Category Archives: Fire-Rider

Fire-Rider, Foreword * FREE READ *

Foreword:
A Word about the Translation and Interpretation

When the Cottrite Chronicles (Cottrite Codex 1.1–18.7) were recovered from a remote northern Vada cave in 2782 P.E., few researchers understood the extent to which they would forever change our understanding of the history and prehistory of our predecessors on this continent. As we have seen over the past three decades, these fragmentary journals, some of whose precious pages were lost in their very discovery, proved to be the key that unlocked the door to a remote past and revealed details of the lost civilization of the ancient Mercans, a culture whose complexity and sophistication had been hitherto unimagined. Perhaps as startling, the manuscripts provide an intimate view of the ice-age Espanyo and Hengliss cultures of the Great Lacuna, those tribal peoples who are our immediate ancestors.

The definitive translation of the Cottrite Codex appeared late last year under the direction of scholar and author Fontano do Caz Eviatád. The sponsors of that edition, the Western Regional Council of Research Sciences and the Institute for Theory of Intuitional Dissemination (TID) Studies, recognized early on that a direct, line-by-line rendering of Cottrite’s archaic language would be less than accessible to the general public. Given the wide interest in the discovery and its profound importance to our understanding of Methgoan culture and history, it was decided that a popular rendition should be produced, incorporating the best of current story-telling techniques. The Council announced an official competition to select the individual who would bring Hapa Cottrite’s narratives to the people.

Several outstanding story tellers received nominations for this challenging and prestigious role. Ultimately, Master Story Teller Estabanya Marcanda do Tilár i Robintál do Nomanto Berdo, of the Methgoan Academy of Written and Oral Performance, was selected. Marcanda do Tilár’s extraordinary output of realist and fantasist historical tales, including her acclaimed Forty Days of Holiár do Cortazín, recommended her highly. We believe the result of her seven-year collaboration with Fontana do Caz Eviatád fulfills all the promise of the heady excitement that characterized the early days of the Cottrite discovery.

The present volume, Fire-Rider, relates the events preceding and following Cottrite’s departure from Lek Doe with the Hengliss bands under Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel. Designed to show what life was like for men in the field, the narrative follows Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek, his associates, and his cousins through a summer’s campaign. It begins with the fall of Roksan, a crux in Kaybrel’s biography, and proceeds through events that, in the long run, were to determine the Hengliss tribes’ fate. The narrative’s details are based on Cottrite’s explicit relation of events he observed and stories he learned while among the Hengliss, and on intuitive-disseminative understanding of Hengliss history as deduced by the various scholars whose efforts are cited with Fontana do Caz Eviatád’s afterword.

Fontana do Caz Eviatád’s scholarly discussion of the Codex, which follows Marcanda do Tilár’s interpretive narrative, should not be missed by the serious reader. This important companion piece is the first article to discuss the manuscripts’ provenance, to provide an overview of the ancient Mercan culture, and to describe Espanyo and Hengliss life in the late Inter-Historical Era in a single document. What the Cottrite Chronicles tell us casts light on the events that led to the beginning of the Present Era, and they suggest that Hapa Cottrite himself may have played a role in those events.

The kubna Kaybrel of Moor Lek, dubbed Fire-Rider, was selected as a central figure for this first volume for several reasons. First, Cottrite seems to have felt a particular affinity for him, perhaps because they were both widely traveled and, for their time, learned men. Kaybrel of Moor Lek returned from his youthful journeys with a headful of pharmaco-herbal lore that earned him the title of tocha (“healer”), a shamanistic position whose considerable prestige and influence added to his already powerful status as tribal warlord. Of the many individuals Cottrite describes in his journals, the kubna Kaybrel stands out as the most nuanced, complex, and multidimensional figure. Second, the House of Moor Lek had an almost totemic significance for the Okan Hengliss, whose long-standing hatred of the Espanyo was fired to a vindictive pitch by the town’s destruction, approximately three decades earlier, at the hands of Roksando raiders. And finally, the kubna of Moor Lek clearly played a central role in the politics of the entire Okan stae’: cousin and councilor to Brez Lhored; cousin to Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos; comrade and advisor to the future Brez Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells; friend to Jag Bova Mayr of Rozebek (destined to become the future Brez Fallon’s father-in-law and his most trusted aide); and chosen man to the powerful and influential Maire Kubnath of Silba Lek. In any of these roles, an Okan leader was positioned to make his wishes and opinions heard; occupying all of them, Kaybrel Fire-Rider Kubna of Moor Lek must have been a formidable presence.

Marcanda do Tilár’s interpretation of the Cottrite Codex attempts to communicate the loves and hates, hardships and joys, successes and losses of a distant people, and to show how their humanity touches us. The historical importance of the individuals depicted here is beyond question: had they not made the choices they did, innocent of their ultimate effect, the outcome of the Wars of Occupation might have been entirely different. The Espanyo-Mezgoan Unification from which the early Methgoan Polity grew might never have happened. Upon so little does so much depend.

The Board of Trustees of the Institute for Theoretical Intuitive Dissemination Studies
The Western Regional Council of Research Sciences
Seaside, Bahagalifone
2812 P.E.

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Fire-Rider, Part I: A Gift for the Kubna * FREE READ *

Chapter 1
Roksan

Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells rarely gave himself over to speculation. If on this good day you had asked him how the Hengliss tribes came to see themselves as one being, a living organism whose limbs and body and soul formed a single piece—or even if they did—he would have laughed. He would direct your attention to the pillar of smoke twisting skyward where Roksan burned, and he would turn your question obliquely around. He would ask you, then, had they not, the bands of Okan and A’o fighting as one under the Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel, had they not done a fine thing?

Fallon Mayr of Chene Wells

He passed the flask that was making the rounds among several companions to Jag Bova Mayr of Rozebek. Bova, a chunky flaxen-bearded northerner whose heft made Fal’s long, wiry frame look slight by comparison, lifted the boda in a friendly salute, swigged its unrefined contents as though he were taking a deep drink of water, and passed it to Kristof Mayr of Oshin.

“That was one hot maneuver you two pulled inside them gates,” Robin Mayr of O’a remarked to Fal. A slender, muscular young man with a smooth chestnut-colored beard, he accepted the boda from Kristof and lifted it vaguely in Fal’s direction.

“Mostly Kay’s idea,” Fal said. He shrugged as though he’d had little to do with the swath they’d ripped through the defenders in the long chaos after the Hengliss had breached the enemy city’s entrance.

“Bull!” said Jag Bova. “He couldn’t have done it by himself. And I’ll tell you—when he takes them kind of ideas into his head, I’m sure as hell glad I’m not the one who has to fight on his flank.”

Fallon laughed with the others. But he was glad, too, that it wasn’t Bova. He wouldn’t have traded his place at Kay’s side for any honor the brez could dream up.

“He had his reasons for going after the bastards like that,” Kristof remarked.

“Must have felt damned good,” Robin added. “If it’d been me, I’d have tried to squash every cockroach I could catch.”

“Yeah. Well, we just about did that,” Fal said. “Not too many of ’em left in there.”

Fire-rider siegeEven where they were standing, a mile away, heat from the fires burning the sacked Espanyo city reached them. It took the chill off the cool air that drifted down the distant snow-covered Achpie and Serra peaks flanking the wide bottomland along the Wakeen Ribba.

“Ain’t none of ’em gonna crawl out of that place no more, no how,” Robin agreed. He passed the drink back to Rozebek.

Bova raised the flask to that, and they all murmured their appreciation of Robin’s whiskey-laced profundity.

“There goes your kubna with his cousin now,” said Bova. “Looks like they want to get a view of the doings.”

By “your kubna” he meant Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek, the man to whom Fal, Robin, and Kristof owed their first loyalty. The cowndee of Rozebek belonged to the house of Puns, and Jag Bova served its kubna, Rikad of Puns.

They watched Kaybrel and Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos stride through the festive troops gathered on the plain before the burning city. Kay was carrying his leather helmet in one hand, his silver-streaked hair flowing loose around his shoulders. To Fal’s eye, he looked tired, but the others didn’t see that. The two kubnas cleared the mob and headed toward a low butte that rose above what had a few hours earlier been a battlefield. They disappeared around the side of the promontory, seeking the gentle rise up the hill’s backside.

“How long has it been for him?” Robin asked.

“What? Since Moor Lek fell?” Fallon read meaning into Robin’s question. “I think he said…no, it was the kubnath who said that. Maire said it was twenty-eight years ago this spring.”

“Twenty-eight years! She wasn’t even born then, eh?”

“Neither were the rest of us,” Fal replied, and what he said applied to everyone there but Jag Bova, the only man among them to have reached his early thirties.

Fal and Maire, Kay’s only current wife, were about the same age. Fal believed he was a little older than Maire, although it would have taken some doing to prove it. No Okan would ever mark a birthing day too conspicuously. It brought bad luck, making a big fuss over a baby before you knew it would live to childhood. Be that as it may, though, neither one had reached this world until several years after the fall of Moor Lek to Espanyo warriors from Roksan, the city that lay in flaming ruins on this good day.

Jag Bova said he wanted to see what his boys were peddling to each other, and he strolled away. The men had organized—if that word can be used to describe it—a casual open-air bazaar. Drunken, cheerful, and giddy with success, they offered their loot to each other, barter or sell. Spread on the ground were all manner of goods: clothing, jewelry, household utensils, farm and garden tools, pots and pans, knives, weapons of all description, sticks of furniture, carvings and small statues, soaps, perfumes, creams, sticks for walking and magical stones for healing, food of every variety. Shouts and bargain-making banter rose on the air. The place lacked only the cries of cozening women and roving bakers to sound like the Sunday market in some big town like Oane Lek or Cham Fos.

Fire-rider bodaThe three Moor Lek retainers lingered over the boda awhile longer, until Robin’s camp boy Nando appeared. He beamed cherub-like at Robin.

“Come look what I found,” he begged.

Robin suppressed his own smile. “Why would I want to do that?” he said skeptically.

Nando’s curly hair and apple-round cheeks made him look younger than he was, and in many of Robin’s peers’ opinion, he was way too young to take into the field. But he had no one else to care for him, and Robin had developed a fondness for the Espanyo orphan that kept them together, even during the summer campaign.

“Because,” Nando said with sterling logic. Seeing his friend unmoved, he added, “There’s this thing, like a white rock? Only it’s not a rock—that guy over there,” he pointed vaguely into the crowd, “he says it’s made of something that comes from the ocean. And it’s all carved! Like a weird wrinkly little woman, with this big ole fish over her back. Could we get it?”

“Sounds like it might be a piece of tusk,” Kristof speculated.

“Yeah, right,” said Robin. “More like a chunk of chalk.”

The men chuckled. “You never know,” Fal said. “Some of those Espanyo kubnas are richer than Heaven’s roads.”

“They got kubnas?” Robin asked.

“Sure,” said Kristof. “What’s a kubna called in Spanyo talk, boy?” he said to Nando.

“A kubna? He’s like an alacaldo,” came the answer.

“Them all-caldos are all cold now,” Robin joked.

“Don’t look too chilly in there right at the moment,” said Kristof. He lifted the boda to toast that observation and emptied it.

After Robin and Kristof wandered off to view Nando’s find, Fallon took his boda back to the freight wagon that had been hauled onto the field of victory, where he refilled it from a large oaken cask. Then he headed for the little bluff he had seen Kay and Mitchel climb, still wearing his leather chest armor unlaced and hanging loose from his shoulders.

When Fal reached the cousins, he shook Kay’s hand, punched Mitch on the shoulder, congratulated them on a fine day’s work. Wiry and saturnine, his dark beard and mustache trimmed as if to cut down wind resistance, he offered the boda to the two older men. They accepted the liquor cheerfully. The drink passed between them while they gazed at the scene below.

“Beautiful sight, isn’t it?” Mitchel remarked.

“Oh, yeah,” Fal said. “That it is.”

They stood taking in the view, the torched city a roaring, gaudy backdrop to the activity on the plain before it.

“Must do your heart good,” Fal said to Kay.

“You bet,” Kay said.

But his eyes said something else, Fal saw, the expression gray and pensive, far from the unrestrained joy Fallon would have felt had he stood in Kay’s boots. Tired, maybe: the fight was hard-won, and Kay and Fal had put themselves at the front line.

As for Kay, the man of the moment: What was he feeling? The smoky breeze combed his grizzled beard and hair like the hand of a woman who had been working by the kitchen hearth. He thought of Maire and the child. When he looked at the devastation below him, he did not, could not think of bygone sorrow or of the years spread out between past loss and present victory. Instead, he thought of going home.

“You been down there to check out all the stuff those guys pulled out of there?” Mitch asked.

“Nah, not much,” Fal said. “Just got done in that lower field downriver. We had my boys and O’a’s getting ready to fire the crops. They found a vineyard, though, with some grapes they wanted before they got back down to work.”

“How about yourself, Kay?” The boda began a second round; Mitch passed it to Kay.

“I expect I’ll get everything I need from my men, when they give me their share.” He tipped the container and then passed it back to Fal.

“You need some kind of souvenir from this,” Mitch said. “This is a big one. I mean, this isn’t just any little Spanyo village full of mud huts we’ve taken out here.”

“Yeah,” Fal agreed. “Something to remember it by.”

Kay needed nothing to help him remember the events associated with Roksan and the Roksanderos. To the contrary, he’d rather forget them. But when his cousin and Fal headed back down the hill to check into the festivities, he went with them.

Chapter 2
A Gift for the Kuba

The blazes consuming the city by now had come together into one firestorm that roared like a tornado or, Kay thought, like a frenzied beast fresh-sprung from its cage. It howled an angry counterpoint to the genial chaos in the foreground, where the Hengliss victors, all of them filthy and some still blood-spattered from the fighting, partied and traded goods in a noisy, smelly, jostling crowd. Stink of dust, blood, and horse still filled his nose, though by now it surely should have cleared from his head. Maybe it was smoke and sweat and whiskey and broiling fat he smelled, and the rest imagined from memory.

The three allies wound their way among the various piles of stuff. “Look at this,” Fal said. He held up an ivory-handled dagger.

“That came from the north coast,” said Kay. The carving was cruder than the intricate scrimshaw on the hilt of the blade he wore on his belt, though in these parts it still was a rare piece.

“Blade’s not as good as yours,” Fal observed.

“No. That’s because I had Zeb make a new one for me. Foshinden metalwork’s never very good. He’ll put a new one on that for you, too, if you ask him nice enough.”

Fal examined the knife closely and then set it aside.

A store of dried fruit—peaches, apricots, apples—lay on a groundcloth. Mitchel offered a coin for half of them. Further along, a length of finely woven silken fabric, pure cream with the texture of a baby’s cheek, caught his attention. He showed it to his companions, wanting their opinion.

“Pretty,” Fal said. “Nice thing to take to the kubnath. She’d like it.”

“It’s one of the things the Roksandos do best, make textiles like this,” Kay remarked. “Or they did, anyway.”

Mitch took it for his senior wife, Bett. Bett Kubnath of Huam Prinz, she was styled, and Kubnath of Cham Fos, too. She was probably the most powerful woman in Okan, more so even than the brez’s wife, Leah, the cowndee she gained by marriage to Mitch incidental to the large and wealthy cowndee of Huam Prinz. Leah, after all, was kubnath only of Grisham Lekvel. He told the man who handed the fabric over that he would give him something in return later.

They ambled around the crowded field. Men greeted them or came up to congratulate them on their leadership. Mitch in particular got thanks and admiration, for Cham Fos had been right up at the front with A’o, leading the way through the breach in the gates. He fought in Kay’s style, seasoned, agile, and quick, the way the kubna of Moor Lek used to fight when he was younger. Not that Kay begrudged him the compliments: he and Fal together formed a killing machine that wouldn’t stop. But, Kay reflected, when he was Mitch’s age, ten years earlier, he had no need for a sidekick.

Noonday sun began to feel hot to Kay. The noise was getting on his nerves, too, men yelling over the rumbling inferno behind the town’s broken walls. An incipient headache wanted to make itself felt: it crawled around the nape of his neck and pressed on his temples. Time to go back to camp, maybe take a nap. He’d pitched his lodge beneath an old oak, a choice site in the campground the Hengliss had made a mile up into the hills, where a cool stream trickled past on its way to feed the Mendo Ribba. It seemed a better place to pass the afternoon than this. That stream, he expected, would have some trout in it.

He took leave of his friends and walked back toward the campground.

Before he got far, though, one of his men hailed him. Willeo, the village cask-builder (he made small tools, too), came up only to Kay’s shoulder, but he was a husky young man with a disposition so calm that Kay had never seen him annoyed, upset, drunk, or visibly frightened. They exchanged greetings—Kay congratulated Willeo on his conduct in the fighting, and Willeo returned the compliment.

“Would you come see what we’ve found?” Willeo asked.

“Actually, I was on my way back to camp, Will,” Kay said.

“We got these three kids,” Willeo persisted. “A couple of them look pretty sick, and we were wondering if there was anything to be done for them.”

“Roksandos? You know what I think can be done for them.”

“Come on, Kay.” Will was impervious. “They’re just youngsters. Hardly more than children.”

Kay shrugged. “I don’t have my bag with me,” he said.

“Well, just take a look at them.”

They made their way through the crowd to a place where Moor Lek’s blacksmith Zeb, Don’O, and an A’oan footsoldier whom Kay didn’t know were sitting on the ground and passing the boda. They all stood when they saw Kay coming.

“Mister Kaybrel,” said Don’O. They clapped each other on the shoulder and Kay shook hands with Zeb and the A’oan. Don’O was Moor Lek’s monja—Kay’s lieutenant in charge of his foot troops.

“How’s it going?” Kay asked.

“Good. Sweet, isn’t it?” Don’O said.

“Like honey in milk,” Kay agreed.

“Kay said he’d look at our property,” said Willeo.

“I’m glad you came by,” said Don’O. “We’d like to sell these piglets, but a couple of ’em are in a bad way. We don’t know whether they’re worth anything or not.”

Nearby, they had three young Espanyos tied together with stout rope. One clearly had no need to be bound. He lay on the dirt, barely conscious. A second sat beside him, and the third stood and watched the men approach, expressionless.

“Where’d you get them?” Kay asked. “Pull them out of the city?”

“No. A couple of those bums from Bose had ’em. We traded some junk for them—but that was before we realized they were kind of bad off.”

Kay knelt next to the prone youth. The closest thing to a healer among his people, he had no idea what the problem was, but he could see this one was on his way out. “Won’t make it,” he said. “He probably won’t live the night.”

“Come here, chacho,” Kay said in Espanyo to the second lad. He was the only man in the combined bands who spoke more than a few words of the southern languages. “Let’s take a look at you.” When he put his hand on the boy’s arm, he could feel heat radiating through the ragged shirt. Alight with fever, the kid was breathing in short pants. His face glowed pink and his eyes were glazed. “It’s all right. I’m not going to hurt you.” The boy didn’t resist, but neither did he seem to hear. Kay pulled his shirt up and saw a delicate, veiny red rash stippling the flushed torso.

“This one has red fever,” he said. “He’ll be dead in three days.”

“Shit,” said Zeb.

“Yeah. You need to get rid of him. If one of you has had it, he should do the honors. Otherwise, I’d stay away from him, if I were you.”

Kay regarded the brat unhappily. Did this mean they’d have his contagion in their ranks? He’d just as soon not lose Zeb, and he certainly couldn’t afford to lose Don’O, his oldest and most trusted follower. “Take him out in the bush and let him go. He’ll die out there on his own, and you’ll be less likely to take the fever if you don’t get his blood on you.”

“Poor little guy,” Don’O said.

“Right. Let him grow to be a man and he’ll cut your throat. Just like his daddy did your daddy’s.” Don’O winced.

“I’ll take him,” said the hatchet-faced A’oan. He knelt to slice the ropes free from the other two, then pulled the sick boy to his feet and led him off.

“Let’s see what else we have here,” Kay said. The third boy stood about a head and a half shorter than Kaybrel. His skin and curly short-cropped hair were almost the same shade of bronze, and he had light brown eyes fixed in the distance as though he were unaware of what was happening near him. “‘Poor little guy,’” Kay scoffed. “Let me look at you, amiho,” he said in Spanyo.

Kay laid his hand on the Spanyo’s cheek. His face was battered, his left eye swollen almost shut under a purple bruise. But he felt cool. No fever yet, anyway. Kay wondered if the cheekbone was fractured and how many teeth he’d lost. None, as far as he could see—he pushed the lips aside to inspect. The youth was filthy, covered with grime, dust, and, here and there, dried blood. Kay probed around his neck and under his ears, looking for swelling; he didn’t find any.

His hands were bruised, the knuckles skinned. Kay lifted this one’s shirt, too, to check for a rash, although he knew the fever usually came first. All he found were more bruises, more dirt, and a smear he thought was probably dried semen.

“That’s a shiner you have there,” Kay said. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”

The boy didn’t respond. Kay doubted if he understood.

“You speak Espanyo?” Kay asked. “Answer me.” He gave the boy a shake. “Tell me where you’re hurt.”

Nothing. Maybe he was deaf, Kay thought. “What’s your name?”

Again the response was silence.

“Do I have to teach you to answer my questions?” Kay said. “You won’t like it.”

The Spanyo gave him such a tired and mournful look that even Kay softened a little. “Tell me what your name is, chacho. Otherwise I’ll have to make one up for you.”

“Tavio,” the boy said.

“Tavio? Is that all? Is that your whole name?”

“Ottavio Ombertín i Boleda do Gansoliz i Corruedo.”

The damned southerners freighted their children with more weight in names than they had in food, Kay thought. This one was fairly modest. “Ottavio Ombertín, hm? Of the House of Gansoliz, then?”

“You could say it that way.”

“Well, Ottavio Ombertín. My name is Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek. People call me Kay. We’ll call you Tavio, if that’s what you like. Now, tell me if you’re hurting any place. Maybe we can give you something to make it better.”

“My eye hurts,” this Tavio said.

“Yeah, I’ll bet it does.” Kay expected a black eye to heal on its own. He knew of nothing that would speed the process. “It’ll get better,” he said. “Where else are you sore?”

“They kicked me.”

Kay lifted the torn shirt again. A black and blue mark spread over the area of the right kidney and merged with another that spanned the upper backbone. Kay looked for broken ribs but couldn’t see any.

“You’ll likely be all right,” he said.

Now he spoke in Hengliss to Zeb, Will, and Don’O: “This one seems better off. He might be bleeding inside—looks like he put up a little fight. But if he’s not, he’ll probably live.”

“How old do you think he is?” Will asked.

“Hard to tell, he’s so grimy.” In Espanyo, Kay asked the question of Tavio.

“Fourteen summers,” the boy said.

“When? When were you born?”

“At Eastfest. On Resurrection Day.”

The Espanyo day of resurrection was less than a month past, Kay knew. “He’s fourteen years old,” he said. “Just.”

Zeb, Don’O, and Will assessed this detail. “Good age, almost grown,” said one of them. “Ought to be able to take care of himself.”

“Not very big for that age, though,” said another. They conferred. Kay nodded good-bye to them all and started back toward camp.

He got about a hundred yards before he heard his name again. “Kay, wait a minute!” It was Don’O. Now what?

Heavyset, big in the bones, and red of face, Don’O lumbered after him.

“Would you like to have the boy?” he asked after he caught up.

“That kid?” Kay looked at him, surprised. “I don’t know. Hadn’t thought about it. What would I do with a Roksandero whelp?”

“Well—the same thing anybody else would, I expect,” Don’O said.

Kay smiled coolly.

“It would bring things full circle, wouldn’t it?” Don’O added.

Kay looked at his friend briefly. It did have some appeal, he thought, a kind of remote justice. And, he supposed, the men must expect him to take back what was his, in every way. Some things, he wished not everyone in his world knew about. “I don’t know, Don’O,” he repeated. “He’s worth something to you. I wouldn’t want to take him away from you.”

“We’d like to offer him to you, kubna,” said Don’O. “He’s yours, if you want him.”

Put that way, it was a generous gesture that Kay couldn’t very gracefully turn down. He breathed a sigh, inaudible to anyone more than a foot or two away. “Let’s have another look at him, then,” he said. They returned to the others.

A pestilential brat, the Roksando. His hair was sticky, his skin so grimy you couldn’t tell just what color he really was. What remaining clothes he had—a light shirt and pants—were ripped, and he was barefoot. He stank of sweat and other things best left unidentified. And, Kay thought, he was Roksando. That fact alone raised a stench. Skinny kid, too. He looked like he hadn’t enough weight to keep himself alive more than a week on the road.

“He’ll need a few rags to put on his body,” Don’O said.

“It’s just like getting a puppy,” Zeb observed, sentimental. “You’ve got to get everything they need, and then you have to break ’em.”

“Pretty little fella—he’ll be real nice, once you get him bed-broke,” Willeo remarked. A randy smirk mirrored the scene he saw in his head.

“Look, men…,” Kay started.

“I’ve got a whole pile of shirts and pants back at camp,” Don’O continued. “A nice flannel shirt, and a fleece thing that’ll keep him warm. Expect we can find some dungarees that’ll stay on him, too, if you tie them up.”

“Needs a pair of shoes,” said Will. “Old Jemmy over there has enough boots to throw around. Reckon he’ll give us some.”

“Will, I can’t take this kid from you,” Kay protested.

Three faces fell. Was their gift not good enough? Had they offended?

Kay backed water. “Tell you what,” he said. “I brought down a nice doe just the other morning. Let me give you guys a quarter—a hindquarter—for him. I just don’t feel right, letting you give him away. You take the rump and split the meat any way you like.”

“A rump for a rump, eh?” Zeb cracked. The others guffawed, and Kay, half-expecting it, laughed as politely as he could manage.

Zeb passed his boda to Kay, took out his knife, whose blade was every bit as fine as Kay’s even if the hilt was less exotic, and sliced Tavio free of his bonds. The four men toasted the Okan and A’oan allies’ victory. Then Kay took the captive, bedraggled spoils of war, and shepherded him toward the camp.

Chapter 3
The First Deception

Ottavio Ombertín had never seen so many tents as filled the glen where the raiding bands were based. Shoved along by the Englo man, he passed several tunnel-like affairs covered in hide and waxed canvas. Here and there stood smaller dome-shaped shelters, six or eight feet across. Horses grazed complacently, hobbled or penned inside a circle of parked wagons. A few men lounged or puttered near smoldering campfires. Some greeted the Englo with calls that sounded like musta qué or ku’na. Pine needles sighed. A pair of jays commented on their passage. Somewhere far off young voices shouted and bantered as a group of friends threw a ball around a makeshift ha-lo court.

Tavio scarcely noticed these things. It didn’t occur to him to remark on the gathering of tents. He no longer registered much, except for the screaming.

They stopped before one of the domes. The Englo said it was his lodge and sat Tavio down on a flat rock near the fire ring, which flanked a second lodge nearby.

Then he turned away, picked up a pot, filled it from a bucket, and hung it off an iron hook staked over the fire, to which he added some more fuel. From a canvas sack, he pulled a couple fistfuls of grain, which he sifted through his fingers into the heating water.

None of this, either, was observed very closely by Tavio. He huddled on the stone, his eyes cast down. He saw that his right foot was bleeding, but oddly, he felt no pain. He put his hands over his ears to block out the sound of the screams. Yet when he did, he could still hear them, Tisha especially, her voice shrilling a note he had never heard before and then shrieking for her mama. A shadow fell across the ground. The Hengliss was standing over him.

§

“Let’s get you washed up, boy,” Kay said. “You need a bath.” The kid looked like he was gazing into the other world. Unsure whether Tavi even heard him, Kay reached down and pulled him up by the arm. “Come on. Let’s go.”

Chamois skin and an old shirt in hand, he pushed Tavio toward the stream. The current had chewed out a cove in the bank, where a slow backwater formed a convenient, shallow swimming hole. He dipped the chamois skin in the cold water, wrung it almost dry, and folded it to form a soft, cool pad. Tavi winced away when the man held it up to the bruised eye.

“Hold still,” Kay said. “This’ll help the swelling.” He took Tavi’s hand and made him hold the pad in place. Then he dropped his own clothes and lay them in the branches of a shrub. Naked, he pulled a rough cake of lard soap from a pants pocket and set it on a stone near the water.

He took the pad away from Tavi, twisted it again, unwrapped it, and hung it in the bush, too. “We’ll need this,” he said. “Now take those things off.”

Again Tavi looked at him as though he couldn’t comprehend. “Take your shirt off,” Kay said. When he reached out to pull the torn cotton over Tavi’s head, Tavi tried to squirm away. Kay grabbed him and gave him a swat. “Quit that,” Kay said quietly.

“This thing isn’t good for much more than washing dishes,” he continued, talking as he disrobed Tavio. “Maybe we can sew these pants up, though.” Tavio’s weak struggle got nowhere. Kay easily pinned his hands and subdued his resistance.

“Look at this!” Kay peered at him and laughed. “By the three-headed god, he wears underpants! Mighty dirty, too.” The plain cotton shorts, which Tavio’s mother had made, were blood-stained and stiff with half-dried fluids. Kay yanked them off and dropped them in the stream. The current bore them away.

Then he pulled Tavio toward the water.

“No!” Tavi cried. “No, I can’t swim!”

“Hallelujah! He talks!” Kay laughed. “It’s not deep enough to drown you, boy.” With a shove, he dumped Tavi into the icy pool. Then he waded in after him, soap chunk in hand. “Now c’mere and get yourself washed,” he said. He grabbed Tavi by the arm just as Tavi gained his footing on the soft, muddy bottom.

§

Frigid water came halfway up Tavi’s chest, so cold it ached.

He gasped, a deep shuddering intake like the gulp of air a hurt infant takes before it starts to squall, and in sudden clarity saw the Hengliss as if for the first time, his broad shoulders and chest matted with dark, wet hair, the clean-carved muscles working his arms, drops of water beading a thick, salty-looking beard. Calloused hands rubbed soap over Tavi’s body, into his hair, down his back and arms and belly, between his legs and the smooth tight cheeks of his buttocks. “God,” the man grumbled. “Only thing that’s dirtier than an Espanyo is two Espanyos. At least your hair’s cut short; that’s a little easier, anyway. We’ll have to teach you to keep yourself clean after this.”

The man scrubbed hard with his fingers. Despite the water’s icy sting, each time the scouring hands hit a bruise or an open sore, it felt like a fresh jab. Tavi yelped when a cut on his side tore open. The Englo told him to keep quiet.

A vigorous massage lathered the soap in Tavi’s hair. “No nits,” the man observed. He sounded surprised. “Stink too much for bugs, do you?” He dunked Tavi underwater to rinse him and then let him flounder out onto the bank.

Now the deerskin chamois served as a towel. When the man rubbed it over Tavi’s skin, it soaked up most of the water. He wrung it again, wiped himself down, and wrapped a large shirt over Tavi. It smelled of wood smoke and fresh air. In the fading afternoon sun, the air felt even colder than the stream. By the time the Hengliss pulled on his own trousers and laced his shirt, they were both shivering. The man led Tavi back to his camp, parked him by the fire, and threw on some more wood.

§

Fal was getting a snootful, Kay noticed. Fallon had brought Fil Mayr of Honey Hame up to the camp, and they were lounging around outside Fal’s lodge, adjacent to Kay’s. The two of them busied themselves draining another boda—they’d both have a head in the morning. They hollered over to him when they spotted him shepherding the kid back to the fire.

When they realized Kay had a new attachment, they hauled themselves to their feet and staggered over. Kay swore silently to himself. The last thing he needed as the afternoon faded was a cold dunk in the river followed by two shit-faced mayrs. What happened to that nap he had in mind?

Heat flared out of the campfire. Kay stood close enough to let it warm him, rubbing his hands together over the flames.

“Hey!” Fallon greeted him. “What is this you’ve got?” He offered the flask to Kay.

“A gift from Willeo. And Don’O,” Kay said around a swig.

“Well, dayum,” Fal said. “How’re we supposed to outdo that one?”

Kay laughed quietly. “Please. Don’t try.”

“Don’t you want him?”

“Couldn’t very well turn him down.” Kay handed the boda back to Fallon and stirred the hot porridge he had put on the fire before the bathing episode. It was starting to look done.

“Put it to you that way, did they?”

“’Fraid so,” Kay said.

He dished up a tin bowlful of the steaming grain and squatted beside the Roksandero brat.

“Here,” he said in Espanyo. “Some hot chow is good for what ails you. Eat this.”

Fallon and Fil appraised the new arrival. “Not a bad-looking kid,” Fil observed.

“Hard to tell, don’t you think?” Kay said.

“He’s beat up a little,” Fal agreed. “But when they’re that young, they heal fast.”

“If you don’t want him, I’ll take him,” Fil offered.

“That’d go over real well,” Kay returned. Fil was already deeper into his cups than Fallon. Don’O would take profound offense if Kay passed his gift along to one of his underlings, as anyone vaguely sober would recognize.

The kid showed no inclination to eat. He stared at the food as it cooled between his hands.

“Mm hmm!” Fallon sang with his lips closed. “You’re gonna have some fun tonight!”

“Whoo!” Fil, beyond inarticulate, seconded this.

“Soon’s you’re done, I’m next,” Fal added.

“Firsts, seconds, and thirds,” said Fil, putting in his bid for a turn.

“Get outta here,” Kay growled.

“O-o-h, yeah!” Fal hooted. “He wants to get right down to business.” Fil twitched his pelvis like a fox flips its tail.

“Assholes,” said Kay. “Gone. Both of you—now.”

“Remember now—don’t forget your friends.”

“Good-bye.”

“Show us how it’s done, will you?”

Kay gave Fil a glance that expressed his sentiment: surpassing annoyed.

How to get rid of this pair? Kay stood up and studied Fallon, wondering if he still possessed an inkling of his wits. “I heard Mitch’s boys were getting up a game of craps with Bose and Metet’s men. Now, you two aren’t going to let those A’oans get the best of a bunch of good Okan lads, are you?”

“You think they’re gonna do that?”

“Well, now. I wouldn’t want to see Cham Fos come up against them all alone.”

“I think he’s trying to tell us something, bud’,” Fallon said to Fil.

“Na-a-ah. You think so?”

“I’ll tell you two sweethearts how the honeymoon went in the morning, hm? That’s when I’ll see you next.” He set one friendly hand on each man’s shoulder and directed them away from his campfire.

§

The two other Englos, the ones who came up on them, they thought something was funny. They laughed a lot, unreined like the tough street urchins who hung out in the plaza all day and through the evening hours, those boys his father wouldn’t let him have anything to do with—when did they work, anyway? The dark-haired one, his ebony beard smooth and shiny as if he had polished it, that one looked almost like one of them. The third one, shorter and stockier, had odd coloring, like dust in the road. His father said they didn’t work, they were thieves and lazy bums, not decent people. But the other one, the first one, he didn’t seem to laugh with them much. Sometimes he did. But not so often as they.

Despite their laughter, their talk made a harsh sound, coarse as the first one’s hard hands scrubbing over his body, only scrubbing over his ears instead. Like rocks came out of their mouths, he thought. Their noise rattled on and on, like a hard rain on cobbles or stones tumbling down a streambed, and, behind it, off in the distance, he could hear the screaming. The shriek, high-pitched and shrill, of his little sister’s voice, and other screams, other screams.

The first one squatted beside him and handed him a bowlful of steamy yellow porridge, an old bent metal spoon sticking out of it. The man told him to eat it, and his words sounded foreign, as though he spoke from somewhere deep in his throat. Then the man stood up and went back to rattling stones with the others.

Tavio stared at the hot, gummy-looking mush. He sat unmoving. Although he did not listen, the sounds flowed through him as though he had no substance, as though he were air and the sound itself his substance. Somehow the screams had become a part of him. No, they were him, and he was them. They had come to take him and make them part of their cold, transparent selves. The screams, the screams.

“What’s the matter, chacho? Aren’t you hungry?” The man sat on his heels nearby, watching him. He held a second bowl from which he began to eat.

The other two were gone. Tavio had neither seen nor heard them leave.

“No, senyó,” he said.

“You’ve already eaten today?”

Tavio didn’t know. He wasn’t sure how many days had passed since he last ate. He couldn’t remember what had happened an hour before, much less a day or two. He shrugged.

“You need to get something in your belly, amiho,” the other said. His foreign voice rang of the tumbling rocks, yet his words sounded not so hard. “Eat anyway, even if you don’t feel like it. It’ll make things better.” He took the spoon from Tavi’s hand, scooped up some porridge, and handed it back. Tavio took it and put it in his mouth. He ate without tasting the food, as he stared at the ground without seeing. He ate until the bowl was empty, and then the man took it from him.

Tavi sat while the man carried the dirty dishes toward the stream. The sun was going down. It touched the purple cutout mountains in the west and shot its last yellow streaks into the dimming sky. Among the trees chilly shadows had already gathered like watching spirits. The man returned. He shook water off the dishes and stacked them neatly with his other gear.

§

He supposed he was going to have to do this. Better now, probably, than later. The kid looked pretty stunned. Might put up less of a fight now than he would after a night’s sleep.

Those two clowns were still going strong at Fal’s campfire. Now and again, one of them shouted an encouraging obscenity in Kay’s direction. When he was done, maybe he’d give the Spanyo to Fal. Or Fil, since Fal didn’t really make much of boys, despite the ragging. At least that would get the boy out of his hair for the night. Get all three of them out of his hair.

But then, that would mean he’d have to do it. He studied the target of this rumination, still huddled where Kay had sat him down. Wretched brat. How the hell had this one gotten out of the city alive? And why bother to keep him alive? The world improved vastly with each Roksando disappearance. Feeding such an animal was counterproductive.

And yet, yes: a Roksandero boy. Like closing a ring, it was. Don’O must have seen it that way, when he thought of this gift. A gift of perfect vengeance, to fill the bitter cup. Or empty it. Would such a thing empty it? Kay wondered.

§

The man unlaced the lashings on the tent’s entrance. “Come in here now,” he said to Tavio.

Tavi heard rock-words over the screams, but he couldn’t make out what they meant. He sat still, listening to the ululating dark. The man came over and took him by the arm, yanked him to his feet. “Inside,” he said.

The borrowed shirt’s hem dropped to Tavi’s bare knees. The man guided him into the tent. It was black. The man struck a flint to a small candle’s oily wick and hung the light from one of the lodge’s struts.

A pile of blankets topped with a pieced-together fur cover lay in one corner of the heavy, waxed floor. Bags and clothing lined the outside walls. “Sit down,” the man said, and indicated the bedding. “Make yourself comfortable. It’s a little warmer in here.” A small leather boda hung near the door. The man uncorked it. “Have some,” he offered.

Tavio took a mouthful. It tasted hot. It burned as it went down. He choked.

“New for you, is it?” The man spoke gently. “It’s all right. It won’t hurt you. Drink a little more. It’s like medicine—makes life go easier.” He picked up some stray clothing, stuffed it into a half-full canvas sack, and set the plump bag near the center of the floor. With some coaxing, Tavio—by habit generally obedient—took a fair amount of the liquor.

He held the boda between his hands while he watched the man undress. His head felt a little odd, like when he swung from the long rope hanging from the big courtyard tree. The man unlaced his fly and started to drop his grimy trousers and then he remembered.

“No,” Tavi said. “No!” He bolted for the tent’s opening. The man grabbed at him but he dodged away and shot outside. He ran for the darkness beyond the firelight. Behind him, he heard a low laugh.

§

Kay laughed when the boy slipped out of his grip and fled into the night. Good riddance. Let him run off. That would be the end of him, and no one could fault Kay for it. Sorry, Don’O—great idea, but it just wasn’t meant to be

He kicked off his pants, dropped his woolen tunic, and climbed under the covers.

§

His bare feet scrabbled over stabbing pine needles, his heart pounded, he raced blindly into the shrill darkness. The screaming night opened to consume him.

Hands closed around his body and held him tight. He squirmed to get free, but the one who held him dragged him back to the campfire. A man’s voice laughed merrily.

His captor, the tall young man with black hair and black beard, spoke to the older man and his face lit with roguish affability. The other pulled his loose trousers up around his waist. He laughed, too, more quietly. Tavi struggled, but the dark-haired man pinned his hands behind him and pushed him toward the tent. The two men exchanged a few more words and then Tavi was handed over to the older man, who with practiced efficiency forced him back inside the lodge.

Tisha screamed. She screamed until the air shivered with her screaming.

Chapter 4
Gorandero

The kid wailed in the dark as though Kay had beaten him. Kay re-lit the lantern and sat down on the cold lodge floor beside the boy. He watched for a few minutes, letting Tavio carry on for the benefit of the eavesdroppers outside. But he had already made up his mind.

“Quit that!” Kay protested, after he had listened to it as long as he could bear. “I haven’t hurt you. You want me to give you something real to bawl about?” Tavio sobbed and ducked into the hide floor as if he thought he could burrow through it and into the earth.

Weary, Kay grunted softly. He got up and knelt beside the prostrate figure. When he stroked Tavio’s back, his hand covered an entire shoulder blade. “Tavi, that’s your name, hm? Be quiet now. You’re all right,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not going to do anything to you, and no one else is going to touch you, either. You understand?”

Tavio moaned. He mumbled something that Kay didn’t catch.

“What?” Kay asked, pointlessly, he realized. “Sit up here and settle down. Quiet.” Kay pulled him upright and brushed his hair, wet with river water, sweat, and tears, back off his bruised face. Soft and thick, his hair was. “Now knock it off. Get ahold of yourself. You should be ashamed, blubbering like a little baby.”

“Make it stop,” the boy moaned.

“It is stopped. You’re not hurt. I’m not going to mess with you and I won’t let anything else happen to you. It’ll be all right.”

“Please. Please, make them stop. Make it stop!” He clapped his hands over his ears and rocked himself back and forth.

“Make what stop?” Kay said. “What are you talking about? You’re all right now. Those two clowns out there won’t hurt you, and neither will I.”

“They’re screaming. They keep on screaming.” Tavi put his hands back over his ears when Kay tried to pull them away. “Can’t you hear them?” He sobbed again.

Kay recoiled, though he was not a man easily put off by foolishness or others’ fears. The boy curled into a sweaty ball and wailed, a long keening misery like some godforsaken wind howling through a high mountain pass. The skin behind Kay’s ears prickled so he felt as though they twitched, cat-like, in search of a sound. If the night air carried any screams, Kay couldn’t make them out behind the moan that filled the lodge.

Was this brat mad? What could he be hearing? Some crazy squeal inside his head, or something else? Maybe he could hear into the other world, where the screams of the massacred might very well echo down through days and nights into all of eternity. Or maybe something had him, some horror like the wild, vicious water-hating spirit of rabies—a possessor that would kill him. Could kill everyone around him, too.

Rabid, insane, or something worse? Kay felt his heartbeat start to race. He thought first to reach for his blade and then to leave, to get out the door. Then, as always when the adrenalin rose like whiskey fumes into his head, he felt himself slow down and look deliberately at everything around him. What he saw was just a boy, sobbing so he could scarcely draw a breath.

He made himself grasp Tavio by the shoulders and hold him still. “Stop it,” he said, and he heard a tremor in his own voice. “Be quiet. Tell me who’s screaming—what do you hear?”

Held firmly by Kay’s hands, the Espanyo boy gasped out a few words. “They’re screaming,” he said. “The isburdos. My sister, Tisha, she’s screaming. She keeps screaming. And Rina. And my mother. Mi mamita. They’re still screaming!”

Again Kay felt the hair on his neck rise. Keep a grip on yourself, he thought. This was a superstitious Espanyo. Isburdos de noda were southern haunts, not something that bothered a respectable man. “No one’s screaming, boy. There’s no night ghosts here.”

“They are. They’re screaming. I can hear them.” Tavio choked, recovered, and went back to weeping. He squeezed his fists against his ears.

Kay studied him for a moment, taken aback. If he just left the kid alone, would this racket quit sooner or later? Surely the boy couldn’t keep it up forever—he’d have to wear himself out before much longer. But…the shrieks were not so far from Kay. He could almost hear the cries himself, and somewhere in the mirrored tunnel of time and memory another boy’s tears soaked into the earth. Damn them! A man on foot raised his ax to Kay; the horse lunged, Kay’s sword blurred, the arm hit the ground, a red arc pulsed through the air. Damn them straight to hell and let them all roast there for eternity. Let their brats bleed for what they do. The boy whimpered. Damn them.

“Listen, chacho,” Kay said. “I know something that might help. Do you want to try?”

This made little impression.

“We can talk to them,” Kay added. “I know how. Because I am…I’m gorandero,” he used a Spanyo term that straddled “healer” and “magician.”

Tavio glanced at him, briefly arrested by the charged word, but then clenched his eyes shut, his hands tight over his ears. “We can help them,” Kay said, “and maybe make things better for them so they’ll be quiet. But you’ll have to help, too.”

Gently, he took Tavio’s hands away from his ears, surprised to meet no resistance this time. “Do you understand? I can make them listen to us, but you’ll have to help them, because they don’t know me. They know you.”

The boy stared at him. He stopped moaning, but his breath still came in sobs.

“Do you want to try this?” Kay asked. “You’ll have to speak for them.”

Tavio nodded.

“Good,” Kay said. He kept his voice quiet. “We need to do this together. So pay attention, hm?”

Still holding Tavi’s hands, he spread his arms in front of him in the traditional Okan gesture of prayer. He thought it was a pose a Spanyo would recognize, too—at least, he hoped so. The urchin held his hands palm upward, as Kay did.

Kay closed his eyes—or seemed to, though he watched Tavio from behind the veil of his eyelashes—and tilted his face heavenward. “O spirits of the night,” he began. What would night ghosts like to hear? The Spanyos probably had all sorts of formulas. With any luck, though, this kid wouldn’t know them. The boy had quieted a little, and he seemed to be listening. “We know that you can hear us and so we speak to you. Leave us in peace. Peace, I say. We send our blessing to God for you, and we ask the angels to open the way to the other world, to take you into the presence of God. We will talk your story, but you must be still so that we can tell the words. I who am gorandero tell you to be silent.”

Tavio regarded him in what looked like astonishment. Kay held his pose a minute or two longer, communing with whatever was out there. Then he broke it off, sighed, and looked up. “Is that better?” he asked.

Tavio nodded, tentatively.

“They’ll let you speak for them now,” Kay said. “Tell their story for them, and then they’ll have peace. Tell me what you’re hearing, boy. Who’s screaming, hm?”

Tavio struggled to catch his breath. “They. . . They wouldn’t stop,” he said. He sobbed again. “I can’t. . .I don’t feel good. I’m going to throw up.”

“Not in here, you’re not!” said Kay. He jumped to his feet, pulled Tavio up, and hauled him outside just as the contents of his stomach bubbled out and spilled on the ground in a liquor-fumed puddle. Tavi retched until everything he had been fed came up, and then some. When it ended, he looked, by the dim light of the dwindling campfire, like he expected to be struck.

Kay put his arm around the shivering youth and led him over to the fire. He scooped a dipperful of water from a pail and offered it. Tavio drank, tears still flowing down his wet cheeks.

A woolen throw had been left outside, Kay recalled. He groped for it in the dark, found it, and wrapped it around Tavio’s shoulders. Then he stirred the fire and added another piece of wood. Heat and light flared. Kay sat Tavio near the warmth and knelt beside him.

“What’s happened to them, Tavi? Tell me about it. Tell me so that you can speak for them.”

After a moment, the Espanyo spoke, barely above a whisper. “They came in our house, the Englos,” he said. He used the Spanyo term, Englos. “We were hiding. My mother hid us all. She told us to stay there. But they found us. They found my sister Rina, she was in the storage closet. Mamita and I put clothes and things on top of her, to hide her so no one would see her if they pulled back the curtain, but they found her anyway.

“I could hear her, she was crying and yelling, begging them, ‘No, don’t hurt me, leave me alone,’ and then I heard my mamita, I could hear her out there with them. She must have come out to help Rina, to try to help her, but they had her and they did something that made her scream.

“That’s when I climbed out. She put me in the cellar under the kitchen, and she threw the ladder down in there with me. When she yelled, I got out of there, because. . . to stop them, you know? To stop them. There was a bunch of them. Five or six. And they were big and mean and they caught me, the way you did, the way that other guy did, they held me down and I couldn’t fight them off.”

“Looks like you tried,” Kay said.

Tavi gulped back another sob and nodded. “They found Tisha, too, where my mother left her when she came out, under the bed.”

Pretty obvious, Kay thought. He wondered why she hadn’t looked for some better hiding places, and then realized she probably never expected to have Hengliss raiders in her house. Not in a city as well fortified as Roksan.

“Tisha screamed when they. . . . They took us one at a time, we had this big table, you know? Where we all ate together, and we would work there sometimes, or play games, like checkers? And they pulled off their clothes, my sisters and mi mamita, they tore their clothes, and they made us watch, one at a time, they. . .they. . . .” The boy groped for a term, and finally choked out the most vulgar Espanyo word for rape, a word that itself sounded like an unutterable violation.

Kay felt this coming but couldn’t help flinching at it. He knew how things happened. But hearing it from this boy, seeing it through his eyes now, it felt as though he had been punched somewhere inside himself. I’m sorry, he almost said, but no words would come out.

“When they put them on the table like that, they didn’t have to…they could do it standing up, they didn’t even have to take their pants off, and they all did it. They all did it over and over. They put me on there, too, and…and they did me like that, the same way.

“Tisha screamed when they did it. She was so little, just a little girl, my baby sister, just eight summers. She screamed. They couldn’t stop her from screaming.

“Finally, they took her, when they were done, one of them took her and he took his knife and he cut her. He cut her across her throat.

“And my mother screamed. She started to scream like Tisha. Then they cut Rina, they held us there and made us watch. And after that, after that they killed her. Mi mamita. They cut her throat, too.” He started to sob again.

Kay put his hand on Tavi’s shoulder and held it there until Tavi could speak.

“I thought they were going to cut me then,” he continued. “But they didn’t. They carried me outside. Everything was on fire. The buildings across the plaza were burning, our house was starting to burn, the roof had smoke coming from it. And . . . I don’t remember after that. Except the screaming.

“They keep screaming. They’re isburdos now, and they’re screaming.”

Kay felt Tavi’s words as he spoke them, each one like a small wound inflicted with a whispering blade, sor-sorro-sorry. For a moment after the boy had finished speaking, he sat in silence. Then he said, “They’ll be quieter now. Now that you’ve told what happened to them. You free them, by telling it. They’ll find their way to the other world now.”

“They didn’t die right away,” Tavi said. He wiped his face, an almost useless gesture. “They. . . .”

“I know,” said Kay. “I know.” He had seen people die with their throats slit.

He got up and poured some water from a pail into a small pot, which he hung over the fire. He stepped inside the lodge and pulled forth a sueded leather bag. From it, he fished out several smaller bags, some of whose contents he measured into the warming water. Then he returned to Tavi’s side and knelt next to him again.

“Why didn’t they kill me?” Tavi asked.

“Why?” Kay considered his response and decided against softening it. “Because you were worth something to them. Women are not.”

“What?” The boy looked at once confused and stricken.

“Sometimes we take boys into the field with us. We don’t take women, because…well, some people think they bring bad luck. But the truth is, it’s that boys don’t bleed and they don’t get pregnant. And most men are less likely to fight over a boy than over a woman.”

“Are you going to do that to me?” the boy asked.

“No,” Kay said.

“I want to be with them.”

“No, you don’t.”

Tavi buried his face in the crook of his arm. Kay wrapped the blanket tighter around the huddled figure and went back to check the liquid simmering over the fire. The herbs he had put in had turned the water a deep, clear green. He poured some into a small earthenware cup.

“Here,” he said. “Drink some of this.”

“What is it?”

“It’s hot, be a little careful. It’ll make you feel better.”

Tavi cradled the cup in his hand. Its warmth soaked into his fingers. He sipped a little of the liquid. Gently, Kay urged him to take it all.

“Now listen, boy,” Kay said, after Tavi had begun to look like he would drink the tea without further pushing. “You can’t hear the others screaming, because they’re not screaming, hm? They’re resting now. Where they are, no one can hurt them. Do you understand?”

Tavio looked at him dumbly.

“There are no isburdos, Tavi. What happened, happened once. It doesn’t go on happening. Now it’s done. Put it behind you, and the past will take care of the past.”

“I can hear them,” Tavi said.

“They’re quiet now,” Kay replied.

And Tavi was quiet. Kay took the cup, refilled it, and handed it back to him. The boy sipped some more. After a few minutes, he asked, “What’s in this?”

“It’s just a tea I make with plants that grow in my garden back home. It relaxes you. Helps you sleep.”

“It tastes good.”

“It’s a little sweet,” Kay agreed. And then, “Did you understand what I said?”

Tavi shrugged.

“They don’t want you with them, chacho.”

“They’ll come and get me,” Tavi said. “They’ll come in the night and touch me. They make you sick with their touch, and then you die. Because they want to take you with them.”

“No. Your mother doesn’t want you with her. Believe me. She wants you to live.”

“But. . . .”

“Believe what I’m saying to you. I know. I am gorandero.

Tavi gazed at Kay over the rim of the cup. He drank the brew while they sat in silence for a few minutes. Then he spoke:

“What is this place?” he asked.

“Here?” Kay wondered at the question. “This is the camp of Brez Lhored’s army. You mean here, this spot?”

Tavi nodded.

“This is my camp, and that’s my lodge.” Tavi looked around the circle of the campfire’s light like someone who wakes from a sound sleep in the afternoon and confuses early dusk with late dawn. “Don’t you remember coming here with me?” Kay asked.

Tavi didn’t answer.

“Do you remember my name?”

“No, senyó,” Tavi said.

“My name is Kaybrel. I’m called Kubna of Moor Lek.” He used the Espanyo term alacaldo, a rank roughly equivalent to kubna.

“Really?” the boy asked. His tone sounded surprised, and Kay wondered if he recognized the name.

“So,” said Kay.

“I’ve never known an alacaldo,” Tavi said.

Kay smiled at this odd remark. “Now you do,” he said.

Tavi said nothing. He stared into his cup.

“Take the rest of this,” Kay said. He poured the remaining brew, very strong by now, into the stoneware. Three draughts of the stuff, Kay figured, would put a horse to sleep. The mint and tarragon would settle his stomach, and if the wanna didn’t put him down, the touch of obeh Kay had added surely would.

“Tavio,” Kay said. “You’re all right now. You’re safe. I’m sorry our men hurt you. I won’t hurt you again, you understand? And I won’t let anyone else hurt you.”

Tavi looked at him: incomprehending? Curious? Kay couldn’t guess. The boy’s eyes seemed as black as the sky behind him. Laughter and bits of conversation carried over from other campsites, and nearby a night insect trilled.

Kay wondered if his words sounded as hollow to the other as they did to him. Did he believe him, this Tavio? And whether or not he did, could Kay make good on those words? Silently, he vowed to himself that he would, and in the same moment he wondered if a vow made in silence was a vow at all.

“I’m really tired,” Tavio murmured.

“Let’s put you to bed, then.”

Inside the lodge Kay settled him between the layered blankets. Tavio was almost out when Kaybrel stroked his hair and told him to sleep well. By the light of a fresh candle, Kay watched him sink into sleep, his bronzy hair a halo around the bruised and swollen face. Once he stopped bawling and that black-and-blue marks cleared up, he wouldn’t be a bad-looking kid. He seemed smaller than he was, huddled beneath the fur. He had the high cheeks that Indian admixture brought to the Mediterranean stock of the southern people, and the generous lips and wide nose of distant African forebears—pretty enough, taken together.

Some enemy, Kaybrel thought.

He lifted the boda off the door frame on the way out. The night grew black and cold while he watched the fire burn down to coals.

 

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Place Names of the Cottrite Chronicles

Map of Western Methgoa during the Great Lacuna

The degree to which a given habitation could be called a “settlement,” a “town,” or a “city” is largely unknown; most of the sites mentioned in the Cottrite Codex await discovery and excavation. It is believed that cowndees—districts overseen by a kubna—each possessed a relatively large town, with populations on the order of five hundred to as many as three thousand people; usually an Okan cowndee and its main town bore the same name. A mayr, on the other hand, apparently presided over a settlement or smaller town with substantial tracts of land attached to it, which were considered to be part of and politically subordinate to a cowndee.

Some Socaliniero habitations seem to have been larger than those found in the northern regions of Okan, A’o, and Foshinden. Archaeological excavations at Mendo, for example, suggest that during the Interhistorical Era the town may have reached populations of 10,000 or 12,000 people, some of them scattered in farming settlements near the walled city.

  • A’o: mountainous stae’ to the east of Okan
  • Achpie Muns: coastal mountain range
  • Aleio: Socaliniero town south of Roksan, situated on the Wakeen River
  • Arn Mun: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Cham Fos
  • Avi: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Cham Fos
  • Bose: city and cowndee of A’o
  • Bwayblo Muns: mountains between southern Okan and southern A’o
  • Cham Fos: town and cowndee of Okan
  • Cham Lek: lake above the falls of Cham Fos
  • Cheyne Wells: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Moor Lek
  • Cumat Way: trail in Okan
  • Dona Paz: a high pass in the Sehrra Muns; Dona Paz Road: trail leading through this pass
  • Ellaya: ruin of an ancient Socalio city, called the City of Lost Angels by northern tribes
  • Elmo: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Moor Lek
  • Fo’rokvel: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Grisham Lekvel
  • Foshinden: northernmost autonomous region west of the Coastal Range
  • Freeman Mun: mountain in northernmost Galifone, near the boundary with Okan; site of hot springs
  • Galifone: Espanyo territory north of Socalia.
  • Ganbeh Donjon: ruins in northwestern Vada
  • Goze Lek: waterhole on the eastern side of the SehrraMountains, in northwestern Vada
  • Grisham Lekvel: town and cowndee of Okan
  • Guidad Mendo: Socaliniero town south of Roksan
  • Ham’l: city of A’o
  • Hanny’s Lek: small lake on the eastern side of the SehrraMountains, in western Vada
  • Honey Hame: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Moor Lek
  • Huam Prinz: town and cowndee of Okan
  • Kren: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Cham Fos
  • Lek Doe: trading center in the Sehrramountains
  • Lil Ku: tributary of the Mendo River
  • Loma Alda: ruined Socaliniero townsite on the east side of the Mendo River
  • Lost Angels: ruin of an ancient Socalio city; in Espanyo, Ellaya
  • Mazen: city of A’o
  • Mendo: city on the Mendo Ribba in the Wakeen Val
  • Mendo Ribba: major river in the Wakeen Val
  • Mercan: extinct civilization formerly occupying the northernmost continent of the western hemisphere
  • Metet: cowndee of A’o
  • Mezgo: large Espanyo-occupied region to the south of Socalia and Zoni, extending eastward beyond the Rogga Muns (Sehrra Máderes)
  • Miduhm: town and cowndee of Okan
  • Moor Lek: town and cowndee of Okan; after a lake of the same name
  • Moor Ribba: River flowing from the Snek out of A’o into Okan
  • Mosarín: a town in Socalio
  • Novalinda: town north of Roksan
  • Nusyaddle: coastal city in northern stae’ of Foshinden
  • O’a: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Moor Lek
  • Okan: autonomous stae’ west of the coastal range and north of Galifone
  • Oane Lek: town and cowndee of Okan; after a lake of the same name
  • Oshin: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Moor Lek
  • Puns: town and cowndee of Okan
  • Puns Donjon: town in southernmost Okan, believed to be in decline during Cottrite’s time
  • Rawley: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Puns
  • Rayno: ruins in western Vada
  • Rittamun: settlement and cowndee of Okan
  • Rogga Muns: the SehrraMádere range; eastern limit of Hengliss and Espanyo cultures described in the Cottrite Codex
  • Roksan: major city of the south
  • Rozebek: town in the Okan cowndee of Puns
  • Sa’Lek: saline lake inside the walled province of Uda
  • Sayjunill: settlement in the Okan cowndee of Puns
  • Sehrra Muns (northern): mountain range to the west of the Wakeen Val
  • Shazdi: active volcano on the border between Okan and Espanyo territories
  • Sihueri Vada Muns (southern): southern end of the Sehrra mountains
  • Silba Lek: town and cowndee of Okan; after a lake of the same name
  • Silba Ribba: a river in Okan
  • Socalia: Espanyo region between the western coastal range and the SehrraMuns, south of Galifone
  • Snek Ribba: river extending from the Rogga Muns through A’o and into Foshinden
  • Soja Mun: mountain on the north end of the inland valleys, near the Okan border
  • Syadle: ruins of an ancient Mercan city, overtaken by advance of polar ice following the Climate Reversal
  • Truth Mun: Mountain in southern Okan
  • Uda: a walled state on the eastern end of Vada and Zoni
  • Vada: desert territory to the south of Okan and east of Galifone and Socalia, partially organized as a stae’ but sparsely occupied
  • Vareio: town near Roksan
  • Vrezgo: site of ancient Mercan coastal city, now located some miles inland; mostly ruins
  • Waiya Ribba: river in A’o
  • Wakeen Ribba: river in the central Socalio valley
  • Wakeen Val: inland valley bounded by the Sehrraand the Achpi mountains
  • Wammet Muns: northern stretch of the Coastal Range; so called by natives of Foshinden and Okan
  • Wichin: town and cowndee in Okan
  • Zoni: largely unoccupied desert territory sandwiched between southern Vada and Mezgo
  • Zonorenza: Espanyo territory south of Socalia

Historical Persons Mentioned in the Cottrite Chronicles * FREE READ *

Hapa Cottrite, compiler of the Cottrite Chronicles

Editor’s Note: Individual names Cottrite mentions are spelled in a variety of ways; there was precious little literacy and no standardization during the Interhistorical Era. Spellings have been standardized for this edition by the translator. It is assumed that the people described in Cottrite Codex 1.1 – 18.7 were living, historical persons, although of course there is no way to confirm that. We present them as Hapa Cottrite presented them, writing in ancient Espanyo informed by the Hengliss tongue in which he also was fluent.

  • Albar Dieho Conzessión do Riogrez i Zan Andona do la Torrenda: Roksando alacaldo; captor of Kaybrel of Moor Lek
  • Alber: page in the service of Brez Lhored of Grisham Lekvel
  • Aniel: former camp boy of Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek, now his retainer
  • Arden: monja in the service of Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells
  • Babra Puehkenz of Rayno: seeyo (elected leader) of Lek Doe
  • Bayder: camp cook for Moor Lek band
  • Bett Kubnath of Huam Prinz and Cham Fos: Okan leader, espoused to Rik Kubna of Puns
  • Bilhem: Okan scout
  • Binsen (Binz) Kubna of Oane Lek: Okan leader, allied with Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Brikas: monja in the service of the deceased Evard Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Bron Brez of Miduhm: Okan brez predating Lhored of Grisham Lekvel
  • Cam Gadah: miller’s son from Moor Lek
  • Consayo i Ribera: Roksando alacaldo (full name not known); an elder and a junior are reported
  • Cook: servant to the House of Puns
  • Da’eld Kubna of Ham’l: A’oan leader defeated and overrun by Roksandero forces
  • Del Mayr of Rittamun: follower of Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos
  • Demon: Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek’s war horse
  • Deodorho Escodare i Boleda do Gansoliz i Corruedo: Tavio Ombertín’s father
  • Derrenz Kubna of Grisham Lekvel: Brez Lhored of Grisham Lekvel’s father
  • Devey Mayr of Metet: A’oan allied with Lhored of Grisham Lekvel; Follower of Eddo Kubna of Bose
  • Dodi: sister wife to Larel, Kubnath of Puns
  • Dom Kubna of Wichin: Okan war lord
  • Don’O: monja in the service of Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Duarto Escodero i Minyos do Portalez en Mosarín, a.k.a. Duarto of Cham Fos: companion to Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos
  • Eberto: camp boy to Okan camp cook Bayder
  • Eddo Kubna of Bose: A’oan allied to Brez Lhored of Grishem Lekvel
  • Elroy: monja in the service of Rik of Puns
  • Emilio Escodare i Boleda do Gansoliz i Corruedo: Tavio Ombertín’s uncle
  • Emma: sister wife of Kubnath of Huam Prinz and Cham Fos
  • Evard Kubna of Moor Lek: Kaybrel of Moor Lek’s father
  • Evard Steel-Thrower, Kubna of Moor Lek: Kaybrel’s father
  • Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells (sometimes called Fal): follower and friend of Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Fil Mayr of Honey Hame: follower of Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Fol Mayr of Miduhm: follower Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos
  • Fraim Jon Mayr of Sayjunill: follower of Rikad Kubna of Puns’s father
  • Fredi Diz do Gampo: camp boy to Okan camp cook Bayder
  • Guelito: camp boy to Binsen Kubna of Oane Lek
  • Habier Esparanza: ally of Albar Dieho (full name unknown)
  • Hapa Cottrite: Public intellectual living in Lek Doe; later exiled to Okan
  • Herre Mayr of Elmo: follower of Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Iami: Bayder’s camp boy to Okan camp cook Bayder
  • Jag Bova Mayr of Rozebek: follower of Rikad Kubna of Puns
  • Jayarr Mayr of Rawley: follower of Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos
  • Jenna: Aniel’s wife
  • Jode Mayr of Avi: follower of Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos
  • Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek, often called Kay: warlord and reputed healer
  • Kristof Mayr of Oshin, sometimes called Kristo’: follower of Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Laora: Tavio Ombertín’s wife by an arranged, unconsummated marriage
  • Larel, Kubnath of Puns: Rik Kubna of Puns’s senior wife
  • Laudellio Viciente do Inez i Modesto Pinya: Master weaver at Lake Doe
  • Leah, Kubnath of Grisham Lekvel: Lhored’s senior wife
  • Lenn: son of Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos
  • Lhored Brez of Grisham Lekvel: warlord and chosen Okan leader
  • Lonneh: Brez Lhored of Grisham Lekvel’s page
  • Luse: camp boy to Kristof Mayr of Oshin
  • Maire, Kubnath of Silba Lek and Moor Lek; wife to Kaybrel
  • Mak Mayr of Kren: follower of Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos
  • Meji: sister wife of Bett Kubnath of Huam Prinz and Cham Fos
  • Mel: monja for Robin Mayr of O’a
  • Mist: Kaybrel’s pack horse
  • Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos: Okan warlord; Kaybrel of Moor Lek’s cousin
  • Nando: camp boy to Robin of O’a; later turned over to Binsen Kubna of Oane Lek, and later to the A’oan warloard Devey of Metet
  • Nelli: servant to the House of Puns; wife of Cook
  • Nett: Moor Lek boy sacrificed to save the young Kaybrel
  • Nik, Niklas: monja in the service of Mitchel of Cham Fos
  • Ottavio Ombertín i Boleda do Gansoliz i Corruedo, called Tavi or Tavio: camp boy in the service of Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek; son of Roksan’s most prominent master weaver
  • Pazgal: camp boy to Habier Esperanza
  • Porfi: camp boy to Devey Mayr of Metet
  • Raider: Fallon’s war horse
  • Raina Kubnath of Oane Lek: Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek’s mother and senior wife to Evard Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Raol Escodare i Boleda do Gansoliz i Corruedo: Tavio Ombertín’s uncle
  • Red Kubna of Cham Fos: Kay Kubna of Moor Lek’s uncle; Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos’s father
  • Rikad (Rik) Kubna of Puns: Okan warlord; rival to Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Rina: Ottavio Ombertín’s sister (full name unknown)
  • Robin Mayr of O’a: follower of Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Roja mayr of Arn Mun: follower of Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos
  • Shaerne: Okan seer and survivor of the sack of Moor Lek (full name unknown)
  • Stayvn: monja for Kristof Mayr of Oshin
  • Sten Mayr of Fo’rokvel: follower of Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel
  • Tavio (Tavi): see Ottavio Ombertín i Boleda do Gansoliz i Corruedo
  • Teeg Maghell: archer in the service of Evard Kubna of Moor Lek
  • Terro: Okan scout
  • Tish: Ottavio Ombertín’s sister (full name unknown)
  • Treese: sister wife to Larel, Kubnath of Puns (full name and rank unknown)
  • Veera: wife to Moor Lek blacksmith identified as “Zeb”
  • Vrenglin Mayr of Cheyne Wells: Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells’s grandfather
  • Willeo: cask-maker of Moor Lek
  • Zeb: blacksmith of Moor Lek

Fire-Rider: Glossary

Glossary of Hengliss and Espanyo terms of the Great Lacuna

Terms of southern or Espanyo derivation are marked with a letter (S); those with northern or Hengliss derivation with a letter (N).

‘ glottal stop. This indicates a specific unvoiced sound, created by an abrupt, brief closure of the glottis. Cf. the apostrophe (’), which may mark a dropped letter or consonant (as in aren’t) but does not add a phoneme. In Hengliss dialects, the glottal stop appears to have functioned as an allophone for –t, -d, -v, and –f. Its use in ancient Espanyo is not presently known. The Cottrite Codex signifies the glottal stop with a raised caret: ^

a’i va! (S): go for it~
alacaldo (S): hereditary leader, warlord; approx the same as a kubna
amiho (S): friend
así (S): yes
badrón (S): chief follower of an alacaldo
bezo (S): Socaliniero unit of currency
boda’ drectahs (N? provenance unknown): group of officials in charge of Lek Doe government affairs
brez (N): king
brezidiente (S): brez (northern term meaning, approx., “king”)
bwe’ di (S): good morning
buelo (S): term of respect for an elderly man
buen’ (S): good, OK
chacho (S): boy, lad, youthful companion
cowndee (N): political unit, smaller than a stae’ and larger than a town
def-slip (N): coma (“death sleep”)
don (S): lord
ejizo (S): karma, fate
Englo (S): people of the northern realms; also their language
Espanyo (N): people of the southern realms; language of the south. Also Spanyo (pejor.) and Espanyorin
gitter
(N): small six-stringed musical instrument, designed for portability
gonsa (N): council, composed of kubnas, mayrs, and select religious leaders
gonser (N): councilor
gorandero (S): healer (overtones of witchcraft; cf. tocha)
grati (S): thanks
guitat (S): large town, city
ha-lo (S): a racket game
Hengliss (N): people of the northern realms; also, their language
imp (N): mild variety of marijuana
isburdo de noda (S): ghost, night-walker
jane (N): a variety of marijuana
knower (N): a seer or prophet, usually female
kubna (N): ruler of several cowndees
lek (N): lake
m’hijito (S): son
mato (S): manly
mayr (N): ruler of a cowndee
Metias (S): a deity; in the south, a supernatural being representing a facet of godhead
monja (N): roughly equivalent of a lieutenant; in charge of a kubna’s troops
muns (N): mountains
obeh (S): opium
onerho: dark-skinned; possibly an ethnic designation
ozo bardo (S): grizzly bear
patgai (N): thug, enemy, renegade
pricha (N): priest of the Resurrectionist faith; of the priestly caste
ra’stanes (N): “road rocks”: broken-up chunks of asphalt or concrete from ancient road paving
reader (N and S): individual (usually a religious votary) legally authorized to learn and practice reading
renj (N): range (of mountains)
Resurrectionism (N): fundamentalist religious theory positing that certain elected political leaders are one with the deity
Resurrector (N): follower of a Resurrectionist religious sect
Roksandero, Roksando: residents of the town of Roksan
Roksando: Espanyo dialect spoken in and around the Socalio town of Roksan
seefo (N? provenance unknown): Lek Doe government official in charge of financial affairs
seeyo (N? provenance unknown): elected head of Lek Doe government
senyó (S): sir; mister.
Socaliniero (S): resident of the Socalia region
stae‘ (N): the largest political unit, sometimes coexistent with an ethnic group
stokhed (N): walled compound; stockade
tocha (N): Healer, doctor
tola (N): Okan unit of currency
val (N): valley
vipi (N? provenance unknown): official in charge of Lek Doe civic affairs
wanna (N): a potent variety of marijuana; (S) juana
zayshun (N): congratulatory thanks
zonado (S): cool, swell, awe-inspiring; of an individual: stylishly self-possessed

Fire-Rider: Its History and Its People * FREE READ *

Afterword:
The Cottrite Chronicles: Provenance, Historical Context, and Significance of the Cottrite Codex

 by Hano Fontana do Caz Eviatád ne Val Mara i Elarcon Danya

The Cottrite Chronicles (Cottrite Codex 1.1–18.7) provide a window to life in the long, dark interhistorical period of the Great Lacuna. The Espanyo and Hengliss peoples who inherited the Methgoan continent after the global population collapse that ended the Ante-Lacunar Era (approximately 2900 B.P.E.) were by and large nonliterate. Thus, until the Cottrite Codex appeared, little was known directly about these tribal cultures. And, although written messages from the Mercan period abound, in the absence of Cottrite’s translations of documents in the Mercans’ dominant languages (“English” and “Spanish”) into Espanyo, no one could read them.

 Provenance

As most of our readers will recall, the manuscripts were serendipitously discovered in the far reaches of northern Vada by two itinerant sheepherders who, forced to take shelter in a cave by a sudden, violent desert storm, came upon a well preserved wooden box full of papers bearing writing which, of course, they were unable to decipher. Intending to use their find as kindling and fuel for warmth, they dismantled the box and burned it and an unknown number of the codex’s manuscript pages. After the storm passed, however, one of the shepherds, curious about the nature of the unusual-looking documents, stuffed a few of the remaining pages into his pack and carried them to his employer, Nayugi Vuchahara Filyo do Tenebra i Ca Endreha do Gapellira.

Vuchahara Filyo, one of the largest land managers and food suppliers in the Vada region, recognized them as of possible historical or archaeological value. She had them transported to the Southern Oda Institute of Research and Learning, where, by even greater serendipity, Professor Labano Barenes lo Chorradas do Keyte ne Morezes i Ca Filyo Haras held a temporary appointment to the Aide-Helmikka Endowed Chair of Western Anthropological Studies. Barenes lo Chorradas, at this early point in her career already gaining recognition (not to say fame) for her now celebrated Theory of Intuitive Dissemination (TID), instantly recognized the writing that covered the crumbling shreds of crudely made paper as an example of Early Classic Espanyo cursive. Although, as she reports in a retrospective monograph dedicated to her teacher, Harmodias do Filoza (B lo C, “Discovery” 283), Early Classic documents were and remain somewhat unusual, she did not at first ascribe much importance to the find. The fragile sheets were filed in the Institute’s preservation room and forgotten for several months.

It was not until Barenes lo Chorradas’s student Tesa Rablín do Meghina i Abranzala do Ghitta Laia, now a leading exponent in TID studies and Director of the Seaside (Bahagalifone) Institute of Oceanic and Desert Cultures, needed a project to complete his final research thesis that the fragmentary pages were recovered from storage and studied with some care. Rablín do Meghina agreed to lead an expedition to the cave to further investigate the site, little knowing the significance that his neophyte research project would have for the advancement of historical and archaeological knowledge (R do M, Interview 54–62).

The events that followed are so generally known they need not be rehearsed here. For detailed discussion of the studies that identified the author, see Rablín do Meghina, Cottrite Codex: A Chronological Review (Lower Galifone City: Institute Brezidentiale, 2793, 4 vol.); Barenes lo Chorradas, Report to the Archaeological Commission of Western Region 3 (Mendo: A.F. Government Publications, 2788, 6 folios); and Howze Rennom lo Menhoro do Sudamen Beltrase ne Delzinto i Zkenaya, “A New Perspective on Cottrite Codex 3.2,” in Memorial Essays in Honor of Harmodias do Filoza, ed. Rablín do Meghina, Seaside: Publications of the Institute of TID Studies, 2795). Reports in popular broadsides should be regarded skeptically, for they contain many misconceptions and errors in fact.

How the papers came to be stored in the cave above Lago Arni, where Rablín do Meghina and his research crew found them, remains an unresolved question. Under the direction of Barenes lo Chorradas and Rablín do Meghina, extensive archaeological excavations of the Sand Digger ruins around the lake were conducted. No evidence has been uncovered to indicate that any pre-Present Era culture more advanced than the subsistence-level hunter-gatherer Sand Diggers ever inhabited the region. Whether Hapa Cottrite himself visited the area and hid his manuscripts in the cave is unknown. Nor, indeed, do we know whether Cottrite lived out his life in Okan, or whether he left the northern regions and returned to his home in Lek Doe some time after he had spread the seeds of literacy among the Hengliss tribes. It is possible that Cottrite, for reasons unclear at this time, dispatched an emissary carrying the papers into the wilderness. More likely, a descendant of Brez Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells or of Representative Duarto Escodero y Minyos do Portalez en Mosarín rescued the documents during the unrest that followed the Uprising of Cham Fos (ca. 895 B.P.E.; for discussion of this speculative conclusion, see the virtuoso monograph by Research Specialist Kala do Recchez la Ca Raino i Tammur do Eztavan Gayo, Cottrite Codex 2.9: An Application of Intuitive Dissemination to Deductive Historical Reasoning, Seaside: Publications of the Institute of TID Studies, 2798).

Whatever the explanation, Rablín do Meghina collected the documents, which were scattered around the cave’s floor, and transported them from Lago Arni to the Southern Oda Institute of Research and Learning, where they were preserved and prepared for further study. When Barenes lo Chorradas and Rablín do Meghina formed a partnership to found the Institute for TID Studies, controversy erupted over the Cottrite Codex. The TID Institute claimed possession of the documents on the grounds that its senior scholar, Barenes lo Chorradas, had discovered them and directed the in-depth research which continued and showed no sign of abating. TID argued that the documents rightfully belonged in the immediate proximity of the researchers who were conducting studies that promised to reveal hitherto unknown secrets of the Interhistorical Period and Mercan Antehistory. Southern Oda responded that the codex was best kept in its preservation vaults, where the crumbling paper would be protected from further deterioration. A regional court ruled that the codex should go with Barenes lo Chorradas and her research team, on condition that TID first build a new preservation room adequate to the job of storing the documents (Proceedings, CFGRC, 437). After a vigorous fund-raising campaign, the Institute for TID Studies constructed its justifiably celebrated Archive for Historic and Archaeological Preservation, a wing of the Cottrite Museum of Hengliss Research, where the Cottrite Codex now resides.

Significance

Hapa Cottrite wrote primarily in Middle Espanyo, although he created and wrote in a system for transcribing contemporary Hengliss as well. Cottrite was a man of wide erudition. An indefatigable chronicler of the fireside stories that comprised Espanyo and Hengliss oral history, he apparently had an antiquarian bent that led him to collect and transcribe scraps of ancient documents which, Cottrite reports, were preserved as holy writings by the few and far-flung religious votaries who could, after a fashion, read them.

The Cottrite Codex consists of a series of stories describing events that occurred among the Hengliss tribes of Okan and, to a lesser extent, southwestern A’o during the times of the Okan rulers (the Hengliss term was brez) Bron Kubna of Miduhm, Rojja Kubna of Oane Lek, Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel, and Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells. Scholarly estimates of this period’s duration range from fifty to seventy-five years (R do M, History; BP do G, “Note”; R la C R, “Dating”; B i B, “Internal Evidence”; B lo C and R do M, Period). In addition, the eighteen-segment codex contains word-for-word transcriptions and translations of the following documents:

  1. A late Mercan religious tract called “The New Age Bible,” in English, the predecessor language to Hengliss (Codex 17.1-18.53)
  2. A one-page document, with illustration, describing an alcoholic beverage known as pepsi generation, in English (Codex 16.2)
  3. An illustrated fragment in Spanish, the immediate ancestor of Espanyo, demonstrating the use of incense sticks called marlboro, apparently thought to have medicinal or aphrodisiac properties
  4. Several small fragments, in English, which scholars believe to form parts of a guide to personal conduct, called “Empl.y.e Man..l” (Codex 10.4)
  5. Three sets of prayers in Spanish begging divine redress of wrongs committed by enemies (Codex 11.6-9)
  6. A fragment of a recipe, in English, titled “M..ro.aving Y..r Pi..sbur. .evil. .ood C.ke” ( 16.3)
  7. A fragment of a moral/hygiene tract, in English, titled “Airb.rne AIDS: Prot..ct.ng ..ur L.v.d On.s” (Codex 15.4)
  8. A booklet in Spanish titled “Instrucciones Para Votar,” whose purpose is unknown (Codex 15.5).
  9. Five small, apparently related fragments in ancient English and Spanish containing survival instructions, for members of displaced populations (Codex 15.6–11)

Of these, the most important is of course the last, because the juxtaposition of material in the ancient English and Spanish languages, together with Cottrite’s transcription into Middle Espanyo, allows us to decipher much about the two extinct tongues. Clues gleaned from these fragments have made possible ongoing translation of the very lengthy Codex 15.4 tract, which was written in English, and the written prayers in Spanish. These documents, plus the personal conduct guide, are providing priceless insight into the nature of the Mercan culture, whose ethos and organization were virtually unknown prior to the discovery of the Codex. Scholars are beginning to form a clear idea of who the ancient Mercans were, what they accomplished, and why their culture abruptly disappeared.

Life among the Ancient Mercans

The arts of archaeology and geology had already revealed, long before the discovery of the codex, that the continent of Methgoa was once occupied from sea to sea by a civilization of considerable technological sophistication, undoubtedly the basis of folkloric tales about a golden age dominated by mythical Mercans who could fly through the air in enchanted chariots.

Remarkable as this society may have been, most scholars agree that its members did not fly about. They lived in large cities scattered across their empire and linked by an extensive system of paved roads, over which they traveled in vehicles powered by refined derivatives of oil (petroleum). Probably the speed with which their vehicles moved made them seem to fly; hence the exaggerated metaphor that has come down to us in folk tales. Their highways were engineering marvels, spanning rivers and soaring over deep canyons, crossing vast stretches of empty prairies and deserts, and leading through even the Sehrra Máderes with seeming ease. Today, many of our modern roads follow the original Mercan routes, whose construction was so lasting that they continued to be used long after the paving had crumbled into pebbles.

Most of the continent was also crisscrossed with electrical power grids, allowing even the humblest home the comforts of light and heat. Many of their cities were extremely large, housing several million inhabitants in dwellings that ranged from sturdy block structures to far less permanent mud-composite and wood-chip-composite affairs. Mercan cities sprawled across the landscape, consuming enormous tracts of ground that might have been used for farming or forestry, necessitating imports of food and other goods from distant sites; thus the need for an extensive, well maintained highway system. Because of the obvious difficulties of providing services for such a vast population, the Mercan megalopoli were dotted with satellite government office complexes known as malls. These regional municipal centers evidently functioned as local marketplaces as well, surrounded as they were by large, flat open spaces appropriate for trade booths.

Arts and Games

The ancient Mercans enjoyed an active cultural life. Almost every excavation has uncovered more than one stadium, many theaters, and centers called skools believed to be dedicated to the training of young athletes and actors. Other, often larger cultural centers associated with the word university appear to have been used to teach children the engineering and organizational skills required to maintain the complex technological basis of the electric- and petroleum-driven infrastructure. Every university that scientists have found to date also has an associated stadium, leading to the conclusion that even very young children were tutored in athletic skills. The presence of theaters in virtually every skool and university suggests the ancients were obsessed with dramatic arts and music, although some scholars have suggested the structures were used less for performances than as town halls for political meetings.

It is clear, from the prevalence of stadiums in every part of the Mercan empire, that athletic prowess and display formed a central fascination for these people. The nature of the games played out in these huge centers, some of them capable of holding tens of thousands of spectators, is unclear. Given the ferocity of the Mercans’ Hengliss descendants, it is probable that they had a taste for blood sports. Indeed, Recchez la Ca Raino has argued convincingly that the stadiums served as gathering places for religious rites involving human sacrifice; she notes that the ancient Mercans routinely put to death certain classes of criminals, and proposes that the stadiums were used for public executions of malefactors, who were kept caged in separate complexes called prisones (R la C R, “Functions”). Her thesis is given credibility by the Cottrite Codex’s explicit and blood-curdling description of the ritual sacrifice of a Hengliss brez (Codex 8.11).

Public visual art held a prominent and respected place in Mercan culture. Roadways everywhere were lined with huge wooden and steel frames that displayed enormous paintings. Parisque do Scottarla has shown that these were often quite colorful, undoubtedly designed to elevate aesthetic taste among the common people. Exquisite sculptures survive to demonstrate highly developed three-dimensional techniques of representation, rendering men, women, children, and animals in painstaking and vivid detail. A few examples of tile murals have also come down to us, depicting interesting scenes of daily and public life. Toward the end of the empire, the skills of the ancient artists deteriorated, ultimately extinguishing themselves in chaotic and nonsensical constructions that seem to represent nothing more than the chaos that was fast overcoming the Mercan civilization.

Religious Life

For the ancient Mercans, religion had an element of theater, as did their ubiquitous and undoubtedly violent sports. Edifices marked with the words chirch or cathedral, evidently religious gathering places, have as their focal points stages similar to those found in the many theaters uncovered at virtually every archaeological site. One can only wonder at the mentality of a people for whom so many crucial messages were communicated as performance, rather than as story. Evidently literacy was not widespread, despite Hengliss myths to the contrary (see Codex 2.17, in which Hapa Cottrite records a myth attributing the end of the Golden Age to the malign effects of the written word on the Mercan populace).

Almost nothing was known of Mercan religion until Cottrite’s transcription and translation of the tract designated “The New Age Bible” appeared (Codex 17 and 18). If this document is to be taken literally (Higaso i Dretar has argued that it is in many respects allegorical; see H i D, “Allegory”), the Mercans conceived of divinity as a vast, feminine presence emanating from the earth itself and permeating all forms of life. In other words, their faith was pantheistic. They apparently believed certain stones contained particularly distilled essences of the divine and thus had curative or psychological powers. The human psyche was seen as intimately linked to physiology and geology. After death, this psyche was reincorporated into the divine presence from which it sprang at birth. Disseminative thinkers have diverged from both literal and allegorical interpretations of Codex 17 and 18, noting that a careful study extrapolating backward from Hengliss and Espanyo practices as described in Cottrite’s journals reveals a quite different picture.

Badero Vinanha do Riho Adayo Zur i Wahanurin abayo Enriczén, a leading exponent of the burgeoning school of disseminative religious history, points out that Hengliss beliefs in a male, anthropomorphic deity who dwells in a quite concrete, visible world to which the chosen are said, in no abstract terms, to migrate after death, could hardly have been invented out of whole cloth. In a dazzling philosophical tour de force, Vinanha do Riho Adayo Zur convincingly demonstrates that Hengliss theology, such as it was, could have originated nowhere else than in Mercan belief (V do R A Z, “Origins”), and he questions the authenticity of “The New Age Bible.” Vinanha do Riho Adayo Zur posits a theology in which three male deities oversaw a creation that consisted of three dimensions, one on the temporal plane and two in the afterlife. The chief deity, who reigned over the paradisaical afterlife world of the righteous, dispatched one undergod to communicate directly with humanity and the second to punish the wicked by inflicting disease and suffering in the temporal world and by subjecting them to painful harassment in the afterlife (V do R A Z, “Received”).

Technology

The realm in which the Mercans truly excelled was technology. As we have noted, they constructed a vast web of paved highways interconnecting every inhabited site on the entire continent of Methgoa. This road system enabled the Mercans to deliver food and other raw materials in regions remote from their population centers, and to return finished goods from manufacturing centers to scattered towns and cities in agricultural areas.

Over these roads they sent vehicles fashioned of metal, glass, and lightweight materials unfamiliar to us (called in ancient Spanish “plástico,” possibly a type of reinforced paper). Evidently the vehicles were powered by small, light motors that ran on refined petroleum and were capable of great speed. As we have noted, it is from this velocity that Espanyo and Hengliss myths of flying machines derive.

The Mercans mined petroleum and ore of all kinds from sites scattered widely across the continent. They had a sophisticated metallurgy and were capable of fashioning virtually anything of iron, steel, copper, brass, and aluminum. They used large quantities of steel in construction, which enabled them to reinforce masonry and concrete to form buildings that rose hundreds of feet in the air. Large vertical structures, necessitated by the enormous size of the Mercan populace, housed thousands in crowded, box-like individual shelters, whose main virtue must have been a commanding view of the cluttered cities below them. Copper, iron, and steel (as well as concrete and plástico) went into enormous centralized plumbing systems, capable of delivering water to and draining waste from virtually every occupied dwelling.

As noted above, they also had a sophisticated system for delivering electricity from generating stations that ran variously on water, coal combustion, or enhanced heavy-metal radiation. Apparently, they developed a communication technology that allowed them to transmit voice, visual, and written messages in tandem with the electricity. This enabled leaders in the highly centralized Mercan government to oversee activities in distant farming districts, as well as coordinating administration of their far-flung empire.

Perhaps nowhere is the Mercans’ technological prowess more evident than in the stunning engineering feats they performed in pursuit of water in the arid regions west of the Sehrra Máderes. Archaeological evidence suggests they dammed most, if not all, of the major rivers in the western part of the continent, diverting vast quantities of water into a canal system whose remnants are still used today, in some areas. Ervay Umanas-Balamo i Verduna do Vaya Reya imagines, given the amount of free water available prior to the present ice age, bleak deserts turned green with food and fiber crops as far as the human eye might see. She argues that most of the culture’s sustenance depended on this complex irrigation system and that, as changing climate caused widespread drought and disrupted weather patterns, the ancient Mercans could no longer feed their bloated population, which collapsed in widespread famine (U-B i V, 349ff).

As we shall see, it was in their technology that the seeds of the ancient Mercans’ demise resided.

Who Were the Mercans and Why Did They Disappear?

For most of the empire’s lifetime, the Mercans appear to have been culturally and ethnically distinct from the Espanyo peoples who are our direct ancestors. Physically, they were distinctive in appearance: long-headed, rather tall, with yellow or pale brown hair. Barenas lo Charradas has suggested that today’s Udan aborigines, with their pale complexions and often blue or greenish eyes, are direct descendants of the Mercans (B lo C, “Children”); this hypothesis has attracted support from W. Eva do Keranha i Padrigiól ne Ghitta Dov i do Garo i Mardeana and other linguists, who speculate that the Udan language, unrelated to any contemporary Methgoan dialect, is actually a debased form of ancient English (E do K, “Linguistic Relic”). The Udan, of course, suffer many congenital abnormalities resulting from centuries of isolation and inbreeding; other scholars note that their odd coloration may have more to do with this than with any imagined connection to the ancient Mercans (see, for example, Gilomu do Robbinya, “Fraternity”).

Whatever the reality of this issue, there is no question that throughout most of the empire’s existence, the dominant language was English. This changed during the late empire, when migration from the Spanish-speaking southerly regions began to displace the aboriginal Mercan people. By the final century of the empire, English-speaking peoples had retreated to the northerly provinces which eventually became what we know as Hengliss territory, and Spanish speakers, who apparently resembled modern Methgoans more than they did their contemporary Mercan rivals, occupied most of the continent.

For some time (possibly as long as two centuries), this situation prevailed; despite a tendency for English-speaking Mercans to concentrate themselves in the northern provinces, living standards remained relatively stable. However, a period of global warming began about 3250 B.P.E., altering the climate in ways that affected agricultural production across the entire continent (for a summary of geological evidence establishing this early date, see Aderi do Dridda’s survey, volume one, chapters four and five). As this warming trend intensified, economies were disrupted, coastal cities submerged, inland deserts that had been reclaimed by the Mercans’ vast irrigation systems were rendered uninhabitable, and intermontane plains formerly used for food production turned to fields of dust.

These changes were not restricted to the Methgoan continent; they affected the entire planet. By approximately 3100 B.P.E., steeply rising temperatures world-wide led to widespread social unrest, the collapse of economies everywhere, famine, and constant warfare. Within a century, the planet’s population began to collapse. Starting about 3000 B.P.E., a series of plagues spread across the globe. Some global ante-historians have posed the horrifying possibility that these diseases were engineered microbes spread among various target populations as acts of war. The leading exponent of this theory, Kadi Magour do Nilalin i Ramoz do Agazár ne Val Jagrin, paints a grim picture of the aftermath. In the absence of an economic infrastructure, faced with famine, and decimated by disease, survivors lost their grip on civilization. Simply put, no one survived who had the expertise required to operate electrical plants, maintain complex communications and transportation equipment, mine and refine metals and petroleum, or conduct large-scale agricultural operations. This failure to maintain the culture’s technological structure created a cascade of calamities that ensured continuing starvation, disease, and conflict. Thus, in the last half of the twenty-ninth century before the present era, global famine and plague led to an abrupt world-wide population collapse. By 2900 B.P.E., human populations had dropped to about one-tenth of the planet’s 3000 B.P.E. population. In other words, over a span of less than a century, 90 percent of humanity was exterminated. The Mercan empire disappeared because most of its citizens were dead (M do N, 2:434-689).

Humanity entered the tribal period of the Great Lacuna, the inter-historical era that stretches from about 2950 B.P.E. to the beginning of the present era.

Espanyo and Hengliss

 Ironically, the Cottrite Codex has made it possible for us to know more about the remote Mercan civilization than about our immediate ancestors, the Espanyo of the inter-historical era, among whom writing was not widespread until near the end of the Great Lacuna. It appears that the Espanyo tribes descended from once-populous Spanish-speaking peoples who occupied the southern reaches of the Methgoan continent (a region known by both Espanyos and Hengliss as “Mezgo”) as well as the entire Ajentían continent all the way to its southernmost tip, Gabo do Ornas. These peoples were anything but homogeneous, however. Some tribes, such as those occupying the region of present-day Ghitta Laia, were dark-skinned, long-headed people known as “Nehro” or Onerho whose physiognomy differed markedly from the surrounding populations and from that of present-day Methgoa; another variety of Espanyo resembled some present-day peoples of northern Hezha. Whether these extinct types were indigenous to the continent is today unknown; some ante-historical documents suggest that the Nehro descended from dark-skinned immigrants from the continent of O Vreha, whose present Zemidico populations are, of course, little different in appearance from today’s Methgoans (Luco do Sobin, “Ethnic Groups”).

Hengliss Society

 The Hengliss peoples, to the contrary, were rather distinctive, with pale skin, blue or gray eyes, and light brown hair (frozen mummies found in Vazhindano districts and in northerly parts of the Sehrra Máderes actually have yellow hair like that of a golden sheepdog). As Magour do Nalalin explains (M do N 2: 707-26), the Hengliss represented the ragged remnants of the once-great Mercans’ dominant ethnic stock, identified in ancient English as the “Anglo.” When the empire collapsed and global warming spread, these Anglo groups retreated northward before advancing populations of Espanyos, who themselves were migrating north in search of cooler, more habitable climates. Isolated and, after the Worldwide Climate Reversal occurred midway through the Great Lacuna (ca. 1450 B.P.E.), pinned between glacial fields to the north and hostile tribes to the south, the Hengliss lived a precarious existence. The Espanyos, enriched by trade with Mezgo and the peoples to the far south, regarded the Hengliss as backward and primitive. (Although marked by intermittent, extremely violent conflict, Espanyo and Mezgoan tribes and city-states experienced periods of relative peace).

Rivalry between these two groups, Hengliss and Espanyo, was vicious. Their tribes existed in a state of constant warfare, which further curtailed their populations and, along with increasingly harsh climatic conditions, prevented the expansion of either society. Blocked from growth by the climate as well as by human enemies, Hengliss culture remained static and remarkably stable for an estimated 1,700 years. The body politick, such as it was, revolved around loyalty to a two-tiered hierarchy of hereditary warlords, kubnas and mayrs, of whom the kubna was the higher-ranking. A kubna or kubnath (the latter being the word’s feminine form) controlled a set of cowndees under the protection of his house, a term that designated his physical home as well as his own cowndee’s political identity. Thus, for example, under the kubna Kaybrel Fire-Rider, the House of Moor Lek commanded allegiance from the townships of Moor Lek, Oshin, Cheyne Wells, Honey Hame, O’a, and Elmo. The mayrs and mayreths administered their own home townships (in effect functioning, like their kubnas, as regional dictators, since the agrarian townships comprised large tracts of agricultural fields and woodlands).

In the Hengliss stae’ (territory claimed by a loose alliance of cowndees) called Okan, and, to a far lesser degree, in A’o, mayrs and kubnas pledged their collective loyalty to a single elected leader designated brez. The Okan Hengliss, according to Hapa Cottrite, believed their brez was literally the son of God, who cyclically returned to Earth to inhabit the body of a specific kubna or mayr. Thus, election was less a democratic process than a search by a group of religious wise women and men for an appropriate vessel to house the godhead. This was the status of the body politick during the final millenium of the Great Lacuna; virtually nothing concrete is known of earlier Hengliss social organization other than what can be intuitionally deduced from the oral histories and folktales Cottrite recorded in his journals.

The Cottrite Codex confirms a peculiarity of Hengliss society which had hitherto been a matter of confused speculation: that the Okan and A’oans, at least among the warrior classes, practiced polygamy (Codex 1.9, et passim), and that Espanyo cultures—those with which Hapa Cottrite was familiar—did not. Cottrite expresses amazement at the custom, perhaps more at the fact that decisions about who would marry whom were left to the women than at the practice itself. Evidently single or widowed men formed a kind of pool available to women who desired to make an alliance; the man was said to be “chosen” by his first (senior) wife. Subsequent wives were selected by the senior wife, in consultation with the husband (if he was lucky) and the junior wives. Spousal abuse evidently was unknown to Cottrite, who remarks that any of the wives of the warrior class could choose to live independently; quarrels between spouses were settled by local religious leaders, or, as appropriate, by the kubnath. Many of these women, particularly the senior wives, were mayreths or kubnaths in their own right; alliances between houses consolidated power and created an efficient ruling class. Very probably, this arrangement came into being as a result of conditions brought on by the Ice Age, which naturally were harsher in the north than in the southerly latitudes occupied by the Espanyos. Disease and privation took many Hengliss; the addition of war as another killer undoubtedly ensured a surplus of women and an imperative to produce as many offspring as possible (see, for further discussion, B lo C, “Hengliss Marriage” and R do M, History, chapter 12).

It is clear that, by the time of Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel, the Okan Hengliss enjoyed the highest standard of living and the most sophisticated politico-religious administration of any northwestern tribes. Cottrite’s journals indicate that the A’oans were regarded, even by their Okan cousins, as little better than savages. The Foshinden tribes barely eked out a subsistence clinging to the edges of the frozen wasteland that was their territory. The Hengliss tribes who existed east of the Sehrra Máderes (which they called the Rogga Muns) were unknown to the Okan, A’oans, and Foshindenites. Brez Lhored flourished about 935 B.P.E.; under his leadership, the Okan forged an alliance with the A’oans that continued through the times of several succeeding brezes, certainly until well after the Uprising of Cham Fos. It is known that they were no longer solidly allied at the time of the first Espanyo occupation of Okan, and of course by the beginning of the Present Era, those Hengliss who had not been extirpated in the Wars of Expansion either scattered and died in exile or were absorbed by the dominant Methgoan culture.

Espanyo Society

 Except for facts that have been deduced through intuitional reasoning, little is known about Espanyo culture until near the end of the Great Lacuna, when written records begin to reappear. Most of Cottrite’s observations pertain to Hengliss culture and customs, which for him must have seemed exotic enough to be worthy of note.

Like all inter-historical Methgoan peoples, the Espanyos were quickly reduced to a tribal state after the population collapse of 2900 B.P.E. Warfare between Espanyo and Hengliss tribes soon became a normal part of life. Espanyo warlords battled for ascendancy over their brothers, and once united in ephemeral alliances produced under the dominance of one or another powerful individual, they had to fight off incursions from the Hengliss, who routinely raided the southern provinces, where more food was produced than the harsh northerly climates would allow.

The Espanyos, probably under the impetus of these repeated raids, tended to gather in larger cities than did the Hengliss. At the height of its power, for example, the city-state of Roksan, on the Rio Mendo, may have counted as many as 15,000 men, women, and children within its walls and in surrounding hamlets. That Brez Lhored of Grisham Lekvel’s army probably did not number more than about 5,000 (some believe it was much smaller; see R do M, History, 226–29) is a measure of the enormity of his accomplishment in subduing this formidable enemy. Espanyo territory, taken in its totality, was also much larger than the Hengliss’s: Espanyos occupied all of Socalia down to the Gulf of Socalia, all of Zoni, and most of Galifone, and they laid claim to (although could not occupy) the desert region called Vada. Much of the time, too, relations with neighbors in Mezgo, to the south and east, were conditionally friendly. This gave the Espanyo an enormous trade advantage over the Hengliss; archaeological studies have traced artifacts found at Roksan and Lek Doe to Mezgoan sites east of the Sehrra Máderes and to cultures prevalent in northern Ajentía, half a continent to the south (Aerubavelo do Zando Karlor, Trade Routes)!

Thus during Cottrite’s lifetime the Espanyos were far more developed culturally than the northern tribes of Okan, A’o, and (certainly) Foshinden. Residents of Espanyo cities and towns had access to more and better material goods, food, and community support, although they were subject to the same Ice Age winters and waves of disease that afflicted their Hengliss rivals. An Espanyo city was part of a province ruled by an alacaldo, a warlord who likely obtained his power through inheritance and kept it by force. Cities and towns were governed by badróns, who were the alacaldo’s appointees, and by often bloated bureaucracies of underlings. Like a Hengliss kubna, an alacaldo commanded a train of influential local leaders who were expected to muster their followers into armies for the skirmishes and outright warfare that filled the summer months. These leaders united under a single regional brezidiente, who in some provinces was elected by the alacaldos and in others took power by main force (Bedro do Gindinor, Espanyo Military Origanization).

Ethnically, the Espanyos were related to the surrounding Mezgoan tribes, and of course it is from the unification of those two groups, during the early part of the present historical era, that our own people springs. They were similar in appearance to modern Methgoans, although possibly not as homogeneous: round-headed, often compact in build, with attractive dark hair and eyes—altogether rather handsome stock (Conelle-Dawen do Zan Varezgo, “Ethnology”). A sophisticated trade system, a tendency to form powerful centralized governments, and, late in the inter-historical period, an impetus to build and import elaborate gunpowder-driven weapons gave the Espanyo a cultural advantage over the Hengliss. After the Okan-A’oan alliance dissolved, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable occupation of all Western Methgoa. If the legendary Holiár do Cortazín had not appeared, a similar warlord would have taken his place in this process (B do G, 539-699).

Lek Doe

 Situated in vaguely claimed territory on the eastern slopes of the Sehrra Orendal (in Hengliss, the Serra Muns), Lek Doe was universally regarded as a neutral city-state. By long-standing custom, hostilities ceased the moment opposing parties reached the town limits. This tradition allowed the town, located on the shores of a deep clear-water lake, to develop into the largest trading center west of the Sehrra Máderes and north of Ghitta Rado (then called Guitat Gorado). Because neither Socalia, on the western side of the Orendals, nor Vada, mostly desert wasteland, exercised much influence on the eastern slope, Lek Doe existed as an independent sovereignty. It was governed by an elected official called a seeyo, who appointed a seefo and a five-person council called the boda’ drectahs.

Populated by trade and mercantile workers from all over Socalia, Galifone, Vada, and Mezgo and visited (at least through the spring, summer, and fall) by a constant stream of merchants and freighters, Lek Doe enjoyed an affluent and cosmopolitan culture. Recent archaeological excavations have shown that the region has been occupied since early Mercan times. The present-day lakeside habitation, Lag Othoa, rests atop a mound of detritus that has been accruing for centuries, and some observers believe its inhabitants daily walk atop the hidden remains of Hapa Cottrite’s Lek Doe (Ezabella do Loncon, “Late Lacunar”).

Hapa Cottrite and His Time

 Hapa Cottrite dwelled in Okan during the time of Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel and Brez Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells. Cottrite joined the Hengliss when a band of Okan and A’oan raiders, allied under Brez Lhored, passed through Lek Doe, where Cottrite happened to be at the time. The reign of Brez Lhored took place around 935 B.P.E.; his successor, Brez Fallon, is believed to have survived to 915 B.P.E. and perhaps as late as 910 B.P.E.

During this period, the latter third of the Great Lacuna, the Okan as well as everyone else on earth were locked in the ice age that began with the Worldwide Climate Reversal, which set in about 1450 B.P.E. By Cottrite’s time, the Hengliss were highly adapted to the frigid conditions that prevailed throughout their territory. As we have noted, their practice of polygamy is believed to have been one such adaptation. Housing and clothing were designed to protect against cold, and with human numbers perennially depleted following the global population collapse of 2900 B.P.E., reforestation permitted enough fuel to warm most homes even in the northerly latitudes. Cottrite describes Okan architecture in detail, and from his journals we have a picture of thick-walled structures of stone or fired block, huddled together to create as many common walls, unexposed to ice and snow, as possible.

Hapa Cottrite is believed to have come from somewhere in northern Galifone. Although the codex is written in Espanyo, internal evidence suggests he was a native speaker of a Hengliss dialect (for a detailed discussion of these hints, see Robintar do Zepada-Evo, “Languages”). He was not a native of Lek Doe, nor does he seem to have been an ethnic Espanyo; he describes himself as stocky, with pale brown (perhaps gray?) hair and a ruddy complexion (Codex 2.2). He may have guessed the Espanyos would prevail; or possibly he wished not to have the documents read by the Hengliss, about whom he may have felt some ambivalence. Possibly he expected to return to the south, where he may already have cultivated a circle of readers who spoke Espanyo.

Cottrite learned to read and write from his mother, an approved reader and therefore probably a religious votary; Espanyo and Hengliss tradition concurred in recognizing the dangers of the written word and in blaming the spread of uncontrolled literacy for the self-destruction of the vaguely remembered Mercans. Cottrite, ever an iconoclast, showed rather little fear of the written word. Indeed, the “indiscretions” of which Cottrite speaks (Codex 1.1) evidently had something to do with his habit of teaching his acolytes to read and write, both illegal activities. Whatever their nature, it appears that Lek Doe’s seeyo, Babra Puehkenz of Raino, seized an opportunity when she “invited” him to leave her town with the Okan bands. Cottrite indicates the invitation was in fact an order.

Duarto Escodero i Minyos do Portalez en Mosarín, who became Representative of the House of Cham Fos some years after the events depicted in the present volume, was one of the young men and women whom Cottrite taught. A letter attributed to him appears among Cottrite’s papers (Codex 4.2), in which he describes his mentor as patient, learned, and even more widely traveled than the reknowned sojourner, Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek. Escodero i Minyos, a fluent writer, makes it clear that exile from Lek Doe did nothing to dissuade Cottrite from spreading the literacy virus. It is known that Cottrite taught Escodero i Minyos; several daughters of the House of Cham Fos (including one who became kubnath); a step-daughter of the House of Moor Lek who later was senior wife to Duarto Escodero y Minyos; a mayreth of Rozebek who became senior wife and mayreth of Cheyne Wells; and possibly Ottavio Ombertín i Boleda do Gansoliz i Corruedo, a Roksando refugee who became one of the most prominent craftsmen in the Okan region. The consequences of these acts resonated through the generations. Rablín do Meghina has argued convincingly that the spread of literacy destabilized the Hengliss cultures, setting the stage for the Uprising of Cham Fos (ca. 895 B.P.E.) and subsequent unrest that made possible the Espanyo occupation of the northern territories (R do M, “Power”).

Cottrite wrote relatively little about himself. Higaso i Dretar has used intuitive extrapolation to deduce that Cottrite probably sprang from a midwestern district of Galifone, and that he had traveled through Galifone, Socalia, Vada, and Mezgo before he arrived at Lek Doe (H i D, “Cottrite’s”). After his initial time at Cham Fos, he spent at least two winters at Moor Lek (Codex 2.6-3.3; 4.1-5.2), and he visited Grisham Lekvel, Oane Lek, Puns, Cheyne Wells, and Miduhm over the course of several summers. Whether his journals break off because he died, because he left the region, or because circumstances forced him to quit writing is unknown. Nor is anything known about what became of Cottrite after the decade he records of his life in Okan. He appears from nowhere, inserts a tiny, scintillating shard of history into the vast darkness of the Great Lacuna, and then fades away.

That small twinkle of light cast a long beam.

—Hano Fontana do Caz Eviatád ne Val Mara i Elarcon Danya
Ghitta Hetachepi dol Sud
2812 P.E.

Works Cited

Aderi do Dridda i Borgomano do Pilíp ne Vada Ghitta, Freder. Geology of Western Methgoa. 2 vols. Ghitta Laia: Institute of Physical Sciences, 2775.

Aerubavelo do Zando Karlor i Horgas lo Carrenez do Elioz, Bendíc. Trade Routes of the Late Inter-Historical Era. Ghitta Laia: Center for High Art Studies, 2776.

Barenes lo Chorradas do Keyte ne Morezes i Ca Filyo Haras, Labano, “Children of the Wind? Oda as Atavar of Ancient Merca.” The Journal of Advanced Disseminative Studies, no. 9 (Summer 2803): 357-389.

———. “The Discovery of the Cottrite Codex.” In Memorial Essays in Honor of Harmodias do Filoza. Edited by Tesa Rablín do Meghina i Abranzala do Ghitta Laia. Seaside: Publications of the Institute of TID Studies, 2795

———. “Hengliss Marriage Customs: Intuitive Evidence of a Survival Mechanism.” Social History, no 97 (Gosto 2795): 467-81.

———, and Tesa Rablín do Meghina i Abranzala do Ghitta Laia. The Period of the Cottrite Culture: An Intuitive-Desseminative Proof. Seaside: Publications of the Institute of TID Studies, 2798.

Bedro do Gindinor i Eberd de Rozanno ne Mendo i do Glara Colinda nel Allio Fornat i Ca Madine ne Corras, Martór. Espanyo Military Organization. Ghitta Laia: Center for High Art Studies, 2801.

Begstár Patrei do Ghitta Deggho i La Ferma Verdi-Montanyas i dol’Anthico Ca Marianha-Setto i Cheve-Roka, Ricco. “Note Regarding the Chronology of the Cottrite Codex,” Letters on Inter-Historical Period Studies no. 48 (Harvest 14 2797): 89-90.

Bek i Binco de Caz Dominadro de Umboldo Comino i Reyal Cizo, Loiz. “Internal Evidence for a Quantitative Measure of the Cottrite Period.” Letters on Inter-Historical Period Studies no 49 (Resurecho 15 2798): 81-86.

Conelle-Dawen do Zan Varezgo i Kristobera Stebón, Nacolin. “Ethnography of Late Lacunar Espanyo Peoples.” Journal of Advanced Disseminative Studies, no. 3 (Winter 2797): 386-429.

Eva do Keranha i Padrigiól ne Ghitta Dov i do Garo i Mardeana, W. “A Linguistic Relic? Odan as a Dialect of English.” Language and Letters Quarterly, no 189 (Winter 2804): 168-195.

Ezabella do Loncon i Trisdo Fondas, Domino. “Late Lacunar Habitation of Lek Doe: An Unbroken Occupation.” In Depth: Archaeological Papers of The High Arts Institute, no 37 (Settendre 2808): 57-78.

Fontana do Caz Eviatád ne Val Mara i Elarcon Danya, Hano, trans. Cottrite Codex: A Definitive Methgoan Edition. Seaside: Institute of TID Studies, 2811.

Gilomu do Robbinya i Oltín do Marzallor ne Vaya Nartán, Dal. “Fraternity or Freak? The Odans as ‘Descendants’ of Extinct Mercans.” Language and Letters Quarterly, no. 190 (Spring 2805): 286-329.

Higaso i Dretar do Ca Miranna i Semmin Forza, Menwal. “Allegory as the Primary Means of Religious Communication in Cottrite Codex 17 and 18.” Ante-Historical Papers, no 21 (Rebirth 15 2799): 258-273.

———. “Cottrite’s Journeys: The Early Life of Hapa Cottrite.” The Journal of Advanced Disseminative Studies, no 4 (Fall 2798): 321-388.

Luco do Sobin i Macamilio do Lag Azul ne Val Hakím, Niccol. “Ethnic Groups among the Ancient Mercan: Documentary Evidence of Two Unique Races.” Social History, no. 107 (Resurecho 2807): 93-121.

Magour do Nilalin i Ramoz do Agazár ne Val Jagrin, Kadi. The Rise and Fall of the Mercan Empire. Seaside: Institute of TID Studies, 2798.

Parrisque do Scottarla i Valtenyo do Habminan en Vrezisgo, Austina. The Art of the Ancient Mercans As Shown by Modern Archaeology. Ghitta Laia: Publications of the Institute of High Art Studies, 2779.

Proceedings of the Central Galifone Regional Court: 7328.446 item 810-3467.2 12 Gosto 2790 P.E. Mendo: A.F. Government Publications, 2792

Rablín do Meghina i Abranzala do Ghitta Laia, Tesa. Cottrite Codex: A Chronological Review. 4 vols. Lower Galifone City: Institute Brezidentiale, 2792.

———. History of the Hengliss Peoples. Seaside: Publications of the Institute of TID Studies, 2796.

———. Interview. In The Journal of Advanced Disseminative Studies, no. 8 (Spring 2802): 14-20.

———. “The Power of the Written Word: The Role of Literacy in the Extinction of the Hengliss Peoples.” The Journal of Advanced Disseminative Studies, no. 1 (Winter 2794), 56-79.

Recchez la Ca Raino i Tammur do Eztavan Gayo, Kala do. Cottrite Codex 2.9: An Application of Intuitive Dissemination to Deductive Historical Reasoning. Seaside: Publications of the Institute of TID Studies, 2798.

———. “Dating Events Contemporary to the Cottrite Codex.” Letters on Inter-Historical Period Studies no. 49 (Snowfall 15 2797): 85-87.

———. “Functions of Ancient Mercan Stadiums: A Religio-Social Explanation.” TID Quarterly, no 12 (Summer 2805): 386-97.

Rennom lo Menhoro do Sudamen Beltrase ne Delzinto i Zkenaya, Howze. “A New Perspective on Cottrite Codex 3.2,” in Memorial Essays in Honor of Harmodias do Filoza. Edited by Rablín do Meghina. Seaside: Publications of the Institute of TID Studies, 2795.

Robintar do Zepada-Evo i Honn Kella do Sod’Arronda, Giyam, “The Languages of Hapa Cottrite.” Language and Letters Quarterly, no. 187 (Fall 2802): 98-143.

Umanas-Balamo i Verduna do Vaya Reya, Ervay. Ante-Historical Agricultural Practices and the Mercan Population Collapse. Ghitta Laia: Publications of the Institute of High Art, 2784.

Vinanha do Riho Adayo Zur i Wahanurin abayo Enriczen, Badero. “Origins of Hengliss Religious Practices.” Annals of Religious Study, no 134. (Newyear 2797): 86-99.

———. “Received Truth among the Ancient Mercans.” In Essays in Ante-Historical Religious Studies. Edited by Ellenna Ardurido do Ghitta Mendo i Ca Oakhím ne Montanyas Veratas. Seaside: Publications of the Institute of TID Studies, 2801.

 

PRESENTING… Another Free Read! Fire-Rider!

Well! Having discovered that the “Free Reads” hobby here at Plain & Simple Press apparently generates sales over at Amazon, I decided to add the current Fire-Rider tome to the serial publications.

As I mentioned yesterday, getting the thing online will be a large project. It has 79 chapters, f’rhevvinsake. About 87 berzillion images are scattered hither and yon, on WordPress, on Facebook,, on Pinterest, and on my hard drive…finding a specific one is a challenge.

Rather than dribble these things out at the rate of one squib a week over a year and a half (will I even live that much longer??), I’ve decided to publish a section a week. Fire-Rider has 18 sections (published at Amazon as short “books”), so if I keep to the schedule (good luck with that!), the whole thing should be online in 18 weeks.

That assumes I get my act that much together and keep it together.

The first four chapters will go online tomorrow, along with a foreword and a parody scholarly article on the life and times of Kaybrel and his cohort (I think it’s pretty deadpan funny…but maybe you have to read and write scholarly papers to realize what it’s poking fun at). Wednesdays and Thursdays are rumored to be the best days to publish blog posts — supposedly readers are bored with their jobs along about then and so tune in to tune out. So I will try to post weekly on Wednesday mornings.

This little project has absorbed the entire day. But if, as I’ve done with the other serialized books, I can get the entire thing scheduled for publication in upcoming days, it will be pretty self-sufficient. Then the only real challenge is to remember to plug each new appearance on Facebook and Twitter…a chore that has been slipping my mind of late.

Really…computer stuff flummoxes me! 😀

At any rate, a start is made. Watch this space: links to the first four chapters, the front matter, and the back matter will go up tomorrow morning. You can find a link to the Fire-Rider saga at the top of any page or post at Plain & Simple Press. Whenever the chapters go live, I’ll insert links in the table of contents in the Fire-Rider page.

C’mon by…it’s SO much better than working.

Fire-Rider: From the Journal of Hapa Cottrite

The Annals of Fire-Rider

The latest Fire-Rider story: From the Journal of Hapa Cottrite

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…

Enjoy!

The First Day: Out of Lek Doe

In the Eighth Year of Brez Lhored’s Reign
Early Fall

Portrait of a senior successful businessman

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.

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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 haunted lodge

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’?”

Exorcism

“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.”

“An exorcism?”

“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.

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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.

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Incense Depositphotos_1828733_m-2015The 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.”

Old censer on table, close up photo

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.

The Copyeditor's Desk, Inc.

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.

mountains shutterstock_ reduced 344330408

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.

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© 2016 Millicent Victoria Hay. All rights reserved.

Images

DepositPhoto:
Hapa Cottrite, © alexeys; Okan lodge, © vladislavgajic; Incense, © raelanglois; Ghost, © casarda ; Incense bowl, © librakv

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Mountainside vista, © Spadefoot 

Fire-Rider: Jag Bova and Lieze

The latest free story in the Fire-Rider book series continues here.This riff continues the story of Lieze Mayreth of Rozebek and her husband Jag Bova, late dubbed “Snow-Killer” for his heroics after the Battle of Loma Alda.

At last the war bands have returned from their long and heartbreaking summer warfare. Their waiting family and friends greet those who have survived with joy.

Shortly after midday, Jag Bova’s bands of weary, road-worn men crested the pass through the low hills that rose above Rozebek Town. Larks whistled in the hilltop forest, and a squirrel, still busy stashing acorns and pine nuts for winter, chattered as the men hiked past them. A hawk drifted overhead, looking for all the world like idle curiosity brought it to watching the procession pass.

Idyllic village ( Likavka ) in Mountains in beautiful region Liptov. Slovakia - Europe

The autumn afternoon was clear and crisp beneath a sapphire sky, unblemished but for a few distant, fluffy clouds. Below lay farmlands, pasture, and the town of Rozebek, dominated by its mayr’s keep. In the orchards, apple and walnut trees had already dropped their leaves, but here and there a maple or a pear clung to its scarlet and gold.

When he saw the village spread out before them, Bova felt his heart rise. Narrow lanes led out from the town plaza like spokes on a wagon wheel, the spaces between them filled with stone houses built four and six and sometimes even eight to a compound.   Huddled together around common walls, the dwellings gained a little extra shelter from winter’s deepest cold. And there, wrapped within the village, stood his own home, Rozebek Keep. Its high defensive fortifications were built of local gray stone, as was his private family compound’s tower that rose above the stokhed walls.

Alone among the Okan aristocracy’s fortifications, the Mayr of Rozebek’s keep formed a part of its village. The people’s homes came right up to the moat, making the keep an island in a small lake of human activity. Usually a kubnath’s or a mayr’s keep and dwelling stood atop a low rise anywhere from half a mile to two miles from its village. This difference pleased Jag Bova. If anyone disapproved, they hadn’t ventured to complain.

Rozebek keepA fieldstone watch tower stood at the height of the pass. Three villagers came out of the door at ground level to greet the arriving fighters. The first, a wiry youth barely more than a boy and not quite a young man, fairly bounced up the road.

“Mister Mayr! Mr. Samel! God bless you.” He bounded over and shook first Bova’s hand, then Samel’s.

The men at the front of the line pushed forward, pleased to see the first of their kin and friends that they’d laid eyes on in five months.

“Would that be Rand the cooper’s boy?” Someone said. Another laughed in unfeigned delight. “You’ve grown a good three inches!”

Shortly behind the lad came a tall, lank, and wrinkled woman clad in rough-cut homespun pants and shirt, her grey hair straggling out beneath a knitted woolen cap. She advanced to Bova with arms extended and wrapped him in a hearty hug.

“Thank God you’re home,” she exclaimed. “Thank God!”

“Sister Belindeh,” Samel greeted her, accepting the next round of handshakes and crushes. “You’ll be doing guard duty now?”

An even more grizzled man hobbled after her, supported by a walking stick. “Where have you been, boys?” the old fellow exclaimed. “We’ve been waiting dinner for you so long the food’s gone cold!”

A ripple of subdued laughter murmured through the men within earshot.

“Where are my brothers?” Rand asked. “Are they with you, mayr?”

“Sure they are, lad” Bova replied. “They’ll be down the line a ways.” Rand made his way up the trail to find his returning relatives.

“And Willard? Did you bring my grandson back to me, Jag Bova?” Belindeh asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Bova said. “And hale and hearty he is. In fact, yonder he comes—in search of you, I reckon.”

Belindeh and Willard spotted each other in the same moment and fell into each others’ arms.

Samel glanced at Bova and said quietly, “Thank God for small favors.”

“Getting all three of them back here alive and in one piece is more than a small favor, Sam.”

His monja nodded and smiled grimly.

“Tough campaign, was it?” the old man asked, overhearing this.

“Yessir, Mister Cammish,” Bova agreed. “That it was. You’ll be hearing about it soon enough. And all winter long, I expect.”

“I’m sorry to learn that, Jag Bova,” said Cammish. “How many men did we lose? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“Thirty-eight. That’s the ones who made it into the other world. More are coming home wounded. They’ll take some time to heal. Those that ever do.”

Cammish fell silent briefly, staring toward the town below. Then he said, “The boy has already ridden into town on his mule, a’spreadin’ the word that you men be climbing up the hill. Then he come back to greet you all, looking for his brothers. Listen to that racket down there!”

A distant sound wafted up the hillside: music. Horns and fiddles, drums and tambourines, whistles and ghitters and recorders and pipes rose a merry clamor down in the village.

Semel, Bova’s monja, grinned when he heard the racket. “The party’s started without us,” he said.

One of the other men overheard and added, “Let’s get our asses down there! Don’t want to miss any more than we have to.”

“Little Mama’s a-callin’,” another voice exclaimed. Here and there, men broke out of line and started to jog ahead.

“Get a grip on those clowns,” Bova said to Semel.

“Whoa! Settle down there!” Semel shouted. A few marchers, rowdy and not inclined to settle anywhere just then, gave him puzzled glances.

“Now listen to that, boys!” Bova hollered. His large presence got immediate attention. “The folks have brought out the band for us. What d’you say we return the favor?”

“What’ve you got in mind, Mister Mayr?” a grizzled fellow on the sidelines hollered back.

“Let’s play them a tune or three of our own,” Bova replied. “Let’s us get ourselves lined up here like respectable gents, and Semel, get the pipers and the drummers and let’s pipe the men to town.”

A ripple of laughter washed over the company closest to Bova and Semel. “That’ll give the girls something to remember through the winter nights,” someone remarked.

“That it will,” Bova said. “Into columns! Where are those pipers?”

Piper Depositphotos_78899056_m-2015The bands began to fall into rough columns, and shortly two men with small bagpipes, a couple of drummers, and a fife player gathered at the head of the company. Meanwhile, Bova lifted bags of gear off his charger, loaded them on a pack pony, and climbed into the saddle. Semel scouted up company’s banner, unfurled it from its pole, and handed it up to Bova, who secured it to its saddle. It waved cheerfully in the crystalline air.

The pipers and fifer struck up a bright marching tune, and the men hiked down the hill, more spring in their step than had been seen for some time. The wounded rode in the supply wagons, a few, those who could sit up and speak, chatting with their comrades on foot. The mood overall: celebratory.

§

As the troops approached Rozebek Town, villagers poured out onto the road, where they danced to the sound of fiddles, drums, and horns. Women, children, and old men streamed into the band of weary, rag-tag men. Shouts of joy and relief rang out when families and loved ones found each other, but a few called out names repeatedly and got no response.

Soon enough, Bova found Lieze, Ada, and his three children proceeding up the road amid a knot of followers and friends. The instant Lieze spotted Bova, she ran through the crowd to meet him.

“Daddy!” Deke shouted. Ada grabbed him and Mandeh, who was about to bound after her brother. “Wait, darlings. Let Mama and Papa say hello to each other.”

Lieze wrapped her arms around her massive husband. He sank his face in her long chestnut hair, which she had allowed to flow loose for the occasion.

“Oh, my God, Lieze,” he whispered into her ear. “I’ve missed you so.”

She hugged him tightly. “We’ve all been worried about you. Thank God you’re home and safe.”

He kissed her face delicately, then planted a passionate kiss on her lips. Nearby several men cheered. Lieze blushed and looked into his blue eyes. Bova took her hands and spun her about in an exuberant circle.

Ada approached with the three children at her side. “Welcome home, son,” she said.

Bova grinned and hugged his children’s grandmother. The three kids could no longer restrain themselves. Deke leapt on his father, who lifted him, laughing, into the air. Then Bova set him on the ground and greeted each child with a hug and a kiss. Mandeh and Deke chattered excitedly while Erysa looked on, dignified.

The party of townspeople drifted toward the town’s central park and cobbled square, where the music and dancing went on. After some time, Lieze began to lobby to return to the keep.

“We have a grand dinner for you, Bova,” she said. “A lovely lamb, and your favorite sweet winter squash, and two grand pecan pies. And we have so much to catch up on. Wait till you hear what the kids have been doing all summer!”

He smiled in frank pleasure. “What’s this son of mine been up to now?”

Ada said, “He’s started to learn his fencing. Lieze decided he’s getting big enough to start some lessons, so old Mister Cal has been coming to the keep every few days to work with him. Cal has been helping Mandeh and Erysa practice with the bow, too.”

“Is that so?” said Bova. “Well, those two could shoot a walnut off a tree. And as for you, Mister Deke, can you hold your own against this Mandeh?”

“O’course I can,” Deke replied. “I’m so good now, I bet I can beat you, Dad!”

Several bystanders laughed. Mandeh rolled her eyes heavenward.

“So!” Bova returned. “We’ll have to see who’s the better man.”

“Erysa brought down her first deer this summer,” Ada continued. “A fine young buck, enough to feed us all for three weeks!”

“You did? All by yourself?”

“Well, I was hunting with Mister Cal and Nida,” she said, referring one of her coach’s grand-daughters. “But yes, I shot it.”

“That’s an accomplishment,” said Bova. “Good work, big sister!”

Erysa smiled and executed an exaggerated but graceful bow.

“Why don’t we take you home now, Jag Bova?” said Lieze. “It’s time for you to sit down and put your feet up on your hearth.”

“I’m afraid we have some work to do first. “

“What can’t wait until tomorrow?” she asked.

“I need to talk with the families of each of the men who died while we were out this summer. There were almost forty.”

“Oh, dear God,” Lieze gasped.

“You all go on home. I’ll be along after I’ve talked to their folks.”

“Bova, you can’t track down forty families and sit down and talk with each one of them, not this afternoon. It’ll take you two or three days to do that.”

“Maybe. I don’t know. But I feel like I should try.”

“Dear,” Ada suggested, “don’t try to talk to them individually now. Most of them must have found out already. So why not gather them all in one place, pay respects to their dead, say a prayer, and then over the next few days you can go around to their homes.”

Bova hesitated. “Well, I…”

“That’s a good idea, Bova,” Lieze said. “It’ll let you show your respect now, and then give you more time to spend with each family. Later.”

Church Depositphotos_4477074_m-2015

More free previews of Fire-Rider coming attractions:

Escape into the Mountains
Women Warriors of the North
Seth
Banshee

Fire-Rider: Best-Laid Plans?

Here’s a draft passage from an upcoming installment in the Fire-Rider series. Enjoy!

An excerpt from the latest in the Fire-Rider science fiction series

…Around the courtyard and stone buildings below…

Lieze and Jag Bova stood in the window of their upstairs bedroom, watching Deke and Mandeh play hide and seek with a couple of the neighbors’ kids around the courtyard and stone outbuildings below. Erysa and Ada had gone to the village marketplace to shop and socialize. Bova held his wife in his arms and smiled, contented for the first time in several months.

Now that things were quiet and the two had renewed their acquaintance in every way, Bova saw an opportunity to bring up an idea that had been rolling around in his mind for some time.

Erysa and Ada had gone to the market...

Erysa and Ada had gone to the market…

“Erysa is changing so fast,” he said. “She’s grown into a young woman just while I’ve been gone.”

Lieze murmured a soft chuckle. “She gets prettier every day,” she agreed. “Mother and I saddled her with Deke during the harvest and still had to keep an eye on her to be sure no flirting went on.”

Bova laughed. “It’s hard to impress the boys with your pesty little brother underfoot.”

“Isn’t it a shame?” Lieze said.

Portrait of a beautiful young girl with decorative flowers in h

…hard to impress the boys with your pesty little brother underfoot.

“Have you thought that it might be time to arrange a husband for her?”

She glanced sharply at Bova. “Has my mother been talking to you about that already?”

“What? No,” Bova said, surprised. “Ada thinks it’s time for Erysa to marry, does she?”

“She’s brought the subject up.”

Excellent woman, Bova thought: he wouldn’t have to plow new ground. “So…what do you think of the idea?” he asked.

“She’s a little young,” Lieze replied.

“Maybe. But it’s not too soon to start thinking about it, do you expect?”

“I suppose not,” said Lieze. “Why? Do you have someone in mind?”

Bova steered Lieze to the window seat, and, with a gesture, invited her to sit down, then settled on the padded bench beside her. He cleared his throat. “I do have a thought, yes,” he said.

“Do tell!”

“Well, in the field this summer I built a pretty strong link with Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek. And you know, with Rik gone and his son two or three years short of taking over as our kubna, an alliance with Moor Lek wouldn’t be a bad thing for the House of Rozebek.

“What would you think about approaching Maire about choosing Elyse as a sister wife?”

Lieze was quiet for what seemed to Bova like a long time.

Kaybrel FireRider

…A pretty lively grandfather.

“Kaybrel,” she said.

“Yes.”

“Are you serious?”

“Why not?”

She shot him a look that told him he was on the losing end of this exchange. “In the first place, Kay is old enough to be your father. Do you really want to marry your daughter to a man who could be her grandfather?”

“Well. He’s a pretty lively grandfather.”

“No doubt. But he’s still an old man. She could find herself a widow before her second child is born.”

“She’d be well taken care of, though,” Bova said. If she were widowed after she had a child of the kubna’s, she would not remarry until his offspring were grown or settled elsewhere. Neither would Kay’s kubnath, Maire. Between the two of them, they would live handsomely on the income from an entire cowndee’s splits. Plus of course Maire was collecting from Silba Lek, too.

Woman of Okan

Okan kubnath…good because she’s absolutely fierce.

“I’m sure,” Lieze countered. “And that brings us to the next point: I don’t want my eldest daughter to play second fiddle to someone like Maire Kubnath of Silba Lek and Moor Lek. She would fade right into the shrubbery.

“Besides, everyone knows Maire can be difficult. It would take a far more headstrong eighteen-year-old than our Lieze to hold her own against that one.”

“No one has ever complained that she’s not a good kubnath,” Bova remarked.

“She’s a good kubnath because she’s absolutely fierce! You know that.”

He smiled. “Yes. Well, she’s a match for Kaybrel in that way.”

“I’ve never found him especially fierce,” she said.

“Only on horseback, maybe.”

She smiled briefly. “He’s a great warrior. But a warrior and a chosen man are two different things. Not very many men are as good as you are at both.”

“That may be so, or not,” he said. He leaned over and kissed her cheek, feeling his wooly blond beard brush against her sweet, soft skin. “But I wish you’d think it over. Will you consider it?”

“I will,” she replied. “But I have another idea, one that could do what you have in mind and also give our daughter a shot at a happy life.”

“You don’t think she’d be happy with Kaybrel?”

Fallon Mayr of Chene Wells

Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells

“She might be. But how about this: What if we were to have her choose Fallon of Cheyne Wells this spring?”

“Fal?” Bova was nonplussed. The thought had never entered his mind.

“Sure. Fal and Kay are peas from the same pod. No one is closer to Kay than Fal—well, no man, anyway. They’re so tightly allied that a match with Cheyne Wells would be a match with Moor Lek. And Fal will live long enough to father several children and be there until they’re grown. God willing.”

It was Bova’s turn to fall silent. At length he reflected, “It’s pretty remote up there, halfway to the edge of the godforsaken ice fields. That’s probably why no one has chosen him since his first wife and kids died.”

“That’s so,” she said. “But she loves horses. Fallon has enough of those to keep her amused for the rest of her life. And she could manage our farmlands this very day—I’ve taken care to teach her all she needs to know, and then some. She’ll make a perfect rancher’s partner, and a very fine mayreth. She’s been brought up to be mayreth, Bova.”

“Hmh.” He turned the possibility over in his mind.

“You understand,” he said after a moment, “Fallon has a lady friend in Lek Doe.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?” He nodded. “Well, no doubt he’s not alone in that,” she remarked.

“You can be sure Kaybrel doesn’t. The kubnath would never put up with any shenanigans like that.”

She laughed softly. “She probably doesn’t have to. I’m sure his oats are already sown.”

“One never knows with that one. He’s a surprise a day.”

“Be that as it may, a pretty young bride can be a mighty distraction. If she marries Fal this spring, he’ll be daydreaming about getting back to her all summer.”

“I daydream about getting back to you every summer,” he said. He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed his way up her arm to the nape of her neck. She shivered, sighed, and melted into his arms.

A kiss or two later, Bova glanced up. “Oh, God,” he said. “Yonder come the women young and old.” Ada and Erysa were entering the courtyard below, driving a small carriage behind a single pony.

“Oh, dear. Can we pretend we didn’t notice?”

“We’d better get out of the window, then.” He took her hand and, like shadows, the two ghosted into an upstairs guest bedroom.

Home from the market

Home from the market

Earlier Riffs on Fire-Rider

Escape into the Mountains
Women Warriors of the North
Seth
Banshee
Kay’s Regrets

Images: DepositPhotos
The stone courtyard and buildings. ©Kistryn Malgorzata
Village market. © Nata48
Erysa. © Diana83
Fallon. © v-strelok

Image: Shutterstock
Okan kubnath. Jozef Klopacka

Short story: An excerpt from the latest installment in the Fire-Rider science fiction book series.