The warmth of the coming thaw put the clan in good spirits, even in the face of the danger the thaw threatened. Warriors not on duty divided into teams and played kraka. It was a game involving a live goat. Kraka was played on horseback, with elimination rounds until two final teams were decided. Goal lines were placed in the snow in the wide field adjacent to the camp. Both teams, numbering twenty warriors each, lined up behind the goal lines. The goat was placed at the center, where Golanka, on horseback, held a rope tied to the goat’s neck with a slip knot. He held the end of the rope aloft for all to see then yanked it free. This was the signal for the game to begin.
Both teams thundered toward the goat that bolted helter-skelter around the field. The rest of the clan lined the sides of the playing field, cheering and keeping the goat in the field of play. Horsemen thudded into each other, vying for position. One swung down to grasp the goat by a horn and raced for the opponents’ goal, carrying the squirming quarry with its hooves off the ground. As was often the case, his grip slipped and the goat tumbled in the snow. It barely gained its feet when another warrior grabbed a horn and lugged the kicking animal in the other direction. Snow ponies stumbled and fell, riders were unhorsed with a limb or two broken, and the game went on.
It was not a game to the goat.
Tyree’s snow pony shouldered another out of the way and Tyree snatched the goat’s horn. He swung the animal up across his saddle and made for the goal. Others tried to unhorse him, but Konka and Drinda blocked them off. Drinda’s pony collided with two others and she and her horse plowed into the crowd. All involved were shaken, but unhurt. Tyree’s snow pony dodged and bulled its way until it, Tyree, and the bleating goat, crossed the finish line.
A great cheer went up from the clan. Among them was Shuyah, under guard. She laughed and cheered as a Kodiak might at Tyree’s success. Tyree’s reward was adulation. The goat’s reward was to be roasted as dinner for Tyree’s family. Shuyah was again invited.
They waited two more days so the girl could fully heal. Then, as the nomadic Kodiak began another of their moves to fresh grazing land to the west, Tyree’s unit struck out to the south, with ten empty pack ponies in tow. The pack ponies went with them to carry back the hundred cords of wood they were to demand for Shuyah’s safe return. Her armor was returned and the Tranca girl rode one of the pack ponies that was used to reins. Konka and Drinda led the other pack ponies. Tyree led them all.
For two days they made their way through the drifts to the ice shelf. Here, the wind had blown most of the snow into the sea. It was a vast and angry sea, one that built the ice shelf all year long, only to tear it asunder when the thaw came thundering out of the east, consuming all before it. Snow ponies were sure-footed on ice, and left no tracks as the party turned northeast to travel along the shelf until they reached the southern tip of the twisted forests. The snow had gathered and drifted again among the gnarled and ominous black trees that grew to their fullest in prehistoric times, only to be trapped above the thaw line, only to die where spring never comes. The wind howled through the bent black forest giving voice to its dying. Here the party turned due north toward Tranca territory.
“This is risky,” Konka grumbled, seeing ghosts among the twisted trees. “We should just kill her and gather our own wood,” he suggested, causing the girl to stiffen, more in defiance than in fear.
“There is more to this mission than wood,” Tyree replied. “It is contact. Conversation with an enemy with which we might someday find peace.”
“Pony muffins,” Konka scoffed, “the only peace we’ll have is when the Tranca are all under the ice.”
“Or when the Kodiak are thus,” Shuyah shot back.
“My grandfather believed that one day there would be an alliance,” Tyree recalled. “A time when two of the major clans would reach out to each other against the third.”
“You would propose that the Kodiak and the Tranca join forces?” the Tranca girl laughed.
Tyree shrugged, as if the answer were obvious. “There is more than enough room upon the snow for us all.”
“Tell that to the Logalla,” Shuyah said.
“They are not a reasonable people,” Tyree returned. “Are the Tranca?”
“They are,” the girl responded. “The Tranca are also honorable. Are the Kodiak?”
“Yes. And honorable peoples might become allies.”
They came across a wide clearing in the forest, and sign in the snow of an army’s passing. They spotted the smoke of the Tranca encampment well before any outriders or sentries were encountered. Konka and Tyree left Shuyah with Drinda and the pack animals. The two warriors ventured forward through the twisted forest, this time Konka’s pony followed in the exact tracks left by Tyree’s.
The encampment was purely a military one, set out in the open well away from the trees that could conceal an attack, as they did Tyree and Konka’s approach. Tyree instructed Konka to remain within the forest. Over Konka’s objections, Tyree left his weapons behind, except for the deadly snow star hidden under his breast plate. Tyree bypassed the Tranca sentries with ease. While Konka guarded his rear out of view within the forest, Tyree rode slowly and directly into the Tranca camp. He opened wide his cloak to show he was unarmed. At first the many Tranca warriors were too stunned to move, but Tooka roused them from their trances and many spears and swords were drawn, all aimed at the Kodiak among them.
“Kill me, and Zorgon’s daughter will not be seen again by his eyes,” Tyree warned.
The spears and swords lowered, and Tooka went to get Shuyah’s brother, Rolak. Rolak rode up on his battle steed and purposely bumped it against Tyree’s snow pony. The two horses snorted defiance, but Tyree’s pony stood its ground, and Tyree returned Rolak’s glare.
“You have her?” Rolak bellowed.
“She is nearby.”
“What is to prevent us from fanning out our entire army and locating her ourselves,” Rolak proposed, “after I have separated your Kodiak head from its Kodiak body?”
“You would never find her,” Tyree replied. Then with a confident smirk he added, “We are, as you say, Kodiak.”
“Was it you that killed my sister’s legion?”
“Some of them.”
“I’m impressed. Those were seven of my best men.”
Tyree looked around at the horde of armored warriors on foot surrounding him, each with a glistening weapon at the ready. “You have men to spare, but I see no women warriors.”
Rolak stiffened. “The Tranca do not employ their women in the ranks.”
“Then why was your sister out in armor, and in ambush?”
“My sister is foolish,” Rolak replied. “She sought to prove herself worthy of leadership, and failed.”
“Really? I found her to be most perceptive and astute,” Tyree said, taking pleasure in tweaking Rolak’s sizable nose, “but I do not know her as well as do you.”
Tooka and three more warriors arrived on horseback. They hemmed in Tyree and his snow pony and Rolak led them to his father’s hut like a poorly organized parade.
Zorgon was old, well past the age at which one would become an elder among the Kodiak. Tranca hierarchy was different. The leader here was more like a king, one family passing on the crown of leadership from parents to offspring. Zorgon had three sons, Rolak being the eldest. But he had only one daughter. Tyree could tell the old man was fond of her and had suffered over her absence.
“What do you ask for the release of my daughter?” the old man began with no formality.
The words of Tyree’s grandfather suddenly made themselves known in the boy’s head: The Kodiak must be one of the two clans against the third. Tyree concluded this opportunity should not be missed. Surely the council would see his resourcefulness, condone his leap into the opening.
“Talk,” Tyree replied, thinking that the elders might not even condone his sitting down cross-legged with Zorgon.
Zorgon looked to the wrinkled old woman in ornamented caribou skins who averted her eyes in acquiescence. She sat in the shadows, as power behind the throne often did. This could only be the witch woman, Koleefus, Tyree thought.
“I have little talk left in these old bones,” Zorgon said, “so it would seem it is you who wants to talk.”
“What would the Tranca say to an alliance?” Tyree began, “Kodiak and Tranca against the Logalla.”
Rolak remained standing, pacing behind Tyree. “Absurd!” Rolak shouted, but was quieted by a glare from his father.
“How will this benefit the Tranca?” the old man asked.
“I will scout for you,” Tyree explained. “Help you plan your attacks. Fight shoulder-to-shoulder with you.”
“We already have many able scouts in service,” Rolak sneered. “We don’t need a Kodiak spy among our number!”
“Can your scouts read the wind?” Tyree said.
Rolak had no answer. Zorgon looked to the witch woman. She told him with her eyes to hear more. “And how does this alliance benefit the Kodiak?” Zorgon asked of Tyree.
“Your promise of nonaggression will halve our worries,” Tyree clarified, “and we will comply likewise.”
Again, Zorgon looked at Koleefus and she nodded agreement. “How do we seal this bargain?” Zorgon wondered.
“A hundred cords of wood buys my loyalty,” Tyree said.
Rolak bellowed, “It is nothing more than ransom paid for the return of my sister. It shows the Kodiak for what they are: abductors who then ask a reward for their victim’s return. The high and mighty Kodiak, with their power to read the wind. They are arrogant and duplicitous!”
“Your envy of our abilities outweighs our envy of your wood,” Tyree smiled, for he knew that Rolak was a danger to any alliance. Tyree knew he must keep Rolak off balance.
“Wood is of great value, these days,” Zorgon said. “The Logalla are depleting the twisted forests at an alarming rate. To warm their hands in great numbers. To forge weapons and armor for their many warriors.”
“Still, you have more wood than we,” Tyree pointed out, “and my allegiance is worth far more than the wood I ask.”
“Father, this one took part in killing seven of our warriors just fifteen days ago!” Rolak bristled.
“They were in ambush, led by your sister, I believe,” Tyree said, and then to Zorgon added, “We spared her. Let her live so we might talk.” Tyree decided to take a chance on Zorgon seeing the logic in his offer. “Lord Zorgon, should you reject my offer of an alliance, we will free your daughter and return to our people with empty pack ponies.”
Zorgon pulled on his beard, using the pause to look to the witch woman. Koleefus nodded almost imperceptibly.
“See to the delivery of the wood,” Zorgon said to his son, Rolak, whose lip quivered in his only further defiance.
Zorgon looked now in the eyes of the young Kodiak and pointedly stated, “Let it be known throughout our clan that I, Zorgon, Lord of the Tranca, have granted you free passage in and out of our lands, allow you, and only you, leave and entrance into our territory at will.”
With an angry swirl of his cloak, Rolak left his father’s hut. Zorgon, however, kept his eyes gripping Tyree’s. “My son is a great warrior,” Lord Zorgon said. “He will surely avenge any treachery.”
“I am thankful then, that we are allies,” Tyree replied, rising to his feet, preparing to leave.
“When will you come to scout for us?”
“After you begin your thaw migration. I will meet your point legion on the trail,” Tyree explained
Zorgon offered a warm cup of some purplish liquid that burned the tongue while it warmed the drinker. Then with a respectful bow, first to Zorgon, then to Koleefus, Tyree left the hut. Outside, he mounted his snow pony and rode past the angry glare of Rolak.
Tyree was well outsider the encampment and half way to the tree line when a lone figure appeared upon the snow. The wind whipped at her caribou trappings, but she stood solid against it. It was the witch woman, Koleefus. Tyree’s snow pony approached at a skittish walk. Tyree thought how curious it was that she was able to get so far ahead of him, how his senses had not detected her here in his path. He rode his troubled snow pony up to her, and she spoke.
“I have seen in you a destiny, Tyree of the Kodiak,” she said, Tyree’s ears for the first time hearing her thick and rasping voice.
“Do not all of us have a destiny?” he smiled.
She found no amusement in it.
“Yours is one that might change our world.”
“Only the past is frozen in ice,” she shrugged. “The future is not. It can be altered. Altered by those upon the snow that find your proposal of an alliance between Kodiak and Tranca not to their liking. Those who would kill you, and thus kill your destiny.”
“What is this destiny of which you speak?”
“It is for you to determine by your actions. Beware the path you choose, for already there are those that seek to alter your future.”
“I will heed your advice, Koleefus,” Tyree said, bowing slightly and respectfully in the saddle. “What more can you tell me?”
“All I can tell you is that your destiny is green,” she said, “where trees grow under a sun that shines upon you, where the thaw never comes, yet the snow never remains.”
“Your wisdom has already carried the alliance forward,” Tyree said. “You shall not be forgotten, should my destiny reach its goal.”
Tyree rode on. He was but a few pony lengths past her when he realized that he had never said his name before her—not to Zorgon, not to Rolak, not to the witch woman who sat in Zorgon’s hut managing the conversation without saying a word. Tyree turned in the saddle to ask how she knew his name, but she had vanished. She could not have run the distance to the camp behind him, nor in any way concealed herself in the treeless expanse between the camp and the forest. Yet she was, without a trace, gone.
Tyree was gripped by a combination of wonder and suspicion. He began to move on toward the forest when the smell of men lying in wait among the trees came to him. He removed his glove and read the wind. Four mounted Tranca hid in the twisted forest along his path. Unarmed, except for his snow star, Tyree weighed the situation. He raised his lips into the wind and softly spoke to Konka, hidden beyond the Tranca, waiting to be called upon. The wind eddied and brought Tyree’s words to Konka.
Half a view ahead, Tooka and three Tranca warriors readied arrows for their prey. They heard the hooves of Tyree’s snow pony approach as it entered the forest. They drew back their bow strings. The pony appeared—riderless. Even in the frigid air, cold chills went up the spines of the four Tranca. Tyree’s snow star whirred through the trees killing one of the Tranca instantly just as Konka appeared at a gallop. The Tranca turned their arrows upon Konka. All but one missed. This one shattered against Konka’s shield and he was upon them. His first slash took down a second Tranca, leaving only Tooka and one other with which to deal. Tyree vaulted from hiding and pulled Tooka from his horse, drawing Tooka’s own sword to hold against Tooka’s throat. Konka and the remaining Tranca dueled, the sounds of their singing swords echoing through the twisted forest.
“Enough!” Tyree called out, and the two warriors ceased their combat.
“Let me kill him!” Konka shouted.
“No!” Tyree said. “Let them return to their camp and tell Rolak that we have spared two of his deceivers. One needs the other as witness to my words!” Then to Tooka he said, “Tell Rolak of the Kodiak’s honor in this unfortunate incident. Tell him the alliance still stands, even over his treachery.”
Tooka nodded then flinched as Tyree stuck Tooka’s sword into the snow a breath away from Tooka’s exposed throat. Tyree mounted his pony and turned to address the fallen Tooka. “We will return to your camp for the wood. Set another trap, and none of you shall be spared.”
With that, Tyree and Konka whirled their mounts. As they galloped away, Tyree swung down from his saddle, plucked the snow star from the chest of the dead Tranca, and he and Konka vanished into the twisted forest.
“This alliance,” Konka ventured as they rode. “How did it come to be?”
“It was at my suggestion,” Tyree said. “I offered to scout for the Tranca in exchange for peace. Help them against the Logalla as my grandfather had foretold.”
“Your alliance has already proved untenable.”
“Long mistrust cannot easily be forgotten,” Tyree said. “We must ignore a minor relapse for the good of all.”
“Good? No good can come of this alliance!” Konka grumbled.
Upon the wind, Drinda read the approach of two horses. She notched an arrow just in case. She’d heard Tyree’s call to Konka upon the wind, knew of their success in thwarting the attack. Still, she took no chances.
“Why are you so nervous?” Shuyah asked.
“Because we are dealing with the Tranca,” Drinda responded with an understandable edge to her voice.
Tyree and Konka appeared. They said nothing, and took the ten pack horses in tow. Tyree returned to the Tranca camp with Konka and the pack ponies which the Tranca loaded with ten cords of wood each.
Rolak and Tooka stood off to one side, bitterness evident. Tyree approached and said softly so only Rolak and Tooka could hear. “Your treachery has left two more Tranca lifeless upon the snow. You should put them under the ice, for we have no time to bury your dead.”
Tyree and Konka then left with the loaded pack ponies, taking with them one of the Tranca’s saddled horses.
When they returned to Drinda’s well hidden little encampment, Tyree ordered Shuyah to mount the Tranca horse. As she did, she eyed the wood laden pack ponies.
“You have succeeded in getting your ransom,” Shuyah said to Tyree. “Was your talk equally successful?”
“Ask your father,” Tyree said then he slapped the Tranca horse on the rump and it bolted away toward the Tranca encampment. He watched Shuyah go. She looked back at him as he hoped she would. He could see in her eyes a question—a wondering if they would ever see each other again. Only Tyree knew that they would.Tyree’s unit quickly mounted and led their pack ponies to a nearby stream. The stream was the reason they’d picked this place to keep the girl. They would use the stream to hide their passage. The Tranca, should they be planning another betrayal, would assume the party went upstream toward the plains where the Kodiak usually camped. Instead, they went downstream, toward the ice shelf where the hooves of the ponies would leave no trail.
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER 5: "ICE"