The Sword and the Spear No. 12

“You cannot—”

“I am a man of my word,” Varouforos interrupted. “I said that I would make you sign. There will be peace. It will come either by your signature, or by the death of your host. The choice is yours.”

Basil was quiet. After some time, he approached the table and took the pen. He stared at the treaty. After a moment, he signed it, then held out the pen to Varouforos.

Varouforos held up his hand. “Keep it. I have others. Ippocampos, turn on the heat. Send word to Morana that peace has been secured.” The kraken bobbed an affirmative and floated off. Varouforos returned his gaze to the yashcherit patriarch. “Alert your fleet and your men. It is not my desire that more blood should be shed today. Take your people and leave this place. Do not come back.”

Basil watched Varouforos unblinkingly, then looked to the signed treaty, then back to Varouforos. Eventually, he said, “I, too, am a man of my word.” He turned and left.

Morana and his fleet stayed at Proti for another two days while the yashcheritsy gathered their dead and wounded. Their jump ship appeared from its hiding place further outsystem. Their raiders docked. The jump ship’s drives spun up, and in a flash of light, it vanished.

Soon after, Morana left in the same fashion.


Some days later, Varouforos and Long sat across from one another in the meeting room where the Abilan affair had begun. “… and Koliada sustained no damage we cannot repair, given some months,” Long said.

“Excellent. We are owed some yard time at Sparta. Perhaps we will see if we can’t speed things along,” Varouforos replied. He leaned back and looked out the window over Long’s shoulder, taking in the swirling blues and whites of jump space.

Long cleared her throat. “Why us, do you suppose?”

Varouforos raised his eyebrows. “I can only speculate.”

“Please do.”

Leaning forward, Varouforos replied, “We are humans. Humans cheat.” Long’s brow furrowed, so he went on. “We aren’t the fastest, the strongest, or the smartest of the peoples of the galaxy, nor are we the wisest, most numerous, or most respected. We cannot compete on the fields others would choose for us. Instead, we must be sly, and we must be persistent. When we prepare for battle, we choose our time and place with care, and once we have chosen, we fight until we win.”

“If the enemy fleet is stronger than ours, we must capture the false patriarch?”

“Precisely so,” Varouforos replied. “Ippocampos knew that we would find a path to peace for its people, and that once we started down it, we would not stop until we had reached its end.”

“There are worse things to be known for,” Long mused.

“Indeed,” Varouforos laughed. “Humans. We finish the job.”

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The Sword and the Spear No. 11

Ewart’s command post had grown as his force did. Now, he stood at a map table in the middle of a ring of comms units, all of it protected from the weather by a tarp overhead, stretched between poles defining a square thirty paces across.

Varouforos strode into view, with Ippocampos floating along behind him. Ewart looked up. “Navarch!” he said. “I was just about to send a search party.”

Varouforos smiled and gestured at his coat. “We were briefly detained.”

“So I see.” Ewart pointed at the map table. “We are deployed across the dome just before the amphitheater. The yashcheritsy probed our lines ten minutes ago, but did not press an attack.”

“I doubt they are able,” Varouforos replied. “I am going to the amphitheater to take personal command. I will signal you when I have arrived. Make a general advance when I do. Be prepared to accept surrenders. The yashcheritsy will not have much fight in them.”

Five minutes later, Varouforos and Ippocampos neared the amphitheater. The yashcheritsy were present in force here, and so were Varouforos’ men. A full tourma, twenty-five hundred men at arms, were arrayed in a semi-circle fifty paces from the amphitheater’s rim. Varouforos found the command post, took the commanding officer’s photovisor, and headed for the rim. The falling snow masked his view. He flipped the photovisor to its thermal setting, then had a look at low zoom. He saw what he expected to.

“Advance into the amphitheater,” he said into his comm unit. “Do not fire unless fired upon.” After a minute, troops reached him. Together with them, he descended into the amphitheater.

The audience sat at the base of the amphitheater, in the manner of captives. Not a yashcherit remained standing to guard them, though. The lizard-men huddled together in groups, moving slowly, if at all. They watched as Varouforos’ men marched down the stairs. Most did nothing. Ten paces from Varouforos, one reached for a rifle. His arm moved in slow motion.

Varouforos aimed his pistol. “Please do not make me shoot you,” he said.

The yashcherit’s arm continued onward for half a second while Varouforos’ words reached his cold-addled brain. Another half second passed while the creature thought it over. It slowly withdrew its arm.

“Very good,” Varouforos replied. He pointed at the rifle, and one of the troopers following him took it. Together, they reached the base of the amphitheater. On the dais, Basil and his entourage huddled together.

Basil, at the center of the group, had not lost as much warmth as his companions. “You!” he hissed, catching sight of Varouforos. His voice had a strange, slurred quality to it, as though someone had recorded it and was now playing it back at half speed. “You are killing us!”

Varouforos canted his head and dipped it in Basil’s direction, acknowledging the point. “Perhaps.” He swept his arm out to take in the yashcheritsy freezing all around them. “This is your true flock, is it not? You have the power to save them.”

“What do you—”

Varouforos strode over to the table at the center of the dais. He patted his pockets in sequence, then pulled a pen from one of them, signing the treaty with a flourish.

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Commentary, The Sword and the Spear No. 11

Ending up on the machinery deck saved Varouforos a detour.

My original concept for Varouforos was more in keeping with one Admiral Kutuzov’s in-universe reputation in The Mote in God’s Eye (his nickname was the Butcher), but ended up more in line with Kutuzov’s actual character (canny, cautious, not necessarily one to waste lives). It makes more sense for a mercenary captain, and also makes him a more relatable character.

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The Sword and the Spear No. 10

Soon, his men were aboard, and he busied himself organizing their deployment, not noticing the growing chill amidst the bustle.


Perun fought on. He drew the yashcherit ships away from Proti; now they were a few thousand stadia away and standing further off by the moment. His main batteries had scored good hits on another yashcherit raider. That was three out of the fight. In response, the raiders had sent a salvo toward Varouforos’ frigate Daring. He took a glancing hit, breaking formation under half engine power.

Suddenly, Perun and his remaining escorts turned sharply away from the yashcherit ships. With palpable glee, the raiders turned to chase down their foes. As they did, a little tear in the starfield behind them grew into a great rent. Out of it came a blinding blue-white light, far brighter than even Abila. When the light faded, Varouforos’ other six ships were there, lighting their drives and bearing up on the flank of the yashcherit fleet.

The three cruisers, Lelia, Zosia, and Koliada, led the way, attended by their three frigates. All six carried micro-jump drives. Their capacitors were not suited for travel between stars, but could push just enough power into the drives to spring a trap like this one. The cruisers showed their broadsides, unloading a raking volley into the yashcherit fleet, then turned head-on again to close the range still further.

The balance of forces still favored the yashcheritsy if the battle became a slugging match, but it was close enough now that Varouforos’ fleet, with good handling of their ships and a bit of luck, might still prevail. With a bit more luck, it wouldn’t come to that at all.


Varouforos and Ippocampos waited for the lift doors to open. A few burn marks scored Varouforos’ jacket, revealing the mesh armor underneath. He checked his pistol’s capacitor pack, frowned, and slapped a new one into place.

The doors slid apart. Snow blanketed Spire Park, falling so thick that Varouforos could barely see fifty paces away. He and Ippocampos cautiously left the lift.

Just as Varouforos caught sight of the outline of a human form, someone shouted, “Halt! Identify yourself!”

Varouforos held up his hands. “The navarch,” he replied.

Two other outlines appeared, then resolved themselves into Varouforos’ men. One kept a weapon on them. The other said, “Let’s see your papers.”

Slowly, Varouforos passed his pistol to Ippocampos, who made a show of pointing it directly at the ground. He reached into an inside pocket and produced his identification. The trooper looked it over, then waved at his comrades. They lowered their weapons. The trooper passed Varouforos’ papers back. “Sorry, sir. Protocol.”

“Not at all, soldier. Your diligence is a credit to your company.” Varouforos took his pistol back from Ippocampos and slid it into its holster. “Where is the strategos?”

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Commentary, The Sword and the Spear No. 10

I mentioned back at the start of this story that I wrote it to submit to an anthology, whose strict length limit was why Varouforos’ adventures between the machinery room and the park ended up elided.

I suppose I had the opportunity to put them back in, but I like how quick this story moves, and even if it makes the relative timing of events a little more confusing, I prefer it this way; I could stand to write to length limits more often than I do.

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The Sword and the Spear No. 9

A pair of yashcheritsy appeared in the crowd ahead. When they saw Varouforos and Ippocampos, they leveled their weapons. Varouforos pushed Ippocampos behind a nearby stall and slid into cover with it.

Plasma packets shrieked past them. There was a lull, and Varouforos leaned out from behind the stall. He leveled his pistol, took careful aim, and squeezed the trigger. For the merest moment, a glowing blue line linked the muzzle and a yashcherit’s chest. A charred crater appeared in the latter and the lizard-man fell backward.

Varouforos shoved Ippocampos. “Move!”


Perun had begun his life some seven centuries ago as a state-of-the-art armored cruiser in the Imperial fleet. He was faster than a battleship of his era, and his void screens and hull plating were tough to crack even by modern standards.

Upon his entry into Varouforos’ service, the navarch had stripped out his broadside guns and torn deep into his structure. Now, his foredeck held three giant turrets which housed six enormous laser cannon, one shot from which could pierce deep into a planet’s crust, or gut a smaller ship altogether, if its screens had failed.

By most reckonings, Perun was a battleship, and few would argue that he was the most formidable man of war in private hands in this part of the galaxy. He might have taken six yashcherit raiders on his own, but the dozen facing him were too tall an order. The battle had moved away from the station as the yashcherit ships turned to prevent Perun crossing their sterns, then formed a line astern and opened fire on the battleship. Perun shot back. Their plasma guns melted through his screens in short order, soon setting to work on his hull. His plating yet held, though it glowed nearly white in places, and his gunners returned fire. His escorts stayed hidden behind his protective bulk, darting out to launch salvos of torpedoes.

Two of the raiders had fallen out of line already, glowing holes punched clean through them by Perun‘s main battery, but fresh ships simply moved into position and brought the battleship under fire. Numbers would soon begin to tell.


Adalric Ewart set up his command post half a stadion from the amphitheater, rounding up the first hundred troops to land to secure the area. So far, the yashcheritsy had about two thousand men at arms, as best Ewart could tell, and they had gotten some boats away before Perun got stuck in to stem the tide. The yashcherit numbers would double or triple before the day was done.

Ewart had expected as much. Ten thousand of his best men were coming across, with some of the heaviest weapons from Morana‘s arsenals. Most of the yashcherit landing craft were coming to the dome. Ewart had his comms man send word to his boats: most should breach the dome, some should hold off to respond to any moves the yashcheritsy made elsewhere.

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The Sword and the Spear No. 8

Adalric Ewart watched his navarch disappear in a flash of light. That translocator had cost as much as Perun, but it had certainly proved its worth over the years. Nearly every yashcherit in the crowd produced a weapon of some kind or another, and moved quickly to form up at the base of the amphitheater.

Ewart signaled his men, and they fell back into the park. Two of them set their packs down. After a minute, they had between them a comms set. They looked to Ewart expectantly.

“Give the signal.”


Some thirty seconds later, outside the station, Perun fired his engines and set a course straight for the yashcherit fleet, his escorts in company. Some hundred boarding craft left Morana‘s hangars and made directly for the void station’s spire.

The yashcheritsy lost no time in launching assault boats of their own. Perun‘s secondary batteries opened fire, scything through their formation as they approached the station. Shortly after, the yashcherit raiders formed up and approached Perun in battle formation. The battleship’s main guns found the range, and the battle was joined.


Ippocampos’ tentacles danced over a control panel, so quickly that Varouforos couldn’t hope to follow. At length, Ippocampos said, “It is done.”

“Good. That will slow them down. We must return to the dome.”

“Follow me.” Ippocampos tapped at the panel. It shut down, and Ippocampos quickly floated away. “What is it that you plan to do?”

Varouforos jogged behind the kraken. “My soldiers will land at the dome. While my warships contend with theirs, shooting down any assault craft they send to reinforce their position here, we will capture the false patriarch and force him to sign the treaty as planned.”

“Why should he honor a treaty he was forced to sign?”

Varouforos raised his eyebrows at Ippocampos’ nearest flitter. “The strength of a yashcherit’s word is his dearest possession. If he does not intend to honor the treaty, he will die before he signs. If that is his choice, we oblige him, then find the next in line to lead the warband and offer him the same choice. Eventually, one will choose peace.”

Ippocampos rounded a corner. Now they were in a corridor. A few more turns, and they were into a public thoroughfare. The spire was not large enough to warrant vehicles; nevertheless, the street was large and busy, some twenty paces across, though the ceiling was barely more than a few handspans over Varouforos’ head. Shops of many sorts lined the way, and stalls were scattered over the street nearly at random.

They wove around athat palanquins and gaggles of floating kraken. By Varouforos’ reckoning, honed by decades spent in voidship and void stations, they were heading for the edge of the spire.

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