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                    Tyree took off his sealskin glove and held one hand up to read the wind. He didn’t wet his fingers with saliva as his grandfather did. By Grandfather’s last thaw upon the snow, the fingers of the hand with which he read the wind had become shriveled and black. They had to be cut away one by one. Grandfather believed that wetting the fingers made it easier to read the wind, made the words of the wind clearer. Tyree believed that the deadly frost within the wind bit at Grandfather’s wet fingers like an invisible wolf, injured them so that, after years of exposure, they died. Grandfather was put under the ice four thaws ago with four fingers fewer than the number with which he had been placed upon the snow. Thus, Tyree no longer wet his fingers when he used them to read the wind.

            All he knew Tyree had learned from his grandfather. He’d learned to survive in a hostile world where there was never-ending snow. Tyree knew no other land. He was born in an ice cave in the middle of the thaw migration, rode his first snow pony at the age of two, killed his first enemy warrior at the age of twelve. Tyree, now eighteen, loved the vast white wilderness that went on forever. It was home.

            There it was. Tactile senses on his fingertips told Tyree that the wind had something to say.

            “Warm bloods ahead,” the wind said to Tyree.

            Tyree drew his snow pony to a stop and closed his eyes to better focus on the warning the wind was playing across his fingers. Fourteen—no, sixteen bloods. Tyree then pulled down the bandanna he wore when the blizzards were raging, or the wind was in a frosty mood. He uncovered just his nose, and raised it into the wind.

            Tyree was Kodiak. His people, descended from the union of the Legendary Ones, had senses that other clans did not possess. The Kodiak were hated for it. Tyree drew a big breath of the wind into his sensitive nose. He could smell them: humans, eight, and eight horses. One of the humans was a female. The taint of metal touched Tyree’s nostrils: large pieces, flattened, sharpened, warriors, heavily armed, four to the right, four to the left. Ambush.

            Tyree pulled his bandanna further down to put the rest of his face into the wind. He had large dark piercing eyes, a prominent nose, and a wide mouth firmly set. He had no facial hair, but would one day begin to grow the beard of an elder—if he lived long enough. Life on the snow was dangerous. Large clans vying for limited resources made the worst enemies. Tyree’s clan had two such enemy nations who sought since time began to eradicate the Kodiak.

            The Tranca, a much larger clan than the Kodiak, were great warriors. They held the tiny island of warmth known as Verdanta at the hot springs where it was said green grass and flowers grew in the midst of the bleakness. The Tranca also held parts of the twisted forests, dark and sinister expanses where colossal ancient leafless trees provided wood—wood which provided needed warmth for all the clans. Wood, the gold of the wilderness. Wood could be traded for ponies, food, weapons, loyalty. The Tranca defended their portion of the twisted forests with resolve.

            Most of the twisted forests, however, was now the realm of the Logalla, the other enemy of the Kodiak. Brutal and strong, the Logalla grew stronger as they overwhelmed the outer clans one-by-one and brought them into their armies—armies under what the Logalla called The Bulwark. The Logalla held their captured armies in check by some means undiscovered by the Kodiak. The Logalla had become stronger even than the Tranca. Soon, the entire wilderness would be their domain—unless the Logalla were stopped!

            The Kodiak elders had foreseen this catastrophe and thus had begun long ago developing an army that was quick and agile and could raid both the Tranca and the Logalla. They created small units, three to five warriors each, that could use their special senses to fight and defeat superior numbers, for the Kodiak were always outnumbered.

            Tyree spoke softly into the wind. His words were carried by the wind to distant ears. Konka and Drinda were riding to the northwest. They both threw back their bear fur hoods to better hear the wind. Tyree whispered on the wind of the ambush, told Konka and Drinda what to do. The sensitive ears of the Kodiak heard Tyree clearly. The Tranca in ambush could not read the wind.

            Tyree’s eyes were those of the eagle. He saw something flutter one full view ahead. A “view” was a measurement. It was as far as a Kodiak could see, and that was a great distance. In the vastness, small measurements held little meaning. The movement Tyree saw was a bit of Tranca battle regalia—just the very tip of a scarf that the wind held up and fluttered for Tyree’s eyes to consider. It came out from behind a snow bank to the left where four Tranca warriors waited. Tyree squeezed his legs in such a way that told his snow pony to circle to the right around a huge ice bluff, and to come up behind the other four warriors hiding there. Tyree stopped when he saw the Tranca. He was at such a distance that even if the Tranca turned and squinted at their hardest, their vision would not reveal the far away Kodiak. The Tranca had their spears and swords at the ready, blades glistening in the last traces of the dull, cold sun that was being slowly swallowed by darkening clouds.

            “Wait for the snow,” the wind told the Kodiak.

            They waited, Konka and Drinda one view to the west, Tyree the same distance on the other flank. One snowflake fell. It was the size of a hand. Then snow suddenly came like the waves of the great sea during the thaw. The three Kodiak knew when to ride forward, the soft sounds of their snow ponies’ hooves hidden in the wind and in the heavy thumping of the falling snow. The Kodiak were told when to attack by the wind. The wind was the Kodiak’s greatest ally.

            Gentle prodding with the heels told Tyree’s snow pony to begin working itself into a gallop. The other two Kodiak did the same at the same instant. The three ponies matched their pace so that all three Kodiak warriors would reach the same intersecting point at the same time, and at top speed.

            Snow ponies needed no reins like the mounts of other clans required. They were guided purely by their rider’s leg pressures and foot movements, freeing a Kodiak’s hands for holding weapons. The Kodiak wore no spurs like the warriors of other clans needed. Their relationship with their snow ponies was one of fellow warriors. Saddles were made up of the many furs, firewood and food a warrior and his mount found necessary upon the snow. The Kodiak could talk to their snow ponies, whispering in their ears and getting nudges, snorts and whinnies in reply. Thus, less a beast of burden, and more a comrade in battle, the snow ponies fought bravely. They, too, knew that victory meant their survival.

            Tyree rode between the first two Tranca warriors. Tyree’s fur cloak flew open and he dispatched them with his sword from behind before they even knew he was there. Kodiak blades were made of brave iron, a special alloy of which the Kodiak and no others knew. To a secret mine in the barren volcano regions the Kodiak went to dig for the brave iron. They used the mighty molten magma to forge the brave iron into the sharpest, hardest, strongest blades upon the snow.

            When one of the two remaining Tranca turned, and lashed with his sword at the passing Tyree, Tyree countered with a swinging arc of his own blade. It sliced the Tranca’s blade in half. Tyree rode on, pulled up his pony, and turned. Without hesitation, he charged the two remaining Tranca. Within the first two strides of his pony, Tyree unleashed his snow star. It was brave iron honed into a snowflake design with five razor sharp points. Tyree hurled the snow star with a side-armed snap of the wrist. The silver snow star whirred through the blizzard and buried itself deep into one Tranca’s breastplate. His horse reared. The dead Tranca fell. The other Tranca warrior, hilt of his severed sword still in his hand, threw the useless weapon aside and drew his lance from its scabbard. Tyree, now at full gallop, did the same. The Tranca warrior’s steed lurched forward, and the two lance tips thundered toward each other through the snowfall. Both warriors had shields lashed to their mounts. Both swung their shields into the protective frontal position as they charged. Tyree’s shield was made of brave iron. The Tranca’s lance shattered upon impact with it. Tyree’s lance went completely through the Tranca warrior’s shield, impaled and unhorsed him, leaving him dead in the snow.

            Konka and Drinda were equally successful. Drinda’s brave iron tipped arrows killed one Tranca warrior, shot through the neck, and wounded a second, who rode away. After some pony-to-pony swordsmanship, Konka killed the third. He drew his lance and charged the fourth. The Tranca warrior and Konka galloped through the blizzard toward each other. Suddenly, there was the whoosh of an arrow past Konka’s ear and the Tranca’s horse did a full somersault sending up a shower of snow. Konka’s pony skidded to a stop. The downed warrior’s horse jumped to its feet and ran away. The Tranca warrior stood up slowly and turned. Drinda’s arrow was inserted in his skull, right between his eyes. He fell over on his back, enveloped by the drifts so only the feathered tufts of Drinda’s arrow appeared above the snow.

            “You spoiled my kill!” Konka angrily wailed.

            Drinda smiled as she let her pony walk up to Konka’s. “It was too tempting a shot. I owe you one. Besides, I didn’t want you to get hurt.” Then she prodded her pony to move into fast pursuit of the wounded Tranca.

            Konka furrowed his bushy brow, and then he grinned. He enjoyed being baited by a fellow warrior. This time, he would have the kill! With a squeeze of his legs, Konka told his pony to overtake first Drinda then their wounded prey. The wounded Tranca galloped on, slumping in the saddle, unaware that Tyree was waiting just ahead. The Kodiak had a way of standing in the falling snow. Even on their ponies, they could blend, becoming nearly invisible without the closest inspection. Tyree drew back his sword as the Tranca warrior approached, but his target fell from the saddle on its own. Upon impact with the snow, the Tranca’s hood flew back and a head of thick silken red hair tumbled out. The snowfall came to an abrupt stop as Konka and Drinda galloped up, Konka three pony lengths ahead.

            “You got him!” Konka panted through a smile.


            “Huh?” Konka blinked.

            “Female,” Tyree explained.

            Drinda pushed back her own fur hood to reveal flowing black tresses, full wide lips and perfect teeth. “You act as though a female warrior is a rarity,” she teased.

            “Among the Tranca it is,” Tyree said, dismounting and kneeling to lift the head of the wounded girl out of the white powder. She was barely seventeen with extremely fair skin and that blood red hair, both rare upon the snow.

            Not only are Kodiak senses acute, there exists within a Kodiak’s essence the ability to foresee a threat. It could have been the slightest movement of a wounded warrior pretending to be unconscious. It could have been the dull glint of the returning sun on the dagger she drew from inside her cloak. Tyree caught the girl’s wrist, stopping her blade an inch from his throat.

            “Hah! There’s still some life in her,” burly Konka laughed. Then he glared at the hated Tranca. “Remove it!”

            Tyree twisted the girl’s wrist until she dropped the dagger. “Let go of me, Kodiak scum!” the girl hissed.

            “When did the Tranca start conscripting women into the ranks?” Tyree asked, roughly turning the girl so he could examine the arrow Drinda had shot into the back of the girl’s shoulder. The brave iron tip had pierced her armor cleanly and buried itself in flesh.

            “You’ll get no information from me,” the girl said.

            Tyree pushed back his hood for the first time revealing long straight dark brown hair, a large portion of it pulled back and fastened with a bone clip. All Kodiak warriors wore their hair this way, male and female alike. It was a way for the others in camp to know who were warriors even when they were without weapons and armor. The warriors of all the clans wore armor. These were modular pieces fitted snugly to the body and padded with lambskin. The tops of shoulders, the forearms, thighs, back and chest were protected. The same was true with the Kodiak, but the calves of a Kodiak’s legs were covered only in the thinnest lambskin wrapped tight with long leather strips. It was important that a Kodiak feel his pony between his legs. None of the clans wore metal helmets in the frigid wilderness. Fur hoods, instead, trapped the heat, and kept ears from growing black and falling off. Also, helmets limited vision and thus mobility, two key factors for survival on the snow. The Kodiak had a third factor in their favor—their armor was made of brave iron.

            “Why do you not kill her?” Konka blinked, perplexed.

            “Perhaps he’s been instantly smitten,” Drinda said, seeing the fair complexion and comely face of the Tranca girl, though it was twisted in pain.

            Tyree took up the girl’s dagger. She flinched expecting the end, but instead Tyree used the dagger to carve a notch in the wooden shaft of the arrow where it entered her armor.

            “I seek information,” Tyree said, “or I would kill you. Just to save you the suffering of freezing to death,” he added, a glint of consequence in his eye. Then he snapped the arrow in two at the notch, and the girl fainted. Tyree lifted the armored girl warrior as though she were an empty cape. In one motion, he flung the unconscious girl into his saddle and mounted his snow pony behind her.

            “We’ll ride four views east and make camp,” Tyree said to Konka and Drinda. “Konka, ride ahead, find shelter, start a fire, and boil water. Drinda, disguise our way.”

            Konka whirled his pony and rode to the east. Drinda galloped about the ambush site and gathered up four of the Tranca’s horses by their reins. With leg pressures, Tyree told his pony to follow in the exact hoof prints Konka’s pony had left in the snow. One always left a trail for the enemy to follow, for there was always snow. Until the next blizzard, one could not avoid leaving evidence of one’s passing. Deception and confusion were all that the hunted had against the hunter.

            Drinda waited until Tyree had gone nearly one view before she started along behind him pulling the four Tranca horses. She rode for half a view then put all the horses into a gallop before letting go their reins. The freed horses raced off in four different directions. Drinda then set her snow pony’s hooves into the exact same single set of hoof prints Konka and Tyree had left across the snow.












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