Friday, April 20, 2012


The Imperial Army entered the Nia Valley through trails winding among the hills from the west. The planners were very good and the timing exact. On a night of full moon, when its round, lustrous disc was at the meridian, horse units, riding at a gallop to close the last few miles, fell upon the Nia Capital. They surrounded its outskirts in a series of well executed movements and then, when the main body caught up and the first light of day glimmered along the line of the eastern hills, they started moving into the suburbs, slaughtering and burning as they went. They butchered everyone, for the order was to butcher everyone and the Imperial Army always obeyed orders. As the slaughterers went about their work, troops with wagons came behind loading the corpses to be carried to the riverbank and tossed into the water.

   The Nia had been asked to sign a treaty with the Imperial government involving a garrison, tributes of sheep and metals, and hostages. The Nia had refused. This refusal put the Emperor into a terrible mood for the very day he heard of it he received intelligence that a numerous and warlike people called the Rechyai had conquered the northern section of the River Eg and were soon to move out onto the plain. Two things threatening the Empire learned of in a single day pushed him over the top, although if the truth were told, it did not take much to push him over the top. He once ordered the killing of several thousand in a local marketplace because he heard that one of its merchants had sold a cloak made of  purple cloth,  a color reserved for his Royal Person.

   As well as ordering a punitive expedition the Emperor also ordered that Storytellers accompany the Army. Their task was to compose an Epic poem or two about the heroic exploits of the Imperial troops and then later to spread out through the far provinces of the Empire reciting it in marketplaces and taverns. Thus the butchery of the Nia would act as an object lesson for the outer tribes, reminding them it was wise to obey the Imperial will.

   The General of the Imperial Army was a small man with a snow-white beard. The dazzling effect of his beard was accentuated by the fact that his hair was dyed a bright orange for this was the fashion of the court at that time. Perhaps because he realized there was too great a contrast between his beard and his hair, he wore on his head and enormous hat resembling a gigantic loaf of bread pouring over the sides of far too small a pan. The hat, like the beard, was white but a little off color, a kind of beige. After many hours of looking into the mirrors (he owned thirty nine of them) in his ancestral home and still further hours asking the opinions of his concubines, he decided that the hat, its color complementing that of his beard and smothering with its folds most of his orange hair, created the desired effect. The effect he was looking for was one of splendid, dashing, heroic glory.


   Rising from the helmet strapped onto the head of the charger the General was riding was a single plume made up of the feathers of many birds, resplendent and multi colored. Below, on the breastplate of the charger and, as well, on his own breastplate in a smaller version, was the coat of arms which the Emperor had granted him after his second Triumph. This was a hideous image of a man impaled upon a stake and writhing in agony.

  It was a hot day and the work of butchery was tiring and tedious. It took all day for the Imperial troops to work their way into the center of town. The river was filled with bodies and the streets red with blood. There was little resistance. The Nia warriors were south raiding tribes on the borders of their territory. The few young women and small boys who attacked the troops were soon cut down. When the forward horse units reached the center of town they were pushing before them a crowd of Nia elders. When they reached the main square other troops had already set up sharpened stakes in a line along the river. The elders were stripped and beaten and then impaled on the stakes. There were two hundred and thirty-three of them and, for the first while before loss of blood weakened them, the screams and screeches of these old men were deafening.

   The Storytellers (in the Falconian Empire a special sect which wore badges to indicate their office and had a school in the capital where they were taught their trade as well as a mystical love and devotion to the Emperor) were ordered to stretch themselves out in a line (there were twenty –five present) and sit before these sufferers. They were to listen carefully to their shrieks and moans and thus, according to both General and Emperor, bring to their literary compositions the power and energy of harsh and strident reality. Most of the Storytellers found this to be difficult. They were men and women of words and ideas and they found this terrible cruelty almost overwhelming. Yet they sat and watched for they knew the General was not adverse to impaling Storytellers who showed weakness and misguided compassion. He had done so before.

   One of the Storytellers, a man named Nawan, a member of the sect and an Imperial citizen but half Nia himself through his mother, actually approached the victims, shouting Imperial slogans up into their twisted faces. Of course they barely heard him for their sufferings were terrible, their eardrums bursting. Such was his fervor and fury that the General himself noted his actions and instructed one of his officers to find out the man’s name so that he could be rewarded later with one of the Emperor’s low ranking metals reserved for Storytellers. However, if he knew what Nawan was up to he would have done otherwise.

   Tied up in a harness beneath his voluminous cloak Nawan concealed a sheep’s bladder filled with a strong narcotic, a small amount of which would stop a man’s breathing.


Attached to one end was a hollow needle which he could easily bring out through the opening in his cloak. When he came in close to scream and spit in fury at the impaled man he leaned against his thigh and injected him with this potion. The victims were so engrossed in other more horrible pains they did not notice the jab but within ten or fifteen minutes they were dead. Nawan administered his potion of death strategically to protect himself. He walked the whole line abusing each in turn but choosing only every tenth man for injection. By the time he came to the end of the line, exhausted by his shouting, almost unable to speak, he had brought to twenty-three men his kiss of death.  

   Several hours after the impaling the General rode from his place at the side of the square surrounded by his subalterns, all brightly uniformed young men, who, as they remained away from and above the killing on their horses, looked as though they had just turned out for a fancy dress parade. They were all from noble families and carried on one side of their breastplate the Emperor’s coat of arms, on the other that of their own house. As this processional made its way across the square, the soldiers created for it a path much as the magician in the Falconian fable created a path across a raging river. As the processional passed, on each side the packed and hysterical soldiers shouted themselves hoarse, crying out from the dying embers of their bloodlust for their victorious General. He graciously waved back and even, once or twice, in a sly, ironic fashion, smiled.

   When the General came up to the line of the impaled his officers moved off to either side. He was draped by a servant in a hide cloak which covered his front and handed a long sword, razor sharp. With this he proceeded to cut off the heads of the first ten men in the line of the impaled. With each beheading his troops shouted in delirious joy and his subalterns politely clapped. When he was done he handed the sword to his chief of staff. The subalterns jostled with their horses to be in line to cut off a few heads of their own. Afterwards the bodies of the victims were removed from the stakes and thrown into the river. They were replaced by the heads, the features frozen by their sufferings into masks of agony. The General ordered these to remain until they were reduced by rot, insects and birds to bare skulls. Then they were to be taken down, smashed with hammers and thrown into the river.

  One of the Falconian Storytellers sitting crosslegged on the ground before the impaled elders, was a young woman of twenty-one. Her name was Fli and she had just received her First Degree Certificate from the Institute in the Imperial Capital, Hawan. Although she had heard stories of such things and had been taught at the Institute that the Glory of the Emperor required many grim practices she was truly devastated. It is one thing to listen and approve of ideas, words, ideologies and another to witness up close unbelievably cruel depravity. When the soldiers had lifted the naked old men up and jammed them down on the sharpened stakes the entire structure of her inner world was


shattered in a single blow. Every thing she had been taught at the Institute was a lie. The purpose and significance of her life, which up until then had been sure and steady and lain out before her in a long, glorious shining road stretching off into the future, was cut off and she felt as if someone had suddenly removed all of her inner organs and replaced them with an iron nothingness.  But she was a strong young woman and did not allow any of her true thoughts to show on her face. She arranged her features in a mask of cool stoicism and looked upon these suffering and screaming men as if they were so many fish thrown by fishermen to die flopping on a sandy shore.

   When Nawan came down the line of the impaled, cursing and abusing the sufferers, her reaction was one of disgust. She knew Nawan from the Institute and was surprised for he had always seemed to her to be a thoughtful young man free of the brutal fanaticism of many of the students and here he was a screeching maniac, a point man in a world of raving lunatics. But when he came up to the man off to her left she saw what he did with his needle, not clearly for what he did was covered by his body and cloak but still she was sure by the movements of his body by the almost imperceptible pause in his stream of abuse that he was accomplishing something diametrically opposed to the dramatic role he was playing. She watched the impaled man she was sure Nawan had done something to as Nawan himself went on down the line. He was a man in his seventies, his face white with pain, his features distorted, his eyes staring off into a terror which could only end with a now deeply longed for death. Two minutes after Nawan was with him his writhings slowed down to a kind of weird rhythm. Four minutes and his face relaxed withdrawn somehow from the world of terror it had been in to become human again, to take in one last time the actualities which were about him, the soldiers, the Storytellers sitting before him, the cries of his fellow victims, perhaps even the smell of the river behind and the blue haze of the sky above. A minute later he reached up with both hands and closed his own eyes, very gently, employing his fingers in the most delicate way. Then he dropped his hands, slumped to one side, and stopped breathing.

   When the impaled man was gone Fli shifted her eyes to watch Nawan who had progressed down the line. She got up and walked to the end of the line and watched him from there. By the time he was finished and walked over to one of the water buckets to drink she was sure. Somehow he had drugged and delivered a kinder death to some of the victims. And here, in this world of mockery, sadism, and depraved hysteria his actions, perhaps because they were so weird, so out of synch, had gone undetected, other than by herself. Nawan sat not far from her and they both watched the closing act, the General with his deft beheadings, the bodies flung into the river, the heads placed upon the stakes. When it was over Nawan rose, shouldered his pack and started up the river bank to the north. Fli followed.

    Nawan seemed to be in his own world as he walked along and he did not notice she


was behind him until he was almost outside the town. Then he turned and waited for her to catch up. He looked at her in a strange distracted way as if she were perhaps a being from another world.

   “If I walk beside you it might look a little more normal,” she said.

   Nawan nodded and they started off once again keeping a distance of some five feet between them, moving swiftly along for Nawan seemed to have some clear destination in mind but what it was she did not know. They walked, without saying a word, for five hours before heavy twilight descended. They were by then quite a distance outside town in a quiet area, still walking the riverbank along the tow path the Nia used to pull boats upstream. Nawan suddenly turned off the path and led them into a clearing in the trees beyond the river. He dropped his pack on the ground, went into the woods coming back after a few moments with deadwood and began building a fire.

   When the fire was going, Fli took bread from her pack, skewered it on a stick and toasted it over the flames. Nawan took cheese from his pack, sliced it into small cubes and placed it on a wooden dish between them.

   “You should not have followed me,” he said. “ If anyone beside yourself had noticed they would have killed you too. They would have thought you were in on it.”

   “No one else noticed,” Fli replied.

   “Maybe. But sometimes people wait until later when the time is right to tell such things. After I eat I am going on all night. You should stay here. In the morning go back. In the confusion no one will notice you are missing.”


   “Don’t be stubborn. I am telling you what is best for you. When they find I am gone they will hunt for me. What do you think they will do when they find me?”

  Fli said nothing.


  “You are being cruel. You should not ask me such a question.”


“Oh yes I should. Where I am going there is a whole world of such questions. I ask them of myself so why should I not ask them of you?”

   “You should not ask them of me because I will refuse to answer them.”

   This struck Nawan as so incredible an answer that he burst out laughing. Then realizing the noise he was making he covered his mouth with both hands.

   “So you are human,” said Fli.

   “Of course I am human you silly girl. What do you think I am? Some kind of slippery God of kindness I suppose.”

   “I am not a silly girl. And I do not think you are a slippery God of kindness. More than likely you are some monster of ethics. One who can have tender feelings only for his own acts of righteousness.”

   “My God you are only small but you hit hard.”

    “I am only telling you what may be true.”

   “Well, what may be true is all very interesting but what is true is that if they catch you with me they will kill you and do it in a way that is unimaginatively cruel.”

   “Of course.”

   “And why, in heaven’s name would you want to risk that?”

   “Because it is a risk far better than the alternative which is a surety.”

   “What surety?”

   “To live a life of despair and self hatred.”

   “And I am to save you from this?”

   “You are to save me from nothing you childish man. I will come with you because I know nothing of the subterfuges necessary for escape. You do.”

   “You don’t know what you ask. Probably I will merely be traveling from one death to another.”


 “That’s what everybody is doing anyway. Even the cruel soldiers are doing that.”  

   Nawan looked at her but she refused to look back, instead turning her eyes on the fire.

   “Do you still have some of your potion?” Fli asked.


   “Well if worst comes to worst then you can inject me with it.”

    Nawan thought about this for a while. They both looked into the lowering fire. With a stick he pushed the embers into the center and crushed them down. Fli took a small leather bucket from her pack and went off to the river. In a few moments she was back with the bucket full of water. Nawan held up his hand and she waited. He took a small lantern and lit it with an ember from the fire. It had an opaque shield which he left open a bare sliver of a crack. Then he nodded to Fli and she poured the water over the fire. Nawan led the way back to the path with the lantern close to the ground suspended on a piece of rope. When they came to the path he said, “The moon is behind dark clouds. Let’s hope it stays there.”

   They walked all night, lucky in the heavy dark overcast covering the moon and the sky. When it brightened in the morning they went off into the trees and, not willing to risk a fire, ate dry biscuits from Nawan’s pack.

   “Can you ride?” he asked Fli.


   “Where we are going should be deserted. The farmers and river people along here will have fled north. We are going into the hills to the east. I don’t think there will be soldiers out here. They won’t be here for another two days or so after they have finished cleaning up in town. Cleaning up for them is to complete the burning and flushing out the odd hiders. We will risk traveling in the day because we have to be through here before they come. To the east there is a trail through a stretch of woodland that leads up to the hills. There is a lot of brush where the land starts to rise and the brush covers the beginning of a trail through the hills. It is a good trail for us to take because the soldiers do not even know it’s there. The Nia use it to go into the hills for hunting. If there are any Nia they will not bother us. They will be terrified and give any strangers a wide berth. There are farms along the wooded trail. Hopefully we can find horses and dried meat for the journey.”


  “Where are we going?”

   “We are going over the hills down onto a plain. After crossing the plain there are more hills which form the foothills of the Saa mountains. After that I am unsure. But that should be far enough away. The land we will be crossing has scattered nomads some of whom are allied with the Falconians, but most of them live a quiet life off to the side and have nothing to do with Empires. Hopefully, at one of the farms in the Nia hills we can find weapons. You never know.”

   Later that day they did find weapons, two bows, a spear and a short knife. Fils took a bow and the knife, Nawan the remainder. They found four young mares in a paddock and bridled them. They rode the horses up to the farmhouse where they found in a storage room at the back, hide bags filled with smoked meat and a kind of pemmican. They loaded some of these onto the horses and rode off. Before they left, however, Fli took four gold coins from her pack and put them on the farmhouse table. Nawan raised his eyebrows.

   “My people have money. They are always anxious for me and insist I carry gold when I travel.”

   “Do you have more?”


  “Good. We may need it. And pick up three of those coins. One is more than enough.”

    When they reached the beginning of the trail there was enough light left to start up into  the hills. They camped beside a stream running over scoured rocks and carpeted on either side with lush green grass. But with the possibility of soldiers they did not light a fire. They sat on the grass and ate smoked meat and dry biscuits.

   “So your people are rich?” Nawan asked.

   “Yes,” said Fli.

   “Then why did they let you become a Storyteller?”

   “My people are merchants. Merchants find it useful to have Storytellers in the family. They pick the weird ones and I fell into that category. From when I was twelve until two


years ago I was presented with a lineup of perhaps twenty suitors. I rejected them all. Of course my mother and aunts moaned and groaned and persuaded and threatened but I paid them no mind. Then they sent me to the Institute.”

   “What was wrong with your suitors?”

   “Nothing. But they were merchants and I didn’t want to live a life where money is the measure of all things. The young men were very nice, some even with character but that life was not for me.”

   “I was born poor,” said Nawan. “So to get into the Institute was a chore. My mother had a distant cousin who had influence.”


   “So why don’t you go back to your parents?”

   “You know the answer to that. I don’t have to tell you.”

   Nawan didn’t respond to this. When they finished their meat and biscuits they crawled into their tiny tent, rolled themselves up in blankets and went to sleep.

  When they were passing through a narrow spot between two hills the next day Nawan said, “My mother told me to avoid rich girls.”

   “Why I wonder,” asked Fli.

   “She said there would be problems with social differences.”

   “Out here there are no social differences so you don’t have to worry.”

   Before they went to sleep that night Fli asked, “Why did you give those men the potion?”

   “Because I had to.”


 “Had to?”

   “If I did it there was a chance I would be found out. Then I would be dead. If I didn’t do it then I would have died an even worst death. I would be one of the walking dead. I didn’t want to become one of the walking dead.”

   “And who are the walking dead.”

   “That is a very difficult question to answer. The walking dead do not fit into convenient categories. They are sly and often can give great imitations of liveliness. But with the way things are spread around willy nilly, I would say there is a good chance that a few of your suitors were among the walking dead. Did you notice that any were?”

   “Yes I did. I just didn’t call them by that name.”

   “What did you call them then?”

   “I didn’t call them anything but I knew they were the kind of men who suck up the lives of others like a horrible sponge.”

   “That would be them. I didn’t want to become one of them.”

   “I suspect you couldn’t become one of them no matter what you did. Or perhaps I should say that it was impossible for you to act in any other way.”

   “Maybe. But I could have just sat there and perhaps have half closed my eyes.”

   “Like me.”

   “You shouldn’t think of it like that. You don’t have an aunt who loves you and grows medicinal plants and when you ask her gives you all you want with instructions on how to mix them and asks you no questions. And remember, you followed me. You are far from stupid and you knew there was danger, perhaps extreme danger.”

   “I followed you because I want to be like you.”


   “I want to be a person who in the midst of cruelty and suffering has the courage to bring healing.”


   “That’s wonderful,” said Nawan, “because that’s the kind of person I want to be too.”

    When Fli and Nawan came to the outskirts of the Saa Mountains they stopped and gazed up at the peaks.

    “Will there be snow do you think?”

   “I’ve never been in the mountains so I don’t really know. But I would imagine so.”

   “Well if there is I hope it’s not too deep,” said Fli.


   Hawan was the Capital city of the Falconian Empire. It sat in a bowl of flat land surrounded by rounded hills. A deep cut in the hills to the northeast let in the River Sah to flow through the city. It exited through the hills in the southwest, then ran many miles west until it emptied into the Salt Sea.

    The Falconians were an old people. They began many thousands of years before, west, on a strip of land running along the Salt Sea. This land included the estuary of the Sala, a rich source of fish, waterfowl, turtles, clams, oysters, birds and much more. They also sent boats out to sea to fish the fertile waters of the straits between hundreds of islands off shore. This reliable supply of food obtained without a great deal of labor gave them a advantage over their neighbors. They used this advantage with great cunning and skill over hundreds of years until they had conquered north and south along the coast for almost a thousand miles. Then, after a pause of several generations to build up a seafaring commerce around the rim of the Salt Sea, they turned eastward, first to ward off and punish tribal raiders and then to occupy the lush lands forming the valley of the Sah.


   Five hundred years after the Falconians pushed up the Sah as far as the Saa Mountains there was a war on the Salt Sea which almost destroyed the Empire. The then capital, Ara,  sitting on the sea in the estuary of the Sala was taken by a fleet of ships, a war alliance of Tului, Kaluia and Geogan, seagoing counties spread out around the Salt Sea. . The Falconians fled into their east lands, reorganized and drove back against the invaders. They were successful in expelling the foreign fleet and also in building a new fleet of their own with which, after a generation of sea battles, they won back their sea lanes. One result of this war was that the Falconians developed a fear of having their rich capital so accessible to sea attacks. They moved it east to become the present city of Hawan. Here there was no threat of attack from the east where there were only mountain ranges and plains sparsely populated with nomadic tribes. An attack from the west into the heart of the Empire would require more resources than any of their competitors around the salt sea possessed.

   In the beginning the Falconians were tribal themselves. They were ruled by a council of clans, the headmen of the clans being elected; they owned land in common, shared fishing rights by lottery and so on. But as the population expanded and they grew wealthy and powerful this changed. The war to regain their seacoast was led by a man from the most powerful clan who afterwards argued and assassinated his way to being the hereditary convener of the council of clans. The clans themselves, finding the system of election from amidst spread out clan members to be cumbersome, also developed  hereditary leaders. These leaders over several centuries moved to privatize common lands and fishing rights. The merchants, whose organizing and financing was essential to the  growing wealth of the Empire were given seats on the council. Eventually this evolved into an Imperial structure of Emperor, nobles, and merchants ruling over a great mass of peasants with some variation in the cities which had craft guilds, local merchant groups and town councils all with certain legal rights. And then there was the Army in Hawan and the Navy in Ara, the former capital.

    The city of Hawan was surrounded first by its hills and further by a system of three ring walls. Between the walls were large serpentine areas holding army barracks, headquarters and parade and training grounds. Up against the inner eastern ring wall, far away as possible from the Emperor’s Palace which was on the west wall, was the noble quarters. The heads of the noble houses, with the exception of those employed in


diplomatic and other public duties, were required to live in his Hawan house ten months of the year. When the Lord, the head of the house, was out of town his wife and children were required to live in a section of the Palace designed for that purpose. This section was run by special servants who had at their disposal a company of guards which could be summoned any time of the night or day. Once, in the time of the grandfather of the present Emperor, a Lord, in preparation to fleeing to the mountains to raise a revolt, had tried to free his family from the Palace. With fifty armed servants he made it into the Palace but when coming out of the families area across a wide courtyard they were surrounded by the guard and cut to pieces. It was winter. The bodies were stripped; they froze solid and were left where they were. A week later the Emperor ordered them to be thrown out into the public street where they remained for three months much gawked at by the citizenry and endless straggles of little boys. When the stench rising from the thawing corpses filled the streets in front of the Palace in the spring the Emperor had them carted away and tossed into the river Sah.

   All of this Lord’s hereditary land was expropriated by the crown; all his dwelling places in both city and country demolished. His relatives down to the second cousins were exterminated. The name of his house was extinguished from all public records. All other noble families were required to prune their family trees to remove any mention of them. Imperial Librarians took four long years to recopy histories, textbooks, list of servitors, etc., excising mention of this unfortunate family. When they were done the Librarians went back to dozing among the stacks praying fervently that the nobles would in future behave themselves so no more laborious rewritings would be needed.


   The Emperor was sitting in his garden. The garden was in the center of an enormous courtyard in turn the center of the rambling group of connected buildings which constituted the Palace. It was mid summer so many of the flowers were in full bloom, a riot of color. None of the flowers and plants were indigenous to the north; they were all imported from the south, brought on ships to Ara and then up the Sah to Hawan. According to the Emperor and his gardener it was in the south that proper flowers bloomed. These proper flowers had enormous blooms and gave off sweet and sickly scents. The Emperor loved these scents and liked nothing more than to sit undisturbed among them. He did not like the flowers of his own country. Although some were admittedly elegant and finely formed, they were small, often mere flowerlets, and to get a scent from them at all one was forced to practically jam them up one’s nose. As far as the Emperor was concerned such tiny rags of color, almost scentless, were poor excuses for


flowers and in truth could hardly be called flowers at all. Sometimes he wondered why the gods gave his country such paltry flowers. Perhaps it was because of the sins of his ancestors, some of whom, even the Emperor had to admit, where dissolute men. He thought it just possible that after a few more years of his own Sterling Reign the gods would relent. One could only hope.

   The Emperor was alone but not totally alone. To say he was alone was to say there was no one nearby of sufficient rank whom he could speak to in a familiar way. Against the east wall behind a trellis covered with exaggerated white and blue booms were twelve servants awaiting the arising of his slightest whim. While they were waiting they played a dice game, rolling the bone dice on a piece of stretched fabric so as not to disturb the solitude of the Most Exalted One. This is how the servants addressed him when he spoke to them. They, of course, did not speak to him unbidden. Against the west wall, again hidden by a trellis, this time hung with purple and yellow blooms, were twenty of the special detachment of the Imperial Army which acted as his guards. They were enormous men, chosen for their strength and size and armed to the teeth. The Emperor didn’t care for them; sometimes they scared him. But he understood their necessity and bore their presence stoically. The guards stood at ease in two rows, waiting. They didn’t mind waiting even though it was often boring and tiresome. They were soldiers and soldiers are used to waiting. They would not have dreamed of dicing in the presence of the Emperor even if he were veiled by a trellis opaque with flowers and vegetation.

   His advisors had told the Emperor that the Nia would have to be annihilated and he agreed although he had no personal desire to annihilate them. He supposed that the soldiers must be given something to do or otherwise they would grow jaded and fight amongst themselves. It was not that he felt compassion for the Nia; that was impossible. To feel compassion for them would mean that, in some way he would have to feel connected to them, to see them, at least in some nascent, obscure way, as a part of himself. He felt no such thing. To him the Nia were animals, tribal scum, offal.

   That morning he had received the General’s letter announcing the victory. It was a floridly written letter as all letters from the General were. The General was only forty but he had already had three Triumphs in the Capital and the letter asked for a forth. The most that any other General had achieved were two. The Emperor had immediately dictated a reply letter. Of course the General could have a Triumph. Anything else would be unthinkable. The Emperor added a page of praise in a style even more florid than that of the General’s own letter. Then he called in his First Minister and ordered the preparations begun. There was much to be done and the General was only two week’s march from the city. When the First Minister left a succession of nobles and officials came in bearing obsequious congratulations. The Emperor answered them in kind,


insisting that the victory was to be laid at the feet of his excellent Ministers and the iron will of the Army. When the line of congratulators had finally come to an end he had the doors to the Throne room shut and went out into the garden.

   During the audience, which lasted four hours, he had been thinking of something else. The Emperor often did this. This is how he made his best plans. By the time he arrived at the marble seat in the garden, supplied with a royal purple cushion, he had already made his decision. But he stayed there quietly for another hour, gazing at his beloved flowers before he called over the Captain of the guard.

     The man appeared instantly from behind the trellis and came forward. He clicked the heels of his heavy boots together and bowed so low his head was in danger of hitting the tiles. “Most Exalted One,” the Captain said in an appropriately reverent tone.

   “Send for Colonel Kal,” said the Emperor.

   “At once, Most Exalted One,” said the Captain. He clicked his heels, bowed and quick marched through the door entering the administrative section of the Palace. Five minutes later the Colonel, who was the Chief of Intelligence, arrived. He clicked his heels, bowed and said, “Most Exalted One.”

   Colonel Kal had an acne scarred, sallow face with eyes that shone with an extraordinary intelligent aggression. On the street, in ordinary clothes, one would take him for a pickpocket or a night thief, except for those eyes. He was a thin, ascetic looking man of fifty years and had been Chief of Intelligence for ten. His social origins were plebian; he spoke the high language with a slight accent and a tone of light sarcasm. He did this even with the Emperor despite the fact that to use sarcasm in the Royal Presence was dangerous. But the Emperor didn’t mind. He knew that Kal’s sarcasm was an essential part of the man’s makeup, not something that he put on like a suit of clothes. Over the years of their association the Emperor’s appreciation of his sarcasm had increased and he even taken to mimicking its tone in his own speech. Ten years younger than the Emperor, he had noticed him when he was a very young officer in the guards. He was drawn by those highly intelligent eyes which all the formalities of military demeanor could not totally disguise. He watched his career from afar channeling him into Intelligence and letting it be known, now and then, that his promotions should be accelerated. When, ten years before, the old Chief, who had been playing a double game with certain of the nobles, died in an accident, he had Kal promoted from the third rank and appointed Chief. He was very competent and very discrete.


   “I have a problem,” said the Emperor.

   “And what would that problem be, Most Exalted One?” asked the Colonel.

   “A certain General.”

   “I assume, Most Exalted One, you are referring to our most victorious General.”


   “ Too victorious, perhaps?”


   “And how, Most Exalted One?”

   “I leave that in your most competent hands. I would only say that it should be done without causing scandal.”

   “Of course, Most Exalted One. And the timing?”

   “The celebration of another Triumph for the General would be very costly.”

  “I understand, Most Exalted One.”

    The Emperor lifted his hand and the Colonel went down on one knee and kissed his ring. When he rose he clicked and bowed and marched off to disappear behind the trellis.


   The morning after the ‘battle’ the General, eager to reach the capital and throw his influence into the planning of his unprecedented fourth Triumph, broke camp early, and, leaving behind his slow wagons pushed on through the pass with what he called his


‘hurry up corp’ -  guards and servants all double horsed and riding hard. On the first day they made it through the pass and camped at the edge of the flatlands beyond. Nine days later they camped in the hills to the east of Hawan. The next day the General planned to send messengers into the Capital bringing back several key officials in charge of the planning. He himself, of course, would not enter the city until the Great Day.

   The Corp were camped in a hollow in the hills, the tents spread out in a haphazard fashion for what danger could there be here for an Army Corp so close to the Capital City? The General, who liked to sleep in mornings, had his tent set up against a rise of rock on the east side so the sun would not shine on it until mid morning. Colonel Kal was informed of all this by the tribesmen who scouted the movements of the corp. He himself, along with six tribesmen came around the base of the rise in the middle of the night. Two of the tribesmen silently garroted the two guards half asleep before a small fire. The General was a sound sleeper. It was no trouble for the other four to soundlessly gag him, roll him in three thick blankets and carry him back to the horses. They tied him onto a packhorse and rode off. The General, whose leather gag had been preceded by a piece of wool, draped on his stomach over the horse’s back, could barely draw enough air through his nostrils. Nevertheless, while he was flaring his nostrils as wide as possible he imagined a scene in which his guards were being roasted over and open fire and he was telling them and an appreciative group of officers, how severe an offence it was to sleep on duty.

    The General and his captors rode all night and all the next day as well. They gave him no food or water and in the brief respites from riding necessary to rest and water the horses they did not remove him from the horse. Under the blankets, the heat of the day was excruciating. He wriggled; he even managed a squeal or two but he was paid no attention. When they stopped for the night they lay him on the ground, peeled back the blankets around his head, and removed his gag. He sucked in air through his mouth for three or four minutes with such desperate and close attention that the men standing around watching him were as shadows. When he managed to focus his eyes on them he became filled with despair. Four men, hard eyed, with grim, stoical faces. From their hairdressing and ritual scars on their right cheeks he knew them as Gans, a tribal people to the west of the Nia. Eight years before he had won his first Triumph by leading a massacre in their territories.

   The four men looked down at him seemingly without emotion for their faces were entirely expressionless. Then, suddenly as if they had been called away by another, they turned and walked away. They made a fire some distance away and cooked a meal. But they gave none to the General and neither did they bring him water. He suffered in silence, too terrified to say anything. He was afraid they would slit his throat.


The next morning, at first light, two of the men tossed him over the horse’s back and tied him on. The traveled all that day stopping only to rest and water the horses. Now that he could see the General was filled with even a greater despair. They were headed southwest into the tribal lands of the Gans. The night before he had at least the faint hope that the Gans were merely agents delivering him to someone who would hold him for ransom. They rode all that day and through the night. Then they stopped only for a few hours to rest the horses and rode again.

    Late that day they came into a Gan village nestled into the hills on the northern borders of their territory. The General knew it well and he shuddered for knew the logic of vengeance having practiced it so well for so many years. On this spot Falconian riders, led personally by the General, had massacred several hundred women, children and old people left behind by Gan warriors gone off to raid further south. When they reached the center of the village he was pulled from his horse, stripped of his blankets and tied to a stake buried in the ground. He was expertly tortured for six days. The children were still salting the dangling shreds of his genitalia when the village headman, finding the entertainment was delaying the bringing down of the goats from the high plateaus, ended it by slitting his throat. What remained of him was thrown down a nearby ravine. There his final hopes for a fourth Triumph were carried away in the tearing jaws of mountain scavengers.


  Colonel Kal rode into the General’s camp the morning after his disappearance. Everything was in chaos. The General was gone, his guards dead and nobody knew what to do. They welcomed the Colonel and his authority as if he were water delivered to a parched mouth. He organized things. He sent out search parties. He sent a messenger to the Capital. He had the soldiers build a bier and burned the guard’s bodies. Then he himself, with his two Gans, went south along an obscure trail to see if they might find some trace of the missing General. They did. At noon they rode back into the camp trailing a packhorse. Over the back of the horse was the frightfully mutilated body of the General. They had found it by the side of the trail. The mutilations had been performed in such a way that there was no doubt the perpetrators were Nia who must have followed them up from the south waiting their chance for vengeance. It was hard to even recognize the General but the Colonel had a list of the General’s scars and birth marks and only by these had he been able to recognize the body. It was wrapped in a blanket dripping blood down the horse’s back onto the ground. Still wrapped they placed it on a bier and before the several hundreds of soldiers and servants in the camp standing at attention the General was cremated. There was no question of turning such a


desecrated body over to his family. The Colonel had the ashes collected by the General’s servants and taken to his wife in the Capital. Colonel Kal spoke to the assembled camp insuring them they were blameless in the matter and that he would speak to the Emperor in person of their bravery and attention to duty. Then he sent a message to the Palace written in a code known only to himself and the Emperor.

   When he deciphered the Colonel’s message at a small desk in his bedroom, the Emperor clapped his hands together and shouted for joy. His favorite concubine who was lying naked on the bed turned her head towards him. Performing a brief dance of celebration he jumped into the bed beside her. After some coaxing he told her what the letter said. Then he said, “Of course if you tell anyone I’ll have your pretty head cut off.” His concubine took this in her stride, slipping her hand down between his thighs. When there was a quick reaction to her manipulations she said, “O my, and so soon.” And she climbed atop him for she knew in his passion of after killing that was what he liked.

    During the Emperor’s audience the following morning Colonal Kal, dressed in his riding clothes, filthy with mud and horse sweat, rushed into the room bringing the terrible news. The Emperor broke into such a passion of weeping that his personal attendants had to lead him to a chair and bring him a glass of drugged wine. When he was recovered enough to speak the Emperor declared seven days of morning for the General. Then he covered his head with a symbolic black handkerchief brought by his servants and retired to his personal quarters.                                                    


   Neel drove one of the wagons carrying tents. There were two older mares in the traces and he tied the reins to the seat and let them go where they liked which was following the path of the wagon in front of them. Beside him was a square leather box containing his


notes for “The History of the Southern Peoples”. He spent his days alternately dozing and reading his notes. Many of the things he found among the papers surprised him. He had no memory of writing them and placing them there.

   He was impressed with how complete the notes were. This was due to his tutelage, in early youth, to a teacher at the Klegit University. He was a fat, jolly, carefree sort of man but not when it came to notes. With notes he was a relentless taskmaster, a slave driver. “You must write down everything,” he would shout at his students. “The knowledge and impressions of the moment are absolutely essential and can only be captured in the notes. Without notes a historian is merely one of those garrulous storytellers one meets in low taverns. Human memory is a sieve, gentlemen, a sieve and an unreliable instrument. Notes are its salvation and corrective.” The teacher sent his students out into the field where he himself had been the year before. When they came back he compared their notes with his own. When Neel brought his notes in from his first session in the field the old man had him sit across the table from him while he scanned them. This didn’t take long for he seemed to read by paragraphs rather than sentences. When he was finished he dropped the last page on the table and looked at Neel for a long time. Neel became very uncomfortable. Perhaps the old man’s steely gaze was capable of penetrating through Neel’s shoddy façade of serious student, a façade which he was desperately hoping would disguise the fact that he had spent most of the summer writing lyric love poems and hopping in and out of the beds of beautiful women. In hindsight Neel now realized that the old man knew exactly what he was up to and was not even particularly judgmental about it. What he was wondering was if this scallywag sitting before him in all the glory of his self indulgences was worth the old man telling him the truth. After what seemed a century or so he decided in the affirmative.

   “You have forty-three pages and mine comprise five hundred and sixty-nine. What does this discrepancy tell you?”

      Neel looked at the notes on the table and then up at the ceiling. He scratched the left side of his belly and shifted in his chair. Finally he brought his eyes down to meet those of his teacher.

   “I suppose it means that I could have been a little more thorough.”

   This caused his teacher to raise his eyebrows and say, “Yes it does. It also means you are a numskull, a lazy tourist, a hare brained halfwit and a person who should be mending shoes instead of wasting his time at the university! That’s what it tells you. Your mother wants you to be a politician. Well, all I can say is I hope so.”


   Despite this tongue lashing, or perhaps because of it, Neel stayed with the old man for five years. Most students only stayed for two. He eventually became an excellent note taker and they even worked together on a book. Later he became a friend to his teacher in his last years. When he died he left Neel his library in his will.

   It was impossible to write on the seat of the rolling and jolting wagon but he could read and think. At night, by the fire he set up his portable desk and wrote for two or three hours before going to bed. This gave Neel a focus which he had not had for a long time. He became quite cheerful, joking with his wives and chasing the sheepdogs around the campfire pulling their tails. Sometimes when they were traveling he would call Kweya over and ask him questions about his travels in the South. Kweya amazed him for although he was certainly not a note taker, he could remember just about everything he had experienced all those years ago. He could repeat verbatim conversations with elders on the Loona who had died almost fifty years ago.

   “How can you remember all that stuff?” Neel asked him one day.

   “I’m not sure,” said Kweya. “Perhaps it’s because I don’t remember it. It remembers me.”

   Neel rolled his eyes at this. Although he trusted his friends recall totally he regretted Kweya’s tendencies toward mysticism and enigma.

   As the group of travelers were crossing the grass they sent out a rider in each direction of the compass. Occasionally they met small bands of the nomadic peoples who lived there and exchanged news. Ohn  and Yaah sometimes traded hatchet heads and knives for smoked meat and hides. These nomadic people were related to the Lacti and the Osni. They were an easy going, peaceful people who wanted nothing more than to live their lives in their traditional way. Everyone called them the Koli which, according to Kweya, meant wanderers in an old language no longer spoken. Whenever they met a small group Zuzy invited them to the fire so she could exchange healing and plant lore with the older women. Since they wandered from the north quite far south and even into the mountains to the west they had a vast store of knowledge about plants and foods in these regions. During these talks Zuzy had Yaah and Ohn sit nearby and write down the names and locations of plants and herbs. Although they could not write letters some of the old Koli women were excellent at drawing pictures of the plants they harvested.

   The Koli also told them of wars beyond the mountains. Their relatives in the west who


sometimes traveled over the mountains told them of massacres. There was an empire there they said and it sent out huge armies to annihilate its enemies. Some of these enemies had a loose trading relationship with the Koli. Many tribes had moved further to the south or north to escape the empire armies. Most of the Koli they met called this empire people simply ‘the devils’ but one elder told Kweya and Neel that their proper name was Falconians, after, the old man surmised, the bird of prey. “And they are certainly that,” he said, “but even worst. The falcon kills to eat and live. These people  kill for sheer enjoyment.” These Falconians had originally come inland from the western salt sea and had lived in reasonable peace with their neighbours for many hundreds of years but lately they had embarked on a program of conquering. They massacred and drove out the people who lived in an area and then settled it with their own people. Their armies poured out from a great city of stone. They had a headman who dressed in purple robes and sat on a high chair. He loves to kill and torture people and eats the flesh of children.

   Of course Kweya and Neel knew of the Falconians. Kweya had once spent two days talking to a Falconian noble who had fled east to escape the wrath of their Emperor. He was a nervous wreck of a man but highly intelligent, full of descriptions of army operations, irrigation agriculture, and the goings on in the high society of the empire. He had once lived in the sea coast city of Ara and gave Kweya detailed, vivid descriptions of huge merchant ships made of cedar with tree masts rigged with billowing sails which traveled for weeks and even months to reach other trading cities across the Salt Sea. Kweya liked the man and was sorry to hear, much later, that he had settled with his servants in the buffer land between the Sege and the Klegit and began a career of raiding. A Sege war party killed him and his companions when Kweya was still a Sege General. Neel had, in the trunks of books he had hidden in the woods behind his farm in Klegit country, Falconian history books, treatises on farming, animal husbandry, metal working and so on. His old teacher was particularly interested in the Falconians whom he claimed to be bestial and civilized at the same time. “They have technologies,” he once said to Neel, “which one day will overwhelm us. They wield them with a vicious and cruel savagery on a scale none of us have yet seen.” One night, Neel and Kweya, after listening to an account of the Falconian war against the Nia, Neel said, “Well, I guess we have the Rechyai behind us and the Falconians in front.”

   “Actually,” said Kweya, “we are traveling at an oblique angle away from both.” Neel put this down as one of his friend’s endless enigmas.

   One fine morning, two weeks out onto the plain, Ohn was riding as the northern scout.


He had ridden ahead for some miles returning to the party in a semi circular loop. Everything was quiet, as it usually was, for the Koli were friendly and that part of the grasslands was free of warlike people. As he came up over a rise a few hundred yards away from the caravan, a man suddenly rose from the grass and pulled Ohn off his horse. He tried to mount Elly but she backed away quickly and Ohn recovered and tackled him. At the same time he let out a great shout to warn the others. The two men wrestled, rolling down a section in the tall grass with their efforts until Yaah and Wani came riding up and trained bows on the attacker Ohn had succeeded in thrusting away from him. The young man stood with his arms at his side, weary in his defeat, waiting for the arrow which would kill him.

   But neither Wani nor Yaah were interested in killing him especially now that Ohn was away and safe and obviously unharmed. Elly swept around in a circle and stood behind Ohn whinnying nervously.

   “Who are you?” asked Ohn.

   “I am Nia,” said the man.

   “And why did you attack me?”

   “I wanted your horse.”

   Ohn looked at the young man more closely. “You are starving.”


   “You have no weapons.”

    “I had a spear and a bow but they were stolen from me at night along with my horse.”

   “Luckily they did not also steal your life.”

   “Yes. They were thieves but not uselessly cruel.”

   “If you are Nia, what are you doing here three weeks horse travel from your own country.”

   “The Emperor’s soldiers attacked us.”


“And how did you escape?”

   “I leapt up on one of their horses and slit the rider’s throat. They chased me but I had chosen a good horse. We outran them.”

   “Turn around so I can tie your hands.”

   The young man turned around and Ohn, using the rope thrown him by Yaah, tied his hands. He then walked beside Ohn until they reached the wagons.
   Kweya had been riding beside Neel’s wagon and they brought the man up to him. Ohn told him what had happened.

   “Are you a warrior?” asked Kweya.

   “Yes. All Nia are warriors.”

   “Do you consider yourself at war with us?”

   “No. I could have killed that man with a rock but I could not find the heart to do so. I just wanted the horse and maybe his bow so I could hunt.”

   Kweya looked at the man’s protruding ribs. “Wani, please get him some pemmican,” he said. When Wani came back with the pemmican Kweya nodded significantly and Ohn untied his hands. The young man dropped to his knees and ate ravenously. When he reached out his hands to Wani for more Kweya said, “No. That’s enough for now. In a few hours you can have more. Climb up on the wagon.” The Nia climbed up on Neel’s wagon and sat atop the tents. Neel handed him a water bottle. He opened the cap and drank deeply.

   “Do you have a skill besides warrioring?”

   “Yes. I make bows and I hunt.”
  “Do you have a name?” Neel asked.

   The young man gave a long ceremonial name which sounded like the sound of a babbling brook.

   “Do you have a wife?” Kweya asked him.


 “No, but I have a mother.”

   “And what does she call you?”


   “OK,” said Neel. “We’ll call you that.”

   And that was how Naji came to join the travelers and eventually live with them in the hidden valley.

   Five days after Naji joined them they came within sight of the Saa Mountains. They stretched out in a line north to south and extended as far as the eye could see. Where they were, about the center of the range, there were two high peaks, Hai and Nagle. These were names in a long dead language living on still in a few place names. They were snow capped and their melt provided water for many rivers and streams coming down from the mountain and eventually feeding a large river flowing to the southeast. At the foot of these peaks in an incline letting itself down to the plain was a jumble of hills, ravines, crags and occasionally small valleys. Among these was the valley they were traveling towards.

   When Kweya, now traveling at the head of the column, was sure he saw Nagle, the highest of the two, he reoriented their direction a bit south.

   After looking for a long time at the two peaks Neel went back to his notes. He was reading about the small tribes who once lived near the head of the Loona and who the Horse People had conquered two centuries ago. Those who had survived the attacks either moved further south off the Loona or remained in their old territory tucked away in nooks and crannies the Horse People didn’t care about. These notes were compiled in twelve notebooks bound roughly in rawhide.

   The first was mostly the speech of a Horse People elder, an old man over one hundred years old. Neel remembered him very clearly, a wrinkled nut of a man, shrunken, wiry and wizened, yet possessed of great energy and quick on his feet as a rabbit. Over a period of three days the old man gave Neel a long account of the Horse People’s drive south, a traditional account with many deeds of heroism and long lists of the achievements of outstanding warriors. Neel copied this dutifully, politely stopping the old


man occasionally so that he could get it all down. On the last evening he spent at the old man’s fire the long tale finally came to an end. The old man cleared his throat, picked up his pipe already stuffed with tobacco and lit it with an ember from the fire.

   Neel finished his writing, closed the notebook and brought his eyes up to look into the elder’s face. He was smiling a beatific smile, perhaps a smile of joy at having finished his labour. His eyes sparkled with what seemed to Neel to be a malicious merriment. “You realize, of course,” he said. “ that what I have told you is a great lie. When a people conquer they make up lies to justify their conquering. The truth is there was hardly any real fighting, in the sense of equal forces engaging in battle. The tribes we found here were scattered and unorganized. They were inexperienced in war. They had almost no horses. What really happened was less a war than a slaughter of defenseless victims, most of them old people, women and children. A hundred and fifty Horse People warriors would descend at dawn into a little valley from which the men had fled some days before and slaughter everyone. There were only perhaps two or three skirmishes between male warriors and they were quickly over with less than a dozen dead on either side. Why would they come out to fight when they knew very well they would only be defeated? The great majority of the tribes moved south before we even arrived. Even the massacres were totally unnecessary. The mere sight of Horse People warriors riding by would have had those people on the move the next day. Every thing I have told you is made up, a monstrous lie. It is hard to know who is worst, the warriors who kill and torture defenseless people or those who make up glory stories about them. Or even those who repeat the glory stories.”

   Neel, twenty-seven at the time, thought the old man a nasty cynic, an old man terrified at approaching death who smears the fabric of life with the bile of his own bitterness. But later he came to see that bitterness was not what motivated the elder to tell him these things but the respect for truth, the respect for the way things actually were. But even though at the time he thought the old man a cynic what he told him spurred Neel on to great efforts to contact the remnants of the tribes defeated by the Horse People. Those of the tribes still in Horse People country seemed to have deliberately forgotten their past. He could find no one who could tell him anything of the invasion. He was forced to travel south off the Loona. He found a series of shaman, elders and old women storytellers in small villages nestled among the hills to be found there. He filled many notebooks with their stories.

   What they told him had filled him with such a deep sadness it took him years to recover. Many years later he realized the reason he had not written the history was not the one he usually gave  -  that he was too busy with his wives and farm  -  but that he was reluctant to revisit the stories in those notebooks. He picked up the first one. He lifted his


eyes from its cover to look at Nagle. It was coming closer. Perhaps he, Neel, was not moving at all. Perhaps Nagle, with one mighty effort, had torn itself from its roots and was slowly, with the grace one would expect from such a lofty mountain, moving across the grass towards them.


   Neel found the trip across the grass so enjoyable, reading his notes in the jostling wagon by day and writing by the fire at night, that he hardly noticed the passing of time and was surprised one day to be climbing up a rather steep trail in the foothills. Summer was gone and autumn in its middle age but there were still flowers and green grass and some of the small scrubby trees they passed by still had some of their leaves. The days were surprising warm but the nights chilly. He had to rummage around in his luggage for extra blankets and a warm fur cloak for the mornings and evenings.

   They climbed up and down what seemed to him to be an endless series of hills, on horseback (the wagons were left behind) switch backing along what he assumed to be goat trails, at first through grassy terrain spotted here and there with sections of trees and brush but, as they climbed higher, more and more over rock, the trail sometimes dangerously traveling a hair’s breath from a great fall or winding slowly down a slanted slope unstable with gravel and scree. But Neel didn’t mind. He could still read on horse back especially as he let the mare he was riding, an intelligent and sure footed creature, find her own way along the paths. When they stopped for the night, usually on a small plateau or in a hollow between hills, he kept up his writing by the fire. He had never been in the mountains before and he found the thin, clean air exhilarating and the views from the tops of the hills enchanting. Then they came to the mountains proper.

   “It’s not far now,” said Kweya who was riding just behind him.

   “Where are we going?” Neel asked over his shoulder.

   “To a valley.”


   “Way up here?”

   “Yes, of course. Mountains have valleys. Or, at least, some mountains have valleys.”

   “Is it arable?”

   “Certainly. What would we live on otherwise?”

   “Well, I never thought of it really.”

   “It’s quite high up but the angle of its exposure to the sun and the way the air currents work it is surprisingly mild. The growing season is six months some years, five at the very least. Plenty of grazing on the hillsides for horses and sheep. The summer is very warm, so warm and dry some years that water has to be taken up from the river to irrigate the gardens.”

   “How come you know so much about it?”

   “O I have been up here many times. Three years I spent the whole summer here. There are people in the valley you know.”

“What people?”

 “Students of mine but a different kind of student from the normal shaman apprentices. I have collected them over a number of years and I suppose you could say they collected me as well. That’s the way it is with good students.”

  “How many are there?”

   “Several hundred.”

   “Several hundred!”


   “But I thought we were going to an empty valley!”

   “No, no. That was merely an assumption on your part and on the part of the rest of our traveling party as well. All excepting Wani who has been here with me before.”


   “But how can you possibly have several hundred students way up here in the mountains. I thought shaman have to teach in person.”

   “Well, it’s not really shaman teaching which goes on up here. The teacher just has to show up once in a while but in the spots in between they have a kind of regimen which they follow.”

   “A regimen?”

   “A schedule of sitting cross legged but also gardening, hunting, building houses. There are men and woman and children. The houses are dug into the valley sides for warmth in the winter, cool in the summer and in the center of the valley in one of the few flat spots there is a large round sitting hall made of stone. Everyone sits cross legged there in the mornings and in the evenings. At the solstices and the equinoxes we sit for an entire week.”


   “No. Little children don’t and the older ones sit only so much. And there are some not suited to sitting. They cook and make things. Otherwise during those weeks the sitters would starve to death!”

   “So that’s what you have dragged us up this mountain for, to sit for weeks on end staring at a spot on the floor in front of us?”

   “Don’t worry Neel. There is another stone building, a square one this time, right on side of the round one. There are books and tables in there for a writer and thinker like yourself and you can spend all your time there and not have to come into the round building at all. And in case you get lonely there are several other scribblers and readers to keep you company and even, a short distance away another stone building, rectangular this time, a healer’s building with books and classrooms and rooms where the sick can stay during a course of treatment. If you get bored with your fellow scribblers you can walk across the courtyard and visit the healers who are kind and rather garrulous people who will  welcome you warmly. Now an old shaman may sidle up to you on occasion and suggest you would have more energy for your studies if you came to the round house and sat now and then but you are free to ignore him.”

   “And ignore him I will!”

   “We shall see.”


    And at that moment, Yaah, who had just led the line of horses and riders into a protected hollow, called a halt for the day.


   When they entered the valley hidden deep in the mountains Neel thought he had arrived in paradise. At its bottom was a cool clear river coming down from the glaciers atop the high peaks. Outside the valley, in this part of the mountains, the terrain was one of rocky ravines and ridges, sprinkled here and there with a little soil, scraggly vegetation and a few trees. But inside was a carpet of deep soil and the valley’s rising slopes were covered with lush green grasses and stands of ash, oak and pine. On either slope there were a series of natural plateaus, the soil and grasses held on to them against the spring runoff by willow runs which extended from one end of the valley to the other. Although it was fall everything was green and bright and the trees still held their leaves.

      In a kind of awe they made their way along the riverbank until they came to a spot where the grass strip along the river spread out into a field and swept up to the side of the first plateau. Here there were the sitting hall, the library and the healer’s hall. Behind them, where the slope of the valley grew steep, were a great number of houses dug into the slope in an irregular pattern as if they were raisins protruding from the side of a cake.  Kweya led them across the field and came to a stop at the base of the slope leading up to the dwellings. Everyone climbed down from the horses and wagons.

   Where is everyone?” Zuzy asked.

   “Sitting,” said Kweya. And indeed they were, all two hundred and six with the very little ones being cared for in a nursery just off from the sitting hall. He pointed out ten houses around which the soil was freshly dug. “Those are for us.”

   Zuzy was estatic. “I thought we were going to have to sleep under hides and freeze our ancient butts off!” she said and kissed Kweya on the cheek.

   The houses were dug into the hill, roofed with logs, greased hide and sod, and sealed on their front face facing the south by a double wall of stone. In between the walls was a thick layer of dried grass and dried moss. The window openings had three layers of well scraped hide tightly stretched across wooden frames hinged on one side so they could be opened and closed. Covering these were oak shutters, hinged as well, tied closed with rawhide thongs. They opened those on the nearest house and tied them back. Kweya


opened the oak door and they stepped inside. Here was one big room with the roof supported by log posts. At the back was a stone fireplace whose chimney went up through the roof. Zuzy and Yaah opened the hide windows and the place was filled with light. The three earth walls were covered with split logs and the rafters in the ceiling were hidden behind hides stuffed with moss and grass. Two of the corners held sleeping platforms.

   There was much discussion of who was to have what house. “They are all the same,” said Kweya. “We will have to make do with these ten until we have time to dig others. Maybe we can still build a few more before winter.”
   When they came out of the house and Zuzy had gathered everyone and began portioned out the houses, a gong sounded in the meditation hall. A few minutes later people began pouring out the front door and running up the slope to greet the new arrivals. There was a great melee of welcoming, hugging, back pounding, even kissing for a few lovers who we being reunited. Then they began to drive the sheep and other animals into the barns farther down the river and unpack the wagons, carrying the goods into the houses. The head cook came up to count the newcomers and then returned to her kitchen to rework her supper stew and bake more biscuits. That night, after supper, Kweya gave a short speech saying how happy the party was to have arrived safely and how delighted they were with the new homes dug for them.  

   Neel, his wives (the two older ones for the others had divorced him), and Tel and Galy, the Klegit sheep herders took over one of the houses. Neel built a counter along part of the sun wall. At the back of the counter he built rough shelves. He unpacked his trunk and laid out his notes and manuscripts. His wives and Tel and Galy unpacked their cooking gear and arranged it on the shelves near the fireplace.

   Kweya, Zuzy, Wani and Zuzy’s sister took one of the houses for themselves. partitioned off a small sleeping room in the dining room. Zuzy and her sister set up shop, storing food in a series of large shelves in the corner, hanging  pots from the ceiling, and directing Wani in the building of a long food preparation counter. Kweya  went with Tel and Galy, up over the ridges of the valley looking for high grass plateaus for sheep and horses in the summer. They found some. They also found, at a distance of two days travel north a necklace of small green valleys watered by glacial streams flowing from the mountains. Tel and Galy were delighted. There was plenty of pasture in the home valley, the little valleys and the plateaus to graze a great many more horses and sheep than they already had. “We can breed,” said Tel. “and even cut hay from some of the plateaus. Back home on the river the farmers often said that mountain hay is the best and richest kind.”


     Neel’s counter building took some time for he was not used to working with his hands. But despite blisters and arthritic wrists he persisted. Kweya helped him finish off the top and fit the wood together. Even though it was for his own use, his efforts impressed his wives and they made him a pair of fur leggings to keep his skinny shanks warm in the winter. Winter came late. It didn’t snow until a week before solstice and then it was only a few inches of powder mostly blown away by the wind. The first deep snow came two weeks after solstice and from then on in it seemed that it snowed every day.



   After three days of travel, mostly by night in the light of the moon, Fli and Nawan came to the end of the Nia Hills onto a grassy plain stretching out forever with no end in sight.

   “Where are we?” Fli asked.

   “I have never been here before so I can’t say for sure but from what I have picked up over the last while we are on the edge of what the Nia call the Sea of Grass. It extends southward a thousand miles, perhaps more. To the north it ends in a vast forest which goes all the way to the Northern Sea. We will be crossing it from east to west and we will know we are across when we come to the Saa Mountains.”

   “And how far is that?”

   “I have been told two weeks and I have been told six. Take your pick.”

   “Quite a ways anyway.”

   “Yes. Quite a ways.”

   “And where will we go when we reach the mountains?”

   “Over them or through them to be more accurate.”

   “A pass, then”


   “ Not really a pass but rather a series of trails which rise up quite high in the mountains and then come down on the other side. I have been told they are passable with horses. The problem will be finding the entry way and the weather. If we find the entry too late the paths will be piled high with snow.”

   “So we have to hope crossing the plain will take two weeks instead of six.”


   “And if it doesn’t.”

   “Then we will have to see.”

   “Well,” said Fli, “according to my calculations the food will last a month. That is if we manage to snare or shoot the occasional rabbit. If it takes us six weeks we are in trouble. So why do we have to cross the mountains?”

   “The Sea of Grass is Nia territory really but the Falconians consider it theirs. I assume since they have sent an expedition against the Nia then they will begin patrolling the plain and set up a garrison town. We will not be safe from the Falconians until we cross the Saa.”

   “Will they be looking for us?”

   “Probably not. At least for a while. But you know how it works. When we don’t report to the institute in Hawan they will start looking for us but that will take a month or two. But we don’t want to be explaining to a Falconian patrol captain why two Storytellers
are headed east to the Saa Mountains. They would simply arrest us and send us back to Hawan. More than likely they would execute us. The Storytellers are like the army. They don’t like deserters.”

   “Hopefully they are too busy right now to send out patrols.”

   During this conversation the horses were making their way along a grassy ridge which ran along the edge of a little stream. They had traveled all night under the moon. When, in the morning, they had surveyed the scene ahead of them from the top of a hill they decided it would be safe to continue on in the daylight. Now the day was coming to an end. It was just after the fall equinox, the days growing shorter, and, or at least it seemed so to them, night had begun falling with increasing suddenness.

   The horses were gentle, middle aged mares who came easily to the call so during stops they let them loose to graze. They built a small fire and cooked a stew of roots Nawan picked from plants along the stream, adding dried meat. When the sun went down it grew suddenly cool and the waning moon, still not far from full, rose in the eastern sky. Nawan pitched their little tent while Fli washed the pot and bowls in the stream. These chores accomplished they sat by the dying fire and looked up at the stars beginning to appear in the sky.

   “I have heard that a new fierce people live on the other side of the Saa,” said Fli.

   “I’ve heard that too.”

   “The Rechyai.”


   “They say that they are even more fierce and cruel than the Falconians. It would do no  good if, fleeing the Falconians, we fall into the hands of the Rechyai.”

   “They have settled along the Eg and have moved out onto the plain beyond the Saa. But they haven’t come down as far south as where we are going. And, also, we will not be going down into the plain. We will be staying high up in the mountains.”

   “But who would be up there except for goats and rocks?”

   “Two years ago a tribesman from the Eg came to the Institute. Do you remember him?”


   “He was studying to be a healer among his own people and came to Hawan to pick up healing lore. There wasn’t much to be found at the Institute but the Director knew my aunt was a healer and he sent him to me. He stayed with me at my aunt’s house for three months spending all day with her when she went on her rounds and writing down the ingredients for medicines. It was summer and she took him around in her plant gathering expeditions. I was interested too and took time off from the Institute to go with them. I have in my pack (here he pointed to a fat leather pack) copies of some of auntie’s mixing books and ten books on plants and their medicinal properties. The young man’s name was Wani. He was a Sege, a member of the tribe driven off the River Eg by the Rechyai. He told us he would have liked to stay with us for a year learning more lore but his teacher had instructed him to be back before winter. The way back was long so he left


before the end of summer. He went through the Saa by way of Rock Run to where his teacher was then, still on the plain between the River Eg and the Saa.. But before he left he told me about a village high in the Mountains where his teacher was building a healing school and a university. He told me that if I came there I would be more than welcome to live there and work and learn with the healers. So that is where we are going. That is if it is all right by you.”

   “O, it’s all right by me. I took all the healing courses available at the Institute and often grumbled that there were not more. That would be a wonderful place to go.”

   When they were a week out onto the Sea of Grass the moon began waning so they switched to traveling by day.  Every night when they stopped, while Fli set up the tent and made a fire to cook supper, Nawan rode in a wide circle around the camp. When he was satisfied there was no one within easy striking distance he came in to the fire and ate supper. They had not seen a single human being so far on their journey and were glad of it. After supper they tethered the horses near the fire and crawled into the small tent and went to sleep. Before he entered the tent Nawan checked the eastern sky for a certain star. When he found it he made an arrow formation of rocks pointing towards it. In the morning he used this arrow to orient their travel for the day.

   One evening they came across a large stream and had to travel along it for some distance before they came to a shallow section they could ford with the horses. They set up camp on the other side. When Nawan came in from his ride Fli was bathing in the stream. He averted his eyes until she was finished. She came up on the bank and put on a new set of clothes. While she was finishing the supper preparations Nawan washed in the river himself. When he came out he found that Fli had replaced his old clothes with a new, clean set and he put them on.

   After supper, dousing the fire and tethering the horses they crawled into the tent. Nawan went to sleep right away. Fli did not. She lay awake thinking for an hour until finally she threw off her blanket, removed her clothes and crawled over to Nawan who was sleeping on his back and snoring. She removed his blanket and pulled off his trousers and climbed on top of him. He woke.

   “What are you doing?” He asked.

   “Isn’t it obvious?”

   Despite his objections Nawan was fully aroused. Fli reached down and grasping his penis slipped her wet vagina over it in one swift movement. He moaned. Then Fli put her hands on his shoulders and rode them to a mutual and powerful orgasm. When she rolled off she snuggled up to his side and placed her arm across his chest.


   “I thought you male storytellers were supposed to be virgins,” she said.

   “I used to be a virgin.”

   They both laughed at this.

   “I suppose now I won’t be getting much rest at night,” Nawan said

  “Don’t be silly. Your sleep will be much more relaxed and that is as good as a rest.”

   Then she turned on her right side, her usual position for sleeping. Nawan turned with her, dropping his arm over her breasts. They were both asleep in a matter of moments.


   Three weeks onto the Sea of Grass Nawan and Fli saw what they thought to be the Saa Mountains. But horizons on both seas of water and seas of grass, especially when a great desire to see something is projected upon them, can be deceptive. They directed the horses up a rise and looked again. It was indeed the mountains, a section having Hai and Nagle as their centerpiece. Nawan clapped his hands and shouted.

   “Wani told me if I followed the southernmost star in the one and a half peak formation that I would eventually see what he called the two peaks. There they are just like he said. Bless you Wani, you sweet, kind, and truthful man!”

    It took them another week before they came to the foothills. There Fli insisted they hunt to replenish their food supply before entering the mountains.

   “But the snow, Fli,” Nawan objected.

   “Snow is far more dangerous if we run out of food. If we have food we can retreat and come back here for the winter. Or, if we are deep in, find a valley on the other side and hunker down till spring. But if we have no food we will begin to starve, grow too weak to travel and then die.”


   Nawan, despite his eagerness to be going, could not deny this, so they stayed in the foothills for another week, fishing in the creeks, snaring rabbits and on one lucky day, downing a doe with a bow shot. They smoked and dried the meat over fires. Fli tended the fire while Nawan watched the land around for anyone who might be attracted. He saw no one but, to be safe, they slept each night two hills over from the fires with the horses tethered close by.

   When everything was dried and put away in the packs they started out along the line of hills towards the south. Noon on the second day of travel Nawan, traveling in front, put up his hand and called a halt.

   Off to the east was the great peak called Nagle, the southern most of the pair. Before it, acting as a pointer so to speak, was a peak just as rugged and jagged as Nagle but much lower. And, once again, before this was a tall rounded hill, in the last line of hills before the mountains proper and noticeably higher and larger than its fellows.

   “Wani said that these three (here he pointed at the hill and the two peaks) lined up led to the first path.”

   They turned the horses onto a rough path between two hills and headed toward the big hill. It took them all the rest of that day to reach it and they camped in its lee for the night.

   The next morning they rose early and made a breakfast fire. When they were done eating and extinguishing the fire twilight was glimmering enough for them to move onto the trail skirting around the hill. When they reached the far side an obvious trail led off in to the mountains proper and after a lunch of pemmican while the horses grazed on the fresh grasses, they packed up and started moving up the trail.  

  What Wani had told Nawan about the mountain trails was exactly right. One led to another. This was wonderful for neither Fli nor Nawan had ever been in real mountains before and for them trying to find their way over trackless rock would have been hopeless. Still the first part of the journey was not easy. The paths were clear, yes, but also steep and rocky. In some places there were sheer drop offs which so terrified the horses they had to blinker them and walk them over those sections of trail one by one. Other places were channels so narrow and the footing so jagged they had, once again, to lead the animals one by one and very slowly. But they made progress and they were in good spirits. Even the horses, on the easy, flatter parts of the trails, seemed impressed by the beauty of the mountains and the clean, fresh bite of the high, thin air.


   On the third day they reached the highest part of the trail and then started down onto the eastern slopes. Nagle was to their immediate left. They were traveling on its southern shoulder, its enormously high, jagged, snow topped summit towering above them.

   That night they camped on a rocky plateau. They fed the horses on some of the grass piled high on the backs of the two packhorses. The horses huddled in close to the rock  face at the south end of the plateau to sleep. Nawan and Fli lay wrapped in their blankets
On top of a pile of the horses’ grass and covered with the skin of their unpitched tent. In the middle of the night a cold front moved in from the north. Its bite woke them. Nawan got up and emptied their packs of clothing and blankets. Some they lay atop the grass under them and the rest they pulled over them as best they could. They brought the water bag into their pile and put it between them.

   When they woke in the morning it was bitterly cold. Stomping their feet and banging together mittened hands they packed the horses who were shivering and shuddering with the cold and started down the trail trusting the movement would warm them up. It did somewhat. When the sun, bright and strong for it was still two months to solstice, came up above the plain in the east, their hearts, horse and human, welcomed it with a gladness more intense than any of them had felt for it before. By noon the movement and the growing heat of the sun had warmed them to the core and they stopped for lunch. Of course the smoked meat was frozen but they each chewed on a piece, biting off a chunk and melting in their mouths. The horses happily munched the last of their grasses and looked around disconsolately for more.

  Mid afternoon of that day they arrived at a fork in the trail. Fli looked at Nawan and Nawan looked at the fork. The horses looked about from side to side, hoping perhaps to catch sight of a blade of grass, but there was none. To the right of the fork was a small hollow sheltered on three sides. They lead the horses into the hollow and unpacked them.  They made a fire to boil water for tea. Fli divided a small bag of oats between the horses and poured water for them into a skin bucket. She rationed it between them for there wasn’t enough for them to drink their fill. When each horse had the bucket snatched from them they complained mildly with offended and pathetic gazes at Fli and then they all moved off out of the breeze into the shelter of the north wall of the hollow.

   “So which path do we take?” asked Fli.



Nawan shrugged his shoulders.

   “Wani didn’t tell you?”

   “Yes and no. He didn’t tell me what path to take but he did tell me that the path, whichever one it is, from here on is much more complicated and it would be best to wait here until someone came to act as a guide.”

   “And who would we be waiting for?”

   “He didn’t tell me that.”

   “Or even more to the point who would even know that we are here?”

   “He didn’t tell me that either.”

   Fli looked at him incredulously. “And you didn’t think to ask?”


   “In this kind of cold, with not enough wood for a nightlong fire, we will be frozen icicles in two days.”

   “I suppose that’s true.”

   “There is no supposing about it, Nawan.”

   “Well, yes.”

   “Then I propose in the morning we chose a path and get down as far as we can go before nightfall. Each foot we go down makes the air a little warmer, if you call from bone freezing to eyeball freezing warmer.”

   “I think it would be best if we did what Wani told me.”

   “Wani is not here.”



“Not yet.”

   “And when do you expect him.”

   “By morning.”

   “By morning.”


   “You are mad. We are on top of a mountain. No one has laid eyes on us for almost two months and you think that somehow, magically, a man you have not seen for three years, who has not the slightest idea of our coming, who indeed may not be in this part of the world at all, will show up to greet us tomorrow morning.”

   “Well, probably, but he may come tonight.”

    Fli gave Nawan a piercing look but he refused to meet her eye.

   “Everything he told me has turned out so far to be correct. He told me the wait would be no longer than half a day, a day at the most. With his track record I see no reason to doubt him now.”

   Fli sighed. “OK then,” she said. “I’ll make you a deal. We stay here tonight and freeze our asses off but in the morning we choose a path and start down. Even if it’s not the right one it will bring us warmer temperatures.”

  “OK,” said Nawan.
   “And you will have to hug me especially tight tonight so that I don’t turn into an icicle.”

   Nawan smiled. “O I was going to do that anyway without you asking.”


   The hollow they chose for the tent kept off the worst of the wind but when Nawan woke the next morning and put his head out of the tent it was as if he stuck his head into a sack of ice. But there was no use lingering miserably in the slightly warmer temperature


of the tent so he donned several layers of clothing topped by a fur cloak and stepped outside. By the time Fli came out Nawan had the fire going and a pot of water suspended above it for tea and porridge. Instead of packing up the tent as they usually did they made a pole construction on the wind side of the fire and draped the tent over it giving them a little zone of greater warmth.

   The poor horses were still standing up against the rock wall where they had spent the night. Fli watered them from the water bag they had kept in the tent under the covers and gave them each two handfuls of oats. Then, while Nawan made the porridge she walked them up and down the hollow limbering up their protesting joints and warming them at least a little with their own body heat. After they clustered once again by the wall and Fli covered their backs as best she could with the sleeping blankets. Their eyes were soulful and patient yet Fli thought that occasionally one seemed to give her an accusing glance as if to say, “So this is how we are rewarded for our loyalty and hard work!”

   Porridge eaten they sat huddled by the fire drinking tea. Nawan heard a sound behind him and he leapt up in fear, looking for his weapons. But it was only a crow who had alighted beside the porridge pot and was now eating the leftovers.

   “Shoo. Shoo,” said Nawan moving towards the crow menacingly, waving his arms about. Fli laughed. “She’s not that kind of crow, Nawan.”

   Nawan stopped and turned around to look at her. “What kind is it then?” he asked.

   “I am a shaman’s crow for lack of a better definition,” said Lolly.

   Lolly finished off the last of the porridge bits, then wiped her beak on a nearby rock. “I apologize for eating your porridge without asking but I am famished. And, after all, the effort of flying over the mountain was made on your behalf. My name is Lolly and I am the daughter of Bird, Kweya’s familiar. Kweya is a Sege shaman who lives in a village on the other side of the mountain. He sent me to look for you so you don’t lose your way and freeze in the pass. Actually it’s not much of a pass, a goat path, really, but Ohn and Yaah have been over it to look around, with horses too. In some places the horses must be led but mostly you can ride.”

   “How did you know we are here?” asked Nawan.


   “Kweya told me where to find you so you will have to ask that question of him. I am just his errand boy, or errand girl to be exact.”

    “Who lives in this village?”

   “A collection of human misfits, sheep, ponies, horses, chickens, very obnoxious and aggressive birds who, thank heavens, cannot fly, and pigs.”

   “Do they accept strangers?” Fli asked.

   “Yes. As a matter of fact they are all strangers themselves  -  Sege, Klegit, Osni, Lacti, Nia and a few really weird ones I cannot identify. Two lost souls like yourselves would fit in perfectly. In the morning and evening, after supper, they sit silently for what seems to me to be hours, very strange behavior seen from the perspective of a crow.”

   “We are story tellers,” said Nawan.

   “That’s nice. You can join the group. Every one of them seems to be a story teller. After their sitting they jabber away for hours.”

   “Are there requirements for joining?” asked Fli.

   “You have to sit in the evenings after supper. In the day you have to work at whatever, gardening, digging for houses, shearing sheep. There is lots of work to do and they are busy beavers! Now we should be on our way as soon as possible. In six days it will snow heavily and it will take us almost that long to get there.”

    When Fli and Nawan were ready they started out. Lolly flew ahead sometimes alighting in a tree or on a rock and waiting.

   To reach the goat track they had to climb up a winding path which took them so high they could look back over the foothills and see the flatlands stretched out beyond. After climbing for many hours they leveled out and started along a trail remarkably straight and regular. By the time night was beginning to fall the trail became rougher. In places they had to climb off the horses and lead them. When the trail broadened into a hollow almost semi circular in shape, Lolly, who had spent the last hours riding a pack on one of the


horses, called a halt.

   When they rose in the morning they set off as son as they ate breakfast. Fortunately  mid morning the wind shifted to the south and, suddenly, almost miraculously, the temperature warmed up a good fifteen degrees in a single hour and the sun shone brightly.

   At the evening fires Lolly became chatty. She talked for hours about family life among the crows and especially about the personality of her boyfriend. He was a very large crow, about one third larger than Lolly, who wanted to marry her. There was a complication. Dal, her boyfriend, was from a mountain roost in the valley just over from the village. If they married they would have to live on the outskirts of Lolly’s roost, not total rejects but still outcasts of a sort. Lolly had great affection for him but was unsure if she should marry him. “He’s very grumpy sometimes,” she said. “And he likes to go off by himself, exploring. Sometimes he’s gone for days. Then suddenly he shows up and lands on the tree, murmuring to himself as if he had never been away. My Dad is like that too. That’s why they don’t like one another  -  too similar. Dal is a great hunter. He never goes off only to return empty handed, or empty beaked I should say. No one could call him lazy. Sometimes on his trips he flies for hundreds of miles. Also he is very neat and clean. He keeps his feathers nicely preened. And he is very handsome I have to admit. My girlfriends think I am crazy not to marry him. They think he’s a dream.”

   “Well why don’t you marry him then?” asked Fli.

   “Well, there is all that exploration stuff but I could live with that. I am use to that because of dad who disappears for weeks on end spying and carrying messages for Kweya. I suppose the main problem I have with him is that he is kind of morose. Sometimes he perches on a branch for hours without saying anything. Not that he doesn’t have a sense of humour mind you. He’s a good mimic and can do dad huffing and puffing so that you almost split your sides laughing. But the next day he will start talking about death and nothingness and things like that. I tell him that that kind of talk wears me out. Then he calls me naïve and frivolous. Once, when he called me that I gave him a good peck.”

   “And what did he do?”


   “He laughed and flew away. He’s rather stoic you see. You could peck him all day and he would just laugh.”

   “What does your mom say?”

   “O mom likes him well enough. But she gets tired of me talking about him. “Give it a rest!” she says. “I’m tired of hearing your dissections of that boy’s character. Marry him or get rid of him for heaven’s sake.” Mom’s one of those middle aged female crows who are always on the go. From early morning until late at night she’s always doing something. She gets impatient with my brooding. I do carry it to ridiculous lengths sometimes.”

   “Give it time,” said Fli.

   “That’s what my best friend says.”

   On the fourth night it was so cold Lolly came into the tent for the night. They wrapped themselves in every blanket and piece of clothing they had with them. The next day it warmed up appreciably by midmorning but they were well on their way by then anxious to warm themselves and the horses with the exercise of the trail. When they stopped that evening in a small ravine, placing the tent against a rock wall Fli made pancakes, one large one at a time. When they were done she flipped them neatly onto a flat rock where Nawan slavered them with honey. Nawan ate three, Fli two and Lolly one. But Lolly didn’t eat all of hers. She ate one half putting the other half aside.

   “Are you saving that?” Fli asked.

   “It’s for Dal,” Lolly replied.

   “Where is he then?”

   “Up there.” Lolly said, pointing with her beak. And, indeed, perched on a rock a hundred feet above them was a large crow. He wasn’t looking at them. He was looking off into the distance to the west over the mountain skirt, the foothills and onto the flatlands as if trying to make some sense out of such an interesting topographical arrangement. Or perhaps he was contemplating Death or Nothingness as Lolly said he often did.

   “Then you better call him down, Lolly, before the pancake freezes solid.”


   Lolly lifted up her head and let out a fierce caw. Dal looked down. Then he slipped off his branch and drifted down in a fascinatingly light and graceful way. He alighted beside Lolly who he brushed with his wing on his way to the pancake. He placed one foot upon it, tore off a dozen pieces in quick sideways movements with his beak and swallowed them down. Then he looked at Fli, “Thank you for cooking that delicious pancake.”

   “You are welcome,” said Fli.

    “The honey was especially fine.”

   “It’s from the Nia valley and is probably the best honey in the world,” said Nawan.

   “I don’t doubt it,” said Dal. “and where would the Nia valley be?”

   “That way,” said Fli, nodding with her head. “And a long ways too.”

   “Perhaps Lolly and I will go there and take a look someday. Before we have children of course. When you have children you don’t have the time to go off on jaunts like that.”

   “We are not even married yet,” said Lolly.

   “True,” said Dal.

  “Aren’t you being just a little bit presumptuous young crow,” Lolly said in a voice an octave lower than her natural voice, obviously mimicking her father.

   Dal lifted his beak into the air and let out a cawing crow laugh. Then he crossed his eyes and said, “Sorry sir. Terribly sorry that this miserable worm of a crow allowed such irreverence to flow forth from his disobedient beak.”

    Lolly laughed so hard she fell on the ground and rolled over. Dal was so delighted he had made her laugh his eyes shone with pleasure. When Lolly climbed to her feet, the two crows, realizing they were in company, sobered up and became serious.

   “It’s not far now,” said Dal. “We will arrive tomorrow.”

   When they arrived in the village the next afternoon Zuzy had them set up their tent on side of Am’s dug in house. When Am finished work for the day and came out of her house to walk to the meditation hall Nawan and Fli were digging a fire pit. She gave their


tent a disparaging look, knitting her brows.

   “You’ll freeze to death in that,” Am said.

   “It’s just for now. We’ll dig a house for winter,” Nawan said.

   Am said, “I’ll make you a deal.”

   “What kind of deal?”

   “You can dig my house further into the hill and live there. That will be far easier than making a new one which involves trips to other valleys for wood and trading whatever you have for hides and so on. I only use three quarters of the room now anyway. You can put a new window into the south wall for light. But I have to give you a warning.”

   “What kind of warning?” asked Fli.

   “I work with metals so at times there are weird smells. Now when I smelt it is at the workshop further up the hill but still I melt gold in the house and bang things on the anvil, heat things and then quench them in water and so on. Perhaps that might drive you crazy.”

   “But that would be during the day when we will be at the Healing Hall,” said Fli.

   “This is true. Sometimes I use candlelight at night to draw things but drawing is not very noisy.”

   Fli and Nawan looked at one another. “OK,” said Fli.

   Am smiled a very happy smile. “I would have let you stay in my house anyway you know because otherwise you will be cold and miserable. But if you dig out more room at the back that would be the best. You should come with me to the meditation hall for the evening sitting. When we come back I’ll help you bring in your things. The crows, especially Lolly, keep saying it will snow tomorrow. But Lolly talks so much she hardly knows what she is saying. Every day she says it will snow and I’m sure when it actually does she will claim she predicted it. Kweya is a much better weather man. He says no deep snow for two weeks. Tel and Gally have an extra window sitting in a corner of their kitchen. I’m sure that in your packs you must have something you can trade for it. After sitting we can have supper in the house and you can tell me all about yourselves. Climbing over the Saa from the Sea of Grass must be quite an adventure.”


   With that Am started off down the path to the Meditation Hall and the two travelers, after giving one another an inquisitive glance, followed her.



      When Egil retired to his farm on the Eg, the Rechyai clan council elected a new General, Aegar by name, a middle aged man from one of the small clans. Aegar was a tall man who in youth had been a famous warrior, endlessly energetic and murderous. He had led the warriors of his clan in many massacres, rapes, burnings, and, as a result owned farms and estates all along the Eg from Rechyai country to Horse People territory. This is  why he was elected. He was a man of property and essentially conservative and this is what the clan leaders wanted – the opposite of a firebrand like Marl who could think of nothing but expansion and glory.

   Two years after stopping at the Sege Village, Aegar made a treaty with the Horse People. He did this by giving the Horse People a large purse of gold and feigning a respect for their power which, in truth, he did not have. The People headmen strutted before him at the peace council bragging of the fierceness of their warriors and the numbers of their horses. Aegar nodded wisely and paid gold for a temporary quiet on the Rechyai southern boundary. Meanwhile he sent agents into the country south of the People with other purses of gold, filling the treasure chests of leaders who were traditional enemies of the People. He sent several thousand Rechyai adventurers south to ride with these tribes of wild stragglers. Five years later these adventurers led an attack from the south which so drained the Horse People’s resources, that a small Rechyai horse army descending from the north conquered and burned all the People’s villages in a campaign lasting a single season. The remnants of the People fled southwest and were never heard from again. Aegar granted the newly acquired country to his rich landowner friends who filled it quickly with slaves and landless Rechyai. Eight years after driving the Sege from the river, the Rechyai occupied all lands along the river from the frozen lakes of the far north to the hot lands along the Loona.

But this was only the Rechyai southern thrust. They also spread east and west off the


banks of the Eg. Osni territory east of the river was overrun. The Osni, essentially a peaceful farming people were allowed to continue their traditional life with new overlords. However, the Osni lands were not suitable for large scale migration of Rechyai and it was to the west out onto the open plains that the bulk of the expansion occurred. During the eight year hiatus before the Rechyai rode down the People tens of thousands of Rechyai spread out onto the plain, cutting the thick sod with horse drawn plows and building prosperous farming communities with villages, granaries and tens of thousands of sheep, cattle and horses.

By the time the Rechyai flood reached the new Sege and Klegit villages on the Selig they were long gone along the trail taken by Kweya and Neel. Kweya’s scouts found them a series of valleys on the west side of the Saa Mountains for they thought the east side too accessible to the Rechyai. Here, in valleys rich with growing soil and pasture, the two tribes lived side by side in peace, expanding their flocks and placing their iron and weapons works high in the mountains where they were inaccessible. They formed a joint council and elected Ilna headman. There were sometimes skirmishes between the Sege/Klegit and the Nia to their southwest but they were minor and things were patched up at a council of older men from both sides. Underneath their occasional border disputes both the Nia and Sege/Klegit realized they had common cause against the Falconians and probably against the oncoming Rechyai and it would be foolish to fritter away their energies in fighting one another.

The Sege/Klegit arrived on the west side of the mountain two years after the burning of the Nia Capital and heard many stories from the Nia of the barbarity of the Empire builders. Some of the Sege/Klegit young men accompanied Nia bands raiding the Falconians who kept a small ‘occupation force’ in a section of the Nia’s northern lands. It became a right of passage for Sege/Klegit young warriors to count coup against the Falconians and a young man was not considered a full warrior unless he had perched on poles before his hogan the bleaching skulls of two or three Falconians. These raids against their forces caused such a bleeding of resources that the Falconians, in the fifth year after the Sege/Klegit arrival pulled the troops out of Nia territory and amalgamated them with the southern defense force, a standing army of some ten thousand, based in hills some hundreds of miles south of Hawan. Its task was to guard the southern approaches to the Capital and provide the nucleus for a much larger conscript army in the event of a serious attack from the south.

By the tenth year after Kweya and his followers had settled in the Ob valley the Rechyai had spread almost to the Saa Mountains on their north. Kweya had deliberately choosen a living space on the mountainside where the approaches through the foothills was through dry, semi arid land useless for animals and the growing of crops. The Ob and a series of


valleys to the north and south were rich and green but the approach at the edge of the plain contained rocks, dusty soil and tumbleweeds. The Rechyai found this uninviting and except for a few explorers who went back from where they came after finding no arable land or metals, left this area alone, considering it to be suitable for nomad barbarians but not for themselves. But the bulk of the plain to their north, east of the Saa, was now occupied by Rechyai, rich, prosperous and filled with a new generation of young warriors even more numerous than the old.



The death of the Emperor’s old General necessitated the appointing of a new one. This distressed the Emperor for it was his opinion that Generals are scheming bastards ever ready to betray and backup their betrayal with the support of loyal troops. Following his grandfather’s and father’s advice he did his very best to make sure they had no loyal troops. He had a fixed policy of moving Generals around the commands of the three main armies. As soon as a General was reported to have built up a loyal and competent staff, he had the main actors transferred to another army. Colonel Kal infiltrated all the armies  with so many spies that in their shadowy way they formed the largest army in the Empire. A summary of their reports was delivered to him every week in person by Colonel Kal.

This policy weakened the army, of course, but the Emperor was far less concerned with this than he was with the possibility of rebellion. After all the Empire had no real threats from anyone powerful enough to cause it anything but tangential injury. If the army was  ineffectual, slow, unwieldy and grossly incompetent, this was not a matter of great concern. This incompetent and unwieldy beast, rank with contradictions and manned for the most part by unwilling conscripts, little more than a mob whipped into battle by cruel draconian officers drawn from the ranks of the aristocracy, was sufficient for the purposes of the Empire -that is to overrun tribal irregulars, perform massacres, and burn villages and crops - no matter who their nominal head was, General A, B or C.  

The Emperor consulted with the Chief Of Staff, the army’s administrative head, an ancient man based in the Capital. He had been considered old when the Emperor was a


boy and had to be carried into the audience with the Most Exalted One in a sedan chair easily carried by two men for he was a mummy of a man reportedly into his second decade, over one hundred years of age and weighing less than eighty pounds. After much wheezing and beating about the bush, the Chief recommended a man from his own clan (what a surprise!)  whom the Emperor knew to be a famous thief, whose instincts toward larceny in all its forms shown like a bright star against a background of the more  quiet and less obtrusive thievery of those who made up the bulk of his clan. The Emperor politely thanked the old man and sent him on his way but he had never considered for a moment taking his recommendation and had consulted him in deference to his age and the performing of a pro forma ritual

Next he called in members of his own clan, a dissipated and useless lot who had not thrown forth a decent military officer in generations so devoted had they become to the whirl of concubinage, sexual perversion, gambling, drug addiction and lobbying Officers of the Imperial Court for land grants, offices entailing yearly benefices with no duties accompanying them, and Imperial pardons for their degenerate sons whose talents tended toward murder and rape rather than the disciplines of the military field. The Emperor listened patiently while a great uncle prattled on for some time on the subject of keeping such a juicy appointment plum inside the family where its bones could be picked clean in private, so to speak, where the Emperor could receive his fair share, even more than his fair share perhaps, without the glare of public scrutiny, for the mob was ever willing to ascribe evil motives even to the Most Exalted One, if such a thing could be believed. When the Grand Uncle was finished a few of the smaller fry spoke and then off they went
back to their races, brothels, drinking establishments, cock fights, actresses, etcetera, with hardly a glance over their shoulders for they knew very well he would appoint his dog General before he chose one of them.

Next there was a seemingly interminable train of Ministers, Manufacturers, Priests, Clan leaders, Municipal delegations, Chiefs Of Staff from the three armies and so on so that the day was not over until well into the night and the Emperor was thoroughly out of sorts. Out of sorts or not, however, he rose early the next day and cloistered himself with Colonel Kal until the noon hour. Afterwards the Colonel went off about his business which consisted in large part of arresting and executing innocent nobles and then confiscating their property half of which he generously donated to the Imperial Treasury.


The Emperor had lunch and then announced the name of the New General before an audience of his appreciative Ministers who cheered so loudly and obsequiously that he had to rush from the room to prevent the starting of a migraine headache.

   The Emperor’s new General was an old man of eighty-two. The Army was disgusted that they had been given such a doddering figure for a leader but, of course, they kept their disgust to themselves. The man’s name was Eth and he was connected through bloodlines and marriages to every noble family so among the nobles he was a popular choice. Since they all had claims of some kind or another to bring with them on their office seeking visits they were delighted.

   Eth, however, was not a doddering figure. He was an old man, shriveled, with a face like a dried apple but he had a keen mind. Since most in the Army and among the nobles were unaware that it was possible to have a keen mind they had not noticed. As well, Eth had spent his time of public service in the Diplomatic Service and no one pays much attention to what goes on with the Diplomatic Service.

   He was a small man and age had made him even smaller. He was bent and when he sat in a chair, from a distance, he gave the appearance of a ten year old child. He was a man who loved women and this, and an innate cynicism, had led him, when in his late teens, to join the diplomats. Diplomats are realists and in their social spheres move the most beautiful of women. At least this is what certain sly old men told him when he was young and sixty years of subsequent practice taught him was true. He had loved his life as a diplomat for, in contrast to that of a ministerial politician or an Army man, it offered opportunities of privacy and solitude. Eth liked to read. He liked to fish in out of the way places in the country. The summers, when diplomatic life came to a halt, he spent traveling, fishing and reading, and thus away from his large extended family and the necessity of becoming embroiled in its endless disputes.

   The Emperor knew Eth, of course, the old man being his third cousin once removed. Or at least that is what the Royal geneaologist told him for the Emperor found it impossible for his mind to negotiate degrees of cousinship and removes. But just about everyone he could possibly appoint were related so this was of little matter. It was far more important that Eth, by all reports was an even tempered man who, as far as anyone knew, had never expressed a strong opinion or performed any eccentric acts during eight decades of living. He was a fisherman and after a youth of pursuing women with a cautious ambition had settled down to a series of three marriages and the production of innumerable children


both legal and illegal, ranging in age from sixteen to sixty who dotted the landscape of the Falconian power structure like raisins dot a pudding. In other words a dutiful servant of the Empire. It was unlikely that such a man would hold troublesome views or, in his old age, propose changes which might cause waves to spring up upon the waters.

   Eth, besides reading books written by others, had produced eight himself. Their subject was diplomacy and their central thesis the necessity of ensuring that its practice be guided by the self interest of the Empire. The Emperor, not being a reading man, had a brief summary of them read to him by the Chief Librarian, who afterwards in the course of a nice little chat, concurred with the Emperor’s opinion that it was a source of great wonder that people would bother to write such boring books. The Emperor wondered aloud, during this chat, if it would not be useful for him to issue a decree forbidding the writing of books by nobles and thus freeing them for procreation and the killing of the Empire’s enemies. The Chief Librarian managed to move the Emperor off this topic by flattering him on his astute opinions on literary matters, which, he claimed, were perhaps made even more poignant by the fact that the Emperor had never read an entire book in his life. The Emperor thought this a fresh and invigorating idea and was surprised to find it expressed by the Chief Librarian, who, after all, was a bookish man, who might be expected to have the opposite opinion on the matter. And so on.

   Eth was shocked when the Imperial Messenger showed up at his door one evening after supper with a copy of the Imperial Writ. When the shock wore off he reflected that since the Emperor was mad it was in keeping with his madness that he would appoint a dried out husk such as himself, who, other than a year’s service at the age of sixteen, had no military experience, to lead the Imperial Army. Perhaps next he might appoint a dead horse to lead the Cavalry or an elephant to conduct the Imperial Choir. But he had little time for reflection, for, as is usual in such affairs, the news spread about the city in minutes and he was soon besieged by relatives and old friends carrying their love for him on both sleeves, and he had to bestir himself to order the servants to bar the doors. This they did and Eth hid himself in an inner chamber away from windows and doors, each of which were besieged by a coterie of hopeful petitioners.

   The next day Eth went to see the Emperor in a private audience that was so formal and insincere it was as if it were performed by puppets whose master had suddenly lost the energy to move the strings in any way other than in a purely technical manner. Thank goodness it was brief. Afterwards Eth had himself driven in a disguised and curtained coach to his villa in the hills outside of Hawan where he secluded himself by surrounding the property with Imperial Guards. His wife accompanied him and he brought along a trunk full of books on military strategy. Actually these were all books he had read many times before for the subject was a hobby for him since he was a young man. For two days


he sat in the garden dipping into this volume or that, making notes now and again and having long discussions with his wife who was a very intelligent woman and a great reader herself.

   On the third day he began sending out messengers to call people in for consultation. He began first with the Army, calling in the council of senior officers. This was more a courtesy than anything else for what he planned to do would certainly not be done through the normal channels. He received the officers informally, engaging them in chatty conversation while having his cooks and servants fill them up with platters of meat and decanters of wine. This was on the fourth day. On the fifth he saw the Ministers, some of whom were so bold they had brought lists of possible appointments. Eth politely thanked them, afterwards tossing the lists into the fire the servants made for him in the outside fireplace.

   But it was on the sixth day that his real work began.


   “Is he senile?” The Emperor asked his Minister of Appointments. “Not that it matters, mind you. In my father’s day there was a senile General who was considered a magnificent success. He knew absolutely nothing of military affairs but went around the country giving stirring speeches. The poor man barely knew where he was or whether it was winter or summer but if you put him in front of a crowd he gave a set speech, complete with gestures, pauses, etc, perfectly and exactly the same each time without the slightest hesitation. My father claimed his ability to rise out of his confusion for his speechifying was due to his love for applause. The old man was addicted to his warm baths of public appreciation. He was incapable of deciding what to have for breakfast or what time to get out of bed in the morning so my father assigned handlers to make these decisions for him. Military matters were looked after by staff. The people loved him and he could not travel through the city without a squadron of Guards to protect him from their adoration.” The Emperor paused to chuckle malignantly and to brush cake crumbs from his lips with the back of his hand.

   “His set speech centered on the Destiny of the Falconian Empire. As a young child not that long out of the nursery, I heard it in the square of a provincial town. I found it deeply stirring. People wept. When he was finished the crowd rushed the podium and the soldiers had all they could do to hold them back. They were beside themselves, wailing, weeping, begging to be allowed to touch the hem of his robe. Instead of the hem of his robe most of them received a soldiers elbow but that didn’t seem to faze them. My father was fascinated by all this. He sent clerks to the speeches to copy down the old man’s


words verbatim. Apparently he did not change a single word from one occasion to the other, not even a preposition. It was like one of those popular songs which people love to hear over and over again, in fact becoming perturbed if the slightest change is made. After five years of speeches my father had the old man poisoned. The Army was in need of reforms and, of course, he was useless for such a task. As well, at the end his speeches were becoming confused. The rhythm and emotions were there but in spots the words became garbled. In his last few speeches there were whole sections replaced by nonsense syllables. The crowds still applauded wildly perhaps in memory of the old man’s former greatness.”

    The Minister of Appointments was a tall, hatchet faced man, middle aged with his hair dyed a bright green. His eyes were round like the eyes of a small wild animal and they tended to dart about the room like those of a rabbit dart about a clearing where it is having a meal of plantain. However, he listened to these comments by the Emperor with rapt attention. It was unusual for the Emperor to be confidential and chatty. The Minister was a little unsure how to react. But as he was essentially a timid man when faced with something outside his experience, his natural reaction was to do nothing and remain silent which was the perfect for when in such a mood the Emperor hated to be interrupted. His listener had little role to play other than standing for long periods of time and keeping his eyes open. The Minister was certainly capable of this. He was also capable of the obsequious flattery, fatuous hyperbole, mindless head bobbing, mind bending opinion tacking, and even instantaneous about faces needed at various times when dealing with the Emperor, who, although he claimed to be disgusted by these things, often going off on rants condemning them, nonetheless required them from all those who dealt with him. After a few moments of cackling the Emperor continued.

   “Grandfather himself put the poison into the old man’s cup at an official banquet. He claimed that an occasional poisoning at such events rescued them from their usual atmosphere of excruciating boredom. Grandfather was a bold and irreverent man. I myself prefer to poison people in private. The old man saw grandfather poring the powder into his drink for grandfather did not bother to disguise what he was doing. The old man drank it off in a single draught. He was such a fanatical patriot that perhaps he felt honoured to die at the hands of his Emperor. Or then again, perhaps he was relieved to see that his cart and pony shows, his speechifying, with the now failing psychic orgasms, were finally at an end. He died quickly for grandfather was an excellent poisoner and he disliked long, drawn out, thrashing deaths at his banquets. The old man was given a state funeral at which my father, the prince and heir to the throne, gave the Eulogy. The aging Emperor kills and the one to be praises, an excellent display of the positive and  negative forces in balance.”


  “It was a grand affair. Everyone who was anyone was there. I myself spent most of the ceremony investigating with a nimble right hand the vast skirts of an older cousin sitting next to me who stared off into the middle distance as if she were solving a weighty philosophical problem and deigned to notice my vigorous groping. I visited her room later that evening. She worked the Royal Scepter dutifully but without passion, a mewing kind of woman who I came to dislike intensely. When I became Emperor I had all women of that sort banned from court. It is my opinion that they ought to stay at home darning  socks and supervising, in their pathetic trembling manner, the laying out of flower gardens.”

   The Emperor stopped speaking long enough to consume another piece of cake and wash it down with a cup of the sweet wine he drank in the mornings. The Minister stood in his place, unmoving, eyes slightly averted. When he was finished the Emperor brushed the crumbs from his white robe onto the floor and wiped his mouth with a napkin.

   “At least the old Lord is noble and well connected so we won’t have the usual complaints from that quarter. I suppose we will have to have one of those formal appointment banquets. Next week perhaps – see that the Minister of Banquets sets it up.  Thirty years ago he asked permission to retire to his country estates. I gave it for he was one of those bookish men whom I abhor, and thus the farther away he was in space from me the better. They tell me he has a new wife. Is that true?”

   “Yes, Most Exalted One.”

   “Pretty, is she?”

   “The agents say so Most Exalted One.”

   “Well, no doubt she waves that wet thing over his face dripping its honey onto his wrinkle jowls until his tongue comes out automatically. With old geezers like that licking is all that’s left to them anyway.”

   “The reports say that she is pregnant, Most Exalted One.”

   “Do they now? Well, well. A trusted servant I suppose.”

   “They say she is closely confined Most Exalted One.”



 “Sometimes servants are used deliberately you nitwit.”

   “Of course, Most Exalted One. Terribly obtuse of me.”

   “A few squirts from a young servant and the aged master gets to claim an unnatural potency. Oldest trick in the book. Where have you been hiding all these years?”

   “Most obtuse, Most Exalted One. Unpardonably stupid.”

   “If unpardonable then you should order yourself executed.”

   The Minister did not reply.

   “Did you hear me?”

   “Yes, Most Exalted One.”

   The Minister was so white in the face it was as if he had been suddenly drained of blood. He turned and with a shaky, unsteady gait walked toward the Captain of the guard who had already unsheathed his sword. The Minister stood before him, head bowed. But just as the Captain was about to strike the Emperor cried out, “Stop!”

   The Captain turned toward the Emperor who waved his hand in the air and said, “Cut off the fingers of his left hand and send him off on his duties.”

   The Minister’s hand was placed upon a thick board and the fingers severed in one blow. The soldier who brought the board wrapped the hand in a cloth and the Minister, in shock and ghostly white, supported on either side by a soldier, made his way out of the audience room.

   “Serves him right,” the Emperor muttered to himself. “At least he still has his poker which is more than can be said for some.”


   Eth was seated in the small garden in the central courtyard of his house. The flowers surrounding him could not be more different from those in the Emperor’s garden. All of them came from where they grew naturally in the hills around the Capital. The blooms


were small, delicate, brilliantly colored, in mutiple clusters. Every spring Eth and his gardener went on a trip through the hills to find new species. The garden now held one hundred and sixty and he hoped to reach two hundred before he died. He was sitting in a cushioned wooden chair dictating a letter to a clerk. His thirty year old son was pacing back and forth on the gravel path behind where his father was sitting. When he was finished the letter the clerk read it back to him.

  “That’s fine, Ka.  Send it off at once.”

   “Yes, Excellence.” The clerk rose and left the room. Phid took his place on the chair opposite his father.

   “I received your message yesterday. I left last night and rode all day.”

   “A very dutiful son.”

   Phid smiled. Eth tied up the bundle of papers on the table and put them to one side.

   “There is to be an expedition in the spring. Against the Kayla in the north. We have practically wiped out most of the tribes in the south so the Emperor now turns his Imperial eagle eye towards the pole star. The expedition, in the normal course of things, would be successful. How, after all, are the tribesmen to defend themselves against the disciplined formations of the Imperial Army? They will be mowed down like hay as is usual. That is if the normal course of things were to follow.”

   “How could it be otherwise, father? For several centuries now the Army has ridden out against the tribesmen. Why should it be different now?”

   “Things are about to change. Now listen to me carefully. I want you to absorb everything I am about to tell you and then I want you to forget it. You are not to repeat it to a single soul, not even your wife or your closest friend.”

   Phid looked at his father curiously, a bit surprised. Normally his father was not a dramatic man. “Yes, of course,” he said.

   The old man reached out and took a drink of water from the cup on the table before him. He settled himself back in his chair, gave his son a brief assessing glance and started off. “There is a new power arising in the east on the River Eg. This area, up to now, was occupied by a ragtag collection of small tribes who spent their energies fighting one another. They were exclusively a river people. They practiced agriculture, at least some


of them, but much of their sustenance came from hunting and fishing. They have writing and metals but compared to us at a primitive level. They had lived there for many years, perhaps a thousand, maybe more. Nobody knows for sure. But no longer. They have been driven off the river by a tribe called the Rechyai, blue eyed, barbarous, tall as trees and carrying long swords. They have conquered along the Eg up to the lands of the Horse People, supplanting the Klegit, the Osni and the Sege. Some say it will not be long before they continue down the river pushing the Horse People south. These blue-eyed barbarians have already conquered the Klegit and Sege and are spreading out onto the plain where there are thousands of square miles of arable land awaiting the plow. They are already on the borders of the scattered tribes to our east and soon their great numbers will be lapping up against the foothills of the Saa Mountains. We have reports of bands of Rechyai exploring the passes over the Saa.”

   “We must prepare for a great struggle against the Rechyai. We have not seen anything like it for five hundred years. Our wars have been against small enemies and our victories have come not as many think from the efficiency of our Army but by our superior numbers and our wealth. The Rechyai, on the other hand, are numerous. When they send out an army it moves like a vast locust cloud consuming everything in its path. Behind it is a population it can draw on for supply and new soldiers. If we do not make significant changes before the Rechyai come across the plain and challenge the pass through the Saa, then we will be eventually conquered.”

   “What changes, father?’

   “Firstly, and most importantly, we must stop warring on the tribes and begin harnessing their energies for the Empire. We need their numbers; we need their support and loyalty; we need their expert knowledge of the hinterlands; we need their skill in hit and run tactics. We need their food production. The first thing the Rechyai will do is send out agents to the tribes with gold and promises. If they succeed in making alliances with the major tribes, we are doomed. We will be forced to fight a huge invading army of Rechyai from the east while simultaneously sending armies to the north and south to fend off the tribes. Our population is too small. We have been made degenerate by too many centuries of leisure and half witted theories of superiority. We have to bind the tribes to us. We can begin by admitting the tribal elites into citizenship in the Empire. The tribesmen who live within our borders must be given citizenship holus bolus. The Imperial Army must be opened up to the new citizens. We have to recruit units of tribal irregulars. We must create a governing council for the Empire and it must include representatives from the tribes, even the ones we are presently at war with. We must send an army out as soon as possible and build fortifications in the pass through the Saa. And so on. The list is endless but what I have just said will give you the general idea.”


 “A governing council?”


   “The Emperor will not like that.”

   “What the Emperor dislikes will be irrelevant.”

   “How can you say that, father?”

   “The opinions of dead men are always irrelevant.”


   “Don’t be such a ridiculous dunderhead, Phid! Surely you can draw your own conclusions from what I have just told you. Under different circumstances it may have been possible to work with the existing structure, leaving the Emperor as a kind of guiding figurehead but this is impossible with the present Emperor and his family who are degenerates who must be swept aside. The present Emperor is far from a stupid man
but his intelligence is channeled exclusively into wasting wars, poisonings, assassinations aimed at securing his hold on power. He, for example, deliberately appoints what he thinks to be a doddering idiot, that is myself, to be the head of the army in order to block potential rivals. He would much prefer the Empire go down in flames than to have the slightest perogative of his power disturbed. His sons are the same, even more so. We cannot face the Rechyai with such a millstone around our neck. If we do not remove it the Rechyai will do it for us and this will leave us a subject people.”

   Phid got up from his chair and began pacing back and forth in front of his father’s table. After some time of this he stopped and said. “Do you speak only for yourself in this?”

   “Of course not. I am only one man and a decrepit one at that. You young men are busy rushing around the Army and the Ministries seeking positions. I don’t criticize. I merely state the facts. The older nobles and the leadership of the Army support what I have just said. The Emperor has dug his own grave. In the last ten years he has conducted an insane purge of the nobles, murdering and torturing hundreds of perfectly innocent people no more a threat to him than a baby lamb. There is not a family who have not had the hideously mutilated bodies of relatives dumped into the street before their doors. They have been waiting for an opportunity and the Emperor has just given it to them. As


you know, at the ceremony formally appointing me head of the Army the Emperor will be present along with all of his family. When I approach and he stands to place the laurel upon my head, I will pull a short sword from under my cloak and cut him down. Others will come out of the crowd and kill his family. It is unfortunate but birthright has such a hold on us it would be negligent to spare anyone. And, after all, if we do nothing, in a few short years the Rechyai will do it for us.”

   “And what is my role, father?”

   “You will be one of my subalterns, standing behind me in the line which approaches the throne. I am an old man. My arms are still strong but my legs are no longer swift. He must be killed and his severed head held up for all the room to see. Otherwise we could lose everything, not only our lives, of little consequence, especially for an old man like myself, but also the life of the Empire. You will need a long sword arranged under your cloak so it can be brought up from under your armpit.”

   “And the guards?”

   “That is all arranged. They will swear loyalty to me and eventually to the governing council. All those who might oppose us will be rounded up in the first hours. In a day or two at the most we will have an iron control of the state.”

   “Well, let’s hope that on that day luck opens her arms to embrace us.”

   “Yes. Even with well laid plans we must hope that luck will be our friend.”

   And she was. The Emperor was so shocked when Eth pulled out his sword that he stood there frozen like a lamb at the slaughter. Eth struck a blow which almost severed his head and Phid came up quickly with his long sword and completed the task. His father grasped the head with its terrified eyes staring off into the infinity of death and held it dripping above the marble steps. A group of noble servants sealed the doors. Other servants and the nobles themselves came out of the crowd wielding swords and cut down the royal family, all two hundred and sixty five of them. Some died stoically offering their necks to their executioners, others, squealing like wild pigs, were run down and cut to pieces. The bodies were heaped into a pile in the center of the room. The conspiring nobles and their servants covered them with dry firewood brought in from wagons sitting in the street, and doused it with oil. When those in the room on a proscribed list were removed by a special unit of the Army, the doors were opened and the crowd poured out into the street. Eth, the last to leave, surrounded by Army guards, took from one of them a flaming torch and


threw it onto the firewood.

   The assembly room along with a section of the Palace burned to the ground. This was as Eth wanted. Later he had the rest of the Palace demolished by the Army and the stone, even marble, distributed among the poor of the Capital. Curtains, furniture, everything of the least value was given away. Not the gold and other precious metals, however. They were smelted down and cast as coinage to finance the new regime and pay for an enlargement and reorganization of the Army. The Emperor’s head was hung from the main gate entering the city. Some thought this, even given that his death was necessary, to be a sacrilege. But Eth insisted. He wanted no rumors that the Emperor had escaped buttressing attempts by distant members of his family to raise an army and retake power.  
   When the palace was demolished Eth ordered the site covered with soil and seeded with grass. Eventually it became a park where on holidays the people came out to picnic, sitting on the grass covering the bones of their former Emperor.



   Eth sent ambassadors to all the tribes on the edges of the Empire. He offered treaties involving citizenship for their chief men, an end to the predations of the Imperial Army, a guarantee of tribal property rights, in return for levies of irregular Tribal units, a cessation of raids into Imperial territory and an agreement of trade and cooperation with the Empire. For Tribes within Imperial boundaries he offered blanket citizenship for all their members.

   The inner tribes accepted the offers with great alacrity, one after the other. The outer tribes were deeply suspicious and rightly so. They had been lied to and cheated by the Empire for many hundreds of years. As a sign of good will Eth pulled the Army back to the borders of old Falconia. He forbade punitive Army patrols anywhere in the country. He put on public trial six agents infamous for their embezzlement of Imperial funds meant for the tribes. And finally, after a bitter dispute with Army staff which he solved by discharging more than one hundred senior officers and replacing them with junior men, he agreed to meet with the Headmen of the outer tribes. One meeting in the south, one in the north, in small border towns garrisoned only with inner tribal irregulars. It was a tremendous gamble but it worked. Treaties were signed with all but two of the outer


tribes. A commission including the Army, Empire bureaucrats and representatives of the tribes was established to oversee the provisions. The commission had as its chair Eth’s eldest son, a diplomat, who had a direct conduit to the seat of power.

   Even more important from the Tribe’s point of view, they were given five seats on the governing council, a body of thirty members including eight reps for the nobles, eight for the merchant guilds, five for the army, two for the craft guilds and two for the previously unofficial plebian organizations in the Capital of Hawan. The resistance to this radical change, especially among the nobles was powerful. Those who objected privately Eth left alone but public resisters were executed or jailed. Three noble families had their charters revoked and their lands confiscated. All this involved some social turmoil but in the eighth year after the Rechyai had began settlement of the plain east of the Saa Mountains his new governing structure was firmly in control and dissenting nobles and Army officers had retired to their country estates.

   There was a section of the merchant class who had profited greatly by the old arrangement for dealing with the Tribes. They complained vociferously through their members on the council. After some months of this Eth called the reps to his house for a special meeting. After listening to a litany of complaints for an hour he held up his hand. “We are out of time gentlemen. The Army staff is outside waiting to meet me. Perhaps we will meet again next week. In the interim I would ask that you think about something very deeply. Do not be so unwise as to think only of your own advantage. There are larger interests involved as well. All that has happened in reality is that you are being asked to make your money in tribal areas in the same way that you make it within the borders of the Empire. Is this so terrible? For us to allow the extortion, fraud, embezzlement and chicanery you used there in the past would destroy the new developing unity of the Empire. I cannot allow that. You should think deeply and discuss among your colleagues how you are to adapt to the new reality for let me assure you there is no going back to the old.”
     Three days later at a regular council meeting three of the merchant reps were removed. They were replaced with more moderate men.

   That winter Eth sent Army units to the pass through the Saa Mountains officially named after a former Emperor with seven long names but known to every one as the Rock Run. It was a natural pass reached by climbing a switchback road on its west side and a long winding road through the foothills on its east. Although historically there had been no real threat from this direction several Emperors devoted to public works had the rough and narrow sections quarried and the rock produced by the quarrying made into a


massive wall at the eastern entrance. Here the wall spanned a length of one hundred yards from rock face to rock face. Eth ordered the Army to increase the height of the wall, build towers at intervals and cut caves for storage into the rock all along the pass. He ordered his quartermasters to fill these caves with forage, dried and smoked foods and weapons. He sent agents out onto the plain to track the movements of the Rechyai.

  When the agents returned they brought ominous news. The Rechyai had signed a treaty with the Horse People to their south who were now supplying them with large numbers of horses. They were building the core of an army east of the old Sege village on the plain. The Sege and Klegit, driven off the Eg had migrated west finally to end up settling on the east slopes of the Saa some three hundred miles south of Rock Run. Although pushed off their ancestral lands by the Rechyai these two tribes with stragglers from other tribes defeated by the Rechyai, could still field an army of three or four thousand riders seasoned in battle. His agents told him the Sege especially were fierce warriors whose hit and run tactics on the plain could tie up an army thrice their size and eventually defeat it. He sent embassaries out from the east end of Rock run to treat with them but they came back empty handed for their leaders would not even meet with them. He sent out more agents with gifts but they came back empty handed as well. When Eth sent out a third embassy with gold the Sege kept the gold but the ambassadors were sent on their way after having met with only young warriors who smiled hugely but had no authority to make agreements.

   Eth’s officers wanted to send a expedition to either suppress the Sege or jostle them into a more conciliatory mood but Eth decided against it. To send an army out onto the plain with the Rechyai spreading out onto its eastern edge seemed most unwise to him. He decided to wait and see what developed. After all the Rechyai and the Sege were enemies and the Rechyai might chose to smash them before attacking Rock Run and thus secure their southern flank. It took two years for the added fortifications at the east end of Rock Run to be completed. When they were, Eth, increasingly apprehensive of scouting reports on the Rechyai, sent a strong contingent of the army to man the pass.

   The Rechyai had great numbers and from their north country came a steady influx down the Eg and out onto the plain. Within a few short years they had filled the plain, putting it to the plow, establishing townships, militia, waterworks, irrigation systems. The nature of the country, spread out as it was with perhaps five hundred miles between their northernmost and southernmost settlements forced them to become horsemen and fine horsemen at that. The reports on the numbers of their animals were alarming. Within three years they were herding thousands of sheep and small shaggy cattle and even grazing them in the summers among the eastern foothills of the Saa Mountains. Such a greedy, expansionary, lusty people! They gobbled up everything in front of them and


then raised their eyes looking for more. What Eth feared the most was not their occupying the plain for farming but that they did not turn themselves into mere farmers. His scouts told him that they kept up their military exercises. A portion of the young men went off every year with the army on raids to the east of the Eg. They had spring and fall festivals filled with military competitions, death battles between champions, horse races and contests of strength. Each settlement had a militia unit which exercised weekly. The Rechyai on the plain were not just a new race of agrarian settlers but an occupying army working the fields to supply itself. It was inevitable that one day, finding itself with barely enough elbow room  and little but agricultural fairs to satisfy its lust for battle and glory, after gradually hearing at its gatherings and drinking places stories of the wealthy empire across the mountains, that it would look west. The conquering wanderlust of it forbears, constantly kept fresh in its mind by the orations of its leaders, the stories of its wandering saga chanters, would not allow it to settle into a quiet domesticity among agricultural deities, among the gods and goddesses of household fires.



   It took Egil most of the winter to recover from his wounds. For six weeks he lay in bed tended by his wife and daughter. When he felt strong enough he struggled to his feet and hobbled to the fireplace in the big room downstairs where he sat in a padded chair. At the back of the house on the same floor was a small office where he did his accounts. Above the writing table were two shelves of books he had already read, many of them several times. He reread two or three of his favorites to pass the time but when they were finished he grew bored.

   Egil had a Klegit slave by the name of Giri. She was a young woman in her mid twenties and divided her day between spinning and weaving and teaching Egil’s daughter the rudiments of history and literature. Giri came from a wealthy merchant family and had spent two years at the Klegit University. Egil heard of a book stall set up an old Klegit man at the market across the river. Egil sent her there to buy him books, accompanied by a male Klegit slave for the old Sege Village, now going by the name


Aag, was a very rough place. Its waterfront, back from the warehouses and wharves, was a long line of yag halls and brothels. Even during the day there were murders in the street and after dark citizens with families and regular habits barred their doors.

   Giri had a good mind and chose wisely. Over the winter she brought Egil dozens of leather bound books which he consumed voraciously. Seated in his padded chair, sometimes until late into the night, he read volume after volume, so much so that his wife accused him of abandoning her. When, as a result he bestirred himself to come to bed early and make love she also chastised him for talking, afterwards, obsessively of his books. This problem solved itself in the late winter when he was well enough to go outside and his travels about the farm and neighborhood gave him a little more balance.

   As soon as he was healed enough to do physical work he joined more actively in the work of the farm. He built fences, sheared sheep, went off to markets to buy and sell animals and help plow and sow in the spring. In this way six years passed by, happy years working close to the soil, spending time with his wife and daughter, occasionally crossing the river to visit his relatives in Aag. He assumed things would go on like this for some time and was happy with the prospect of a quiet life building up his farm and perhaps eventually bouncing grandchildren on his knee. But this was not to be. The sixth spring after the assassin’s attack, on a bright day full of the promise of growth and approaching summer, a group of Aag merchants came to see him.

  They came up the porch steps and sat in the chairs strewn about the large wooden deck of the porch. Eli, his wife, had seen them coming up the road. She and Giri brought out yag and cakes to refresh them from their journey across the river. After some time of casual conversation, the exchange of news, and inquiries about friends and relatives the oldest man, a hoary veteran who had cornered the market in hides boated down the river from the farms in the old Klegit country to Aag, cleared his rheumy throat and said, “We would like you to lead an army west against the Falconians.”

   “The last time I led an army it was a disaster,” Egil replied.

   “Perhaps,” the old man said, “But not a disaster of your making. It was others who made the errors and you, making the best of a bad situation, who brought most of our men back from the plain.”

  “I am sure you heard that I was injured a few years ago. I have not really fully recovered. My left leg is lame and I can no longer swing a two handed sword with authority.”


“There are plenty of men who can swing a sword. Your mind is what we want not your body,” said the old man.

   Egil did not say anything for a while. He looked at his feet and then off across the road at the pony corral where the animals had churned up the black mud into a froth. Then he looked into the eyes of the hide merchant and said, “I will have to think about it. I will have to speak with my wife and daughter.”

   After another half hour of conversation, and having made an agreement with Egil that they would be back in a week, the men left.

   “You know that you cannot refuse them, Egil.” His wife said. “If you refuse we will have to go somewhere else. You know how it would be, how bloody minded they are. They would resent it terribly like a violent suitor rejected by a beautiful young girl. They might even contrive to kill you. They would do it openly in the market place with a dozen men. Especially with your wounds you wouldn’t have a chance.”

   “I know. But we could go north.”

   “With what? Everything we have is in this place.”

   “Well, I suppose we could go with what we can scrape together. But we would have to go far. They have friends and relations everywhere. Their boats go up and down the length of the river. And I am a prominent man who cannot disappear into a crowd.”

   Egil thought about it for the week before he made up his mind.

When the men came back they climbed the stairs and stood in a half circle in front of where he sat in his padded chair.

   “I will go but there are conditions.”

   “What are they?” The hoary veteran asked.


   “Firstly you must advance me the General’s gold purse. I will still retain my booty rights of course. Secondly when I drive through the pass in the Saa and establish a firm beachhead in Falconia, at any time after I can chose my own time for leaving.”

   The men withdrew to a corner of the porch and talked this over among themselves. When they came back the leader said. “Advancing the General’s purse is fine. If you do as you say and secure the pass through the Saa then we also agree that after you can leave when you want.”

   After a round of yag to celebrate the agreement the merchants went off towards the river where a boat waited to take them to the other side.

   “Can you trust their word?” Eli asked.

   “Not really. But if I secure the pass through the Saa and conquer eastern Falconia, I will have great prestige and this will act as a bulwark against them. We could settle on the other side of the Mountains among veterans and they would no longer have power over me. As for the gold I simply will not leave here until they place it in my hands.”

   But the merchants were eager to have him and the next day the gold arrived guarded by a dozen heavy set men. Egil sent it up the river to his younger brother with instructions to buy farms with half and bury the rest in a safe location. His brother buried half the gold coins at night by himself. He bought farms with the rest and set a Klegit freedman to oversee and manage them.

   When the letter came back from his brother Egil heaved a sigh of relief. He copied the map and left the original with the farm foreman to put in a secret compartment in his desk. If he was killed on the plain his family would be looked after.

   Eli wanted to come with onto the plain but Egil refused. “The Army will march without women. It has to be that way if we are to be quick in attack and retreat. If I say to the men ‘No women!’ then how can I myself bring my wife? I know this is not unusual among other peoples but among the Rechyai for the commander to have privileges his troops do not is unacceptable. The grumbling and complaining would create dissention and weaken us.”



 Eli argued but to no avail. Egil promised that once established on the other side of the Saa he would send for her and she had to settle for this.  

   Leni, their daughter, now sixteen, was sent upriver with Geri. They lodged with Eli’s sister and Leni attended the old Klegit university. A prominent local merchant, (surprisingly for a Rechyai) devoted to books and learning, had taken over the buildings and land and gathered together the scattered remnants of teachers and servants.

   “The future will require writing and managing from women as well as men,” Eli said rather defensively for she thought Egil would give her an argument. Perhaps because he was in the midst of his own pleasure in reading and could not see the point in denying his daughter the same he did not give her one. “Does she want to go?” he asked.


   “Well, fine then.”


   The old village known by Ilna and the Sege would now be unrecognizable to them. The clearing had been enlarged until it now spread along the river for a distance perhaps twenty times longer than the old one.

   It was filled with timber built buildings with rough shingled roofs, ragged stone chimneys jutting through them. Along the riverfront was a series of wharves and behind these log warehouses filled with hides, weapons, salted fish, bundles of wool. The wharves were busy night and day, boats coming and going, men unloading and loading, shouting and cursing, merchants gathering in the corners to make their deals. Behind the warehouses which ran the full length of the village along the river sometimes two, sometimes three deep, was another irregular row of buildings, yag halls and bordellos, quiet in the day as if in remorse for the excesses of the previous night, but as the evening wore on filling with several thousand revelers of every description. And behind these, pushing back deep into what once were poplar woods, were twenty thousand private homes, some large with walled courtyards, other tiny shacks cobbled together with odds and ends and barely recognizable as human dwellings, the whole lot comprising an incredible jumble which might have resulted from a drunken man cutting


chunks with a dull axe and hurling them holus bolus onto a flat section of dirt and mud. Between the houses were muddy trails, some negotiable only on foot, others wide enough for wagons or pony carts, zigzagging in a crazy pattern designed and executed by a mad weaver. The roads through the warehouses and along the streets of bordellos and taverns had been paved with logs by the merchants but everywhere else was a sea of mud. Everyone wore knee high hide boots rubbed liberally with bear grease.

   Aag was a noisy place both by day and night. At the northern end of town were a collection of rough, long buildings where the sounds of hammers hitting anvils never ceased. At night this section was lit by lanterns turning it into a phantasmagoria of weird shapes and colored lights and sparks spouting where metal workers pounded out sword blades on their anvils with heavy hammers and poured bright streams of metal into moulds. At the other end of town were shipyards spread for several hundred yards along the bank and so backed up in orders that they often worked through the night by torchlight.

   Aag was a violent place. Fights in the public street were so common citizens passed them by with out a second glance. In the bordello district there were often violent brawls resulting in half a dozen dead. The taverns and bordellos hired a small army of men to keep the peace within their establishments but the owners and merchants frequently wondered out loud if they did not cause more fights than they prevented. The merchants, fearing to walk down their own streets at night, appointed a sherriff with twelve toughs to support him but in the first week of his duties he was killed in a tavern brawl. They appointed another but a month later he was found floating in the river with his throat cut. They gave up and never went out at night without five or six heavily armed guards. This situation did not change until some years later when the army took over the policing, ruling the streets with an iron fist.

   In the red light district there was a bordello run by a Rechyai woman with a long scar on the left side of her face running from her temple to the point of her chin. The bordello was the largest in the Scream, as the locals called this section of town, and also the best built building and the best run. It had two floors, the bottom a gigantic open bar room with a kitchen off to one side, the top a jumble of small rooms accommodating the ‘girls’, as they were called although most were long past girlhood, climbing the big stairs at the back of the bar room with their drunken customers. The top floor, at the front of the building, had three larger rooms more fully appointed with solid walls and oak door for well heeled customers who wished to stay the night.

   Reel, the Rechyai woman owner, built the bordello with money inherited from her husband, a beserker who beserked his way into the death lands during the last part of the


Klegit wars. After his death her husband’s two brothers tried to take the money he had left with her, making the cut in her face which left the scar. But Reel had some of the beserker in her as well. She killed one of them with a blow of her husband’s long sword, cleaving his head in two as if it were a melon and then chased the other into the street brandishing the dripping blade. For months after she slept with a knife in her hand behind a heavily barred door until her second brother in law was killed in the Rechyai march up the Wah.

  When Reel came to town it was before the shipyards and there was a surplus of men loafing around the docks occasionally doing a day’s work unloading boats. She chose the most likely and put them to work building the bordello. They were rough men who drank and fought too much but they were also hard workers and honest to a fault in their own way. She developed an affection for them and they for her and after the construction they stayed on to be bouncers, bartenders and cooks.

   Reel was in the bordello from late afternoon to early morning running the sex side of the business. There was a constant stream of girls arriving at the door looking for work and behind them a constant stream of customers looking for girls. She hired the prettiest  and, after cleaning them up in the bathhouse behind the building, fitted them out with the very plain clothing her unsophisticated customers thought highly enticing.

   Mostly however she sat at a little desk at the bottom of the stairs and took the customer’s money. Before she did that they were ushered into a room off to her left where their genitals were checked for obvious evidence of disease by an old woman who acted as the establishment’s healer. The old woman was a Klegit, by the name of Godi, an experienced healer with a great knowledge of medicinal plants and very expert at sewing up gaping wounds. She worked the brothel in the evenings but in the afternoons, in the same room she examined genitals, she saw patients from the general population. Her reputation was such that some of them were even respectable, if such a word could be used in referring to any of the citizens of Aag. She was also expert at assisting childbirth which came in handy at the brothel for at any time a quarter of the girls were pregnant. The girls lived in houses off the premises which they rented and sometimes owned collectively and these houses teemed with babies and children.

   Reel had two boys of her own, sons of her dead husband. She lived in a house across the river from Aag, a spot she chose to be away from the noise and bedlam she spent her nights in. The house was just back from the river and built on poles so as to be above the annual spring flood. The boys were fifteen and sixteen and, so far anyway, not beserkers. They were tall and yellow haired like their father. Mig, a young Klegit woman looked after them when Reel was gone. Mig could read and write and had taught the


boys, using books from a trunk which belonged to Reel’s husband. The husband, although he could neither read or write, was fascinated by books and had amassed a collection in the raiding of Klegit villages along the river.

   The boys were bright, thoughtful lads but quick and athletic as well. The oldest was Va, named after his father, the youngest Nian, after the boy’s grandfather, long cut down in battle up in the northern Rechyai lands. Reel did not want the boys to be warriors but of course the boys wanted nothing else. How else could it be? In the village and along the river there was nothing but war, preparations for war, the making of the implements of war, epics of war, stories of war and even gossip of war. Even the cripples and the drunks on the streets were the outcasts of war, one legged, one armed, scarred, twisted and deformed by the blows of war. Men were judged on how they waged war; women on if they could attract a superior man of war. Older male children who were dominant, who beat their childish enemies with wooden swords and blunted javelins were spoken of as promising, as the future, as ‘truly Rechyai’. The girls flocked round them, bees scenting a luscious flower, scenting their future victories, scenting the salt blood of strength and triumphant sex. Reel herself had married a beserker, for twenty years a magnificent warrior. In the nights she had soothed and messaged his aching muscles, woke him from his terrible dreams of blood and violence. Between the soft pillows of her thighs he beat himself into a brief satiation giving him a few hours of peace and sleep. Now he was dead. Her father was dead. All four of her brothers were dead. She and her husband once had a farm up north, a beautiful spot on the river, rich and fertile. They had sheep, cattle, horses, gardens and children but nothing could keep bhim from blood and war; nothing could lock those restless blue eyes into steadiness and purpose but the call of battle and adventure. She did not want this for her boys. She wanted for them a life of peace and deep purpose.

   Reel had money. The building of the brothel had taken only half of her husband’s gold. Despite the fact that she paid her girls more than the going rate and supported them when they were having their babies the bordello made money hand over fist. The other half of the gold she invested in boats carrying cargo up and down the river. Business was thriving. More and more Rechyai were coming down the river and out onto the plains.

   Va wanted to go to war. He wanted to be like his namesake; he wanted to follow a famous warrior onto the plain to attack the Sege. Nothing she could say could discourage him. She pleaded with him to work her boats on the river for a year or two and then see. But Va would not listen. He turned his head away; he stopped his ears. When she refused to outfit him he stole from her strongbox and outfitted himself. He practiced on the war fields to the east during the day and began drinking in the low dives at night so he could listen to tales of battle told by the older warriors. Then one day he was gone riding off


with a war party onto the plain.

   Va was killed in the first skirmish. He and his companions, riding half trained horses, were cut off by Klegit riders and cut down with arrows. The Klegit stripped the bodies of gear and rode off with the horses. Another Rechyai war party found them later in the day. The commander, knowing Reel was wealthy, send the body back with two of his men. When they brought the body into the yard early one morning Reel first went to her strong box and paid the men. They rode off happy for there was enough for both them and the commander.

   The body had been shot with three arrows all in the torso. Two passed right through; the other was pulled out by the Rechyai who found them. Reel sent for the Klegit farmhands and they carried the body into the house and lay it on the kitchen table. She sent a messenger to find Nian who was fishing on the river. When he arrived the farm hands brought water and she and Nian washed the body. It was covered in caked blood and dust and it took three buckets of water before it was clean. She washed Va’s long yellow hair until it shone so brightly in the sun coming through the window that it seemed to her that it was impossible for it not to be the hair of a living man. Then she laid her arms and shoulders across him where he lay so still and dead and wept in the most anguished manner. Nian sobbed behind her and Mig, putting her arms around his shoulders, wept along with him. The Klegit men bowed their heads and wiped their eyes. That the boy was dead meant little to them but the anguish of the women moved them deeply.

   When her sobbing ceased Reel stood up and getting her sewing gear from the cupboard sewed up the gashes from the arrows. Nian and the Klegit men went upstairs to the attic and brought down Va’s father’s war gear. First the tunic, a bright red, Klegit made. Then the heavy war boots, the greaves, the chest plate, the arm bands, the wide thick belt with  sword, scabbard and the dangling strips of metal to protect the thighs. She folded his arms across his chest. She sent the helmet back to storage. She didn’t want to cover his hair. She combed it with her own brush, tied it in a pony tail and curled it neatly to rest behind his head on the table. Then the Klegit men carried the table out into the yard, piled dry wood under and around it and soaked it in oil.

     All the men were dead, there was only Nian. So he said what the Rechyai said over the bodies of their dead warriors before they burned them, a piece from a saga perhaps a thousand years old.


                  For a warrior death and life are the same.
                      Lifting his sword to glint in the yellow sun,
                      He brings it down to spill the blood of his enemies.
                      Avenger of the wrongs done his people.
                       Before him death, behind him, death,
                       Death also at his side.
                       With a strong arm he clears his path
                       And swings the blade at the foeman.

                        After slaying a thousand
                        No soft bed can claim him.
                        He ends in battle
                        And dwells in the Great Hall beyond the mountains.

   Nian chanted this three times as was the custom. Then Reel took the torch handed her by Mig and lit the bier.


   After the death of Va, Reel was despondent. She stayed in the house for three weeks, seldom leaving her room. She thought constantly of killing herself. Anguish overwhelmed her many times each day and her misery was close to unbearable. But as the time went by she came out into the house more and more, especially to see and talk to Nian. One of the ‘girls’ was managing the sex side of the bordello and the barman was running the bar and managing the receipts. Every afternoon he sent over the previous day’s take with an accounting. After three weeks Reel invited them across the river for a meeting and made arrangements with them to act as co managers.

   In the mornings, when Nian was having his lessons with Mig, Reel went out of the house and down to the water. She brought a line with her and fished in the river until she caught enough for supper. This gave her time to think and grieve as well. She sat there


fishing on the grassy bank every day for a month. It seemed to her that her life in business was over but she didn’t know what she was going to do. She wanted to get away from Aag. She wanted to keep Nian away from war. But other than that she was unsure.

   One day when she was fishing she met a Lacti, a fat old man with white hair and a bad limp on the left side. He complemented her on the basket of fish beside her and she gave him two. The Lacti man, Ogi by name, thanked her and she invited him to sit down. He sat.

   Ogi was traveling to collect herbs and healing plants. This is what he did for a living. He mentioned that there was an old Sege shaman who lived in the hills of the Saa who would be buying most of what he collected. This old man lived with a great many other healers and gardeners in a village impossible to find if you did not already know where it was. They had built a house of healing there. They had a library of healing and plant books and anyone who came there sick was looked after whether they had anything to exchange or not. The older women who ran the healing house were teaching younger women and eventually hoped to send them out into the villages along the Saa, whether they be Koli or Nia or Rechyai or Sege or indeed even Falconian. There was another old man who lived there, a Klegit, who wrote books and he was teaching younger men to write histories. All these people lived communally like the ancient storytellers say the ancient people lived and they sat silently every evening for hours according to teachings of an old Lacti shaman of long ago called Obyn who recommended this practice as the best kind of medicine.

   Reel listened to the old man fascinated. He had been traveling for some time now and  he was lonely and glad to have a sympathetic listener. He rattled away telling her details of how the village was built and how the shaman had once been a Sege General many years ago. Some of the healing women were Sege, some Osni, some Klegit and even one Nia from across the mountains. She asked him about the library and he told her they had some books and had asked him to bring more from the markets in Aag but unfortunately he did not know how to read so if he brought back books most likely they would be the wrong ones. One of the young women offered to come with him but Kweya would not allow it. He said that it was one thing for an old Lacti such as himself to go wandering about in the land of the Rechyai but a young Sege woman would have to wait some years before that could be done safely.

   While listening to this man Reel came to a decision. While running the bordello she was always interested in Godi’s work, often helping her sew up wounds and mix draughts of medicinal plants. When the old man finished his tale Reel invited him to stay at her house a few days. Ogi was delighted and led his horse across the grass following Reel.


  The next day Reel made him a proposal. She would help him with the rest of his plant collecting and in return he would lead her and her son to the valley of Obyn. As well she would take him, over as many days as necessary, to the market in Aag where there were booksellers. There they would buy any plant and healing books they could find and Reel would pay for them. They would pack them in a trunk and carry them to the Obyn. Ogi agreed. He was happy to have company and the books would have Zuzy and the women healers feeding him like a king all winter long.

   The old man stayed in Reel’s house for three weeks. They filled a trunk with books and outfitted two wagons to take them out onto the plains. Reel hired two Lacti men for guards. She spoke with the bartender and he agreed to manage the bordello and also her boats. They agreed to split the profits. Reel’s share was to be deposited with a certain Rechyai merchant by the name of Itca, a miserly, tight lipped man but in money affairs reliable.    

   Reel was apprehensive how Nian would take all this. But when she told him her plan he was more than happy to go. Just think of the adventure! Out onto the plains! Into the foothills of the Saa! And in the company of shaman and other such magical characters. He began packing right away and every day afterward until they left complained bitterly about how long the preparations were taking. Finally after what seemed to Nian forever they left early in the morning on a day when the fog had yet to burn off the surface of the river. They passed through it on the ferry across and Nian was sure the magical qualities of the mist and fog were a sign of a good trip to come.

   Mig came with them for she told her mistress she would die otherwise for she had no other family; they were all dead. Reel freed the Klegit slaves, legally, for there was now a magistrate in Aag who performed such functions. She also split the title of the farm with them. Her share of profits was to be deposited with the merchant Itca. Although it didn’t matter where they were going, Reel also freed Mig legally. Someday she might return.

    Some months before Egil had been appointed General of an army which was now mustering on the plain. Along the trail through the woods behind Aag, there was an endless procession of wagons, horses and men heading west towards the mustering spot two hundred miles to the northwest. . Reel, Mig, Niam and Ogi travelled the same road for two days and then swung to the southwest. They were relieved to turn south for the men were very attentive to Mig’s beauty and even whistled at Reel although she was no longer in the bloom of her years. They were glad to set off on their own trail and not have to camp with several hundred lusty males watching their every move. On the first night on the southern trail they found a camping spot on the grass beside a stream. When night


fell it was moonless, totally black, the stars truly magnificent. Nian was enchanted and told them the names of some of the brighter stars, names he had learned not from Mig who was ignorant of stars but Va, who once told him that a warrior is often forced to navigate by the stars and only a ninny does not learn them young when his mind is fresh and impressionable.

   When the party came, some days later, to the site of the old Sege village on the Wah, sitting there, beside a cracked hide tent was Hally, the Osni healer. When she saw Ogi she laughed and made fun of his fat belly, which was indeed fat, hanging over his belt like a small pet animal he was carrying around with him. Ogi laughed at her jests as much as she did herself. Then he asked her if she had seen them coming by her foresight and made for them a delicious stew. This made them laugh even louder and Nian stared at these two hilarious old people incredulously. Hally had a granddaughter with her, a young girl of twelve.

   Later in the evening Nian tried to strike up a conversation with the granddaughter but she turned her face away and would not speak to him. Hally took him aside and told him that the girl hated all Rechyai and that it would be best not to speak to her. Later, said Hally, as time wore on, she would forget her hate, for young people her age, no matter how bright and seemingly eternal their hate may seem, eventually forget and it slips away. Then she would speak to him.

   That night, just before she woke up in the morning, Reel dreamed of Va. There was a bright fire burning and around it were seated old warriors telling tales and her son, Va, listening with rapt attention, his profile turned toward her. What a handsome face to be no longer in the land of the living! Reel watched him, his features now laughing, now serious according to the shifting narrative of the story. Suddenly his eyes filled with an awareness having nothing to do with the story the old soldier was telling. He looked deeply puzzled and then turned to look directly into her eyes. His face lit up with happiness. He smiled and, reacting perhaps to the anguish in her face, said to her in the voice he had used when she was overly concerned with him when he was living. “It’s alright, mom.” Then he smiled once more and was gone. Reel woke with tears streaming down her cheeks. Nian, on the other side of the tent, was mumbling in his sleep about witches and magical mountains and fairies who live in an enchanted wood and whose fate it is to never die.




   As soon as the Sege and Klegit arrived in the valley Kweya’s scouts had chosen for the new village, the gardeners surveyed for arable land. There was some very good soil but the hillsides would have to be terraced and even with that there was not enough acreage. They now had more than fifteen thousand people to feed, and an even greater number of horses, sheep and cattle. If the Rechyai spread out close to the mountain they would be unable to graze on the grasslands below the foothills or perhaps even in the eastern parts of the foothills themselves.

   “We will never be able to graze all the animals here,” said Min.

   “Or have enough acreage for crops and gardens,” said one of the Klegit gardeners.

   Lo brought this to Ilna. “We’ll have to look for a way over the mountains,” he said. “On the west side there is grazing land beyond the foothills and no Rechyai. The Koli tell us the other side has better grazing land.”

   Ilna sent out six parties of men to probe the skirts of the mountains and see if they could find a way through. One of the parties found a route horses could travel. On the west side they found a series of rich valleys. Council met and decided to send everyone but warriors and a few Klegit gardeners over the mountain. With them went the animals including most of the horses. As soon as they arrived on the west side they put in gardens and sowed crops. They took the horses down to the grasslands to save the foothill grazing until later in the season.

   The warriors on the east side, led by the Klegit gardeners, terraced and sowed all the arable soil they could find. They didn’t even grumble for they knew an all out effort was the only thing which would save them from starvation come winter. The Sege warriors became glad for the Klegit animals and their meat and cheese. There were some animals to hunt in the hills but nowhere near what they were accustomed to.

   As soon as the crops were sown Fils set the warriors to building a wall across the entry


into the valley. Scouts on the plains told them the Rechyai settlements stopped at the edge of the drylands some two hundred miles to the east. But horsemen with extra mounts and pemmican could travel amazingly fast. Word had also come that the Rechyai had made a treaty with the Horse People and, although the treaty didn’t seem to involve the Horse People riding with the Rechyai, one never knew. The Horse People could come up from the south in such a way that the scouts might miss them until they were very close. The warriors worked from first light until it was too dark to see. The entry was one hundred feet across and in three weeks they built a wall across it fifteen feet high. Then Ilna kept one quarter of the warriors building it even higher while the other tended the gardens and made ready the weapons of war. But the Rechyai did not pursue them into their new country. Instead they spread out onto the plain and began tilling the soil and the Sege and Klegit had time to develop their villages on both the east and west slopes of the mountain.

   Late summer, when Ilna was certain they would be safe for the season, he sent scouts south to look for Kweya and his companions. But they came back empty handed. “They seemed to have disappeared,” said the head scout.  When Ilna sent out new scouts they too came back empty handed.

   “So what do you think of that?” Ilna asked Lo.

   “He has some reason not to be found. And if he has some reason not to be found, he will not be found.”

   “You sound just like him,” Ilna replied.

   Lo laughed. “Everybody who has talked to Kweya for more than a minute or two sounds like him.”


   Kweya and company were busy digging gardens and building stone barns lined with straw to house the animals in the winter. There were a dozen stone quarrying people from the south with them teaching the young people how it was done. When they finished the barns they built a tall watch tower at the east end of the valley and worked out a schedule of watchers so that it was manned both day and night. So cleverly was it built that from a distance it appeared to be a natural formation, one of those queer singularities which mountains throw with such regularity they seem normal. From its lookout openings, with Kweya’s eyeglass, one could see across the foothills and out onto the plain.


   Every morning at first light and evening at the fall of night, a young man rang Am’s bell, thus calling the community to sitting meditation. Even Neel, as suspicious of such activities as he was, came at its call and sat for the first half hour. The rest of his time he spent in the library dividing his efforts between compiling a catalogue of plants and healing techniques and writing his ‘History of the Southern Peoples.”

   Ilna heard nothing of them but rumors until the second year after the Sege and Klegit settled into their own mountain valley.  


      Kweya’s community in the mountains, after much discussion and even argument, was named after a Lacti teacher who died some fifty years before. He had lived to a venerable age - ninety seven. The first fifty of these years he lived in the largest Lacti village in the hills a few miles south of the Wah. Here he acted as the chief shaman, a position bestowed upon him by the community rather in opposition to many of the leading families there who found him a troublesome man. For these families he was indeed troublesome. It was not unusual for him, in public, sometimes even before an assembly of the people, to accuse them of greed, selfishness and robbery. Twice these families, or to be fair, elements of these families, attempted to assassinate him, once by poison and once by waylaying him when he was in the woods meditating and bashing his head in with a war club.

   Neither of these attempts succeeded. Most believed spirit guides gave him warning but the truth was much simpler requiring no supernatural explanation. In the first instance a conscientious member of the poisoner’s family gave warning in time for the shaman to go on a two week fast. In the second he sensed the man behind him, reached up and grasped the club and tore it from his hands. He then pinned the man to the ground holding a knife to his throat. The man was sure he was about to die but after a brief conversation, a very truthful and pithy one considering the circumstances, he was released and invited to join the shaman in his meditation. He did so and stayed with the shaman afterwards as a student until the day he died, much to the disgust of his family. Obyn was the shaman’s name but everyone called him Ob for short.

   A Lacti shaman at the time spent much time in rituals, not only in performing them but in gathering the accoutrements  -  the bones of animals, feathers, plants, special kinds of rocks, and so on. Some of the rituals the Lacti shamen performed had to do with


damaging enemies of the ‘client’, casting spells on them, calling up devils or evil beings to injure or even kill these enemies. Even as an apprentice shaman Ob refused to perform these rituals. He would counsel his clients to talk to their ‘enemies’ and come to an understanding or at least to learn to live alongside them in watchful coexistence. Those who thought such advice the words of a silly crackpot went elsewhere but as time went on and Ob gained more and more status in the community these people became few and far between.

   On the other hand the shamanistic ceremonies of exorcism and healing were practiced by Ob with enthusiasm. Even though in his private opinion there was much trickery and mummery about them, he also observed that they had the effect of stimulating concentration, renewing awareness and bringing comfort and strength to those who were suffering. There was also a very practical side to a shaman’s practice, namely the setting of bones, the treatment of wounds and illnesses and the gathering of plants and making of medicines which came down to him through a long line of traditional practice. This was the area of the shaman’s life Ob was drawn to most and the one he spent most of his time at.

   He was a garrulous man by nature and made many friends. To be a friend of Ob was to help him in his work. Hunters brought him back unusual plants which he experimented with. He accompanied warriors into battle and closely examined the bodies of the dead. He had traders bring him plants and medicines from other tribes. When he found them efficacious he arranged for regular supply channels. He sent his young students far off to visit other tribes and learn from their healers and shamans. In secret, for such things were taboo, he dissected bodies he retrieved from battle fields, having a student sworn to secrecy write down in notebooks, a steady stream of dictation on what he was observing as he worked. He dissected on a large cured hide and afterwards performed the ceremonial of burial even if the bodies were of Lacti enemies killed in battle. “They may have been our enemies in battle,” he would tell his student, “but in death they are our friends who have conferred a benefit upon us.”

   During this time in his life Ob considered his greatest discovery to be a plant found by a hunter friend who had traveled south following a herd of deer. When the flowers were boiled to a mash and administered to a patient in great pain they brought almost immediate relief and a deep sleep. Not only did this relieve the patient’s suffering, a good thing in itself as far as Ob was concerned, it also enabled him to lance, sew, remove arrow heads, and even amputate limbs without throwing the patient into the extreme shock which often killed him. He went with his hunter friend to the spot where he had found this plant and later arranged for two of his student s to travel there every summer


and collect the next years supply. As well he dried the flowers and sent students around to the surrounding tribes to show their healers how to prepare the mash and how much to administer.  

    Although during this time Ob’s reputation grew such that it extended even to the much more powerful tribes surrounding, the Sege, the Klegit, the Horse People, even the Nia in their home over the big mountains, he remained a modest man. He took only one wife with whom he had two children. These they had while still in their teens and afterward had no more for the couple practiced birth control using sheep’s spleens. Both Ob and his wife (but perhaps more Ob than his wife) thought that the world had enough humans in it already and that, considering their violent and dominating nature, a great expansion of their numbers could lead to imbalance and even to a destruction of the world. He and his wife lived in a middle sized hogan at the edge of the village, although there was a larger one behind it acting as his workshop and storage area.

   All this went along just fine until Ob reached the age of fifty. Most people in the tribes didn’t know their exact age. Why would they? They lived in the midst of the natural cycles of the seasons and gauged their progress through this life by such things as puberty, having children, the children becoming adults, having grandchildren, no longer being able to ride a horse and so on. But Ob was a little obsessive about numbers. As soon as he learned to write, at the age of four, in the notebook given him by an indulgent grandmother, he made a mark on the back cover each year after the winter solstice ceremony. Thus he knew exactly the year he turned fifty.

   This milestone made him mildly depressed. Half of the children he had once played with were now dead. Many of the others were crippled up with arthritis or stricken by some debilitating disease. His wife had grown wrinkled. Her breasts once full and alive as quivering pheasants, were now wrinkled bags hanging dispiritedly down to her waist. His own member had shrunken with age and his scrotum and its shriveling walnuts, hung like a stretched and empty purse. Their orgasms together, more and more infrequent, were now like the soft meow of a pussycat compared to the once mighty roar of a panther. When he complained about these things to his wife she laughed and called him a big baby.

   But Ob was a disciplined and orderly man and although perhaps these realities slowed him down a bit, he continued on with his teaching, healing and other activities the same as ever. But that year, mid summer, he decided to go traveling west on his own. He had many students now, some of them much better at doing certain things than he was himself. He and his wife had six grandchildren, the latest a small baby, so his wife did not


have the slightest desire to join him. It struck him that he had in some way reverted to childhood. He was surrounded by knowing and competent people whose very existence gave him the freedom to go exploring on his own.  

   His trip however, was not the open exploration of a child, as proper as that is for those who are children, but more directed. He rode directly to the foothills of the Saa to the west and, finding there a sheltered hollow at one side of which there was a small cave, he sat in meditation for two months. This did not require any great discipline or strength of will on his part. He was curious, just as he had once been curious about the knowledge of healing, and so one thing simply led him to another.

   Thereafter Ob spent six months a year in the foothills and, ten years later when he was sixty, he moved there permanently, leaving the village shaman and healing duties to younger men who were still his students nominally but who in reality were independent shaman and healers, now his colleagues. His reputation, however, still brought people across the plain to visit but he talked with them much less about healing, referring them rather to his students in the village who were keeping up that tradition, and more about sitting meditation. If they wanted to stay for a while they had to sit with him, an arduous undertaking for he sat twelve hours a day.

   Eventually a small group of students gathered around him and Ob had to do some thinking about what to do with them. At that time there was some conflict between the tribes in that area. Elements of the Lacti, the Koli and even a few tribes who traveled up from the south all claimed it as their own hunting grounds. Three times groups of armed and threatening men rode into Ob’s camp, fortunately leaving without violence, yet who could not see this as a harbinger of what was to come? Ob decided to move up into the mountains. He sent two of his young, vigorous men up onto the mountain proper to see what they could see. They brought him back descriptions of what they saw up there but none of these descriptions satisfied him until they came back in the spring of the second year of exploration talking about an arable valley bright with grass and trees. They moved up right away and then sent messengers back to the Lacti village to let them know where they were.

      In the first year they dug houses into steep sections of the valley and constructed a stone kitchen and dining hall. They built terraces for gardens and wooden huts to shelter the sheep and cattle they brought with them. The second year they started the meditation building, round and double walled with straw packed in between the walls for insulation. This was not finished until the third year for Ob insisted it be built much larger than their present needs required. When asked by his students “Why so big?” he replied that it was hard to add onto a round hall so it had to be built to the proper proportions right off. “And how would anyone know what the proper proportions should be then?” was the obvious rejoinder to this but although everyone was thinking it, no one asked.


   When he reached the age of seventy Ob became so arthritic he stopped traveling. His wife, who previously had come up to the mountain for the warm season, now stayed the whole year excepting for a visit down to the plain to see her grandchildren. He was even happy about not being able to travel. “No more bouncing around on a horse’s ass,” he said. But he was able to keep up his work and teaching. He still did healing, especially for bad cases who were carted up the mountain by desperate relatives. He worked in the garden two hours a day and insisted on sweeping out the meditation hall every morning. But mostly he taught meditation. “Keep going!” he would shout. “No gawking at the scenery.” He led public meditation in the hall every morning and evening. He sat all afternoon in his own dug out house interrupted only by students coming for advice. “Women are driving me crazy!” said one highly erotic young man who came to visit him. “No they aren’t,” replied Ob. “Your mind about women is driving you crazy. Why blame it on the women?”

   The day before his ninety-eighth birthday Ob died of a heart attack while working in the garden. He dropped to his knees beside the young woman who was with him. “Well now,” he said. “and here we haven’t even started weeding the carrots.” Then he keeled over and stopped breathing.

   It was fall so the leaders sent men up the mountain who came back the next day with chunks of ice on horseback. They took out Ob brains and visera, carefully saving them in leather bags, and packed him in ice. Messengers were sent to the Lacti villages and beyond but the distances were considerable. Three months later when the leaders decided that enough of Ob’s old friends and colleagues had gathered, he was cremated. They built a great bier of dry wood on a hilltop near the meditation hall and with no real ceremony other than the assembled walking by the bier and reaching out to touch the leather bag he was sewn into, the wood was set alight. While it was burning they chanted one of the many poems Ob had created during his lifetime.

                     No one came here,
                     Now no one is leaving.
                     So why be surprised?
                     Stars don’t burn forever,
                     A human life a finger snap, a brief flicker.

                      Those who use their time well
                      Are the ones who remember Obyn.
                      The others should stop being foolish
                      And learn to mix their own medicines.


   They chanted this over and over again until the fire was out. That evening they gathered Ob’s ashes and sowed them like seed upon the surface of the river.

   Kweya was one of the young men at the funeral. He stayed for two years afterwards working in the garden and sitting in the meditation hall.


   When Kweya and company came up the mountain new energy was injected into the community. Such was his reputation that he was elected as the meditation leader and he began, like Obyn once did, to lead morning and evening sessions and to give advice in the afternoon from his sitting platform in the dug out he shared with Zuzy. But no two leaders and the circumstances in which their leadership is exercised, are totally alike. Obyn had for his goal the establishment and deepening of meditative tradition and in this he succeeded. Not only was there the core center in the mountain valley but this center had made contact with traditions among the Nia and the Koli so that in the south, on both sides of the Saa Mountains, there was a reawakening interest in these old traditions.
Kweya was convinced that to carry on into the future the community should make more of a connection with the outside world. He saw meditative practice and healing as inexorably linked and thought they must go out into the larger world as a unit, one buttressing the other, so they would continue on in various forms long after the community which first taught them in a systematic manner was gone.

   The new settlers who came with Kweya had dugouts to live in right away for the population of the community had gone down considerably over the past few years. They blended into the assembly effortlessly for many had already spent time studying here in the mountains. But Kweya set them a special task. They began adding on to the House of Healing, building new libraries and teaching halls. And Wani, with a coterie of other young men and women, began designing a program for going off into the world to heal and teach their healing skills.

   They decided on traveling bands of three carrying a standard package of medicines, instruments and healing books. They travelled by horse for speed. After much discussion it was finally settled they would carry bows. Now it would be useless if they carried bows


but didn’t know how to use them so a field with shooting targets was set up and the first teams of Travelers, as they were eventually called, began learning under the tuteledge of a few aging Sege bowmen.

   Kweya and some of the other assembly leaders decided they would be sent to the Nia on the far edges of the Sea of Grass. This was done in the third year of arrival and the journey went very well. The three spent the whole warm season in the Nia villages and returned in the fall bringing with them ten horses, gifts from Nia Headmen ( and, perhaps, incentives to come back in the spring) and three young Nias, a man and two women, who were eager to learn healing and then go back to their people.

   Kweya stayed out of this on the whole leaving the Healing House, teaching and set up of the Travellers to Yuzi, the Lacti Master Healer, Zuzy, Reel, Nawan and Fli. But he did have Neel, along with several young assistants, set up a medical library and a library of healing plants along excellent rationalist lines. There were already a dozen middle aged men and women whose job was to travel and collect plants and Yuzi expanded this part of the operation for the Traveller Bands required a growing, steady supply of plants and medicines. But he did intervene forcefully in one matter. He insisted that the travelers wear a uniform cloak, a heavy one for winter, light for summer. He had women experienced in weaving and dying come up with a simple design dyed an earthy brown. Am, the Klegit sculpturer, designed a slanted white O which the weavers worked into the back of the cloaks. Kweya claimed with time this cloak would be recognized everywhere and give to its wearers some measure of protection and this is indeed exactly how it worked out.

   This program expanded rapidly. In the fifth year after Kweya arrived on the mountain there were ninety-six bands of three Travellers. By the seventh year Travellers had made exploratory visits to outlying villages among both the Falconians and the Rechyai. At first they were received with great suspicion, especially by the Rechyai who suspected them of being some kind of Sege fifth column. But their obvious skill and tireless work among the sick and injured gave them a support among rank and file Rechyai and Falconians the leaders did not dare interfere with. They allowed them to enter the communities and do their work in some cases actively assisting them.

   The head of the first band was Reel whose ability to read and endless energy made a natural leader. After two years of study under Yuzi and Zuzy, she led the first Traveller Band into Nia country and later became the leader of the bands journeying into Rechyai farming country in the southwest of the plain east of the Saa Mountains. The daughter,


grand daughter and widow of Rechyai Warriors, she was not easily intimidated, a quality absolutely necessary for a Healer working among the wild and wooly Rechyai. Her son Niam, after some dithering, became a healer as well but he refused to accompany his mother. He claimed she was far too bossy and mothering and instead joined a band which visited the unaligned tribes to the south of the Nia. The life on horseback crossing and recrossing the endless plains in the south was one which suited him very well.

By the time the Rechyai decided to invade Falconia the Travellers were well established in the south of both the Falconian and Rechyai plains. Among some of the tribes they had established permanent Healing Centers and among the Nia and Gans they had built meditation centers in the mountains near the major settlements.  



Eth was an old man possessing uncommon energy but it was an energy which had to be measured out for a man in his high eighties has so many hours a day in top form. He had perhaps eight on a good day five or six on a day he was not feeling well. His great weakness was that he had little capacity for impassioned argument and the Falconian military and political class were people of impassioned argument. To deal with this weakness he developed a coterie of younger men who did his arguing for him. He met with disputants only when there was no alternative and aimed his tactics at having this happen as little as possible.

Not a day passed by during his time as the Head of the Falconian Council that he did not think enviously of the old Emperor’s ability to command absolutely. What a great saver of time! Committees, long arguments, months of developing consensus, all these took endless amounts of time. Yet they were necessary. Even if he had taken on the powers of the old Emperor, the reforms he ordered would not have gone deep like they did in the new council system. People bought in. Many who never had a voice before spoke at the table. They ceased being passive receivers and became active participants and this was what was needed to counter the threat of the Rechyai.

His reports told him that the Rechyai themselves were an anarchistic bunch. Their


armies were more like unruly rivers than disciplined military formations. Their strategic planning sessions were wild melles during which murders and assaults were often committed. It was not uncommon for bands of Rechyai to start fighting one another even during a battle with a formidable opponent. Wild men is what they were but when there are very many wild men all moving in the same direction it presents a problem. But Eth was confident that the Imperial Army, with its disciplined chain of command and its experience in organized warfare, would win out in the end.

Reform of the Army was moving along but slowly. The problem Eth kept running into was a perennial one. An Army is an expression of the society from which it springs. If the relations between the classes are stiff and diseased so is the relationships within the army. Falconian society was too polarized, too ossified. Incompetent noble officers were always chosen over competent plebian ones. The attitude of the noble officers towards their troops was contemptuous; they hardly considered the lower classes to be human beings. In return the plebian troops hated officers with a great passion. If they saw they could get away with it in action it was not unusual for them to pick out a particularly obnoxious officer and spear him in the back. When this happened the Army Command was helpless. They could gather no evidence for the troops were as closed mouthed as clams and if they moved against a unit with no evidence the entire army would revolt, choosing non coms as officers who were often better strategists and tacticians than the regular officers. This had happened many times in the past twenty years. The revolts could be resolved only by negotiation ending in amnesty for everyone involved. The Falconian armies were tinderboxes of rebellion even more so than the rabble underbelly of the city of Hawan.

In the second year of his rule Eth removed a great many high officers. They were the ones opposed to reform and also most hated by their troops. He replaced them with other noble officers but not entirely. He appointed ten plebian officers to the rank of Major and placed them on the general staff. This astounded everyone including the newly appointed officers themselves. But after a year Eth’s reports told him the appointments had increased the sense of solidarity in the army. Afterwards he increased the number of appointments from the plebians to one quarter. The nobles howled like banshees but he paid them no mind. It was not the nobles who would be fighting the Rechyai but the army. By the time of the Rechyai invasion this policy had produced excellent results. The army was more of a whole and its esprit de corp had greatly improved.

To the west of Hawan the Sah River flowed through rich farmland eventually dumping its waters into the Salt Sea. In the estuary thus formed on the west coast sat the rich city of Ara, the Empire’s marine Capital. Fortunately things were quiet on the Salt Sea. There was a balance of power and there had been no major sea wars for years. Eth began a


transfer of Imperial resources inland. He brought army units stationed in Ara up the Sah and had them begin a rebuilding of the old chain of forts starting at Hawan and descending the river to Ara. He had the shipyards in Ara begin building a series of fast sailing riverboats. He stationed troops back from the river in farming communities of dubious loyalty to ensure the delivery of foodstuffs to supply the army when the Rechyai came. He appointed new governors in the provinces along the river – young, vigorous men – and gave them emergency military powers. He built up the numbers, both in the Army of the South, stationed just north of Nia territory and the Army of the North, stationed on the northern border. As well he began the building of a new army to replace the jumble of units now manning the wall at Rock Run.

The army at Rock Run would be the first to face the Rechyai. How else would they get themselves over the Saa Mountains? He appointed to it the best officers in the service. He gave them the best equipment, the best horses, the best cooks, the best supplies, the best everything. Unfortunately he thought he had more time than he had. His reports told him the Rechyai could not possibly mount a serious offensive until the tenth year after conquering on the Eg. But this was not the way it turned out.



Egil had many battles with the clan leaders. It was the tradition with the Rechyai that these leaders, or their sons if they were old and infirm, led their clan into battle. This had always been the Rechyai battle order and, as far as the clan leaders went, would always be so. According to them  this had been laid down by the old gods in the days of the ancient ancestors and would stay so until the end of the world.

Such an army is fine for migration battles where there is no organized opposition and the migrants have greatly superior numbers. In fact, Egil was willing to concede, it might even be the best for mass movements of people. It is flexible and decentralized, exactly what is needed. But it was not what was needed in fighting the Falconians. They possessed an organized, professional military with many centuries of experience and


tradition. They fought in disciplined formations commanded by a single General and an officer corp trained in strategy and tactics. To battle them on the plain with equal numbers with a great roiling mass of Rechyai could only bring disaster.

He did not try to reason with the Clan Leaders. They were very unreasonable men who loved their power and position and genuinely thought the present state of affairs to be essential to Rechyai strength. Instead of opposing them directly which would have led to his dismissal or even assassination, he employed the time honored strategy of those who wish to change something against the interests of an entrenched power – he said one thing in public and did another in private. Egil never spoke to more than a dozen people without extolling the virtues of the clan battle system but privately he was setting up an organization which would replace it as far as the army was concerned.

Horses were relatively new to the Rechyai so he started with this. He was aided by the fact that most of the Horses and riders came from the new settlements on the plains Their connection to the clan system was much weaker than those along the River Eg. These settlements had been set up by young men often from a mixture of Clans. They felt more allegiance to their new communities than they did to the old leaders on the river. Egil devoted his first two years of generalship to building up a cavalry corp and he did it in an unusual way. He traveled with a group of officers he was training from village to village during the festivals. During the horse competitions he and his officers identified outstanding riders and then enlisted them in the army on half pay while they remained in their villages. An officer remained behind with them and all year, even in the deep snow, they spent three days a week training with young men from the villages surrounding. They were issued military equipment, armor, javelins, bows, short slashing swords, all free of charge. By the time Egil was ready to march west he had fifty thousand horsemen waiting for the call.

These horsemen were first and foremost loyal to their officers and their corp. Even their horses, often their own, were paid for by the army at going rates. When they left village and farm to go west the army paid their wives or families three quarters of their pay and the rest was paid to the men on the march, promptly, without delay. Egil built an administrative system of older warriors to see to all this, one overseen by an old man with one eye by the name of Stagur. Stagur was so honest that when he retired years later at the age of seventy-five he settled on a farm up against the foothills of the Saa Mountains which Egil succeeded in forcing upon him only by enlisting the help of Stagur’s wife, the only human in the world who could send an icicle of fear into the old man’s heart.

The Clan leaders did not like this new cavalry but could do little about it. The merchants


who chose Egil in the first place raised the money to finance it. The merchants accepted whole heartedly Egil’s arguments for a independent, disciplined army and those who objected could do little but fume.

With foot troops it was different. Using the same methods he used to build the cavalry he he developed ten corps of foot soldiers with two thousand men in each corp. This would not be enough to invade Falconia; he would need perhaps five or six times more and the only place he could get them was from the clans along the Eg. This meant that these men would march behind their traditional leaders. Egil begged the merchants for more money but so much had been spent on the cavalry the well had gone dry. “When the booty starts to come in,” the merchants told him.

   The seventh year after the Rechyai had settled the plain, Egil assembled his cavalry and foot in a large open plain some five hundred miles east of Rock Run. Here, despite the cold and the snow, they drilled all winter long. He sent officers to call in the clans from the river to a muster in early spring. His encampment he protected with a triple screen of tribal riders patrolling one hundred miles out in all directions and most successfully for although the Falconians recieved rumours of a Rechyai muster they were vague and unsubstantiated.  When the clan troops arrived from the Eg in mid April and Egil started west they were one week’s march from Rock Run before Falconian Intelligence brought the news to Eth.


Before Egil left his muster camp he decided to send a force against the Sege. Scouts told him they had a fortified valley on the east side of the mountains where they kept many hundreds of horses and warriors and these could be reinforced quickly with warriors from the west side of the Saa. His war council was worried that at some crucial point in the war against the Falconians the Sege would hit them from the south. Although their numbers were small they were formidable fighters and horsemen. Some of the Captains were afraid that an attack from the Sege at just the right moment, coordinated perhaps with the Falconians, could lose them a battle, others that the Sege, tempted by Falconian gold, might cut their supply lines. These worries were reinforced by a desire to punish the people who had given the Rechyai a resounding defeat on the plain some ten years before. Some of the men remembered the wagons full of heads and would like to fill a few wagons with Sege heads.


The numbers required to march on the Sege were small and would not impinge on the main effort against the Falconians so Egil agreed. He chose for the General of this expedition Rankor, a grizzled veteran who agreed to undertake it only if he could train his troops for three weeks before marching. Egil agreed.

Egil would not give Rankor any of his well trained troops – he needed them for the attack on the Falconian wall. Rather he gave him five thousand young farmers from the plains and five thousand stragglers on the outskirts of the Rechyai camp who were unaligned with any clan. Rather than grumble Rankor swept them up that very day and led them off to make a training camp some twenty miles south.

Rankor had Captains from his own clan well trained in his style. Together they formed these odds and ends into fighting companies and gave them a rigorous training in the movements Rankor thought would be necessary to defeat the Sege on their wall. Egil sent with him five hundred horse and Rankor kept them close to his troopers, even practicing a manoever to bring them inside a ring of foot armed with long spears to repulse a horse attack. Having learned from their previous experience with the Sege, the baggage train was light and traveled inside the belly of the army. There was no supply line. They carried everything they needed and would not need to be resupplied until they were marching back north after defeating the Sege.

   When Rankor arrived at the trail leading up to the Sege Valley, he sent a strong troop of horse up to look at the wall. They had no opposition for Fils had decided that, considering the numbers of the Rechyai, the best thing to do was to fight on the wall rather than sally. The Sege warriors piled a great pile of stones against the inside of the gate. Everyone excepting warriors had already been sent across the mountain. Fils sent scouts along the trails to the western village to give them some warning of the Rechyai approach and then sat down and waited.

   But Rankor was a cautious commander. Before he came up the trail he built a fortified camp. Because his men were inexperienced at this, it took three days. Early morning of the day after it was finished he marched up the trail leaving behind a thousand men to man the fort. The scouts came in to warn Fils and every warrior ran up to man the wall. The road before the wall was straight for a half mile but they could hear them coming long before they could see them. They were singing Rechyai war songs with a rousing chorus and at the end of each line of the chorus they banged their swords against their shields creating a louder sound, other than perhaps thunder storms, than the Sege and Klegit warriors had every heard before. The noise became louder and louder until finally they came round the bend. The Rechyai marched, formed in units, up the straight section,


coming to a stop outside of bow range. Rankor came striding up through the opening between two companies and looked at the wall. He looked for five minutes or so without saying a word and so concentrated and focused was he that none of the officers around him made a comment. When he was finished his deliberations he turned and disappeared into his troops. The Sege and Klegit warriors noched their bows.

   Two minutes later ramps, thirty feet long and five wide, were brought up. There were thirty of them. The Rechyai spread them out in a long line and then raised them into the air so they stood on end by means of long poles attached by strips of rawhide to their tops. Those at the bottom of the ramps lifting them up by crossbars attached at waist height and started forward. Before them were warriors carrying heavy double shields which they locked together in a single line to cover both themselves and the men carrying the ramps. The troopers behind closed ranks, forming a series of unbroken lines and lifted their shields up at an oblique angle to repel arrows from above. Very slowly they moved toward the walls.

    Fils knew right away the poles they had made would not be able to keep the ramps off the walls. They were meant for ladders not ramps. And if the ramps came on to the walls they were done for. In close the Rechyai with superior numbers and armor, would win the day. He ran over to where Huan was scratching his chin and staring out at the Rechyai. “Did you ever see anything like that before?” he asked. “No.” said Fils “But then I’ve never stood on a rock wall before either. I think that those gadgets are the signal that it is time for us to go.”

  “Right,” said Huan and they both turned and started shouting at their men to scramble down from the wall and run to the horses. The warriors, sensing in the approach of the Rechyai a force they had not the slightest chance of stopping, without a word of protest, turned, leapt from the wall and ran to the horses. They were on them and riding west up the valley in a matter of minutes.

   The Rechyai, surprised that volleys of arrows were not raining down upon them, moved steadily towards the wall until a captain called them to a halt. At another command they lowered the ramps onto the wall. As soon as they touched warriors carrying heavy shields rushed up the ramps, each man pushing the shoulders of the one before, hoping to smash the Sege off whole sections of the wall. But they found the wall empty. In the distance they could see a cloud of dust disappearing up the valley.

   Rankor ordered the wall demolished and had the stones brought down to his camp by


wagon. There they were used to reinforce sections of the camp wall. Then he held a lottery to chose the one thousand men to be left as a garrison at the fort. When this was done he marched the rest of his men north to join up with Egil.




Eth was in a small city east of Hawan when the news of the Rechyai march reached him. He was furious. He sent a message to Phid, the commander of troops at Rock run, to send army scouts down onto the eastern plain. Phid did as he was told and was horrified at the information brought back by the scouts. The Rechyai were one hundred miles from the mouth of the pass and marching at a furious rate. The scouts estimated their numbers to be two hundred thousand but this was an exaggeration brought on by fear. They were actually one hundred and fifty thousand but a long line of stragglers were emerging from the Rechyai plain stretched out for hundreds of miles behind the main body of the army. How many men this river contained was impossible to estimate. The Rechyai smelt war and booty and they were marching towards it.

“They are a rabble,” one of his officers told Eth.

“And how would you know that?” Eth asked.

“All barbarian armies are rabble,” the officer replied.

“Get out of my sight you drooling idiot!” Eth shouted at the man. When the man was gone Eth turned to his aide and said, “Lots of Empires have been overthrown by what that moron calls rabble.”

   Eth raved at his scouts and intelligence officers. He called them every name in the book, inventing a few new ones for good measure. He screamed at them until the froth flew from his mouth. He threatened to send them to the army as conscript troopers. He


threatened to have them and their families executed down to third cousins. He threatened to have their children flayed, salted and left out to die in the sun. Colonel Kal, who, after the killing of the Emperor, stayed on as the Chief of Intelligence, stood impassively watching this performance, his hard eyes glittering at the strength and intensity of this man who on his next birthday would be ninety years old.

   When his anger cooled Eth send Kal and his underlings away while he made a decision. He should have spent his last few years in retirement, going with his gardener on excursions to find new flowers. Instead here he was sputtering and biting like a mad dog.

   “I am an old madman with power. The worst possible kind of human being,” he said to his wife when he entered his private quarters. “But my intelligence officers are idiots, incompetents, lazy, good for nothing, useless nincompoops. But nonetheless surely I have lived long enough to realize that this is quite normal and usual. It is myself whom I am really mad at. The old master armchair strategist who was too stupid to see that the Rechyai are less a people than they are an army. They settle land and grow food not to live but to gain that necessary for more conquering. They are always ready. A command comes and a week later they are fully equipped waiting by the side of the road. Wives and slaves run the farms and workshops when they are gone. And apparently they chose a new General, the same one who was defeated by the Sege and the Klegit. It is as if they are saying, ‘Nobody defeats a Rechyai General. Such defeats are a mere illusion.’”

   “They are savages,” said his wife.

  “True,” said Eth, “but unfortunately they are conquering savages.”

Eth immediately sent riders to the Army of the North and the Army of the South, detaching regiments to be sent to Rock Run. They were all cavalry units and he ordered them triple horsed and to ride as hard as the horses could endure. He ordered foot units to be dispatched to the plain east of the city of Hawan and begin the digging of earthworks. This left the two armies dangerously weak but Eth considered the circumstances to warrant it. He spent the evening discussing plans with his staff. Afterwards he lay on his bed sweating, not from the heat for it was cool, but from some terrible premonition of disaster. Just before he finally drifted off to sleep in the middle of the night he decided he was unwise in appointing Phid as the commander at Rock Run. His love for his son had made him overlook his faults. For some time now his spies had been bringing him a steady stream of reports of Phid’s drunken arrogance. He wished now he had listened and acted upon them.


When Eth rose in the early morning his premonitions had not gone away. He called in an old cavalry officer famous for his hard riding exploits when he was a young man. He and his men had once held out against a furious onslaught of tribesmen in the north for two months until a relief column arrived. Not only was he brave, furious and bellicose, he was also highly intelligent, a good strategist. Eth handed him a document appointing him commander at Rock Run and sent him off with an escort.


    Phid’s first decision upon arriving at the pass to take command some months before was to establish staff headquarters in the northernmost wall tower. Even his foot soldiers knew this to be senseless bravado and dangerous to the interests of the army. If the wall was taken or even occupied for a brief time the top command would be wiped out. No one could convince Phid that this was unwise. He saw the move as an example of his brilliant and nontraditional leadership and was sure that the bulk of his troops, seeing their top officers on the wall would be emboldened to fight like fierce tigers. In fact the effect was exactly the opposite. The men knew very well that if the wall was taken the army was decapitated and it would be every man for himself. By the time the lower commanders worked out a chain of command they would all be dead.

   His second foolish decision was to man the heights above the pass with tribal warriors only. His theory was that Falconian regulars needed the flat ground for maneuvering. Their talents would be wasted on the rocky heights where one was forced to leap about from one rock to another like a mountain goat. This would suit the tribal irregulars, whom he considered little better than mountain goats, to a tee. The three officers who insisted the tribemen were unsuited to this kind of warfare as they were brought up and trained in the hit and run battles of the plain, were demoted. The tribesmen were brave and able warriors but were not use to holding a position which required, on almost impossible terrain, weaving of a wall of men and shields strong enough to withstand a fierce, unremitting onslaught.

   His third was to give a standing order that the gate in the wall, a huge oak affair constructed of three overlapping layers of rough oak planks, was under no conditions to be reinforced with the great pile of stone sitting beside it for that purpose. It was standard that if things were going bad and a wall threatened, stone would be piled up against the


gate to prevent a battering ram from smashing it to pieces or, if the enemy came over the wall, simply jumping down inside and opening it. Phid wanted the gate operational for he considered the Falconian Horse to be the cream of the Army. If they were to repulse the Rechyai the gate must be available for the Horse to sally. The image he was fond of was that of a hammer. His horse hammer would repeatedly smash the Rechyai until bleeding and bloody they turned tail and retreated down the mountain. Some days after he gave this order he became fearful that the men at the wall, in the stress of battle might resort to their usual behavior and pile up the stones. To prevent this he had the stones removed to a spot down the pass a half a mile away from the wall.

   The disposition of his troops was done without skill. Siege troops manned the wall with a reserve of their fellows directly behind but behind them was a great mass of Horse. In back of this was essentially, excepting at the company level, a mass of unorganized troops. There were no secondary and tertiary troop walls established. The only plan was to rush to the wall and repel the Rechyai and to sally out Horse to hammer them into submission.

   Several times merchants and travelers who had some knowledge of the new Rechyai Army, were brought in to Phid. He was not interested. After a few cursory questions he sent them away. Afterwards he told his drinking companions that the Rechyai were like a herd of beasts coming to the slaughter. What their hooves were like or how they pranced about as he brought the sword down were matters of indifference to him. This saying was considered very witty by his pals and was passed around the army to the accompaniment of hearty laughter. Every tenth man considered such hubris and stupidity in their commander to be possibly disastrous but they kept their mouths shut.

When Andra, Eth’s new commander arrived at the pass and was ushered into Phid’s presence he reached out his right hand which contained his appointment papers. Phid saw the seal and came to a quick conclusion on what was about to happen. Without the slightest hesitation he brought out his short sword and brought its edge down on the poor man’s unhelmeted head. Andra dropped dead onto the stone floor his brains spilling from his shattered skull and his blood splattering those around him. Phid bent over and scooped up the order paper and stuffed it into the pocket of his cloak. He had the officers accompanying Andra taken into the courtyard and beheaded. He claimed he had secret information they were traitors turned by Rechyai gold and promises of position in a new empire. He had the bodies stripped and thrown over the wall ‘to join their companions’ as


he put it. Most of his command staff did not believe him but what could they do? Especially with his father being the Supreme Commander of the Army his power was absolute and he could do whatever he chose.



When Egil’s scouts told him there was no Falconian force between his army and the wall at Rock Run he was surprised. He had thought the Falconians would send irregulars to harass his flanks and slow down the march. He sent a corp of builders accompanied by a band of three hundred Horse out ahead. They stopped in a wooded area east of the pass and began falling trees and building a series of wooden structures. Every day a rider from their ranks rode back to the army and gave Egil a report on the progress of the constructions. These builders Egil had especially recruited from a clan from up north in Rechyai country who were traditional loggers and house builders. He paid them a stipend over and above their soldier’s pay and they were issued extra rations.

When Egil was one day’s march away from his builders he called a halt. He had the army build earthworks in a great square and mount them with sharpened stakes to repel a horse attack. Contrary to the desires of his officers he made them build the square large enough
to enclose the entire army, horses, wagons, everything. There were two gates made of layered logs, one to the east and one to the west. He ordered three days of exhausting drill for his troops and sat in his tent listening to scouting reports. These were very detailed. His chief scout had managed to infiltrate the tribal irregulars who accompanied the Falconian army. He was given an accurate account of Falconian numbers, dispositions, even a report on the eccentricities of the commander whom the scouts called a peacock and a fop. Egil was particularly interested in the fact that reinforcements from the Army of the North and the Army of the South were still two weeks away from the pass despite


the fact they were force marching. On the day the camp was finished he sent out a troop of ten thousand foot and ten thousand horse commanded by a second cousin, a young man named Manah.

Manah was given the best troops in the army, the best horses and the best equipment. With astonishing speed they marched to the builder’s camp in one day. Here they spent five days learning how to operate Egil’s constructions, running through a series of drills over and over again until they could do it in their sleep. When, on the sixth day, they recieved orders from Egil they loaded their constructions onto heavy wheeled wagons and began ascending the switch back road leading to the wall at Rock Run. One day behind followed the bulk of the Army, Egil and the Cavalry in the vanguard. Behind this, guarded on the flanks and in the rear by a screen of horse, were Egil’s paid regulars. Behind them, bringing up the rear, marched the Clan troops from the River Eg minus the twenty thousand troops Egil left in the camp to guard their rear. To the outrage of the clan leaders all of the garrison left behind were clan troops.


Three months before the battle at Rock Run, Egil received four Koli men brought in by his scouts. He dismissed everyone and questioned them for a long time. At first they were terrified and could barely speak. Egil assured them that if they gave him information he would let them go free or if they so chose pay them well for being forward scouts for the army. The men wanted to be let go so they could go back to their families but had no confidence that the men who brought them into camp would let them go. Several times on the journey to the camp it seemed as if they were going to kill them and they were only restrained by an older man who shouted at their tormentors and
kicked them away. Egil promised to send them south with twenty of his guard until they were past the outposts. He promised them eight horses with which they could outrun any enemy, Rechyai or otherwise.

   The men talked among themselves, considering this. Finally, the oldest among them, a man in early middle age spoke, agreeing to his proposal. Then he began to talk of the Falconians and the mountain.

   These Koli were from a band who wintered in the foothills across the mountain but in


the warm season they came east through a long series of ravines and hunted and gathered in the foothills on the eastern side. They had some horses but mostly sturdy little burros who carried their loads over the mountain. Some of their people stayed on the western side all year and grew vegetables and oats. They were related by marriage and trade to the Nia the tribe which the year before the Falconians had attacked. “And annihilated.” Egil interjected. The man snorted.

   “They killed perhaps ten thousand but there were several hundred thousand Nia. When the troops pulled out the Nia went back to their farms and are there now. The Falconians like to use words like annihilate because it appeals to their self importance but the Nia are still very much alive. The new Falconian headman sent them ambassadors but the Nia murdered them. The Falconians keep troops on their southern border because of the Nia and the Nia refuse to sign treaties so they can take them away to fight the Rechyai.”

   “Why don’t the Falconian troops attack the Nia then?”

   “At first the new headman wouldn’t let them because he wanted peace with the Nia. But now I think they are deciding. Maybe they will try again to make a treaty. Maybe they are afraid the Nia will be ready this time. Or maybe they are waiting for the right moment.”

   “Are the Nia ready?”

   “Yes. When the Falconians attacked the Nia were surprised and many of the men were in the south. Now their men are making weapons of war and having mock fights to practice the disciplines. The Nia have never been great fighters but they will learn. That’s what they say. When you have to learn you learn.”

   “And how do the Falconians fight?”

   “Against the tribes they send in waves of horsemen. They attack in a long front full out
like madmen who care nothing for their lives. When they engage they find a weak point somewhere which bends in. They have other horse massed behind the waves and when they see the weak point they drive a great column at it and smash through. Everything is over for their enemy then except to fight in broken groups. The Falconians surround them and slaughter them all. They don’t take prisoners. The odd man who falls into their hands alive, they torture horribly so that tribesmen about to be captured often cut their own throats. When they attack towns they save the tribal leaders for last and impale them on


stakes. But one must remember that the Falconians usually have greatly superior numbers. They don’t engage unless they outnumber three to one. They have lots of gold to pay for soldiers and lots of food from their farms to feed them.”

   “Do their horse units ever retreat?”

   “My Nia friends tell me no. They do not move sideways either and although nominally they are in units the units don’t mean much. They stretch out in a long line then their General gives the order and they charge.”

   “What about foot soldiers?”

    “They have them people say but they send mostly horse against the tribes. Sometimes footmen march along behind. When they take towns these footmen go from house to house killing. They wear heavy boots, armor and helmets. They have short swords and daggers and sometimes spears.”

   “How many soldiers do they have?”

   “How many do the Rechyai have?”

   Egil raised his eyebrows at this but then he said. “If half the Nia were soldiers that would be the Rechyai numbers.”

   “I think the Falconians have more. They have outrider units from the northern tribes. Where their Capital is and to the west they have many many people. And then they have lands going all the way to the sea where there are still more. You could spend some years killing Falconians and there would still be lots left.”

   “But we don’t want to kill them all. We want to conquer them.”

   “It would probably be better if you made peace with them. Too much war is no good.”

“Perhaps you can tell my soldiers that.”

   The Koli laughed. “Perhaps you and the Falconians are made for one another.”



   “Endless killing.”

   “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps we are made for each other.”

   Egil and the man talked for some time more and then he made them a proposal.

   “Your best way to get to safety is over the mountain. Once in the Ravines there will be no Rechyai to kill you and no Falconians either. I want you to take three of my men with you so they can learn your path to the other side. In return I promise you this. Give us information from time to time and my people will not bother you. Where you live on the other side will be left alone. You should send messengers to your tribesmen on the plain to retreat over the mountain and stay there. Rechyai settlers are coming behind the army and they will kill people they consider in their way. If any of my soldiers use your path to cross then one of the men accompanying you will be with them. They will ensure no one harms your people. Of course you must not talk to the Falconians. Do you talk to the Falconians?’

   “No. We fear the Rechyai but we loath the Falconians.”

   “Then do you agree with this?”

   The Koli men spoke among themselves and then the leader said “We do. But we ask you to send us someone now and again in case there are problems. If we have information we could send it to you but we are afraid of your outpost people. They might kill messengers.”

   “I will give you a flag to hoist on approaching an outpost and a letter telling the soldiers the messenger is to be sent to me immediately.”

   Egil sat down and wrote out a letter. He placed it in a leather pouch and gave it to the Koli man. He stood up and took a flag from a pile of bags in the corner and handed that
to the man as well. Then he called in his attendant officer and bid him bring a young officers to him. The young man was nearby so they did not wait long. He entered the tent and Egil, with a gesture, had him sit on a chair across the table from him.

 Egil addressed himself to him, “I want you to escort these four men out of camp and go with them over the mountain. Stay


there with their people for a week and get to know them and then come back. Make a map as you go and have the Koli correct it for you. Take what you need from the depot. Come to me as soon as you get back.”

   Before the Koli men left Egil said to them. “I know that the arrival of my army has cut you off from some of your traditional food. In the fall I will send you supplies if you need them. In the meantime I will give you this as a token of our agreement and a thank-you.” Egil handed the Koli leader a bag of gold coins.


   When Nism came back from seeing the Koli through the pass he came to see Egil. The guard at the tent flap let him through and he found himself standing at the back of a crowd of captains. Egil was shouting at them.

   “Then let them grumble. It has to be done. Not only does it mean we will take the wall swiftly and have a good chance of overwhelming them but also we will save thousands of the sorry asses of the very ones who are complaining. When was the last time one of those dolts assaulted a wall? They don’t know what they are talking about. And neither do you. Now get out. If I hear one more complaint about this I’ll send the whole bunch home.”

   Mumbling under their breath the captains left the tent. Nism was standing alone. Still in his fury Egil looked at him savagely but when he saw who it was his expression softened and he smiled. “So you’ve come back.”

   “Yes I have General.”

   “General outside, Egil in here.”

   “Egil then.”

   “Come and sit down. Would you like a cup of yag. Here, I’ll pour you one.”


Egil poured Nism a cup and poured one of water for himself. “They were complaining about something I ordered. Assault machines you might call them. They would prefer to rush the wall bare naked and bite off pieces with their teeth. Some would call them a bunch of farmers but that would be insulting the farmers who are much more intelligent then that. Now, how was the goat path the Koli took you over?”

   “Rough but passable.”

   “No problem with the horses?”

   “There were a few bad spots but we managed.”

   “And the Koli village?”

    “In a egg shaped hollow in the foothills. There were perhaps two hundred people there but Mal, that’s the name of the headman you spoke to, said three times that were still on the east side of the mountain. He sent out messengers to bring them in.”

   “Any fighters?”

   “The Koli are not great fighters but some of the young men I spoke to were interested.”

   “Hmmm. I am going to send you on a mission to the Sege. You will probably miss the battle at the Falconian wall. Being a young man I know that will disappoint you but it can’t be helped. I need a diplomat and they are exceedingly rare among the Rechyai. I want you to go back through the Koli’s goat path with horses and a few men. Take enough horses for any of the Koli who want to fight and one hundred more. They are for the Sege. When you drop off the horses to the Koli then go south along the foothills until you reach the Sege. Don’t worry about finding them; they will find you. In this dispatch pouch here there is a letter addressed to Ilna, the Sege headman. I am offering him a treaty. In here too is a list of articles to be negotiated. Read them on your way. Besides the papers with the articles there is a series of papers telling what I want and what we would be willing to accept. Get that all in your head before you get there and do your best. If they push seriously on something give a little but get something in return. But don’t worry. You are bright and I trust, if they are willing to deal, that the agreement you
reach with them will be fine. I want them to fight for us on the Falconian side of the Saa. That’s the important thing. If that works out and you are still alive, then I want you to go on to the Nia and do the same thing. Mal might be willing to come with you to visit the Sege and the Nia. In this bag (Egil pulled a bag from behind him and put it on the table)


are two bags of gold coins, one for the Nia, one for the Sege. There is a bag of the new iron coins for each as well.If they fight for us I will send them supplies but that will be after we take the pass. Sending supplies over the goat path would be tricky.”

   “Who will I take with me?”

   “Anyone you want.”

   “And when will I go.”

   “As soon as you can.”

   Then Egil refilled Nism’s cup and they sat talking for a long time. Nism left the next morning.  


   Phid was warned by scouts of the march of the Rechyai up the road leading to the wall but because the Rechyai marched with a screen of riders all around their main body he received vague reports of their numbers. Some said fifty thousand, some twenty, others one hundred thousand. . The real number was about twenty but of course, the main body of the Rechyai army was one half day behind. Inside the wall Phid had thirty thousand but many of them were seasoned regulars. This fact, along with the advantage of the wall, made him feel assured that he could repel them and keep them on the east side of the pass.

   His scouts reported the Rechyai to be very savage and aggressive. They chased until their mounts were almost dead with exhaustion. When they captured it was only to kill. They chopped off the heads of their victims and piled them in a hill on the grass and rode


on. The Falconian scouts learned to stay far away from their units and to ride always with  extra horses. Some of the Rechyai outriders were tribal people from the east. They carried bows which they shot from horseback with amazing accuracy.

   Egil sent bow shooters, mostly Osni and Klegit, and well armored Rechyai rushers up into the hills on either side of the pass. Here they swept the Falconians back to their wall. Phid was furious. He demoted the commanders to the ranks and appointed new captains from the regular ranks. They were ordered to hold the heights alongside the wall and hold them at all cost.

   Some of Phid’s commanders wanted to meet the Rechyai on the road leading to the wall. He would have none of it. Phid had an unshakable belief in the superiority of the Falconian horse. He did not want to fritter them away in small battles in narrow defiles. He was saving them for when the Rechyai came onto the great field before the wall. Then he would give them everything he had. Excepting for minor skirmishes, the Falconian horse was undefeated in five hundred years of battle. According to Phid, the Rechyai were about to receive a hard lesson before the Falconian wall. His cavalry would descend upon them like falcons upon a nest of wrens.

   Wili, Egil’s foremen of works, had his men up and breakfasted long before first light. They ate hugely  - pancakes, bacon, and sweet honeyed biscuits. They were issued with a small skin of yag and one of water. He formed them up along the road. As they came around a turn in the road opening onto the field before the wall, they spread out until they were parallel to the enemy’s wall. There were sixteen walls in all, constructed of overlapping split slabs. When they were in place three ramps were set on their tops and fastened to the walls with rawhide throngs. Poles were tied into place to connect the bottoms along with cross braces in the form of an X at intervals along the walls at their ends, so that the walls, in effect, were one unit. The walls rolled along on a series of inset wagon wheels propelled by the force of the ten thousand men who manned them. Behind they trailed sloped ramps also running on wheels which led up to the ramps at the back of the last wall. Behind them were ten thousand men in three elongated divisions. They were equipped with heavy shields and long spears and the considerable advantage of having run the ramps before them several hundred times under Wili’s critical eye.

  When the walls began approaching the Falconian nightwatch were still on duty. It was before first light. They could see nothing but they heard the rumbling of the wheels. They thought it was thunder and began examining the sky for dark clouds. There were none. The captain woke up Phid who came out of his tower and looked over the parapet.


What’s that sound?” he asked the captain. As the light grew they could make out what seemed to be a vast squat animal rumbling toward them. But the animal had wheels for they rumbled and it was far too large for any animal even those to be found in the old fantastical epics.

   “It’s some kind of machine, General.”

   Phid shouted down to the officers at the bottom of the wall to prepare the sally. There were ten thousand horses and men in a camp directly behind the wall and their officers started shouting them awake. Suddenly the air became filled with voices and the sounds of men saddling horses and putting on their equipment.  

   When the ‘animal’ was one quarter of the way across the field to the wall it suddenly picked up speed. The growing light showed what it truly was and Phid broke out in a blue flame of curses. He shouted down to the officers to hurry. He screamed at a subaltern to bring him the chief scout so he could explain what this thing was doing coming toward the wall when he had not had a single report that it even existed. Then his captain called his attention to the plain. Around each end of the wall now approaching at an alarming speed, were sweeping two column of horse. “Archers! Archers!” screamed Phid.

   But the archers had to make their way through the horse still not ready to sally out the gate. They struggled through, causing pandemonium among the already spooked horses being saddled and mounted by their cursing riders. The captain was shouting in Phid’s ear, “The heavy troops, General. They will be here soon and we need the heavy troops to repel them.”

   Phid gave the man a withering look of distain. “I would suggest you look to your own troop, captain, and leave the generaling to me.” The captain lifted a brow, turned and began deploying his command of watchmen along the center of the wall. The archers came up onto the wall and strung their bows. But when the Rechyai horse came within bow range they suddenly came to a complete stop. The walls were some hundred yards behind them but approaching rapidly. The archer Captain ordered three volleys but they fell short or clattered off the shields of the men who had appeared out of nowhere and covered the front rank of the horse with six foot shields. When the walls caught up with their cavalry, in the gloom behind them Phid could make out three columns of infantry, trotting to keep up and in line with three ramps trailing back from the tops of the walls. Up until now events were disconcerting but the sight of these running Rechyai drove Phid almost insane with fear. He could see now that it would be useless to sally. The Rechyai would be running along the ramps and mounting the wall in a matter of minutes and they would be opposed only by the night watch. Why had someone not told him about these infernal machines? Everyone had told him the Rechyai were savages who fought in clans, a huge confused


mass who had no real leader. He shouted down to the commandant of the horse to dismount his men and have them climb up on the wall. Then he screamed at a subaltern to bring up the heavy troops who were at the rear of the horse strapping on their gear.

   But the heavy troops never reached the wall. Most of the horsemen, lightly armored and carrying small shields and slashing blades, managed to scramble up the stairs and man the parapets but they offered little opposition to the Rechyai. When the first wall came up against the stone the three columns were on the ramps in seconds and charging at breakneck speed twenty-five across, hundreds deep, each with his left hand pushing the man in front, the first three lines with long spears and heavy shields that even at that range the bows could not penetrate. The spears, interlocked in a disciplined formation Phid had believed the Rechyai incapable of, swept the Falconians at the end of the ramps off the walls as if they were lightweight dolls. Then, at the end of each ramp, half the Rechyai turned left, half right and the Falconians were swept off the remainder of the wall. A troop rushed down the stairs by the gate cutting their way through confused Falconians who on the whole were trying to get away rather than fight. They formed a semicircle around the gate and opened it and in rushed the Rechyai horse.  

   Phid was pierced in the gut by a Rechyai spear as he stood in front of the phalanx coming up the center ramp. The spear hit him in the abdomen where his armor overlapped and such was the force that it found the joint and drove the spearhead right through  his body. The Rechyai spearman, obeying the instructions of his officers, rather than struggle to pull the spear out, pushed Phid off the back of the wall, releasing the spear. Phid fell down among the terrified horses below, and, perhaps as a mercy from the god of war, was struck on the head by a hoof and killed instantly.
  The Rechyai horse who came through the gate were led by Manah. He and his men had their orders. In detail for he and his lieutenants had been lectured by Egil many times, the last the night before the battle. “You are instruments of the Rechyai army. Get that in your heads. You are not on a raid where after killing the opposition warriors you can do what you want. You have an objective and at the risk of life you must achieve it. What you do afterwards is your business but until then you are mine and you are the army’s. I am counting on you. If you succeed you will become the spear of the army, celebrated men who can strut about bragging without fear of interruption. If you don’t succeed I will turn you all into cooks and armor polishers.”

   The horse came through the gate as a column and stayed that way. They drove through the confusion of Falconian troops lining the pass with little opposition. Most simply tried to get out of their way. They rode full out screeching their terrible battle cries as Egil had told them to warn those ahead. They rode through empty space vacated by Falconians


pressed against the walls of the pass. There were five thousand of them and almost all reached the rear of the Falconian army in a fifteen minute gallop. There they swung about and penned in the unfortunate Falconians. When they realized what was happening a few units of foot tried to break through the ring of horsemen but were driven back. Then the Falconians, realizing they were at the mercy of the Rechyai and would surely be killed if they kept their weapons, began throwing them into great piles and gathering in confused groups up against the walls of the pass.


   Before he came on to the trail leading to the Sege western valley, Nism and his two companions were met by Sege riders. They rode up to where the Rechyai reined in their horses and leveled lances at their chests. “Nice day to die Rechyai,” one of the men said but Nism and his friends remained silent until an older man came riding round a turn in the trail and came up to them.

   “I have a message and other things from the Rechyai General Egil to be given to Ilna, the Sege Headman,” Nism said to him.

  “And what would these things be?” asked the older man.

   “My General says they are to be given to Ilna and Ilna only.”

   “Too bad,” said one of the young men, “because Ilna isn’t here right now.”

   The older man turned his head and looked at the speaker for a good minute until the young man, abashed, turned his horse and rode some distance away. Then the older man turned back to Nism.

   “I am Huan, a General of the Sege. If you want to see Ilna this can be arranged. If you follow us for half a day’s ride we will come to a small camp. I will send a messenger ahead and Ilna will meet us there.”


   Huan turned his horse and rode over to the rude young man. He spoke with him for a few minutes and then the young man rode off up the road. Huan came back.

   “You will have to excuse Yal. He is a young son of a Nia Headman and he thinks he can say anything he likes anywhere he likes - a spoilt brat. I suppose even the Rechyai have spoilt brats.”

   “O yes, we have plenty of those,” said Nism.

   “Perhaps you would like to ride alongside me for a ways,” said Huan. “I have a few questions I would like to ask you, although, by the look of you, you may be too young to answer them.”  

   Nism kneed his horse along side of Huan and they started up the trail. “Some time ago - why it must be ten years now - when the Rechyai came out onto the plain and we drove them back, the man who led them in retreat was young and had yellow hair. Was that your General Egil?”

   “Yes it was. I was in that army, a young boy of sixteen.”

   “ A lot of things have changed since then,” said Huan. “People tell me the Rechyai horse are excellent riders now, is this true?”

   “I would say so, yes.”

   “People also tell me that they have more horses now than every other tribe on the plain.  Is this true?”


   “I suppose most are with your General since they are about to fight with the Falconians.
The Falconians have a lot of horses too and they have a vast Empire to get even more from. How many horses did the Rechyai bring to fight?”

   “How many do the Sege and Klegit have?”

   Huan looked at him suspiciously.

   “We already know so you will be telling no secrets,” said Nism.


“How many then?” Huan asked.

   “Six thousand.”

   “Close enough,” said Huan.

   “Egil has with him five times that number but more are on the way.”

   “The Falconians have close to that number and they are behind their wall at Rock Run.”

   “Numbers are important but will and direction even more important.”

   “Very true. So you think the Falconians weak?”

   “Egil says we will smash their armies and take Hawan within a month.”

   “That’s what Fils says but Ilna thinks he is crazy. I side with Fils. The Falconians have not had a war against a real competitor for hundreds of years. They massacre unsuspecting tribesmen on occasion and then have extravagant victory parades. They are soft and divided. The people who do the work in their Empire hate the nobles and the nobles hate the people. Our brothers among the Nia and the Koli tell us this. Are they right?”

   “Egil says they are,” replied Nism.

    They rode along side by side without saying anything for a long while. They were now climbing into the foothills, working along a series of trails winding between the hills. They stopped to have tea once, tea already made by the side of the trail by a young man who rode ahead. Then they remounted and rode at a somewhat faster pace until they came to a hollow between two high hills where they halted. The young men set up tents and made a cooking fire.

   Huan and Nism sat on the ground beside the fire.

   “I suppose Egil wants us to fight for him,” said Huan.

   “He is offering a treaty that would involve you to sending us horsemen, yes.”

   “How many?”


   “Two thousand but rotating. That is to say, two thousand steady with men rotating home on a regular basis.”

   “That’s a lot.”

   “Only one third.”

   “Crops have to be planted, animals tended. And then there are disputes with the Nia which make us keep warriors on the plain close into the foothills on the other side of the mountain. Even on this side we have to ride to show our faces to some of the Koli who now ride horses too, not to speak of the Rechyai army which attacked us on the other side of the mountain only a few weeks ago and who still have a fortified camp there at the edge of the plain. They stay within their fortifications and we leave their supply wagons alone but still we must have warriors to keep an eye on them. Some of our young men grow tired of war. They have been riding steadily for a long time now.”

   “But the Sege have always been a warlike people.”

   “Very true. But on the river we had allies. Here we have some but not like on the Eg.  We have to grow all our own food and herd our own animals. You can work the soil here but it is not as rich as down on the plain or along the river. The mud from the flooding every year along the river made the soil very fertile. Here, from the same square of garden we get only half the produce.”

   “The Rechyai farms on the plain grow a lot of food.”

   “Which must be paid for.”

   “In horsemen serving perhaps?”

   “Hah! Exactly.”

   “A deal could be made.”

   “Deals are always made. Every day. But for the arguing you will have to wait for Ilna to get here. I’m afraid he is getting old and fat now. It takes him twice as long to ride anywhere and three horses behind, otherwise he strains them and they are useless for months. But we could keep on talking if you like. In fact that would be best because he is getting impatient these days and hates long talks where he has to explain everything


twice. He told me to talk freely with you. That’s good because that’s the way we Sege are. In battle we are fierce and stoic but in talking we are garrulous and uninhibited. The Falconians have sent people to us.”

   “Did you talk to them?”

   “Of course. Why not? We are talking to you, aren’t we? And the Falconians didn’t send an army against us like you did.”

   “We were worried about our southern flank on the east side of the mountains.”

   “No you weren’t. You just wanted to bat a fly for practice before you went over the mountain. Or through the mountain. They say Rock Run eliminates a lot of climbing.”

   “Well, the fly moved out of the way and we batted nothing but thin air.”

   Huan smiled. “Disappearing is accomplished much more easily in the mountains. That’s one good thing about them.”

   “Egil apologizes.”

   “Would he be apologizing if he caught us?”

   “Probably not.”

   “Well, don’t take it too hard because either would we if we were in your shoes and we caught you.”

   Nism laughed.

   “You Rechyai laugh?” Huan asked, surprised.

   “We Rechyai are big laughers.”

    “Well I suppose no one on the battlefield looks jolly and the faces of the dead are always screwed up in painful masks.”

   “What were the Falconians like?”



 “Two faced liars would be the best way to put it.”


    “They brought us gold for a gift but when our metal smiths melted it down it was copper covered with gold. They brought us horses but they were old and knocked-kneed, good only for women gathering plants. They brought us two dozen women but they had a disease in their private parts which, fortunately the healers discovered before our young men copulated with them. We had to send them south to the healers to see what they could do for them. That took warriors to escort them and food too, for it is a long way. With gifts like that from friends we would have no need of enemies. The men who brought these things were unnatural, pretentious men who never say what is on their mind for if they did you would have to kill them for saying it.”


   “They hate tribesmen and consider them savages. In the world of their choosing tribesmen would all be their slaves.”

   One of the young men brought each of them a cup of tea and a kind of bread cooked on a stick over the fire. Nism found the bread delicious. When he praised it the young man brought him more.

   “I bring gold but it is genuine right through. But I have no horses and women.”

   “Just as well. We have lots of horses and women and more would only be a burden. The last time we had a surplus of horses we traded them with the Koli to the southeast. Two years later their young men were slinking around at night trying to steal more. We had to send raiders to teach them a lesson. Perhaps we might sell our surplus horses to the Rechyai.”

   “Perhaps. Egil is always looking for horses and the Sege horses are the best trained.”

   “Trained would cost more.”

  “Of course.”

   “Well,” said Huan, “here comes Ilna.”

   Ilna came riding around a twist in the trail and into the camp. Behind him came three


riderless horses and behind that rode Lo, his principal wife and political companion. Two of the young men ran over to help Ilna off his horse for he was so large now he could not dismount without assistance. Lo waited until he was on the ground and then dismounted herself, easily and gracefully for although she was mid forties she still had the body of a young woman. They came up to the fire and Ilna slowly eased himself onto the ground. When he was seated he gave Nism a piercing look and said,

   “I suppose you are Nism.”

   “Yes,” Nism replied.

   “How is your General doing these days?”


    “Is his yellow hair growing gray yet?”

   “No. Still yellow.”

   “And who was that wicked looking old guy he sent to wipe us out three weeks ago?”


   “Brushes his teeth with horse piss every morning, does he?”

   Nism laughed. “That’s what some of his men say.”

   “Is it true?”

   “Actually he doesn’t have any teeth. Excepting the wooden ones a craftsman made him and he only puts them in when he eats.”

   “So that’s why he looks so sour.”

   Nism said nothing to this and Ilna set to eating a piece of the stick bread one of the young men passed him. He had three pieces and then washed it down with a cup of tea so hot that Nism was sure he would scald his mouth. But the hot tea seemed to have no effect on him at all. He belched mildly and said.


   “We could always go further south you know. There are empty lands down there we could live on and the weather is warmer. I tell you this to warn you that we do not have to kiss anybody’s arse, Falconian, Rechyai, or otherwise.”

   “The Rechyai do not want you to kiss their arse,” Nism said.

   “Not now maybe, but what about after they defeat the Falconians?”

   “Ilna,” Lo said.

   “What Lo?”

   “Let’s get to the point. We will have to leave in two hours and this young man will want to be getting back to his General.”

   “Fine then,” said Ilna. “Let’s get to it. How much gold did you bring?”

   Nism reached for his pack and pulled from it a leather bag of gold coins. Ilna opened the tie at the top and spilt it out on the ground. Then Nism handed him another bag which he also opened and spilled onto the ground. This bag contained some of Egil’s stamped iron money. Ilna fingered the coins suspiciously and asked, “What good is this?”

   “It can buy things in lands controlled by the Rechyai.”

   “How many things?”

   “Right now four coins will buy a horse. Two will buy a good quality bow.”

    “Hmmm,” said Ilna and he put the gold and iron coins back into their bags.

   “What’s he want for all this?”

   “Nothing. They are gifts.”

   One of the young men knocked down the fire and placed five rabbits on the coals. The smell of their searing flesh wafting on the slight breeze coming across the fire was mouth watering.

   Then Nism and Ilna, with the occasional input by Lo and Huan began to bargain in earnest. After an hour it was finished and so were the rabbits. Fifteen hundred


horsemen, not two thousand. A gold piece to the headman for each man fighting every six months; ten iron coins to the individual rider. Food, war supplies to be provided the riders by the Rechyai. Riders taken beyond Hawan to the west would have to agree and separate arrangements would have to be made. Rechyai farmers would not be allowed to settle within a day’s horse ride of Sege territory in the eastern foothills, this line to be marked by the Sege and the Rechyai together before the warm season is gone. The Sege and Klegit would be allowed to settle one hundred miles from their western foothills onto the Sea of Grass with a border between them and the Nia to be laid out by an agent of the Rechyai Supplier General and the Nia and Sege Headmen. As soon as Egil approved the agreement the armed camp of Rechyai on the east side of the mountain would be removed.

“And not just removed,” said Ilna. We want the wall stones brought back and put in place. We have other enemies beside the Rechyai and we can’t send warriors if they are busy building walls.”

 When they were finished Ilna and Lo got to their feet. Nism rose to say goodbye.

  “Where did the General find such a bright young guy like you?” Ilna asked.

   Nism blushed.

   “Look at him, Lo. With that fair skin his embarrassment shines out like a red flag.”

   Lo laughed. “Don’t tease him so, Ilna. He’s young and easily embarrassed.”

   Ilna and Lo left but Huan, Nism and the young men stayed the night in the tents they had set up. In the morning Nism rode off with six of the young men as guards. Huan insisted he be escorted. “There are some around here who would kill anyone for a pair of moccasins. With the two horses and all that fancy baggage they would kill you ten times over. When you reach your outposts then these ones will come back. When you come next time, however, bring ten men at least. With bows. Raiders hate bows and will seldom attack anyone with them. Tell the General that his old nemesis, Fils, is crippled up with arthritis. He can no longer ride a horse but his mouth works extra hard to make up for the lack of riding. He sends the General a present.”


   With this Huan reached behind his back, pulled a leather bag from his pack and handed it to Nism. “Can I open it and look?” Nism asked.

   “Of course.”

   Nism pulled a bronze sculpture of a Rechyai warrior from the bag. It was so realistic, so well done, that Nism stared at it for several minutes in astonishment. Then he put it back in the bag and stuffed it into one of his packs.

   “The General will be delighted,” he said.

    “Fils says to tell him that it was made by a young Klegit woman he used to know. Am is her name. She lives further south with the healers.”

    “This is the second time you have spoken of healers. Who are they?”

    “A rag tag collection living up in the high mountains They run a school there and do shaman things. Ilna thinks they are a bunch of kooks but Lo goes down to visit them twice a year. They send out traveling healers and have set up a clinic in the main village.  Fils swears by their medicines. They steam and message him and leave him with a supply of medicine to ease his pains. They also set broken bones and sew up knife wounds. They teach some of the local women and leave them with medicines and books of instructions. Lo says when the riders go to fight for the Rechyai, healers will be sent with them.”

   Nism said goodbye and rode off west with his escort of young men where he spent a week negotiating with the Nia. This made him smile for Ilna had told him that the Nia were great talkers. If it took a Sege one hour to say something it would take a Nia two days. This was true of some Nia leaders but on the whole the Nia were as sparing in their words as the Sege.    
Egil had Nia and Koli riders set up a courier route from the army to the south. Nism sent his signed agreements which the General Oked. He sent back a message asking Nism to stay a while in the south acting as his representative with the two tribes.


   After three days of celebration Egil sent east all slaves, captives and booty, excluding weapons of war which were piled onto wagons to accompany the army. Captured nobles, men of rank, in fact all officers above captain were put to the sword. This was a deliberate policy of Egil. The plan was to annihilate active elements of the Falconian ruling class and substitute an elite composed of an amalgam of Rechyai and dissident


elements of the old Empire. The massacre of the officers at Rock Run alone was devastating to the Empire. Three thousand of the wealthiest, the highest born, were put to the sword.

   The rest of the captives, after a sifting by Intelligence were treated thusly; Women were paired with Rechyai soldiers by lottery and forced to follow the army. Nia, Koli, Kayla, and other tribesmen associated with the Empire were absorbed into the Rechyai ranks as units surrounded by Rechyai units. They were promised local tribal autonomy in a federation to be created by the Rechyai. This proved to be a wise policy for in the battles to come these tribesmen proved to be both loyal and fanatical fighters.

   The rest of the captives were sent back to the Rechyai plain as slaves but with a difference. They were tattooed rather than branded and the tattoo indicated the year of their remittance. They were to serve ten years as slaves and then be free men under Rechyai law. When the ten years were up they could apply to the nearest Rechyai magistrate to receive their certificate of remittance. This was not kindness on Egil’s part but policy. He wanted to send the message that the Rechyai could be relentless but they could also be merciful.

   Food supply was not a problem so rather than kill the enemy wounded Egil sent them to the base camp where, on short rations, they would either recover and join the ranks of slaves or die and be buried. Despite his captain’s arguments, he refused to tear down the Falconian wall. After all the Empire was vast and could throw up many armies the size of the one they defeated at Rock Run. The Rechyai had defeated only a small part of the Falconian army and that led by an idiot. The wall might come in handy some day as a focus for a retreat. Egil thought this but did not say it aloud. In the spirit of compromise he had the gate enlarged so that six wagons abreast could move through it at one time.

   He left behind a force of five thousand commanded by a bitterly complaining Rankor. He had missed the action at the wall to have the Sege disappear rather than fight and now not only was he made to command a wall, but he was, excepting several hundred reserved for scouts, stripped of all his horse. 

   “I sent east for more. They will be here in a month,” Egil said to the old man while he was standing at the west end of Rock Run looking out over the plain with a spyglass. .

   “And what will I do if attacked before then?” asked Rankor.

   “You have a very nice wall to hide behind. You can shout terrible Rechyai curses through the arrow slits.”

   “Very funny.”


    “You will not be attacked until then or even after then, at least not for a long time. When we take Hawan I will replace you and you can attack provincial capitals.”

   Rankor sighed.

   Egil smiled. “You know very well that a good commander leaves his second in command to guard his rear. There are any number of fools who can charge a wall or a horse line for me but the man who guards the rear must have both courage, daring and wisdom. Here you will make decisions crucial to the campaign. I know of no other of my captains I would trust with such decisions.”

   Despite himself this made Rankor proud and he and Egil parted on the best of terms.


   The army marched out of Rock Run onto a broad road which ran through the western foothills down onto an open plain. Across this plain, five hundred miles away, nestled into its protecting hills, lay the Falconian capital, Hawan.  Egil’s scouts told him there was no organized body of troops between him and the capital. As well far flung scouts to the north and south came back to inform him that the plain was empty of enemy horse and that his march to the capital would be unopposed, his supply line secure.”

   “For now,” said Egil to the head scout.

   “Everything in this world is for now, General.”

      Egil laughed.

   On the evening before they began the march across the plain Egil sat up late with  the captain in charge of supply for the army.

   “I am compiling a list of men who can sit on a council administrating the conquered


territories,” Egil said.

   “That shouldn’t take long.”

   “Why do you say that?”

   “Because there are not many of the Rechyai who can do anything but fight and drink.”

   “True, but they will have to learn. I am choosing not on proven ability but  intelligence and temperament. What do you think?”

   “I suppose the nuts and bolts would be done by Falconian bureaucrats. The Rechyai governors, or whatever you call them, would need a little bit of wisdom and judgment and flexibility. You might send back to the Klegit university for a few who have studied administration. Not clerks, mind you, the Falconians will have plenty of them, but people who have knowledge of the old forms from history. I know you have read some of the books yourself.”

   “Yes I have. And that may prove useful some day. In fact it already has. The history books that is. I found the books on administration a bit bloodless. There was an old General once who, when he conquered territory issued coins with which he paid the vanquished for supplies and even damages, for example horse moving through a field of farmer’s oats. We have been carrying with us a supply of stamped iron coins and I have appointed a Supplier General who has assistants stationed with all the units in the army. As well I have appointed a governor for the land we are moving through, up to the hills of Hawan. As we go he will call in local leaders, setting up some kind of structure for the making of decisions, complaints against the army, etc. When we reach Hawan I will stay there as the administrator general so to speak while the captains go out to conquer the provinces. There will be governors appointed for each of them and eventually some kind of advisory councils of locals.”  

   “And what about the bureaucrats? They say the Falconians have more bureaucrats than they have soldiers.”

   “Intelligence has been useful there. Apparently all Falconian bureaucrats in the first, second and third rank are from the elites. They will be executed to a man. Men of ability in the lower ranks will be raised up. Of course the administrative units will be ruled over by a Rechyai governor. Nism’s brother, Naggy, is now searching the army, including some of the Falconian tribals, for intelligent, able men. He has some captured middle rank bureaucrats and has formed a kind of mobile school for these men.


   “Isn’t this going to cause chaos?”

   “Yes but less than if we just put everything to the sword without a plan. The great weakness of the Falconians is their stratification. We will bring our hammer to bear on that weakness to break up the Empire, reconstitute it and rule it as a Rechyai state.”

   “The Falconian Empire goes a long way, Egil, all the way to the Salt Sea. They have resources we can only dream of.”

   “We are not merely dreaming. We are now claiming some of those resources for our own.”


The march to Hawan was a long one and the desperate Falconians had time to bring much of their cavalry from the north and south armies and camp it across the road one hundred miles from Hawan. The scouts brought Egil numbers. They were large. The scouts also told him that the North and South Armies, stripped of horse, were slowly marching toward the capital. Egil came to a halt some fifty miles from the Falconians. He built a huge camp encompassing the entire army including grazing animals. The walls, with sharpened stakes extruding to guard against horse attacks, were manned twenty-four hours a day with archers and spearmen.

Egil called in the clansmen who had yet to see action and were not happy about it.

“Two days march away is the Falconian cavalry, a great mass of them. Some people say they are expertly controlled by their officers and will cut us to pieces with disciplined strokes, razor sharp, and some say they are confused and without real leadership. We are about to find out. The purpose of this camp is not to sit here on the defensive as some of you have been saying but to draw the Falconian horse closer. If we draw them up to the walls then we can attack them in any manner we chose without their foreknowledge. This


is a great advantage. We have not only this battle to think of but the battle for Hawan closer to the city, for surely their foot will reach it before we do, and the battles beyond. The Falconian horse has not moved toward us yet but I have every confidence they will. Our horse outnumbers them and, I am also confident, out skills them. Yet I do not want to strike their horse with ours. I want to strike it with infantry followed up by units of chasing horse.”

A murmur spread through the assembled clan leaders but Egil silenced it by raising his hand. “Listen first and then you can have your say, I promise you.”

He made a signal to two aides on the far side of the big tent and they came toward him carrying two long spears. They were twice the length of the usual Rechyai spear and the head was first sharply pointed, then spread into six wide blades. He had the aides pass them to the clan leaders who examined them carefully, passing them over their heads from man to man.

“The flanks of your attacks will be guarded by horse and a reserve of archers,” Egil said. “Rather than waiting passively for the Falconians to charge you will charge them with these long spears at first concealed within the ranks. Close in they will be extruded through the front rank, a solid wall of sharp spears. With them you will cut the first few ranks of Falconian horse to ribbons. Then the spears will be withdrawn, into the body of the Rechyai, and the nimble ones will slip between the dying men and horses to pull the Falconians from their horses and cut their throats. When and if they withdraw and organize a charge the nimble ones reenter the body of the army and when the horse is close out come the spears once again. The archers on the flanks will meanwhile be loosing a rain of arrows on their back ranks. When their line breaks the nimble ones chase but not the spears. They follow as fast as they can without breaking ranks for if the Falconians turn and charge they must be ready. You know what happens to an infantry line broken by horse. Our flanking horse and archers will eventually stop and repel them but in the meantime half of your men will be dead. If you can convince your men of the necessity of disciplined action in this, I promise you will win a great victory. But it is you who have to do it, not me. I have not trained your men and there is no time to do it now. You will have to use your own intelligence and authority to convince them. Now, what do you think?”

The clan leaders thought many things and they gave voice to them all but in the end they agreed. Egil was sure they would. After all he was offering to place them in the forefront of the battle, something they had been demanding for many months now.



Egil had promised the clan leaders flanking horse units but he didn’t tell them how thin they would be. He was taking a chance that the fierce pride of the clansmen would lead them to fight intelligently but he was taking it for a reason. Two days after the clansmen corralled all the horses so they could use the grazing fields to practice with their spears, he called in Manah.    

“You,” he said, pointing at Manah, “are going on a ride, a long ride.”

“Where to?” Manah asked.

“To the fabled River Sah. My scouts tell me it is bristling with virgins and tropical fruits.”

“And Falconians,” replied Manah.

“Yes but many of them, they tell me, can be convinced to become our friends. Along the river the population is ninety percent non Falconian. Many of them have no love for their overlords. At the very least they will melt away at the sight of Rechyai who, again they tell me, are considered by the river people to be a diabolical combination of horse and demon.”

“And the Falconian army?”

“The army has outposts and forts along the river but the real strongholds are farther west than you will be going. There is a Falconian Army marching up from Ara but it is still very far away and moving slowly. I want you to swing south and drive between the Falconian horse army and their foot coming up from the south, bypassing Hawan forty miles south of it where there are excellent roads which will bring you to a point on the river fifty miles behind the city. There you dig in and cut Hawan’s supply from the west. Rankor will be following with foot and a screen of horse as soon as he comes from Rock Run and we see how we do with the Falconian horse here on the plain. You may have to defend yourself until midsummer before he arrives but I’m reasonably sure the Falconians cannot bring a large, coordinated attack against you until then. Dig in and stop the river traffic coming from the west. This will be of greater benefit than the wiping out of a large Falconian army. They tell me much of the foodstuffs and all of the armor and


war supplies comes from the west. Just when Hawan needs heavy meals to fight on, they will be forced to go on a diet.”

“When do we leave?”

“As soon as you are supplied. Light. Go light because speed is more important than force. The scouts tell me the Falconians behind the city carry on their business thinking themselves fully protected by the great shield of Hawan and the Falconian armies. Even the wild ones among them do not even dream Rechyai horse will be among them soon. When you reach the river you should be able to requisition foodstuffs without any trouble. There is the river traffic plus the rich soil along the banks is farmed by tribesmen. Take half the horse. One half of that to be the very best units for the spearhead, lesser ones to follow. Bring me a list so we can go over it. I need some good units here. The Falconian horse in the open is a question mark so I need reliable units in reserve. When can you be ready?”

“We can ride out tomorrow morning.”

“Midnight. I want you south out of the sight of the Falconian horse before the sun rises. They say the Falconian commander puts little faith in his tribal outriders. We can hope that he thinks a report of a large contingent of horse going southwest is exaggerated and fantastical. As well he has orders that the defense of Hawan is the priority and he must receive permission from the capital to detach units for any other reason. Even if he asks for it, by the time such permission arrives you will be west of Hawan, almost at the river.”

Egil offered Manah a cup of Yag but the young man politely refused. Midnight was too close by to spend time drinking yag.


Egil was correct in his suppositions about the Falconian Commander’s response. He discounted reports from the tribal scouts of a large number of Rechyai horse riding southwest for it was his judgment that such a maneuver was so improbable as to be safely


discounted. He did, however, send a dispatch to the capital, as his aide de camps put it, to cover his ass. This done, he spent the day laying out the attack on the Rechyai camp. He assumed the Rechyai would stay inside their walls and await the charge for it was the opinion of both himself and all his staff that the Rechyai victory at Rock Run was achieved by a combination of incompetence on Phid’s part and lack of space for the Falconian horse to maneuver. Out on the open plain it would be different. He and his staff drew up a complicated plan of attack on the west wall of the Rechyai camp having at its center a suicide attack by what he considered to be disposable units of tribemen. When the tribesmen forced a breach in the wall the Flower of the Falconian Horse would force their way through it and proceed to slaughter the ragged units of the Rechyai. His plan involved diversionary attacks against the other walls to draw off defenders from the west wall making the breaching easier.

Unfortunately for the Commander a Nia scout who worked for the Falconians listening outside the tent slipped away and brought the plan of attack to Egil. Egil’s own Nia scouts vouched for the man and Egil believed him.

Rankor arrived the afternoon the Falconian horse began to move. He grumbled about the forced horse ride from Rock Run, insinuating that Egil was scattered brained not to have brought him along in the first place. Egil smiled and did not take insult. Rankor was in his fifties and his hips were so sore from the ride that he had his aides bring him heated wet cloths to drape over them while he spoke with Egil.

Egil explained the plan for the clansmen and Rankor objected strenuously.

“They are nothing but wild beserkers. I wouldn’t trust them to capture an outhouse filled with three year olds. Use the horse.”

“Half of the horse are gone,” Egil replied.

”Gone? Gone where?”

Egil explained.

“By the gods you are as crazy as the clansmen!”

This struck Egil as a hilarious thing to say and he laughed so loudly, his guard lifted the tent flap to see if he was OK.

“Daring, Rankor. There is a difference between daring and crazy.” Then Egil explained


his thinking about cutting Hawan off from its supplies to the west. Rankor grudgingly admitted that there was some benefit to this but insisted the first task at hand was to defeat the Falconian army before them.

“True,” said Egil, “and that’s why you are here.”

Rankor was surprised at how the clan leaders had managed to fashion their men into units working the spears in a disciplined manner. For the men Egil had called ‘the nimble ones’ they had chosen young, agile, medium weight men, equipping them with short spears and long daggers. Rankor watched them practice from a tower Egil had built in the center of the camp. Then he set about bringing in the commanders of his old units. The real battle would be on the west wall and he stationed them as a reserve to the right and left of the clansmen with his best two units behind them in the center. When the clan leaders asked him why he replied, “Somebody has to bring you water and clear away the Falconian dead. My men are very good at that sort of thing.” The clan leaders chuckled at his witticism but they knew very well he was Egil’s insurance. This made them all the more determined to savage the Falconians themselves and leave nothing but stripping the bodies for Rankor’s troops.

At the south end of the west wall Egil had a sally port dug through the earth wall and   disguised it with dirt and brush so that it seemed a solid part of the wall. He placed ten thousand of his best horse before the sally port, appointing a young man by the name of Ryo as their commander. Rankor complained, for Ryo was one of his best lieutenants but Egil overruled him. “If things turn out as I think he will be the axle of the wheel,” he told Rankor. “If your hips were good you would be there yourself. So you can see why I need Ryo. You should see it as a compliment to your training, not as a theft. You can have him back after the battle.”

The Falconians were truly impressive approaching on a front almost as long as the west wall. The plumes on the helmets were gorgeous and the colors of the uniforms dazzling. They moved with great discipline and order. When they were a mile from the wall, rear units suddenly detached and rode south and north to attack the other sides of the camp. Egil observed all this from the tower through his spyglass. When the Falconians were one half mile from the wall he ordered the clansmen over. On the plain they formed a front as long as that of the camp wall, twenty deep, some one hundred yards from the wall.


Rankor drew up his reserves in the center and on the inside flanks. Archers and horse flanked the line but Egil had units posted behind the clansmen as well, two lines of bow shooters a few yards behind the entire length of the line and four units of five hundred horse at regular intervals. The horse units leaped from their saddles and held the reins of their mounts.

Rankor stood atop the wall with his flag signalman beside him. The Falconians made two feints on the left side but the clansmen did not react. They simply stood their ground,  unusually silent, for their leaders had ordered them to be silent so they could hear orders. Two more feints on the right side but before committing themselves they wheeled about and went back to the Falconian line. Then the Falconian line opened in the center and tribal horse poured out and formed a rough square. When they were in position they charged the Rechyai line.

The clansmen held the line until the tribesmen were two hundred feet away and then split at the center of where the charge would hit and ran to the south and north. This created a hole in the line with nothing behind it but the wall. Not questioning as to why such a hole had opened the tribesmen poured through heading for the wall. When they were through the clansmen charged the flanks of the tribesmen. So savage were these charges that the clansmen drove them completely into the hole and closed it. The horse units on either side of the intruders mounted and charged from the sides. Rechyai with long spears suddenly appeared on the wall and charged down its slope. The archers behind the line began firing a steady stream of arrows into the midst of the tribesmen. Completely cut off, with the stunned Falconian Commander discussing with his lieutenants what had happened instead of ordering a charge, the tribesmen were cut to pieces. There were ten thousand of them. One half hour after they rode through the gap, Rankor took the surrender of three thousand, stripped them of their weapons and marched them over the wall into the camp. The dead they left on the field. Their horses were allowed to run the inside length of the line and off to the north for they were from the north and, panicked and terrified, they naturally ran toward the safety of home.

The Falconian Commander ordered a charge all along the line. No more fooling around. The Falconians came thundering at the clansmen, the beat of their horse’s hooves shaking the ground and creating such a noise the clansmen could not hear a man shouting five feet away. But they did not have to hear a man shouting five feet away. When the horses were one hundred and fifty feet away, out came the spears and between them up came the wall of shields. Each man put his forearm upon the shoulders of the man in front and they charged. For a short distance a man can run as fast as a horse and the impact was stupendous. It was like two slabs of meat and metal thrown at one another with great force coming together.


The Rechyai line held in all but four places and even there it did not break but bent backwards. Rankor threw in his reserves who stiffened it and moved it back. The first  rows of Falconian horses were impaled on the long spears. The ‘nimble ones’ slipped through the shields and cut their throats of both downed riders and horses. Then they moved on to the melle behind and began stabbing Falconians with their short spears. The Falconian Commander ordered a retreat. They disengaged and reformed their line. Rankor ordered the clansmen to back up away from the pile of dead horses and men. The nimble ones cut out the spearheads from the dead horses and brought them back to the line where the clan leaders ordered them hidden once again for they thought very few of the Falconians had seen them and most of them were now dead.

This was true. The Falconian Commander thought the charge blunted by the Rechyai throwing spears. He decided on a new approach.

After some time for rearranging units three openings appeared in the Falconian line. Egil watched them from the tower with his glass. Suddenly, in a complicated series of maneuvers he could not help but admire, the point of a wedge of charging horses appeared at each of the openings. Of course he could not give orders to anyone on his line from where he stood but there was no need for Rankor, as soon as he saw the openings, anticipated. He ordered his reserve foot to the three spots on the line and had them form a welcoming ‘V’. The horse drew up in a square at the end of the V. When the Falconian horse were about to hit the line the clansmen went south and north as fast as they could go. When the wedges had penetrated the empty space thus created, they turned and, admittedly in rather ragged formation, they leveled the long spears and attacked the sides. The reserves, when Rankor’s signalman brought down his flag, attacked the sides of the wedge wielding their long swords. The reserve cavalry blunted the attack with a charge and turned it. A savage melee. The wedges were inside the Rechyai line before they realized there was no chance of them breaking through. They turned their horses and tried to pull out but Ryo was out the gate at Egil’s command as soon as the openings occurred. He sent half his horse in a fient against the Falconian line and cut off the retreat of the wedges with the other. The Falconians were doomed. Standing still on their horses with no room to maneuver they were hacked from all four sides until until a small circle of survivors threw down their arms and cried out for mercy. Rankor gave it not so much out of kindness but because he wanted the line reformed before the Falconians recovered from Ryo’s feints. Five thousand Falconians were marched over the wall as captives. Twenty thousand had entered the line in the wedges.

The Falconian lieutenants argued with their Commander for a retreat. But the Commander had his orders from Hawan. There was to be no retreat. The capital was one hundred and fifty miles away and retreat was unthinkable. Yet to throw the remainder of


his force against the grinding machine in front of him seemed to him as insane as his lieutenants thought it to be so he ordered a strategic retreat out onto the plain, mainly to remove it from the reach of Ryo’s cavalry which he was afraid might charge and rout his weakened force which had lost its confidence and was growing fearful and confused. Two miles out he ordered a halt. He gathered round his lieutenants and discussed the situation.

To throw their remaining forces at the west wall was suicide. The devilish Rechyai had somehow got themselves strategists and tactical training and what they had waiting there would no doubt destroy them as it had destroyed the first three charges. But obviously there was a weakness in the Rechyai defense. They could not possibly have such a force as sat before them in front of each of the walls. Somehow they had rapidly placed it there when the Falconian formations showed themselves. They were not fooled by the feints against the other walls. But this meant that the other walls were thinly defended and the Falconians, all horse, were the most mobile. They decided to swoop around and attack the southern wall. Delay could be fatal. The Commander gave orders that they were to follow the flag which would ride at the south wall at its eastern extremity as soon as the swoop was accomplished. Everything was to be thrown at this hopefully vulnerable point and the wall breached. They rode like madmen, not sparing the horses, for speed was everything.  

Unfortunately for the Falconians Egil had anticipated. He had a reserve of twenty thousand long spearmen inside the walls for just such a contingency and guided it along the south wall with signal flags until the Falconians committed themselves to the charge. When the horse was almost to the wall the spearmen came running down the slope and charged the Falconians. Ryo brought his horse through the camp, through a sally port on the eastern wall and around the corner to cut off the Falconian retreat. The battle went on for the rest of the day but the end was clear long before the last Falconian was cut down. A grouping of five or six thousand Falconians cut themselves out of the circle and headed off into the plain but Ryo’s horse ran most of them down before dark. Some say only a few survived, others several hundred but no one really knows. If the bloom of the Falconian eastern armies had been plucked at Rock Run, then its root had been pulled out at the battle on the plain. The road to Hawan was now open and Egil, after two days sorting out captives, set out along it.




When Eth received the news of his army’s defeat he was devastated. He dismissed the staff officers he was meeting with and sat in the window well his desk sat in and gazed off over the city in blank, mute despair. The Army coming up the Ara was weeks away from the capital if not months and the North and South armies, although they would reach the city before the Rechyai, were weak and without cavalry. The Rechyai would surround the city and starve it into submission. Or, considering that they were the Rechyai, bludgeon it into submission.

Throwing anything out onto the plain now would be simply suicide. The next morning this was the first battle he had to fight with his staff officers. A contingent of them wanted to build an army of patriots and place it between the city and the Rechyai. “What for?” Eth asked, “Target practice?”

Finally, after two hours of argument, staff agreed on a plan of defending the walls. Off they went to their various tasks, rousing the populace, commandeering horses and feed, forming up bands of civilian volunteers and sending down the Sah for as much foodstuffs as possible to be gathered into the city for the siege.

Well, he thought to himself after they were gone, he had lived a long life and had not the slightest thing to complain of. The wheels of history were turning and he and his fellow Falconians were about to be ground between its giant cogs. He called in his Captain of the guard and ordered him to pack up his family and send them west on the Sah.

“When, Sir?”

“Right now. I want them sailing on the river by midafternoon.”

That afternoon he visited the eastern wall where he gave a brief impromtu speech to a group of citizens whom he suspected of being spontaneously rounded up by his guard from the edges of the nearby marketplace. They cheered politely but seemed eagar for the event to be over so they could go back to their business. All of his officers had about them the look of doom. So did the merchants he saw in the streets and even the shopkeepers and booth sellers. The guards on the wall seemed cheerful enough but then guards seldom thought of anything but their girlfriends and that night’s meal.


Even the grain merchants he met with that evening put up no protest when he told them their warehouses would be expropriated by the state. They would be compensated in bonds based on prices set at the exchange that morning. It was obvious by their eyes that the merchants thought the bonds useless. It was as if he were offering them 6 dead cats for a bag of caterpillars, a senseless, absurd transaction. Escape was the central thing on their minds – escape downriver to Ara. They all had holdings in Ara and it was the farthest place in the Empire away from the Rechyai Army. Their faces had upon them the look of clever men about to abscond to a place of greater safety. Right after the meeting Eth closed all six city gates for outgoing traffic. He had the merchants visited and told how important their contribution to the patriotic effort was and to remind them that Military Law was now in effect and those attempting to leave the city without permission would be executed on the spot by the guard. The visitors brought them passes for family females and males under ten.

But once the truth of the military situation had spread out among the populace, despite the No Exit order there was a steady trickle of citizens going over the western wall at night. Eth doubled the guard and had a chain of boats placed across the river. All boats without passes were escorted back to the city where the male occupants were pressed into the Home Guard. Representatives of the city’s guilds came to him asking to be armed. Eth put them off. The Guilds were a rebellious bunch and as likely to attack government offices as the Rechyai. Colonel Kal had told him two weeks before that both the Guilds and Merchants had sent representatives to speak with the Rechyai General when he was camped on the plain behind his earthen walls. Kal wanted to round up and hang all responsible but, again, Eth put him off. He knew, from information gathered through other channels that both Kal and a group of high army officers had also sent representatives to speak with the Rechyai General. If hanging were to solve the problem he would need a gigantic noose to hang half of the population of the city.

When the news came to him that the Rechyai had swept around the city and closed the river fifty miles to the west it did not surprise Eth. The Rechyai General was not just a military man; he had a mind which painted upon a large canvas. Battles for him were chess moves in the conquering of the Empire. Eth at first thought the Rechyai blockade on the river might help with the escapees but he was wrong. The Rechyai blockade stopped all traffic coming from the west but allowed to pass all traffic going west, after, of course, relieving them of all their possessions including in at least some cases, even their clothing. This, bringing up images of ancient Falconian nobles sailing their boats naked into Ara into Eth’s mind, made him laugh.

However the Rechyai Blockade to the west was also the final nail in Hawan’s coffin.


Without resupply from the west, without the possibility of a relieving army coming from that direction, there was no hope for Hawan. Resistance would mean at first starvation and insurrection in the city and then the incursion of the bloody minded Rechyai who would slaughter until their arms were too tired to slaughter anymore. Eth sent for a second cousin whom he had once worked with as a diplomat. His cousin was an unambitious man, long retired, who whiled away his hours raising horses on a farm outside the city. He was too patriotic to run away from the Rechyai and continued to calmly brush out his horse’s manes while waiting for the Rechyai to show up and separate his head from his shoulders. He was a ditherer so Eth sent six guards to bring him in for if left to his own devices it could take several days and time was of the essence.

“I want you to go and talk to the Rechyai General,” Eth told him when the soldiers brought him in.

The old man ( Elman by name) drew himself up in such a manner that Eth thought he may have taken up some form of dramatics in his retirement and said, “I will have no truck with the enemy.”

“Yes you will. You are a Diplomat. Although an antique you are still on the lists and thus a servant of the state. With military law, I, for all practical purposes, am the state, so you will do what I tell you.”

“Very well then,” said Elman whose passive-aggressive personality leaned heavily toward the passive. “And what should I say to these eastern savages?”

“Ask them what they will have of the city for we are willing to surrender it.”

“My God, how can I, a loyal Falconian , ask a barbarian such a question?”

“Very easily. Open you mouth and mouth the words. I am sending you with six of the guard, unarmed. Hopefully the Rechyai will see you are some sort of delegation before they cut you down. But don’t worry if they do for I am sending three other delegations just in case. “

“Very gracious of you my noble Lord.”

“Try to remember what the General says but if you forget don’t worry. Two of the guards are literate and will take notes.”


Elman came back a week later.

“The barbarian General was most gracious,” he said.

“How so?” asked Eth.

“He claims he does not want to butcher the population of Hawan as he needs them to produce goods for the New Empire, as he calls it. However his soldiers are a bloodthirsty lot, as soldiers often are, even Falconian soldiers, and they must have their due. He proposes that all males of noble birth come before the eastern walls of the city armed and his soldiers can cut them to pieces and satisfy their bloodlust. Afterwards the city fathers are to send out wagons of Falconian beer and wine and prostitutes so his men can relax from their labors. Then the General will enter the city with only his guard, apparently a body of men more under the control of the General than the larger body of his army. After two days the bulk of the army will be moved west down the Sah and the populace will be safe from sack and rapine.”

“Hmmm,” said Eth.

“As well the General says that the striping of the city’s gold and silver wealth would be best done by the city fathers. Apparently if this is left to his men they will ravage through the city torturing anyone who looks wealthy enough to bother with until they disclose the location of buried treasure. In the process they kill a lot of people out of excess of spirit and being unfamiliar with signs of wealth in a foreign country. The General says if the city fathers can come up with fifty thousand pounds of gold and an equal amount of silver then he can pay a treasure bounty to his soldiers and send them off down the Sah. The prostitutes, by satisfying their lusts, would make it unnecessary for his men to rape the wives and daughters of respectable citizens. He would need five thousand. Does Hawan have five thousand prostitutes?”

“Many more than that I should think,” said Eth.

“Then perhaps we could send them a little extra just in case.”

Eth sent Elman back to the General accepting his proposals. He met with the guild of prostitutes who agreed to supply eight thousand prostitutes if the General would guard their tents before the city with a section of his own guard. The General agreed. The city fathers posted declarations of the General’s terms (the financial ones) and within five days had the necessary amounts of gold and silver which they sent in a line of guarded


wagons to the General’s camp. The excess of treasure collected Eth sent to the prostitutes guild who were concerned that the Rechyai might not consider it right that conquering soldiers pay for their sexual pleasures after battle.

Three days before the General was to arrive before the city walls Eth held a meeting of the noble families. He limited attendance to one member of each of the great families so the assembly hall was less than packed when he entered it from a side door at the front. Elman stood up at the rostrum and outlined the General’s proposal as far as the nobles were concerned. Of course almost all in the room had already heard fairly accurate rumors.

“I wonder what kind of numbers he is thinking of?” one old man in the front row asked.

“The General didn’t say precisely but one of his aides told me that ten thousand would do,” Elman replied.

“Could we bring servants?” asked another.

“Of course,” replied Elman, “How else would you eat or dress for battle?”

“I think we would have to limit it to one servant per noble,” Eth interjected. “The General is not stupid and will not be satisfied with the bodies of a few nobles midst a mountain of servants. They say he has good intelligence and a file on every noble family.”

“So five thousand nobles then?” asked the old man in the front row.

“Yes,” said Eth.

“And will you be among them, Chairman?” asked a young man standing up in the middle row.

“Yes, I will. In fact I plan, as old as I am, to be the first one to strike a blow.”

After the meetings clerks gave out as many passes west as were wanted. Over the next three days thousands of nobles, disguised as servants or sailors sailed west on the Sah, through the fleecing at the Rechyai baracade and on to the city of Ara. Still, however, on the appointed day, before the eastern wall of the city, ten thousand nobles and servants assembled for the battle. When Egil had them counted from afar he sent word to


Eth that he was to send the servants back into the city. Eth did as he was asked. Once the nobles were armored and armed the servants went back into the city, all but a few old faithfuls who preferred  dying with their masters.

Eth did strike the first blow, for his fellow nobles and even to some degree the Rechyai contrived to let him do so. The blade of his short sword was parried by a Rechyai soldier’s shield. Then the Rechyai to the shield holder’s right brought his long sword in a full stroke down upon Eth’s head cleaving helmet and head in two and killing him instantly.

It must be said that the nobles fought bravely if inexpertly. It did not take the Rechyai long to kill them all.



Reel was cleaning a wound. The young man had been hunting with a companion and had somehow got himself on the wrong side of the prey, a yearling deer. His partner loosed an arrow which passed through the deer’s neck and then embedded itself in the young man’s right thigh. Luckily it missed the major artery or he would have died on the spot. His partner tied him onto his horse and brought him back to the village, one half a day’s ride. He also brought the deer tied over a packhorse trailing behind them.

When he was brought in the young man was in great pain so Reel gave him a sleeping potion. When he fell asleep she examined the wound and decided that rather than pull the arrow out she would push it through. She cut off the feathered end, tied a boiled cloth soaked in astringent and healing herbs to it and pushed and pulled the whole thing through the other


side. Although he was unconscious the young man groaned. She decided to leave the wound open for now. Two of the men lifted the young man off the table and put him into bed in a dark room. She had prepared the room herself. The sheets and blankets had been boiled and the room, covered, walls, floor and ceiling by a smooth plaster, had been scrubbed with pine oil and boiling water. There was a screened hole in the center of the floor for the water to drain .

Before she left for the night she made two more glasses of potion for the young man, labeled them and left them outside the door on a shelf attached to the wall for that purpose.

When she came into the waiting area the young man’s hunting companion was still sitting there. “He’ll be alright,” Reel said. “It missed the artery and ligaments so after a few weeks he will be running about just like before.”

“Do you know who he is?” asked the young man.

“No,” Reel replied.

“His name is Nism. He is a Rechyai and a confidant of General Egil.”

“That’s nice,” said Reel. “He will be awake tomorrow midmorning. If you want to speak to him that would be the time to come.”

The clinic was in the Sege village on the west side of the mountains. It was the first clinic built by the Travellers outside the Ob Valley. It had started out as a single room but was now a small complex with operating rooms, a plant mixing room and library, rooms for patients and a small house to accomodate both Travellers stationed there and Travellers passing through headed for the Nia and other tribes on the plain.

Nism developed no infection most likely due to the antiseptic room and the cleaning of the wound. Unless the injury is to a major organ, most wounded do not die from trauma  but from infections setting in afterward. With soldiers this is particularly true for by the time they arrive at a battle their clothing is filthy. Most die of infections from dirty clothing driven by the wounding blow into the opened flesh.

Nism learned all this over the next few days from Reel’s son Niam who was the duty man


in the patient wing that week. There were two other patients – a young girl with a broken leg and an old man dying of a heart disease. The old man slept all the time and the little girl had a sister who brought her food and sat with her so Niam had little to do. He spent many hours sitting by Nism’s bed pumping him for information about the General. Although he was a committed healer, still he found war fascinating.

When Nism was on his feet and getting about with the aid of a crutch, he asked that contrary to the usual practice where he would move out into a welcoming hogan in the village (in this case Ilna’s who was mortified that the General’s young man had been injured in his juristiction and was eagar for an opportunity to make it up to him before he went back to the General)  that he be allowed to stay in the compound and learn what he could about the Travellers. Reel was dismissive of this request but Ilna, Fils and Lo showed up and asked her to change her mind and she did.

Nian acted as Nism’s guide. He showed him the library and plant rooms, the operation rooms with the their array of grisly looking instruments, and even the Travellers’ house with its kitchen and sitting area and small clean sleeping rooms. During the first week Reel was off to a village to the north delivering mid summer babies but when she came back she promised Ilna she would give the young man some time. They met in the plant room for Reel had medicines to mix and she could work while talking to Nism.

“Where did all this knowledge come from?” Nism asked.

“From a long oral tradition, some of it written down over the past few generations.” replied Reel.

“From the Sege you mean?”

“No, not just the Sege but the many people who inhabited the area along the Eg for hundreds of years – the Klegit, the Osni, the Lacti, the Horse People and even from tribes further south along the Loona. Also from the Koli and Nia out here on the plains. What the Ob Valley people have done is to bring it all together in one place, to codify and organize it, set up a teaching place and an organization to send healers out to practice the among the tribes. Before the healing was practiced in a more fragmented way. Some of it even comes from the Rechyai who as bellicose as they are, learned something over the years about sewing up wounds and setting broken bones.”


“But you are Rechyai yourself.”

“Yes I am and thus see them even more clearly for what they are.”


“Can you deny it?”

“Of course not,” said Nism. “After all, after pushing everyone off the Eg we are now conquering the Falconians. Soon we will be at the Salt sea. Yes, we are bellicose and restless. As a people we are like an irritable bear. Yet I suppose out of all that bellicosity there may come something in the end.”

“Such as?”

“A continuous empire from the Eg to the western sea. An empire where Travellers could journey on good roads protected by Imperial power, from city to city doing their healing.”

Reel said nothing. After some time Nism said, “Don’t you think this might be true?”

After a long pause Reel replied, “Possibly.”

It took six weeks before Nism could ride a horse. During the waiting he sent and received messages from Egil. Egil wanted him to bring the fifteen hundred Sege riders with him to the city of Hawan. He was also interested in the Travellers. Nia he talked to told him the travelers saved many soldiers wounded in battle. If they were near a battlefield and set up with tents the numbers of men dying could be cut dramatically. One of the Nia, whose wife was a healer, told him even as much as half. This impressed Egil. With an army of Rechyai about to embark deep into the heart of Falconia, any supply of reinforcements many months in his rear, the idea of saving men wounded in battle appealed to him. He sent a message to Nism. Would the healers consider following the army? Would they want money? How much?

Nism brought this up with Reel.


“I don’t know,” she said.

“Well who would know then?” Nism asked.

“The people in the Ob Valley. They would have to make such a decision. I am the head of the Travellers but in the Valley there is the hospital, the library- school and the meditation people. They would have to answer such a question. I am an administrative person, a lieutenant, not a General.”

“Who is the General then?” Nism asked.

Reel thought about this for a moment and then said, “Kweya I suppose.”

“Well, Can we send him a message?”

“Of course.”

Kweya’s answer came back very quickly. It was in Neel’s handwriting for although Kweya could write he was not much of a penman. But the voice in the letter had Kweya’s customary terse succinctness. “Forty Travellers could be supplied to follow the Rechyai army west to the sea. Two Falconian gold coins for each traveler to be delivered by messenger to the Ob Valley. The travelers’ expenses to be supplied by the Rechyai army. Reel will lead them. Negotiation about terms and details other than the gold to be made with her directly. The travellers would also ask for passage on all the Rechyai roads and the right to open clinics and meditation halls in Rechyai cities.”

Nism, sure that Egil would approve, sent the gold from his own bags and then sat down to negotiate with Reel.

“One thing must be made clear from the beginning,” Reel said.

“And what is that?”

“We treat all the wounded, not just the Rechyai.”


“You mean the enemy?”

“We treat all the wounded. You can call them the enemy if you like. We call them the wounded.”

“But that would be impossible. The General would not allow it. The Rechyai troops would attack your tents and slaughter everyone.”

“Very well then,” said Reel.

“Very well what?”

“We will not be able to come.”

“But Kweya said you could.”

“He also said the detailed negotiations are up to me. We have already, after a few seconds, run into a disagreement which makes it impossible to continue. Another time perhaps.”

“We could give you guards I suppose.”

“No. No guards. Guards eventually become jailers. We will have none of them.”

“You will be on a battlefield, woman.”

“Really? I thought you were inviting us to a spring fair.”

“Not only will there be danger from enemy troops but, especially if you treat enemy in the tents, the Rechyai themselves might be a danger to you.”

“That would be up to you. You must speak to your men and officers. The General must speak to them. I am not responsible for the behavior of your men or their lack of understanding. For healers there is no distinction between suffering human beings. They are simply suffering human beings.”


”I will write to the General,” said Nism.

“Write then,” said Reel.

Egil sent back that he would like to meet with Reel in Hawan. Could she bring her travelers with her? If, for some reason, an agreement could not be made concerning the army, then she could set up a center in Hawan. Reel agreed to accompany Nism to Hawan but she brought no healers. “Until there is an agreement, no healers. But you need not be too concerned. They travel by horse and for them to intersect with your army on the Sah, Hawan is out of the way. If there is an agreement with the General, they can be on their way very quickly.”


   When Reel came to Hawan she stayed just outside the city in the house of a woman who came up to the mountain every year for the warm season and then went back home to her family during the winter. The house was modest, the walls brick and the roof thatch. There was a garden surrounding the house now fragrant with flowers and herbs. It was here that Egil’s meeting with Reel occurred.

   “She wants what?” he had shouted at Nism the day before.

   “She wants you to meet her at the place she is staying.”
   “That’s impossible. She must be mad.”

   “No doubt she is a little mad, General.”



“Not a little, Nism. All the way.”

   “Did you tell her that?”

   “Yes, I did.”

   “And what did she say?”

   “That maybe so but that was still what she wanted.”

   “Well, it’s out of the Question. Go back and tell her I told you so.”

   Nism went back that morning to speak with Reel whom he found writing letters by the fire. He told her what the General said.

   “That’s too bad,” said Reel.

   “It seems to me silly to throw away something good just because people can’t agree on a meeting place,” said Nism. “How about if we chose a place other than this house or Headquarters?”


   “Why not?”

   “I already told you twice why not and I’m not going to repeat it.”

   “Fine then. I’ll go back and tell the General.”

   When he came into the General’s presence this time, Nism was beginning to feel like a child’s yoyo.

   “I can tell by your face what she said,” said Egil.

   “You are a good reader of faces then General.”

    “O well.”



   “Tell her I will be there in the morning.”


   “What else am I to do, Nism? Besides, I thought about it and I know what she is up to. She is a bit of a General herself. Tell her I’m bringing my staff along with me but they won’t be coming inside. They can stand out in the yard. That ought to get them talking.”

   “Yes, General.”

   “That’s nice,” Reel said when Nism told her and then she offered him a cup of tea.


   When she opened the door for the General and they sat by the fire she also offered him a cup of tea. He accepted.

   “Usually I drink only a mixture of burning tar and yag but in your case I will make an exception.”

   Reel laughed at this and brought the tea.

   “I already know about your rules and am willing to abide by them. I am sending Nism’s brother with you to act as a liason between you and the army. I have also sent a letter to General Rankor, informing him of the conditions you require and telling him I expect full compliance. You won’t have any problems with Rankor. He is intelligent and he has control of his troops. However, especially in battle, no General has total control of is troops. I wonder if, when you reach the army, Rankor should set up a guard for the Healers. Nothing too obvious mind you, but enough to stop a few out of control men.”

   “No,” said Reel.


   “Why no?” Asked the General.

    “The whole army has to protect the Healers. That is the only way it will work.”

   “It seems to me that you have little experience with battle. I have more. I have seen men doing things you would not believe. It’s the fear you see. It’s the fear that drives them mad. And when they become mad no one can answer for them, least of all themselves.”

   “I’m sure that what you say is true.”

    “If what I say is true then you should take it to heart. Allow us to provide a light guard who can stop a lone beserker and in more serious cases rally the better instincts of their fellow soldiers. It is not only the Healers we should be concerned about here. What about the enemy soldiers who you are treating? Surely you have some responsibility to make a small compromise to guard their safety? How terrible it would be for some of my men to loose themselves on wounded men and as a result the Rechyai lose the services of the Healers. How many men, both enemy and Rechyai, would die and languish in useless suffering because of such a thing?”


    “I beg of you to consider this deeply. It is common to think a General has no care for human life. This is untrue. The General has to do his duty and sometimes this involves ordering killing that he would prefer not to. Do you think, for example, that I enjoyed killing the Falconian nobles? I did not. I would infinitely prefer otherwise. Yet I order it because it is necessary. A General cannot guide himself by high ideals. He must live with


his feet firmly on the ground. He must choose between alternatives not ideals. If the nobles survive, not only will they act as a threat to Rechyai power, they will also ferment useless rebellions involving untold numbers of deaths, rebellions which could go on for years, giving rise to the most vicious kind of warfare. When my soldiers kill them, they suffer and die, yes. But let me assure you there would be far more suffering and death if I allowed them to live.”

   “I am sure, according to your own lights, you are right General. Yet men can chose to pick up the sword or to lay it down.”

   “You mean that I could become a Healer?”


    “Well, yes. I suppose you could.”

   “To measure all the world by your own choices is a little self centered, is it not?”

   Reel laughed. “General, I thought you were a worldly man.”

   “I am. Still I ask you to think on this matter. Will you?”

   “Yes I will. I will send you my answer tomorrow.”

   The next day Reel sent Egil a letter saying that the Healers would accept a guard of not more then twenty-five men. They would have to wear Healer cloaks and thus in a sense would be part Healers and part Rechyai soldiers. (Egil raised his eyebrows at this) Reel hoped that once the army got used to the healers and the way they operated then the guard could be dispensed with. She hoped that this would please the General and be accepted in the spirit of compromise.

  The General sent a note back saying fine, it was settled then. Then he called in Nism and gave him the unenviable job of combing the guard to find twenty-five men who would wear Healer cloaks. Nism winced.


   “What about Nia?”

   “No,” said the General. “They have to be Rechyai and at that, obviously Rechyai.”



The fall of Hawan and the blockade of the river Sah caused consternation in Falconia west along the river to Ara. The present status quo had existed for five hundred years and to find it blown away so quickly and a terrible enemy force about to descend the river was unbelievable. Most of the population was not even aware that there was such a people as the Rechyai up until a few months ago and to have them now occupying the capital and destroying commerce on the river with a blockade was a big shock.

The ruling classes told themselves that the situation was similar to that of the invasion five hundred years before, but in reverse. This, they told one another, was an advantage for the western part of Falconia always considered itself to be the strongest part of the Empire. It’s farms west along the river and its wealthy seaport of Ara would provide the resources for regrouping and driving the Rechyai back over the mountains. They considered the Rechyai to be a unruly tribe whose only advantage was large numbers. They were like children they said. After gorging themselves on the eastern treasures they would fall into anarchy and disarray. The western Falconians would smash them with a


series of hammer blows along the river. Then they would reestablish the Royal Family upon the Imperial throne (Ara obeyed the orders of Eth’s Council but grudgingly) and things would go back to the way they were, the way they were meant to be.

The Governor of Ara, a man by the name of Rocher, had been appointed by Eth after the assassination of the Emperor. He was an intelligent and capable man. When the news came down river that the Rechyai had overrun the army at Rock Run, Rocher immediately dispatched the available troops - the standing army at Ara plus troops stationed in forts west on the river - to strengthen the defence of Hawan. But the Rechyai were too fast. The river was blockaded by Manah and Hawan fell when the Falconian troops were marching along the river road one hundred miles east of Ara. There was a
major fort there at a place called Nali. Around the fort the land was cleared of forest for some miles and here the Falconian troops camped until their leaders decided the best course of action.

Admiral Melia was the senior military figure in Ara. He was from a noble family which for many years had dreamed of toppling the Royal Family and supplanting it with what they considered to be their own superior stock. As long as the Emperor ruled with the long weight of tradition behind him these dreams were only dreams. But when the Emperor, along with his close family, was murdered and Eth’s Council took over they had hope that their dream could be transformed into reality. There was a second cousin of the old Emperor who had escaped the butchery in Hawan and now lived in secret on one of the coastal islands. The upper classes of Ara planned to retake Hawan and place him on the throne. Admiral Melia and his family planned to have him killed in secret in such a way that the murder would be blamed on another prominent Ara family and thus kill two birds with one stone. The Admiral, unwillingly and with great humility, would allow himself to be talked into stepping into the vacuum of power and sit on the throne.

Of course Governor Rocher would have to be dealt with before such machinations could be unleashed. He was an astute and clever man and could smell treachery from a great distance. Admiral Melia dispatched a poisoner with a bag of gold to infiltrate the Governor’s kitchen. This he did with great ease for the Falconians who worked there were a venal lot who would murder their own mothers for an old horse and a piece of rope to lead him with. The poison was a sophisticated one bought by the Admiral’s agents from a tribe along the seacoast. It brought on a heart attack, which, since the Governor was sixty-six years of age, sedentary in the extreme and overweight, seemed in the natural order of things and brought no suspicion upon the Admiral. Afterwards, with the support of his fellow rulers, the Admiral assumed the kind of Dictatorship often given to figures of state during War and extreme danger. He became head of the Government as


well as the Military. Although no one ever knew what actually happened to him, the Old Emperor’s second cousin, a nonentity who had no real personal support, disappeared from the scene as quickly and effortlessly as if he had never entered upon it.

Ara was rich. The trade around the rim of the Salt Sea and the richness of the harvests along the River Sah made it so. When the Admiral called a council of those affected – that is the nobles and some of the wealthy merchants – they thought it unwise to hurl the army against the Rechyai. This, they said, was what Eth had done on the plain before Hawan and look what happened. They decided on a wiser, more gradual approach. The longer they could hold them off without a major battle the more time for the centripedal forces always present in barbarian armies to have their way. They left the army exactly where it was, instructing it to dig mighty earthworks on both sides of the river at Nali. Reinforced with levies from the western provinces Nali would become an impenetrable shield keeping the Rechyai from reaching Ara. But this plan was defensive and, in war, one had to be active as well.

The Falconians had an ally in the south, the Calanians. They were a conservative farming people ruled by hereditary nobles. They had a tradition of war but a limited one. Every spring they fought with their nieghbours for very limited gains of land which the next year they would more than likely lose back again. This kept the sons of the nobility in shape for the butchering of peasants, something they did every year on some pretext or another as a general bromide against seditious thought and insurrection. Many times in the past five hundred years they had fought wars as an ally of the Falconians, sea wars on the western sea. The Falconian commanders had used them as marine canon fodder which their nobles did not seem to mind for they themselves never went to sea and they found, as a general rule, the winnowing of their peasant class to be highly beneficial. They had strong trade ties with the Falconians, mostly cattle hides and other animal products in return for metal products and luxury goods.

The Calanian nobles were very keen on gold. They had metalsmiths turn it into articles of personal adornment worn by both men and women. As well they used it to import artisans from further south who built them palatial mansions decorated with all kinds of luxury items. The more important you were in Calanian society the bigger and more lavishly decorated your family estate. Yet they had no gold mines themselves and were ever on the lookout for it in trades with other countries. The Arans had plenty of gold, both held privately by the merchants and in the treasury of the state. Why not, said the Aran leaders in council, make use of the Calanians lust for gold by having them attack the underbelly of the Rechyai up through the southern plain and thus divert resources away from the Rechyai drive along the river? It would not be cheap for the Calanians were avaricious in the extreme, but it would bleed the mighty Rechyai while


giving the Falconian army more time to build its impregnable fortress on the banks of the river. The Admiral fully supported this brilliant plan. The next day he sent ten ships south to Calania carrying gold and ambassadors.

The Calanians were delighted. They negotiated a doubling of the gold offered while simultaneously mustering their army on the north east border with Falconia. So eager were the Falconians that not only did they doubled the amount of gold but threw in fishing rights on the Salt Sea the Calanians had been seeking for two hundred years.



Manah drove his horse mercilessly during the first part of his ride to the river but when Nia Scouts started coming in telling him there was no Falconian force near where he was heading he slowed down. There was no need to injure either his horses or his men with too fast a pace. He arrived at the river, at a small town called Rall, two weeks before Egil marched his guard into Hawan.

The town was empty. The population, a mixture of Nia, other tribesmen and Falconians, heard rumors of Rechyai savagery and decided not to stay and test their accuracy. There were a few old people and children. Otherwise the streets were empty.

Manah had earthworks thrown around the whole town from riverbank to riverbank. He sent riders along the river in both directions to confiscate boats and bring them to Rall. With these boats he built a bridge across the water and manned it with bowman and spear throwers. They stopped all traffic going east confiscating both boats and cargo. The


crews they let go to march back west along the river road. Traffic going west they stripped of all treasure and then let through, small boats only, larger they confiscated for their own use.

Three weeks later Rankor arrived. He marched his troops across the bridge to the northern shore and there build another camp protected by earthworks.

A month later the weather began to grow cold. A ragtag selection of the former inhabitants of Rall appeared at the gate and asked for the General. Rankor had them escorted into his tent. They were Nia and other tribesmen from some of the small tribes to the south. He could see no Falconians among them.

“Where are your Falconians?” Rankor asked the old man who was their spokesman.

“Gone,” said the man in the characteristic succinct style of the Nia.

“Gone where?” Rankor asked.

“To join relatives further west. They think the Rechyai have orders to kill all Falconians,” replied the man.

“Falconians who recognize the Rechyai as overlords are our friends,” said Rankor. “But it is true that we kill the other kind, especially nobles. Are you sure they have all gone west?”

“There might be the odd one hiding in the forest,” the old man replied.

“If you see them, tell them if they are willing to work under the Rechyai and supply no information to their former bosses they can come back into the town. Once here they will be free to go about their business without being harassed. Are there women in the forest as well?”

“Some perhaps.”

“My troops need women. They are fighting with one another like ill tempered children. If you see these women who may be in the forest then tell them the Rechyai pay well for both cooking and bed. Respectable married women will allowed to live with husband and family without being bothered.”


“I will tell them if I see them.”

“How many of these people might be in the forest?” asked Rankor.

“Several thousand, possibly,” replied the man.

“There is enough room and supplies for them if they wish to come in. Tell them.”

“Fine, your majesty,” said the man.

“My god man, don’t call me your majesty. I am just a soldier. Call me General if you like.”

“OK, General.”

“That’s better,” said Rankor.

Five thousand or more came in over the next two weeks. Many of the men were boat builders, for boatyards were the main business of the town of Rall. Rankor set them to work cutting logs from the forest and bringing them into town to build boats during the winter. The women willing to fraternize, several hundred, many of whom were prostitutes from before, had no shortage of business. Rankor placed them in a quarter of town set off from the rest and set a guard to watch day and night. Soldiers had to leave weapons behind in order to enter. He had signs posted that soldiers assaulting a woman brought a fine of half their pay for six months. Murder was an eye for an eye. The soldier would be executed.

Some time later a small delegation of Falconian merchants came to see him. They told Rankor that they were the owners of the boatyards and they would be willing to run them under the Rechyai and build whatever the Rechyai wanted them to. Rankor turned them over to his paymaster for the financial negotiations. When they were gone he turned to Ryo who was standing beside him and said, “As you can see, things are coming along.”


Egil came himself to see the camps early summer. He told Rankor that they would move no further that year because an army was invading from the south and would have to be dealt with before pushing along the river. Egil sent Manah with his cavalry to the south to join up with the Nia and Sege in confronting this new threat. He had Rankor divide his troops and occupy the camps on both sides of the river.



   When the Calanians arrived at the southern edge of the semi arid land lying across the border between Calania and Falconia, General Larma, the Falconian commander, known to the Calanian rank and file as ‘scrubs’ for his habit of taking a bath twice a day, ordered a halt. He sent supply wagons ahead with horses and men enough to travel twenty-four hours a day. The army would thus not be slowed down by the heavily laden wagons.

However the army was slowed down anyway for many reasons, the main one being the disputatious nature of the rank and file Calanians who spent many hours during the day arguing about which unit would move out first, second and third. These long arguments enraged the General but he felt to wade into them with decisive orders given by a foreign General would only lead to more arguments and perhaps even a rebellion. So he sat in his tent and fumed until the Calanians figured it out. The General, who thought of Falconian troops as scum, could think of no word adequate for describing the Calanians excepting bathroom slang, which, although it has an emotional accuracy in the moment, from a distance is merely a string of meaningless obscenities.

General Larma had engaged the wagon guild in the Calanian’s capital city to provide and work the supply wagons. So slow was the army in following its wagons that the General sent three quarters of them ahead. When the gap between the two became too large he sent out officers to have them halt in groups of ten at regular intervals. Thus the army had


before it over a space of thirty miles groups of wagons with five miles or so between them. The General thought that he was too far south for the enemy to attack them.

   The Sege watched this from a distance not quite believing what they were seeing. At each of these depots fifty horseman pitched tents beside the wagons, hobbling their horses, let them drift out onto the plain in search of tuffs of scarce grass.

   Not wanting to interfere with the set up of this ideal arrangement the Sege stayed out of sight until ten depots were established and then began to roll them up from south to north. Over some days they succeeded in doing this to four of the depots, sending the horses and wagons thus captured east to the foothills. However, when they arrived at the fifth the enemy horseman had come back south and presented to them a line of two thousand horse stretched out across the sandy soil.

   Huan looked at them curiously. “What do we do?” Swi asked him.

   Then suddenly the Calanian’s charged. Huan blew the retreat and the Sege rode eastward easily outdistancing the Calanians whose horses were small and badly nourished.

   When they were in camp Huan said. “We got something for nothing so why engage? We will lay low now and see what they do.”

   The plundered wagons were sent back to the village. Ilna traded the horses, many of them little more than ponies, to the Healers who used them in the mountains. Although

slow on the plains where speed was needed they were sturdy and sure footed and better on the mountain trails than a full sized horse. The Healers bred them and eventually they became the animal of choice in the mountains.

   This loss of supplies on the Calanian part was not due totally to ineptness. To be fair to


General Larma, he was an intelligent man, well studied in military affairs, but he was hampered by many factors beyond his control. He had horsemen but few scouts and the scouts he did have were unfamiliar with the territories they were passing through. He had tried to find Nia willing to scout for the army but such was the Nia hatred for Falconians that he came up empty. When they came to the arid land his men had captured a dozen Koli riders and he pressed them into service but as soon as they were out on patrol they killed their handlers and disappeared. His army was like a large, powerful bull with no eyes. The only thing to do in a situation like this, according to military manuals, is to move in force and to be ready for anything and this, other than his unfortunate foray with inadequately guarded supplies, was what he did.

   After this gift from the heavens the Sege riders took a week off to allow the Calanian supply line behind the army to stretch out sufficiently. When the Sege deemed it had done so they rode south and came across the army’s rear to receive a surprise. There was no supply line. Huan sent scouts to the east and west thinking that they had shifted the line but there was nothing. Then it dawned on Huan and Swi that they were carrying their supplies within the body of the army and the strategy of cutting the line was defunct for there was no line to cut. Swi rode south, crossing the plain in a zigzag to make sure the supplies were not merely delayed but he found nothing.

   Huan sent a message to Manah outlining the problem. Manah asked him to harass the rear, attempting to cut off units and destroy them but this was not possible. The enemy kept their horse in the interior. The perimeter was made up of special units of heavily armed foot accompanied by wagons of stakes. As soon as the Sege appeared in the distance the units in front of them dug in stakes and just inside them presented a wall of long spears and heavy shields. From what the Sege could see this line was ten or fifteen men deep. Its movements were disciplined. Behind it was a line of horse. Many times the Sege ran these lines showering them with arrows but they did little damage. To attack such a line frontally would be suicide and yet the only way to pierce the army’s hide and inflict damage. Again Huan sent a message. Manah asked him to leave scouts following the army to make sure a supply column didn’t suddenly appear and to meet him in the northwest with his main body.

   When Huan and Swi came into Manah’s tent he was drinking a mug of Yag and


pouring over maps. He asked them to sit and a servant brought two mugs. Swi accepted his for he had developed a taste for the Rechyai drink, but Huan waved his away. Huan was ascetic. He did not even drink tea, only water.  

   “We have problems,” said Manah.

   “This army is a weird bristling hedgehog,” Huan said.

   “Exactly. And how do you get at a weird bristling hedgehog?”

   “Tip him over onto his back,” said Swi.

   “To do that you have to get a stick under him. I have been thinking and asking for a week now but I have yet to find a stick. We have no foot soldiers. Egil didn’t think we would need them.”

   “We have to find a way to pierce the hide but I can’t think of one that’s obvious other than throwing a couple of thousand horsemen onto their spears.”

   “What about night raids?”

   “We’ve tried that. The outer rim sleeps in its positions. They string pickets a hundred yards out and the pickets carry horns.”

   “Surprise from a depression?”

   “Outriders. If they see enemy they come back to the main body and up goes the wall. And they don’t risk their horse. I think they have decided that ours are superior so playing run and turn with small units is to their disadvantage. They are saving the horse for a pitched battle when speed will be less important.”

    “And the Nia?”

   “They are harassing them from the northeast but are running into the same problems. The Nia are becoming very worried about their villages. Another week of advance like this and we will have to evacuate them. They are getting rather impatient with me. ‘We need more Rechyai,’ they say. ‘Where are they?’ I can’t blame them. They have committed themselves to us and now their villages are about to be invaded.”

   “And the General?”


   “Is in a flap. He keeps sending me impossible orders which I reply to with reason and then he sends me more impossible orders. He is sending down foot. He’s stripping it from the army at Hawan. But it’s not nearly enough and foot is slow on the march. But I do have a plan. At least a plan to put up a resistance at the bottom of the Nia valley. The villagers are building an earthwork for us there and we can make a defensive stand when the foot arrive. But we need more men. Bowmen especially. The Rechyai foot will be heavily armed with long spears and swords so they can take the brunt but we will be greatly outnumbered. Bowmen in the rear shooting arrows high and down may give us enough to stop them.”

   Huan stood up and paced the floor for some minutes and then sat back down. “We will have to raise the entire Sege and Klegit,” he said. “Most can shoot bows but even a novice can shoot up into the air.”

   “As for money…” said Manah.

    “No money. In this we will be fighting for ourselves. The village is not far off their line of march. Too close and too vunerable to horsemen. It is better that we go at them at the bottom of the Nia valley.”

   The Nia sent all their horse with extra mounts and ferried the Rechyai foot to the valley. Everyone who could fight, even the young women and older children, came down from the villages, Sege, Nia and Klegit. They built an earth rampart across the valley and a bridge of boats across the river. The young women were taught to shoot bows not at targets but high into the air. The older women made sashes to tie across the women’s right breast to compress them so they would not get in the way of the bowstrings. The Rechyai foot worked like mad day and night to improve the ramparts. They made a series of diagonal cuts in front of the earthworks to split the Calanian line before it reached the walls and sally ports with heavy wooden gates. Manah had Captains train a unit of Rechyai composed of big, heavy men but quick on their feet. Their job was to plug any gaps created by the Calanians. Swi formed a group of one hundred Sege bow shooters who accompanied them to shoot volleys at Calanians breaking through. Ilna, although he was practically immobile, sharpened his battle axe and prepared four bows for his shooting. Lo and the other wives brought up a chair and placed it before an arrow slot in a section of wall. They themselves were armed with bows and knives although none of them were young any longer and could hardly be much use in fighting the Calanians.

   All the healers came down from the mountain. Zuzy, now a very old woman but still


spry, led them. Nawan, Fli, Wani, Reel and two hundred others prepared bandages, medicines, water skins, stretchers. Reel went round to the various groups and implored them to bring in their wounded and not leave them bleeding on the ground as was the usual custom. When she was giving her speech she turned to the Rechyai and said, “Excepting for the Rechyai, of course, for they tell me they are incapable of bleeding.” This brought such a cry of hoots and hollering that some people thought the battle had begun.

   Kweya came with the Healers. He and Neel spent their time making wooden structures to place stretchers on in the hospital. In the evenings they sat together by the fire recieving visitors.

   Fils came escorted by his daughter. After a number of rub downs and messages by the healers he became supple enough to walk around without his crutches. The Rechyai honored their old advisary by dressing him in a complete set of Rechyai armor. Thus arrayed the old man took his place beside Ilna on his chair, lining up his bows and quivers on a rack he made in his retirement.

  The Calanians came in sight on a bright clear day of late summer. They camped within a mile of the ramparts, showing their bristling hedghog formation the entire perimeter of the army. Swi wanted to sally but Manah wouldn’t let him. “If the opportunity arises when things open up then certainly,” said Manah. “But for now we wait for them. We have decided and we must now settle down into the courage of our decision and wait.”

  The Rechyai held the center, Nia on the right, Sege and Klegit on the left. The Healers built a canvas shelter to house the wounded several hundred yards behind the line. When dark came Manah sent out a line of horse to stand before the Calanians. Each man carried a bugle. The Calanians were easy to see for they had bonfires and cooking fires within the walls of their phalanx. To everyone one on the ramparts they looked like a vast sea of flickering light and shadow. A breeze was blowing from the south and you could smell them, the smell of sweat, wood burning, horses. There was a constant steady murmur  that reminded the old Rechyai of the sound of the shoreline and the sea. Everyone slept at their battle stations, covered in thin blankets against the night chill. Ilna slept in his chair, Fils in a bed on the ground his daughter made for him.

   At first light the cooks brought around food, steaming pots of stew. Manah had insisted on this and Rechyai cooks had set up cooking stations the week before. Bundles of arrows and javelins were brought up to the wall. Water skins were passed around. When everyone had eaten the bow shooters came up to the wall. They leaned on their bows and looked out across the distance to the Calanians.


   The Calanian phalanx was still in place. The long spears rested with butts on the ground and the men had begun tearing the wooden stakes out of the ground. Behind them units were forming, orders shouted. There was a great murmur of voices and under it the sound of shuffling feet and the jiggling and clanging of metal war gear. Then suddenly the front line began moving slowly toward the ramparts, long spears bristling before it, shields locked into place. They kept this formation until there was almost no room for horse between them and the ramparts, then passed the long spears back, unlocked shields, drew their swords and came at a run.  

   Huan blew a horn for the bow shooters and suddenly like a great flock of thin birds four thousand arrows rose into the sky until they reached their zenith high above the Calanians and started down out far into their ranks behind the phalanx. Huan blew again and again, every ten seconds or so until perhaps twenty volleys had been loosed and then he stopped and stood watching intently his eyes shielded from the sun by an upraised hand. The archers checked their bows and placed new arrows in the racks beside them.            

   The effect of these arrows was devastating. There arose behind the charging front line of the Calanians a great howl of pain so sudden and unitary it was as if it had been uttered by a single wounded animal. Horses plunged pierced to the ground. Men tore with their hands at arrows sticking from their chest, heads, legs. Horses with arrows in their bodies ran wild, trampling and smashing the men around them. Yet the front lines kept coming without a look behind them, disciplined and intent. Huan blew his horn twenty more times and another almost continuous forest of arrows rose and descended upon the Calanians.  

   Manah was watching too, with Swi at his side. But he had an advantage over Huan for Kweya had lent him his telescope and by sweeping it back and fourth across the Calanian units in arrow range he could see clearly the enormous devastation. He put down the telescope and said to Swi,  “Send them all out, Swi. We can handle the first twenty ranks at the wall and behind them is disarray.”

   There were three sally ports, riders waiting behind them. In the center were the Rechyai, their first unit of horse armored and the riders wearing heavy armor. Manah ran over and blew the bugle. The gates were opened in the face of the charging Calanians and the horses flew to the charge. They drove through the ranks of running men like a knife through butter and spread out at a run as they reached the confusion behind. Swi ran to the east port and blew, Manah to the west. The Nia, front ranks with armor provided by the Rechyai and the Sege burst through the Calanian front ranks and slid in behind the roaring river of Rechyai horse.

 But the Calanian front lines continued to come until they were climbing the rampart and assaulting the wall. Armored young men met them chopping down with heavy Rechyai swords upon there heads and shoulders. The din of metal on metal and the shouts of men were deafening. Through their arrow slits Fils and Ilna shot arrow after arrow at the charging men while the young men were fighting above them.

   In some places the Calanians broke through but the gap was soon closed by Rechyai charging the opening, each man with his hand on the shoulder of the other, with their big bodies smashing the Calanians back and off the wall. In places where they were driven off the wall archers came up and loosed arrows at point blank range. Yet the Calanians were determined. In one place, with axes, they chopped out a section of wall but when the came through were met with such a steady, unrelenting river of arrows they had to lock shields to make further way. But the more way they made the more they exposed their flanks and arrows from the side cut down so many they were forced to retreat. Then a unit of Rechyai charged them in the gap and drove them away from the wall, down the sides of the rampart. This was the end for the Calanians. The Rechyai poured down the ramparts cutting them down with great swings of their terrible swords. The Sege, leaped down from the wall onto the stalled Calanians, stabbing them through the joints of their armor with long knives. The Nia, running through the sally port meant for the horses attacked them from behind, running at them with long spears and then closing in to wreak havoc with the small battle axes they used fighting close in.

   The smashing of metal on metal, the screaming of the wounded horses, the savage battle cries of the men, the screeching of men pierced through with swords, the pathetic calling out of the dying for their loved ones, their mothers and sweethearts, and in the distance the ride of the Nia, Sege and Rechyai horse, eight thousand riding down the fleeing and terrified Calanians, the tremendous thunder of their hooves hitting the ground, flesh, metal, in what so shortly before had been a quiet, almost peaceful place, an idyl  of summer flowers and grass, and a gentle morning warming sun, all this seemed like a travesty, like a terrible mistake, as if some malignant power mad in its hatred of such quiet beauty, had suddenly ripped open the earth and let loose a tribe of horrible, fiendish devils to feast so terribly upon one another. And feast they did for when it was over the Calanians were retreating as fast as they could go with a rump of their army surrounded by their famous phalanx, while the rest, along with a thousand Rechyai, Sege and Nia, lay dead and wounded on the field.

   The Sege and Nia, sick of killing, retired behind the wall to clean themselves of blood and gore and to eat. Reel, coming onto the field through a horse sally port, reached Manah and begged him on her knees to stop the killing.


  “The only way to stop them is to kill them, woman.  Do you expect me to kill my own men?” He shouted at her. But she clutched his knees and wouldn’t let go until he promised her. Then he mounted and with his own mounted guard formed a line that slowly pushed the Rechyai off the field up against the rampart.

   “I want the slaves you bastards!” he shouted at them. Then he had his troops fed and watered and let them and the tribesmen onto the field to gather booty and round up the living Calanians for slaves. There were five thousand of these. Twenty thousand were dead and another twenty moving their hedgehog slowly south. Manah let them go. “We are warriors,” he said. “Not slaughterhouse attendants. Besides the General needs us on the Sah and we have no time for chasing hedgehogs in the wilderness.”

   The healers worked all night long by torch light. They brought both their own and the Caladian wounded in off the field but even the Rechyai said nothing. They were exhausted and they wanted their meat and yag. And the camp, for the first time since they had been in Falconia, was filled with women and young girls, some of them interested and flirtatious. Let the weird ones from the mountains sew up whomever they wanted. They had to wash and comb out their bloody and tangled hair.

   Two days later the Rechyai rode north out of camp. They envied the Nia and Sege friends they left behind, who now had genuine respite with their wives and girlfriends, in familiar country now free from war. Their General needed them so they themselves had no such thing. Instead they had before them a long grueling ride and then more war.  



   The valley of healers was becoming crowded. Every year people more people arrived. Many left after a year for they found the isolation and the sitting and the learning of the craft and art of healing not to their taste. But many remained and gradually the resources of the valley became strained.

   Yaah and Ohn had become animal herders. The warm season they spent in grazing valleys spread out along the mountain. They loved this life out in the air and when their


children came they took them along, with tents and horses and all the things they needed to live in the wild comfortably.

   One autumn, when they came in from the high pastures, herding sheep before them into the fields and corrals in the valley where they would spend the winter, Kweya sent a message that he wanted to see them.

  “Oh, Oh,” said Ohn.

   “Oh Oh what?” Yaah replied.

   “When he sends like that usually it means he wants us to do something we might not want to do.”

   “Maybe,” said Yaah.

   When they came into Kweya’s house he was down on his knees giving a horse ride to one of his great great grandchildren. Zuzy scooped up the child and took him into another section of the house. There the little boy hollered at the indignity of this interruption but Zuzy gave him a honey sweet and he subsided.

   After greetings and Kweya pouring them cups of tea, he asked, “How far over is that big valley?”

   “Ten days.” Said Yaah.

   “I believe I remember you telling me that the soil is pretty good.”

   “Yes. We plant a garden there and the harvest is even better than it is here.”

   “And the trails?”

   “Rough in spots but passable. We have never had real trouble on them even in bad weather.”

   “And the fruit trees we planted there?”


   “They are beginning to give fruit. This year we made pies and jams. The kids gobbled them all up so I can’t show you any of them.”

   “This kid too,” Kweya said, pointing at Ohn.

   “O yes,” said Yaah, reaching out to pat Oolon’s nascent paunch.

   “I’ll be blunt,” Kweya said. “I want you to go live there and lead a new village.”

    Oolon and Yaah looked at one another.

   “I told you,” Oolon said.

   “Don’t rub it in,” said Yaah.

   They said nothing more for a few moments until Kweya said, “You will have to think about it.”

   “Yes,” said Yaah.

   They less thought about it than talked about it for that is the way of young married couples who love to talk with one another for caressing with words is a complement to physical caressing.

   “We will be lonely,” said Oolon.

   “Not really,” said Yaah. “There will be fifty people going with us in the first year so it would be hard to be lonely.”

   “I mean for the people who are left behind here.”

   “We will still see them. It’s not that far away. We could come for a month at winter solstice and a couple of weeks at the summer.”

   “Not the same though.”

   “Of course its not the same but the valley is filling up and something has to be done. We are young and we will adapt.”


  “And then we will have to deal with all the arguments and the money.”

   “Someone has to do it.”

   “Somebody else might be preferable.”

   “Not for Kweya or he would have asked them.”

   “I enjoyed the life of roaming about in the mountains.”

    “Ohn, don’t be so melodramatic. It’s not like we will never get to roam around in the mountains or have to solve disputes every day or spend all our time counting money.”

   “I wouldn’t be surprised. You know Kweya. First year it’s fifty and then a hundred and then the whole valley is crammed from rim to rim.”

   “If that happens they can elect a council and the officers will do most of the work.”

   “We’ll have to build a round sitting Hall. And Healer’s Hall too.”

   “He’s going to send stone cutters and masons.”


   Two days later, when the children were asleep Ohn stoked the fire and made tea.

   “I’m a little worried about the children being too far from the experienced healers,” said Yaah.

   “But he is sending Fli with us. She’s going to set up the Healing Hall.”

   “True, but still …..”

   “What bothers me,” said Ohn, “Is the Sitting Hall.”

   “Kweya is choosing someone to be the leader there.”

   Oolon didn’t say anything.


 “You think he won’t be able to find someone effective?”

    “No, it’s not that.”

   “Yes, it is.”

   “No. It’s just that he is the leader here and his authority is legend and I wonder how another leader in another place will work out.”

   “Fine, probably.”



   A week later when they were walking a snare line just over the rim of the valley and were resting in a hollow before returning Yaah said, “You will remember that spot we liked where you said we should built a dug in house.”

   “Uh huh.”

   “That would be a nice place to live. There is a beautiful grassy field there where the kids could play.”

   “Yes, that’s true.”

   “And there is that waterfall where the stream makes a hollow pool good for swimming.”

   “And,” said Ohn, “There is that wonderful nook in the side of the valley where the sheep could be penned in the winter out of the wind.”

    “You could dig a workshop into the hill in that nook and work there in the winter.”

   “And there are lots of rabbits. A snare line or two would give us enough for the whole year.”

   “Where do you think they should build the Round Hall?”


   “In the middle of course, but right up against that outcrop at the end where the fruit trees are. It would be out of the north wind there, especially during the winter.”

   “No. I think it should be on the other side where the trail goes up to the rim. There is a stream there that runs all winter. It’s very deep.”

   A week later, when they came to the Round Hall to help with the solstice decorations they met Kweya on the path. They told him they were willing. Kweya smacked his hands together and kissed each of them on the forehead, most solemnly.


   Fli went began studying at the Healing House the day after she arrived in the valley for she was sure of what she wanted and could see no reason for delay. Nawan was less sure. He spent some time helping to bring horses and sheep down from the high plateaus and then, when he was back in the village, went to see Kweya for advice.

   “What did you do before?” Kweya asked him.

   “I was a storyteller.”

   “But I thought you were Nia.”


   “I would suggest that you do anything which appeals to you and if you grow to dislike it then do something else. If you became a storyteller then you must have been drawn to that but here we don’t really have such a role. The Rechyai have storytellers of a kind who go about from village to village chanting poems and sagas. The Sege have storytellers but not formal ones. Among the Sege everyone is a storyteller.”

   “I’m not attracted to being a storyteller anymore.”

   “Did you like herding the animals?”



   “Well, perhaps for now you could keep working with them. But now that I know you were a storyteller I must warn you that a terrible old man from the library, as soon as he hears, will be at you to do something for him.”

   The next day Nawan was shoveling manure into a wheel barrel when an older man came into the barn. “Are you Nawan?” he asked.

   “Yes,” Nawan replied.

   “Then come with me.” Neel turned on his heel and walked out the door. Nawan watched him go but then went back to his shoveling. A few minutes later Neel returned.

   “You didn’t come,” he said.

   “Obviously,” Nawan replied.

   “Why not?”

   “Because I like it here in the barn.”

   “You Nia are a stubborn bunch,” Neel said. Then he walked to a corner, picked up a milking stool, brought it to a spot near Nawan and sat down.

   “I’m Neel,” he said. “I write books and work in the library. Once, in a terrible dream, which, thank goodness, I finally awoke from, I was the Headman of the Klegit. Now I devote myself to writing and looking after the library. How many years does it take to be come a storyteller?”


   “Do they have a big library at the Institute?”

   “Very big. Bigger than this barn but four stories.”

   “Hmmmm. What do you think of Kweya’s silent sitting?”

   “I hate it but I do it anyway because it calms me down. Sometimes I miss a day but then Fli lectures me. She says if I stay away that I become impossible to live with. She’s


right so I go back.”

   “She is a storyteller too?”

   “She was but now she studies with the Healers.”

   “I wonder if you and your…..”


   “If you and your wife would be kind enough to do me a favor.”

   “It depends on the favor and I can only speak for myself. You would have to ask Fli.”

   “I would like you to come to the library one hour a day after breakfast and dictate stories.”

   “I would have to think about it.”

   “What is there to think about?”

   “If I dictated the stories they would make me think of things I don’t want to think of.”


   “Old men being tortured for example.”

   “Would it give you nightmares?”

   “I already have nightmares. But it would give me more.”

   “If you have nightmares you should talk to Kweya.”


   “What kind of nightmares?” Kweya asked Nawan when he explained why he had come


to see him.  He explained what he had seen in Nia country.

   “You have to link your own death with the death of those old men,” Kweya said.

   “And how am I to do that?”

   “In sitting meditation maybe.”

   “But I hate sitting meditation.”

   “What does that matter?”

   “But you told me if I chose to do something and grew to hate it then I should do something else.”

   “That is true but there we were speaking of searching for an activity which your own particular nature can live with. Why not explore? With sitting meditation it is different. We have no option but to look into ourselves. Our personal opinion on this necessity is of no consequence.”

   “Why is it a necessity?”

   “Because there is no escape from it. You can escape horse tending by becoming a metal worker but yourself you carry around wherever you go.”

   “I sit in the morning and evening as the rule requires.”

   “Then perhaps you should sit more.”

   “Alright. How much?”

   “One extra session a day to start I would say. Some people get too enthusiastic and then have to pay for it.”

   “Did you sit when you were young?”

   “Not when I was very young. I was a dreamer, a lover of power. But then, in my early twenties, I met Obyn and he taught me to sit.”



   “He made me get up in the morning and sit on side of him, refusing to answer my stupid questions.”

   “When will I do the extra session?”

   “Whenever you like but you could try coming earlier in the morning to get it in before the regular one.”



   “I’ll come with you. I love sitting,” said Fli when Nawan told her what Kweya said.

   “Fli, if you sit anymore surely you will go of into the heavenly lands.” Fli already sat two extra sessions a day.
   “You are just afraid I will stop having sex with you.”

   “No I’m not. It seems to me that the more you sit, the hornier you are.”

   “O, that’s so untrue!” Fli said and crossed the room to sit on his lap.

   Nawan’s extra sitting helped with his nightmares. They didn’t come to a complete end but they became less frequent and less terrifying. Sometimes he was even able to do something else Kweya told him to try – watching the nightmare until it came to an end and trying to see what came after.

   “What was there?” Kweya asked him when Nawan told him of a successful attempt.

   “A long stretch of prairie with nothing happening.”

   “Precisely,” said Kweya.

   In the spring when the horses were back in the hills Nawan went to the Healing house


and began the courses leading to first level Healer. Zuzy and Reel had, after much experimentation, set up three levels. That way a group of three Travelers would require only one third level healer and they could sent out more groups. Fli was very intelligent and hard working and was already into her second level studies. One day when Nawan was washing a tub full of bandages in the courtyard of the House of Healing Neel walked up to him.

   “Did you think about it?”

   “Yes I did. I’ll do it but just for an hour a day. But I won’t do the crappy ones from the last few hundred years. They are full of lies and propaganda. I’ll do the older ones. There is a quality of truth and honesty about them.”

   “Fine,” said Neel. They started the very next day.


   When Zili first came to the valley she spent her time roaming a wide area of the mountain searching for game. She found many places perfect for snare lines and discovered that a species of small deer came off the mountain every fall through a ravine two days travel to the north. For two years she worked her snares and hunted like she had done on the Eg and was perfectly content. She attended sitting every morning and evening in the Round Hall whenever she was not away hunting.

   Then one day Kweya asked her to take Naji, the Nia man found on the plain, hunting with her. He explained that the young man was restless and had difficulty sitting and he thought a trip in the wild might be just the thing for him. Naji had already completed his first level healing and had gone out twice with the Travelers. Reel also thought it best that he have a break before starting his second course.

   It was fall and Zili was happy to have him come for she was going to the deer ravine and this meant a lot of butchering and smoking. She could use the help.

   They rode out on a cloudy morning but by noon the clouds were whisked away and replaced by a bright fall sky. The sun was still warm in the middle of the day and they


rode bareheaded and happy, not saying a word for neither of them were wordy people. They camped that night in a hollow among the rocks and came to the ravine as evening was falling the next day.

   They hunted the deer by hiding in the bush along the side of the trail and shooting them from cover. They sat in the bush for three days until in the evening of the third a small band of deer started down. Both Zili and Naji were excellent shots and that day they fell ten deer.

   When the deer run was finished, four days later, they had forty-four of them, small creatures weighing perhaps seventy pounds but still this was a lot of meat. They spent two days butchering and four smoking the meat. Then they stuffed it into hide sacks and started back.

    That night in the tent Naji came to her bed. Zili was stricken for she had no real desire for him yet he was full of desire. Even though it was cool he was sweating and it seemed as if his whole body was on fire. She took pity on him and allowed him under her cover. After he had achieved orgasm Naji was so overcome he wept. Zili cradle him like a woman would cradle a child and he almost immediately went to sleep. When they woke in the morning each was a little embarrassed. They said nothing about the night before and avoided one another’s eyes all the way back to the village.

   When they were back at first Zili wanted nothing to do with this man and began to resent that he had imposed on her. She began also to suspect that both Reel and Kweya had in some way planned this. She considered confronting them but decided not to. They would think her paranoid and disturbed. But one thing she was sure of, it would never happen again. She would arrange things in the future so she was never alone with the young man again.

     With this resolve Zili was completely content, at least for a while. When she saw Naji in the Round Hall or the dining hall she turned her head away and would not look at him. If she saw him on a path she left it so that she would not have to pass him by. Naji was back at the Healing Hall so she didn’t see him in the day. However every morning and evening she saw him in the Round Hall. Naji was a devoted sitter. Not only did he sit the regular times but he sat extra sessions as well.

   Then, one day in the Round Hall she found herself looking at him from under the lids of her half closed eyes. He was on the other side of the hall but even across this distance she could see that he was very solid in his sitting. One had to admit, she thought, that Naji was a serious young man who gave himself dutifully to everything he did. He wasn’t


frivolous or silly and didn’t talk too much like some of the other young men even here in the valley. She thought of what Kweya and Reel had told her before she took him hunting. He didn’t seem restless to her. Even when he was working in the garden he seemed self possessed and calm. But if they said he was there must be something to it. Both Reel and Kweya were wise and observant. Of course Naji was a Nia and to come here he had left all his people behind, so maybe that caused him disturbance. When Zili found herself thinking these thoughts she became displeased with herself. She closed her eyes entirely so she wouldn’t be tempted to look at him and continued her sitting.

   A week later Zili was sitting on a stool outside her house. It was evening and the setting sun, two fingers above the rim of the valley, was fast descending. She often sat like this in the evening watching the sun go down. It was her favorite time of day. When the twilight was medium heavy Naji came walking along the path. He didn’t see her for her house was higher than the path and she was above him looking down. He was walking slowly as if he were thinking seriously about something. Zili wondered what it was. Was he thinking of his Nia homeland, or some difficulty in sitting, or, as a young healer might, about how many complicated bones there are in the human hand or was he thinking of nothing? But then again it suddenly struck her that he might be thinking of her. She tried to make out his features in the fading light, features which she had to admit were regular, even handsome. When he was gone by she thought it was a bit rude of him not to look up and at least give her a small wave of his hand. One had to admit that he was a little socially backward. He had very few friends, no girlfriends and mostly when you saw him he was alone. He was a misfit, a man who left his own land to find himself a stranger in another. Yet could she not say the same thing about herself? She left her own land and so far she still felt like a visitor in the valley.

   Next there was Decoration Day at the Solstice. Zili always enjoyed the Solstice festivities. The banners hung around the hall, the bonfires kept burning until late at night, the delicious bowls of food spread out on the tables the night of the supper. And the children competing in the little contests the fathers set for them, contests where everyone won under the watchful eyes of the mothers, and the children were allowed to stuff themselves with honey sweets, as many as they liked. And there was Naji, like a child himself, handing out the sweets with a foolish smile on his face and picking up Yaah’s daughter to swing her around and around squealing and then more children who demanded a turn, even the tiny ones grasping at his knees, calling up to him with their own personal versions of his name. How did he know these children? She didn’t even know he visited Yaah and Ohn. Surely he was making a fool of himself and getting the children overexcited so the mothers would have a hard time getting them to sleep. Then Kweya came in with the pottery ball filled with metal toys made by Am and hung it on a rope from the rafters for the children to whack at it with a stick. Zili thought of her


own father, dead now ten years, doing the same thing and she also thought of him twirling her around and how delighted she was with a delight not spoiled by the slightest alloy of fear for he was a strong, steady man and she completely trusted him.

    A week later she went to visit Yaah and Ohn. The children were still up and the littlest came running over as she came in the door. Zili picked her up and the little girl wrapped her arms around her neck and gave her a wet kiss on the cheek. Despite her protests Yaah insisted she sit down to eat, placing a bowl of stew before her on the table. Yaah was right for she was hungry and she ate the bowl of stew and half of another. Then Naji walked in the door. The children ran to him and he dropped to his knees to hug and kiss them. They wanted him to play games with them but Ohn chased them away so Naji could come to the table and have his stew. But the littlest one slipped through the net, climbed up on his knee and Naji begged them to let her stay. She sat there very proud of her special treatment, Naji feeding her the odd spoonful of stew. One thing you had to say for Naji, Zili thought, was that he did not bother her. He had made his move, successful, at least in the short run, but then he had the good sense not to pester her. You couldn’t blame him for coming to his friend’s home. After all he had no idea that she would be there.

   After supper Zili talked with Yaah and Ohn and Naji played games with the children. When they were put to bed the adults sat around the fire talking of things going on in the village but not too late as is wise for those who must be up for sitting early in the morning. Naji and Zili left at the same time for it would seem very strange for them to do otherwise. Outside they each carried a small lantern suspended on a crude chain.

   “You like children, Naji?” Zili asked for it seemed to her churlish to be here together at the edge of the darkness and not say something.

  “Yes,” he said.

   Not exactly a sparkling conversationalist she thought.

   “We could walk some of the way together. It’s in the same direction,” Zili said.

   “Fine,” said Naji and they began to walk.

   After a few steps Naji asked, “Will you ever marry, Zili , or do you plan to live without a man.”


   “And what would be wrong with that?”

   “Nothing. I was just asking a question.”

   “Fine, then I will answer. Yes, I will probably marry.”

   “And what does the probably hinge upon?”

   “Finding the right man.”

   “I see.”

    After walking another few paces, Zili asked. “And how about you?”

   “O yes,” Naji replied.

   “It goes without saying, then.”

  “Not really. I had to think about it. But then I decided that I would.”


   “Well, I like sex for one thing. And I would like to have children for another. And I would like to have some warmth to come home to in the evenings after I finish work.”

   “But it would depend on you finding a woman.”

   “Yes, of course.”

   “And you haven’t done so yet?”

   “I wouldn’t say that.”

   “ I haven’t noticed you hanging around with a woman.”

   “No, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t found the right woman yet.”

   “I see. You have found one but she hasn’t found you.”



“Well, then I suppose you will have to find another.”

   “Maybe. Maybe not.”

   “Why do you say that?”

   “Because the woman might change her mind.”

   By then they had reached the path to Zili’s house and they said goodnight.

   One night, two months later, on a very cold night, so cold the snow squeaked when you walked on it, there was a knock on Naji’s door. He was reading a book lent to him by Neel, a book on the tools of the Klegit with drawings. He got up, crossed the floor and opened the door. It was Zili.

   “I’ve changed my mind,” she said, then stepped past him into the house.


Wani loved the valley from the beginning and he loved the mountains even more. He became Kweya’s wanderer, as Zuzy called him. From early Spring until late fall he wandered across the face of the mountain and deep into the passes hunting and smoking meat but also exploring and, with the help of instructions from Neel, drawing maps. Neel gave him an old sextant and taught him how to use it to determine latitude. He became well known in the villages on both sides of the mountain, a solitary figure sighting his weird instrument at the night sky, making a detailed drawing of the entrance to a pass, or sitting by the fire questioning hunters on how far up the slopes of a section of the mountain certain plants grew. After five years the library had a set of excellent mountain maps drawn by Wani and available to anyone who wanted to look at them in the reading room. People often came in to copy sections to take with them on their travels.

Ilna thought this map making and then the allowing of anyone to make copies


inadvisable. He sent many messages to Kweya demanding that he rein the young man in. He thought such maps in the hands of the wrong people could cause problems in the future. With such maps a determined enemy could scour the mountains and wipe out the Sege, including what he called the ‘dreamy element’ in the Ob Valley. Kweya sent back vague, circumlocutious replies. Ilna considered banning Wani from the village but Lo convinced him this was unwise.

“They send us healers and a leader for the Round Hall. The people have become very attached to them. If you ban Kweya’s young man it could end up causing you a lot of problems.”

Ilna had to admit what she said was true yet it stuck in his craw. One morning he went to visit Fils at his hogan. The old man was lying in the sun in a rawhide bed his wife and daughter set up for him. His daughter had just finished rubbing healer ointment on his joints. Ilna laid out his complaints in great detail for the old man was in a listening mood and didn’t interrupt as he usually did. When Ilna was finished Fils was still nodding his head, an action which led to him closing his eyes and going to sleep. Ilna, irritated at such treatment by the old General, rose and was about to leave in a huff but Mali, Fil’s daughter, stopped him and had him sit by the small tea fire close to the hogan.

“Besides the ointment,” Mali said, “he smoked a little of that tobacco the healers give him. He does that every morning to ease the pain. Sometimes he smokes too much or the batch is stronger than usual and he drops off to sleep. But I can give you his answer to what you were speaking of if you like. He often tells me things when I’m rubbing his joints and I have a good memory.”

“Fine then,” said Ilna, “Let’s have it.”

“My father disagrees with you. He thinks the benefits of the maps – guidance for travelers of all kinds, including the Healers who are of great benefit to the people – far outweighs their possible dangers. He says that if sometime in the future enemies come to make war on the Sege they will have no trouble finding traitors who for gold will act as guides and what is a guide but a mental map walking around in the body of a human being? The Sege cannot be protected by rubbing out Wani’s maps. They can be protected by living wisely in the world in which we find ourselves – making allies for mutual protection, living in peace with our neighbors, and most importantly for my father, giving up dreams of dominion. He says choosing to live in the mountains is the first step on this path. Let others go down and battle for the treasure and the rich river valleys. We will stay up here in a place no conqueror in his right mind would bother with. Why chase the Sege into the mountains to get a few rocks and skinny sheep? My father says the proof of


this is the Rechyai actions on the other side of the mountain. When we disappeared into the passes they went away rather than chase us. Up in the mountains we are no threat to them so why should they waste treasure and men to root us out?”

“That we provide them riders has something to do with it too,” said Ilna.

“True, but they did not chase us into the mountains even before we agreed to provide them with riders. The riders are hitched to the Rechyai enterprise, not our own. My father says that in the long run the riders will be of benefit for they will receive land from the Rechyai General, land along the Sah. There they will make farms and workshops where our surplus of young men and women can go when the land around here becomes filled up.”

Ilna did not bother to argue with Mali. She was as sure minded and stubborn as her father. Uncomforted he went on his way.


During the winters, for the paths across the mountain were not passable in the winter, excepting for the nimble footed wild sheep who seemed to find a way to go anywhere they wanted, Wani stayed in the village. He spent the mornings in the library working on his maps but for the rest of the day he sat. In the late evening he had tea and cakes with Kweya and Zuzy. He slept in a small dugout near the Round Hall.

One day, after the morning sitting, he came to Kweya’s for breakfast. Zuzy made pancakes. They smeared the pancakes with butter and honey and ate lustily for this was the first meal of a day already four hours gone. When he and Kweya were having tea alone – Zuzy had left for the Healing Hall – Kweya said,

“The Rechyai, they tell me, will make it to the coast next year. They will occupy the city of Ara, the rich Falconian seatown and thus complete the conquest of Falconia. Fils thinks their restless spirit will then lead them out onto the Salt Sea where they will have a go at conquering the countries around its rim.”

“Hmmm,” said Wani.

“But this new enterprise may take the Rechyai some time. They say their forebears were seaman, coming across the eastern salt sea many years ago, but they have forgotten most


of that. It will take them a while to master the new element before launching themselves,
in their usual hurly burly way, out onto the waves.”

“Hmmmm,” said Wani.

“Someone will have to go to Ara when the Rechyai conquer it. The Rechyai will make it their new capital, the center between the great bulk of Falconia and the Eg to the east and the new lands they will conquer across the water. The Rechyai General Egil has given us rights to set up healing and meditation halls in the cities.”

“Hmmm,” said Wani.

“I assume by your Hmmms that you are not impressed with the forward march of the Rechyai.”

“On the contrary, great grandfather, I am greatly impressed with the Rechyai. But capital cities full of murderers and gold lovers do not seem to me to be fertile places for meditation halls. Healers, yes, meditation halls, no.”

“Well, this old man disagrees with you. Such places have great energy and sitting requires great energy. As well, murderers and gold lovers are just the sort to become disillusioned with murdering and gold loving and go searching for something else. People like ourselves cannot spend all our time sitting on the mountain with our fingers in our navels. We have a duty to bring something down into the cities to alleviate suffering.”

“A few sitters in the great city of Ara will be like the odd mesquito in a cup of water – useless.”

“A few sitters on the mountain are also useless.”

“Obyn chose to live in the mountains.”

“And Obyn is dead. He chose what was right for his own time and we who come after are grateful for his long life of teaching. But new circumstances present themselves and must be taken into account. We can’t live in the past doing only the things which Obyn did.”

“The mountains are beautiful and serene. Cities are ugly and vicious. If the Arans want to sit let them come here.”

“After sitting in the city of Ara, I am sure than many will come here. A taste of the clear water will bring them.”

“And you want me to go there?”


“No. I like it here in the mountains.”

“What does it matter what you like it? You sound like a three year old who always wants his own way.”

“And you like a bossy old man who wants his own way. No, I tell you. Send someone else.”

“Get out of my sight you ungrateful rascal.”

Wani was on his feet and out the door in a matter of seconds. Kweya stared at the door he closed behind him for some moments and then broke into a loud laugh. When his secretary came in five minutes later he was still laughing.

“What are you laughing at,” he asked.

“Young men in general,” said Kweya. “I’m laughing at how crazy and glorious they are. And the young women are just as bad.”

Wani didn’t come by Kweya’s for a long time after. They saw one another in the sitting hall but nodded without speaking. Zuzy asked Kweya about this but he refused to tell her what was wrong. Zuzy, however, had her own channels of information. When she had harvested her information she went to Wani’s house early one evening. He was sitting on the platform at the end of his bed but got up and greeted her when she came in the door.

“I brought you some honey buns,” Zuzy said placing a package on the table.

Wani opened the package and began eating a bun.

“You have become like a wild animal living by yourself,” Zuzy said. She rose and


brought a plate back from the cupboard. She removed the buns from the package and put them on the plate. Then she went over to the fire and put on a kettle of water for tea. When it boiled she poured it over tea leaves in the pot and placed it on the table.

“Your great grandfather is an old man and has not to long left to live. If you quarrel with him then you will lose the benefit of his wisdom in the last few years of his life.”

“Great grandfather is as healthy as a horse,” said Wani, “and will probably live another twenty years. The mountain air seems to agree with him.”

”Perhaps. But still it’s useless to waste time in silly quarrels. People tell me he wants you to jump off the mountain but you refuse to do it.”

“No,” said Wani. “I prefer to stay on the mountain, wander and make maps. What he wants me to do is his problem.”

“True. But if that’s what he wants you to do then it is a problem belonging to both.”

“No,” said Wani. “He will have to keep his problems to himself. He is too keen on saving the world or the Rechyai. Trying to save the Rechyai with sitting is like trying to cure indigestion by eating onions. It will just make them worse. The clarity of sitting will merely make them more efficient killers.”

“You are cynical,” said Zuzy.

“No,” said Wani. “I am clear minded.”

“Hmmmph,” said Zuzy, finished her tea and went off to make the evening sitting in the Round Hall.

Wani left the village after Solstice, travelling over the snowy trails until he reached the valley Yaah and Ohn now lived in. Here he spent the winter. He spent it sitting, sleeping in small room off the Round hall. In the afternoons he went to Ohn’s workshop and helped him make harnesses and saddles. He ate his main meal in the evening at Ohn and Yaah’s. Since he was such a serious man Yaah thought he would have difficulties dealing


with the children but the opposite was true. The children made his eyes light up like bonfires and there seemed to be no end of his patience and humor with them. He became their defender explaining their point of view to Yaah and Ohn. Tear would well up in his eyes at the thought of an injustice done them. They called him uncle and he brought them toy animals fashioned from scrap pieces of leather from the workshop.  

A month after his arrival a message came from Kweya calling the meditation leader, a middle aged woman named Milna, back to the village. She was able to go because so far that winter the snows were light and fluffy and the trails were still open. Wani was furious with the old man but what could he do? He took over as the Hall leader for there was no one in the village who felt competent to do so. When people began coming to him with their problems at first he was surprised. Why ask me? was his first response, although, fortunately he didn’t say it out loud. He did the best he could in dispensing advice. He asked Yaah and Ohn’s advice on certain issues, like dealing with children for instance. He realized his kindly uncle role was not the only one young children needed.

When spring arrived Wani was in no hurry to head off into the mountains. For one thing he would have to go back to the village to get supplies and he didn’t want to. During the month of May he received a message from Neel requesting that he travel to this and that section of the mountains and complete maps. He sent back that he had no supplies. Neel sent him some Rechyai metal coins which he used to buy supplies from the villagers. But even then he stayed in the mountains only long enough to complete his work in a section, coming back to the village for a few weeks in between. He continued to act as the meditation leader.

Midsummer a group arrived from the old village to settle in the new. There was a young family with three children, an older man, a mason Kweya sent to work on an extension to the Meditation Hall, and Am, the Klegit metal worker.

Wani had seen Am many times before for she was a regular sitter in the old village but he saw her with new eyes when she arrived in the valley. She had cut her hair short before traveling and this style suited her, showing off the fine, handsome bones of her face. Behind her riding horse she trailed six pack ponies carrying tools and supplies. The winter before an old carver had died of pueumonia. He had no family and left behind him a large workshop and a small dugout. Am paid some Rechyai metal coins to the village collective and moved into the house and workshop.


Wani came over two days after she moved in.

“We need a bell for the hall,” he said.

“How big?” asked Am.

“About like this,” said Wani, moving his hands about one and one half feet apart.

Am pulled a tape from her apron and measured between his hands. “And how tall?” she asked. Again Wani drew his hands apart, except up and down this time and she measured between them.

“When do you want it?” she asked.

“As soon as possible.”

“It will be expensive because the metal has to come over the mountain. I have enough for the bell with me but it has to be replaced.”

“How much?” asked Wani.

Am quoted a price.

“That’s OK. The hall has a fund and there is enough to pay that.”

“I’ll start it tomorrow.”

Wani found that when this conversation was ended he was loath to leave but since he didn’t know how to extend it he left anyway. That night he dreamed of Am. She was seated naked by the fire combing her hair. He woke up with an erection as hard as iron. It took an hour and a half of sitting for it to recede. In the morning on the way to the Hall he said to himself, “I’m bewitched.” This was, of course, technically untrue, for Am was not a witch and even if she was, had taken no thought of him at all, certainly none involving spells or whatever.

Wani kept this to himself for a week preferring perhaps that it would go away and solve itself. When he had asked Kweya for advice on sexual arousal a few years before the old man had advised him to masturbate. This shocked Wani for masturbation among the Sege was considered unmanly. The old man saw the shock on his face and laughed. “A bit of pleasure won’t hurt you, Wani. In fact it may make you more human,” he said. Wani took


his advice but employed it sparingly and was somewhat ashamed of what he thought of as his ‘weakness’. But then he had had no particular woman in mind. That he should masturbate with Am in his mind deeply shocked him and yet, shocked or not, he did it. He figured that it was better than going insane which he was sure would have happened if he didn’t. Afterwards when he saw Am in the sitting hall he became morosely ashamed. He left the tea and cakes after sitting early so he wouldn’t have to speak to her. He was sure she would sense what he had done if she spoke with him and would smile knowingly. Men are so weak, she would think. They can’t keep their hands off themselves, just like little children.

But after a week had passed by and he was even worse than before – his sitting was often interrupted by the rising of images of the naked Am or what his mind concocted to be the naked Am. He decided to go into the mountains the following week but of this decision he was unsure for he knew that these images would follow him and, in his isolation, be even more powerful than they were here in the village. He decided to talk with Yaah. He couldn’t bring himself to speak with Ohn about such a subject but Yaah had become like his sister and she, being a woman and a mother, would surely understand better than a fellow man.

He found her the afternoon of his decision working in the garden in front of the house. The two younger children were sleeping in the shade, the two older in the shop with Onh. Red with embarrassment, wringing his hands, yet desperate to make himself heard and receive some advice, he explained his situation to Yaah. Yaah continued to weed the vegetables but put a very serious cast upon her face. When he was finished she sat in the dirt and turned toward him.

“Why don’t you ask her if she would like to go to bed with you?” she asked.

“She may not like men,” Wani replied. “People tell me that she has not had one since she came to the mountain. Maybe when she was with the Rechyai they raped her and she wants no more to do with men and sex.”

“Maybe,” said Yaah, “but then again, maybe not. But if you don’t ask her you will never find out.”

“True,” said Wani but true or not it didn’t seem to Yaah that he was likely to do so any time soon.


 “I could speak to her,” she said. “Sometimes a family female speaks to the woman.”

“Would you?” asked Wani.

”Yes. Of course,” replied Yaah.

Afterwards, while sitting in his dugout, Wani was filled with apprehension. No doubt Am would be disgusted. Another lustful man sniffing around like a dog in heat she would say to herself. Then he would have to see her in the hall and no doubt die of mortification.

But when he saw Yaah the next day at tea and cakes in the morning she took him aside. “She’s not sure if she wants a man so you have to give her a little time,” Yaah said. “But she has thought of a family often in the past while and thinks you are quite handsome and would help make great babies.”

After that Am smiled at him in the hall and he smiled back. They said good morning and good afternoon but there was no opportunity to say anything else until he came with a horse cart to get the bell four days later.

Am had already brought it out of the shop into the yard on a dolly. The two of them managed to slide it from the dolly onto the cart. Wani handed her a small bag of coins.

“Do you have to go back right now?” Am asked.

“No, not really,” replied Wani.

“I was thinking, that we could wash in the pond and go inside and see how we fit together. What do you think?”

Wani smiled in answer to this invitation but he was so selfconscious that he had to exert a great effort of the will to follow her to the pond, take off his clothes and get in the water.

Afterward Wani and Am were inseperable. They married a week later, Yaah and Ohn, on either side, the children running about in the yard beyond the porch. Yet their’s was not a


perfect match by any means. They had a physical passion for one another that was exceptional. But they often disagreed, even arguing loudly in public. Because of what each did for a living they spent significant time apart which was beneficial in their case. “Together all the time,” Am once told Yaah “we would either fuck ourselves to death or murder one another, it’s hard to say which would come first.”



   Every year, in the spring, the River Sah overflowed its banks. Some years it overflowed them in a mewing, cat lapping kind of way; others in a lion roaring, torrential way. When the cat lapped a few rickety wharves and jerry built shacks were lifted away from its banks as if the river, in a stern, motherly way, was reminding the humans who lived along her banks that their leases were temporary, they were on sufferance. In the years in which the lion roared, things were different. Banks were ripped away. New channels were blasted through the soft mud. Entire towns, thinking they were wise to set themselves on slight rises some distance from the water, were swept away in a single evening as if they had never existed. Substantial merchants with warehouses built on solid pilings, well capitalized , river wise, and steeped in the mercantile tradition of many generations, awoke one morning to find the river, in one great tearing hop, had abandoned them and they now lived on an ox bow lake cut off from the flow of trade and profits.

   Life on the river was precarious. With the right conditions fortunes could be made in a single year; with the wrong, the work of seven generations could disappear in a day. And this was so not only for the merchants who bought and sold and took profits but for the workers who made their living with their bodies unloading boats, pulling oars through the muddy waters and navigating giant barges downstream to the seacoast. They too used the tiny extra not needed to keep themselves and their families alive, to build homes, riverside inns and taverns, small market gardens, and these too, were often destroyed by the roaring river. Everyone who lived on the river referred to it as SHE, the same word used to refer to a human female, but pronounced with a gutteral rush leaving no


uncertainty that the speaker was referring to the Sah, that life giving, providing, generous, seemingly all encompassing reality which was also cruel, capricious, destructive and compassionless.

   Human beings are endlessly forgetful. This is not because, as the cynics say, we are stupid but because forgetfulness is a necessity if we are to live at all. To bear the collecting weight of not only our own individual human sorrows but that of even the small stream which flows around us personally would drive us to despair and madness. This forgetfulness, seen often as an indulgence, a weakness, was, for the river people a great source of strength. A man who had spent all his spare time for three years building a house could watch it washed away by the current one day and be sitting on his neighbour’s porch the next happy in the spring sunshine. This resiliance, this grounded acceptance of what life has to offer, was a characteristic of all the river people for the forms and shapes given by human culture are strong and long lasting but those provided by the interactions with everyday life, flowing through the blood of many generations, are stronger still. The Falconian merchant, sitting in the rear of a boat rowing away from a scene of destruction, filled his pipe and smoked it with a pleasure truly exceptional and Nia river workers, folded their tents and made their way up and away from the rising waters in a cheerful mood no less exceptional. People in the parts of the Empire more stable and solid looked upon the river people as shiftless, mercurial, extravagant and childish. The river people, upon encountering this attitude, smiled a wry and knowing smile, for they knew otherwise.

    Falconian river merchants were wealthy men. When they were building their fortunes they lived anywhere, some times even working boats along with their workers or on housed barges anchored in pools in quiet sections of the river. But when their wealth grew sufficient, to a man they began dreaming of a great house on a rise overlooking the stream and that house filled with the garnishes of culture they had seen on trips to the cities – fine furniture, musical instruments, plastered walls painted with frescos, cultured evenings in the company of beautiful women, adorned with gowns and jewelry. No matter how dirty their hands or rough their language this was vision which came to them in the evenings after long days of traveling and trading. This vision, strong and unabated had thrived for many, many generations, so all along the river, but in some central places more than others, these houses, behind them extensive spreads of gardens and outbuildings, painted a bright red colour, extracted by the Nia from a certain plant, sprung up into the sky extravagantly bright as the veined nose of a river drunkard. In them lived the merchants and their families, secure as it is possible for humans to be secure, in their dream of elegance.

   But the Nia did not see it the way the merchants did. They thought the houses too large


and solid. They saw them as unmovable monstrosities thrusting their stiff and inflexible bodies at the elements in a kind of stupid and unholy challenge. The merchants had no trouble getting Nia workman to take their boats and cargoes up and down the river but they could not make servants of the Nia. They would not go into the houses even for a brief visit and if forced by circumstances would only go so far as stepping for a short time onto the long wooden verandahs which swept across their fronts and down one side. They preferred their tents and, back from the river in the hills, the dug in houses where they spent their winters. So the Falconian merchants had to recruit servants from the cities lying along the river, from their own people who lived there in the poor quarters. These, the Falconian merchants, their servants, (greatly outnumbering the merchants at least by thirty to one) and the Nia were the groups populating the banks of the River Sala. There were others but they amounted to a mere sprinkling.

   The Nia who lived along the river were a grounded and practical people. They sometimes had disputes with the merchants but they did not see them as their particular enemies. They saw them, perhaps, as necessary evils, part of the great fabric of things very different than themselves, yet with a place and a purpose that could not be denied. So when Rankor sent his agent provocateurs among them, Nia themselves but from the homeland south on the plain, they were suspicious and unresponsive. They had heard of the Rechyai, of course, for it was the Rechyai who had built a bridge across the upper reaches of the Sah and depressed trade, an event which caused them to bear some hard feelings against them, for it was not only the merchants who suffered but the Nia as well. When the agents offered them freedom from the oppression of the Falconians, they saw this as a dream filled with empty air. They were not so stupid as not to know that if the Rechyai drove out the Falconians, Rechyai merchants would soon be living in the houses on the rises above the river and who was to say that their dominance of life along the river would not be even more oppressive than that of the Falconians? So they listened to the agents politely but made no commitments and when they heard the Rechyai were about to push along the banks they simply disappeared into the hills.

This disappearing act by the Nia made Rankor laugh. “If I was a Nia I would do exactly the same thing,” he said to Ryo when he heard of it.

“ It will make our march along the river easier,” said Ryo. “Egil was worried about the men stealing from the Nia and raping,” said Ryo. “He would have to explain to the southern Nia, our allies.”

“Yes, but where are we going to get supplies?”

“There will be hay in the fields for the horses. Our men can cut it themselves. Two


hundred miles from here on the south bank are a series of Falconian communities – farmers, wealthy for the soil is excellent. They are still there according to the reports. They are loath to leave their wealth and capital behind. They are supplying the Falconian irregulars Nawan has been routing to the south of us. Most of the farm laborers are Nia and Gans from way down south. They have also stayed. Apparently the Farmers have told them the Rhecyai will never get that far along the river so there is no need for them to worry. Manah has a plan.”

“Which one? He seems to come up with a new plan every week.”

Ryo laughed. “Well, that’s true. Manah has a turbulent mind. But this one he has been pushing for two weeks now, a record. He wants to drive south with most of the horse and then west when he hits the plain land. He plans to ride on the plain past the Falconian villages and then sweep north to the river and once there build a fortified camp and another bridge of boat across the river. This will hem in the Falconian farms and prevent them from emptying their silos into boats and sending them to Ara when we move down river.”

“But why most of the horse? He doesn’t need them all to ride the plain and descend on the river.”

“No, he doesn’t,” said Ryo. “But he wants to cordon off the Falconian farms from the plain, their avenue of escape if the river is denied them. He wants to place a screen along their southern side with camps of riders every so many miles. As well, as you know, the irregulars come up the plain from farther west. Besides routing the ones he meets on the way he wants to send units to drive them back several hundred miles and then return to the bridge of boats. He hopes this will give us some respite from their attacks over the winter.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” said Rankor.

Rankor and Manah did not get along. He stayed in his camp on the south side of the river, Rankor in his on the north. Once a month they had a meeting in Rankor’s tent – Rankor, after all, was the commander in chief – which was very polite and formal and lasted a half an hour. Rankor had spies in Manah’s camp, Manah had spies in Rankor’s. When they first arrived on the river neither would speak to one another and the command was divided. When Egil came for a visit he appointed Rankor commander in chief but that did not change the relationship between the two men. But it did mean that Manah had to get


Rankor’s approval for any large scale action. Egil, in a private meeting with Manah told him he would have him executed if he moved big and Rankor had not approved the plan. Manah was impulsive and needed the check of the older, more experienced man.

A lot of the problems with Rankor and Manah could be put down to big egos. There was only one commander in chief and two men. They were both bluff, aggressive men, used to getting their own way. Egil would have preferred a more acquiescent horse commander but the situation called for his best and most aggressive and Nawan was that. He was also a man who in the field could make his own decisions. The push down the Sah required that. The horse would be used as Manah planned to use it against the farmers – as a long arm ripping off pieces of enemy territory. The fist of that arm had to be commanded by a hot, impetuous man who also had the intelligence to guide it with a keen sense of strategic and tactics. 

Ryo got along with everyone, not because he was a mousy man but because he had a great feeling for the varieties of human character. For instance he liked both Rankor and Manah even though they could not stand one another. So he became the go between, the diplomat who explained the thinking of one to the other.

“What did he say?” Manah asked him the next day when Ryo walked into his tent.

“He sent a fast boat to Hawan for Egil’s approval but with a little variation. He wants to move the whole army and have Egil send more troops down river to sit in Rilla. He says he has enough barges and boats to float the foot down but it will take a week to organize. He says you should make ready. As soon as the approval arrives he’ll send you a messenger.

Manah improved on his orders to make ready. He sent his best units to the edge of the plain. He led them. When post riders brought him the order to move he was already a hundred miles along the plain.




   Colonel Kal, the former head of Falconian intelligence was a resourceful man. When the Rechyai took Rock Run and spilled onto the plain leading to Hawan he knew the Empire was finished. Through intermediaries he offered his services to the Rechyai Intelligence Chief, Valdo by name. Captain Valdo accepted and, as the Rechyai moved across the flatland toward Hawan, Colonel Kal sent them a steady stream of information which Valdo found most useful. When the Rechyai entered Hawan, Valdo used lists provided by Kal to round up nobles and potential troublemakers for execution.

   Valdo treasured Kal as source of information but he did not like him. Colonel Kal was hard to like. Even his closest associates feared rather than liked him. The hawk like features, the burning contemptuous eyes, the feeling of restless violence barely contained, all served to make the Colonel an uncomfortable companion. As well he was a traitor, a man who bought his own life with the deaths of many others. Valdo used him for it was necessary but he never liked the man. The Colonel not only turned people over to their death but he seemed to enjoy it. When rumors circulated that Kal, who was the commander of the death squad in Hawan, was not only killing nobles but torturing and mutilating them beforehand, to extort the locations of hidden treasure, Egil was about to have him killed but Valdo intervened. Granted he was a nasty, sadistic bastard but he had a store of knowledge the Rechyai had no other way to access. After some argument Egil bowed to his Intelligence Chief’s wishes. He attached a staff officer to accompany Kal and in this way brought an end to the excesses, at least the official ones.

   Kal was infinitely devious and just as infinitely fearful. He saw enemies everywhere and in the evenings when alone in his quarters he sometimes was thrown into such a paroxysm of fear and paranoia that he locked himself into a closet and wept with terror. When he heard of the General’s displeasure he disguised himself in one of his beggar costumes and disappeared into the streets of Hawan. Under the old Emperor this was one of his favorite pastimes. He had many contacts in the underworld of Hawan who had not the slightest notion of who he was. As well he could enjoy there certain debaucheries, certain cruelties, not available elsewhere, other than of course when the old Emperor was alive and he had the run of the royal dungeons. His hope, when the Rechyai came and he attached himself to them, was a resurrection of these old pleasures deliciously mixed with the business of extracting information. But this did not happen. The Rechyai could be cruel and vicious but spontaneously. According to the Colonel they were lacking in long term, systematic cruelty which was both the mark and the delight of sophisticated rulers. For the most part the Rechyai simply killed their enemies. When they occupied Hawan they used the old dungeons to store military equipment.

   Through agents Kal heard that the General had decided to control rather than kill him and he emerged from hiding and slipped back into his official role. He was careful to conceal his disgust with the General, a disgust which over time turned to hatred, for when the executions in Hawan were finished Egil had Kal shipped off to a minor official role in


a city along the Sah. He turned Colonel Kal into a custom’s official and not only that but he had him watched. Kal was forced to perform his duties in a clean, official manner for he suspected that the slightest deviation would be his death.

   When Rankor was moving down the river the Colonel tried to make contact with him, offering intelligence tidbits in a note delivered to the General. But Rankor had been forewarned and would not see him. He sent an officer to tell the Colonel that he would best keep to his customs duties if he knew what was good for him. The officer was rude and blustering, perhaps hoping to provoke violence from the Colonel so he could kill him but Kal put on his most obsequious manner and the man gave a great snort and left.

   Three weeks later Kal slipped out of town in the middle of the night in a small sailing boat he had bought some months before. Along with him was a henchman from the old days, a drunken and loutish man of middle age named Mul who had been with the Colonel in various capacities for twenty years. Under the old Emperor his specialty was skinning victims alive and then further tormenting them with acids and hot irons. Mul, like his boss the Colonel, lamented the passing of the old empire and its honeycombed dungeons full of terrified and pleading victims. He handled the sails while Kal worked the rudder. When it grew dark they tied up to the bank and slept. It took them two weeks to reach Ara.

   When they reached the city they tied up at a small dock outside the walls. They slept on the boat but spent the day in the city, Mul in the taverns drinking, Kal contacting, in the murky back streets of the dock section, old ‘friends’ who had fled Hawan with the coming of the Rechyai. It was the opinion of these ‘friends’ that the Rechyai would be stopped in their advance along the Sala and eventually rolled back to the capital. Kal didn’t waste his breath contradicting such idiocies. The Empire had long been ripe for the picking and now it was being picked.

   But opinions on the war were not his concern. Through an old confederate he was introduced to a man he very much wanted to know, a Kaluian merchant who was indeed a merchant trading in hides, but only as a cover for being the head of Kaluian intelligence in Ria. He was a young man, a noble, and had an air about him of jaded elegance. He lived in a fine house in the wealthy section of town but it was in a low dive on the docks where he and Kal had their meeting.

   The young man had been filled in on the Colonel’s background and he was very eager to put him on the Kaluian payroll. The Colonel, however, was not interested in payrolls  for he had been extorting and torturing money out of Hawanian nobles first under the Emperor, then under Eth, then under the Rechyai for many years and he had enough money squirreled away in bank accounts in six different countries so that he could live


like a wealthy man for twenty lifetimes. However he knew the thinking of intelligence people, that is that one felt more secure with a man who was being paid and he negotiated very hard, pulling back at the last minute to accept a middling amount from the young man, Lord Canel by name. The young man was very pleased with himself. He would include in his next dispatch a narrative of the negotiations putting himself in a favorable light. The Old chief back in Kaluia, although a very wealthy man himself, was very cheap and despite his envy of Canel’s greater wealth and connections, he would be pleased, at least officially, which is what counted.

   Lord Canel wanted Kal to stay in Ara and use his connections to build an intelligence network which went up the Sala to Hawan. He was especially interested in penetrating the camps of both Rankor and Egil so the Kaluians would get some warning of future plans. It was his opinion as it was also Kal’s, that the Rechyai would conquer the Empire entirely but it was crucial for the Kaluians to know when. Canel wanted to know the thinking in the Rechyai camps, the numbers of soldiers and horse, the security of their supply, the Rechyai relations with the tribes to the south and north of Hawan and so on. Under certain circumstances the Kaluian authorities were considering supplying money and mercenaries to the Empire or what was left of it in Ara. There was a faction in the Kaluian military who wanted to destroy the Falconian fleet before the Rechyai came down the river and captured it. There was even a tiny group of fanatics in the Kaluian navy who wanted to use the Kaluian fleet to occupy Ara and make it a Kaluian tribute city. All of these people were in Daria, the capital city of Kaluia, a vast and wealthy metropolis far back from the sea on a fertile plain, with their tongues hanging out waiting for information. Lord Canel wanted to make his mark supplying that information.

   Kal was not adverse to playing this role for the time it was available, a limited time in his thinking for he was convinced the Rechyai would be in Ara within the year. But his motivation was the credit it would give him with the Kaluians not the effectiveness of the information supplied. The Rechyai would come down the river when they were good and ready and all the information and second guessing was a mug’s game. But when it was over and Rechyai horse rode into the main square in Ria, he wanted the Kaluians to owe him something. A country ruled by the Rechyai under Egil was no place for him, especially when they found out what he was doing in Ara for it was inevitable that they would do so. To prepare for this, as well as building his network and gaining real information for his new bosses, sending Mul and three other agents to work the river carrying Kuluian gold for bribes, he laid out for Canel a vast imaginative structure of contacts (too delicate to be named), paid agents in high places (for whom he collected extra payments in gold) and secret correspondents which gave him valuable information which he essentially made up. The Kaluian had no way of knowing this and took what he


was told as the real thing, a thing of inestimable value to his chief. During the time until the Rechyai came he was considered by the Kaluians to be their main source, a man of real value. And Kal’s intuitive understanding of how the Rechyai progress would go was so accurate that it seemed as if he were the best agent the Kaluians had ever hired anywhere.

   So when the inevitable day arrived that the Rechyai were twenty miles from Ara with little to stop them before they reached the walls, the Colonel called in his favors and the Lord Canel was delighted to embark him on a merchant vessel sailing for the Kanuian port of Gal, the home of the Kaluian navy. Mul and a dark, saturnine man by the name of Yara, accompanied him. When they arrived in Gal, the Kaluian chief of intelligence gave a quiet but well attended dinner of welcome and set the Colonel up in a villa on the outskirts of the city. From here Kal continued to run his networks by letter and proxies, sending report after report to the Kaluian authorities who thought so highly of him they gave him as one of his duties, the extracting of information from Falconian exiles under suspicion of collusion with the Rechyai and eventually, for his work was good, producing excellent results, some of their own merchants they suspected of having made side deals with the Rechyai. The Colonel and Mul, with assistance from their new cohort, Yara, conducted these ‘interviews’ deep in the dungeons below the headquarters of the Chief of Intelligence. The Colonel was back in business



Manah moved so quickly over the plain to the south of the Sah that he arrived at Tula, the mid sized town sitting on the river some fifty miles beyond the Falconian settlements, ten days before his most optimistic estimate. And this despite encountering Falconian horse, regulars and irregulars on the plain. He routed them with detached units while keeping up his drive for the river. The detached units drove the Falconians some one hundred and fifty miles past Tula and then set up a series of fortified camps to prevent further infiltration. Manah, with the main body, dug a fortified camp on the south side of the river at Tula.


To the east of them, along the plain side of the Falconian farm settlements he left a chain of small units reaching all the way back to the old camp. These detachments regularly patrolled the plain acting as a long fence pinning the Falconians against the river.

Rankor arrived in Tula two weeks later, floating his foot down the Sah in boats and rafts. He had sent Ryo to accompany Manah to keep an eye on him and make sure he did not overplay his orders. He also gave to Ryo the task of negotiating with the farmers. He didn’t trust Manah in this role. Rankor wanted the Falconians to be dealt with gently not for reasons of humanity but policy. On the march to Ara he did not want to leave behind  a hornets nest of sedition sending information to the enemy and supplying enemy irregulars. He was not so naïve as to think he could make the farmers love the Rechyai but he wanted to neutralize them or at least radically limit the damage they might do to the stretched out flanks of the Rechyai army as it moved down the river.

During the two weeks they waited for Rankor, Manah champed at the bit. He wanted to send riders into the Falconian villages and roundup the headmen as hostages. Ryo, with Rankor’s authority behind him, said no. Manah was furious. He accused Ryo of allowing the main men from the villages to escape across river and on to Ara but Ryo would have none of his blustering.

“Who gives a damn if they all go across the river and down to Ara? Good riddance. Then they and their friends will not be skulking around the ribs of our stretched out units. We have pickets on the north bank to make sure there is no movement of food or goods and that’s what we are concerned about. We want to eat their grain, not the Falconians.”

Manah snorted. “There are many thousands of them they say. If we allow them to escape down river then we will have to fight them later. Why not deal with them now when we have them penned up?”

“They are farmers, Manah. If they go down river then they will not magically turn into soldiers but instead will become a charge on the Falconian authorities who will have to feed them. Military units formed of such men would be useless. We would cut them to pieces in minutes. If they go while leaving the silos full and the animals in the fields we will not hamper them.”

“And if they decide to burn before they go?”

“There are units right now posting notices up on the Falconian town halls. They say in


effect that the Rechyai do not care where the villagers go but if there is burning or an attempt to carry away animals or grain, the village will be surrounded and everyone butchered.”

As it turned out the villagers did not care to go. Most of these farming families had been living in the same district for many hundreds of years and, especially with the Rechyai threats, which they had no doubt would be carried out if they tried escaping with their animals, they decided the best thing to do was stay and try negotiating a deal. Other than the postings in the villages the Rechyai stayed out of the farmland. The villagers, increasingly apprehensive as the days slipped by, sent a delegation to the camp in Tula. The Falconian villagers were very traditional and all of the ten men sent to talk were over the age of sixty.

Ryo had them ushered into his tent and seated in comfortable chairs. He had servants put tables before them and set out upon them fresh roasted meat, fruit, pastries and yag. After they sat for a while and refreshed themselves he came in through the back door and sat in a chair opposite. The Falconians stared at him for a long time. He was dressed in full war gear including the long two handled sword and the triangular helmet meant to deflect a downward blow off the shoulder. Ryo was very tall - six foot seven – but on the thin side. However the full cape, opened at the front to show the polished armor, made him seem very broad and very impressive. After he sat down Ryo looked at each man very carefully as if he were memorizing their faces for further reference. Then, after a few more moments of silence he spoke.

“The Rechyai need four things from you. The first is food - grains, flour, vegetables, meat, cheese, dried fruits, raisins, and so on. We want all that is surplus to your own needs until the next harvest. The second thing is animals – one half the cattle, goats, sheep and pigs. As well all the horses other than older animals for plowing. The third is land. One half of your land will be confiscated to be turned over to Rechyai settlers who will follow behind the army. How you will redistribute the land left to you will be up to yourselves. The fourth and last thing is that you have no communication with the enemy, that you in no way support the Falconian irregulars who we have recently driven off the plain but who, no doubt, will eventually filter back.”

Ryo took a drink from the cup sitting on the table beside his chair and continued.

“If you do these things you will be guaranteed the possession of the land left you.  The Rechyai prefer it this way for many reasons, the main being that the Falconian farmers can teach the Rechyai the way this kind of land is to be farmed, but as well, General Egil


does not want to totally supplant the original people he finds here. He wants to seed in amongst you loyal Rechyai who will guarantee the stability of the new state. Behind the army comes an administration – surveyors, magistrates, clerks. When the lands are laid out according to the new pattern you will be given deeds to your land guaranteed by the Rechyai state and those who own property will be given citizenship. A citizen can go before the courts to defend himself against injustice and if he wins his case be given redress. This will be the same for Rechyai, Nia, or Falconians citizens, no distinction will be made between them.”    

The Falconian elders absorbed this without saying a word. After a few moments passed by and it became obvious Ryo was finished speaking, at least for now, a thin man in the center of the Falconian row cleared his throat and said, “General, the requirements for feeding the Rechyai army are reasonable and better than a subjected people are usually given but that we must give up half our land is hard. We have been living here in this place for five hundred years and the work of both ourselves and a long line of ancestors have made us comfortable. Now half of this is to be taken away and given to new people. When we take this back to our people they will be angry. There are some among us who are prosperous and the one half left them will be sufficient but those whose present holdings barely feed their families will face disaster.”

“Then the prosperous ones will have to share so that everyone has at least a bare sufficiency. As well, the farmers, both Rechyai and Falconian, will be given new plots of land on the north edge of the plain. You could grow crops close in to the river and graze your animals on the plain land. A few years of adjustment and you will have recovered. For the Rechyai to take half your land for our own settlers is reasonable. General Egil is a reasonable man. There are many who spoke in council for confiscating all the farmland and sending the Falconians on rafts down river to Ara but the General has over ruled them and decided on a policy of blending the populations thus creating a stronger empire able to defend itself against enemies on the Salt Sea. You should thank your lucky stars we are here talking rather than the Rechyai army wading bloody through your villages. It is natural to be angry when someone takes something away from you. But you should also consider that your people have been shielded from an even crueler fate of death or dispossession.”

“And we do consider this, General, for being men of affairs we realize the Rechyai taking only half our land and allowing us to continue farming on the other half, is more generous than the usual fate of a conquered people. But every group of people have their hotheads. We here before you are grateful the Rechyai have decided on a policy of blending. We are more than willing to comply with your food requirements. We assure you that no communication will be set up with people outside the villages and no supplies


will be given to irregulars as you call them. We realize that to do so would only bring disaster down upon the heads of people. The village councils will cooperate and work with the Rechyai and no one else. We understand you are the new law of the land.”

“However, I must say, General, that new land on the plain is unlikely to work out. We have tried many times in our history to expand our farms south but raiders and bandits have always driven us back into the old villages. Twice the Arans sent troops to help us. When the troops were here the raiders stayed in the south but as soon as they were gone they came back.”

“General Egil is aware of this for he has read your Falconian histories. As soon as Ara has been captured Horse will be sent from Hawan to ride against the raiders. In the meantime you have a line of Rechyai horse sitting to your south. The General knows you have finished your harvest work. Fortunately the weather has remained mild. He asks that right away you take your animals and plows out to the edge of the plain and there plow as much land as possible for spring planting. Don’t worry about who owns it. When the administrator and surveyors arrive they can decide all that. In the west when the Rechyai capture Ara they will need foodstuffs from here to feed the Arans while defending themselves from enemies on the Salt Sea. The more land you plow and make ready the happier the General will be. Perhaps I should not tell you this but he has confided in me that if the Farmers make a great effort and do not tie his troops up in police actions then the split could be made even more generous – sixty, forty in favor of the Falconians lets say. The General is a generous man and he knows how to reward his friends.”

The possibility of a more generous split made the Falconians marginally happier and after shaking Ryo’s hand, they left, promising full cooperation.

Manah was seated at the map table in his tent when Ryo entered. He smiled. Manah had a glorious smile. His teeth were big and perfectly even and as white as polished ivory. An impulsive man, his smiles were almost always genuine and when they were not it was obvious for they were more grimaces showing teeth than smiles. His men said Manah smiled like a tiger and they were right although it seems a strange thing to animate such a fierce animal as a tiger with a human smile. While Ryo sat down in the chair opposite him at the table Manah rose to pour him a cup of yag. He poured a half cup for he knew if he poured more Ryo would not drink it all. His own cup he filled to the brim for he loved drinking yag almost as much as he loved fighting. Ryo explained to him the results of the meeting with the farmers. When he was finished, Manah said,


“They are lying.”

“How?” Ryo asked.

 “I don’t think they have any intention of cutting off communication with the Falconian forces. They think we will be driven back. They are playing a double game. My spies tell me that there are Falconian irregulars hidden among the villagers.”

“And my spies tell me the same thing, Manah,” said Ryo.

“Well then we can agree we have to root them out then,” said Manah.

“Why? In the situation as it is they have no alternative but to act like farmers so the best response from us is to pretend they are farmers. If they busy themselves with plowing fields on the plain whether they are irregulars or farmers is irrelevant. Strong young men plowing fields is what Egil wants. What exactly is in their minds and hearts he does not really care.”

“But if we don’t weed them out they can band together and attack our men.”

“That would be suicidal. Even their own leaders will be telling them to lay low and do what they are told. As we move along the river communication with their commanders will be cut off entirely. With every mile of river we take the fact that they are Falconian irregulars will become more and more irrelevant until they wake up one day and find themselves Falconian farmers living under the Rechyai. In the meantime they will be working to provide Rechyai troops with foodstuffs and animals. For us this is a much more sensible use for such men than to waste resources rooting them out.”

Manah put up a little more fight but then subsided. His private opinion was that the villages should be razed but he knew Egil, Rankor and Ryo were all opposed to this so he held his tongue.

Rankor, however was not so sure that Manah would not try inciting some kind of incident in the villages making it difficult for Rankor to restrain the soldiery. He detached the units forming the fence around the villages from Manah’s command and sent a young commander loyal to himself to take over command. At first Manah was furious but he was nothing if not a realist and after a few days fuming he turned his mind to making plans for the horse attack on Ara. He considered Ara his great opportunity because the nature of the campaign would be such that the horse would be at the center of its capture. With Rankor’s permission he sent spies to both Ara and the seacoast to the north and


south. He wanted maps. He wanted accurate descriptions of terrain, villages, boats, food depots, everything. “We will be like a ravenous pack of birds,” he told his captains. “We will be gobbling them up before they are aware we have arrived.”


   Rankor spent many of his evenings now at a fire on the banks of the Sah. His officers had cleared an area of trees and dug a pit and, as soon as it was dark they lit a fire which cast flames, sparks and cinders high into the air while the men warmed themselves and drank their mugs of yag. Although he was growing old (he was sixty-seven) Rankor could still stay up late talking and the next morning be up early. His one concession to age was that now, in his tent in the late afternoon, he had a nap. His men at first ragged him about this for the Rechyai are great ‘drivers’ often going for long periods of time with little sleep and almost never sleeping during the day, but they eventually grew used to Rankor’s afternoon disappearances and said no more about them.

   Usually Rankor awoke on his own after an hour’s sleep but occasionally he slept more and his aide had instructions to wake him if he did. One day, as winter was fast approaching with skeins of ice appearing on the puddles in the early morning, Rankor lay down for his nap and was still asleep after the hour had passed by. The aide, a young man, slipped into the tent to shake him by the shoulder and wake him. But shake as he did Rankor did not wake. He had died during his nap of a cerebral hemorrhage.

   The army went into shock. Not only was Rankor well loved by his men, unpretentious, straight forward and at times even considerate and kind, qualities known to few Rechyai commanders, he was an excellent strategist. With him the army always felt it was in good hands. Their confidence in their commander had forged itself a keener and keener edge through many trials and was now practically bottomless. Yet, everyone, including great commanders, has their fate and that was the day appointed for Rankor to be carried up into the great hall beyond the mountains.

   They washed his body, combed out his long grey hair with combs dipped in oil, dressed him in his finest war gear and placed him on a giant bier constructed on the bank of the river. After each company of the army in turn trooped by to salute and say goodbye to their dead commander, tears of genuine grief streaming from their eyes, aides thrust torches into the piles of oiled wood and the flames leaped high into what was that day a


gray and overcast sky. While it was burning the men, in deep, stentorian voices, sang old hymns to the gods of war they had learned when they were children. The next morning they gathered his ashes and sent them back to Hawan to his wife and children.

   Ryo, Rankor’s second in command, was a much younger man, tall and thin with jet black hair and prominent eye bones giving the impression that he looked at you from the depths of a deep, shadowy cave. He was not gregarious like Rankor but retiring. In the evenings he always spent an hour by the fire with the men but that hour seemed like a matter of policy rather than pleasure. When it was over he retired to his tent. There he read books from a trunk which accompanied him everywhere, sitting in the corner of his tent covered by a blanket of rough wool. Much of his reading was about history and war but he had a collection of sagas as well and collections of poetry. One would think that the Rechyai, so warlike and manly, would distain poetry but the exact opposite was true. Even the most uneducated man in the army carried around in his head at least a few dozen quotes from the old books and it was not uncommon for a man, unable to read and write, to have committed to memory the lines of an entire saga. Of course, with exceptions for the odd tale of passionate love, the contents of this poetry was war, battle and struggle. Still, the Rechyai had a great love for words and exalted utterance.

   In rising through the ranks of the Rechyai Ryo had an unusual path. Orphaned at the age of seven as the result of an epidemic in the north country he was taken in by relatives, a very poor family whose father made his living by chopping wood and who had no property. There were eight other children and despite both father and mother being hard working and sober, there were winters in which they were forced to register at the communal food house and eat there in the company of the other indigents. But this shaming in the eyes of the community, heavily bourn by his adopted siblings, never seemed to bother Ro. This was because of his insatiable curiosity. While they took the path to the communal house with nervous reluctance, Ryo strode along cheerfully for he thoroughly enjoyed the larger life that he saw there outside the confines of his own family’s house.

   Ryo was lucky in his adopted parents. The mother treated him as if he were one of her own, and the other children, excepting of course for the occasional dig in the heat of battle, followed their mother’s line. The father, who could easily have been one of the many drunken, brutal Rechyai fathers, instead was a kind and steady man totally devoted to his wife and children. Ryo was a bright boy, the brightest of the lot, but this meant little in the place to which he was born for in the normal course of events he would be given no opportunity to develop his talents. But he was a boy of character, determined and tenacious.


   There were no books in his house and neither mother or father could read or write. As soon as the children were old enough to work at all, at seven or eight, they were hired out for small jobs wherever they could be found and by the time they were ten most were off working on farms or fishing or chopping trees out of the forest like their father. Ryo, at the age of eight, walked everyday to a farm at the edge of the village where he looked after a prosperous farmer’s pigs. The farmwife was childless and, taking a liking to this courteous, handsome little boy, she paid for lessons from a farmer nearby, a retired soldier who was a terrible drunk but at the same time a lover of words and books. Ryo was a quick study and the old man, lonely in his book loving, for the few students he had were sent to learn only the rudiments so they could read contracts and write out bills, was delighted to have him. In six months the boy was reading entire books and by the time he was twelve he had read every book in the old man’s surprisingly large collection. The books were mostly the spoils of war and occasionally when he had too many mugs of yag, the old man would show Ryo his still large bicep, telling him that what he was now enjoying with his brain what the old soldier had won with his strong arm.

   When he was twelve Ryo began going with his father into the woods to cut trees. He hated it and when a band of Rechyai warriors heading south came through the village the next spring he followed them, cleaning, cooking, making fires so energetically and efficiently that, when two years later he had a growth spurt, springing up to six feet and then more, the men started to teach him how to fight. He was skinny but surprisingly strong and his long arms and legs gave him an advantage in battle. He fought with this band of raiders for five years on the lakes in the north country and then joined them when the Rechyai began the sweep down the River Eg.

   When fighting along the Eg, Ryo came to the notice of Egil, always on the lookout for good fighters. First Egil noticed Ryo’s height – he was six foot seven, but that was just an unusual sight, like seeing a very tall pine tree. What attracted him in a more significantly way was Ryo’s cool courage in battle. He never became overheated and half insane like many of the other fighters, but fought with a disciplined technique and a bright intelligence. Despite his youth, in battle other fighters followed his lead as if he were a grizzled veteran. Egil asked him to join him and lead a unit of his own fighters and Ryo agreed.

   It was in Klegit country that Ryo started finding shelves of books in abandoned farms. He began collecting them, storing them in a trunk he found one day floating empty in the Eg. After he carried this trunk with him everywhere he went, his position as a unit commander and then, shortly after, being place in charge of separate operations, gave him the wherewithal to do so. As well as his trunk, he had a farmhouse on the Eg where a large room was filled with books. The books gave him a connection with Egil broader


than if they were just fighters together. When they were in the same camp the two men traded books and often spent evenings talking about them or reading favorite passages to one another.
   Egil deeply felt Rankor’s death. They had been comrades of many years and he had never once regretted taking Rankor from the ranks of unit commanders and making him a General. The last showing of Rankor’s competence and decency was when Egil sent him Ryo, just turned twenty five, as second in command, the old man never questioned his decision. He too saw the qualities in the young man Egil saw and took him under his wing. He could easily have frozen Ryo out, after all he could be seen as a young rival and his temperament was very different than his own. He even had no jealousy for the young man’s obvious intellect but rather had him read to him some of the more obscure tales of Rechyai history and then discuss and argue with him about them. Ryo wept at his burning and considered the old man his fourth father, after his own natural father, Egil and his adopted father.

   Egil sent a message down the river confirming Ryo in his new posting as General of the army.

   It was difficult for the Rechyai themselves to gain intelligence in Falconian territory. But Rankor’s intelligence chief, a squat, ugly man with an infectious grin and a great store of ribald jokes, had succeeded in cobbling together Nia spies who brought them a great deal of information. One of these pieces of information came in a month after Rankor’s funeral. The information was brought by a Nia spy who often went into Falconian territory traveling as a tinker and gleaning from what he heard in the taverns and inns along the way.

  The Falconians, according to the Nia spy, were withdrawing troops from the fortifications to the west on the Sah at Nali. Apparently their enemies on the Salt Sea had heard of the Falconian troubles and were raiding allies on islands off the coast. The Falconians needed troops to repulse these raids and, since it was the thinking of their staff that there would be no winter fighting on the Sah, or at least little, they decided to withdraw some of their troops to the seacoast. “How many?” Ryo asked but the Nia did not know. He gave the man gold and sent him back into Falconian territory to see if he could find out more details.

   The man never returned but other Nia spies did. They told him the Falconians had
sent units back down the river, amounting, perhaps, to one third of the troop strength at Nali. Ryo met with his staff. The Rechyai usually didn’t fight in the winter but that was back in the old country when the soldiers retired to their farms in the cold weather and


came back again in the late spring after the crops were sown. When asked if they thought the army would fight well in the snow, the opinion on staff was why not? They spent all day mapping out a series of possible approaches to a winter attack. They spread out maps upon Ryo’s table and argued until late at night, coming back again the next day for more. Some wanted to start any movement west with probing movements to see what they would come up against. Others were nervous that if that met stiff resistance and had to dig in then the ground would be frozen and unworkable. “But it would be so for them as well,” Ryo said.

   After three days of this Ryo took two days to think and then sent a message to Egil requesting permission for a winter attack. Egil replied in the affirmative. But Ryo decided to wait for a month until deep winter set in and the river was frozen. He sent a request for settlers to the General. Fortunately a great many Rechyai had arrived through Rock Run that fall and the General replied that he would start bands of them down the river within days. It was essential, Ryo told him, to plant Rechyai settlers among the Falconian farmers. Otherwise the elongated flanks of the Rechyai army would be vulnerable to attack by irregulars.

Three weeks later the settlers along with an administrator, magistrates and surveyors arrived at Tuli. Ryo had them escorted to the villages where the Falconians had already vacated half the farmhouses to accommodate them. This, under Ryo’s instructions, was done in a square pattern, or as close to a square as the layout of the farms would allow, the square holding twenty farms with dwellings. Along with this the farmers had been instructed to turn in all swords, spears, javelins, long knives or other weapons of war. Ryo sent his own guard to sweep through the villages searching houses and barns. The guard found very little, a few dozen old swords, some long knives and a few shields.

The settlers marched to their new homes through a silent countryside for the Falconians stayed inside their houses. The settlers themselves were armed as Rechyai farmers always were and Ryo did not leave soldiers behind in the villages for if they were attacked they could defend themselves. This arrangement, over the next few years worked out well. Although a fifty-fifty split was kept for the farms, Ryo gave the Falconians seventy percent of the lands they plowed on the plain during the mild fall. The leaders of the Rechyai settlers had a rough wisdom which eventually won the Falconians over. There were incidents and some killing but the majority of the two communities preferred cooperation. Five years after the arrival of the Rechyai the two groups began to intermarry.

Tuli was thirty miles up river from the Falconian stronghold Nali. Even stripped of one


third of its complement – if the spy reports were true – Nali was formidable. Two hundred thousand Falconian sat there behind well built fortifications, one third of them horse. Across the river was a bridge of boats and upstream to the east some ten miles was a fortified outpost manned by ten thousand of the most seasoned troops the Falconians had. Their job was to absorb the shock of the Rechyai attack, hopefully splitting it and leaving the Rechyai open to a variety of counter attacks by the Falconians in Nali. The Falconians kept their cavalry far back off the banks of the Sah on either side of the river. Their job would be to attack and harass the Rechyai flanks. General Tonn, the Falconian commander, a plebian who had risen through the ranks as a result of his excellence in battle command, hoped that these flank attacks would find weak spots and exploit them, thus blunting to some degree the fierceness of the Rechyai forward movement against Nali. His plan was to force the Rechyai to lay siege and then to use horse and irregulars in their rear to cut off their supplies.

Unlike Phid the General was not a braggart, nor was he given to making extravagant claims about what his army would do to the Rechyai. He saved his energy for the long days necessary to oversee the preparations and met all queries on the outcome of the clash with a blank look and a quiet ‘we shall see’. In council if a member of his staff indulged in speculation he told him to shut up. Even among his confidants he kept his opinions to himself, telling them that the army which moves with intelligence and fights with intense, focused vigor would gain the advantage. It was his hope that the two armies would lock one another in a bear hug and the outcome would be determined by one bringing enough pressure to bear to break the others ribs. This kind of battle would be to the advantage of the Falconians for it would be slow and laborious and allow the General to bring up reserves from Ara in a steady and eventually overwhelming stream.

But what he feared most from the Rechyai was their speed and strategic boldness. When given the command he had immediately sent for men who had fled from the east. He spent several days talking to those his aides managed to round up. He even spoke with cooks and drummer boys. The picture he formed of the Rechyai was ominous – fierce, relentless, fast, in the ranks made up of fearless men lusting after battle and glory and in the highest command guided by strategic intelligence. Granted Eth could have appointed a more capable commander for Rock Run but Tonn wondered if it would have made much of a difference. The bulk of the eastern Falconian army had fought the Rechyai on the plain, commanded by a good General, using classical tactics and yet it had been defeated and utterly routed. A few thousand Rechyai horse together with rag tag allies had been enough to defeat the Calanians in the south. The Rechyai had treated the garrisons on the east Sah with distain. They simply rode around them, cut off their supplies and turned them into a rabble escaping to the north or south.


Nali, however, was a different matter. The great city of Ara lay immediately behind and connected to Nali by the umbilical cord of the river. The fortifications, on both sides of the river were massive, well designed and well manned. There were enough reserves to withstand a dozen Rechyai frontal attacks no matter how fierce they were. A dispatch sent west on the river would bring him another fifty thousand troops within a week. This was not Rock Run or the plain before the city of Hawan. The Calanians, the General thought, were a useless bunch, not worth the gold spent on them, practitioners of ceremonial rather than real war. At Nali the Rechyai would find the real Falconians  – tough, resourceful and immovable.


Manah was put out that Ryo had been appointed Commanding General rather than himself. But he was too kenetic a man to brood for more than a few days. He still had his horse in what amounted to a separate, independent command. And he had to admit that Ryo did not put on airs. He was still Ryo, using too many words to say simple things like always, but accessible and friendly. The only real difference was that while before Ryo came to him for a conference, now he went to Ryo.

Early one morning, three weeks after the death of Rankor, Ryo sent an aide to rouse Manah out of bed and meet him at a deserted spot on the river bank. Ryo was seated on log beside a fire by himself for the small guard and complement of officers he had with him were well away out of earshot. Manah left his own guard with them and walked to where the General was sitting.

“An assassin could approach along the path where there is no guard,” Manah said.

“There is a guard there as well. You just can’t see them. Besides Manah, the assassin will have to be a superman to overcome the both of us.”

Manah laughed and then sat down on a stool across the fire from Ryo.

Ryo wasted no time on preliminaries. “The Falconians have two hundred thousand troops at Nali, behind earth and brick walls built in a star pattern so that attackers are exposed to arrows and other missles from two sides. Their supply line is along the river, fast for now, for it is by boat, but fast enough even when the water freezes and they must use


sleds. They have an additional one hundred thousand men in Ara they could move east to reinforce the battlements at Nali. As well they have fifty thousand horse. This should be sufficient, under normal circumstances, to prevent our flanking them or even going around them like we did with some positions east on the river. They have enough food within the battlements for a year. They have all the arrows, javelins, swords, and so on any army could wish for and more. It would seem to me, as massive as their numbers are, as well supplied as they are and well horsed that we have no alternative but to attack them. That’s what they think and, if we think about it superficially then that is what we should think as well.”

“And if we don’t think about it superficially?”

“We will get to that in a moment but for now let’s work out the logic of it all. They sit there because they can see no alternative for us but to attack them. After all why build all those nice walls and carry heavy rocks up stairs to throw down on us if we are not going to come at them with ladders and shield walls and other machines? They block the path to Ara. To get to Ara we must remove them. But to remove them will be much too costly. The old books say that to attack a well defended place one must have a numerical advantage of four to one. Our numbers are smaller than those of the Falconians. Not much but still smaller. As well even if we did a frontal assault, breached the walls and drove the Falconians back to Ara it would, in a sense, be a victory for them. We would loose half our complement, they only one third if that. They could retreat in order down the river to another fortified place where they would swell another defending army behind the walls of Ara. Some weeks later we would be standing before the walls of Ara with half our number, facing walls defended by twice our numbers at least. Maybe more. If we attack Nali we are doing exactly what the Falconian General wants us to do. Their strategy is to wear us down, to whittle us away, and then when we are thin and weak, to overwhelm us. A very sensible strategy. If I were the Falconian General I would do exactly what he is doing.”

“Not me,” said Manah.


“No. I would flare out the horse on the flanks and move up the river to attack us. I would send out a flotilla of armed boats to break the bridge, ferry troops behind us and attack us from the rear. I would arouse the Falconian farmers, arm them as irregulars and have them attack our supply lines.”

“And you and I would be planning exactly that right now, Manah, if we were within the


walls of Nali. But we are not within the walls of Nali but out here on the open river. The Falconians are within the walls of Nali and they have limitations which prevent them from doing these things you speak of, very sensible things a good General would already be doing. Unlike the Rechyai the Falconian rank and file are almost all conscripts. They are paid almost nothing and they are treated abysmally by noble officers who think nothing of having a man killed for an imaginary insult. The Rechyai, if we win, have many things to look forward to – money, land, women, social position. Those with ambition and discipline can become great merchants and overlords. Those without can while away their retirements in well built farmhouses with yag cellars second to none. For the Falconian soldiers things are different. They go back to being serfs on the noble’s farms. They go back to being servants of Lords in the city. At the end of the war they are in exactly the same place as at the beginning. The chief fear of the Falconian rank and file is that they will be killed in battle. The only benefit the war offers them is that they will stay alive. The motivations of the two armies are vastly different.”

“As well as the motivations being different, the tactical capabilities are different as well. The Falconian General does not advance up the river because he has no confidence in his troops being able to do so. He has some trained and capable units but the majority of his army is not capable of executing coordinated movements. They can stand on a wall and hurl missiles. They can push ladders away with a long forked pole but they cannot advance up river without falling all over themselves and becoming a confused, leaderless rabble. He has set them up to fight the only kind of battle they can fight – a defense from within a fortified position. At this, no doubt, his men will fight like tigers for they will know the consequence of the Rechyai breaching the walls. Gathered into a great mass behind their walls, they will be formidable and perhaps even unbeatable. They will be fighting with the confidence their walls give them, with a secure retreat route behind. In this situation the Rechyai would be insane to attack Nali. We would be taking our weakness and throwing it at their strength.”

“Well then,” said Manah, “What should we do?”

“In normal circumstances I would say we should use the movement you know so well and go around but in this case no. The Falconian army is too big. We cannot simply go around it and leave it in our rear as we march on to attack Ara. No. We have to deliver a decisive blow to the Falconians at Nali but in such a way as it costs us as little as possible. The key to this is the layout of their fortifications. You have seen the drawings in my tent. Incredibly, or at least it seems incredible to me, there are no walls directly over the river. The whole channel of the river through Nali is undefended excepting for the bridge of boats. This is not such a problem for the Falconians as long the river is flowing water but when it freezes the river offers a road which the Rechyai army can


consider the main highway to Ara. Your horse will smash the bridge of boats and any opposition they send down from the fortifications. Their cavalry is stationed on the wings and will be too late arriving to prevent a breakthrough. The army will march with pike units all along the flanks much like you told me the Calanians march. We will deliver the Falconain army the terrible mental blow of marching through their midst with impunity and turning to face them, positions reversed, on the other side.”

“But still, Ryo, if we go on to Ara then we still leave the Falconian army behind us.”

“Yes, but we will leave them with twenty-five thousand Rechyai preventing them from moving west.”

“Is that enough?”

“I think so. The Falconian horse is inferior. Most are farmer’s lads and although they will vastly outnumber the horse we will leave behind the difference in quality and maneuverability will make up for it. The Falconian foot is essentially defensive. If the General moves them out against us the river terrain offers us plenty of scope to outmaneuver. Besides they will have not to hold them in for so long by themselves. Egil is sending down half the Rechyai troops in Hawan along with several thousand Nia and Sege horsemen. They are coming down the river trails now and should be here a month after the river freezes solid, that is week after we are off to Ara. The job of those before Nali to the east and west will be simply to keep the Falconians hemmed in while we conquer Ara. The intention is to have Nali act as a huge jail for the bulk of the Falconian army.”

”And the Falconian forward fortress?”

“We will go through it in the same way we will go through Nali. They have almost no horse and are not mobile enough to give our rear guard a major problem.”



A week after Ryo’s conversation with Manah the temperature plummeted. It became so cold the men heated stones in the fires, laid them on the ground in the tents, and topped


them with straw and long shields to sleep on. The most sought after people in the camps were the Nia women who knew how to sew parkas, seams sealed with grease, and with hoods protecting the face from the wind. The river froze solid. Three weeks of this weather and the Nia fishermen told Ryo the ice would hold horses, men, wagons, whatever. But Manah and Ryo told their plan to no one. When their Captains asked for information they told them Egil was thinking. Maybe they might sit here for the winter they said. Maybe it was too cold to go anywhere until spring. The men grumbled like soldiers enduring forced inactivity always grumble.

When the ice was solid they scraped the snow off a section and played a game the Nia taught them. They cut sticks from the woods and carved one end into the shape of a spoon. In this they carried a frozen rag wrapped into a tight ball. There were two teams and they passed the ball from one team mate to another with a quick flick of the wrist. At first they were awkward at both sending and receiving but with some coaching from the Nia who played this game from when they were young children, they became very good at it. When one team reached the end of a rectangle of ice they scored a point by carrying the ball to the top of a hill of snow. Tripping or smashing the ball carrier with one’s shoulder was permissible and players used the stick to jab and even two hand the ball carrier so the game was rough and violent, perfect for the Rechyai. During one day’s play three men were killed by being bashed over the head with sticks. This involved clan strife and blood payments so Ryo issued an order that ‘Get There’, the name of the game, could only be played by men wearing war helmets. After that injuries were largely limited to bruises and broken bones.

 Manah loved ‘Get There’ but his planning duties limited his playing time. He was the captain of the best Rechyai team and the greatest scorer of points partly because he was so big and mobile but also because few men were willing to use their sticks on him, he being a big General and all, and also a man much given to retaliation. But the Nia were the best team by far. Smaller than the Rechyai they were also faster and better at evasive tactics. When you arrived at the Nia man with the ball it was already gone. Wearing borrowed Rechyai helmets, the Nia team won every match even those against Manah’s team, partly because the Nia were not afraid to trip the great General or one bash him on the helmet while another knocked the ball out of his spoon. Two days before the army moved out Manah’s team lost to the Nia by only one point. This put the Rechyai into a delirium of joy so keen were they to master everyone both in war and games resembling war.

Two days before the drive west the Captains were called in and told the plan. Ryo had a complete list of unit placements for the foot and Manah the same for the horse. Baggage wagons and horse not in the spearhead were to travel in the center of the march. If


attacked the flank pikes were to charge enough to repulse and then return to their ranks. They were to consider themselves men running a gauntlet with the difference that they would pound those approaching them rather than the other way around. The goal was to march through Nali, not attack and occupy it. Nali was a barren fortress filled only with Falconian bodies and war gear. Ara, on the other hand, the objective, was an incredibly rich city filled with gold and women. Ara they would attack and occupy.

The men were happy their Generals had decided to do something. They had not relished the idea of sitting all winter in this frozen place thinking up ways of staying warm. The Nia told them the weather on the coast, ameliorated by the Salt Sea, was much milder. There, even in winter, they could sit on the wharves and drink yag in the afternoon sun. The baggage handlers cut trees and made skis for wagons, attaching them onto the wheels which in turn were tied to the cross beams so they could not turn. The Nia claimed the horses could pull the wagons on skiis much easier than on wheels and Ryo listened. Inside the wall, twenty pikemen deep, on the flanks, Ryo placed all the army’s archers other than the horse archers who rode with Manah in the vanguard. He had also worked out a schedule of relieving the pikemen being attacked every hour so exhausted men were not bearing the brunt of the Falconian attacks. Fortunately the temperatures, after four weeks of deep freeze, warmed considerably two days before the army moved out and stayed that way for a week and a half.

The first part of the march was forced for Ryo wanted to hit the Falconian outpost at daybreak. They started marching at midnight, the light of the stars in the clear sky enough to guide them on the open river covered with bright fresh snow. Manah begged Ryo to allow him to go ahead of the slow foot and hit the Falconians when they were still sleeping. First Ryo argued against this but his Captains sided with Manah and in the end he compromised by sending Manah’s horse with two foot units composed of young athletic men jogging behind them.

“Keep them in sight,” Ryo said to Manah as he was about to ride out.

Manah said nothing and Ryo exploded. “Goddamn it man I told you to keep them in sight and you will answer me or you can join the baggage train.”

Manah smiled sheepishly. “I’ll keep them in sight. I promise.”

“And I will keep you to your promise, Manah. Glory lies in the whole army’s victory not in that of a single unit. Those who cannot obey sane orders are friends of the Falconians not the Rechyai.”


Manah blushed a deep red and rode off. But Ryo’s admonishment had its effect.

The Falconians, after watching the Rechyai dig in and play their Nia game on the frozen river, decided they were waiting for reinforcements. To attack fortified Nali with no siege machines and smaller numbers than those defending would be suicide even for the vaunted Rechyai fighters. So when Manah’s horse, jogging troopers barely in sight in their rear, arrived at the outpost the Falconians were completely surprised. The fortifications were earthworks with two sally gates facing east. Manah’s first riders hacked the wooden gates to pieces with their axes and the horse poured into the round fort where ten thousand men were sleeping in tents on the field ground contained by the walls. The Falconians came out of their tents half naked swinging their swords gamely but within the hour half were dead and the other half gone over the southern wall and into the woods. Manah detached two units to chase them and came back to the frozen river. He set up a line of horse to the west out from the river to prevent fleeing Falconians bringing news to the fort at Nali. The Rechyai foot gathered up the stores and war gear, loaded them onto the Falconian wagons and brought them to the river.

Obeying Ryo’s instructions, Manah waited until he could see the body of the army behind him and then moved on toward Nali.

It was first light when scouts came back to tell Manah Nali was around the next bend. He waited for Ryo to come riding up.

“What we planned is too concentrated, Manah. I want you to divide the horse in three. Leave us two thousand to act as our van. I’ll command it. The rest, in two arrows, drive through the Falconians on the land side of their fortifications far enough away from the walls to avoid missiles. This will confuse them and divide their forces. The Nia tell me that there should be little in front of you. Once through curl back around to rejoin us on the river.”

Manah, excited at the prospect of fast riding and killing Falconians, divided his forces with his second in command. The two groups of horsemen rode up the river banks on either side aiming themselves to the north and south of the Falconian walls they could now see vaguely in the distance. The horses, fed oats and watered from holes in the ice two miles up river, were in good shape, eager to run.

Again surprise was the most effective warrior of the day. Two escapees from the outpost battle had made it to the Nali battlements but they were rank and file conscripts and the duty officer at the gate was loath to wake his commanding officer on the strength of two


exhausted, barely understandable low lives babbling about the Rechyai. After listening to them for a quarter of an hour he had a soldier wake up the duty officer due on in a few hours. He had to shave and dress and did not come up the stairs for another half hour. By the time the Commander of the guard was woken and came into the guardroom Manah and his second in command had just cleared the riverbanks.

Ryo and his vanguard of horse came round the bend on the run and charged the bridge of boats which it rode over and through as if it were a line of paper. The Rechyai foot came running up and butchered the fleeing Falconians as they desperately tried to make it to small gates in the fort walls some hundred yards off the riverbanks.. Then the Rechyai army set themselves to quick march along the river to the other side of Nali.

The Falconians were set up for defense, manning the walls and repelling. They did have assault troops but they were camped, in the fortifications on both sides of the river, near sally ports facing east. By the time they were armed and assembled and their commanders told to sally the tail of the Rechyai army was past them and moving fast down river. The Commanders, at their head of the columns, marched them onto the frozen river. They could see the Rechyai marching away to the west in the distance. This made no sense to them whatsoever. It was as if they suddenly found themselves in a topsy turvy world where all the familiar bearings and anchors had been removed. The commanders spoke amongst themselves but could not make up their minds on a course of action. Finally orders came down from the wall that they were to return to the fort through the sally port. They did.

From the observation tower General Tonn watched the Rechyai moving down river. He sent for the cavalry camped on the wings. He ordered them to come down to the river on the west side of the fortresses, cutting off the streams of Rechyai cavalry and hit the main body of the Rechyai Army on its flanks. He also ordered a sally port cut into the western walls of the fortresses. His commanders on the west walls patched together a force of infantry and horse and sent them through the ports to support the Falconian cavalry descending on the river.

Except they were not descending on the river. Seeing the movement of Falconian horse upland of their arrow headed back to the river, both Manah and his second in command, Alar, detached units to attack them. These units, in the successive waves of attacks the Rechyai had mastered, drove the Falconians back and then broke their line. The Rechyai pursued, more and more breaking off from the arrows to chase the fleeing Falconians.


Both Manah and Alar let them chase but sent messengers to have them stop short of the hills ten miles distance and return. Then, mustering a force of several thousand around them, they continued on to the river.

Ryo, seeing the force of Falconians issue from the newly cut sally ports could not believe his luck. The attackers had unwisely allowed themselves to stretch out in a long line, aiming the column at the Rechyai vanguard. He sent orders back down the line and a square of Rechyai pikemen from each side of the line detached themselves from the main body, heading for the sally ports. Ryo split his vanguard and attacked the Falconian columns head on, rolling them up as if they were wine barrels with units swinging around to attack the flanks. The Falconians, totally out maneuvered, being cut down like wheat sheaths in the field, turned and ran back toward the gate.  By this time, however the Rechyai squares had possession of the gates. The vanguard drove the unfortunate Falconians against the pikes of their countrymen and they were cut down to a man.  

The Falconians frantically sent reinforcements to the sally gate but they could not budge the Rechyai squares. The Falconians on the walls above unleashed arrows and javelins but the Rechyai made a roof of their interlocking shields and endured. Rechyai archers came running up from the river and shot at the Falconians on the walls and over the walls as well, the arrows falling into advancing Falconians inside. While Ryo was praying for Horse, Manah came riding up with what Egil thought to be meager numbers but decided they would have to do. Manah mustered before the Rechyai square, the square split and he and his horse rode through the sally gate into the fortress of Nali.

The slaughter was terrible for the Falconians had been told the Rechyai took no prisoners and tortured to death even wounded men. At one time in the battle the terrified Falconians were pushing the Rechyai back into a compressed oval against the west wall when the horse, finished routing the Falconian cavalry, arrived at the sally gate. They rode through the gate and hit the Falconian line with such force they drove through it to the eastern wall. With successive Rechyai charges the Falconians were broken up into isolated groups fighting desperately for a few more moments of life. This went on all day and into the evening. When it was over one hundred thousand Falconians were dead. The Rechyai corralled the other fifty thousand against the east wall and promised them terms if they threw out their arms. They threw out their arms. Egil allowed groups to come out of the corral and carry their dead and wounded back into their ranks. The Falconians dug ditches, buried their dead and did what they could to sew up their wounded.


The Rechyai built a pyre outside the walls and burned their dead. The fires burned high deep into the night. They lost a little over six thousand dead on the field, with another three dying of wounds over the next week or so.

The Rechyai identified two thousand nobles among the prisoners and executed them all. General Tonn was found in his observation tower lying in a pool of blood, his left wrist slashed. Ryo had three quarters of the Falconian rations taken from the storehouses to accompany the army in its march to Ara. The other quarter he left with the prisoners who agreed to remain in the fort ruling themselves under their remaining officers. One thousand Rechyai, most of them aging or wounded remained behind, outside the walls, to guard them. Ryo told the Colonel, the ranking Falconian officer, that if there was even the slightest sign of the prisoners communicating with the outside he would return and slaughter them all. If they held up to their side of the bargain and remained peaceful and in the fort, they would be released and allowed to return to their homes after the fall of Ara. “You will be bored for a while but alive and fed and then allowed to go home,” He told them. “The Rechyai need you. Dead men cannot farm or make things in the workshops.”

Ryo allowed the army a great victory feast outside the walls of Nali. Thirty thousand sheep and goats were spitted and roasted over open fires. The Falconian storehouses held an excellent beer and a hard liquor second to none. Since the men had no women to dance with they danced with themselves. Some curious Falconians came up onto the west wall and watched. Ryo’s night watch Commander wanted to order them off but Ryo said no. “Leave them alone, they are hurting no one. Someday you yourself will be lying somewhere defeated by war or illness.  Perhaps you will remember these sad Falconians who have had more than their share of death and defeat and be glad that you allowed them the innocent pleasure of watching the fires of other men’s victory.”

A week later the Rechyai began the march down river to Ara.





Wani found life in the new valley to his liking. His life with Am was sometimes difficult but it was also invigorating. He spent two more years finishing his mapping of the mountains, his expenses paid by Neel who had a seemingly bottomless purse when it came to buying books for the library and funding projects like his own. During his last year mapping he traveled with Nawan part of the year. Nawan was drawing plants at the various stages of their development, journeying up and down and across the mountains. In their travels they ran into a young woman with a pony packed with instruments who was taking star sightings from various spots along the Saa range and incorporating them into a massive map which Neel kept in a special room at the library. The young woman was not only Neel’s stargazer but also his occasional lover which surprised the two younger men who thought old men like Neel incapable of such exertions and young women as good looking as Yii, the stargazer, unlikely to receive them. They also ran into a middle aged man, a Koli from the West side of the Saa, who was mapping the ranges of the Saa mountain goats as well as counting numbers of antelope on the lower slopes. What Neel wanted with all this information was a mystery to them but they supposed being old, wise and knowledgable, he had his reasons.

During the winters Wani acting as the meditation leader in the new valley which worked out well for he sat like a rock and was greatly respected by the community. In the third year, in the spring he received a message from Neel that there would be no mapping that year but Neel wanted him to come to the library and finish stitching his smaller local maps into a larger, comprehensive one. Neel thought this would take most of the summer and sent him money to buy supplies for the journey. He also suggested that Am come with him so they would not be separated for the entire warm season.

Am, however, refused to go. She was working on a series of sculptures depicting the farming life in the new valley and did not want to leave her work. Wani tried to convince her to no avail. To soften the blow she promised to fill in for him as the meditation leader and to come for a visit of two weeks or so midsummer.

When Wani arrived at the Ob village he was greeted by Zuzy who brought him to her house and fed him a tasty meal of braised rabbit, new greens and freshly baked bread. They had honey rolls for dessert washed down with mint tea made from plants which grew wild on the mountain. When the meal was finshed he and Zuzy sat on the front porch and drank tea flavored with a spoonful of honey. Wani figured that something was coming after his great grandmother feeding him such an elaborate meal. When they had exchanged all the news they could think of there was a few moments of silence and then Zuzy said,

“Kweya is getting old. He can no longer travel like he once did. Last year he went across


the moutain to the Sege village for a special ceremony to open the Round Hall. When he came back it took him a month to recover. He needs someone to go on a very long journey he cannot undertake himself for it would kill him. This someone can’t be just anyone. It has to be a person well grounded in his sitting who can adapt the teaching and methods to a new people and a new situation. Do you know anyone like that?”

“I suppose there must be a few kicking around the mountain somewhere, grandmother. Kweya would be the one to address that question to.”

“But Kweya says that those who hang around the meditation hall are often not the best ones for undertaking work in far off places where they have to make decisions for themselves. They like the comfort of living in the community which he says can be like floating peacefully in one’s mother’s womb. He says mountain travelers are the best for they often have the eccentric, sometimes disturbing personalities necessary for such work.”

“Where is this place that grandfather wants to send this person to?”

“Many miles away to the west on the Salt Sea, a city called Ara. Kweya says it is populous and fabulously wealthy. Reel and forty healers will soon be going there with the Rechyai Army. When the battles are over they will set up a Healing Hall in Ara. He wants to set up a Meditation Hall as well. The Rechyai General has agreed to allow both in Ara in return for the Healers accompanying his army.”

“But grandmother, my home is in the second valley. Am is there.”

“Am can go with you. Neel says she should go out into the new Rechyai world for a while to establish a market for her exquisite sculptures. Then when she comes back to the valley she can send much of her work to customers in the cities. The Rechyai General Egil likes her statues. As you know, he sent agents to buy more than a dozen of them just last year. Kweya sent a letter to the General asking him if a shop could be set up in Ara where Am could work. The General sent back an enthusiastic response.”

“That old spider is constructing his webs again!” said Wani.

“Of course,” said Zuzy. “That is his job, to ensure that the teaching goes on after his death. What do you expect him to do? Sit mumbling wise words to a few worshipful followers?  There are many out there in the world who can benefit from the teaching and


it is his duty to get it out to them.”

“I will have to talk to Am.”

“Of course. You can send her a letter. There is a group leaving for the second valley tomorrow. They can take it with them.”

Although Wani sent a letter to Am asking her if she was interesting in undertaking the journey, he refused to talk to Kweya. He saw him in the Hall where they meditated together along with everyone else but he nodded and smiled at the old man only. He refused to go to his house and talk with him.

Wani stayed in a small dugout not far from where Am had once lived. One morning he was sweeping his front porch when Neel came up the steep path. Following behind him was a young man of perhaps fourteen. They climbed the stairs to the porch. After greeting them, Wani went inside to make tea. The young man was Neel’s great grandson. He had a great many grandsons and great grandsons and occassionally his relatives sent him a particularly difficult one to see if Neel could find something useful for him to do. Cah was the name of this one, a tall gangly youth who seemed to end every sentence with a braying laugh. Over the past two years Neel had taught the young lad to read and write. He was quick and highly intelligent but also given to strange enthusiasms. One of these  was copulating with sheep. He had been discovered several times by sheep herders in the hills above the valley having sexual congress with a ewe tied to a tree. When Neel was told what the young man was up to he laughed so loudly you could hear him from one end of the valley to another. But when he talked to Caw about the matter he was very serious. “What’s wrong with human females?” he asked him. “They are very demanding,” Caw replied. “They want you to love them and marry them and have children.”

“And what is so horrible about that?” Neel asked.

“I’m not the marrying kind,” Caw replied.

Neel sent him to Kweya who studiously avoided any mention of sheep fucking. Instead he encouraged Caw to come to extra meditation sessions which he did. Yet still, once every month or so the young man disappeared into the hills for a few days. Zuzy tried encouraging one of her granddaughters to get to know him and perhaps draw him into


more normal relations. The grand daughter, a stunningly beautiful young woman and a very serious gardener who at the age of fifteen Zuzy already thought of as her superior in the knowledge of garden plants, reacted with horror at this suggestion.

“He fucks sheep, grandmother,” she said.

“That may be only rumors, dear,” Zuzy replied.

 “One of my girlfriends saw him fucking a sheep, grandmother.”

“She may have just made it up, dear. Young girls can be very nasty sometimes.”

 To please her grandmother, Yli, the granddaughter, agreed to strike up a conversation with Caw now and again, in an attempt to make him more comfortable in dealing with females but she refused to even think of having sexual relations with a man ‘whose thing has been where his thing has been’.

Neel, who besides Kweya, was the most persuasive personality in the valley, convinced Wani that going to Ara would be a great adventure. Neel promised to supply money and notebooks, for he expected Wani to take notes on everything, from Falconian chicken breeding practices to marriage customs among the Nia river people. To facilitate this Neel offered Wani the services of Caw, who had developed an excellent script, small and rounded, easily readable. With Caw along, Neel said, Wani would be required to dictate only with Caw doing all the writing and taking care of the notebooks. Caw could also be useful in the setting up of the Meditation Hall in Ara. He could sweep the floor in the mornings and light incense. He could keep the books for Neel had taught the young man a simple accounting system. He could also do shopping and handyman work. All of this would free Wani for teaching. He did not tell Wani about Caw’s love of sheep and neither did anyone else. It seemed unjust to tell Wani something which, after all, might only be rumors or malicious gossip. Neel vaguely hoped that living in a big city where no sheep grazed (although granted there would be some at the market being sold) Caw might gradually stop indulging his perversion and shift his natural affections to human females. There are worse things than fucking sheep Neel thought and for Wani to remain in the dark, considering that he was such an idealistic, meditative man given over to his great grandfather’s mumbo jumbo, might be the best thing. Knowing about Caw’s activities might cause him to become judgmental and prejuidice him against the young man.

Am sent a letter back saying she would be glad to go. She felt that being in the mountains


for the past few years had been good for her work but now it was time to travel a bit and take in new impressions. Kweya received a letter from General Egil telling him that the Rechyai Army would supply a shop and all the metal working tools necessary. Although the Rechyai were not presently in possession of the city of Ara, they soon would be. The General thought it best if Am and Wani came to Hawan in early spring. As soon as the ice was off the river he would send them to Ara by boat accompanied by a small escort of Rechyai soldiers. Perhaps, wrote the General, Am might bring some of her excellent sculptures with her and the General could choose the ones he liked for his own collection, paying of course the very best prices.

Since Wani would not go see Kweya, Kweya came to see Wani. Carrying a large basket filled with a supper made by Zuzy, he came into Wani’s house one early evening and sat down at the table to eat. Wani climbed down from the sitting platform and joined him.

“The Rechyai,” said Kweya, “ are a warrior people. So you will have to tailor your message to fit their bellicose mentality. The more violent the metaphors the better. Sitting is sitting and if you can get some of them to do that things will look after themselves. The Rechyai are endlessly energetic and the rest will take care of itself.”

The two men stayed up late talking. Two days later Am arrived and the day after, Am, Wani and Caw rode out of the village on the first stage of their journey to the great city of Ara.




   For many years Yara was an assassin but he was a torturer as well for many of his clients in both Hawan and Ria, wanted their victims to suffer before they died. In Daria his avocation was the one he practiced spending ten sometimes twelve hours a day in the dungeons below the offices of the Intelligence Chief. His specialty was the tormenting of genitalia with hot irons. In this he was so expert that he could keep his victim close to the peak of pain and despair for days on end. Most went mad before death claimed them. When this happened Yara cut the juggler and had underlings take away the body for disposal. In the case of Kaluian nobles the remains were often sewn into a sack and tossed onto the front porch of the victim’s home. Sometimes only the head was delivered. Either way a message was sent to the family. Grief stricken, terrified they gathered together what they could and fled the country. Some thousands of Kaluian nobles were treated in this way. Many other thousands had been warned by friends and family in high places and escaped beforehand. Geogan, far across the sea away from Kaluian intelligence was the favored place of escape. Rimi, the capital, had a section teeming with  twenty thousand Kaluian exiles.

   To terrorize is one of the objectives of state torture. Here it does not matter whether the victim has actually done anything or if he has information. It is sufficient that ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’, he or she be held up as an example of what can happen if the authorities chose to see you as a threat, whether that threat is real or not. Most of these victims were not guilty of anything, even seen from the extreme paranoid perspective of the Intelligence Service. Most are picked up because they are personal enemies of one person or another either in the service or somewhere else in the power structure. Some are chosen because they present a problem for these persons in the business world or the world of political power. Others were victimized for reasons of theft, for the law confiscated the Daria homes of all the executed. Everyone in the service benefited from this for the profits of sale were distributed to all employees of the service according to a formula. The policy makers called this an incentive. Of course the higher up one was the more one profited. The Emperor, a reclusive man who worked only through intermediaries and who had not be seen in public for twenty years, profited the most. He received one half of such payments.

   This money was used to expand His Highnesses vast estates starting on the outskirts of Daria and extending for hundreds of miles. An Intelligence chief who tortured and murdered many was greatly treasured by the Emperor although in an impersonal fashion for the Emperor, on the occasion of his thirtieth birthday, twenty years before, had retired from contact with all but a few intimates and had not met his last four Chiefs. However his subordinates assured them that their efforts on behalf of the country were greatly appreciated.


  One might think that the arbitrary victimization of citizens would create social chaos, which would eventually bring about a rebellion and the overthrow of the government but this was not what happened at all. When people are murdered, especially those high on the social scale then room to climb is given to those below and the desire to climb is fundamental to the human mind.  Also fundamental is the moralistic point of view. So strong is this that, even in cases of obvious injustice, victims are blamed for their own brutalization. They must have done something to deserve such a fate, even if it was very subtle and hard to detect. People were not treated in such a way for no reason otherwise the entire world would be nothing but chaos and insanity.

   There is another object to state torture and that is to obtain information. This was Colonel Kal’s specialty. The odd time he did actually force information from his victims which was real and useable, but this was very rare. For the most part he had a part he wanted his victim to play, the head of an imaginary conspiracy, the mastermind behind a planned attempt on the Emperor’s life, a plotter to deliver the Kaluian navy over to the Tului, and so on. It is a delusion to think that even a very strong person can resist torture. There comes a time in the sea of anguish and pain delivered by the torturer that the victim will do anything to have it stop. He will sign anything, make any statement, even turn his nearest and dearest over to death and pain to bring an end to his suffering. Kal’s files were filled with signed confessions. Every single one of his ‘investigations’ found the victim guilty. This guilty victim also gave lists of other ‘plotters’ who in turn were also found to be guilty.

   Yara was not interested in whether people were guilty or not even in the most formalistic way. He just liked to cause pain. He liked to have his victims beg and plead, to see them squirm, to hear them scream out in unbearable pain. To see his victim’s eyes widen in terror when his assistants brought into the cell the pincers, the hot irons, was for him a moment of ecstasy. That they were his to do with them whatever he pleased filled him with a dark and unspeakable joy. He loved to watch his victims eyes as he killed them. Often, at the last, he strangled them very slowly with a thin leather cord, so they would feel it as he liked to say, watching their eyes until the light went out.

   Mul was more scientific. He no longer cared one way or the other about his victim’s pain. His heart was as cold as a frozen stone.

   As for the Colonel, he was in many ways the cruelest. He loved to toy with his victims. He loved to tease them with the possibility of release only to torture them even more cruelly. He tortured children in front of their parents. He sexually violated wives in front


of their husbands. Even the torture assistants in the dungeons disliked Colonel Kal. They thought him despicable. They thought him no longer a human being but a devil incarnate, a monster, a bestial carnivore.

    The Chief of Intelligence found Colonel Kal very useful. To find a man who delights in such work, keeps impeccable files and writes clear, compelling reports was truly unusual. That he accepted each victim delivered to him without question and wrung the ‘truth’ out of him with such speed and efficiency was remarkable. He was a treasure. But the Chief did not like to be in his presence. After the first few meetings face to face the Chief dealt with the Colonel through underlings. He found the Colonel reptilian, unpleasant and physically repulsive to such a degree that he had Kal’s entries and exits from the building regulated so that he would not bump into him in the corridor by chance.

   The Colonel and his associates worked in Daria for two years. The Chief of Intelligence then decided that so much rage about their activities had risen among the population that the best use to be made of them was as a scapegoat. The story sent around by the Cief’s agents was that certain persons from outside the country, after insinuating themselves into the service, had performed excesses unknown to both the higher ups in the Service and to the Emperor. The names of these persons and their addresses were leaked to an ad hoc committee of relatives presenting petitions to the Emperor concerning the dismembered bodies of their love ones which had disappeared into the capital’s sewers. Yara and Mul were dragged from their houses the night of the leak, beaten to a bloody pulp and then hanged from meat hooks in the public square. There, after being tortured for hours with knives by the wives of murdered husbands, they finally died. There was no one to grieve them of course and their exit from the world was a blessing to everyone in it.

    When the mob came to Colonel Kal’s house there was no one home. The Colonel, three days before, had left sailing towards Tului in a small boat and was seen by the Kalanuians no more. He was tipped off by a Kaluian employee of the Service the day before his departure. For his trouble Kal gave this employee, a young, naïve man, a purse of gold. This was in the Colonel’s office in the dungeons. Later that night the young man had the purse stolen by a beggar outside his house and then had his throat slit by the same begger. The beggar was, of course, Colonel Kal. He was displeased by certain airs the young man had put on in imparting the information to him and the Colonel was not one to leave town without tying up all the loose ends.

   In Tului the Colonel made himself out to be a merchant on an adventure cruise around


the Salt Sea. The Tului in the small fishing port he settled in couldn’t have cared less what lies he told as long as he paid rent for the house he occupied and gave payment in advance for the boat he had local men make for him. The local prostitutes would not go with him. They found his presence unbearable and when he walked through their end of town fled him in terror. When the boat was finished he set sail for somewhere but he had told so many contradictory tales of where it could have been every country on the Salt Sea or none of them. Despite the exhorbitant rent they charged him for the house, the triple prices they charged him for his food and the double charge they took for his boat, the Tului villagers were glad to see him go. There was an air of the bestial about him.  During his stay the grocer made extra money selling leather bags of garlic and other charms to ward of evil.
One early morning in late Spring Colonel Kal packed his provisions into the very fast sailing boat the Tulians had made for him and disappeared. The Tulian landlord brought in a priest who preformed exorcism ceremonies in the house. Then, just to be sure, he paid a shaman from the old culture before there were priests to walk through the house and around it. The shaman told him the place was full of suffering spirits but they had no power for the center of their suffering and grievances was gone. They themselves were leaving a little at a time. The shaman told the landlord to wait three months and then the house could once again be used as a dwelling.



Ryo inherited Hav, Rankors Spy Chief. Hav, according to his friends, was the ugliest man in the Rechyai Army, which, as the wittiest among them pointed out, was saying something. He was short for a Rechyai, five foot two. He had the kind of face which reminds one of mushrooms or a boiling pot of oatmeal. His hair was so thick it grew straight out from his head as wirelike as the base hair in a horse’s mane. If he let it grow


it created an enormous corolla over which it was impossible to fit his helmet so he cut it short so that it resembled the bristle hairs of a boar. It was jet black and although he turned forty while coming down the Sah with the army, he had no grey or white hair. When he was traveling on business he wore a peasant’s cap which came down over both ears and tied around his neck.

Hav’s talk was very army, that is it was not just salted with obscenities, it was essentially one long obscenity spiced here and there with a little information. He was uneducated and could not read or write yet was highly intelligent with a quick flashing mind and a unending store of solid common sense. Rankor had treasured him and Ryo did as well. Ryo found the man fascinating and when Hav was in camp often spent entire evenings alone with him in his tent. Hav was one of those men who have the knack of saying exactly what he thought without insulting the people he was talking to, an invaluable asset in a Spy Chief. He was a sparsely built man but strong, wiry and agile.

Rankor was old school and unable to read and write himself, so his communications with Hav had been all verbal but Ryo, when he became Commanding General, decided to imitate Egil and set up a system of written records. Hav thought this entirely unnecessary but he was not about to intefere with the wishes of the young General whose intelligence and strategic capabilities he respected enormously, so when Ryo sent him a skinny young lad to do his writing for him he welcomed him and let him follow him around wherever he went. The young lad, a second cousin of Egil’s orphaned by war, was a most unusual sort of person. He had red hair, not unusual among the Rechyai, but belied the old saw that red heads have firey dispositions for he was quiet, measured and seemed prematurely old. He was so quiet and inconspicuous that Hav often forgot he was there standing behind him absorbing every word he was saying like a sponge. This was the method Ola, the young man, had adopted after Hav told him that it made him nervous to see him writing into a notebook balanced on his knee while Hav was trying to have a conversation with someone. Ola had almost total recall. He would listen to Hav receiving information from spies returned from Falconian territory for three or four hours and then go off and write down accurately all the salient points. At first Hav made him read the accounts back to him to check their accuracy but after doing this three or four times he left Ola to his work. Every so often he would come into the tent Ryo had assigned Ola and look at the growing piles of paper and the leather boxes filled with lists of agents and shake his head.

In matters other than spy reports it was hard to draw the young lad out. He seemed to be hiding in there behind those deep blue eyes. Incredibly, at least to Hav, Ola did not use obscenities. It was difficult for Hav to comprehend how someone could speak without doing so for to him they were the lubricants of speech, the river upon which the words and


information flowed. Several times he tried teaching Ola a traditional string of curse words. Ola would repeat the words dutifully but his heart was not in it. He sounded like a boatman reading out a bill of laden. “He’s a brilliant young lad,” Hav told Ryo, “but I’m afraid there is something retarded about him. I’m thinking of taking him to the women. Maybe they can get something out of him.”

The women Hav spoke of were the camp prostitutes. Their quarters were at the south end of the camp. To enter you had to pass through a gate where guards took your name and unit number. Some of the women had their own tents but most lived communally in wood houses built for them by their soldier customers. These were large buildings with a central common area for drinking and eating surrounded by private quarters around the perimeter. Ola obviously did not want to come but he had been told by Ryo to do what Hav told him to do and thought he had no alternative.

Hav led the way down a frozen path and pounded vigorously upon a crude wooden door. After a few moments and more pounding, a middle aged woman opened the door. When she saw Hav she laughed. “You were here last night you old dog,” she said. Hav answered this with a string of obscenities and a poke in the ribs and the woman moved aside to let them into the house. The place was full. The noise of people shouting and singing was so loud you had to shout into peoples ear to be heard. Hav, grabbing Ola by his sleeve so he wouldn’t lose him for he thought the boy, as shy as he was, would go insane if lost by himself in such a place, pushed through the crowd until he came to a table at the back with two empty spaces against the wall. As soon as they sat down giant mugs of yag were placed before them. Hav drank half of his down in one draught. Ola took a tiny sip and put the mug back on the table. To him yag tasted like horse piss or what he thought horse piss would taste like. Hav finished his mug in a second great quaff and shouted for another. Ola sipped and did his best to look interested in his surroundings although in truth they horrified him. Hopefully, he thought, with the rate Hav was drinking yag, he would soon topple over onto the floor and he could find a way out of this terrible place and back to his notes and file boxes.

After finishing his second mug Hav shouted for another. A brawny older man set it down on the table. He and Hav shared a few words. The brawny man looked at Ola who looked into his yag mug. The brawny man laughed. Hav laughed. The twenty or so people at the next table laughed. Ola wished he could dive deep into his yag and come out the other side in some other place.

Suddenly he was being hustled across the floor. Hav had one arm and the brawny man the other. One man, objecting to being pushed out of the way, took a swing at the brawny man who ducked and kept on going. The crowd was so thick he disappeared behind them


in a storm of arms and legs and laughing faces. They came to a door at the far side of the room. The brawny man shouted someone’s name and the door was opened. They entered a large room with a giant fireplace on the outer wall. The brawny man returned to the main room and Ola followed Hav who walked over to the fireplace and sat down on a bench beside it. There was a bright fire burning in the fireplace. Three giant kettles hung on hooks above it. Ola put out his hands to the fire’s warmth and rubbed them together. It seemed to him that he had never got properly warm since arriving at the Rechyai camp. He was too skinny to be a soldier he thought. He should have stayed on the farm where in the winter there was always a warm workshop and lots of animal hides to wrap yourself in. Soldiers were like bulls – out in the fields all winter long.

There were three women sitting on a bench on the other side of the fire. Hav leered at them and they leered back. One, a pretty woman of about thirty-five, with long blonde hair, came over and sat on Hav’s knee. They began passionately kissing. Hav managed to get his hand under her skirt and began a vigorous groping. After a few moments of this they got to their feet and, still kissing and groping, stumbled across the floor to an entryway with a curtain across it. They disappeared through the curtain. Ola was in one way glad to see them go, in another horrified. The two women on the bench opposite were looking at him curiously. One got up and left the room, coming back with a middle aged woman who reminded Ola of a woman in his village who ran the bakery. She came over and said, “Come with me, dear.” Ola got to his feet and followed her through the curtained door and down a short corridor. They made a right turn into the kitchen. Here there were a dozen women cutting and rolling things on tables and tending three fires and a giant oven. He followed the woman across the kitchen to where there was a bench with a cushion on it. She motioned him to sit and he did.

The woman went off to speak to three woman rolling out pastries on a table and then left the room. Perhaps this is where they put the young men, Ola thought, in the kitchen where they could feel the presence of their dead mothers. He could barely remember his for he was only four when she died. He could remember her smell. She smelt of roast meat and milk for she was always nursing a new baby and always tending a spitted chunk of meat cooking over the fire.

The kitchen women took no notice of him. Perhaps this was the usual practice in such places. Shy young boys sat in the kitchen while lascivious old men like Hav rollicked in the bedrooms of equally lascivious young women. He wondered if Ryo came here. Probably not. Ryo was married and the men said his wife was so jealous she threatened to stab him if he went with another women. This struck Ola as ludicrous. Ryo, the great General, being chased around a bedroom by a knife wielding woman. Yet such things happened. Women could be just as violent as men.


After some time had passed by a young girl of about fourteen or so came and sat in the chair beside his. She introduced herself. Her name was Ella and she came from lake country up north on the Eg. The middle aged woman was her aunt. She was careful to point out that she did not work in the sex side of the business. She was a cook. Pastries were her specialty. She had been baking since the age of six and had a talent for it. Did he like pastries? O yes, he loved pastries. He seemed awfully skinny to be a lover of pastries. Yes well you didn’t get a lot of pastries served to you in the Rechyai Army. Mostly you got oatmeal, slabs of meat, rough bread and cheese. In a few moments, she said, fresh pastries would be coming out of the oven. Would he like to try some? He certainly would. He couldn’t think of anything he would like to do better.

Ella left him but was soon back with a tray of apple turnovers and cream tarts. The two of them worked away at the tray until all of them were gone. Then Ella led him to a corner of the kitchen where there was a door to the outside.

“Your friend will be staying the night. He always does. By now he is probably so drunk he hardly remembers he brought you with him. If you would like to come visit me come to this door and knock. Sometimes you have to knock for a while because it is so noisy in the kitchen it takes a while for someone to notice. But don’t come if you just want sex. I’m a serious girl and want a husband and family. I save the money my aunt pays me. It would be nice to have a farm overlooking the sea. Near Ara there are farms like that. After the battles you should ask the General to give you one. They give farms to soldiers but they don’t give them to pastry cooks.”

After this rush of words Ella pushed him out the door and closed it behind him.


Egil wanted to take Ara quickly. He did not want a long siege giving the enemy time to call on their allies across the sea and stir up rebellion in the Falconian interior. Yet Ara was well fortified. Before the Rechyai came through Rock Run the city had spent large


sums of money extending and fortifying the city’s walls and since then they had spent even more. Despite the lost of the army at Nali the Falconians still had an army of one hundred thousand within the walls and to that must be added the Falconian navy which had fifty heavy ships in the port, fully manned. As well Ara had a large population  - half a million souls – and many civilians could be pressed into service on the walls. Attacking the city on the land side from the east  - the only approach for Egil’s land army – would mean building siege machines and a long campaign of undermining and breaching the walls. The city would supply itself by sea, something the Rechyai, without boats or navy, could not prevent. The siege of the city could take many months if not years.

Egil decided that the key to taking the city quickly was to mount an attack from the sea. This had the merit of attacking Ara on its weak side and also cutting off its supplies. Spies returning from the Falconian coast to the south of the city brought promising news. The Falconians had a small naval port there which acted as a base for surpressing pirates operating from islands off the Geogan coast. As well, spread out along the coast where fishing villages. At any given time there were several hundred medium sized fishing boats at their docks, boats which could be used to transport troops for a sea attack on Ara.

Ths Aran harbor was large and well protected from storms for it was entered through a long narrow channel. In this channel it was difficult for the heavy Falconian boats to fight for there was little room to maneuver. As well, Egil hoped, a well executed approach using captured fishing boats and ships from the southern Falconian naval port, could seal off the channel with a bridge of boats. If the bridge was supported by horsemen and infantry on the shore, it would be difficult for the Falconians to dislodge it. The Rechyai could sit across the channel to the sea, cutting off the city’s supply as well as seal it off from the west with the main body sitting on the flatlands before the great walls. Spies informed him that the city had no great stores of supplies. The Falconian leaders were confident of being able to keep open their channel to the sea and had made no great effort to stuff their warehouses with food. Ara would be forced to sue for terms or starve.

The descent upon the Falconian southern shore would have to be done in complete surprise. An obvious approach would lead to the boats setting out to sea. This could only be done by horse moving southwest through the almost uninhabited land two hundred miles to the south of the Sah. The fishing villages and the naval port would have to be come on unawares and with lightening speed. Manah, of course, was the man for such an operation. He and Ryo spent two days pouring over spy and scouting reports and making plans. The moon was at full the first night and they decided the attack in captured boats from the south would reach Ara and seal off the channel on the night of the next full moon.


Manah left the next day with one quarter of the Rechyai horse, units composed of young fit men with extra horses so they could ride for long hours without stopping. They rode to a spot Ryo had chosen as a staging ground, a flat area fifty miles from the river. Here they were to link up with the Sege and Nia horsemen Ryo insisted that Manah take with him. “They are all bowmen and they travel lighter and faster than out own. You can use them as point riders to occupy villages quickly and seal off communications north along the coast to Ara. This is essential. Surprise is essential. If the Falconian boats in Ara come out of the port to meet us in open water, they will cut us to pieces. Our only hope is to come into the channel with them still tied to the wharves and anchored in the harbor.”

    When Manah came to the staging camp the Sege and Nia had already arrived. After passing through an area of wooded hills rich with brooks and streams eventually flowing into the Sah, Manah came to a wide flat area, the far edge of which was occupied by the Sege. The Rechyai set up their own camp where they emerged from the trees. That evening, as night was falling and the troops were building up their fires and setting up cooking tripods, Huan and Swi rode into the Rechyai camp. With some searching they found Manah’s fire. After greetings and tea, Manah got down to business. He laid out Ryo’s plan, using a stick to draw on a patch of cleared ground.

   The two Sege listened carefully without interrupting until Manah was finished. Then Huan asked him to go over it again. Manah did so. When he finished they stood up and took their leave. As they were mounting Huan said to Manah, “We will be back tomorrow.”

   The next night as soon as they sat down, Huan said. “The Sege do not like to leave their horses.”

   “But the plan requires your excellent archers on the boats to defend against what the Falconians throw at us,” replied Manah.

   “On boats we would be like lost children. The Sege have never fought on big boats on wide water.”

   “But it will be Rechyai who are experienced in handling such boats who will decide the tactics of the battle. The Sege will shoot their bows.”

    “And what if the water is rough? The Sege bowmen are used to shooting from horses and solid ground, not from bobbing boats. There would be too much for them to learn too


quickly and we are afraid they would be ineffective. As well if there is boarding the Sege do not wear armor and have no experience fighting in the bobbing, cramped quarters of a small boat. Sege are best on the backs of horses, mobile, quickly in and out.”

   They continued to talk in this vein for some time and then the Sege left once again promising to be back the next night. But the next night they did not come. Manah waited for them in vain at his fire and when he turned in he was in a foul mood.

   Early the next morning, Huan, Swi  rode into the Rechyai camp. Manah was eating his breakfast and asked them to sit by the fire.

   “The channel where the boat fight will take place, how wide is it?” asked Huan.

   “One hundred yards,” answered Manah.

   “If that figure is accurate, then archers could cover the approaches to the boats from the shore.”

   “This is true,” said Manah, “but we will still need archers on the boats.”

   “Then,” said Swi, “you can use Rechyai, who, close in, would be just as effective as Sege, with the added advantage of wearing armor and being used to boat fighting.”

   Manah face grew red. He called out to his servant for a cup of wine and looked off into the distance to calm himself down. These Sege were a stubborn people. Perhaps it would have been better if Rankor had pursued them into the mountains and wiped them out. How was he to conduct a campaign where allies insisted on being the General? “Ryo wants the Sege bowmen on the boats,” he said.

   “And who is Ryo?” asked Huan.

   “The General in charge of the attack. Egil appointed him.”

   “Ah!” said Huan. “Where is he?”

   “Some miles that way,” replied Manah jerking his thumb towards the north.

   “I see,” said Huan and that seemed to be enough information for the Sege that day for they rose as if they were one and took their leave, this time promising to come back the next day.


   Manah was livid. “Did you hear that?” he said to the lieutenant sitting beside him. He let out a long string of curses ending it by spitting into the fire and demanding a cup of yag. When it arrived he said, “Perhaps we will have to conquer the Sege before we are given enough elbow room to conquer the Falconians.” He drank the yag off in one draught.

   The Sege didn’t come the next day. Manah was becoming desperate. The departure day was three days away and he had not settled a key decision. The next morning he sent a messenger across the grass to the Sege camp. He came back very quickly. “They are gone,” he said.

   “Gone?” Manah repeated.

   “Yes, General. There were some Nia about and they said the Sege left early this morning going south.”


   “That’s what the Nia said, General.”

   Manah sent three scouts after them. The scouts came back late that evening.

   “They are camped ten miles directly south, General,” said the chief scout. “When we asked them what they were up to they said they were looking for hunting territory because they were running out of food. When I told them we had plenty of food they replied that the Sege couldn’t take food from the Rechyai unless there was an agreement on the fighting.”

   “The agreement on the fighting is that they do what I tell them to do.”

   “Yes, General. But that wouldn’t be an agreement for an agreement implies each party accepts the terms.”

   “And are you now negotiating for the Sege?”

   “No, General.”


“Sounds like it.”

   “I am merely pointing out the Sege point of view, General.”

   “The Sege point of view is that they will do what they bloody well please.”

   “No it is not, General.”

   “Well, what is it then?”

   “That they be used in the fighting according to their strengths and as a separate unit of the army which fights together. They don’t want to be broken up to fight in boats but to be left on horseback to fight in their traditional manner.”

   “And what would you do if you were me?”

   “Let them do what they want because it would make the army stronger. As a unit of horse, their speed and bow shooting is superior to twice the number of Rechyai horse. So why break them up? What they are asking for is actually the most sensible way to use them.”

   “But Ryo wants their archers on the boats.”

   “That’s what he said when we were talking but I don’t think he means it to be cast in stone. He made it quite clear that the final decisions were up to you.”

    “Hmmmph,” said Manah.

The next morning he sent the scouts to the Sege telling them he wanted the Sege to ride as a single unit in the army. At the narrows Rechyai archers would be on the boats and the Sege would secure the shores and cover the approaches to boats with their bowmen. Along with the scouts he sent ten horses, fine, fiery stallions.

Reel and her healers had ridden with the Sege along the river. When they arrived at the camp they set up their own area between the Sege and the Rechyai. Here they set up a clinic to deal with the minor injuries and ailments of the riders. Reel decided that she, along with ten healers, who were used to the fast pace of the Sege, would accompany


them on the ride Manah had assigned them. They were to ride to the last fishing village on the road to Ara, capture it and cut off communications to the north. Here they would wait for Manah’s orders to ride the road to Ara. Manah also assigned a captain, a man named Uma, along with a small guard of ten men to ride with the Sege. His job was to act as the liason between them and the rest of the Rechyai forces.

The fishing village, a prosperous one by the name of Pali, had a garrison of fifty stationed in a crumbling stone fort. The fort was large enough to hold many more but after the Rechyai had won Nali, the Falconians had withdrawn most of the soldiers to Ara. Although they arrived in the hills within striking distance of the fort in the mid afternoon, Uma decided to put off the attack until early next morning.

At first light the Sege rode down from the hills and surrounded the fort. Swi and Uma sat on their horses one hundred feet in front of the gate. There were two guards on the wall but as soon as the riders appeared, they disappeared. A few moments later a middle aged officer, still tugging on the jacket of his uniform, showed himself above the wall.

“I am Rechyai and these are the Sege,” said Uma. “Throw all your weapons over the wall and gather in the center of your square. If you do that right now, then there will be no need for us to kill you. Otherwise we will butcher you all.”

The officer disappeared. Ten minutes later shields, swords and daggers were thrown over the wall on the east side of the gate. Someone opened the gate from inside and pushed it wide. Swi and Uma, along with twenty others, rode through to come on a large square, dusty and forlorn looking, with fifty terrified men standing in a huddle in its center.

Swi looked at the pile of swords and shields and then at the men. He raised his arm and the Sege archers fitted arrows to their bowstrings.

“No,” said Uma.

Swi hesitated.

“General Egil does not want useless killing. If the Falconians see they can surrender without being killed then less of us will die conquering them. He told General Manah that if there is useless killing and he finds about about it then he will remove the General and execute the men who did the killing.”

Swi  raised his eyebrows at this. “You mean he will kill Sege?”

“I know he will kill Rechyai,” said Uma. “Whether he will kill Sege or not I don’t know. But I wouldn’t take the chance if I were you. The General has a long memory and one has to go far away to hide from him. These men before us are of no consequence. We can lock them in the jail cells in their own building and have the villagers feed them. Once we leave on the road to Ara they will be no threat to anyone.”

Reluctantly Swi motioned his archers to put their bows away.

Reel, who was sitting on her horse a few feet away, rode over to the Falconian Captain and had him lead his men to the jail cells. There she locked them in and breathed a sigh of relief. She and her healers, instructed by the Captain where to find them, brought food and water from the Falconian stores. She left two of the healers along with the four Rechyai jailers Uma stationed in the gaurdroom outside the cells.

The Sege threw a cordon around the village starting from the road, which ran directly along the seashore, back to the road on the other side. Then a line of horsemen rode through the village from the north driving the villagers from their houses and herding them onto the road. There were four hundred and seventy-five of them, counting children and old people. Uma sent children and mothers to a temple like building standing just off the road. Young women where corralled in a section of houses where they were put to work making food for the rider’s trip north. Uma amd Swi talked to a group of older men for some time. They got their agreement to crew the fishing boats to Ara. The people in the village were not Falconian but came from remnants of a much older people called the Doans. They had no real love for the Falconians and even if they did it would not be of much use to them now captured as they were by the Rechyai.

Uma sent a lieutenant and a detachment of five hundred Sege to capture the next two villages to the south. He also sent three hundred north to sit across the road to Ara. Anyone coming from the north, other than soldiers who would be attacked and killed, was to be detained until the Sege started their ride to Ara.

Manah arrived in the hills above the Naval port at Baga two days later at midday, and, fearful that news of the riders might reach the sailors and have them set out to sea, he drove down from the hills, along the road and into the naval yard occupying it before the Falconians realized they were being attacked. He executed three men who looked like nobles to him and locked the sailors up in a warehouse. Again most of the fishermen in Baga were Doans and given the choice between death and sailing their boats, they decided on sailing. There were ten mid sized navy boats in the harbour and Manah crewed them with his own men.

Other sections of the Rechyai horse fell upon other villages, in total fifty-three. As soon as they loaded the boats with food, men and horses, they set out to sea and began sailing


up the coast, gathering more and more boats as they went. By the time they reached Pali the Sege had already left. The Pali boats were gathered in and the amada sailed north toward Ara.

The Rechyai, as they often were, were the beneficiaries of good fortune. The winds were steady from the southwest during the whole of their trip and they came in sight of the entrance to the channel three hours before first light when a sliver of moon was hanging in the clear blue sky. Doan fishermen, who knew the channel and its shoals like the backs of their hands, guided the boats to a spot half way to the harbor, the narrowest section of channel and thus the best place to build the bridge of boats. On the southern headland leading into the channel was a lighthouse. As soon as the approaching Rechyai became distinct the four keepers ran out of the building, saddled horses, and raced off toward Ara.

The Rechyai were rested for most had slept the whole night. Men in boats close in leaped into the sea and waded through the water to shore, axes over their shoulders. They used the axes to hew down trees and bring the logs down to the water. The Rechyai lay these in triple line across the boats from shore to shore, lashing them to each boat and to each other. They tied them into the shore with thick ropes embedded in wooden platforms and buried under a mountain of earth and rock. They cut up other logs and build a wall on top of the horizontal logs into which they hewed arrow notches for the archers. They threw out all the boat anchors and then filled their sea anchors and fishing nets with stones and lowered them to the sea floor and lashed the ropes onto the line of logs. Manah had himself rowed along the bridge shouting encouragement. There were a hundred and fifty boats with reinforcements anchored behind the bridge, ready to fill any breech or weakness in the line. The east end of the bridge had Rechyai cavalry and a unit of Rechyai pikemen to anchor it.




   Admiral Melia came from one of the oldest noble families. It traced its origins back to the days when gods walked among men and procreated with human females. At least this is what the Melia family history claimed. In the more human times of the past few centuries they had many illustrious military commanders, one in particular who was the head of the navy in its successful reclaiming of dominance in the Salt Sea five hundred years ago. The present commander was formally called Admiral Melia but his nickname among his officers was ‘the belly’ for he had a gigantic stomach. He was known among the rank and file as ‘sailcloth’, a reference to the amount of material necessary to cover his enormous middle.

   But despite his girth and the necessity of a slow gait to accomodate it, the Admiral was quick of mind and when the reports came in of the occupation of the narrows he reacted with great speed. He ordered all naval boats in the harbor to be immediately manned and sent out two divisions of cavalry to attack the Rechyai units who were occupying the northern shore at the end of their line of boats. The other shore was a forested swamp and impassible, at least for mounted troops.

   The cavalry came roaring out the western gate of the city two hours after daybreak and started up the road leading to the narrows. This road followed the shoreline excepting for a short section which passed between two low hills. Assuming that the attack on the harbor was from the sea only, the commander of the Falconian horse did not send out scouts to reconnoiter. His plan was to hit the Rechyai hard before they had time to dig in and thus dislodge their beachhead and begin an attack on the bridge of boats, an attack which would eventually be supplemented with naval vessels coming up the channel.

 When Manah’s message to move came the Sege traveled with great speed for the Falconian road was paved with stone and very well maintained. Their scouts came back with reports of the terrain along the shore and Uma and Swi decided on an attack from the hills where the road swung briefly inland. Along the road they met a few merchants and small groups of travelers but when these fled the road in terror up into the trees to the east, they let them go. They met one horse unit of fifty men coming around a curve and annihilated it in a matter of ten minutes. They came up to the harbor in the last part of the night. Seeing the Rechyai boats lighted in the distance Huan sent an agent to tell Manah that they were in the position the General had ordered. He and Swi then divided their riders into two groups, one on either side of the road, at the far edge of the hills. He drew the riders back so they could not be seen from the road and waited.

   A chickadee call let him know the Falconians were coming and a crow call let him know when half their number was past the edge of the hills. He blew his horn.


  The Sege came at the stretched out Falconians from both sides, one sweeping to the east, the other to the west, raking them with arrows. Pandemonium ensued. Half their numbers struck down in the sweep, the Falconians tried to form a line but against what? Finally, in desperation they bunched up into wedge formations to defend themselves but the Sege merely withdrew and showered them with high arrows coming down like a deadly rain into their midst. Of the three thousand Falconians two were struck down within half an hour. The Sege gave no quarter. They leapt from their horses and slit the throats of the wounded and then remounted. When a large group of horsemen, perhaps five hundred, gathered on the flat area west of the hills, Huan surrounded them keeping up a steady rain of arrows until were cut down to the last man.

Reel and her ten healers arrived with the armada on a fishing boat. They disembarked and joined up with the other thirty who had ridden with other Rechyai units. Uma who shipped on the same boat rather than ride with the Sege, told her that the Sege were, or soon would be, a few miles distant in the folds of land in from the water, waiting for Falconian cavalry. The healers decided to ride to meet the Sege who Uma told them would soon be engaged in battle. As soon as the Rechyai disembarked their horses onto the soft sand along the shore they set off.

Their Rechyai guard refused to accompany them. The Sege were famous for killing all prisoners and they did not want to stand between wounded men and the Sege murderous ferocity. Wani tried to find Manah who he hoped would order the guard to go but he was off on the far shore positioning archers at the edge of the swamps in case the Falconians managed to get troops through using flat bottomed boats. Reel argued with the Rechyai captain of the guard to no avail. His men would not go and it was impossible to force them without an order from Manah. Reel and Wani decided that by the time they reached Manah the fighting would be over so they healers rode off toward the hills.

They arrived at a scene of great chaos. There were thousands of dead and wounded on the ground and wheeling sections of Sege horse attacking the last group of Falconians corralled in a circle.

   Because of surprise and the style of Sege fighting few of their warriors were killed or injured. The Falconian dead were in the thousands. Reel had the healers stop in a place off from the fighting and tried to find Swi or Huan but could not do so. Dismounted Sege were wading through a river of blood and cutting the throats of the wounded. The healers wailed in anguish at the sight of such cruelty. Wani had to shout at the top of his lungs to prevent them from riding in and trying to stop the killing. When Reel came back from her


unsuccessful search she had them dismount and move on foot toward the thickest section of Falconian wounded. There they began gathering in wounded Falconians and making a circle around them.

 The Sege warriors, covered in blood and gore, their eyes the eyes of madmen and wild animals, looked at the healers with utter malevolence. The healers took into their circle as many of the injured Falconians as they could, setting up their hospital right there in the midst of the killing. They brought perhaps one hundred Falconian wounded into the circle.

   When the Sege warriors nearby were finished their killing they gathered near the healers and began to make threatening gestures. “Send them out!” they shouted. “We will heal them with iron!” Reel and Wani came out to meet them. “You are a Rechyai,” Wani said to Reel. “Let me talk to them.”

 Wani had with him a copy of the medallion Kweya wore around his neck, a blackened circle of leather with a white oval at its center. He held it out for them to see for these men knew who Kweya was and had seen the symbol many times before.

 “We are healers from the mountain,” he said. “We have our authority from Kweya. If you attack us you will incur the wrath of a powerful shaman.”

   “What do we care for old men who live in the mountains?” shouted one of the men and he moved menacingly toward them. Wani opened his cloak very slightly and gave a sharp crack with his fist to a device mounted on his hip. From this device was shot a thin needle which lodged in the man’s upper thigh. The man gave out a piecing scream and fell to the ground, writhing. The others fell back in horror, moving their hands frantically in gestures meant to guard against evil. The man on the ground continued to scream and the warriors turned their backs, ran to their horses and rode off.

 The fallen man was soon dead for the needle contained a potent poison. Other healers came up and placed the body on a stretcher and brought it into the circle. Shortly after Manah rode up with the Rechyai guard. The guard made a perimeter for the healers and the Sege warriors began to bring in their wounded. Swi stood at the opening in the perimeter and would let in no one but the wounded. But the warriors didn’t seem to care. They were satiated and when all their wounded were brought in they climbed on their horses and rode off to the bridge of boats to celebrate.

   Manah apologized but Reel waved it away. “We did not bring the guard Egil gave us so


the fault is ours. We should have known what would happen. Besides none of us were injured. Yet my people are very unhappy about this kind of slaughter. Why? They ask. When the enemy has clearly been defeated why not disarm them and take them as prisoners? Even from a money point of view you can ransom them or sell them as slaves. Why uselessly kill them?”

   “You know the answer to that,” Manah replied.

   “Yes I do,” said Reel. “But I think it is an answer we should change.”

   “Is it possible to change it?”

   “Of course it is. Soldiers can be taught to be disciplined about many things so why not this?”


   “You are too much a Rechyai to think clearly in such matters.”

   “You are a Rechyai yourself!”

   “No I’m not. I am a human being who happened to be born a Rechyai. There is a difference.”

   “The difference is too subtle for a rough warrior like myself.”

   “Nonsense. Your brain is quick and subtle enough when it comes to matters of battle.”

    Manah laughed.

    “That laugh,” said Reel, “is enough to show me you understand completely yet are too lazy to do anything about it.”

   “And what should I do?”

   “Be as energetic in stopping useless cruelty as you are in pursuing victory in battle.”

   “ I am not a healer, woman, but a General.”


   “No man is merely one thing, General. There is no reason you can not be both.”

   “You are mad.”

   “Think about it, young man. Of all the people on this bloody field of slaughter, myself and my healers are the most sane.”

  With this Manah turned abruptly on his heel, vaulted onto his horse and rode off.

   “He pretends,” Reel said to Wani when she came back to the healer’s area.

   “He pretends what?” asked Wani.

   “He pretends he is a man without a heart.”

   That day the Sege drove two thousand Falconian horses towards the Rechyai beachhead. The Rechyai gathered in the horses and corralled them. When the horses were  secured the Rechyai soldiers stationed on the shore gathered in a long line. Banging their swords upon their shields and shouting out praises to the victorious Sege, they made such a noise that they could be heard all the way into the city of Ara.

   Manah was delighted. He took a thousand soldiers from the boats and placed them on the Falconian horses. He thought the Falconians would soon send out phalanx units. He needed more horse to charge and break them up. This done he ran to the Sege warriors dismounting behind the beachhead and joined his men in shouting their praises.


The Rechyai Army marched from Nali three days after it was captured. Ryo’s scouts told him there were no Falconians forces between them and the city of Ara. The Falconians had decided to withdraw everything into the city. As they marched the land was eeriely empty for the locals had either fled into the uplands or along the river road into Ara. So hasty was this flight that the storehouses were full of foodstuffs so the Army had no problem with supply.

It was a bright winter morning when they marched onto the plain spreading out beyond the walls of the city for twenty miles or so to the east. Ryo sent his horse off in a circuit


of the city. They came back reporting there were no Falconian forces outside the walls. The Army came to a stop outside bow range and began building an earthworks camp much like the one they built on the plain to the east of Hawan – a huge city in itself, with space enough to house the entire Army along with horses and animals. This was completed in a single day. When it was finished Ryo sent out horse to clamp a cordon around the city from sea front to sea front. He kept them away from the shores of the channel leading out of the harbor to the sea for he wanted to give no indication that he was interested in an approach from the sea. .

Every day the Rechyai horse sallied in full strength out of the earthworks and practiced military maneuvers on the plain. But they made no move toward the walls and, other than the odd volley of arrows falling short, the Falconians made no response. Ryo sent units into the woods to the north. They brought back logs and, outside the walls in full view of the Falconians, began constructing ladders and siege towers. Ryo half expected the Falconians to sally and try burning the constructions but they did not. They had learned the lesson of Nali, that the Rechyai horse was superior and that an open gate was their worst enemy. The Falconians had decided to wait them out and strike defensive blows from the walls only.

Many of the rank and file sailors in the Falconian navy were Doans. The Doans had the sea in their blood. Ryo sent agents into the city who made contact with the Doan sailors in their drinking places along the wharves. The agents promised them places in the new Rechyai navy. The Doans were not allowed to rise beyond the rank of non commissioned officers. The agents promised them that in the Rechyai Navy they would rise as far as their talents would allow them to go. The agents sought out influencial men among them and gave them purses of gold and promises of rapid advancement. They told them if ordered to their ships they should go, but when the time was ripe, throw off their Falconian officers and remain anchored in the harbor. The agents reported to Ryo that the response to all this was far greater than they had expected. The Doans were realists they said. They knew the time of the Rechyai had arrived and those who wanted to survive had no choice but to accommodate themselves to it.

Ryo was before the city ten days when scouts came to tell him Manah was building his bridge of boats.  



 Admiral Melia watched the destruction of his cavalry force from the walls of Ara.

   “I suppose it was to be expected,” he said to the man on side of him, a naval commander.

   “Why do you say that, Admiral?”

   “Well, I mean, they haven’t fought anyone real for so many years, in fact for all of their lives when it comes right down to it, unless you count chasing a few brigands through the woods up north. Hardly the kind of training for dealing with savages from off the plains who have spent their whole lives fighting and riding. Not much of a match up I would say.”

   The commander made no reply to this. What could he say? What the Admiral said was very true yet very stupid. If the cavalry was not up to the kind of battle then why send it in? Why not keep it behind the walls until an intelligent plan for its use could be made? It was the commander’s job to understand the capabilities of his own units and to use them wisely. After a few moments passed by the Commander asked the question he had climbed the long flights of stairs up to the wall to ask.

   “We have a dozen of the big ships manned, Admiral. Do you want us to send them against the blockade?”

   “Certainly not. We will wait a while and perhaps have a conference. What do you say?”

   “A conference might be useful, Sir.”


   The conference was held in the Admirals quarters atop the naval building in the center of Ara. Present were twenty commanders with aides, six junior Admirals, six Generals of the Army and the Minister of War. They sat at a very long table, so long in fact that a person talking in a normal voice at one end could not be heard at the other. The Minister of War opened the proceedings with a long speech praising the bravery of the Falconian navy. When this was finished a General spoke of the bravery of the cavalry so recently slaughtered outside the walls. Then another General of the Army gave a summation of the troops available for the defense of the Capital. As a rule at these conferences no one listened to the speeches for they were set pieces heard many times


before. At this meeting however, considering the military situation, everyone listened with at least one ear just in case something new might be said or a decision announced. It seemed that, despite the desperate circumstances, they were to be disappointed until, after the General’s summation, a junior Admiral, very far down the table, stood up and waited to be recognized. Admiral Melia was at first very surprised that one of the junior Admirals wanted to speak for such a thing had never happened in his lifetime or, to his recollection, in his father’s. The Admiral looked at him standing upright before his place at the table in the stiff military manner for some time before he waved his hand vaguely in his direction as a sign that he should speak.

   The junior Admiral relaxed his stance and, shockingly, for it was practice at the conference table to begin with listing the name of all superior officers present, which in this case would mean practically everyone at the table, launched into the substance of his comments right away. “The fleet is close to mutiny,” he said.

   “Mutiny?” said the Minister of War. “What do you mean, mutiny?”

   “That they will not obey orders, Minister.”

   “What orders?”

   “This morning, after I was successful in manning three of the smaller ships of my command, I ordered them to cast off and anchor in mid harbor. They refused to obey.”

   “And how exactly did they do this refusing?”

   “By expelling all officers from the ships and pulling in the gangplanks.”

   “That is truly shocking.”

   “Yes, Minister, it is.”

   “And what response did you make, Admiral.”

   “I made no response, Minister. I decided I should bring the problem here to my superiors and ask for their orders.”

   “I see.”


   The junior Admiral sat down. Everyone looked intensely at a spot on the table before them. Some scratched themselves. Some shifted their buttocks in their chairs. Admiral Melia looked at the ceiling for a long moment and then said,

   “They must be disciplined, of course.”

   “Most certainly,” said the Minister of War.

   “Hang a dozen of the ring leaders. Flogging for the rest,” said the Admiral. “What do you say, Minister.”

   “Something along those lines. I would leave the details to the Navy Authorities.”

     Another of the junior Admirals rose and stood behind his chair. Admiral Zygat waved his hand.

   “I am afraid I must report, Admiral, that if asked to apprehend the sailors involved, the men in my command would refuse.”

   “And how do you know that, Admiral.” Admiral Melia asked.

   “My junior officers have informed me, sir.”

   “Did you arrest them?”

   “Arrest who, sir?”

   “Your junior officers.”

   “No I did not, sir.”

   “Why not?”

   “I had no one to arrest them with, sir?”

   “That’s ridiculous.”

   “It may be ridiculous, sir, but it is also true. The officers on my staff inform me that if they tried to arrest anyone they would simply be murdered.”


   “And what does that have to do with it? They must do their duty no matter what the consequences. Bring them here immediately and I will deal with them personally.”

   “That is impossible, sir.”

   “How so?”

   “They are on their ships and will not leave them.”

   “Then we must bring sailors from other squadrons to deal with them. Admiral Jia!”

   Admiral Jia stood up. “Yes sir?”

   “I want you to form a unit of, say, three hundred of your sailors and take possession of the Admiral’s rebelling boats.”

   “I can’t, Admiral.”

   “Why not?”

   “Because my men have cast off from the docks and taken the ships to the north basin. When I send small boats to give them orders they warn them off with threats of violence. They say the Rechyai will be in the city within a week and they plan to serve under the Rechyai General.”

   “I can’t believe my ears that such things are being said at a Falconian table,” said the Minister of War.

   “Come now,” jumped in the Commanding General of the Army. “It’s not the time to be standing on our dignity. Let’s hear from the other Admirals.”

   Each of the Admirals stood up in turn and gave essentially the same story. They were not in control of their ships. As long as they were left alone, their men would not actually attack anyone but they would obey no orders sending them against the Rechyai.

   “Well,” said the General, “Then we will have to leave them alone, won’t we? We don’t have the manpower to simultaneously defend the walls and attack our own fleet.”

   “And what if the Rechyai, learning of the mutiny of the fleet, untie their boats and move into the harbor?” asked the Minister of War.


 “We will have to deal with that when it comes,” said the General.

    And this was how the meeting ended.


   Ryo’s agents told him the same day of the Fleet’s rebellion. He called in his staff and formed a special unit which he sent to the blockade by horse. They were given ten of the Rechyai boats and sailed with Falconian traitors into the harbor where they went round the Navy ships and had them all retire to the north basin. The city’s underbelly was now exposed to the Rechyai but Ryo hesitated. Manah sent him a message that he could only hold his men back for so long. Ryo sent back that he would execute anyone who entered the harbor in defiance of his orders. Manah showed this message to his men. They grumbled but they stayed where they were.

   The next day the Falconian Army Commander send a delegation out the west gate to talk to Ryo. Ryo met them in front of his tent, asking. “Who are you?”

   The Falconians (there were three) replied with a long list of titles but Ryo was not impressed. “Go back,” he said. “Tell your bosses I will speak with four people. The Commander of the Army. The Admiral of the Fleet, the Minister of War and the Provincial Govenor. They can bring two aides a piece if they like.”

   Two hours later all these gentlemen were seated in Ryo’s tent.

   “This is not a negotiation,” he told them. “You are here to receive orders.”

   Admiral Melia made as if to object to this but the other three hushed him. Then Ryo explained to them what he wanted.

  A unit of Rechyai troops would march in the western gate that afternoon. They would cordon off the dock area setting up a command post at the gates of the Naval Yard. There the Falconians would deliver a list of supplies to the naval gate, including five thousand prostitutes, by noon the next day. Another five thousand would be delivered to the army on the plain at the same time. The Minister of War interrupted here, asking, “And if they won’t go?”

“Perhaps you would prefer,” said Ryo, “that my soldiers enter the city to find them.”

The Minister did not prefer. Ryo continued. The Falconian army was to strip the city of both its own arms and those anywhere else in the city and deliver them to the Army on


the plain. Ryo warned that he had agents in the city and if this was not done rigorously he would be forced to enter the walls and do it with his own men. All governing structures in the city were to be left intact but their executive would now be officers of the Rechyai Army. There would be a governing council of these officers with Ryo at its head and with Falconian advisors. All male citizens of property on the tax record would be required to report to the public arena near the Govenor’s Palace over the next month. According to a decision made by a council of Rechyai officers interviewing them they would be either exiled from the city or given citizenship in the Rechyai Empire. Nobles would not be considered for citizenship nor high ranking officers in the Navy or Army. As long as the Falconians did as they were asked there would be no executions. Undesirables would be exiled to the islands off the coast where they could live a normal life as long as they did not plot against the Rechyai. Ryo warned them that the islands would soon be invaded by the Rechyai Navy. The quiet and the pastoral would be left alone but the politically active would be slaughtered. He advised this class of people to invest in country estates on the islands and look to them as their exclusive area of interest. After ten years of exemplary behavior they would be considered for citizenship in the new Empire.

   Ryo said nothing about financial affairs. This was a subtext he preferred to have revealed slowly over time. It involved importing Rechyai merchants and capitalizing them with money taken from the big trading houses. This would be done in a way which did not ruin these houses for Ryo was well aware they would be essential to the financial health of the Empire. But it was important that loyal Rechyai be placed in positions of authority not only in the military and governing structures but in the merchant world as well.

   The last directive he gave the four men was the hardest. All unmarried females of families of property and under the age of thirty-five, were to be listed in a registry. They would, over the next few months, be married to Rechyai soldiers, half of their family’s wealth being their dowry. The four men sucked in their breath at this but said nothing. What could they do? Surely, as hard as this was, it was better than having the upper classes of the city butchered in the street. As they were leaving Ryo gave each man a copy of the terms he had just delivered to them verbally. Somber, reflective but at the same time immensely relieved, they were escorted by Rechyai soldiers back to the western gate.

   Ryo allowed the boats to enter the harbor two days later. The soldiers drank and ate and fornicated for two weeks but separated as they were from the main city by the cordon of soldiers there were only a few minor incidents. A Rechyai soldier, insanely drunk, killed two


prostitutes. Ryo had him publicly beheaded in the city’s main square. After two weeks Ryo cut off the liquor and began integrating the soldiers into the Falconian Navy. When this was accomplished he sent the Navy out to sea to sail around the islands.

   The Army on the plain he settled on land confiscated from exiled nobles. In the Spring their families were sailing down the Sah to join them, some of the wives very unhappy to find another wife, a Falconian, in the household. Their husbands told them they were under orders and when the women complained to Ryo he told them that the political needs of the Rechyai Empire were above their personal jealousies. He himself married two Falconians, daughters of leading merchants. When his own wife arrived she threatened him in the kitchen with a butcher knife and he was lucky to disarm her without injury for she was as swift as he and filled with passionate anger. Eventually they made a compromise. Ryo went to the Falconian women only enough to keep them pregnant which he claimed to be his duty to the Rechyai nation. His wife tolerated the women and, after some time had passed by, occasionally made common cause with them. After all, her thinking went, to blame the women for the lust of Rechyai men was going too far even for a jealous woman. As well with Ryo off so often on official business it was nice to have companions in the house other than the servants and the growing tribe of young children.


   It was not until late summer that Ryo felt he had secured the city. The nobles and suspect elements among the wealthy were exiled, allowed to depart on their pleasure boats to the west. The segments of the Falconian Navy kept on were folded into Rechyai crews who manned the ships. Ryo appointed a man in his fifties who back in the old country had been a commander of ships. Hol was his name and he very skillfully took the best of the Falconian and Rechyai tactics and tried them out in driving the invaders out of the islands off the shore. Ryo then kept a series of patrols at sea off the coast, bringing the rest of the fleet into Ara for refitting. At Hol’s request, he gave grants of land south of the city to both Rechyai and Falconian sailors. He gave money grants to Rechyai who married Falconian women and to Falconians who married the daughters of Rechyai. The Sege, after being used as out patrols to the north and south of the city were sent back east. When they arrived in Hawan, Egil gave them booty in the form of gold coins and they went back south to their villages.


  The healers followed the Rechyai into the city. Ryo wanted to give them the confiscated mansion of a noble but Reel refused. She thought it too removed from the old city (it was in a suburb just inside the walls). She preferred a commodious warehouse in the section of the city bordering the docks. There the healers set up a hospital and began a series of experiments bringing healing services to the city. They recruited and trained Falconians and then sent them along with their own healers out into the neighbourhoods.  Reel was very clever in dealing with traditional Falconian healers already there. She paid them cash to come into the healing center and teach their knowledge which was extensive especially in the matter of local plants. In return they were taught Traveler knowledge much deeper especially in the area of wounds and trauma. In the poor neighbourhoods the healers set up free clinics which Reel paid for by shamelessly badgering the newly rich among the Rechyai for donations.

   Ryo, watching from a distance, was impressed. “That woman is worth half an army of the fiercest Rechyai,” he told his wife. (his Rechyai wife) “So I suppose you will be marrying her next,” replied his wife.

   “Yes,” said Ryo. “Her and ten other beautiful healers as well.”

   “Very funny. Ha ha.”

   “I’ll have to build an addition onto the house.”

   “No need. They can take over my quarters after I throw myself into the harbor.”

   “If you did that I would have to jump in behind you and pull you out.”

   “I would do it when you are not around.”

   “You shouldn’t be saying such things. It’s not a good way to talk.”

   “And marrying those Falconian bitches is a good way to behave?”

   “I have to set an example for the men.”

   “Ha! Don’t tell me that Rechyai soldiers have to be encouraged to fuck!”

   Ryo sighed and sat up in bed. He reached over to the table and took a drink from the goblet sitting there. Then he lay back on his pillows and closed his eyes. His wife gave him a scathing look and said.


  “Disappearing again are you?”

   “Reeny shut the hell up, will you?”


   “Ok then. I am going somewhere else to sleep. I have to be up early in the morning.”

   “No doubt it will be a Falconian room you are going to.”

   “No it will not. I will be joining the stable boys in the straw above the horses. At least they sleep all night instead of arguing.”

    “OK. OK. I promise I won’t argue anymore. Stay here. If you go I’ll miss you.”

   “Fine. I’ll stay.”

   Reeny reached over and put her hand between his thighs.

   “Reeny, I have to be up early.”

   “So? It doesn’t take long to do it and if we do you will sleep better.”

   “Hmmph,” said Ryo because his wife had put an engorged nipple into his mouth.