiction
eBook Length: 207 Pages
Published: December 2005

From inside the flap

Book two of An Age of Heroes Saga

 When one of their own is murdered in Gulfport, the typically independent Mangarans unite to send a force against that port in a quest for justice. Confronted with no choice but to defend the port through which all their trade depends, the riverers unite when the only riverboat captain with any battle experience takes command for the "good of the river" even though it also means commissioning many apprentices still years away from readiness. Outnumbered in vessels and fighters, the riverers advance for an epic showdown. 

Guardians of Riverswams (Excerpt)

Chapter 1

"Head for the buzz reeds if you?re ever alone, unarmed, and need a safe place to hide," Hapian said as he led the way into the swamp. "When you reach ?em, remember to slow down so you can avoid the early shoots. Those are sharp. A vanda won?t follow you once you?re among ?em. They might be strong and fast, but they?re afraid of buzz reeds."

Cesia knew they were in the swamp to harvest buzz reeds to trade for other goods they could use. The mature reeds grew to twice an adultís height in clumps that often rubbed against each other when shook. Even a slight wind could easily set a clump to buzzing. As well, she knew about vandas. White as the frost that sometimes settled in the swamp, fast as lightning, and deadly, vandas hunted alone.

Hapian patted his daughterís soft blue hair for a moment. He couldn?t help but notice that her hair was as blue as her motherís once was. Certainly, Cesia hadn?t inherited her soft, wavy hair from him. His remained straight and coarse in texture with a greenness capable of blending in with the predominant swamp colors. "All right now, itís time to pull up your shathe."

Cesia reached down to the long skirt-like garment she wore. Grabbing the two free ends, she twisted those around her waist, behind her, and back to the front where she tied the two ends together. Though she carried a dagger, she drew her hammer for the work at hand.

Similarly armed, Hapian also carried a spear made from two buzz reeds. The metallic shaft came from a mature reed while the point consisted of a fresh shoot lashed into place. Should a vanda happen by, it would take notice of the weapon. Having done so, most vandas would avoid tangling with anyone carrying such a weapon. Some folks said that the scent alone from buzz reeds would scare off any vandas.

"Slowly now. We don?t want to step on any new shoots," Hapian said.

Cesia stepped slowly into the murky water so that her bare feet and legs gradually disappeared from sight. Her father walked slowly beside her. She glanced up to see that he was scanning all about. "Are we safe?"

"We should be. Can?t you hear ?em now?"

"Yes. They?re like camp music."

"Once you can hear them, you?re usually safe. A vanda would have to be deaf or concentrating solely on the chase to not hear those."

"Why are vandas afraid of buzz reeds?"

"I?m not sure. It could be that vandas fear ?em because buzz reeds never run away."

"I didn?t know buzz reeds could walk."

"They can?t," he said.

Cesia glanced at Hapian in confusion.

"Itís just a saying. You might want to watch carefully for any beebuls. They?re due to climb up this year," Hapian said.

"Beebuls? What are those?"

"You?ve seen a limid. These are very much like those, except these can fly because they have wings."

"Are they dangerous?"

"Not really. Besides, they rarely grow larger than your hand. Anyway, they?re quite good to eat, if you can catch one."

"I can see the buzz reeds!" Cesia exclaimed.

"You certainly do. Continue to walk slowly. The closer we approach, the more likely there are sharply-pointed shoots just out of sight in the water."

Cesia reached down with her free hand to feel along one thigh. "I think I can feel one beside me now."

"Just slowly slide your feet along in the mud. Don?t lift your feet if you can avoid doing so. Keep that in mind while we make our way over to that stand." He?d instructed her before, but it seemed worth repeating on her first harvest trip. He recalled his own father instructing him every time during his first harvest participation.

Cesia paused as the reeds suddenly swayed back and forth. Loud buzzing burst forth. Despite the noise, a small, red, lizard-like creature climbed up one of the reed stalks. As it did, wet wings opened and flapped briefly. Droplets flickered about and fell back to the water. Before they reached the same stand of reeds, the creature had reached the top of one particularly tall reed and stood while fanning its wings even more briskly than before.

"That looks like a limid, but itís red."

"Thatís a beebul. They?re easy to tell apart from limids. You won?t ever find any limids with wings. I was just a little older than you when I saw my first beebul."

Cesia nodded while continuing to move slowly through the mud and water. Her first day as a buzz reed harvester was turning out to be interesting and not nearly as difficult as she?d expected. Hapian had often left her with other children whose parents usually entered the swamps for much the same reason as he--to make a living. Trade with other communities provided them with goods that weren?t available locally. Certainly, they gained in ways they were unaware of. Now she was considered old enough to earn her share by performing productive work. She halted to stare upward at the beebul upon reaching the base of the clump of buzz reeds.

"Unless you think you can leap up high enough to catch him for dinner, you better get to work with your hammer."

Cesia turned to stare at her father. He was already removing his shirt to use as a sling for carrying the reeds they would harvest together. She then turned her eyes back to the reeds and scanned down to the water. As Hapian had earlier instructed her, there was a joint in the reed just above the water. "This one first?"

"Pick another one. We?ll let the beebul get his wings dry and fly away first before we take his reed."

She reached out and placed the hammer against a reed, drew back, and then swung. The reed shook causing the others beside it to resonate in similar tones of intense buzzing. "Itís loud," she shouted.

"Thatís because you didn?t hit it hard enough. Wait for it to settle some before you try again. You?ll have to get used to doing this just right. If you don?t, they won?t break free."

The vibrations slowed back to a less irritating buzz as the reed became a steady target once more. As before, Cesia moved the hammer next to the reed, drew back, and swung even harder. The difference was shocking. Cesia hadn?t expected the reed to make such a high-pitched ringing sound as it broke free, even though the nearest reeds it struck continued to make buzzing noises.

Hapian had been waiting for that sound. When he heard it, his hands reached out to snatch the reed before it could fall into the water. It wasn?t that he couldn?t recover it from the water. It was just that he preferred not to bend down or reach beneath the water where his hands might be pierced or stuck in the process. He?d actually been looking forward to the day when a child of his could handle the task of snapping the reeds free near the water while he caught and carried the load. "All right, that was good. Now work the reeds taking only those that were closest. We want the rest to remain close enough to rub each other so they can be heard. That makes it easier for us to find this spot again. It also keeps the vandas away."

Cesia waited for the tall reeds to settle down once more from their wild vibrations. There was no hurry, after all. Besides, as a worker, she?d be entitled to eat at the adult table in their camp. She?d held as much excitement about that prospect as for anything else about what she was learning, though there truly wasn?t much to learn about the job. She already knew it was difficult only because the reeds were dangerous to reach and heavy to carry out. However, the reeds were wanted by everyone, but only after the smelters finished with them to produce pure metals. The one Hapian carried as a spear was shorter than most of the reeds she was selecting. It wasn?t worth much for trade, but it was of considerable worth as a spear. She?d overheard him telling about how he once frightened a vanda away by striking his spear with his hammer so that it buzzed. She?d tried once to make it buzz, but all it did was ring slightly like a bell just like the reeds she was breaking off right above the water.

Soon, nearly ten long reeds burdened her father. "This is enough, Cesia. Now we must loop these together so I can walk out of the swamp without them tangling with everything."

Cesia pulled free two loops of leather from her fatherís sleeve. Those were meant to tie the bundle together tightly at each end. Sweat dripped from her father, as he stood slightly bowed in the murky water. The reeds vibrated noisily at the other end as she placed one loop around the base and pulled it as tight as she could. When Hapian nodded his approval, she slid in a hurried manner to the other end. Once there, she placed the second loop around the pointed ends of the reeds. The noise suddenly subsided with a high-pitched ending as she pulled the loop tight. "We?re not going to have any noise protecting us?"

"We?ll have to depend upon ourselves. Anyway, truth is itís not so much the noise as the lightning the reeds attract that scares the vandas away. Another month and the storms will wipe out what we haven?t taken."

Cesia nodded. Since she could walk, she and Hapian had depended upon themselves. As soon as she could talk, he?d taught her the importance of knowing how to handle a dagger whenever it wasn?t reasonable to run or hide. She knew not to throw her dagger. Rocks were for throwing, when available. Daggers were for stabbing and slashing.

The shathe she wore contained hide strips she?d taken from some of her own kills. Not every kill was suitable to wear or eat. Regardless, Cesia knew that there was usually no running from a predator, not when most could easily outrun her. Instead, she had used her small size to advantage to duck under and stab upwards at any predators foolish enough to leap at her. Later, Hapian had taught her how to tan and sew the usable strips. Eventually, the shathe would represent her abilities and accomplishments. Her skill would either attract or repel any suitors willing to exchange daggers.

Of course, she?d be examining their own wear. Obviously, she wouldn?t want someone capable only of hunting waddlers or chirpers. Those might provide good food, but anyone could hunt those. A truly skilled hunter could hunt predators and not just defend himself, though Cesia didn?t yet go out to hunt any predators on her own. After all, she was just fifteen or three hands old according to the swampers? way of counting. She had, however, killed two that entered the camp while she was on guard. By the time she killed the second predator, she was skilled enough at cooking that she gutted the beast almost immediately after selecting and cutting away a recognizable hide strip to add to her shathe later. Swampers considered it important that each strip be identifiable.

"Cover my back," Hapian said.

"I?m ready. Go ahead." Cesia held her dagger in one hand and her hammer in the other.

Hapian led the way out of the swamp. Because of the buzz reeds he carried, he moved sideways with his attention on the leading end of his bundle and his spear gripped tightly in both hands. He relied upon Cesia to guard his back, as there was no way possible for him to turn quickly enough to meet any threats. Before, he?d relied upon someone else with whom he then had to share the meager profits. Now that Cesia was old enough to venture forth into the swamp with him, the profits would all remain in the family.

They slowly stepped through the water using a shuffling motion so they could avoid any new buzz reed shoots. After all, there were bound to be plenty if only because Hapianís earlier harvesting efforts had released millions of spores into the water around other lopped off clumps of what were once tall buzz reeds. Then the howl carried across the water toward them.