Challenge

It seems like we have nothing to lose, so we can only win..

Well, that was the scariest morning in my life, counting the time baroness Raith sent a wall of fire over Il Ayande (or Jomhur) that hit our ship. I’m not exaggerating, and if I didn’t have my dignity as leader of the tribe to uphold I’d be in Thamsin’s arms, whimpering. When I told her that, she was amused and wanted to give it a go…

But let me go back in mind to what happened — because there’s a lot here that’s quite important to remember correctly. So the King returned from his hunting expedition, with remarkably little fanfare. He went through the camp, through the gate and into his palace, not cheered on much, if at all. But it was ominous.

Very ominous when the King’s adviser, the mage Naranbataar, came to our tent after doing the rounds of the other tribal chiefs’ tents and told us that for reasons of impending famine and sickness all the tribes had to move two days away from the central camp site. Good way to make sure that nobody has an army handy to fight the King! We promised that ours was already on the edge and that they would retreat into the forest. Of course, what Naran didn’t realize is that this move would hide our, well lack of, strength from everyone elese as well.

For the rest, this mage seemed to be a nice enough fellow. He wanted peace, so that was fine with me, and he didn’t smell of burnt children’s meat, so maybe he’s innocent of that. His daughter is gifted and kisses the king’s son on the sly. I cannot imagine he never noticed that — it’s one way of getting him to support our proposals.

Before the big event, there was going to be a banquet, or rather, the King’s men were going to roast some game and we’d eat it and, for the first time, talk to each other. This was obviously going to be a big occasion, and I was not going to do this on my own, so I took Sepideh and Ailin with me. I really had wanted to take Thamsin, but she was shocked by the suggestion.

The evening started very slowly, with people barely talking. There was kumiss to drink, which isn’t much of a drink (but people managed to get drunk on the strength of it anyway), and roast meat. Well, that was fine, and there was enough, even for my appetite. I feel like a kind of giant with hollow legs among the Khas. They are all so small…

Then after some time the mingling started. I spoke to pretty much every tribal chief out there — there were eight other tribal chiefs, me, and the King. I got the impression that peace pretty much was welcome, except for the idiot whose tribe lives to the north of our village. He wanted to get his own back at the Síthi, Valdyans and Iss-Peranians. Most of the chiefs were really cowards, though. They would go with any decision the king made. And then there’s the one chief who is a dedicated hunter, and he’s my designated ambassador to the Valdyan king, to Athal. After all, there’s more to hunt up there, than here on the plains.

And the king is a really nasty piece of work, in my opinion. He is a mage for one thing, and holds his chief advisor and Nayam Suren bound by thick strands of anea. He told me he was going to listen, and then would make the decision on his own, and I had to tell him that that was, of course, very proper.

In the middle of all the mingling, Ailin slipped away, she had noticed that the king’s son (is he a prince?) and a girl were sneaking out and then making out; then she noticed that the king’s mother was gifted. She got her aside and had a talk, but I don’t know about what.

The evening dragged on, but eventually wound its way to its dreary end. My stomach was doing weird things to me because of all the filthy kumiss I had drunk — though I wasn’t even feeling the slightest bit squiffy! — and we still had to go to the god hills, outside the camp with our tribe’s chief people.

This was something we had decided on earlier, before the meeting started. We’d go to the hills I’d seen during my journeyman’s trial and invoke the Gods. After all, Timoine had sent me and Ailin on our way, and Naigha had pushed us on, and then Anshen and the Nameless had embraced me. It was time we talked business.

So in the middle of the night, me, Ailin, Fikmet, Sepideh, Barah and Bath Kuyah (chief, chief’s sister, avatar of Timoine, champion of the women’s cause, sufferer from incorrigible curiosity and my captain, respectively) went out the camp.

We didn’t even have any problems with the gate guards. Does the might chief of the Tribe of Dawn want to go out with a bunch of muckity-mucks? Sure, no problem, let’s open this gate, shall we mates? Hello? If I were king…

The campsite seemed empty and desolate with most of the tribes moved out. Dirty, too, with latrine ditches everywhere. But we came to the edge of the forest, and there we stood, facing the two hills.

We decided on doing the Invocations, the Valdyan text, but in Khas.

I took the lead, as befits the Chief. Timoine was our first, and he appeared to us. He was separate from Fikmet, which surprised Ailin. We asked him for his support tomorrow, in the meeting, and he promised it us, but said none of the Gods would listen to him; and that he, yes, had brought us here to help his brothers and sisters, the children of the Khas, to end the injustice of the burnings of the gifted.

We called upon Anshen, and we got both… As during my journeyman’s trial. I spoke to the light side, and asked Anshen for his support, tomorrow, when I would plead for peace. He was evasive, because he was both, I think, but acknowledged that he had granted me his colours and that I had a call upon him. And he promised me to support me when he could, without getting too definite.

We called upon Mizran, and he appeared to us. He listened to our plea for peace and prosperity, and promised to stand beside us and listen to us, but he could do no more, he said, and he left us.

We called upon Naigha, and she came to us, and explained to us that the way the Khas kill their gifted children and abuse their power and the way the Khas diminish their women and abuse them had divided the Gods themselves, and that she and Timoine had called on us, to end this injustice and bring the Gods together again and end their division.

We promised her that we would do everything we could — and then we went back to our tent.

What was our plan? We had the armour of Khongor Dzol, the famous tribal chief who avenged the massace of her tribe by massacring the other tribe. We had our wits, and the clear mandate from the Gods… How were we going to convince this piece of rotten cheese of a King that peace would make him great, and war would end him?

Sepideh’s idea was to make him ridiculous by getting a child to challenge him. A good idea, but possibly fatal for the child. But a good idea…

After much back-and-forth, we came to a proper plan: we would challenge the king, if he refused to accept our proposals for peace, life for the gifted and their own ownership for women, to a battle royal: Sepideh would challenge him to story telling, Batuhl to wrestling and Ailin to a bout of drinking. Tradition, fight and feast were to be combined in this epic challenge. So we decided, and we went to bed.

Thamsin — I love her so much. She took it in her stride and gave me the rest I needed before we went out to the meeting hall in the morning.

I had taken Ailin and Sepideh, Sepideh clad in the armour of Khongor Dzol, and that armour hidden by her cloak. Ailin proudly carrying her sword and her dagger. They stood behind me, my advisers and bodyguards. I still feel that soon, the Dawn will have a new chief, and that will be Sepideh — and then Ailin will be free to join the Order of the Sworn, and Thamsin and me will go to Lenyas, buy some land and produce the most amazing crowd of children. But that was just me trying to stop thinking of what would come.

The meeting was opened, and the king posed the question: peace or war? There was not much more to his speech! And the chiefs replied.

One was for, one was against — and the rest, the fucking cowards, they were with the king, whatever the king would decide. Oh, they packaged it in beautiful words, some of them. Altanchimeg, the mage chief of the Snake tribe added that the mages of the Khas had been bound and hampered and that that had lost them the war.

So then it was my turn. I told everyone that my tribe was a new one, that I was not Khas by birth and that I had seen the war, and that a new war could never be won. That the Witch of Lenyas had killed as many men as there were in this entire camp in a few hours — and that I had seen her do it.

Peace, a long and lasting peace would bring wealth and contentment to the Khas, and that would make the name of King Batukhan go down the ages as Batukhan the Great — a war would make him known as the last King of the Khas, the King who, when had the chance to give greatness back to the Khas had chosen their death.

He was convinced of that idea, I think, though not properly. He was shocked to learn that the Síthi, the Valdyans, the Iss Peranians, even the Ishey, considered the war to be over, for good, believed that there was no war with the Khas anymore. His dignity demanded a response to that!

But peace — he interpreted that as a period during which he could build up his strength, while his enemies would get soft with peace and content — that was a good idea. But I’ll get him — I’ll take one of the chiefs, his son and his son’s lover with us to Ayneth! To be friends, to be sure, but if not, to be hostages.

I added that I agreed with Altanchimeg — the Khas were wasting their strength by the killing of almost all of their gifted children. Seeing the King make a motion of wanting to speak, I held up my hand, and added that there was another way we, the Khas, were wasting our strength, and gave the word to Sepideh.

She dropped her cloak and showed her fabled armour, the armour of Khongor Dzol.

Her speech was good, as good as mine, and she pleaded for equality, to make women independent of men, owned by themselves and masters of their destiny.

She paused, and when she paused, I added the evidence of the Gods, their division and the desire of Naigha to end that division. I could see Anshen behind the king, but he was also next to me. The other gods were around us as well.

The king moved his bum, took the position of a grave statesman, or rather, of a village chief unsure of what to do, and looked at Sepideh and then at me.

“What do you want me to do? You say women are the equal of men — but that is new, and no tradition warrants that.”

We told him, once again, about Khongor Dzol — and then he asked us whether we would challenge him about it.

Sepideh was ready for that, and she put out the challenge we had thought out.

And he accepted. The only remaining problem was when and where — and I said, in front of all the Khas, not hidden in this palace, and that decided when, too — in two days.