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            Because of the slaughter at Verdanta and the murder of their king, many of the Tranca were eager to join in Tyree’s vengeance against the Logalla. The witch woman Koleefus was now Rolak’s advisor and she manipulated him with even greater dexterity than she had his father. She knew the Tranca were not ready for all out war with the Logalla. Thus Rolak held that same conclusion.

            “You should, instead, direct efforts on the retaking of Verdanta,” Koleefus suggested. “It is vital to the Tranca, both in its bounty and in the hope against the snow it holds for all Tranca. If we wait, the main Logalla armies might return, drive us off, reinforce the Logalla in Verdanta.”

            “And what of the Kodiak?” Rolak asked, as always.

            “I have told you a thousand times,” Koleefus snapped, but in her measured way. “Leave Tyree to me.”

            Shuyah and Tyree plotted their own strategies as they lay side-by-side on a plush bearskin in her hut. They agreed that Koleefus was right, and that all out war against the Logalla would have to wait. They agreed that retaking Verdanta was the first priority. It would spark the clan, paradise again in Tranca hands. The confidence needed to defeat the Logalla could build on such a success.

            “Rolak’s siege is a failure,” Tyree noted. “One cannot lay siege to a land of plenty.”

            “There must be some other way,” Shuyah scowled, sitting up on an elbow. “What do your Kodiak senses tell you?”

            “Verdanta must be attacked at night,” Tyree shrugged, “and on foot. There is no snow within half a view of the hot springs. The ground is hard. It is melted rock that came up from within the earth before time began.”

            Shuyah smiled. “You think of these things: Were we, before time began, all one clan? Can one cross the frozen sea and reach Jallalla? Melted rock that comes up from within the earth. All this contemplation!”

            “There is more to the hard rock the horses must cross than contemplation. Horses make noise on hard ground. Warriors on foot make none. The Logalla wait in the mists of the hot springs, as your sentries have since the Tranca discovered Verdanta. The Logalla sentries listen for a mounted army’s approach.”

            Shuyah knew well the strategy. “Sentries in the mists. They listen for our approach. They have time to send word, and their full army is always there waiting for us.”

            “We could turn that strategy against them. Decoy the Logalla by sending a mounted legion toward one side of Verdanta, while a small party of a hundred warriors slips in from the other side on foot,” Tyree said, “using the night and the mists to conceal their infiltration.”

            “Infiltration? What will this accomplish?”

            “Destroy the rain catchers.”

            Shuyah’s beautiful face lit up with comprehension. “The harvest is a hundred days away. We took most of the last harvest north with the clan. In the time since they occupied Verdanta, the Logalla will have exhausted the fruits and vegetables stockpiled there. They will soon be going to their own supplies. Battle supplies. Dried caribou, salted mutton. Fresh water becomes the key.”

            “I’m not the only one with contemplations,” he teased.

            She rolled over on her stomach, closer to him. “I will put this idea to the War Council,” she reflected. “Being in the line for the throne, I have a permanent seat.”

            “So it would seem,” he sighed, caressing her neat, firm bottom with affection. She didn’t flinch.

            “You will not get credit for your idea. If they knew it was a Kodiak strategy—”

            Tyree smiled. “They would not consider it. Credit is not my aim.” Tyree sat up on the bearskin. “I ask only that I lead the war party into Verdanta.”

            This time danger caressed her, made her shiver.

            “I can arrange that,” she sighed, and then she got to her feet and looked down on him. “You hope The Scar will be in Verdanta.”

            “It would please me,” Tyree said as he rose to stand facing her. “Still, the total defeat of the Logalla is my goal.”

            “And mine,” she replied, the two of them literally seeing eye-to-eye.

            “With it, will come the death of The Scar,” Tyree said, unable to keep from clenching his teeth at the thought.

            She saw this, and kissed him quickly.

            “Caution,” she whispered. “I don’t want to lose you.”

            “I am your burden, forever,” he smiled, and then he kissed her deeply, the Kodiak, there within a Tranca princess’ hut, surrounded by an ancient enemy.

            “A Kodiak lead a Tranca raid? Are you insane?” Rolak bellowed as he, Shuyah and four Tranca commanders sat about Rolak’s hut at the meeting of the War Council. Koleefus sat in a corner where Rolak could see her clearly.

            There had been many contentious War Councils in this hut since the Tranca returned from the north and found Verdanta occupied. This was the most contentious of all.

            “Tyree’s Kodiak senses can get the raiding party in without detection,” Shuyah offered.

            “And Rolak, Lord of the Tranca, leads a decoy mission!”

            Shuyah and Tyree had expected Rolak’s reaction.

            “I will ride at your side. Our legion is not just a decoy. It’s vital. We approach the mists at a charge, and at the last moment, veer south,” she calmly explained. “We ride at full gallop around the outside of Verdanta’s mists and arrive in time to cover the war party’s withdrawal.”

            “It is a shorter distance for the Logalla to turn and rider directly across Verdanta to again outflank us.”

            “We will ride freely on the mantle of hard ground that surrounds Verdanta. The war party will be on foot, remember. At the rear of our legion, one hundred saddled horses. These the war party will mount on the run.”

            “I see, and what does this war party do once inside Verdanta where six thousand Logalla warriors await?”

            “Destroy the rain catchers,” Shuyah replied.

            The four Tranca commanders looked at each other with bewilderment. Rolak looked to Koleefus, and she nodded for him to hear more. The pause gave Shuyah an opening.

            “We’ve all enjoyed time in Verdanta. It is a paradise, true, but the heat. It makes one need far more water. The water from the land. It’s filled with salt and dangerous liquids. It’s undrinkable. The colony’s only fresh water supply has always been the rain catchers,” Shuyah went on. “Verdanta’s water supply could barely sustain a thousand of our warriors and three thousand citizens. Six thousand big thirsty Logalla warriors will be on their knees is a few days. The Logalla have over extended themselves.”

            The commanders all nodded with murmurs of agreement, and Rolak looked to Koleefus. With her eyes she told him to accept the plan. Rolak had to bite his tongue to comply.

            “They have agreed,” Shuyah said returning to her hut to find Tyree testing his wounded side with practice thrusts and slashes of his sword. He was wearing the white undergarments Shuyah had seen at the hot springs and in the ice cave after she was—captured by Tyree.

            “Good,” was all he said, as he stood barefoot panting slightly and smiling impishly. His white shirt with long flailing tail was lightly woven cloth made from a hearty strain of flax that was plentiful upon the snow. The leather tie at the neck had come undone and sweat coursed down his chest. In a few quick movements she disrobed herself of royal gown and boots and stood before him barefoot and in similar, but far briefer, undergarments. She smiled at him then drew her sword from its scabbard on the wall by the door. Shuyah immediately attacked, the two of them parrying and thrusting, each a clanging of honed metal-on-metal. It was a game. The first whose back brushed the caribou skin walls of the large hut surrounding them would be the loser. A simple game, but one the Kodiak clan used since time began to hone their skills. It had become a daily practice for Shuyah and Tyree, Tyree testing his healing, and Shuyah learning new close combat tactics.

            The Tranca guards and passersby marveled at the sounds of battle coming from the princess’ hut, shadows dancing on the wall where candlelight was strong enough, and caribou skin thin. Now, both were soaked through with sweat and after a few more swipes and lunges, Tyree yielded and smiled. “I could certainly use some time in the princess’ private hot spring,” he said between gasps for breath.

            “That will have to await the retaking of Verdanta,” she laughed. “You’ll have to settle for a cold bath.”

            She neatly sheathed her sword into the scabbard on the wall and pulled back the goatskin drapes at one end of her hut revealing the copper metal tub in which Tyree had soaked his wound many times. Firewood was too valuable to be used for bathing comfort, even for a princess.

            “Cold, huh?” he said drawing in a hissing breath through his white and perfect teeth. “Is there any way to make the bath warmer for me?”

            “Let’s see what presents itself,” she laughed, pouring several buckets from the floor into the tub.

            The water in the buckets was barely warmer than when taken from a nearby frigid stream. The caribou skin huts of the snomads were sealed and shaped to capture body heat. If more than four or five people were living in a hut it could get stifling even in the coldest times. A small flap at the conical roof could be pulled open by a long leather tie. Often, in a well occupied hut, one could hear the hot air whistling out through the tiny hole. The flap in the roof of Shuyah’s hut was pulled open, and the rush of heat howled.

            “When will we attack?” she asked sitting naked in his lap in the chilly water washing first her legs, then his.

            “In three days. There will come a blizzard that will cloak our attack,” Tyree said. “After that, it will not snow again for ten to twelve days. This will deprive the Logalla within Verdanta of any rainfall to quench their thirst.”

            “It’s fortunate for the Logalla that they don’t bathe,” she quipped. He laughed heartily at her joke.

            “They are uncivilized,” he said.

            She leaned back against his chest.

            “Yes. Still. It’s a cruel plan,” she mused.

            “The only one that will succeed.”

            “What will the Logalla do when they are dying of thirst in that stifling heat? They will not surrender.”

            “No, Logalla never surrender,” he sighed. “When they reach a point of desperation. When the horses start dying. In six or seven days. While they still have strength to fight, they will try to break out of their encirclement.”

            “What will we do?” she asked, knowing his answer would be painful for her.

            “Where ever they try to breach the Tranca siege, the line must hold. It will be easy. The Logalla will be weak.”   She foresaw his next words and, in a slight daze over the notion, she spoke his thoughts for him. “Word of the break out is passed in both directions along our circle of warriors. They close in from all sides. The Logalla will be in an even tighter circle than they were in Verdanta.”

            “Logalla never surrender,” he easily shrugged. “We will kill them all.”

            A chill played over Shuyah’s spine. Even now that her body had become accustomed to the cold bath water, thought of the coming slaughter made her shiver.

            “What would our mothers say?” Shuyah sighed.

            Tyree looked quizzical and, though her back was to him, she knew he would be wearing that expression. She went on.

            “Our mothers’ children, naked in a bath and making cruel plans.” She twisted to smile devilishly in his face and kissed him quickly like a fox.

            “I did not know my mother,” he said.

            “Mine died when I was ten. In childbirth. Her fourth child. My little brother, killed in Verdanta.”

            “Your mother would be proud of you,” Tyree said, “as would your father.”

            “Because I plot to avenge him and my brothers?”

            “Because you lead your people,” Tyree said drowsily, as he fell asleep in the bath.

 

*          *          *

 

            “Grandfather, you should have a walking stick. Many other elders have one to help them cross the snow,” ten-year-old Tyree said diplomatically as the two of them sat before the old man’s hut.

            “A lance serves just as well,” Grandfather said, and then he stood and hobbled off toward the wood stocks. Tyree followed, not sure of his grandfather’s intent.

            The wood stocks were a precious commodity, guarded by two warriors night and day. It was mostly firewood and long thin, surprisingly strong timbers taken on raids of the twisted forest. These were used for everything from lodge poles to arrow shafts. Grandfather nodded to the guards as he passed into the wood stocks. The guards knew the ritual, and allowed the boy to pass, as well. From these hardwood poles, Kodiak warriors chose their lances. These they carved and honed to their favorite weight and balance.

            Once, long before Tyree was born, the Logalla attacked the Kodiak camp with as cruel a strategy as any Tyree ever contemplated. Instead of the usual kill mission, the Logalla carried torches and made straight for the Kodiak’s wood stock; they set it ablaze. Their goal was to cause thousands of Kodiak to freeze to death in the coming winter. But just as the fire started, the wind stopped. It refused to fan the flames. Instead, it brought a heavy snowfall which snuffed out the flames before much damage was done. The wind, again, had proven to be the Kodiak’s greatest ally. At least that was how Grandfather told the story.

            Grandfather selected a slender pole, one of less thickness and length than a Kodiak warrior would choose. He handed the pole to the boy to feel its properties.

            “Now, you select one of the same length and weight,” Grandfather told Tyree.

            Tyree did so, and without saying anything further, the old man took his pole and hobbled back to his hut, knowing the boy would follow and learn. Tyree was ten, and it was time to be taught the art of lance making.

            The two of them whittled at the slender poles several hours a day for several days. Grandfather inspected the boy’s work carefully and hefted the weight of the two works in progress over and over. At last satisfied, they trooped down to the armorsmith’s. They took with them the two shafts and had the armorsmith fire a brave iron spear tip for each. These, the armorsmith threw into the snow where they hissed and tempered into the finest metal in the wilderness.

            Grandfather and ten-year-old Tyree then went back to Grandfather’s hut and attached the lance tips with strips of caribou leather. These bindings they soaked in melted snow, and then left in the meager sun to dry. They placed the lances in the snow butt end first and let the tips bath in the sacred wind. As they dried, the spearhead bindings grew tighter and tighter, and then they froze. No stronger, more dependable binding could be found upon the snow.

            Then came practice. Tyree and his grandfather rode to the edge of the encampment and made man-sized targets of pony hay. From horseback they ran the targets through with their lances over and over until Tyree could hit the mark with greater efficiency than his mentor. Then they rode through the wilderness spearing brushes and trees. Then live targets, as they went on a hunt for deer. It was a crisp morning. As they rode off, it began to snow.

            “Ah, the snow,” Grandfather said, turning his withered face up into it, “it’s the best time for the Kodiak. I have read the wind, and a small herd of deer have sought shelter in that forest of tundra bushes. Come. Let us use our senses. Approach as though the deer were Logalla.”

            The snow became heavier as the experienced snow ponies put their pace into one that undulated with the sounds of the thumping snowfall, the rhythms of the wind.

            “First, become one with your snow pony,” Grandfather murmured, the cadence of his voice blending with it all. “Hold your hand into the wind,” he went on. “Become one with it, as well. Now, listen and smell. Know what the wind tells you. With your legs, tell these things to your snow pony.”

            Tyree did these things, and they came naturally.

            Ten-year-old Tyree and his grandfather found themselves in a clearing at the center of the tundra bush forest. There before them, unaware, huddled a herd of six deer, five doe and a big buck with a rack of gracefully curved and deadly antlers. Deer in the wilderness were not the wide eyed, peaceful Bambis of warmer climes and later times. They were mean. In the wilderness, they had to be. The big buck’s head snapped up and he stared in the Kodiak’s direction.

            The Kodiak and their ponies were unmoving, blending with the snowfall, invisible. “We will charge them as though they were Logalla,” Grandfather said, his whispered words carried on the wind to Tyree’s ear, as the two Kodiak and their snow ponies stood not fifty feet from the deer.

            “Now!” Grandfather shouted and the snow ponies charged.

            At the gallop Grandfather and Tyree pulled their long lances from the ornate scabbards strapped to their pony’s side. A doe on the right bumped into another, and then bounded laterally across the clearing. Grandfather’s pony bolted sharply at the same instant to head off the doe. Both raced along two different angles toward the edge of the clearing. Grandfather put his lance into the jousting position he had employed a thousand times against men in armor out to kill him. As the doe made her final dramatic leap for the safety of the foliage, grandfather’s lance pierced her neatly through the throat. Grandfather skidded to a stop and turned his snow pony. Hefting his lance triumphantly, he held up the dead doe impaled upon it for Tyree to see.

            Tyree heard snuffling and hooves pawing the snow. He turned. It was the buck across the clearing readying itself to charge. Tyree lowered his lance as his grandfather had taught him to do. He squeezed his legs to tell his snow pony to charge, as Tyree had known how to do since he was five. He had no shield or armor as he would when it was time. The buck crossed half the clearing in four strides. Tyree’s snow pony did the same. On the last leap, the buck lowered his antlers and plunged toward the snow pony’s head. The pony didn’t flinch, for it knew its duty. An instant before the cruel horns struck the snow pony’s face, the airborne buck was instantly stopped short. The impact of the buck on Tyree’s lance knocked Tyree from the saddle. A bright light burst in the boy’s brain when his back hit the snow. He was momentarily stunned. Tyree shook his head to clear it and found his grandfather’s smiling face looking down on him.

            “Watch out, Grandfather,” Tyree said, “The buck!”

            Grandfather only smiled more broadly and gestured to where the buck lie dead in the pristine snow, spreading his life’s blood upon it, Tyree’s lance driven into its heart.

            Tyree had had spears before, crude weapons of little use made from the weak wood of the stunted saplings that dared raise themselves above the snow. This lance was a real weapon. It was just the right size for a ten-year-old, but much smaller and lighter and shorter than those the old man used to great effect in his warrior days. But now, the smaller lance was just the right size for Grandfather, too, and served him much better service as a walking stick.

            The snow stopped as they rode home to their encampment each with a deer across their saddles. Young Tyree and his grandfather stopped at a sparkling spring that bubbled up in a cluster of rocks. A crown of white ice had formed around the spring as though it were meant for royalty. They quenched their thirsts after a long, hard day. Ten-year-old Tyree dropped to his knees in the snow at the edge of the spring, took off his gloves, and scooped up double hands full of water which he brought up to his parched lips.

            That’s when a splash of cold water in his face awakened the fully grown Tyree as he slept there in Shuyah’s bath. The splash of water took him from his dream of better days. They were days of joy, of carefree life upon the snow. But they were days without Shuyah. Because of her, these were better days.

            Tyree and Shuyah got out of the bath, dried each other off with soft towels only a princess would have in the wilderness, and they went to bed. 

 

CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER 13: "MISTS"

 

 

   

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