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           Tyree didn’t know it, but it was two days before he again found cognizance and awoke before the crackling fire where four Ghost Warriors, two men and two women crouched and ate. Again Tyree was fed hot soup by his saviors. They asked him how a Kodiak came to be alone and wounded by a Logalla arrow when the Kodiak clan had long passed to the plains in the south. Tyree told them of his parents and his quest to kill their murderer.

            “Revenge is a bitter soup,” Jasika said, offering him soup of a more healing kind.

            Tyree took the bowl in his own hands, stronger now, and started on the trail to recovery.

            “It is something I must do,” Tyree said firmly.

            “Is not the path of peace found in harmony?” one of the female Ghost Warriors offered.

            “There is no word for harmony in the tongue of the Logalla,” the boy said.

            “Still, they are human,” Jasika pointed out.

            Tyree felt as though he were still in a dream. Perhaps he had died and the Ghost Warriors occupied heaven, Shooshinka. The woman got up and handed Tyree a platter of cooked caribou meat with wild potato mash and gravy and some steamed wild snow cabbage. Tyree devoured it to replenish his depleted condition.

            “Eat slower and the nourishment will find time to heal your soul,” the woman suggested, returning to crouch by the small fire with the others.

            “Have the Ghost Warriors a saying for every occasion?” the Kodiak said between bites.

            Jasika smiled. “The name the clans have given us is inaccurate. We are not warriors. We are people of peace.”

            Tyree looked at the sword at Jasika’s side, the bow slung across his shoulders, and the white feathered arrows in a white sealskin quiver strapped to his back.

            “Are your weapons not as deadly as mine?” Tyree noted.

            “They are for hunting. We try never to raise them against snomads,” Jasika shrugged. “What has constant war gained the clans that kill for the sake of killing?”

            “We have survived,” Tyree replied.

            “As have we,” Jasika said. “You will be able to ride in a few days. We found your camp and your string of horses. We brought them here. We shall guide you to the fringes of your clan’s location.”

            “Thank you, but no,” Tyree said, “I go to the Tranca.”

            “The girl you spoke of in your fever?”

            Tyree smiled. Then he told them of his banishment, of the death of the Tranca ruler, Lord Zorgon. How he had to catch up with her. Tell her about it before she found out.

            “A warrior without a clan,” Jasika the Ghost Warrior nodded. “We have been thus for a thousand thaws. Our clan is our own withdrawal from the intrigues of the other clans.”

            “If one does nothing to change things, nothing changes,” Tyree suggested, finishing the hot meal.

            “The Kodiak also have sayings,” the woman noted. “Sleep. It is the great healer of the wilderness.”

            Tyree smiled, and gave her the last word. Then he slept, and in two days was able to sit a horse. The Ghost Warriors returned his three snow ponies and two pack ponies. He promised to return the Ghost Warriors’ hospitality one day. They politely declined the offer.

            Tyree set off against the harshest blizzard yet of the new winter. Tyree knew it was already too late. Shuyah and the Tranca clan would already be at Verdanta. They would discover the incredible loss of their paradise and the loss of their king. Tyree would somehow find Shuyah’s ear, ask her to forgive him for deceiving her.

            The ice shelf hardened with the coming of winter. It snowed almost daily and the clans found their places upon the plains a safe distance from each other. The thaw had brought rejuvenation to the plant life and the herds grazed upon thaw grass that would soon grow brown as winter reached its zenith. Tyree was at home, here where the thaw that threatens all life comes once a year and, in its irony, provides sustenance.

            Tyree found the Tranca camped outside Verdanta, as he knew they would be. They had double the normal outriders and sentries, so Tyree waited for another snowfall and entered on foot. The Kodiak knew how to blend with the snowfall. They were even better at it on foot than when they were on their talented snow ponies. They let the falling snow bend the thick, weak daylight of the wilderness around their Kodiak bodies, and thus make themselves invisible.

            Tyree slipped past the outriders and sentries, entered the heart of the Tranca camp, brushed right by Shuyah’s personal guards. He was tired, he was worn, and his wound had not yet fully healed. Still, he found himself outside Shuyah’s hut just as the snowfall ended. One of her guards, a warrior with his back to Tyree, turned and saw the Kodiak within the perimeter. He called out an alarm and several heavily armed warriors ran toward the Kodiak. Just then, Shuyah stepped out of her hut, sword in hand. She held up her empty hand to the onrushing guards and they stopped.

            “Tyree. It’s good to see you,” she said, betraying little of that notion. The discovery that the Logalla had killed her father and two young brothers weighed heavily on her.

            “I, myself, put your father and your brothers beneath the soil of Verdanta,” Tyree told her outright, unable to keep the truth from her any longer.

            She looked at him with a horror he’d never before seen in her.

            “Was this the knowledge you had that Koleefus detected?” she said. “When you came to our camp in the north, you already knew my father and brothers were—”

            “Forgive me,” he said, taking her by the shoulders and looking into her green eyes. “I couldn’t let Rolak know he was Lord of the Tranca when we were in the north. He would have rescinded your father’s promise of free passage.”

            “He has done so already.”

            “He would have kept us apart.”

            “He would have killed you. He still will. Why did you risk coming here?”

            “Keeping this secret from you tore at my heart every moment. My heart now seems to hold you its owner.”

            She looked up at him, drank in his sincerity.

            “Rolak is away commanding the siege. We have Verdanta surrounded,” she said, moving bravely on to more important things. “My father. My brothers. Did they die quickly?”

            “The Logalla are nothing if not efficient,” Tyree solemnly replied.

            “Now, we are both orphans,” she said haltingly, refusing to let Tyree or any of the others see the weeping Tyree knew she was doing, alone and in the dark.

            Tyree haltingly said, “I wanted to catch you on the trail. Tell you what happened before you found out, but—”

            Tyree staggered, clutching at the wound in his side that had not yet fully healed. She kept him from falling and her hand felt the blood oozing from the reopened wound. She quickly helped him into her hut. The warrior guards and Tranca onlookers saw this, and the word of mouth system, efficient in every clan, spread the news. Some Tranca saw this as a sign of their princess’ betrothal. Many had long accepted the valiant Kodiak as one of their own, so they minded their own business—but not Rolak.

Rolak’s vast army had encircled Verdanta. Several assaults, however, failed. The Logalla occupying Verdanta simply hid in the steam and fell upon any probe by the Tranca. It was the same strategy the Tranca had used to defend Verdanta. The Tranca once held Verdanta with only a thousand warriors. The Logalla had occupied it with six thousand, all crack veterans deserving a stay in paradise.

            Inside her hut, Shuyah removed Tyree’s armor as he had removed hers in the ice cave when she was wounded on the day they met. How long ago it seemed, to those whose snow-filled days seem to last forever and whose frigid nights took a lifetime. Now, here in her hut, was the enemy she was once sworn to kill, wounded and in her care, as she was once in his. Here was the one that made her flesh warm in the freezing wind, the one so brave and forthright, yet so despised by her brother, the one who boldly rescued her from the Logalla with an avalanche. Tyree, of the Kodiak.

            Rolak and his commanders returned from the siege to eat, rest and plan. Rolak, already angered by the death of his father, arrived at the encampment to find that the Kodiak had taken up residence in his sister’s hut.

            Tyree was still weak when he was awakened by Rolak and Shuyah arguing outside Shuyah’s hut. Rolak was the Tranca ruler, now, and his word should have been law. Still, Shuyah held great sway, and insisted that their father’s promise should be kept beyond the grave. It was fortunate that Rolak had to return to Verdanta to lead the siege.

            One night, as he neared recovery, Tyree was awakened by Shuyah’s soft weeping. He moved from his bed to hers for the first time. They held each other against the trials of life upon the snow, and she slept upon his shoulder. When she awoke in the night, they made love for the first time. There, in the wilderness that shows no mercy, they found Shooshinka—heaven.
 
 
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER 12: "CONTEMPLATION"

 

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