The warming trend continued.
The Kodiak party came out of the twisted forest at a different place from where they’d entered the previous day. As they crossed the ice shelf they heard great cracking and saw huge chunks of the ice to the southeast break away and fall crashing into the sea.
“The thaw has come early,” Drinda said fearfully.
“And we plan this year to leave late on our migration,” Tyree said, as they arced their path inland to avoid being caught by a sudden collapse of the ice shelf on which they rode. This meant traveling on snow, and leaving tracks an enemy might follow. But it couldn’t be helped. The ice shelf had become a very dangerous place to be. Still, any Tranca war party following them would find pursuit perilous. The wind always brought good and bad.
The sabretooth was the second most formidable hunter upon the snow, second only to humans. It was three times the size of a snow pony and by instinct stalked the Kodiak party downwind, so that even the Kodiak’s reading of the wind did not betray the tiger’s presence. It waited atop an ice cliff where its instincts told it the ponies would pass. As Tyree rode below the cliff, the colossal beast sprang. Its impact broke the neck of Tyree’s pony and hurled Tyree unceremoniously into the snow.
The big cat, unaccustomed to hunting humans on horseback, was momentarily confused by the separation of its prey into two creatures, one dead, one very much alive. Tyree tumbled then came right up onto his feet, sword drawn. The cat prepared to leap onto this new quarry, but an arrow from Drinda stung its shoulder and it turned toward her and Konka. Tyree snatched his snow star from under his breast plate. He hurled it as the sabretooth sprang. He led the beast perfectly so that it was at the top of its leap when the snow star buried two of its sharp brave iron points into the big cat’s jugular. Both Konka and Drinda’s snow ponies were bowled over by the beast’s impact, but it was already dead. The two Kodiak and their ponies rose from the snow, unharmed, but for a few bruises and scratches.
“What is it?” Drinda said, standing over the fallen sabretooth. “I have never seen such an animal!”
“Grandfather called it a snow tiger,” Tyree explained. “They were once common upon the snow, but their numbers have greatly diminished since my grandfather was a boy.”
“We can only hope this is the last of their kind,” Konka panted, his adrenaline levels returning to normal.
They skinned and dressed out the tiger, and distributed the sectioned meat equally among the pack ponies. There was never any question that they would risk the thaw to get the precious meat that would help the clan through the time in the dark, frozen, lifeless north.
Tyree would now have to ride one of the pack ponies, so the wood from that animal was also distributed. Tyree’s dead snow pony was buried under the ice. Unlike the sabretooth, it would not be eaten by the Kodiak. They respected their snow ponies too much to eat them even in the most desperate of times. Enemy warriors could never ride a snow pony, never break its will. So, when a snow pony was captured by the enemy clans, it was simply killed and eaten. The snow ponies knew that to be killed in battle was honorable, to die from old age in the breeding herds even more so. To be captured by the enemy and eaten was unacceptable.
By the time they had finished burying Tyree’s pony, night had overtaken them and they had to camp on the ice shelf. Throughout the night, they could hear the great breaking and falling into the sea as the thaw crept closer. Tyree was very concerned, and slept little. He roused the others before daybreak to ready them for the trek home. Dawn was barely upon them when there came a chilling rending. A great crevasse appeared in the ice not half a view to the south. The ground trembled as the jagged crevasse stitched its way back toward the sea. They all mounted and quickly headed north as fast as the heavily laden pack ponies could go. They’d gone barely one view when the loudest fracturing yet reached their ears. They turned in their saddles and saw the ice fall away into the sea. The displaced water rose in a great white shower as a chunk of ice large as a mountain crashed into the depths.
Pulling three pack ponies, Tyree led his unit. Drinda then Konka, followed, each pulling three animals along, as well. They worried not about leaving a trail or disguising their way. They had to keep moving or death in an icy sea would be their fate. Throughout the day, the thaw drew closer. Suddenly, there came a violent shudder. A jagged crevasse opened before them. The ponies leaped the crevasse as it began to widen. But the ones at the rear were spooked and turned away, their leaders pulling Konka’s pony to a stop. Tyree sent Drinda on with his pack ponies as he turned to help Konka, who was on one side of the crevasse while his pack ponies on the other pulled at the leaders Konka held.
“C’mon, you foolish beasts!” Konka shouted. “Jump!”
Two of the ponies leaped the crevasse, but the third refused. Then, the huge section of ice began to fall away.
“Let go!” Tyree called out, “or you will join it!”
Konka let go of the leader of the terrified pony, turned his mount and, the remaining two ponies in tow, galloped with Tyree in Drinda’s wake. There came a colossal shattering and the sea claimed another million tons of the ice shelf. Tyree and Konka looked back and watched the pony, carrying meat and wood so precious to the Kodiak, drop down out of sight. A thundering few moments then the huge spray of the sea rose above the land and the pack pony was gone.
Within ten views ride, the party left the ice shelf and began to cross the wilderness plain on a path that would within two day’s ride bring them home. The Kodiak clan had moved a hundred miles in their absence, but Tyree’s unit had no trouble finding them. Knowing where they were in the vastness, and where they were going, was another of the many inborn senses the Kodiak possessed.
There was much jubilation as Tyree, Drinda and Konka arrived at the Kodiak encampment. They had eight pack ponies loaded with precious wood and fresh meat to add to their supply. The clan was well into preparations for the thaw migration.
Golanka wore his battle scarred armor proudly and he met Tyree upon his return.
“Had I been sent to meet with the Tranca, I would have found a way to kill Zorgon,” Golanka said to Tyree.
“Perhaps that is why the council sent me,” Tyree replied. “Zorgon is old. His sword no longer a threat.”
“His leadership still threatens us,” Tyree’s uncle growled. “Have the Tranca begun their thaw migration?”
“I saw much gathered wood and food stocks in their camp,” Tyree said. “They leave soon. They will be at least five days ahead of us. But the ice. It already begins to break away. We are cutting it very close.”
“Is that not the way of the Kodiak?” Golanka smiled. “Inform the council of all this. They wish to see us immediately.”
This gave Tyree a chill. He had more than information about the Tranca’s food stocks and migration plans to impart to the council. How would he do it? How would he tell of the alliance? Tyree and Golanka went to the large hut that was the meeting place of the Council of Elders. Tyree told them in detail of his mission’s success in exchanging the girl for the precious wood, and what tactical information he’d learned in the Tranca camp.
“They will be well ahead of us on the trail,” one of the elders concluded, “just as we have planned.”
Tyree then took in a deep breath and put forth, “There is another matter I wish to discuss before the council.”
The council spokesman nodded his permission. Eyeing Golanka for his reaction, Tyree volunteered, “I have arranged for an alliance with the Tranca.”
Golanka and the five council members all reacted with surprise and concern.
“What sort of alliance?” the spokesman asked.
“The Kodiak and the Tranca allied against the Logalla.”
“You were not authorized to make such a pact,” a male council member noted. “The idea of the Kodiak being one of the two clans against the third was your grandfather’s foolish notion. It would seem he has influenced your thinking from his resting place beneath the ice.”
Tyree did not like this insult to his dead grandfather.
Golanka eyed his nephew suspiciously. “More likely the Tranca girl beguiled him,” Golanka said. “This alliance is folly, Tyree. It will lead to our destruction!”
“I saw the opening and, like a warrior who finds a weakness in the enemy’s defense, I exploited it.”
“This idea could bring weakness to our own defenses, and not to those of the Tranca,” the spokesman said.
“The weakness I found was not in the defense of the Tranca. It was in that of the Logalla. Together, the Kodiak and the Tranca will have numbers to rival the Logalla.”
“This is impossible,” a female council member offered. “We have been at war with the Tranca too long to believe a boy’s suggestion will be treated with compliance. They will use it as a way to find us, to kill us!”
Tyree said, “The word of Zorgon was enough for me.”
“Should we vote in favor, what must the Kodiak do to secure this bargain of yours?” another member asked.
“I agreed to scout for them. Help them plan their attacks upon the Logalla. To fight at their side,” Tyree firmly stated, eyeing the dissenting elder who had mentioned Tyree’s grandfather with disrespect, “which was also my grandfather’s notion,” he pointedly added.
“To offer yourself as hostage was shrewd,” the other female elder said. “It must have put the Tranca at ease to know you, yourself, would be part of the bargain.”
“I felt comfortable with it.”
“The council will discuss this matter,” the spokesman decided. “You are dismissed. You, too, commander.”
As Tyree and Golanka left the council hut, Golanka stopped to talk.
“Your impetuosity leads to your ruin,” Golanka said with obvious concern. “My father taught you the ways of the warrior, honed your skills and prepared you for leadership. Had I not had my own sons to train, I might have been your mentor. Might have saved you from the foolishness your grandfather found within himself and ingrained in you.”
“He was a great man,” Tyree said. “He trained you, and your three brothers, as well.”
“Yes, but none of us showed the promise you had.”
“You speak as though this promise were no longer within me,” Tyree replied.
“Your alliance with the Tranca has made your future a question for the council to ponder,” Golanka shrugged. “I do not see much support for either among the council elders.”
“And what of you? Do you support my alliance and my future?”
“I cannot,” Golanka said.
“You have always been straight forward, uncle,” Tyree noted. “I feel the alliance is the future. The only future that will allow the Kodiak to win.”
* * *
The “long days” had come. The thaw migrations began. All the clans, great and small, began the trek north into eternal night. The Tranca and the Logalla always gave each other wide berth, leaving a dangerous and deadly path between them through which the other clans had to venture. The ones who had to worry most were the Kodiak, for in the past the Tranca and the Logalla looked for any opportunity to encircle and destroy the Kodiak. They had yet to succeed.
Each migration, the Kodiak went a different route. Sometimes they traveled far outside the flanks of one of the enemy clans, which was a long and arduous path. Sometimes the elusive Kodiak would leave early and find shelter, be well hidden and defended before the other clans arrived in the north. This time, the Kodiak chose to leave late. They had many old people, the trip would be shorter, the stay in the frigid north a lesser time. There was a drawback. This tactic meant facing the thaw. Leave too soon and they might overtake the enemy. Leave too late and they might be overtaken by the thaw. The thaw, when the frozen wilderness crumbled and fell away and the angry sea came upon the land.
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER 6: "AVALANCHE"