The Tranca war party had arrived at the ambush site long after the three Kodiak and their captive were in camp some distance away. Rolak was commander of the Tranca military and he sat impatiently upon his battle steed watching as his scouts read sign. Brawny, battle scarred Tooka approached Rolak on foot. He looked up at the angular Rolak with reverence. “She is not among the dead,” Tooka said. “We think she was taken captive.”“More of my sister’s foolishness gone awry!” Rolak fumed through clenched teeth. “Track them!”
“Their trail goes a spent arrow’s distance to the east, five horses, then they split and go their separate ways.”
“Follow them!” Rolak bellowed. “Follow all of them!”
The Tranca war party numbered fifteen, but only three warriors each could follow any one of the five sets of tracks in the snow. The Kodiak had already evened the odds.
Tyree found the clasps of the girl’s armor and gently popped them free. She moaned at the pain of the arrow’s head still in her shoulder, but she bit her lip to keep the moan from Tyree’s ears. That wasn’t possible.
“Sorry,” he said, removing both back and breast plates.
The fire crackled bravely against the inevitable as night began to fall. They were sheltered in an ice cave with an opening to the northeast. Konka had hung a bearskin over the opening both to shield them from the wind and to keep the firelight from giving away their position. The wood they brought with them was from the twisted forests. It burned hot and clean, age and exposure to the freezing temperatures having leeched the impurities from it. Therefore the ice cave held little smoke to burn the eyes of the occupants.
As Konka stood watch on a cliff top nearby, Drinda’s pony pawed the snow half a view away. She had asked it to do this with a whisper in its ear. Drinda jumped down from her mount and dug deep into the snow with her sword. She found the healing root where her snow pony had indicated it would be. She fed some of it to her pony as a reward then she mounted and galloped back to the ice cave.
Drinda boiled the healing root over the fire and with the knob of her sword, mashed it into paste in a wooden bowl. Tyree heated the Tranca girl’s dagger to a rosy red.
“Fitting that the blade with which you tried to kill me will now work to save your life,” Tyree said.
As Drinda approached with the poultice, the Tranca girl looked up from her face down position on a bed of furs.
“Do the Kodiak shoot all their victims in the back?” the wounded girl sneered toward Drinda.
“Forgive my poor bowmanship,” Drinda synthetically smiled. “I was aiming for the back of your brain. You see, that’s my favorite way to kill ambushers.”
“Fortunate for you your armor took most of the strike,” Tyree said as he plunged in the molten blade, removing the arrowhead and cauterizing the wound simultaneously.
The girl screamed then buried her face into the fur bed, sobbing. Tyree scooped up the steaming healing root poultice and smeared it on the inflamed wound. The girl grunted painfully then the tenseness in her hard, healthy body evaporated. The healing root had helped the pain. Later, there came compresses of ice to bring down the swelling, cleaning, stitching, and bandages. Then she slept.
Another blizzard blew in, and Konka came in from his outpost. Night was much colder in the wilderness. As they huddled around their pitiful fire the Kodiak felt secure. Even before they’d made camp, they knew exactly when the blizzard would come, knew it would cover their tracks forever. Rolak and his war party had only four recaptured horses and seven dead Tranca warriors to claim for their efforts. The blizzard blotted out any hope of tracking the Kodiak, so the Tranca regrouped at the ambush site, buried their dead beneath the ice, and returned to their clan for rest and re-supply. They’d wait out the blizzard, then strike out again in search of Rolak’s sister. This storm raged for six days and left ten feet of fresh snow in the wilderness.
“I was born in such a cave,” Tyree told his captive as snow thudded like a caribou stampede outside the ice cave. “My parents were on a thaw migration.”
“Spare me your family history,” the Tranca girl snapped squirming to find a position of comfort, her wound sufficiently healed to allow her to sit up and sip soup.
“We shouldn’t even be sharing our soup,” Konka growled.
“When can we get moving?” Drinda sighed. “It’s beginning to stink in here.”
“It began to stink the moment she arrived,” Konka said.
“We must be on the move before the snow stops,” Tyree said. “We’ll dig out during the night leaving just enough so we can break through the crust and be on the snow just before dawn. The snow won’t stop until we’re well away.”
“I think I will begin to dig out now,” Konka said standing up.
Konka went to the entrance and pulled back the bearskin flap. The entrance was completely packed with new fallen snow. Konka began to hack at it with his sword, smashing great chunks of snow upon the cave floor.
“For six days you have refused to tell us your name,” Tyree recalled. “Thus I must conclude your name would be one we would recognize. There are only two such Tranca females we, the Kodiak, would know. The witch woman, Koleefus. She is old and wrinkled. Are you she?”
“No!” the girl shot back.
“Then you must be Shuyah, daughter of Zorgon, leader of the Tranca, and sister of Rolak, their military commander.”
Konka turned from his work with a quizzical look, which became a grin of happy realization.
“Tyree, you devil!” Konka laughed. “No wonder you didn’t kill her! She’ll bring a great ransom!”
“You knew this from the start,” the girl said.
“I suspected,” Tyree admitted, “but ransom is not my goal.”
“It’s not?” Konka blinked. “What is your goal? Our goal?”
“As I said, I seek information,” Tyree told the girl.
“I’ll tell you nothing,” Shuyah haughtily replied.
“When do the Tranca plan to begin the thaw migration?”
“Very well,” Tyree smiled, actually pleased the warrior girl was not forthcoming. It showed spirit. “We will take you to our camp. You will become a Kodiak. I believe there is an opening in washers. You know, Konka, the old women who go to the rivers and wash our undergarments?”
“Yes, an opening,” Konka played along. “One of the washer women was eaten by wolves just the other night.” The three Kodiak laughed at Shuyah’s expense, but she would await her opening. She sipped her soup.
They took turns digging through the night, melting the snow before the fire and walking in slush. They stopped a sword’s length short of the surface and awaited the dawn. Early the next morning, Tyree crawled down the snow tunnel. He stabbed at the end of the tunnel with his sword making a small opening to the surface. Heavy snow fell in his face as Tyree popped his head up through the pristine whiteness just enough for his eyes to adjust and to look about the area. He ventured out alert, snow star and sword at the ready. His eagle eyes scanned over the vast empty expanse of fresh and falling snow. The snow’s gentle patter was comforting. Tyree loved this land. Confident there was no enemy about, he whistled softly. The three snow ponies stood up from under the mantle of snow and shook themselves off. They’d all lain down and huddled together, as snow ponies had learned to do, combining their body warmth while also slowing their metabolisms to outlast the storm. They were fed immediately.
Shuyah rode double in front of Tyree. The snow ponies had long legs and broad flat three-toed hooves and could usually gallop atop the crust of the snow that hardened into ice in the freezing temperatures. This day, however, called for plowing through drifts like mountains, snow so deep it could swallow man and horse, and leave no trace of their icing. Tyree’s unit’s mission was to scout for enemy positions, but circumstance demanded a return home.
Home was a huge movable encampment that never remained in one place for very long. They planned their moves around the blizzards which covered their many tracks. The Kodiak numbered over eight thousand, a thousand elite warriors. There were about five hundred honored elders who had to have lived at least eighty thaws to vote. The elders voted five of their number to the council. At present, three were men, two women. These five decided all social and philosophical issues, and organized the two great annual migrations.
Military planning was the duty of the commander, who had no vote. The military commander was always an active warrior chosen by the council. That duty currently fell to Golanka, Tyree’s uncle. Commanders had come exclusively from Tyree’s family as far back as Kodiak history recorded. Tyree’s grandfather, Golanka’s father, had been one of the clan’s greatest commanders, and before him, Tyree’s great grandmother was a legendary commander of warriors.
The Kodiak lived in dome shaped huts of caribou hides that stood against the wind and snow infallible. The hides from which the huts were constructed came undone in short order when the proper leather thong was released or wooden pole removed. These they bundled aboard their pack ponies and huge wooden sleds that were pulled by draft ponies. Within half a day they could be on the move, leaving behind little trace of their stay.
The core clan included fishermen, manufacturers, gatherers, merchants and, most important, herders who tended the sheep, the caribou, and the vital snow pony herds. The Kodiak even had a large family that had blessed the clan with a long line of medical practitioners. The rest of the clan were mostly children. There were many young boys and girls not ready, or quite fit, for the military, but who always strove to gain warrior status. These joined the camp guard, protecting the mobile clan when the warriors were away. Every young person dreamed of being a warrior someday, but only those in Tyree’s family “stood in the line” and could dream of becoming military commander.
The warriors also served as the clan’s hunters, bringing home game from their many missions upon the snow. Hunting and the gathering of wood were secondary tasks for the warriors. Their primary mission was always to kill enemy warriors.
When home among their clansmen, the warriors wanted for nothing. All hospitality and free services were extended to them. The brave ones, their long thick hair pulled back by a bone clip; the brave ones, who protected the clan from the enemy.
Tyree had two young cousins get Grandfather’s old hut out of storage. They erected it with practiced faculty and it became the temporary place of recuperation for Shuyah, daughter of Zorgon. Kodiak word of mouth communication was vital for sudden orders from the elders or military commander. The entire clan could move almost as one when the word was put out. This system was also most efficient for spreading gossip. Citizens padded past Grandfather’s old hut during all the daylight hours, chattering quietly to each other and hoping to catch a glimpse of the girl they called the enemy princess.
Tyree had the hut placed across from his own so that he could keep watch on the captive, though the council had ordered two guards placed there for that purpose.
Tyree sent for the doctor, and had his cousins bring the wounded girl water, food and hot soup. Within two days, both Tyree’s young cousins were in love. Tyree suspected Shuyah was being nice to the boys as the prelude to some ploy or plan of escape. Of course, no one could escape a Kodiak once he set his mind on capture.
The council elders puzzled over the disposition of the captive. She was of great value, true, and worth much more as a bargaining piece than as a reluctant member of their clan, for she would escape at any opportunity, and would require guards at all times. The military had no warriors to spare on such foolishness. So it was decided that Tyree would take the girl to the twisted forest in the east. It was here Kodiak scouts had last reported sighting Zorgon, Shuyah’s father and leader of the Tranca. The compensation for her return (the elders eschewed the word ransom) would be a hundred cords of wood. Bargaining directly with the father assured a most favorable outcome. Tyree and his unit were to carry out the mission within seven days. So on the third day after their return to camp, Tyree went to his dead grandfather’s hut and more or less ordered the Tranca girl to accompany him on a ride without armor.
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER 3: “SUN”