Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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The Saga of 'Turim: Servant, Soldier

by Jay T. Bucka

Many seasons had passed since he last saw his homeland. He had been barely a man when he left to begin his adventures. And now here he was a very old man, dying on a battlefield far from his home still.

As his life's blood flowed into the unforgiving earth he remembered the day he left...

"TURIM!" his mother cried as he climbed on the cart that would take him and eight other hostages to the city of the conquerors.

He looked back, somehow holding back his own tears and waved to her. Like the rest of those chosen to serve the Varnin, he knew that his sacrifice guaranteed the safety of the rest of village. But it still hurt to leave.

At least he was not alone. 'Corla was there as well. Not only had she been his friend since infancy, he also fancied to make her his bride one day. And 'Dorlon, his major rival as they grew up, had also been chosen.

As the cart rumbled along, the hostages began to sing. It was a simple song, one sung by many of their mothers on moonless nights to ward off evil spirits, and its familiarity gave them some comfort as home grew more distant by the hour.

All at once they heard the crashing of steel. 'Turim looked over the side of the cart; the sight before them made his blood turn to ice.

The guards were being massacred by slavers.

If the slavers succeeded, the Varnin would blame the villagers and would slaughter those 'Turim and his companions had left behind for their defiance. The chosen would still be forced to work far from their homes, but their sacrifice would be for nothing!

Without a second thought, 'Turim vaulted over the side of the cart. He slid his small dagger into the ribs of the nearest attacker. The man went down but screamed like a woman. A moment later, all his fellow hostages joined the fight, even 'Corla, and they too attacked the slavers.

Within a few minutes the foul men lost heart and ran.

'Turim knelt and helped one of the guards to his feet.

The guard had one hand pressed against a long cut in his side. 'Corla managed to stitch up the wound with needle and thread she had brought in her small bundle of belongings from home. Then she did the same with the other survivors.

Four guards were dead, but the bodies of seven slavers lay scattered by the roadside as well. The man that 'Turim had helped was the Captain and he showed his gratitude by allowing them to keep their weapons, although they were forbidden to bring such things to the City.

Just as soon as they were able, the party continued on towards the City and an uncertain future...


Two days later the small party reached the gates of Cairon. The City was ancient. No one knew when it was first built. Even the current rulers didnít know.

What history was known went back around three thousand years, although the City had been there for much longer. Much history had been lost in the dark times that came before.

Over the centuries the many rulers had rebuilt it many times, sometimes building on top of older structures, sometimes reusing old stone, always expanding the City's boundaries until now it was a sprawling metropolis with a wall many times the height of a man. 'Turim and his friends were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. He didnít know that there were over seventy thousand people living there as well as ten thousand soldiers -- such numbers would have been beyond his comprehension. He only knew that it was the largest place he had ever seen in his short life.

Still, pride kept the villagers from showing their astonishment. 'Dorlon looked 'Turim in the eye and they had a silent agreement. Their rivalry was over; it was them against this strange new world.

It took three hours for them to finally get through the gate. When they reached the Palace grounds the young Captain turned them over a Page, who guided them to a large empty room.

"You savages will wait here until the Servitor comes to inspect you!" he snapped, and immediately turned and strode away, leaving them all alone.

"It smells funny here." 'Corla couldnít help commenting on what they had all discovered. They didnít know that it was the walls keeping the smells of sewage from dissipating in the wind. After that they all fell silent.

After a short time, they heard footsteps and a very fancily dressed man entered the large room. "I am Servitor Andu Ti Barin. You will address me as Servitor. In time you will all learn the proper titles of your betters. Once a sufficient time has passed, you should know them all. After that if you fail to show proper respect then you will be punished. You will also be taught all the rules and laws governing this Castle and these lands. If you break them you will be punished.

"However if you work hard and honor your duties, then you will find I can reward as much as I am willing to punish.

"The reason you are here is because your elders were wise enough to realize that to thwart our authority would lead to the destruction of your entire clan. But by working with us and giving us our proper tithe, they also prosper." He pointed to the Page, who had just returned. "This is Herion. He will show you to where you will be staying. After you have all been properly bathed and dressed, he will escort you back here. Then I will give you assignments."

Barin then turned and left the room. The hostages followed Herion through another tunnel and the frightening bath, which turned out to be rather like a number of large pots of hot water into which they were directed to climb, naked. 'Turim had to remind himself that they had come to the City to work -- not to be made into soup...

A couple of hours later, they were all back in the large hall. 'Turim hardly recognized himself in the clean tunic. And the smell of the soap still overwhelmed his senses. At least the stench of the sewage seems to have abated.

It wasnít long before the Servitor entered the room again. He walked along them and looked them each over thoroughly. As he inspected them, Herion stood stiffly waiting. If even one of them failed the Servitorís scrutiny then he would be punished. Of course none of them knew that or 'Dorlon might have twisted 'Turim's tunic to make him cry out. He always was a mischievous one.

Satisfied that they were all clean and properly dressed, the Servitor began. He pointed at them one at a time and asked their names. As they responded, he gave them their assignments.

'Corla, being the only girl, was assigned to the kitchens. The smaller boys, all five of them, were sent to the stables. 'Turim, 'Dorlon, and 'Matrim were all sent to the soldiersí barracks. There they would learn to become Pages. Little did the three youths know that they were the lucky ones. Even though they would spend the next few years serving the soldiers and the Servitor directly, they also had the opportunity to become soldiers. This meant they could earn their freedom faster than stable hands or kitchen workers. Someday they could even earn citizenship.

All they knew was that they were property of the conquerors. But even that could not break their pride. They were of the Clan of the Cougar, and none of them would bring shame upon their clan by showing weaknessÖ


The next two years passed quickly. The three boys were quick to learn their duties. The hard part was learning to read. But the Varnin required it of all their servants.

'Matrim seemed to have a knack for reading, not surprising really. His father was a learned man, the Shaman, after all, and he had watched his father study old scrolls and even inscribe messages to be sent to other villages. With his help, 'Turim and 'Dorlon got through it also.

Then there was tending to the armor and weapons of the soldiers...

The three Cougar Clan boys had no idea that they were actually learning. They just thought of their duties as chores. But when the teachers had decided they had learned to read and write properly, they were sent to learn the use of the weapons they had been caring for. Here 'Dorlon excelled at the sword and pike. As they mastered the nuances of these weapons, they were watched by the senior soldiers. Soon they became apprentices to older soldiers. Here they would learn tactics and leadership.

'Turim took to these lessons as a duck to water. He performed so well that he caught the eye of a particular young officer. In fact this officer had been watching him for a long time. It was Nerim, the young Captain who had brought him to this city and had witnessed his bravery in the fight against the slavers.

Captain Nerim decided to take 'Turim under his wing. 'Turim further blossomed under the tutelage of the young noble. For two more years he tended to his masterís needs. He came to respect Nerim, and even developed a love for him as for an older brother. When Nerim was reassigned to the border of Arken, 'Turim joined him. Arken was a wild area, and the Varnin kept a large contingent of soldiers there to ward off the bands of nomadic raiders that invaded regularly.

It was during one of those raids that Nerim was wounded. Although the medic saved his life, Nerimís time as a soldier was over. His right arm, his sword arm, was useless, and that made him a liability. 'Turim escorted him back to the city. But his apprenticeship was over.

When he arrived at the castle, he reported to Barin.

"Captain Nerim has said that you served him well, and have become a fine soldier," the Servitor said. He seemed to view 'Turim the soldier with far more respect than he had granted 'Turim the grubby village boy. "By your service in battle, you have earned your freedom. You can return to your village, if you choose -- but if you stay, Nerim believes that you will continue to rise in rank in service to the Varnin."

'Turim was torn. He missed his family and clan. But he also knew that if he stayed, he could earn 'Corlaís freedom. "I am grateful, Servitor," he said. "But I was not expecting this choice so soon and I am uncertain of what I should do."

Barin frowned. Obviously he thought that only a fool would go back to a mud-hole of a village when he could aspire to greater things. But he said, "Very well. You may have a few days to decide. Return to me when you have made your choice."

What to do?

'Turim found 'Dorlon and 'Matrim in the barracks of the City-guard.

"Ho, look! The mighty hero returns!" 'Dorlon joked.

As the three friends all hugged in greeting, 'Turim told the two young men about his adventures on the border. They listened in rapt attention as he described the barbaric tribes. There were folk-tales about the nomadic raiders told in the clans, but they hadnít been seen in many generations.

"Captain Nerim and I were with a patrol, investigating a recent raid when the ambush happened. They were everywhere at once. The only reason we won was because of our armor. At least six arrows bounced off my breastplate.

"It was at close quarters that one of those vermin slid his knife into the Captainís arm. We didnít realize just how bad the damage was until we got back to the fortress. When the doctor told Nerim that he could never use his arm again, it seemed to take something from him. I am supposed to go see him tonight. But how do I keep the pity out of my face?" He went silent. The other two did not know what to say. Then they heard her.

'Corla had come into the room just as he had started his tale. Like the others she had been riveted by the story. But now she got angry. "How could you not go to see him? He was there for you! It was he who sponsored you to accompany him to the border! If not for him, you would not have your freedom!"

Tears stung her eyes as the anger began to drain from her.

'Turim realized just how much his freedom meant to her.

"And now because of him you can go home!" 'Corla said, "Or stay if you choose... You owe it to him to keep strong in the face of his loss. He must be encouraged, not abandoned. It is the tradition of our people to help those like him to find a new purpose.

"Remember 'Dorlonís uncle? When he lost his leg to that boar? Did our elders abandon him? No, they had him teach the younger hunters how to do many things. It gave him a purpose. And he loves it.

"Will you be less than our parents? Or will you be true to our people?"

'Turim hung his head in shame. 'Corla was right of course. Bur instead of telling her so, he got down on his knees in supplication. It was an ancient rite of their people.

All three of them were stunned by this move. In the traditions of the Cougar Clan, the wisdom of women as healers, custodians of the crops, and bearers of children was valued above the simpler skills of hunting and war. 'Turim might have been simply bowing to her wisdom -- but that only called for one knee. By placing both knees on the floor, he was asking for her guidance in the future -- asking her to marry him.

After a moment of silence, she squatted down with him. She took his hands in hers and spoke the ancient rite. "Do you swear on your ancestors to heed my advice?"

He nodded.

"Do you swear to be truthful to me in all things?"

Again he nodded.

She gulped and continued. "Do you swear to be faithful and desire no other before me?" She nearly collapsed as he nodded once more.

And then he rose and brought her into his arms. As he kissed her, he knew that his decision had been made. He would stay in the service of the Varnin and earn freedom for as many of his clan as he was able. But she would be the first. He also knew that he would be able to face Nerim with pride. His brother, by heart, he would not let him downÖ


As 'Turim's betrothed, 'Corla had certain rights. She was able to accompany him to Nerimís family estate.

As it turned out, Nerim was related to the Varninís ruling family. Although not in line of succession, he was of a high ranking, noble line.

The estate was beautiful. The house was surrounded by a sprawling garden with a fountain in the center of the foremost section. 'Corla gasped at the glory of the gardens. When Nerim met them there, he noticed her awe. It made him smile.

"My great grandmother had that installed. She was originally from the coast and missed the sea. The statue in the middle is supposed to represent a sea-maiden. According to myth, they are known to help ship-wrecked sailors. I always loved this fountain and I am glad you like it." Nerim couldnít help but notice the two of them holding hands. "Is there something I should know about the two of you?"

Tradition took over right then and there. 'Turim spoke with reverence. "Captain Nerim, may I introduce you to my future wife, 'Corla." She bowed to Nerim, who returned the bow.

"Now that does put an interesting twist on things. But that will have to wait. Tell me 'Turim, do you plan to continue in Varninís service?"

'Turim nodded. "Good, thatís settled then. I have good news for you.

"It is known to my family, that if not for you, I would be dead. If you hadnít acted quickly and bound my wound, I might have bled out. And even though the medic couldnít make my sword arm whole, they are all grateful. Therefore I have the honor of telling you that I have officially adopted you as my brother. You are now a member of this family, with all its rights and privileges."

He took a breath and continued. "But I am afraid I must also inform you that, according to the law, a freeman of a noble house, can not be betrothed to a bonded servant." He saw the stricken look on their faces. Then he smiled mischievously as he continued. "I guess we are going to have to buy her out of bondage." And then almost lost all of his composure as 'Corla grabbed him in a hug and kissed his cheek.

When she had regained her composure, he continued, still smiling. "So now we must introduce you both to the rest of the household. My mother is especially interested in meeting you, 'Turim, and I know she will love your fiancťe as well."

Nerim had been correct. His mother, the Lady Celia, did love them both. 'Turim for saving her sonís life, and 'Corla for making 'Turim smile.

Technically, 'Turim was now a noble and appearances had to be kept. It took her a few moments to assess the situation of 'Corlaís servitude and come up with a suitable solution. The first thing was to buy her out of bondage. The next was to make 'Corla one of her maids. Although she would serve Lady Celia, it would be as a paid retainer rather than as property. As a freeman, employed by a noble house, 'Corla would be a proper candidate for marriage.

Lady Celia then began the process of arranging their wedding. As 'Turim's adoptive mother, she was honor bound to do so, although she would have happily done in any case. And also according to law, she set the date.

The young couple was slightly dismayed to learn that they had to wait two years. But it brought such a smile to Lady Celiaís face that they couldnít argue with her. The only thing they insisted on was that their true parents should be there. That would be easy to arrange. But in the meantime, 'Turim still had to fulfill his obligations as an officer in service to the Varnin.

He got his new assignment: return to the border and take command of a patrol. He used his new status to get 'Dorlon and 'Matrim transferred to his patrol as well. It would shorten the time till they could earn their freedom; service in combat was valued more highly than simple guard duty. He was in the City less than two weeks before they left for the border.

Silver Lieutenant 'Turim and his two apprentices arrived at their new posts and settled in quickly to their new duties. Many of the soldiers there knew and respected 'Turim for his past actions and the transition went smoothly. Their second day there they went on their first patrol.

Each patrol lasted about ten days. They were but four days out when they found the burnt out village.

The only survivor was a small boy. He had hidden in a field while his entire village had been massacred and the buildings set ablaze.

'Turim had a young page take the boy back to the fortress while the rest of the patrol pursued the raiders. It took only two days to locate them. The memory of the village was fresh in all the soldiersí minds, but 'Turim had some good teachers. He kept his men from rushing the camp in a mad rage. Instead he used his lessons and had his men surround the camp. Once he was sure all the men were in place, he gave the signal. To their credit the men obeyed his orders and didnít kill unless necessary.

Only four of the raiders died. They took the rest prisoner.

As they came through the gates of the fortress, they were cheered by the other soldiers on duty. When he reported to the fortress commander, Knight Major Tarson, he was commended on his tactics. By law these prisoners were now his property. They had lost their freedom by their own actions. He could kill them or sell them into slavery as he chose. He had some decisions to makeÖ

He joined his men in their quarters. As was the law, a junior officer and his men stayed together. It helped to build a strong bond between them. Therefore they were not afraid to give their opinions. It was like a clan, the way they worked through problems. Because of this, he decided to ask their minds about the prisoners. He got many differing opinions from them, but most of his men wanted him to execute the murdering bastards.

Imagining the people of his own village slaughtered, 'Turim was inclined to agree, but decided to defer the decision until the morning. But first he went to see the boy who had survived.

The major had given the boy over to the fortressí midwife to care for. He couldnít have been more than six summers old. 'Turim wasnít sure what to do about the boy either, but felt somehow responsible for his care. The child lay trembling in his sleep, his limbs tangled in the thin blanket. To have survived such a horror, to have seen such things...

Thus 'Turim went to bed with two questions instead of one. But when he woke the next morning, he knew what he would doÖ

The following morning he reported to the Major. "Sir, I think I have a solution to the prisoners. Of course I would appreciate your advice, as well. But before you say anything, Iíd like you to hear me out."

The major nodded his assent.

'Turim continued, "Those vermin destroyed that village and orphaned that young boy. My men showed their loyalty to me and their own professionalism by obeying my orders not to kill unless necessary. So I believe they should be recognized for that.

"Therefore, I will execute the leader of the raiders for them. The rest shall be sold as bond servants. Some of that money will go to the care and upbringing of the orphaned boy. The midwife has said she would be happy to care for him, and the men have all expressed an interest in his welfare. I would also like some of the money to go toward improving the armor of my men. The rest I should use to buy out the bonds of as many of my Clan as is possible. These raiders are ancient enemies of my Clan as well. So it is fitting and poetic justice that they should become the instruments of their freedom as well."

The Major was quiet for a few minutes, thinking over what 'Turim had said. When he spoke it was with an even, professional tone, but he couldnít keep the smile from forming on his face. "Turim, I can not think of a better way to handle this situation. It does seem a poetic justice to do as you suggest. And think of the blow to the morale of other raiders when they find this out. The only change I would suggest is this. After you execute the leader, let the oldest one go free. Escort him to the border. Then he can tell his brethren. Maybe such a fate would make them think twice before attacking. I am also going to suggest to the other patrol leaders they consider taking more prisoners if possible. You are wise beyond your years, I think. And that boy will honor you till he dies. Not to mention how your men and clans people will feel.

"But a word of advice. You are now an officer in this army, and a member of a noble House. For appearances you should no longer call the people of your village my clan. You should instead refer to them as your birth family. It would not insult the House you are now a member of, where as saying my clan might."

'Turim nodded in understanding.

The execution was performed where all the other prisoners could watch and the soldiers forced them to do so. According to law, the punishment must fit the crime. The people of the village had not been killed quickly...

Therefore, 'Turim disemboweled the leader of the raiders with his dagger -- the same one that he had carried from his village, although only 'Dorlon and 'Martim recognized it. But he was careful not to sever any arteries, so blood seeped from the gaping wound instead of gushing.

Next, he strangled him with a rope until the man fell unconscious, his face purple. As the man's arms fell away from his stomach wound, loops of his intestines tumbled to the ground. 'Turim smiled grimly as he saw several of the raiders try to turn away. The savagery that seemed to delight them horrified them instead when it was turned against one of their own...

Finally, 'Turim struck the death blow with a sword whose edge he had deliberately blunted, so that it took three strokes of the blade to sever the neck. The victim was already dead from shock by this time, so he never felt even the first blow, but the spectators were too far away to see this. This succeeded in demoralizing the rest of the prisoners.

Next he asked who the eldest of them was.

One man proudly stood and claimed that status. He believed he was going to be the next to die.

"You are free to go," 'Turim said.

The man stood in stunned silence for a moment, then stammered, "I -- thank you, my lord. The men and I --"

"Only you are free," 'Turim said. "The rest of your band will be sold as bond servants."

"But -- my lord! What you did to our leader -- surely that must be enough --"

"Your leader paid for the deaths you caused," 'Turim said. "The rest of your band will pay compensation to the one villager who was spared -- by accident, I'm sure."

The old man opened his mouth to protest, but was silenced by a blow from the soldier who had escorted him forward.

The rest of the raiders hung their heads in despair. For nomads, to become a bonded servant was worse than death. And woe to the freed man who left his comrades to such a fate -- but 'Turim would give him no choice in the matter.

"Tell your people what you have seen today. Tell them that the same fate awaits any band that raids Varnim lands. The leader will die as his own victims have died. The rest will become servants, tied to one place and forced to work at whatever task is given to them. Go!"

Two soldiers took the old man's arms and trotted away, ignoring his struggles and cries of outrage.

'Turim turned his attention to the remaining raiders. "You are bondsmen now," he said. "But you can earn your freedom some day. When you have earned twice what your master pays for your services, Varnim law says that you must be freed. This will not happen quickly -- you will each fetch a good price, and your work will not be highly valued. But it will happen."

'Turim knew that a man with no hope had nothing to live for. And a man with nothing to live for would make stupid mistakes, like attempting to escape. Or worse -- murdering his master. While the prospect of long years of servitude still weighed heavily on the captive raiders, the knowledge that they could live to be free again kept them docile enough to return to their cells without trouble.


'Turimís patrol took the freed man with them to the border near the destroyed village. When they set him free they gave him enough supplies to survive including a small dagger.

The man looked at 'Turim and spoke. "I know why you do this. But I will tell you truthfully it wonít work. If anything, it may cause many more raids. The man you killed was the son of High Chief, and my cousin. I will surely be killed within a day of my return. Yet I will return, because my honor compels me so. I would know your name so that my Uncle knows who he will be avenging himself on."

Turim didnít hesitate. "Tell your uncle that his sonís executioner was 'Turim, brother of Nerim, son of the Lady Celia and Lord Darren of the Lesser Royal House of Varnin. And that should he seek to challenge me, then our laws allow that. He need but come to the fortress and state his desire for battle. As an officer I would meet him in single combat and may the best man win. But if he chooses to raid, then I will hunt his raiders down and place them all in bondage. For you have told me that will be his intention and I therefore will take it a personal insult to my House."

The man looked pale when 'Turim had finished speaking, but did not comment. He had seen that 'Turim was as capable of terrible deeds as any nomad. He left then, crossing over the border and an uncertain future.

'Turim pondered the old man's warning, and decided to offer some hope to the man. Hope could keep a bondservant alive and at least somewhat obedient. Perhaps it could prevent larger problems as well. "Also inform your uncle that he can get all those men set free," he said.

The nomad stopped and paid careful attention.

"If he comes and pays their bond, the men will be released to him or any member of their families who wish to do such. That also is the law of Varnin. Tell him this and you just might save your own skin."

Turim and his men then turned away from the border and continued their patrol.


© 2008 Jay T. Bucka

Bio: Jay T. Bucka is a former denizen of Rensselaer, NY who now calls North Carolina home. A long-time fan and unpublished writer of fantasy and science fiction, he has worked in sales and radio and in the trucking industry (all jobs where one might wish for a trusty sword to deal with obstacles in your way...).

E-mail: Jay T. Bucka

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