Public speaking was not her strong suit. She didn't like standing up in front of crowds and talking, didn't like addressing a multitude she didn't know. If they had been a group of fighters, it would have been different. She knew her own men, knew how to get them to listen and obey. She knew the minds of fighters. But these were not fighters.
Arrow stood on the block, between Merlye and Lyr. Her men were off to the side, scanning the crowd for those most likely to be willing to join them.
The people of the city were gathered in front of her, waiting patiently for someone to start speaking. Merchants, bounty hunters, soldiers, whores. The rich stood side by side with the poor, children grasped the hands of their parents, faces tilted back to stare at the three.
"Ladies and gentlemen of Gie," Merlye began. "We have always lived side by side, accepting new members of our community when they came to us from the tribes or from Sharn and Tarka."
Arrow glanced over the crowd. There were very few who had clearly come from outside the desert. Some may have been descendants of those who had travelled to the desert city to make their fortune in the past. Whereas the tribes normally had dark or red hair, there were a few in the city who had the fair looks of Sharn or the hardened faces of Tarka.
Gie didn't turn away anyone.
"We have lived peacefully, with a few blips along the way."
A few people chuckled at that.
Merlye glanced at Arrow, before returning his attention to the people.
"Some of you may remember a few years ago, when two people terrorised not just Sharn, not just Tarka, but all of us with magic."
People had been talking to each other before. Now, silence fell heavily over the people. They stared up at Arrow and Merlye. Merlye continued.
"Along with many of our worst criminals, they were locked up in a tower in Sharn."
There was a pause, and Arrow could see the looks of confusion on the people's faces. She had filled Merlye in, as much as she could, the night before.
He turned to her.
Arrow stepped forward.
"The immortals escaped." She continued, before any of them could react. "They destroyed the tower in the process of their escape, releasing many we had hoped to keep locked up."
Gasps now. Those that had weapons gripped them tightly, and she noticed many of those who were soldiers or bounty hunters stepped forward, staring eagerly at her.
Arrow took a deep breath. "We have found ourselves in a dire situation. We do not know what these people want, or where they may go. But we know that our three lands have always been able to stand strong in the face of evil. I am asking you for help. We are asking the tribes to put aside their differences and work together. We are asking anyone who is able to step forward, to help us track down those who threaten us."
Silence followed her words. They looked around at anyone but the three on the block, as if waiting for someone else to step forward.
Lyr moved so he was side by side with Arrow.
"Carlos Ingive. Murder of two Aphrodite tribe members, one Zeus, four Hermes. Locked up for the past ten years. He's now free. The whore killer of Gie, Tyr. Free. The hangman of the desert, Frit. And among these, other horrors that terrorised us and the people outside the desert. How many of you had fathers, mothers, husbands, wives or children killed by these people? Cousins, aunts, uncles, friends. Collectively, the men who operated in the desert have killed five hundred of our people over sixty years. Merlye was right. For the most part, they were blips. But they were quick, ruthless blips who made us live in fear. And we are the only people who can stand between them and the mass destruction they will cause if they are allowed to roam free."
A cheer met his words. As it died down, one of the men in the back called out.
"I'll join you."
More took up his cry.
One by one, they stepped forward, pledging themselves and their weapons. Arrow grinned at Lyr.
"Thanks," she said, before turning to the crowd. "My men will be here all day. Please give your names to them."
Bar stepped forward, taking a deep breath. "Right, you lot. Form an orderly line. We'll get to you all in time." People moved forward, queuing up, while those who couldn't or wouldn't join hung back, glancing around at each other. Arrow had to stifle a giggle as she saw a little boy dart towards the queue, before his mother grabbed him and pulled him back.
"Okay, maybe now I'm glad you came," she said, shifting closer to Lyr. "I don't think I would have known what to do without you."
He winked. "Don't mention it."
Merlye turned to them. "So, great warrior, what next?"
X X X
They cleared the main area of the city, the merchants and traders moving off to sell their wares down side-streets. They didn't complain, didn't mumble, and some offered to stay to provide food and weapons. Arrow allowed them to set up on the very edges of the courtyard most often used as a marketplace.
She would have to return home. Once the people of Gie were trained up enough, she would have to return to Sharn to run their own recruitment drive there.
But first, she was determined to speak to these people who were offering up their lives, the people who had volunteered and whose deaths could come all too swiftly.
They split them into groups. Bar, Derk and Sharo all led one group each. Merlye split up the rest between himself and his second in command, Rych. Lyr offered to lead a group with the help of Calyx and Rya.
Arrow watched as the merchants aided the others in setting up targets, as they handed out arrows, bows and quivers, swords, shields and armour.
Each group was small, only about six or seven, but it was a good start.
The majority were men, but there were a few women among them, too. Some had their own weapons and armour. Those that worked as bounty hunters and soldiers were already prepared. To an extent. But they still had to learn to work with together, and still needed a bit of training just to prepare them for the people they were likely to meet.
Arrow couldn't help but smile when she spotted Kayla, a bounty hunter based in the desert. She'd brought in three of the prisoners in the last five years, and Arrow always enjoyed having a drink with her when she was about. She recognised a few more of the bounty hunters; Tylos was a stern looking man with a thick, dark beard. He had a wife, somewhere, and Arrow couldn't help but wonder what she thought of his profession. Zak had once been a member of the Hades tribe, until his wife was murdered. He had dragged the killer to the tower, three of the killer's fingers missing. Since then, he'd helped track down and kill others who threatened the lives of the people of Sharn, Tarka or the desert.
The soldiers and merchants she didn't recognise. There were others among them, men with families who had stepped forward to protect those they loved. Women who were, perhaps, fed up with their normal lives and wanted to do something exciting.
Arrow walked through the groups as they trained. She stopped and spoke to a few, finding out their history, discovering, bit by bit, what had made each of them put themselves forward.
By the time she got to Bar's group, Kayla was facing him, arms crossed and a frown set in her face.
"Problem?" Arrow asked, sliding up to the pair.
"He thinks he can tell me how to fight," Kayla drawled, turning to Arrow. "I know why we need training, but your friend here insisted I was holding my sword wrong."
Unable to help herself, Arrow laughed. She turned to Bar, a smile on her face. "Bar, if you find yourself face to face with someone who has clearly been fighting for a while," she gestured at the scars on Kayla's arms, "then maybe don't tell them to adjust their sword fighting technique. Focus on those who have never grasped a weapon before."
He opened his mouth to say something, shutting it quickly. "All right, point taken," he grumbled.
"But, Kayla," she turned to the bounty hunter, "these guys have been fighting by my side for years. They're good men, and great fighters. If he suggests something, try it. You may discover something new."
Kayla's cheeks turned a light red, but she took Arrow's suggestion on board and nodded. "All right. I'll try it. But that means I get to suggest things to him, too."
Arrow grinned. "Go right ahead."
She headed back to the block, pulling herself up to sit on the end and watch them, as they shot arrows at targets and sparred with each other. Some were clearly natural fighters. Others had skills gained over the years. Some were…awful. She made a mental note of those who would need extra help.
The following days consisted of sleeping in the inn (most nights, without Bar, Derk or Sharo. It seemed they were easily able to find other places to sleep), getting up and watching the people of Gie train under the watchful eyes of her men. At times, she'd dive in and lend a hand, sparring with a few or showing them techniques more suited to their own styles or build.
And, over the week, more turned up to join the makeshift army.
The first group to appear were dark skinned, all with matching scars on their left cheeks. The mark of death; a scar received when someone in the Hades tribe became an able fighter. It was supposed to ensure they were used to pain, to bring them closer to death and the god they were named after.
She split them up, spreading them out among the other groups and watching, carefully, how they interacted with the others.
She was all too aware of the tension that would build up once they were joined by more of the tribes. The best thing she could do was keep them apart from their own tribes, get them interacting with others, give them little time to get annoyed at each other.
The Hermes tribe were the next to arrive, bringing with them beautiful, fast horses that were quickly found homes in Gie's stables. The Hermes fighters were more used to fighting on horseback, but they had to learn that it wasn't always possible. They had their own bows and arrows. Whereas the men sent from Hades were almost reckless in their fighting, the men of Hermes were fast. They could dodge almost every blow, dart around their opponent and tire them out.
Lyr happily greeted the men sent from Zeus, introducing them to the others they had already gathered. He pointed out their individual skills to Arrow, and she put them in the appropriate groups.
Some she had known as a child. Others, younger ones, were unfamiliar to her. But she was glad for their help.
"You aren't expecting any from Aphrodite, are you?" Lyr asked. Arrow shook her head.
"No. Not with…with everything going on."
Although the Athena tribe did not have strong fighters, they still sent a group to Gie. Made up of trackers and those who could help in other ways. Arrow greeted them happily, as Rya bounded over to them. The three trackers were split up and sent to the various groups for training. The others were those who could read, write or speak different languages. They had an extensive knowledge of the lands and history, and Arrow was glad to have them.
"We're getting too big," Lyr commented, arms crossed as he stared at the groups training. They had had more arrivals, from every tribe. "We need to find a way to keep them under control."
The split in the groups was working out well. Each were developing their own specialities, and they seemed to be bonding okay. The worry over tension between the tribes was disappearing, only to be replaced by worry over the tension between the different groups.
"What do you suggest?" she asked, as Bar barked out orders.
"A council," Lyr replied. "Pick one person from every group. Not Bar or Sharo or Derk. One of the others. They can be a sort of voice for the others."
"You think that'll work?"
Lyr shrugged. "Don't see why not."
"We're turning into a full army, aren't we?"
"You don't sound too happy about that."
Arrow shrugged. "I'm used to dealing with small groups. I'm used to dealing with the same people day in, day out. How am I supposed to run an army?"
"You're already doing it." He gestured to those in the midst of training. "It's our best hope, Arrow, if we want to track down the prisoners and the immortals."
"I'll have to go back," she said. "In a few days. I'll need to go back to Sharn to let Queen Pine know what we're doing."
"And in your place?"
"I was going to ask you." She smiled, turning to him. "You're a good fighter, and you're smart. I was going to leave Bar, Sharo and Derk here. I'll take Calyx with me but only because I think he should see his family."
Lyr nodded. "I'll do it."
"What do we do, after you've gone back?"
"Keep training them. We'll form the council before I'm gone, but I want you to pick them. You're going to be dealing with them more, anyway."
"You will come back, won't you?"
"With supplies, and more men. After that…" She took a deep breath. "After that, we go after the bastards."
X X X
Arrow was sure that Lyr was more than capable of taking over for a short time. Her men weren't happy when she told them she was leaving them under Lyr, but they put up with it. Together, Arrow and Lyr selected a member from each group to represent the others. Once the new faces dwindled, once Arrow could recognise every person who rose at dawn and began training almost immediately, she left.
Silys, a member of the Hermes tribe, offered them two of the horses brought to Gie.
"They are fast," he said. "They will get you there and back swiftly."
They accepted. It made sense. Horses bred by the tribe were often the best; swifter than any other horses, anyway. They were sturdy, too, and could survive on less water than other beasts. Arrow thanks Silys, said her goodbyes and, with Calyx, was off.
They rode back through the desert, stopping when they came upon one of the tribes for rest and food. They were greeted happily, and questions were asked about those who been sent to Gie.
Arrow answered them as best she could, and Calyx, as always, paid full attention to her interactions.
On the way out of the desert, he was mostly quiet. She let him be, knowing it would do no good to push him into talking to her. On the two stallions given to them, they made good time.
It wasn't long before, at the horizon, they could see sand change to grass.
They were approaching the edge of the desert.
"We're going back to Sharn, aren't we?"
She frowned, glancing at him. "You don't sound too happy about that." He didn't look it, either. His shoulders were hunched, and he was looking down at his horse rather than at the land in front of them.
"We're going to see my family."
"I thought you would be happy about that."
"I am, but…" He trailed off, shaking his head. "Never mind."
"You can tell me, Calyx. You can talk to me, you know."
"It's just…well, are you going to bring me back?"
She almost laughed. Almost. But she kept it down, deciding, instead, to reach over and pat his back. "Of course not, Calyx. You're in this for the long haul, now." Whether they liked it or not.
Besides, she knew that if she did leave him, he'd just come after her. She was all too aware that she was not getting rid of him easily.
She only hoped the visit wouldn't be the last time he saw his parents, or his cousin.
A/N: Not quite sure how this is going. So I would really appreciate some feedback here. Let me know what you think. And, as usual, there's a poll on my profile page. Would be great to get some votes on it. Thanks.