The difference between courage and foolishness is often a matter of mere moments.
Lazuli was the best of the Junglara scouts. Many times she courted disaster or death by skirting close to the borders of the Junglarak Forests with the Coastal Plains. Every time, she came back with more knowledge of the outsiders. Today, however, she led her five sister warriors into an Coastal slavers’ trap. Just a move of the sun’s shadow later, and the slavers would have been on their way home.
Their battle lasted all of two fired arrows and one pistol shot. Realizing they could not defeat the iron guns of the Coastals, Lazuli ordered her sisters to surrender.
“Queen Mawra named you scout chief?” Nephrana snapped, tossing her spear onto the ground.
“Yes!” Lazuli replied. “Now do as I say.”
The six warrior women soon found themselves stripped of their weapons, then their clothing. Before long, the men began roping them. Worse, the slavers broke out the dreaded collars. So collared as slaves, they would lose their magnificent strength. Some said, even their souls. But their wits and determination would remain intact. Dead, they could do nothing. Alive, Lazuli saw opportunity.
As two wranglers wrestled with Lazuli, preparing to bind her, the slaver leader shouted, “These future whores are no doubt virgins. We need to prepare them for sale at the pleasure slave market. Break them in. I’ll take this one.” He pointed to Lazuli. The other men laughed. Lazuli understood every word.
“I will play the flute for any man who bares his loins,” Lazuli said in her native tongue. When none of the men responded, she knew they did not speak Junglari. She called out, “Hear me, sisters. They plan to defile us. Endure it!”
“You betrayed us!” Ateta cried as a slaver began fondling her breasts. Bound she could not stop him without jeopardizing her life.
“No! Hear me,” Lazuli said. “Endure the shame of nakedness before these cowards. Bear the pain of their ropes and collars. Grit your teeth for debasing and their seed. Spit, snarl, and curse if you must. Then, submit. But endure.”
Lazuli dreaded what the old man with the scar on his face would do to her, but it was worth it. For years, the Junglara had longed to get their hands on a Coastal gun. The Mountain Women promised teach them the ways of iron and smoke, but only if the Junglara proved themselves worthy and acquired their own gun. Several other scouts tried to get the long muskets away from Coastal soldiers, but the greencoats were too well trained. These men were slavers, however. Lazuli had crept inside Coastal cities, and knew slavers were men the army refused. Drunkards at best, lascivious cowards at worst, they knew gold better than they did weapons, and beer better than they did the Junglara.
She continued. “They will make a mistake. Perhaps when their lust is satiated, they will turn their backs on us. Then, we strike like the big cats! We will take this iron cart back home, along with their clothes and more importantly, their iron guns. We will keep one of these bastards alive, if we can. He will talk before our queen. I will see to that! We will learn the secrets of the Coastal guns and use them against the Sethi, finally driving that heresy back into their rotting caves. Perhaps, we can even drive these invaders into the sea! Endure and we shall prevail this day!”
The difference between courage and foolishness is often a matter of mere words.
The other Junglara looked at each other. They did their best to hide their smiles. Lazuli didn’t lead her squad into a slavers’ trap. The slavers delivered themselves right into Lazuli’s unsheathed claws.