The Annals of Fire-Rider
The first book of the Fire-Rider saga has been published in three volumes, The Saga Begins, Fire and Ice, and Homeward Bound. Each is available from Amazon in Kindle format or here at Plain & Simple Press as handsome paperbacks. Meanwhile, more is on the way.
Fire-Rider, an epic that takes place in a future ice age known to the even more distant future as “The Great Lacuna,” is related by Hapa Cottrite, an itinerant learned man and one of the very few of his times who can read and write. His journals, found in a remote cave in the dry sheepherding country of northern Vada and interpreted by Estabanya Marcanda do Tilár i Robintál do Nomanto Berdo, master storyteller of the Methgoan Academy of Written and Oral Performance , provide the material for the Fire-Rider stories. Marcanda do Tilár based her retelling of the story on the definitive translation by Fontano do Caz Eviatád, sponsored by the Western Regional Council of Research Sciences and the Institute for Theory of Intuitional Dissemination (TID) Studies.
Parts of the next book are direct translations of Cottrite’s journals and parts are narrative interpretations by Marcanda do Tilár.
And so, my friends: to a place a long time in the future on a world not at all far from ours…
The First Day: Out of Lek Doe
In the Eighth Year of Brez Lhored’s Reign
Here would I like to record my gratitude to the Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel for the care he and his men took of me while we journeyed north from Lek Doe into the lands of the Okan. Though the people in the south justifiably think of the Hengliss tribes as backward, unruly, and bloodthirsty savages, they can be surpassing generous to those they perceive as friends or guests.
At the outset, as we prepared to leave Lek Doe and head down the trail that would take us out of the Sehrras and toward the land of Okan, Lhored of Grisham Lekvel asked if I would walk with him and his party. That offer, of course, I accepted, and so daily did I find myself in the company of the Okan warlord’s closest men.
The Hengliss title of brez sounds a little like our word brezidiente. However, a brez is something very different from a Socaliniero hereditary ruler. The Okan have no line of succession for their highest headman, except insofar as the warriors from whose ranks the brez is selected do indeed inherit (or marry into) their titles. A brez is selected by a gonsa (a kind of council) consisting of all the stae’’s kubnas and mayrs, a priest or two, and the occasional shamanistic seer. The brez himself is usually a kubna, although some in the past have been mayrs. At the end of a set period, a reigning brez is dispatched to his Heavenly Father and a new one is selected.
This bizarre custom, from which we take our understanding that the northern tribes practice human sacrifice, stems from the even more bizarre belief that the brez is the physical incarnation of godhead on earth. As the Okan put it, he is thought to be the “son of God.” In the strange construct that is the primitives’ religion, God, or (as far as I can tell) some aspect of Godhead, comes into this world periodically to inhabit a single human being and to lead His chosen people from day to day. After so many years, he returns to the other world—Heaven, presumably—and shortly thereafter comes back to take up residence in the corporeal body of the next brez.
Lhored is a sturdy, fit man but not one that I would think of as the receptacle of divinity. Who knows, though, how the Divine would choose to incarnate Himself on earth? Maybe He feels a blue-eyed Okan barbarian going to grey in the beard is a vessel as good as any.
Before we left Lek Doe, the Brez Lhored took it upon himself to decide where I would sleep during the trek north, and with whom.
The Okan carry with them a type of tent that they call a lodge. For the foot soldiers and freighters, these come in the form of long, narrow shelters that can accommodate about fifty to seventy men. But the mayrs and kubnas who command the men each bring a private lodge that provides room for a single man and possibly two others, plus some gear. Space in these is fairly tight, as the structure is small enough and light enough to fold up and load aboard a pack horse.
He would, said Lhored, lend me the use of Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos’s lodge, since Mitchel is no longer on this earth to occupy it. With pleasure I accepted, for the cramped quarters and the rough company in the barracks lodges looked less than inviting. Yet an Okan lodge is so different from the light Socaliniero tents our people carry into the field, I had no idea how to put up such a thing or take it down.
My expression must have said so. Shortly, he called one of the young Socaliniero camp followers over.
“This is Duarto of Cham Fos,” Lhored said, clapping the youth on a shoulder and directing him forward by way of presenting him to me. “He’s a good lad and a hard worker. He’ll help you handle the lodge and your gear.”
Duarto, a tall, slender fellow with dark brown sloe eyes, a stippling of brand-new beard beginning to shade his jaw, and a sensual masculine grace about him, looked me frankly in the face and greeted me by name, in the Hengliss style: “Mister Cottrite.” In spite of his openness, something about him felt subdued. He spoke quietly, as though that two-word greeting were an effort.
We shook hands, and the brez continued, “Duarto was Mitch’s lad. He knows everything there is to know about this lodge, and about the gear that goes with it. You can use whatever you need of Mitch’s to make yourself comfortable. Duarto will help you out with it.
“Agreed?” he asked the young man. By his tone, you could tell there was only one answer.
“Sure,” Duarto replied. “I’ll help you set it up, and take it down and load it on the pony,” he said, again addressing me. “There’s a bunch of stuff you can use—cooking gear, bear bag, stuff to wash up with. You know, just the day-to-day camp junk.”
I said something to the effect that I’d be obliged. Then Lhored added, “And Duarto, it’s going to be pretty crowded in my lodge with four of us in there. Let’s have you sleep with Hapa Cottrite on this trek. That’ll leave room for Alber and Lonneh, and you can keep our guest warm.”
“Aw, no, Lhored. Please no, sir.” Duarto spoke, but looked like he wished he could call his words back.
“What?” A faint frown darkened the brez’s face, the slightest tightening around the mouth, a lifted eyebrow. This, as one might guess, was not a man accustomed to being gainsaid. But as fast as it came, that hint of annoyance passed.
“Why not?” he said. “What’s the problem, Duart’?”
“I can’t,” Duarto said. “I can’t go back in there. There’s just too many ghosts in that lodge for me.”
Lhored fell silent for a few seconds. Then he said, “I see. All right. You can stay with me, then.”
His two young Okan pages stood near at hand. “Lonneh,” he spoke to the oldest and tallest of the pair, “you’ll bunk with Hapa Cottrite until we get to Cham Fos.”
“Not me!” said the boy. His pallid Okan face flushed a mottled pink. “Duarto just said there’s a ghost in there.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Duarto.
“I don’t wanna go anywhere near a lodge that has a haunt. And I’m sure not going to spend the night in it.”
“Me, neither,” the other page, Alber, said before Lhored could respond to this.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lhored scoffed. “There’s no ghosts in that lodge. How can there be a ghost in it? It’s knocked down and folded up.” This theory sounded a little desperate, I thought. The boys weren’t buying it.
“Duarto saw it,” Lonneh said.
“He said so,” Alber added.
“No, I didn’t,” Duarto said.
“Enough from you, Duarto!” Lhored gave him a sharp look. Duarto subsided and stepped behind me.
Lhored turned on the two pages. “You idiots,” he said. “I don’t want to hear any more foolishness. One of you is going to sleep in that lodge. Which one will it be?”
“Not me!” Alber said.
“Huh uh!” said Lonneh. “I’m not goin’ in there.”
“The back-talk stops right this minute,” Lhored returned. “You want your licking now, or after we stop tonight?”
“No way!” said Alber.
“Oh, you do want it now?” He reached out and grabbed Alber by the arm.
One of the men who was standing around watching this side-show now interrupted: “Don’t be too hard on them boys,” he said. “Duarto said he saw it. He ought to know. He saw what happened to Mitch.”
At my back, I heard Duarto murmur, “O, por Dio!”
“That’s right,” said another bystander. “He had a vision. And he knew where to find Mitch, right there that alley.”
“We shouldn’t use that lodge at all,” a third said.
“We ought to burn it,” the first man added.
“We are not burning a lodge that’s got nothing wrong with it,” Lhored returned. “Besides. It belongs to Mitch’s son. And to the kubnath of Cham Fos. It’s not ours. We can’t set fire to it.”
“If it’s got a haunt in it, we ought not to take it with us,” the third man said.
“It could jinx the whole lot of us,” said another. “Cause something bad to happen.”
“We don’t need nothing more to happen, Lhored. We all want to get home.”
“All right,” Lhored conceded. “All right, here’s what we’ll do: we’ll exorcise it.”
“Yeah. We need to bless all this new gear, anyway. We can do the exorcism at the same time we do the blessing ceremony. Alber,” he spoke to boy whose arm he still had in hand, “you go on down the line and find Kaybrel. Bring him back here.”
Here was an interesting development. We’re told the Hengliss northerners enjoy some colorful superstitions. Now, before we could even leave the town, an opportunity to observe one such arose.
In due course, Kaybrel came striding up, young Alber tagging after him. This kubna, the lord of Moor Lek, is a gray eminence among the Okan leaders, the eldest of them (I believe) and one longing, without much secrecy, to retire from the field. Yet just weeks ago, the man earned the title “Fire-Rider” by his already legendary nerve in leading the men of Okan and A’o through a wall of flames set by their pursuing enemies. Among his various distinctions, Kaybrel is tocha—a healer, roughly like our gorandero. But tocha is slightly different: the Okan healer is believed to speak directly to the spirit world, and that contact or inspiration is what makes it possible for him to work his healing magic. Or hers: most Okan healers are women.
At any rate, that gift of spirit-speaking no doubt is why the brez called upon the man to deal with the present upset.
Lhored explained the situation—how the men and boys came to imagine the late Kubna of Cham Fos’s tent was occupied by ghosts and that a rite was needed to clear away any evil spirits. Standing next to him, I heard Kaybrel release a soft sigh through his nose, unnoticed by anyone who was more than a few feet away.
“You lads go find Tavi,” he said to Lhored’s pages. “Tell him to get my medicine bag—the black one, not the green one. It’s loaded on Mist, and it’s not on top. He’ll have to haul a bag or two off the horse to get at it. Bring it to me down the line where the freight wagons are. We’ll meet you there.”
The two trotted off in search of Kaybrel’s servant. The rest of us began to walk toward the back of the long line of men, where the wagons were gathered.
Shortly, after a moment of talk with Lhored and the foot-soldiers who had lingered to watch the show, the Moor Lek kubna took Duarto aside. They spoke quietly and in Espanyo, but I overheard:
“What the devil were you thinking, telling people that thing is haunted?” Kaybrel asked.
“I didn’t,” Duarto replied. “That’s not what I said. I meant it’s too full of memories for me. Lhored wanted me to stay with this guy, because his own lodge is going to be so crowded. For godsake, Kay, I just can’t go in there.”
“I understand. But listen, Duarto. You need to keep a lid on that kind of talk. Everybody’s ready to go, and now we’ll likely be two hours late getting on the road.”
“I’m sorry, Kay.” He looked utterly downcast.
“Well, it’s not your fault, chacho. Still, would you try to think before you say something like that? This kind of thing gets around. These clowns already believe you had a vision of some kind.”
“Yeah. I did,” Duarto said.
“Well, one way or the other, the next thing you know, everyone will be saying you have an open window into the other world.”
At this, Duarto smiled wanly.
“It sounds funny, but believe me—that’s not something you want. It gets to be a burden, real fast. Don’t let yourself in for that.”
Duarto looked up at him, something like curiosity in his glance, and nodded.
“All right,” Kaybrel said. “Don’t fret about it. We’ll get this done, and then we’ll be on our way. But please. Be a little more thoughtful.”
“I will,” Duarto said.
Kaybrel gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder and rejoined the group of Okan men.
The kubna, I noticed, speaks Espanyo with great fluency. Rare it is to come across one of the northerners who can both understand and speak the language of civilization. It also struck me, in hearing his short exchange with the young man Duarto, that he had something of the lilt and lift of Roksan, the very city these A’oan and Okan bands sacked and leveled not so long ago.
It’s odd, I think, and bears study.
The northern warlords have the odd custom of loading their great chargers—which are, one must avow, superb animals—with gear and then walking instead of riding. In contrast with Socaliniero war parties, whose cavalrymen always ride while their impressed foot soldiers walk, these chieftains march on foot with their men. Each kubna and mayr has one or two ponies that carry most of his camping gear and weaponry; he loads the rest on his charger, in packs that can be released from the saddle with a single yank of a line. He keeps his war horse with him as he marches. If he happens to have a camp boy or, like Lhored, an apprentice or two, his sidekick will lead the pack pony and the charger. If not, he consigns his loaded pack pony to a small herd of stock wrangled by a pair of drovers, which brings up the rear of the long train of men and wagons.
Men and a few boys began to collect around the supply wagons as Lhored, Kaybrel, and we various hangers-on approached. The brez stepped onto a low wooden crate, lifting himself a head above the crowd.
Right about then a slender lad, about fourteen or sixteen years old, came up to Kaybrel and handed over a black canvas bag. The kubna thanked him and set the sack on the ground.
“What’s going on?” the newcomer asked Kaybrel in Espanyo. The moment he spoke he marked himself as Roksando.
“I’ll tell you about it later, Tavi,” Kaybrel said quietly.
This one, who I later learned is named Ottavio Ombertín and who indeed did come from Roksan, is a striking young fellow, at once boy-like and strangely handsome. Clearly a child of the southern provinces, with high indio cheekbones and a deep reddish-tan complexion, he has hair the color of copper and chestnut-brown eyes that pick up the same tone. At first I thought he was a redhead, but then realized he didn’t have the typical light skin and freckles. It’s more accurate to say his coloring is an unusual shade of brown, lighter than auburn but not carrot-red.
Now the brez Lhored beckoned his followers to pray to God, whom he addressed as his father—evidently in a literal way—and then, spreading his arms and holding his hands out with palms supplicating heaven, he delivered this amazing benediction:
“We thank you, Father, for the kindness of the many good people of Lek Doe and ask your blessing for these gifts of supplies, food, tools, and livestock they have offered us.
“We thank our friends at Lek Doe, the seeyo, her boda’ drectahs, the pastors of her faith and ours, and all of the merchants, craftsmen, growers, hunters, fishers, and builders who brought us these fine things. We thank them for the gracious and loving funeral ceremony they made for our beloved cousin, Mitchel of Cham Fos.
“May Lek Doe receive Your grace. May its people prosper, and may they live in peace, now and forever.
“May the Seeyo Babra Puehkins and each of her drectahs find favor with You, O God, and may You prosper them and their offspring.
“All this, we ask, my Father, in Your name.”
The entire company answered, as one, “Amen.”
Simple, but surprisingly all-encompassing. I wondered if he had come up with this for my benefit. If I had a faint doubt, it was brought into focus by what followed. For, said he, “Gentlemen. I’d like you to meet and come to know Hapa Cottrite, our guest from Lek Doe.” He made a point of calling me forward so as to display me to all concerned and unconcerned.
“Hapa Cottrite will travel with us to Cham Fos,” he continued. “Welcome him, please.”
In the pause he allowed, men clapped their hands, stomped their feet, and hooted.
“Introduce yourselves when you can. And be sure you know his face. If we’re engaged by the enemy between here and Okan, I expect you to know he’s one of ours. Help him get to cover, and take care of him. As I would take care of you.”
A low wave of assent passed through the assembled crowd. Here and there a man muttered another “amen.”
“Now we have one more order of business,” Lhored announced before the men could break away. “We need to perform a cleansing ceremony on Mitchel’s lodge, to make sure no spirits linger with it.”
Some puzzled grumbling drifted back from the men.
“We’d like to lend it to Mister Cottrite,” he added. “For some reason, a number of us think it harbors a ghost. And so we need to take care of that before we leave.”
Frustrated expressions all around from those who were anxious to get on the road. Duarto shot Kaybrel a glance; the kubna maintained a studied blandness.
“Sam’l,” Lhored continued, now addressing Cham Fos’s wagoneer, “if you will, get that lodge out and bring it over, please.”
“But sir,” the wagon driver objected, “it’s all the way on the bottom, I think.”
“Well, then, dig it out.”
While several men of Cham Fos helped the disgruntled driver unload the large and solidly packed wagon, Kaybrel laid out some tools: a carved stone bowl into which a smaller metal bowl was set, a couple of wax fuel wafers, some tinder, a handful or two of kindling and small sticks, a flint, a steel, a piece of charcoal, and—interestingly—a small handsomely carved and finished wooden flute. He assembled the fire makings inside the metal bowl and waited.
When at last the late Kubna Mitchel’s lodge was found and hauled out of the wagon, Kaybrel beckoned Duarto to help him set up the tent. Conspicuously, none of the other men or boys would go near it. Whether they believed it harbored a ghost or not, none of them would take any chances.
Expertly, our warrior who was also a healer and also a shaman struck the flint and lit a fire in the bowl.
“You can play this thing, no?” he asked Duarto, holding up the flute.
“F’shua,” Duarto said. The Espanyo camp boys use a variety of Hengliss and Espanyo slang terms. This one I had not heard before, but it appears to be a Hengliss equivalent of glaro or así.
“Good. You’re going to help me with this, then. Watch my fingering.” He demonstrated a simple sequence of notes. “I’ll get this started, and then you can play the chant while I do the job on the lodge. Good enough?”
The young man nodded.
“All right, gentlemen,” he now addressed the assembled men, who had gathered in a semicircle around the wagon and tent. “I’m going to get the spirit’s attention first. Then we’ll sing a chant. To protect us all and also to send this spirit on its way, you’ll need to keep the chant going while I perform the ceremony.
“Do we all understand this?”
Another murmur of assent rose in reply.
“Here are the words to the chant. Pay attention:
“God’s Son, bring us to your Father.
“God have mercy on us.
“God’s Son, bring us your protection.
“God call this spirit home.
“Now, let’s all repeat those verses.”
He made them rehearse the words after him a couple of times, and then he played a plain chant melody on the flute so they could hear it once. He handed the flute to Duarto, asked him to play the tune, and sang the words again as Duarto reproduced the melody fluently.
“All right. Let’s begin.”
Kaybrel added some more fuel to the fire that now burned merrily in the set of bowls. “First,” he said, “we’ll call forth the spirit. Then, to keep us safe, all of you will chant our prayer until I tell you to stop.”
This Kubna Kaybrel of Moor Lek is a man of middling stature, neither short nor very tall, well-built, muscular and sturdy. His hair and curly beard, both a dusty shade of brown like that of many northerners, run to gray — shot through with silver. He wears his shoulder-length hair neatly combed and tied back in a queue with a length of rawhide, his homespun shirt and trousers loose and made for walking or riding, a broad-brimmed brown felt hat shading his gray-green eyes from the day’s sun.
Nothing about him could I see that set him apart, physically, from the rest of the Okan and A’oan men around him. If there was anything of the sorcerer in him, it wasn’t visible to the human eye.
Retrieving the flute from Duarto, he stepped to the front of the lodge, whose entry flaps had been tied open, and placed his lips to the instrument’s mouthpiece. There followed a strange, atonal series of notes, rising and falling from lower to higher registers, at moments deep in the alto range, at others shrill—seemingly at random. The effect, it must be said, was weird, even eerie.
The assembly fell silent. When this prelude ended, only the testy shriek of a camp jay and a light breeze whispering through the pines broke the ensuing silence.
Kaybrel handed the flute back to Duarto. Then he picked up the flaming bowl, which he held at head-height in extended hands. Duarto began to play the chant and the gathered men and boys to sing its verses, in unison.
A strong odor of eucalyptus-scented incense drifted over us with the smoke. I realized the wax fuel wafers must have been perfumed with it. The kubna dropped one into the inner bowl when he took the fire into his hands, causing the flames to flare and the incense to rise.
“Spirit! O spirit!” he intoned loudly. “Hear me now, if you will!” He waved the firebowl in the direction of the tent, wafting the odoriferous smoke toward and presumably into the open entrance.
No answer forthcoming, he continued, “I who am tocha would speak with you.
“With respect, we ask God to guide you home, to bring you to the other side, to everlasting life and everlasting peace. There love, peace, and justice wait for you.”
He waved the smoking bowl toward the entry again and then gave it a few swirls, spreading the eye-wateringly fragrant incense over all who stood nearby.
Now he paced all the way around the tent, still waving and agitating the flaming bowl and sending the perfumed smoke into the air. The Okans continued the chant through all this, steady and rhythmic.
Returning to the entrance, he waved another few shots of smoke into the enclosed space and then said, “In the name of the Lord, in the name of the Lord’s son: leave this place now and find your way to the place of never-ending peace. We bless you as we send you to our Father.”
He took the bowl in his left hand and passed his right hand over the fire. Instantly the flames flared upward with a brilliant green light.
At this, a few of the men hesitated in their chanting. Lhored urged them on, singing louder and waving his arms to the flute’s metered melody.
Kaybrel stopped speaking, and shortly the fire in the bowl died out.
He allowed the chant to continue a few minutes more and then gestured to Duarto and Lhored to bring a stop to it.
The men fell to milling about and speaking amongst each other. Duarto skulked. The one called Tavio, who had looked on wide-eyed throughout the rite, began to clean up and repack the kubna’s spirit-cleansing implements.
“Now,” Kaybrel said to Lhored, firmly enough to be heard by all concerned, “this lodge is free of any lingering spirits or airs. It’s perfectly safe for anyone to use. Agreed?” He cocked an eyebrow in the direction of one of Lhored’s Hengliss lads, who appeared no less awed than his own Espanyo boy did.
“Good,” Lhored replied. “You two chuckleheads,” he turned to the pages, “take this thing back down, put it together, and then give Sam’l a hand at repacking that wagon.
“Men,” he added in a louder voice, “as soon as this stuff is stowed, we’ll be on our way.”
The onlookers began walking back to their preferred places in the long marching column. Kaybrel glanced in my direction and said, “That incense should air out of there pretty quick, Cottrite. If it still stinks this evening, just leave the flaps open for an hour or so before you bed down.”
“Sorry about the nuisance,” Lhored said, more, I thought, to Kaybrel than to me.
Kaybrel shrugged. “You know, if you want, Duarto can stay with me and Tavi until we leave you at Puns Donjon. After that, maybe you could put him up with—I don’t know…Jag Bova?”
“That’s kind of you, Kay,” Lhored replied. “But Lonneh is going to do the job I gave him in the first place. Isn’t he?” With this, the brez eyed his elder page.
“Yessir,” came the reply.
We walked back toward the front of the line, our progress slowed when one man, two men, small groups of men greeted us and introduced themselves to me. I wondered how I was to remember all their names, but evidently that wasn’t the point. More to the point was that they would remember me, or at least my face, and not dispatch me should we encounter the bands from Loma Alda—or any other gangs of patgais—after we left the protected city of Lek Doe.
The sun had climbed a third of the way to the zenith by the time Lonneh and Alber came trotting up from the tail end of the waiting company to report that all was loaded and secured.
At last the brez gave the order to move out! All the way down the long column men got to their feet, shouldered day packs, and fell in with companions. The voices of the kubnas’ monjas—their lieutenants in charge of wrangling each cowndee’s bands—echoed down the line as each repeated the order at the top of his lungs. Redundant, it was: no one needed any urging to get on the road.
We crest the low rise just beyond Lek Doe and start down the trail that will take us off the steep eastern face to the bajadas of the Sehrra Muns. The wide brown desert basin beyond the Sehrras stretches out below us, as far as a man can see, fading to blue in the distance, where lower mountains punctuate the plain. A high bluff to one side of the road harbors a flock of swifts. Startling it is to see the graceful little birds whipping through the void at our eye level, a great chasm open below them—and us.
Further off, a red-tailed hawk sails a wind current through a sky as blue as the deeps of the lake itself. Flaxen grass bends and waves in the breeze that drops down off the pass. The cool wind pushing us down the mountain carries the scent of horse and dust and sweat. Wagons creak and rattle; horses’ hooves and men’s boots pound the road.
So it begins: another journey, another adventure.
Did you enjoy this coming attraction from a future Fire-Rider novel? Curious about the world that Kaybrel and his people inhabit? The first three volumes of the Fire-Rider saga can be found at Amazon, or if you prefer to touch paper when you read your books, here at Plain & Simple Press. Lose yourself in a future world — you may never want to come back.
© 2016 Millicent Victoria Hay. All rights reserved.
Hapa Cottrite, © alexeys; Okan lodge, © vladislavgajic; Incense, © raelanglois; Ghost, © casarda ; Incense bowl, © librakv
Mountainside vista, © Spadefoot