The king’s city

Ferin is a lot more coherent and comprehensive than Ailin in this episode.

Our children are back! I’m so relieved. When they left us by way of the underground river near the big gorge, I was really angry. Hm, maybe that’s the wrong word. Well, it was difficult to figure out what I thought or felt. They had left us a message, true, but they had gone without telling anyone, and left our tribe without any children.

We went after them of course, looking for them with our spirits, only realizing when it was too late that they had crammed themselves all in that hollowed-out log sorry excuse for a boat down the hole, near the underground river.

But Fikmet assured us that they were taking a safer route than us, and that we would see them again, that they hadn’t left the tribe. I just hope that next time they’ll realize they can discuss their plans with us, and that we’re unlikely to object to a good plan!

So we went on, and on — until at long last we came to a forest-like area, where there were wolves, water and snow. But Ailin has told of that already.

I might be in the Guild of Anshen, and as the Khas reckon such things, a mage, but I’m not a particularly spiritual person. Which is why I did a double-take when the path through the forest was exactly the path I had trodden in my journeyman’s trial. There was the same fork in the road, the same small mounds — but beyond those mounds there was a huge hill, almost a mountain, hundreds of feet high.

At the foot of the hill was a great camp, thousands of tents scattered across the plain around a biggish stone wall that protected a small cluster of stone houses.

We’d finally arrived at the King’s City!

I was determined that the Tribe of the Dawn would make a good impression, so we dressed our ranks and marched into the camp. Yes, people were surprised, and sometimes more than surprised. More than once we were held up by a Khas man, asking us who we were, and what we were coming here for.

Our answer was clear: we were a Khas tribe and we had come to the gathering of all tribes, and did the other guy have a problem with that? It helps if you can look down on someone’s balding pate from a height, of course, so we never actually had to fight our way through.

Through the tents, we marched to the gates in the stone wall. It was guarded, but the gates and the guard weren’t that imposing. I suppose we could have stormed them and taken them with just our tribe, but that wasn’t necessary.

Truth be told, most things in the Khas world seem worn and tawdry. This is one tired people, tired from being bled in endless wars. Wars don’t make a people strong, it’s trade that does that! (And farming.)

The poor people have just spent years pouring out their soldiers into the the butchery that King Athal, the Baroness and General Beguyan prepared for them. All told, there were perhaps forty thousand men and women in this camp! That’s less than one Iss-Peranian army, it’s also much less than the hordes of Khas that invaded Iss-Peran, Solay and Valdyas.

But these people, let’s not forget that, have the habit of burning gifted children, or, if they don’t burn them, to give them to one of their mages to suck dry of power. That’s something I have to keep in mind, because we are making good friends here, now.

So let’s make some things clear in my mind:

When the king comes back from his hunt, I’ll tell him, first, that the Khas should admit defeat. There’s no way this rabble can mount another attack on Solay and get anywhere near. It’s over, with the Khas wars.

The second thing I’ll tell him is to listen to our Sepideh. After all, the women in the big camp are listening to her, too. She’s been making rounds to all the tents, and talking to whoever wants to listen.

And the third thing is to make him stop burning children. And if he won’t do that, I’ll fight him, Timoine and Anshen are my witnesses. What I want is to go back to Tilis with Thamsin and have children and live — but if it’s needed, I’ll know my duty. I’ll fight that King if the Khas mages don’t stop burning the gifted.

But that’s later — the king is away, hunting, and we only discovered that after some days.

We arrived at the gates, and the guards asked us who we were — and I told them I was the headman of the Tribe of the Dawn, and they said, oh, well, go in then — but leave your tribe outside.

We all went in, after all, every headman has his entourage, right? And these are mine. Nobody needs to know that this is the whole tribe.

There were about half a dozen tents already pitched in a big courtyard. A bit further along were those stone houses, I’d almost call them shacks, and that’s where the king and his wives live!

Nobody joined us, nobody asked us whence we came or who we were — we were ignored. Every headman’s tent did have an entourage, too, but smaller than mine, which makes me, I guess, the biggest headman present!

And nobody talked to anybody else.

I sent some people out on reconnaisance, to find water and food, to find out about the king and how many mages there were around. And we had our reading and writing lessons and so on — but no semsin, since the kids were gone and Ailin and I needed to hide our gift from the mage-headman in another tent in the courtyard, a yellow tent.

The next day, I took the tribe outside for training, sword, bow, slingshot, wrestling, running. The women excused themselves, they proposed to go to the other women in the great camp and talk to them, and talk, and talk. And that seemed like a good idea to me. Only Ailin stayed with us, all the others went.

Thamsin took some beads I had been carving for in her hair, and she managed to do good trade with them, so I spent most of my evenings carving more, in the shape of cats’ heads, spirals, faces — all kinds of things. I’ve got big hands, but I’m pretty good with them, as all seamen are.

But that was a bit later. First, when we had our first training a big Khas man came to me and started the “I’m not scared of you big man, so fight me, unless you’re scared of me” dance. I threw him down after a bit of wriggling, then did that again. It wasn’t hard, but it was also clear that it was easier than it should have been: I am so inexperienced in wrestling that it was more surprise than anything else which threw the guy off balance.

I got him to promise to teach me proper wrestling, and we’ve been having fun just about every day since. Yesterday, he even invited me to his tent, to meet his lady wife and to drink some weird drink, apparently made of horse milk, fresh, but a bit boring. I’ve promised to share a bit of Valdyan brandy with him!

Almost every afternoon some other headman put up his tent in the courtyard. None of them approached any of the others, which struck Ailin and me as weird, but our Khas weren’t surprised. After all, what if they were in a feud or got into a new feud? There’d be fighting, and the King was still away.

But one of the headmen had two small kids with him, a boy and a girl, and their natural curiosity had not abated yet — they were watching us closely, and finally came over to us. Ailin took care of them, and made them feel at ease. We gave them food, and taught them some letters. There were awfully proud of that, though the boy was indignant we were teaching his sister as well. Another chance to strike a blow against the women-are-cattle idea!

I think we got really friendly with the kids, and when I saw their mother steal a glance our way, I knew they’d been talking about us. That could be good, or it could be bad, but on the whole, I think good. After all, the more people know about the Dawn and what we are, the better.

We really were pressed for food now, though, and hunting near the camp was an impossibility, so we sent Sepideh and Ailin out to hunt, while Thamsin was going to try and trade beads for plains grain. That’s when we realized our kids were back!