Coffee Break Read – Kashlihk

Shevek spat and drew his knife with clear purpose. “You should not let him live, my Captain. I can tell you what kind he is. He’s kashlihk.”
Caer glanced up at Shevek sharply. ‘kashlihk’ was an insult no one used lightly. You might use it to describe a  vicious criminal or a slave who turned against their master. It was an ugly term of abuse for someone without honour- someone perverted, dangerous and insane who would break any laws and social taboos. Caer could see no way someone could tell any of that from an unconscious man. But this was Shevek, who was one of the handful of Zoukai who had been with the caravan when Caer took over as Captain and had been a source of much good advice and tactful wisdom, so instead of the sharp words that sprang first to his tongue, he said: “It is not my place to decide. He belongs to the Caravansi, she will make that decision.”
The old Zoukai shrugged, disowning the consequences, returned the knife to its sheath and went about the task of checking their prize for signs of any further, hidden injury.
The red rim of the sun was beginning to disappear behind the horizon by the time Caer was finally ready to leave with the choice pickings strapped to the ponies. Caer’s own mount carried an extra burden as he had slung the offworlder across its withers, bound securely in place so that he did not fall off during the slow and precarious descent of the mithan. And it was truly precarious and slow, taking perhaps twice as long as the ride up. In the end they had to lead the ponies for much of the way, as the fading light made the path too treacherous to trust.
Once back on the plain they remounted and rode to the caravan. Word of their success arriving on the wind before them, so no sooner had they passed the first of the gaudy tents than they were surrounded by excitable Zoukai, slaves and children. A few made gestures to ward off evil, but more were simply curious to see what had been found. Caer found it impossible to ride through them and reaching for his whip he ordered the Zoukai to clear a path. That was enough. In the expert hands of the horsemen, the whips could cull strips of flesh straight from the bone. So at his shout, the small crowd dissolved instantly – children diving away between the tents, women lifting their long embroidered skirts, dodging under the raised whips and running off with a clatter of bangles from their wrists and ankles.
Looping the whip back on his belt, Caer nudged his pony through the narrow streets between the tents. The other Zoukai followed, those that had been with him on the plateau boasting loudly about all they had seen. Caerstopped before the central pavilion and under his direction the Zoukai began to unload their ponies, passing the various treasures from hand to hand and exclaiming in wonderment at what there was. Caer let them enjoy themselves, they would all be working hard tomorrow to bring the rest down from the plateau. He slid from his pony to untie its heavy burden, pausing to check the man was still alive and pleased to find the pulse still steady, if a little weak.

From The Fated Sky the first part of Transgressor Trilogy, and the first book in Fortunes Fools by E.M. Swift-Hook.

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