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            Before dawn, the council sent a runner to summon Tyree. Exhausted from his mission to return Shuyah, Tyree was deeply asleep. Still, he was on his feet and fully alert before the messenger boy was ten pony lengths from his door. Tyree made his way to the meeting hut of the council. He found a scowling Golanka seated among the five elders.

            “We have decided three to two to disregard the alliance you have struck with the Tranca,” the spokesman said. “It has been deemed too dangerous.”

            “That is your final decision?” Tyree asked.

            It was seemingly a rhetorical question, but three of the five council members nodded, thus Tyree knew which two were on his side, and which three were not. Golanka’s position was already known, though he had no vote.

            “I expected this and have made a decision which I will share with you, but will not change. I gave my word to the Tranca, and will therefore proceed alone to intercept their scout legion and bring the Tranca safely to the north.”

            The elders reacted aghast.

            “We cannot condone this!” the spokesman said. “You will be using your Kodiak skills to give aid to the enemy. This, you well know, is counter to Kodiak laws. We have no alternative. We must execute you or banish you from the clan. We will vote by show of hands.”

            Golanka jumped to his feet and glowered down at the five elders seated cross-legged on the floor before him.

            “The honorable Tyree can be trusted to not do anything that would endanger the Kodiak,” Golanka said, placing his hand on the hilt of his sword to stress his point to the old ones. “I suggest banishment rather than execution. You may agree by a show of hands.”

            Seldom did Golanka employ this tactic of intimidation. Two of the five elders’ hands shot up immediately. The other three more tentatively, indignantly. The military commander of the Kodiak didn’t have a vote on the council, but this was Golanka’s way of voting. Golanka turned to Tyree, his glower unchanged and, with no trace of humor, said, “It’s unanimous.”

            Tyree stood and said, “So be it.”

            He took one last glance at Golanka, who looked away, staring at some spot on the wall of the hut. Then, without their permission, Tyree left the council of elders.

            Tyree dismantled his hut and loaded his belongings aboard two pack ponies. He also took with him the three battle ponies he’d raised since their foaling, riding one and adding the others to his string. With Wingswift, his snow eagle, on his shoulder, he struck out upon the snow before dawn. He sensed Konka and Drinda waiting for him one view outside the camp. They had pack ponies loaded with their own belongings and their intent was obvious.

            “We heard of the council’s decision,” Drinda said.

            “Let us go with you,” Konka volunteered.

            “I cannot,” Tyree replied. “You would provoke your own banishment. You both have family that would suffer from your absence. I must go alone.”

            With a certain squeeze of his legs, Tyree told his pony to move between his two friends’ mounts. He patted both firmly upon their shoulders, took up his string of ponies, and rode off without looking back. His two trusted friends sat silently upon their snow ponies and watched until Tyree had gone beyond their view. They then exchanged gloomy glances, turned their ponies and started back toward the Kodiak encampment which Tyree could no longer call home.

            Tyree traveled two days to the mountains where he had first found his snow eagle. The steep cliffs of bare rock, blown clean of snow by the wind, were home to many eagles. Their nests stood bravely in small caves and niches that pocked craggy cliff faces hidden from the world. It was a place of shelter and of great beauty. A waterfall, frothy and clean, fell from a great height forming a small crystalline lake at the base of the cliffs. Fish danced in the lake. Here, Tyree’s grandfather had taken him during a hunt in his twelfth year. It was the same trek on which Tyree killed his first enemy warrior. They came here to hide from the Logalla. The location held its secret from the Logalla who gave up their search. It was here Tyree discovered the snow eagle, wounded by a Logalla arrow imbedded crosswise through its breast. Tyree and his grandfather took the eagle back to their campsite. Grandfather showed Tyree how to remove such an arrow, carving a notch in the shaft, snapping it in half, grasping the stone arrowhead, then carefully drawing the rest of the shaft out of the bird’s breast. Tyree nursed the bird back to health. This became Tyree’s hunting eagle, Wingswift.

            Wingswift did not travel well over distance. Keeping pace with the slow migration of humans made him uneasy. So every thaw, Tyree returned to these secret mountains of which only the eagles knew, and released the bird back into its natural territory. Tyree would then retrieve his eagle upon his clan’s return from the frozen north. This time, Tyree had no clan. This time, Wingswift’s release was joyless for the Kodiak boy.

            Wingswift soared up among his own, finding a place high on the cliffs to watch his savior depart. Tyree rode away with his string of ponies. He paused and looked back. His acute vision enabled him to see his eagle clearly, the only one that paid Tyree’s departure any notice.

            That same day, the Kodiak point legion, led by Golanka, departed to scout the way north for the Kodiak. They would stop at the brave iron fields to make new weapons and armor for their clan. The main body of the clan would depart ten days later. Their plan was to leave late and return early, to deceive their enemies.

            To the northeast the Logalla were preparing to attack the point legion of the Tranca migration. Logalla warriors covered their thick and heavy armor with cloaks made from the hides of the black bear. Logalla men had long black hair and beards, dark and sinister. They never shaved nor plucked the hair from their faces as young Kodiak and Tranca men did. The Logalla smeared their hairy bodies with bear grease as protection against the cold. They never bathed. When a cloak became unbearable, they simply gave it to one of their wives. They would then go out into the twisted forest, kill a bear, and acquire a new cloak. The Logalla were very good killers. Their black fur cloaks, voluminous hair, and pasty gray skins camouflaged them well within the twisted forest. They all rode black horses. If a horse was born that was not black, it was killed and eaten. When the Logalla left the forest and went upon the plains it was not to hunt. It was to kill. To them murder was their right.

            Two thousand Logalla hid on the far side of a valley through which they’d determined the Tranca would pass. It would normally not be worthwhile to mount such a massive attack against a mobile mounted legion, but this one was led by Rolak and Shuyah, heirs to the rule of old Zorgon. To kill them would be most beneficial to the Logalla!

            To the west Tyree had come to a stop and was reading the wind with his open palm. A familiar smell touched his sensitive nose. Bear grease. Humans. Unwashed. Logalla.

            The Tranca, outnumbered four to one, had marched into the trap. The Logalla fell upon them with first a hail of arrows and then a pincher assault. Half the Tranca were killed or wounded. Rolak and Shuyah, found themselves backed against the far wall of the canyon and surrounded.

            Tyree’s eagle eyes clearly picked out Shuyah and Rolak, side-by-side, their swords taking down Logalla one after another. As he looked down upon the battle from above the canyon, Tyree conceived a strategy. Leaving his string of ponies behind, Tyree galloped along the rim of the canyon to where a great expanse of snow had accumulated high above the gorge. The warmth of the coming thaw had fixed the snow mass into a dangerous overhang. Tyree hurriedly tied his braided leather rope around his snow pony’s neck at one end and tied the other around his own waist. He left his pony standing on firm ground after whispering into its ear the procedure it was to take and when. Tyree took with him his long lance and crept out gingerly onto the unstable snow mass. He jammed his lance down into the snow at several places. Tyree knew just where to cleave and pry at the snow mass to create his objective: a deadly avalanche!

            Though Shuyah and Rolak were in heated combat, they still noticed the lone Kodiak out on the snow mass high on the distant canyon rim. The figure plunged his spear into the snow over and over. There was a great crack, and a million tons of snow gave way. It gathered speed and incredible mass as it thundered down the side of the canyon. Tyree fell with it, but was suspended by the rope around his waist and pulled to firm ground by his snow pony that backed up obediently to bring Tyree to safety.

            Tyree gained his footing in time to look down into the valley and see the Logalla army inundated by the avalanche. Only their front lines survived. The rest met an icy death. The Tranca across the canyon were spared the avalanche’s fury. On Rolak’s command, the Tranca bolted forward to attack the remaining Logalla who retreated at a gallop up the canyon and away.

            It took some time for Tyree to negotiate the canyon wall and get down into it with his string of ponies. As he approached, Shuyah smiled broadly. This familiarity did not escape her brother’s notice. Though he owed Tyree his life, Rolak was determined to keep this Kodiak from ingratiating himself with Rolak’s people. Rolak wanted to break the Tranca alliance with the Kodiak. He was unaware it had already been broken by the Kodiak Council of Elders.

            “We owe you our continued existence,” Shuyah panted, adrenaline of battle replaced by a new need.

            “The Kodiak are unaccustomed to serving allies,” Tyree said, “but honor is foremost in our clan,” he added for bitter Rolak’s benefit.

            The battered Tranca expedition made camp, buried the dead of both armies, and tended their wounded.

            “There are many wounded. Most cannot continue north with the remains of our scout legion,” Shuyah noted, “nor can they make it back to our clan. There is a place much nearer where we can tend them until the main body of our clan catches up. Tyree and I will take them to Verdanta.”

            “We cannot allow a Kodiak entry to Verdanta!” Rolak growled. “He must go north with my scout legion.”

            Tyree was certain this would mean his death upon the trail, and so did Shuyah, so she intervened.

            “And who will scout for my party of wounded?” Shuyah pointed out. “We will be vulnerable, undermanned.”

            Tyree offered, “I will put myself under Shuyah’s command. Go only where she orders.”

            Rolak was overruled by circumstance. They made traverses for the wounded from the lodge poles and caribou skins of the huts they had brought with them. With many dead they would need fewer huts. Rolak’s battered legion headed north to secure their clan’s winter grounds. A few able warriors stayed with Shuyah and Tyree who, riding side-by-side, took the wounded east to the hot springs of Verdanta.

            On the plains, the main body of the Tranca clan was already in motion, moving on a northeasterly course, planning a stop outside Verdanta. Further south, the Kodiak were nearly ready to begin their thaw migration.

            Konka and Drinda had been assigned to the command of Chabo, a battle-scarred veteran whose own unit had recently been killed by the Logalla. With Golanka and his legion far to the north, and Tyree banished forever, it fell to Chabo’s unit to lead the migration. This was always a dangerous prospect. They would be the first to encounter an enemy, the first to ride into ambush. Konka and Drinda planned to marry when the clan returned to the plains next winter. Each asked the other to promise not to be killed before then.

            The last huts of the Kodiak were dismantled and loaded aboard pack ponies and huge wooden sleds. The herds began moving and the Kodiak started their monumental trek to the north and the colder, darker reaches of their world. As the main body of the Kodiak moved out, five days behind the Tranca, they could hear the ever louder rending and crashing of the approaching thaw. It was the latest they had ever left their southern range, and all were fearful this decision would be a fateful one. There were stories of whole clans being swallowed by the thaw, for the snomads of the wilderness had no idea how far north the thaw would spread its destruction.

            Tyree’s grandfather had spoken mysteriously of Verdanta, and claimed to have somehow been the only Kodiak ever to visit the place. The circumstances were unclear, the details, absent. Yet he would never take Tyree to this distant enclave. Grandfather said a Kodiak found anywhere near Verdanta would spark all out war between the two clans. But Tyree felt there were other reasons, reasons Tyree may never know.

            As the party of wounded Tranca approached Verdanta, only the Kodiak eyes of Tyree could see the great broiling pillar of steam far in the distance. When they got within half a view, the horses’ hooves began to clop loudly. Volcanic rock surrounded Verdanta like a jagged collar. Snow melted away quickly on the hardened magma, its mass warmed from below by tectonic activity. This peculiarity of nature left a wide, dry compact surface that afforded a clear view for the Tranca sentries posted just inside the mists. They could not see like a Kodiak could see, but without snow to muffle the hooves of an enemy’s horses, the Tranca sentries could hear the enemy approaching long before they could see them. But as soon as Shuyah was recognized by the sentries, they placed their weapons at ease. They all bowed their heads as she passed.

            As the cold and battered warriors riding spent horses entered the mists, Tyree was caressed by a warmth never before known. They traveled on past gurgling mud pits and pools of hissing steam. At last, the mists parted and a surprisingly warm sun shined down. There, at the center of the circle of hot springs, was the isolated outpost of the Tranca. There, where forces within the earth had created an extraordinary paradise. It was the only place in the wilderness where flowers grew, where forests of oak, maple, poplar, hickory nut flourished, where vegetables, fruits and berries took root, where crops of grain and grass swayed in a warm breeze—the green oasis called Verdanta. 
 
 
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER 7: "STEAM"

 

 

   

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