In the north, it was too cold to snow. Like all the clans, the Kodiak made camp in total darkness. Each clan huddled in their defended sanctuary. Even the Logalla had to abandon their domain, for one never knew if a portion of the twisted forest would be consumed by the thaw. The tattered Logalla army that had laid waste to Verdanta, then found themselves roundly defeated by the Kodiak, arrived, joining their minions already there.
While the other clans posted small fires, the Logalla built huge ones. They knew no one dared attack their large force, and they had the wood. The Kodiak believed that with a small fire one could get close and keep warm. With a large fire, one not only gave away one’s position, but one could not get close enough to truly take benefit from the warmth. The two clans’ philosophies differed as much in this as they did in war. The Logalla were brazen and crude, the Kodiak clever and quick.
Tyree said nothing to the Tranca of the Logalla’s destruction of Verdanta and of the death of Zorgon. Times were difficult enough in the eternally frozen north. Tyree also didn’t want Rolak to know he was now the Tranca ruler. Tyree needed Rolak to still be restrained by his father’s order to accept Tyree as an ally and a clansman.
Tyree found Shuyah huddled at her fire with Koleefus. He appeared within the Tranca camp, having avoided the outriders and sentries so that his visit could be a surprise. Shuyah’s smile at his arrival was the warmest thing for a thousand miles. It warmed Tyree, for he had ridden four days without making camp and stopping only once a day to eat and to feed and rest his ponies.
“You have news, Tyree of the Kodiak,” Koleefus suggested, “but you will not present it to us until we learn of it for ourselves.”
“You see mirages,” Tyree lied, “but your visions must tell you what is true, and what is best held unsaid.”
“We will await the fates to tell us your secrets,” Koleefus shrugged. Then with a grunt of old age, she stood and excused herself. She shuffled off into her hut, leaving the two young people to their romantic inclinations.
“You look well,” Shuyah said, looking Tyree over with a lover’s eye.
“I am fine,” he replied. “I seek only a short rest by your fire then I must ride east.”
“The Logalla lie to the east,” Shuyah said, furrows of worry stitching their way across the smooth skin of her brow. “Has this adventure something to do with what Koleefus was talking about? She is most adept at these things.”
“I have seen the murderer of my parents.”
“The Scar!” Shuyah gasped. “Then he still lives.”
“Hopefully not for much longer,” Tyree said, a sneer of hate fleetingly crossing his strong young features.
“Oh, Tyree,” Shuyah worried, putting her hand on his arm and leaning her forehead upon his shoulder. “Let me go with you. To guard your back.”
Tyree smiled. “My heart is swelled by friends that wish to help me when they believe my quest to be foolish.”
“It isn’t foolish. It’s understandable, still—”
“Still, you think I should wait for a better time.”
“I know you well enough to know you will do what you wish. My wishes you entertain, but your wishes rule you.”
“I knew you would understand, Shuyah.”
Tyree then kissed her on the forehead. He enveloped her within his cloak and they hugged each other there before her fire. They hugged for a long time that seemed so short to them. Then Tyree went to the edge of the encampment where he’d left his string of ponies and found Rolak waiting.
“So, you embarrass us by slipping past our defenses,” Rolak glared, with Tooka and two other Tranca warriors standing at his sides in armor and fully armed.
“You might learn from their ineffectiveness,” Tyree shrugged, “but that was not my intent.”
“Your intent was to see my sister without my knowledge,” Rolak sneered.
“She is of an age and status to decide her own visitors,” Tyree returned with a smile of disrespect.
“Leave our camp, Kodiak,” Rolak ordered, “or I might forget my father’s promise to accept your visits!”
“I was already leaving,” Tyree responded, swinging up into the saddle of his favorite snow pony and leading his two younger snow ponies, two pack animals, and the Logalla horse past the knot of glowering Tranca warriors.
“You have acquired a Logalla battle steed,” Rolak noticed. “Was it a gift from them?”
“It has been useful, and will be so again,” Tyree replied, “but a gift? If so, I was not an appreciative recipient for I put the giver of the horse beneath the ice.”
Then Tyree rode out of the Tranca camp, alert to any ambush that Rolak might have put in place. There was none. Rolak had learned his lesson in that regard.
Tyree stalked the Logalla using the Logalla horse and black bearskin he took from the sentry he killed. But the Logalla encampment was so large, the eerie world so dark, Tyree could not again find The Scar, whom he so desperately wanted to kill.
A month into his surveillance, something woke Tyree. His fire had dwindled. His hut was dark, until a strange light trickled in past the edges of his hut flap, which the wind toyed with just enough. It awakened him with its inconsistency. He knew the glimmer of the sun was not due this far north for over two months, and then it would be weak and distant and short lived. Yet light shone shimmering through the edges of the door flap. Outside, his horses snorted and neighed in confusion. Tyree came out to find the night sky lit up by the phenomenon the Kodiak called durazza—the light in the night. Its breathtaking display was something even the Kodiak with their acute senses for the elements could not predict. Undulating waves of multicolored incandescence filled the sky. Sheets of green fire lit the northern horizon—light streaming from a direction the sun never touched.
Tyree’s sensitive ears heard activity in the Logalla camp well over a distant ridge. The Kodiak boy donned his Logalla disguise and rode his Logalla horse two views. He dismounted below the ridge and crept to its summit as he had done many times since coming north. Beyond the ridge the Logalla were massing. It was an attack set in motion by the lights. The ability to see gave the Logalla all they needed to mount an attack, but on which clan would they descend? Tyree had followed Logalla scouting parties hoping he would find The Scar among them. The scouts had clandestinely located several clans, but never the Kodiak or Tranca.
Riding his Logalla horse and hiding his Kodiak features within the dark recesses of his Logalla cloak, Tyree joined the huge army. The Scar was not among them. They made their way northwest and soon Tyree knew the Junango were their target. The Junango were a small clan of less than two thousand with five hundred warriors. The Logalla attack was swift, for the light in the night never lasted long. There was no way for Tyree to warn them, no help he could give. All he could do was not participate in the carnage.
The wavering northern lights lent a surreal quality to the attack. The Logalla fell upon the Junango encampment from all sides. The women and children were killed or driven off, as were the elders. The warriors that survived and the young boys were rounded up and forced to march on foot across the frozen crust of ancient snow back to the Logalla camp. The wounded that could not keep up were executed.
The Logalla returned to their encampment with three hundred Junango males in tow. These were made to sit around one of the huge bonfires the Logalla had blazing near the center of their camp. Out of a hut came a Logalla wearing the ceremonial mask of a black bear and trappings Tyree guessed indicated the Logalla’s conjurer. He was tall even for a Logalla and wore a black bear cape adorned with eagle feathers. Tyree wondered if his was the Logalla arrow Tyree found in Wingswift years ago.
The Logalla were far more superstitious than any other clan, and to this predilection they credited their every success. The Logalla sorcerer chanted and shook a ceremonial rattle above the heads of each of the terrified captives. Then three burly Logalla came forward carrying a vessel made from the skull of a bear. This they filled with an odious liquid from a steaming cauldron set over a small fire. The conjurer continually shook his rattle above this cauldron. While two of the attendants held their arms, the third held open the mouth of each captive. The sorcerer then made each captive drink from the bear skull. They gagged and wretched then fell into an unconscious state upon the snow. Each in turn was dragged into one of several nearby huts that were guarded by two Logalla warriors. When the last was sequestered within a hut, the sorcerer walked from hut to hut shaking his rattle before the door flap. In time, the northern lights faded so that darkness enveloped the Logalla camp. Still, the great fires filled the camp with a crackling glow. Then, one by one, the captives came out of the huts. As each emerged, he was given a wooden cup of bear grease. As though in a trance the captives smeared the bear grease over their bodies then each was presented with a black bearskin cloak of the Logalla warrior. This he put on and stood obedient before the conjurer. When the last of the captives emerged and was so attired, the conjurer issued what he called the Pledge of the Bulwark. The words he shouted were repeated by those entranced. The pledge spoke of killing, of loyalty, of death if the first two were not accomplished. This initiated the captives into the Logalla army. Tyree knew he had witnessed the method by which the Logalla conscripted others into their ranks—witchcraft of a most heinous kind.
“You wear the leggings of a Kodiak,” a guttural voice said in Tyree’s ear.
Tyree stole a glance to see a large Logalla warrior at his elbow. The big Logalla was really not suspicious, and continued watching the festivities as was Tyree. Without revealing his face, Tyree beckoned to the curious warrior and turned and walked calmly away. The warrior blinked, and followed the smallish Logalla in the black bearskin, having already forgotten he was sporting the lambskin leggings of a Kodiak warrior. Tyree led the Logalla warrior into a clump of scrub pines at the edge of the camp. It was here Tyree had left his horse. Once they were inside the pines and out of view of the camp, Tyree whirled. His snow star was in his hand. He didn’t throw it, but instead swiped it backhanded past the startled face of the Logalla. Tyree’s movement was a blur in the Logalla’s eyes. There was a soft ping as the snow star slit the Logalla’s throat before the stunned warrior could utter a sound.
CLICK HERE FOR CHAPTER 10: "SOLSTICE"