Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Oolon had been paddling up river all day. The banks were lined with cottonwood, tall handsome trees looming forty feet above the muddy banks, spreading a lush canopy of bright green leaves. Below, the thick trunks grew from the midst of dense bracken. He was paddling near the east bank where the current was the slowest. A few times during the day he had tried farther out, for that dense bracken made him nervous. A man with a spear or bow could be ten feet from the water and he would be unable to see him. But out into the stream the current was too strong to make headway.

Ilna and the people in the village told him the Kelgit were on the move down from the north. The Klegit were terrible and ferocious and liked nothing better than torturing captives, keeping them alive and suffering for days or even weeks. They were experts at skinning a man in small sections and then rubbing poisons into the exposed flesh. Their favorite torture for males was making tiny deep cuts into the penis and then immersing it in salty water. Whenever he thought of this Oolon groaned aloud and brought his thighs together.

Some of the Sege said the Klegit ate the flesh of their victims, cutting it from the living body so it was fresh and savory. Some say they ate it raw, others that they roasted it over an open fire. The thought of these tortures woke Oolon up in the night, sweating, yet he continued his journey for he was determined to make trading contact with the small bands in the buffer land between the Sege and Klegit. In the bottom of the canoe was a pack of knives, axes and hatchets he intended to sell. He planned to take orders back with him and deliver them on his next trip.

However, so far he was having little success. Just over the Sege border he had met a band of Osni working a wier on the east bank. He sold them a few hatchet heads but they would give him no orders for they were moving off the river to go east deep into their ancestral lands to avoid the coming Klegit. That was ten days ago. He had not seen a single human being since. When he told Ilna, the Headman in Sli, the Sege village to his south, that despite the dangers he was determine to make the trip, Ilna sighed and said,

“Well, at least when they are finished with you they might put your head on a pole and then if we find it we can perform the ceremonies sending you along to the ancestors.”

Oolon did not find this reassuring. At twenty he was too young to care much about the ancestors or what shape he would be in on arriving on the other shore. What happened to his body in this life was his chief concern.

It was late afternoon and Oolon was starting to survey the bank for a spot where he


could eat supper. The bracken was very thick but looking ahead he could see an open area on the west bank. He began paddling with a stronger stroke to reach it.
The Villagers told him the Klegit were tall men, seven or eight feet most of them. They filed their teeth to a sharp point and in battle tore chunks of flesh from their enemies. They were broad shouldered and hunkering like bears. They fought naked deeming it cowardice to protect the body with anything other than a small shield and the hammering of a war club or the thrusting of a spear. Before battle they covered themselves with a purple dye giving them the appearance of demons from the other world. When they charged they uttered high pitched screeches which, from the mouths of a large group of warriors, had a strangely musical sound as if they were invaders who by magic had broken through from another realm. One old woman told him that before battle Klegit warriors fasted for four days to make them keen on devouring the flesh of enemies.

He was almost to the open area, a field of grass and flowers, when he saw something moving on the river, coming around a bend a long way up river. It was brightly colored and flashed in the sun above the smooth brown sheen of the river. Oolon was instantly terrified. He almost dropped his paddle and loosed his bowels but after a moment of sheer terror, he got a grip on himself and paddled to the bank. He landed and pulled the boat up into the bushes, thanking his lucky stars that rocks lined the bank here, covering the marks of his exit from the water.

He pulled the canoe deep into the bracken, hiding it behind an outcrop of rock. Then he moved farther in and, finding a deer trail going south, followed it for some distance until he came to a rise of land overlooking the river. The rise was forested and he climbed a tall cottonwood. Taking extreme care not to snap off any branches – they told him in the village the Klegit had keen eyes which could detect subtle changes in the formation of trees, etc, from many miles off – he peeped through the shimmering leaves down upon the river.

After a few minutes Klegit war canoes appeared, traveling midstream in the fast current. They were thirty feet long, the longest boat Oolon had ever seen although he heard about even longer boats people in his homeland claimed sailed on the great sea over the mountains from Teg country. There was a carved figure on the front curling up like a fern about the heads of the first two paddlers. The figure, a dragon or some other terrible animal, had thick lips peeled back in a snarl showing great teeth painted yellow. Its lips were painted red, its eyes green and the rest of its head and long neck, shining black. There were twenty warriors, naked and dyed purple in each canoe. They paddled with a deep synchronized stroke which, along with the midstream current, fairly flew them over the water to the south. There were ten canoes reconnoitering for a larger group following behind.

Along the gunwales of the canoes, beside each warrior, was a rectangular shield and

beside it a tall spear sticking straight up into the air. From what he could see of the warrior’s faces in the distance they were happy and relaxed. Although their paddling was
deep and regular it was not hurried. There was a chieftain of some sort in the first canoe, an ugly man whose face was a mass of scars and who stared off to the south with an
intensity Oolon thought would surely kill him if he kept it up the whole day. From when they came into his field of vision to when they were gone was a matter of a few minutes.

Oolon stayed in his tree until an hour before sundown. Then he scrambled down, ran up the trail to his canoe and carried it to the river. Checking up stream and finding it free of warriors he paddled as fast as he could to the east bank. There he cut the bottom of the canoe and sank it in the water. He shouldered his pack and entered the bracken, twisting and winding his way through until he came to the field he had sighted earlier. He walked west across the open land until he came to a patch of deep forest. Here he slept in the bracken, covering himself with dead leaves and branches. The next morning he resumed his walk west where Ilna told him he would find a vast plain sweeping south for more than a thousand miles.


The Alder is a tributary river flowing into the Eg in the boundary land between Sege and Klegit. Its source is farther west in a chain of small lakes strewn like a necklace across hundreds of miles of forest country. Some years ago, Kweya, wandering through the boundary land, happened upon a beautiful field on its southern bank ten miles up from the Eg. He fell in love with this beautiful field exactly as a young man might fall in love with a beautiful woman, and the next year, with three of his students, came back to build a cabin. Thereafter, as many years as he could, he spent the latter part of winter there, sometimes with students he was teaching to trap and meditate, sometimes alone. A month earlier he had sent his students back south along the river trail before spring melted the ice. They did not complain. In this winter retreat the days of sitting silently and long hours on the trap line without their wives or girlfriends made them hunger for the south the way a starving man hungers for a delicious meal. They went off with light hearts and Kweya set out for two weeks visiting his isolated neighbours, on his sled a box of medicines and herbs. The medicines and his healing skills, along with his gregarious nature insured him a place by the fire, conversation, good food and a place to sleep. When he came back to the cabin the snow was melting and water flowing. He spent two weeks inside sitting silently and then began preparing for his journey south.


For many years he had come up over the Eg’s frozen surface on foot and come back down by canoe but at the age of sixty five he found the walk north a little much. Since
then he had come up on the winter road by horse and waited, in the spring, for things to dry out enough to ride back south on the plains. These grasslands started some fifteen miles off the Eg to the west. There the trees died out and a vast sea of prairie stretched itself out as far as the eye could see.

One morning, sunny and bright and filled with the sounds of running water and early birdsong, the cabin shut up and the horses packed, he started along the rough trail leading to the open land. By early afternoon he had left the trees behind and was winding his way through a series of marshes forming a border between the trees and the drier prairie land. When, some hours later, he left the marshes behind he turned left and rode for another while until he came to a copse of poplar where he set up camp for the night. There was a small stream where he washed and filled his water bottles. On its bank he built a cooking fire and made a pot of savory stew. When the stew was ready he ladled out a bowl for himself and another as well, which he put off to one side, covered by the pot lid. By the time he finished his stew twilight was falling and it was growing cool. He built up the fire with deadfall he had gathered in the wood until the flames were high and throwing out their warmth for some distance around. Then he knelt on the soft grass and sat on his calves and chanted a long, rhythmical chant, very softly, in a deep, vibrant baritone. When he was finished he opened his eyes and there before him, standing beside the fire, was a large crow.

“I was just about to have a bowl of fried muskrat,” said the crow.
Kweya removed the lid from the second bowl of stew and placed it on the ground before the crow. Noisily and with obvious delight, the crow emptied the bowl and began cleaning his beak on the grass beside it.

“I saw you in the water, Bird.”

“What water?”

“The stream.”

“Oh, scrying you mean.”

“You had an important errand. You should not have even thought of eating that plate of muskrat.”


The bird made a gesture that, if he were a human being, would have been a shrug. “I have to eat, Kweya. Especially if I am going to fly hundreds of miles giving people messages.”

“Well, I saved you that coming here and because of your lollygagging I’ll have to send you to Sli the same way when we are done.”

“Yes, but you know how I hate that twisted feeling I get when you shift me about like that.”

Two days before, Bird, flying over the Eg just below Klegit country, saw the river filled with a massive flotilla of boats and canoes heading south. In its forefront was a large number of brightly painted Klegit war canoes, bows crammed with shields and war gear and paddled by warriors. He kept flying. Many miles south were scouting canoes, sails filled by the northeast wind, moving very fast. The Klegit were obviously on the move down river. Instead of following his instruction to go right to the Sli and tell the headman, Ilna, he had stopped at an Osni village where an old Osni lady, a healer and a great gossip had amused him with salacious stories and prepared for him a plate of muskrat.

“That Osni lady, does she know medicines?” asked Kweya.

“Hally is her name and yes she does. She’s never met you but she knows you by reputation. Of course, being as old as you are, everyone for a thousand miles around knows who you are by now.”

Kweya did not respond to this. When shifted into his company, Bird was often grumpy and said nasty things and it was best not to pay attention. Kweya rose and put more wood on the fire. He sat down close to its edge and put out his hands to warm them.

“Hally will be soon moving down the Eg to south of the Wah with her clan. Sometime when you are down that way tell her I would like to meet her. Tell her also that her clan should keep scouts downriver on the Wah from midsummer onwards. Some nasty customers will be along shortly after and they will kill anyone in their way just for the fun of it. The scouts should keep to the south bank of the river for the nasty ones will be coming up the north bank. I’ll come to see her in the early fall. I’ve heard that some Osni healers gather plants for sleeping draughts from the woodlands to their east. I would like to see them and give them a try.”

“The old lady will be delighted. She thinks you are greatest shaman on the Eg.”

“Greatest this and greatest that is a truly foolish way to talk. Soon I’ll be dead and then what will I be? The greatest dead shaman on the Eg perhaps.”

Bird said nothing to this. He moved closer to the fire and spread his wings to catch the warmth. Stars were beginning to appear in the darkening sky. A pack of coyotes began
yipping and howling off to the east on the border of the tree line. Bird and Kweya listened to them for a time.

“What do you think of coyotes, Bird?”

“It’s hard not to like coyotes. They are self contained, swift and easily delighted, much like crows. They take great pleasure in their children much like the humans do. And like crows and humans they are everywhere, prospering in almost any conditions.”

“Very true, Bird. Did you know that none of the people along the Eg, even the terrible Rechyai, hunt coyotes? Some trap them for the fur which is very warm and luxurious but no one hunts them for meat. They are very intelligent and their faces are almost human. Maybe that’s why. It would be like hunting ourselves.”

“Perhaps it’s also because they are very cunning. To get close enough to a coyote to loose an arrow is no easy matter. The ears, maybe. They hear everything with those big ears.”

“Could be that too,” said Kweya. “How do you think they see human beings?”

“As dangerous and unpredictable,” said Bird.

Kweya laughed. “Just so,” he said.

“They stay out of the way of the humans,” said Bird.
“Very true. Even I, who can slip through the woods as quietly and unobtrusively as a wild animal, seldom come upon a coyote unawares. They are truly exceptional in that regard.”

“Crows see them often from the air, of course,” said Bird. “But the weird thing about coyotes is that it always seems that they are aware of you even if they don’t seem to be, if you know what I mean. It’s like they have what the bats have where they can sense you without smelling or seeing you. Even if you are high up you get the sense that they are moving with an awareness of you. You don’t get that from other animals.”


“Do crows ever attack coyotes?”

“Goodness, no. That would be suicide. They are too quick and they work together.”

“Did I ever tell you that one of my first teachers, an old woman healer on the lakes
east of here, told me that coyotes were once human beings who grew tired of all the war and savagery so they became coyotes?”

“A wise choice perhaps.”

“With what is about to come it does perhaps seem like a wise choice.”

“War, you mean.”

“And worst. With war it’s just the warriors but this will mean everybody. I wonder how many Kelgit have already been killed.”

“Thousands, anyway.”

“And they in turn will kill many of the Sege.”

“No doubt.”

“Well, this is the nature of things. Is it not, Bird?”

“Crows don’t have wars.”

“But they do fight for territory sometimes, don’t they?”

“Yes but most of it is bluffing, rushing and squawking. Very little killing is actually done.”

“So crows are superior beings, then?”

“O I wouldn’t say that; just different. All creatures have their fate. The humans have a particularly bloody one. Some wise old crows say it’s because of the complications of human speech and thought. Humans have the habit of substituting their conceptions of the world for the world itself. This creates a belligerent, bellicose cast of mind from which wars naturally arise.”

“Those old crows are truly wise if they say that, Bird.”


“Yet we must do the best we can to ameliorate things a bit, old shaman, fate or no fate.”

“Yes, exactly so. Now, would you like some pemmican before I send you to the village?”

“Yes I would. But when you do please send me to a tree on the edge of the village. The last time you popped me into Ilna’s hogan and his wives screamed so loudly they almost burst my eardrums.”

Kweya opened a bag of pemmican, and, extracting a large piece, tore off chunks. He placed them on the ground before Bird who made short work of them. When he was finished Kweya sat on his calves and started a chant, a different one this time. When he opened his eyes Bird was gone. He rolled himself up in his blanket near the fire and went to sleep.


After walking over the open land, a paradise of tall grasses and field flowers waving their bright colors in the morning breeze, Oolon came to a section of forest perhaps five miles deep. Firstly there was quite an incline so the stream he was following flowed strongly and for the most part straight, but when he came out of the trees the land leveled out. As far as he could see to the west the stream scribed a series of long, lazy meanders across a mixture of grass and swamp. Off in the distance he could see an occasional clump of poplar but on the whole there was no cover. Someone could see him walking from miles away. He decided it didn’t matter. If there were Klegit there was little he could do about it except dropping his pack and running like the wind. He dropped his pack onto the grass of the bank and sat on top of it to take a brief rest. He took a piece of smoked meat out of his pocket, bit off a chunk and chewed it methodically while he looked around. This flat land reminded him of home, excepting that it was much wetter. A man walking over this would have a difficult time and for a horse, other than one ridden by a rider who knew the ways intimately and could follow the scarce paths of solid ground, it would be impossible. Since he was a man it would be muddy and miserable but not impossible.

Lunch finished he shouldered his pack. He studied the sun, now a little past mid day. He turned directly west. A mile or so in the distance was a tall oak. He moved away from


the stream so as to clear its meanders in a straight walk and took another sighting on the oak for his bearing. Ilna told him to go due west some ten or fifteen miles. When he came to land covered with grass but much drier, free of all but the odd slough or pothole, he was to turn south. If he walked there for more than a day or so Sege scouts would discover him for they regularly patrolled this area for enemies who might come off the river and sweep down on them from the rear. Ilna had given him a small leather medallion inscribed with a stylized depiction of his clan’s totem, the bear. It was tied round his neck with a leather thong. He was to show this to the riders who otherwise might assume he was a Klegit and cut him down before he could explain.

He straightened his shoulders and began to walk.


In the far North Country are a series of lakes so large that standing on one shore you cannot see across to the other. Connected by a river flowing south, or, as the northerners would have it, a series of rivers flowing south, they come down from the north like a set of steps fashioned by a giant to descend into the warmer lands of the south and bask himself in a hotter sun. This is the river Eg, cut deep into rock as it flows through the lake country, but when it entered the flatlands, mud bottomed, wide, shallow and meandering. Eventually, after thousands of miles wandering through forests, swamps and grasslands, it empties into an even larger river in the south, the Loona. The Loona, deeper, wider and more powerful, spills its waters into the great salt sea.

Around the southern lakes and extending down the Eg some hundreds of miles into the flatlands, lived the Klegit. They were a prosperous and enterprising people. The soil in the valley of the Eg was rich and deep. The Klegit farmed it with iron plows pulled by sturdy ponies. They grazed sheep on the lush pastures stretching back from the river. They mined metals in the hills east, carrying the ores in wagons along roads paved with


flat slabs of quarried rock to workshops in their villages along the river. They built their houses of wood, the lower floor given over to barn and workshops, for several times in a generation the Eg overflowed its banks inundating the land extending for miles from the riverbank. Their wood and metal crafting was second to none. They had schools and writing and in the biggest town at the southern extremity of their territory, they had a small university where the sons and daughters of the well to do spent a year or two learning history and making at least a bare acquaintance with the literature produced by both their own culture and others spread out along the Eg and the Loona.

The Klegit had lived for many years in peace. To the south of their territory, after a buffer of a confused mixture of unaligned peoples, lived the warlike Sege, a people who dominated a region spreading out for hundreds of miles beyond their villages on the river. The Sege were fierce, terrible warriors. All tribes within their reach were forced to pay them tribute. Upon this tribute they maintained a small standing army. From a young age Sege boys, and to some degree girls, trained for war. Although numerically they were a small people, their network of alliances and their skill in war made them formidable. Long ago the Sege and the Klegit fought what was for the Klegit a limited war and for the Sege a battle for survival. The upshot of the war was the creation of the buffer zone between the two which had now existed for three hundred years and which neither of the tribes had any interest in tampering with. The Sege, for their part, knew very well their skill in war could keep the Klegit at bay but could not conquer them. The Klegit, on the other hand, had plenty of land and when their population increased they simply spread out to the east and west off the river. Both tribes occasionally raided into the Buffer zone in an attempt to get at raiders who sometimes took up residence there. This was considered by both sides to be acceptable if raiders were the real purpose of the incursion and no permanent settlements were made. Especially in the last hundred years there was considerable coming and going between the two people and a growing trade. However, excepting for a small number among the trading and governing classes this did not change the way the vast majority of two tribes looked upon one another. The Sege saw the Klegit as farmers, ineffective warriors, whose only advantage was numbers. The Klegit saw the Sege as terrible, unrelenting savages, whose only virtue, if it could be called so, was an exclusive concentration on the arts of war.

But the arrangement of peoples along a river seldom hold for long, a few hundreds of years perhaps, five hundred at most. Fate and circumstance had declared that this time had come to an end.

To the north of the Klegit, separated by one large lake inhabited by a number of small tribes with no interest in war and domination, were a numerous and contentious people called the Rechyai. As long as the Klegit had existed in their present place the Rechyai


had existed in theirs – the northern snowbound lakes with deep forests to the west and the east. They fought a great deal among themselves but other than the odd raid by individual clans they had never bothered the people to the south. But then something happened to change things.

The Rechyai, according to storytellers among the Klegit, came from across the sea so long ago that few remembered their origins, even they themselves. They had come through the northern sea in one of the few winters that the ice conditions allowed hide covered boats to navigate. Their numbers were not large but they were almost all male warriors. The people who lived in the area where they landed were not used to fighting. They were easily conquered, the Rechyai killing the men and taking the women as wives, slaves and concubines. They brewed a strong beer which they called yag, and which they drank communally in long ship like buildings. When they were in their cups it was not unusual for them to butcher one another with great ferocity. Like many violent minded peoples they had a great love for children. It was not uncommon for a single man, through a combination of wives and concubines to have thirty or forty. Thus their numbers grew, spreading out to the east and west, much like the Klegit. But this growth in numbers did not lead to a push south until a new influx of warriors arrived from their original country.

This is understandable. The Rechyai had settled, accepted the status quo along the lakes and the river and become somewhat civilized. They were no longer the savage marauders their ancestors were. Some of their wealthier families even sent bright children to the Klegit University. Some of their lawmakers, for they were keen on laws and had a yearly summit at which laws were made and disputes settled, traveled down the Eg and even the Loona, visiting the large centers full of craftsmen and talking. They had developed a large trade with the Klegit, mostly Rechyai salted fish for Klegit oats and grains. They also traded by overland routes with people to the east and west. They had a good life and there was no particular reason to dramatically change it; that is until the new people arrived.

The new arrivals came in great numbers. There had been a civil war in their own country which had embroiled the whole population and which had ended bitterly. There was no question that the defeated party would have to leave and they did. First they sailed to another country to the west but there they were not welcome. They landed and established a beachhead but when they tried to move beyond it, the local people, long established, numerous and warlike, gathered and a battle was fought. Defeated, they had no choice but to disembark and sail further west. Fortunately for them, for if they had come in any of the preceding twenty years they would have perished on the ice, the


northern sea was open and they sailed into it and landed in much the same place their ancestors had landed five hundred years before.

At first there was fighting but after a year or two the lawmaking council of the Rechyai met with the clan leaders of the new people and a place was made for them. But the new people were very different from the old. They were warriors to the marrow of their bones. They knew no other way of life and the bitterness bred in them by their losses and defeats had created in their hearts a central devotion to war, savagery, victory and death. They could no more settle down to the relatively peaceful, pastoral life of the old Rechyai than a rabid dog could find a quiet place by the fire. It did not take them long to find there was uninterrupted water between themselves and a fat, rich, unwarlike nation to the south and they were soon on the move.

The old Rechyai had kept up the legends and long poems of war and battle from the old country and the new Rechyai had new ones to add. The young of the old Rechyai had always been brought up with these as the staples of their education. To see these bold adventurers coming through their towns and villages on their way south to conquer the Klegit was for them like seeing the past, in all its romantic glory, come to life. They left their farms and houses in droves to join them. The ranks of the new Rechyai grew so huge that their last few stops among their own people on the lakes devoured half a years eating for the local population. But there was nothing to be done but to open their storehouses and slaughter their sheep in return for vague promises of future payment. And to be fair to the new Rechyai, when they conquered the northern Klegit, they indeed did send back payment. In some things they were not without honor, although it could also be pointed out that they made payment with what they stole from the butchered Klegit.

And butcher the Klegit they did. They wiped out whole communities - men, women, children, slaves. With their two handed swords they cut down everything alive and human. The animals they butchered and ate, sent in payment to the southern Rechyai villages or carried away live in their boats. The Klegit storehouses were filled with smoked meats and the leftovers of last years harvest. From when they entered Klegit territory until they came out the other side on the south they never had to worry about food and supplies. They were ravaging the proceeds of five hundred years of collective effort. At first what they did not consume they destroyed. They burnt, they slashed, they trampled. Later they controlled themselves and left behind them settlements of Rechyai ruling over slaves whose task was to continue the working of the farms and workshops. More Rechyai came down behind the first wave and they were given the farms and dwellings of the murdered Klegit and the fleeing Klegit as well for as news spread the Rechyai first wave came more and more upon villages and towns totally deserted. The Klegit had embarked in their canoes and flat bottomed boats and headed south on the


river. What annoyed the Rechyai about this was they were taking their animals with them. The Rechyai were great lovers of fresh meat.

There was some resistance by the Klegit right from the beginning, especially when the news spread that the Rechyai gave no quarter and subjected captives to the most hideous tortures. Sending the women and children into the woods, desperate Klegit fought to the death where they stood. But an organized resistance was long in coming. The Rechyai were half way through Klegit territory before they came upon more than desperate bands of fleeing stragglers. When they came to a village by the name of Tougie they received their first check.

When the Rechyai came around the bend of the Eg just above Tougie they found a wall of canoes and boats held together by ropes strung across the river and tied to trees on the shore. The Rechyai were delighted. They liked nothing better than a little push back from those they were about to slaughter. Screaming their terrible battle cries they bore down upon the wall of boats.

But the Klegit were not without courage. They knew little about organized fighting but they preferred dying in battle to torture and they fought with the fury of doomed men. They had positioned archers among their ranks. The archers waited until the Rechyai were in close and then let loose volley after volley of iron tipped arrows. The Rechyai were forced to retreat. They were furious. They landed warriors on the banks to outflank the boat wall but they met among the trees by farmer’s boys with long razor sharp spears and driven back. The Rechyai had to retreat up river and camp for the night.

When they came back next morning they attacked with great fury and overwhelmed the Klegit. But the Klegit exacted a harsh penalty. Despite being outmaneuvered they fought like demons in small groups until they were all slaughtered. When it was over the Rechyai had to stop three days to cremate four hundred of their warriors. Two prominent clan leaders and a member of the council of generals were killed.

From then on the Rechyai came upon only deserted villages until, five days after the first battle they came upon another wall of boats. The Klegit had massed great numbers of fighters on both banks and the wall of boats was twenty deep. It took the Rechyai three days to break through. At the height of the fighting the river ran red with blood. The Rechyai lost sixteen hundred warriors but what distressed them most was that the surviving Klegit were able to retreat. Fleeing in other boats behind the wall, covered by archers they whisked themselves downstream out of the clutches of the warriors who were bent on a great blood bath to avenge their dead. Of course the loss of sixteen


hundred warriors meant little to the Rechyai; considering their numbers such a loss could only be called a minor thinning.

This is how in early spring of that year a wave of Klegit, followed by another of the conquering Rechyai, came down the river Eg toward the Sege villages.


Ilna was tall – a foot and a half above average. In a meeting of warriors he towered above the rest like a tall tree. He had a large blubbery belly, a high, wide forehead and heavy jowls. These had increased somewhat in middle age but he looked much the same even in his youth. But this did not stop him from being a fierce and accomplished warrior. In his lifetime he had overthrown many who were better wrestlers than he only because they assumed he was fat and slow. For a big man he was amazingly quick and fast. By the time he was twenty he led his own war band and had killed many enemies. He was now almost fifty and slowing down but still, equipped with a shield and axe, few had the courage to face him.

When Bird came the door flap was up. He glided through the opening landing on the floor beside Ilna who was eating a meal of grouse. The grouse were caught in a net by his new wife, Zili, a young woman of twenty. This wife spent all her time in the woods hunting and trapping. Seldom did a day go by that she did not bring something delicious for the pot – a muskrat, a beaver, and today six grouse. Excepting for his fifth wife, Lo, who did not seem to care, his wives complained bitterly that the young woman did not join in the household chores. They claimed she went into the woods and slept most of the day. These foolish women knew nothing about hunting and yet blabbered on endlessly in their ignorance. “And how did she catch this beaver, then?” he would ask them. “Did it come up to her and tap her on the shoulder when she was sleeping?” “Any fool can catch a beaver.” They would say, or, “Even a lazy half wit can stumble upon a stupid rabbit.” They were hopeless. And, since they spent much of the day gossiping among themselves, Ilna refused to listen to their complaints. “If you did your own work like you say she doesn’t, then you would have no time to complain about her.” When these exchanges went on Lo stood off to one side and smirked.

Since he took his new wife Lo refused to sleep with him. This refusal had two cutting edges. Along one Lo, who was his favourite partner for twenty years, was lost to him. Along the other his new wife, although an excellent hunter and possessor of a sweet, unruffled disposition, was a lousy sexual partner. When, in a weak moment, he


complained to Lo she smiled and said, “With you, anyway.” This wounded him deeply. It reminded him that he was getting fat and old and that his wife might have a different response to a hard muscled young warrior. Lo, in a clinch, could be a very nasty person. His sex life had become a desert. Lo refused him. He no longer went to his new wife, it being hardly worth the effort, and his four older wives were more interested in grandchildren and match making than they were in grappling in the dark with their aging husband. His new wife’s response to his not coming to her was troubling. She became
even happier than she was before. It was as if he had removed an obstacle to her single minded devotion to trapping and hunting. She brought so much meat for the pot that most nights his wives invited distant relatives over to help them eat it. As for sex, he had to make do with the ministrations of his own hands and the elusive women of his imagination, quietly, under the covers and even then the giggling of the women would sometimes interrupt him.

When Bird hit the ground he hopped twice and came to a stop. He cocked his head and looked at Ilna with one eye. Ilna laughed spraying the air with spittle and bits of grouse. Bird jumped onto Ilna’s knee so he could see the message cylinder. Ilna untied it from bird’s neck, fished out the skin, read it and then resumed his meal.

“So your answer is to continue eating?” said Bird.

With his mouth full Ilna contented himself with glaring ferociously at Bird who hopped off his knee and took a few steps back. Swallowing, Ilna said,

“It’s no wonder Kweya is sometimes sharp with you. You are an impolite, unruly bird. Entering people’s hogans without asking. Saying rude things to them while they are eating their meal. It’s a miracle he doesn’t knock you on the head and put you in the stew pot.”

“Kweya is vegetarian.”


“Well, mostly, He eats meat sometimes but not often.”

“A crow like yourself would be stringy and tasteless anyway.”

“No doubt. And remember, Ilna, crows are great eaters of eyeballs and garbage. Who wants to eat second hand eyeballs and garbage? I would love to have a piece of that grouse.”


Ilna tore a few pieces off the bone and placed them on his knee. Bird picked them off very gently, tossed them into his mouth and swallowed.

“Thank you Ilna. Grouse cooked in beaver fat - most succulent. You must excuse my manners. Crows are at best testy creatures and Kweya has blown me around in his tornadoes until I am confused and exhausted. I’m famished.”

Ilna tore off more meat and placed it on his knee. Once again Bird tossed and swallowed.

“Truly delicious. No wonder your belly is so big with six wives to cook for you. If I were in your situation I would have become so fat I would be unable to fly. But I’m afraid my wife would peck out my eyes if I so much as looked at another female crow.”

“Well, it’s different with human beings and crows, though not that different.”

Bird swallowed more grouse. “Marvelous, truly marvelous. Quite a change from Kweya’s camp where he eats roots and leaves boiled up into tasteless stews. Mind you he gives me pemmican mostly but it’s nice to have a bit of fresh meat.”

Bird and Ilna finished off the grouse. Bird began preening his feathers. Ilna placed the wooden platter on the low table beside him. He raised his arms into the air and languorously stretched his back muscles, uttering a few low moans of pleasure.

“Lo will be here in a minute,” he said.

As he predicted Lo came through the door a few moments later. An arrestingly beautiful woman of thirty-five, trim but well muscled, with jet-black hair and blue eyes. She came from the south and had Teg blood in her. What made her truly beautiful, Bird thought, was that the bone structure of her face was unusual. Although perfectly symmetrical, it was also highly individual. And Lo, although not so stupid as to be unaware of her beauty, carried her awareness lightly. It was merged into a personality of great intelligence and directness.

Some years ago, when her young children were old enough Lo had embarked on a program of learning. She taught herself to read. She spent evenings in the hogans of elders listening to stories about the doings of supernatural beings and the history of the Sege. She attended council meetings, sitting to the side and behind Ilna to be sure, for women could not speak or vote at council, but listening and learning and remembering. Lo had a phenomenal memory. She remembered the names of Head Men way off in the south who came to general council only every third or fourth year. She knew the names


of Ilna’s vast extended family with a complete cross referencing of the meandering blood relations right down to the most recently born great grandchild. She remembered what gifts Ilna had given to who, what he had received in return and who he was supposed to give a gift to next. But besides all this Lo, from her evenings of listening and from her habit of buttonholing anyone who knew anything about anything and asking them a long series questions which arose most naturally from the intense curiosity of her mind, knew far more than anyone, including Ilna, about the workings, history, and precedents of council. She was also a wise and excellent strategist. Over the last ten years many of the difficult and divisive issues were solved amicably and with general approval because Ilna
had sat up late at night talking to Lo. Ilna would now not even think of making a major decision without her advice.

Lo crossed her ankles and sat on the floor. “So Bird!” she said.

“Lo, “ replied. Bird.

Ilna passed her the message. She read it and put it back on the table.

“Why doesn’t he let you speak the message, Bird?”

“He thinks I’m a scatter brain and will get it all mixed up.”

“He knows you are a scatter brain,” said Ilna.

“And you are a big, fat whale belly,” said Bird.

Ilna did not react to this. One good insult deserves another.

“Well they are coming. Years of rumors and now it is actually happening,” said Lo.

“I wonder why now,” asked Ilna nobody in particular.

“The Rechyai of course,” replied bird.

“I know that you dumb bird, but why now, why not five years ago?”

“With the Rechyai it is different than it is with us. They say their number has increased by ships coming to them from across the sea,” said Lo.


“I hear they are terribly savage,” said Ilna. “They brew a strong drink and when under its influence tear out the throats of their friends with their teeth. Can you imagine what they would do to their enemies?”

“All people are savage when it comes to staying alive,” Lo said. “They say they have very large families and use captured women as concubines. In the past several hundred years their population must have grown hugely. Then again, maybe a new war leader has risen. Who knows? Bird?”

“I have gathered some information from cousins who come visiting from the north. Apparently a few years ago a great number of new Rechyai arrived from across the sea. It is these new people who are leading the attack on the Klegit. The Kegit and the Rechyai fought a big battle up there last year. The Rechyai won. The slaughter was immense – thousands. After the battle the Rechyai hacked off the heads of the Kegit dead and sent
them on rafts down the river. The Kegit to the south were terrified. That was fall. This spring whole Kegit villages started moving south.”

“Council tonight, Lo,” Ilna said.

Lo nodded. She turned to Bird and said, “On your way back would you bring a message to Fils? He’s at Two Rocks with his young gang of builders. Tell him about the Klegit. He’ll have to send warriors up river to meet their scouts. Does he have enough, Ilna?”

“He has enough for now. It’s the newest thing. They all want to shoot bows and build weird war machines with Fils.”

“But tell him everything else, of course,” said Lo. “Council will be sending up more warriors in two or three days. Will you do that Bird?”

“Yes,” said Bird. Lo reached over and with two fingers stroked his chest feathers. He had not been planning to carry messages for a week but he had a great affection for Lo and would do anything for her. As far as Bird was concerned Ilna was an idiot for marrying a new wife. If he were a human being he would marry Lo and Lo only.


Ohn was tired and dirty by the time he came to higher land but he didn’t mind. The black mud smelt of decay but of a rich fecund decay bringing forth new life. When he


grew accustomed to it the squish under his bare feet became a pleasure to him. Around him was a sea of sedges and bulrushes. The air and open sections of water were alive with birds - cranes, kingfishers, cormorants, pelicans, geese, ducks of what seemed a hundred different kinds and colors. He passed by a colony of pelicans who gazed at him down their long orange beaks. Two otters followed him for a time bringing their lithe, sinewy bodies high out of the water to have a good look. Two deer watched him from a grove of poplar. Snipe made swooping passes at him when he came too near their nests. He stopped to rest on the occasional hummock of dry grass, munching pemmican and drinking the stream water he had brought in his bottle. Eventually dry sections of grass began to separate the marshes and he was able to zigzag his way along on the drier land. Then the open areas of marsh grew smaller and smaller until at last he found himself at the edge of a large plain stretching off to the west, north and south as far as he could see. This was much like the country he was brought up - grasslands rolling out for hundreds of miles in all directions. It was mid afternoon and the day had grown warm. When he came to a small stream he stripped and washed off the mud. He washed his clothes and wringing them out as best he could put them back on to dry as he walked along.

Ilna told him to stay on the eastern edge of the plain and work his way south. This he did, turning into the strong face of the spring sun and keeping the marshes on his left. He walked briskly taking long strides through the tall grass. He walked until it was twilight and then stopped at small group of poplars. After eating a supper of pemmican he made a bed of leaves in the center of the grove, wiggled into his bag and went to sleep.

He woke to birds singing. The early light was coming through the poplars’ thin coating of new leaves. There was a wind from the east. He could smell the marshes. He could smell the droppings of a thousand birds and the decaying bodies of winter dead vegetation and he could smell the sweet herbal scent of the new fresh green grasses. He rolled his bag, stuck it into the straps of his pack, swung it up on his shoulders and walked out of the trees. There, standing perhaps fifty feet away, was an old man watching him. In one hand he held a walking staff and in the other a lead for a horse who was taking the opportunity of the pause to graze on the lush new grass. At first the old man didn’t say anything, or, for that matter, show any kind of expression on his wrinkled, weather beaten face. He looked at Ohn with the intense curiosity of a wild animal. His hair was silvery gray and it was tied into a braid on either side of his face. When he had seen enough of the man Ohn looked at the horse - a beautiful young paint mare. She was tearing off great snatches of grass with a sideways movement of her elegant, powerful neck. Ohn was so taken with the beauty of the horse that he smiled and the horse, sensing the presence of another, lifted her head to look at him. She studied him for a moment in the grave, neutral fashion of horses and then went back to her grazing.
“You like horses, then?” the old man asked.

“Oh yes.” Said Ohn. “I come from a place where there are many horses.”

“Where do you come from?”

“A long ways south. Two months travel on the rivers. “

“You are a Teg?”


“You must be Ohn then.”

“Yes but how did you know that?”

“I am a shaman. I talk to birds.”

Ohn didn’t know how to reply to this so he said nothing.

“You’ve never met anyone who talks to birds?”

“The people where I come from are farmers and shepherds. For them to talk to animals shows weakness of mind.”

Kweya laughed at this. Then he said “To talk to sheep may very well show weakness of mind, so perhaps your people are right. You are going south?”

“Yes. I was canoeing up river. Yesterday morning Klegit warriors passed me by. Ilna told me if I had trouble on the river I should walk west and then south and I would come across Sege scouts on horseback.”

“Very good advice Ilna gave you. You can walk with me if you like. I am going to the village myself.”

“Why don’t you ride the mare?”

“I do sometimes but today I feel like walking. But we can put your pack on her back if you like. Her name is Elly. She’s quite happy to carry packs. They are lighter than people.”

Ohn took off his pack and placed it in Kweya’s outstretched hand. When he tied it onto the mare’s back to join his own she didn’t even look up from her grazing. Kweya started


off and Ohn caught up with him. They walked a short while when Kweya stopped and looked behind him. After peering purposefully from one side to the other he put the middle fingers of both hands to his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. He waited for a few moments, watching. He brought his hands up once again but then saw something which made him drop them to his side. Ohn looked in the direction he was watching. At first he could see nothing but then he saw movement and soon a great herd of horses were galloping toward them. When they came up to them the mare put up her head and whinnied.

“Who are these?” Ohn asked him.

“Some of Elly’s relatives,” Kweya said and resumed his walking.

With the horses following they walked without stopping until it was twilight and then camped. On the second day Kweya chose a big mare from the herd for himself. Ohn rode Elly and they rode for five days, stopping only at night to cook and sleep. On the sixth day from noon on the sun was very hot and Ohn took off his shirt and tied its arms around his waist. Kweya spoke very little and Ohn who had not been on a horse for almost a year spent his time shifting his weight to relieve his sore muscles. It was growing dark and he was beginning to wonder when Kweya would stop. He showed no signs of weariness, riding along vigorously his body easily accommodating the rhythm of the mare’s movements. When Ohn began to sway Kweya stopped at the side of a small stream. They dismounted and sat down in the grass. Kweya filled both their water bottles from the stream. Then he pulled the packs off the mare’s back and led her into the stream. He took a cloth from his pack and, wetting it in the water, began to rub the horse down. She stood very still but shook her head and whinnied in appreciation; finished, he led her out of the water and rubbed her down vigorously with handfuls of dry grass; she brought her head around to nuzzle his neck a moment and then wandered off to graze. He handed the cloth to Ohn who repeated the same operations with Elly. Kweya lay down in the grass and closed his eyes for ten minutes. When he got up he did so in one quick movement as if he were suddenly shot up by a spring.

Ohn was so exhausted he fell into a heap in the long soft grass. Kweya gathered dry wood and started a fire. He filled a pot with water from the stream and hung it on a stick over the fire. Rooting around in his pack he pulled out dried meat and a bundle of gnarled roots. These he cut up on a log he found in the brush and tossed it in the pot. Then he came over to Ohn he moved his pack out of the way and sat down. The pack was very heavy.


“What do you have in here that’s so heavy?”

“Hatchet and axe heads and knife blades.”

“You were looking for trade up river?”


Kweya sat down by the fire and stirred the pot with a stick. He pulled a pouch of herbs from his pack and crumbled some into the stew. He turned toward Ohn. “Before you would have found some. There were a mixture of people who lived there, odds and ends you might say. There were quite a few Sege, ones who found the villages too crowded for their liking. I suppose you could say that, at least part time, I am one of them. I have a cabin on the Alder a day up from where I met you.”

“They moved to get away from the Klegit?”

“Of course! It’s that or die. But I doubt if the Klegit caught any of them. They are too crafty and the Klegit make too much noise.”

“Where will they go?”

“Not far. They’ll move off the river bank and then come back when the Klegit go by.”

“But won’t the Klegit leave some of their own people there?”

“No. The Klegit are running from the Rechyai and they won’t stop until they are further south.”

“How far south?”

“First they’ll stop in the lands of the Sege but they won’t stay long. The Rechyai aren’t that far behind. After that, who knows? The Klegit have a lot of warriors but they will have to consider before tangling with the Horse People farther south on the plains. The Horse People have many relatives who will ride to help them.”

“What will happen to the Sege?

“That depends. If they use their brains they’ll get out of the way. The Klegit outnumber the Sege many times. And after them come the Rechyai who outnumber the Klegit. Getting in their way would be like standing in front of two thundering horses. But the Sege are very warlike. They will win a battle or two first and then the young warriors will


refuse to listen to any leader who tries to take them off the river. Hopefully they will come to their senses before too many warriors die or the Klegit break through and massacre everyone. I say them but I should say us for, of course, I am Sege. Still I feel removed from this; it seems to me to be such an inevitable tragedy.”

“The Sege will win a battle?”



“You passed it paddling up the river. The west bank turns into a marsh extending a long way off the river. The Sege a have war camp there but the battle will occur a little further up in a field on the bank opposite the marsh. Do you remember those places?”

“The marsh, yes. But I didn’t see a camp.”

“That’s because the warriors, quite naturally, didn’t want you to see it.”

The stew was done. Kweya poured it into two bowls he took from his pack. He handed one to Ohn and they both ate hungrily until it was gone. Ohn took the bowls and pot down to the stream and washed them out. He brought the pot back filled with water and hung it on the stick to boil for tea. When it was boiling he sat it on the ground and threw in a handful of tea. While he was doing this he was thinking about what Kweya had told him. After covering the pot with his bowl he asked him, “How do you know that the Sege will win a victory?”

Kweya laughed such a deep, truly felt laugh that Ohn could not keep himself from smiling.

“I was wondering when you would ask me that. Didn’t I already tell you that I talk to birds?” And with that the old man rolled over on his side and was instantly asleep. Ohn drank his tea and, covering himself with a light blanket, joined him.


Ohn woke to Elly nuzzling his face with her soft muzzle. This delighted him. He reached up and rubbed her forehead. Then he stood and, rubbing his hand through her mane, kissed her on the cheek. She wickered softly and moved off to eat more grass. Kweya was nowhere to be seen but his pack lay beside his sleeping place in the grass still bearing the imprint of his body. The fire was long dead but to be sure Ohn stirred it with


a stick and poured the contents of his and Kweya’s water bottle on the ashes. Then he refilled them from the stream and sat down to wait. Kweya soon appeared out of the brush beside the stream. He was carrying on his back a net bag stuffed with plants. This he set down on the ground along side his pack. He looked at Ohn inquisitively.

“Have you ever gathered plants?”
“Just from the garden.”

“Hmmm. Well, that doesn’t really matter. You can help me. Here.”

He pulled two more net bags from his pack and handed one to Ohn. Ohn followed him along the bank through the brush until they came to a place where the land rose to form a rounded hill. They walked around the hill and began to pick from a great spread of large leaved plants growing close to the ground.

“This is mimric!” said Ohn.

“In Teg,” said Kweya. “Rhubarb in Sege. I know it grows south on the Loona but I didn’t know it grew out west in Teg country.”

“My mother grows it in her garden.”

With their knives they cut off the leaves and tossed the stalks into the net bags. When the bags were filled they walked back to camp. Kweya tied the net bags and the packs onto Elly’s back and they started walking. “Today we’ll go slow because we’ll branch off here and there to gather plants. But if we don’t gather plants then when we get to the village my wife will say ‘Where are the plants?’ and when I say I don’t have any then she’ll give me a long lecture and you also if you are standing near. ‘Useless old man!’ she will say, ‘Wandering around doing whatever he pleases like a ten year old boy! And it’s not bad enough for him to do this himself but he has to corrupt this poor young lad here! Shame on you!’ Actually she won’t really say this but she will think it which is almost as bad. So today we must work very hard and get in the good graces of my wife. After all she is the best cook in the village and you, being a stranger and a ravenous young man, will want to get on her best side.”

And that’s what they did. When the sun was a half circle on the horizon in the west and they stopped to camp, two horses they cut from the herd and bridled were carrying six net bags full of plants each. Ohn was even more exhausted than he was the day before. When the horses were unpacked and sent off to graze Kweya cooked another stew


throwing in some plants they had picked that day. He seasoned it from a bag of dried herbs. After they were finished and Ohn had washed the bowls Kweya said to him,

“When we get to the village Elly will be your horse. She likes you.”

Ohn was so astonished that he said nothing. In the farming country of the Tegs a healthy young horse was worth a half a year’s wages.

When he didn’t reply Kweya said, “Tomorrow we ride hard. It will take us most of the day to reach the village on horseback. My wife would have been happy with only half of the plants we gathered. She will be so delighted that she will cook us a very fine supper. Rhubarb pie perhaps or mimric pie as the Tegs would call it. Let me tell you just the pie alone will be worth all the work we put in today!”

Again Ohn said nothing.

“Don’t worry,” Kweya told him, “You’ll manage to get your mouth open tomorrow to eat that rhubarb pie!” Then he rolled over and went to sleep.


Fils was supervising archery practice when Bird landed in the grass beside the river. A group of young men were taking turns shooting at targets. Fils watched each young man in turn, shouting out a constant stream of instruction, criticism and invective in a bass deep and clear and easily heard at the far side of the long stretch of field. “The bow’s too long. Get a shorter one.” Someone passed the young man a shorter bow. “Back straight! Back straight! Follow through! Follow through! “ Backs straightened, young men crinkled their brows in concentration.

Fils was a short wiry man in his late fifties. He had a large, chunky face which seemed composed of slabs of river mud baked dry by a hot summer. His legs were bandy and his hair snow white. He was dressed in a pair of loose trousers and a shirt composed of


enough material to make two shirts for a man twice his size. The shirt hung down to his knees. The young men joked that if Fils were in the bow of your canoe and the wind was behind there was no need to paddle. He shouted out his instructions with such ferocity that spittle flew from his mouth. He gesticulated. He moaned. He was overcome with the spirit of sarcasm. He leapt into the air while letting out coyote like yipping sounds. He fell on his knees and clutched handfuls of grass as if they were the only thing saving him from being whipped off by a whirlwind of despair. “You see this.” He pointed at his white hair while shouting across the field at a particularly obtuse student, “You did this you little bastard. And if you don’t start hitting that target it’s all going to fall out. Then I’ll have to tell your father so he can beat you like he should have years ago.” He rushed suddenly from his observation post and corrected a powerfully built man’s posture. “All you guys have too many muscles. Muscles are OK for lifting large rocks and wrestling but they are useless when it comes to archery. You’ve got to find the woman in you if you want to shoot well. Watch the women stitching skins! Deft and just enough!” Yet when he noticed Bird perched on a tree stump at the edge of the field he dropped this spirit of correcting outrage just as suddenly as he had picked it up some two hours before. He asked Huan, who was standing beside him, to take over and walked towards Bird. He sat down on the grass beside him.

“Nice to see you Bird.”

“And you Fils. I see you haven’t lost your voice since I last saw you.”

“A little show doesn’t hurt when teaching young men. They bore easily and if you entertain them a bit then they take in things they don’t even realize they are taking in. How’s your wife, Bird?”

“Fine, thanks for asking and yours?”

“Just as crazy as ever. Does your family still live in that roost up north by the big bend?”

“Yes. And did you marry off the last of your daughters?”

Fils was famous for the fact that although he was a General, he had only one wife, a tall woman who in her youth was lithe and willowy but in middle age had put on weight. “Look at her.” he would say to his friends, jabbing a thumb towards his wife in the distance, “Do you think a woman like that would allow another wife into her hogan, especially when she’s got all those allies?” The allies were his daughters. He and his wife had 16. They had no sons. “My daughters are girls obviously,” he would say, “but they


have the hearts of savage warriors. If I unloosed them on the Klegit, that would be the end of them.” Fifteen daughters were married and gone. The youngest were still at home.

“Not yet. I don’t think she likes men. Or then again maybe she doesn’t like the men who are available. I don’t blame her. If I were a woman I wouldn’t marry any of them. A sorry lot, a pack of half witted lummoxes.”

They both looked off to take in the scene surrounding. The warriors were still shooting now under Huan’s direction. The early spring grass was coming up through the dry dead stalks. The sky was a deep mesmerizing blue. Three lazy cumulous clouds were drifting slowly towards the north. They were at the place the Sege called Two Rocks. Here the river narrowed creating a deep fast channel perhaps one hundred yards across. On either side was a gigantic boulder against the shore and almost touching the trees coming down to meet the water. The storytellers claimed they were placed there by Taga, a great warrior hero whose feats of strength and fighting prowess were the subject of many of the Sege legends. Two Rocks was the polite name: The young men of every generation and the older, training warriors such as Fils, referred to them as Taga’s balls.

Bird brought his eyes back from the river. Fils was watching the clouds. Even though it was still early spring, his face was, from its original light brown, burnt to a darker brown, the color of polished walnut. The grooved flesh of his face draped over the craggy bones reminded Bird of certain gnarled growths he had seen on the trunks of old elm trees. His eyes, squinted a little to protect themselves from the rays of the mid day sun, were a rich green, and they shone with great intelligence. This face, thought Bird, was beyond beauty and ugliness; it possessed the splendor of a natural monument.

“I have messages from Ilna.”

Fils laughed. “And here I thought you had just come to chat with an old friend.”

Bird spoke for some time and Fils listened patiently.

When he was finished Fils said, “ We have a war party up there where that marsh comes into the river from the west and further up from that there are scouts and watchers. Still, just to be safe, we’ll send messengers up.”

He gazed at bird for a moment and then turned his head to watch the archers who were finished now and moving away across the field to where the women were cooking lunch.


“Well I suppose now all this practicing and teaching will prove itself worthwhile. At least it might mean that we kill more of them than they do of us. But still it will be delaying actions. Eventually we move or they run over us. But try telling that to these young men. They are convinced that the more Klegit there are then the more chances there are for glory.”

“Perhaps after the first few battles when they see the numbers they will think differently.”

“That’s what will happen bird, no doubt. The question is after how many battles and how many dead.”

Fils reached over and stroked Bird’s head with two fingers. “Thank you Bird. The messengers will be leaving as soon as I get to the cooking fire and tonight I’ll lead up a band of the best archers. We want to be sure we have enough to deal with their forward scouts. The ones you saw may not be the only ones.” Fils stood and held out his right forearm. When Bird alighted on it he began walking towards the fire. “Did you know, Bird, that an archer’s camp, of all the camps possible among the human beings, has the best food?”

“Other than Ilna’s hogan which has Haal as cook and Ilna’s new wife, Zili, as hunter. Now there, Fils, is a powerful combination.”

“Fine then, with the one exception of Ilna’s hogan.” Fils strode briskly across the field to join the group of men already eating.

Fils sent three of the strongest paddlers up river to the men at the marsh. “Tell them no one is to escape. Do you understand? No one. Before attacking there has to be two or three canoes waiting to come on to the river when they pass so none can escape upstream. As well warriors along the bank. If someone escapes we have had it. They have far larger numbers. We are preparing a surprise for them. If it remains a surprise we have a chance. Otherwise we are finished. They will cut us to pieces, roll over us like a thunderstorm. Do you understand?”

The young men grunted. Fils looked at them in disgust. “Are you bears or are you human beings? Galna, tell me what I just told you.”


“We can’t let any one get away,” said Galna.

Fils gave him a long, significant stare but Galna was finished. He waited for a few moments but Galna remained silent.

“And how is this to be accomplished, Galna?” asked Fils.

“Canoes on the river behind.”


“Make sure they don’t get away.”

Fils looked at him for a long time. He made as if to say something but then stopped himself. Galna was the brightest of the three. He called for the young man who did his writing and dictated a message to Miga, the leader at the marsh. When it was read back to him he nodded and handed the message to Galna.

“This is for Miga. If all of you die to get it to him, it must be done. If it isn’t then your sisters and mothers will pay for it.”

Galna put the message in his pouch, The three men climbed into their canoe and pushed off.

Fils turned to the young man beside him, a huge man close to three times the weight of Fils and a foot and a half taller. Ilna’s son by his first wife, he acted as the leader of Fils personal warband. It was helpful that he was Ilna’s son but Fils would not have chosen him for that reason alone. He was young but he commanded great respect among the warriors. He was fair. He didn’t play favorites. He was willing to listen and convince rather than intimidate and he was gifted with a very bright mind. In battle he was worth twenty men – fierce, huge, courageous and implacable. And he knew what a battle plan
was. He knew that personal courage was useless if it was simply thrown about helter skelter like a raging animal.

“Swi, I will lead the warband up right after supper. Tell them to get ready. Bows. Twenty arrows a piece. Spears. They can carry their own pemmican. Light, we want to be light and quick.”

Swi nodded and went off towards a group of warriors on the other side of the field. Fils walked down to the riverbank where a group of men were working. A skinny middle


aged man with a scarred face came towards him. When Fils came up to him he pointed to the bank where four men were digging a hole.

“The one on the other side is ready; this one, maybe by tomorrow morning. Did you hear anymore about the chain?”

“Just what you already know. When the Teg trader came through a week ago he told me that traders come up from the south brought him a message that it would be here in a week. I’m expecting it any day now.”

“I hope that young man didn’t run into those Klegits up river.”

“Everybody tried to warn him but he was determined to go.”

“Tegs are adventurous. They like taking their chances.”

“Let’s hope he sees them before they see him. Ilna gave him quite a talking to.”

They walked to the river where the warriors were digging the hole. They watched for a few minutes and then the skinny man, Glea, said,

“It has to be about eight feet. Then we put in the rope tied to a platform of oak and fill it with rocks. The men over there are building the piers. I’m sure it will work. It worked when I saw the Horse People do it down south years ago. Still it would be nice to get it all set up and try it. “

“We should have time. And if we don’t we’ll have to make time. Can you use more people?”

“I can. We still haven’t got enough split planks. The canoes behind the chain should have outriggers to make them more stable. If we had enough people we could even make a continuous oak wall. And we need rocks, lots of rocks to hold the anchor braces.”

“I’ll send a message to Ilna. Most of the warriors remaining in the village will be here in a week. I’ll see if Ilna can send them earlier along with some of the young women. Lo
is bringing a band of young women to supply arrows and food and Zuzy and her healers will be coming. My God when she gets here those Klegit had better hope they don’t break through and run into Zuzy!”

Glea laughed. “I’d rather take on Swi and Ilna at the same time.”


One of the diggers asked Glea a question and he went over closer to the hole to talk to him. Fils waited until he came back.

“I’m going up river tonight. You’ll have to take over here. Huan will run things with the warriors so you don’t have to worry about that. You can just continue with your work. But if anything happens before I get back I want you to act as leader. I told Huan. I want you to eat with him at supper and listen to the scout reports. He’s smart but he hasn’t done this before. OK?”


“And I sent a messenger south an hour ago to see if he can find out about the chain. Ilna already paid for it, didn’t he? “

“Pemmican. That young Teg sent it east for iron and when it arrived he traded it to the Osni for horses. Then Ilna decided he wanted the horses. The young fellow makes money when the door swings outward and when it swings inward as well.”
“How did Ilna pay for the horses?”
“ Gold.”


“Rechyai gold they say. A scouting party out east killed a band of Rechyai and they were carrying the gold.”

“Where I wonder?”
“Nobody knows and the Rechyai aren’t talking because they are dead.”
“Hmmmm. I’ll see you when I get back.”

“Good luck!”

Glea turned back to speak to his diggers and Fils went off to have an early supper before leaving to go up river.



Fils was supervising archery practice when Bird landed in the grass beside the river. A group of young men were taking turns shooting at targets. Fils watched each young man in turn, shouting out a constant stream of instruction, criticism and invective in a bass deep and clear and easily heard at the far side of the long stretch of field. “The bow’s too long. Get a shorter one.” Someone passed the young man a shorter bow. “Back straight! Back straight! Follow through! Follow through! “ Backs straightened, young men crinkled their brows in concentration.

Fils was a short wiry man in his late fifties. He had a large, chunky face which seemed composed of slabs of river mud baked dry on the bank in late summer. His legs were bandy and his hair snow white. He was dressed in a pair of loose trousers and a shirt composed of enough material to make two shirts for a man twice his size. The shirt hung down to his knees. The young men joked that if Fils were in the bow of your canoe and the wind was behind there was no need to paddle. He shouted out his instructions with such ferocity that spittle flew from his mouth. He gesticulated. He moaned. He was overcome with the spirit of sarcasm. He leapt into the air while letting out coyote like yipping sounds. He fell on his knees and clutched handfuls of grass as if they were the only thing saving him from being whipped off by a whirlwind of despair. “You see this.” He pointed at his white hair while shouting across the field at a particularly obtuse student, “You did this you little bastard. And if you don’t start hitting that target it’s all going to fall out. Then I’ll have to tell your father so he can beat you like he should have years ago.” He rushed suddenly from his observation post and corrected a powerfully built man’s posture. “All you guys have too many muscles. Muscles are OK for lifting large rocks and wrestling but they are useless when it comes to archery. You’ve got to find the woman in you if you want to shoot well. Watch the women stitching skins! Deft and just enough!” Yet when he noticed Bird perched on a tree stump at the edge of the field he dropped this spirit of correcting outrage just as suddenly as he had picked it up some two hours before. He asked Huan, who was standing beside him, to take over and walked towards Bird. He sat down on the grass beside him.

“Nice to see you Bird.”

“And you Fils. I see you haven’t lost your voice since I last saw you.”

“A little show doesn’t hurt when teaching young men. They bore easily and if you entertain them a bit then they take in things they don’t even realize they are taking in. How’s your wife, Bird?”

“Fine, thanks for asking and yours?”


“Just as crazy as ever. Does your family still live in that roost up north by the big bend?”

“Yes. And did you marry off the last of your daughters?”

Fils was famous for the fact that although he was a General he had only one wife, a tall woman who in her youth was lithe and willowy but in middle age had put on weight. “Look at her.” he would say to his friends, jabbing a thumb towards his wife in the distance, “Do you think a woman like that would allow another wife into her hogan, especially when she’s got all those allies?” The allies were his daughters. He and his wife had 16. They had no sons. “My daughters are girls obviously,” he would say, “but they have the hearts of savage warriors. If I unloosed them on the Klegit, that would be the end of them.” Fifteen daughters were married and gone. The youngest were still at home.

“Not yet. I don’t think she likes men. Or then again maybe she doesn’t like the men who are available. I don’t blame her. If I were a woman I wouldn’t marry any of them. A sorry lot, a pack of half witted lummoxes.”

They both looked off to take in the scene surrounding. The warriors were still shooting now under Huan’s direction. The early spring grass was coming up through the dry dead stalks. The sky was a deep mesmerizing blue. Three lazy cumulous clouds were drifting slowly towards the north. They were at the place the Sege called Two Rocks. Here the river narrowed creating a deep fast channel perhaps one hundred yards across. On either side was a gigantic boulder against the shore and almost touching the trees coming down to meet the water. The storytellers claimed they were placed there by Taga, a great warrior hero whose feats of strength and fighting prowess were the subject of many of the Sege legends. Two Rocks was the polite name: The young men of every generation and the older, training warriors such as Fils, referred to them as Taga’s balls.

Bird brought his eyes back from the river. Fils was watching the clouds. Even though it was still early spring, his face was, from its original light brown, burnt to a darker brown, the colour of polished walnut. The grooved flesh of his face draped over the craggy bones reminded Bird of certain gnarled boles he had seen on the trunks of old elm trees. His eyes, squinted a little to protect themselves from the rays of the mid day sun, were a rich green, and they shone with great intelligence. This face, thought Bird, was beyond beauty and ugliness; it possessed the splendor of a natural monument.

“I have messages from Ilna.”

Fils laughed. “And here I thought you had just come to chat with an old friend.”

Bird spoke for some time and Fils listened patiently.


When he was finished Fils said, “ We have a war party up there where that marsh comes into the river from the west and further up from that there are scouts and watchers. Still, just to be safe, we’ll send messengers up.” He gazed at bird for a moment and then turned his head to watch the archers who were finished now and moving away across the field to where the women were cooking lunch.

“Well I suppose now all this practicing and teaching will prove itself worthwhile. At least it might mean that we kill more of them than they do of us. But still it will be delaying actions. Eventually we move or they run over us. But try telling that to these young men. They are convinced that the more Klegit there are then the more chance there is for glory.”

“Perhaps after the first few battles when they see the numbers they will think differently.”

“That’s what will happen bird, no doubt. The question is after how many battles and how many dead.”

Fils reached over and stroked Bird’s head with two fingers. “Thank you Bird. The messengers will be leaving as soon as I get to the cooking fire and tonight I’ll lead up a band of the best archers. We want to be sure we have enough to deal with their forward scouts. The ones you saw may not be the only ones.” Fils stood and held out his right forearm. When Bird alighted on it he began walking towards the fire. “Did you know, Bird, that an archer’s camp, of all the camps possible among the human beings, has the best food?”

“Other than Ilna’s hogan which has Haal as cook and Ilna’s new wife, Zili, as hunter. Now there, Fils, is a powerful combination.”

“Fine then, with the one exception of Ilna’s hogan.” Fils strode briskly across the field to join the group of men already eating.


Fils sent three of the strongest paddlers up river to the men at the marsh. “Tell them no


one is to escape. Do you understand? No one. Before attacking there has to be two or three canoes waiting to come on to the river when they pass so none can escape upstream. As well warriors along the bank. If someone escapes we have had it. They have far larger numbers. We are preparing a surprise for them. If it remains a surprise we have a chance. Otherwise we are finished. They will cut us to pieces, roll over us like a thunderstorm. Do you understand?”

The young men grunted. Fils looked at them in disgust. “Are you bears or are you human beings? Galna, tell me what I just told you.”

“We can’t let any one get away.” Fils looked at him but Galna was finished. He waited for a few moments but Galna said nothing, “And how is this to be accomplished, Galna?”

“Canoes on the river behind.”


“Make sure they don’t get away.”

Fils looked at him for a long time. He made as if to say something but then stopped himself. Galna was the brightest of the three. He called for the young man who did his writing and dictated a message to Miga, the leader at the marsh. When it was read back to him he nodded and handed the message to Galna.

“This is for Miga. If all of you die to get it to him, it must be done. If it isn’t then your sisters and mothers will pay for it.”

Galna put the message in his pouch, The three men climbed into their canoe and pushed off.

Fils turned to the young man beside him, a huge man close to three times the weight of Fils and a foot and a half taller. Ilna’s son by his first wife, he acted as the leader of Fils personal warband. It was helpful that he was Ilna’s son but Fils would not have chosen him for that reason alone. He was young but he commanded great respect among the warriors. He was fair. He didn’t play favorites. He was willing to listen and convince rather than intimidate and he was gifted with a very bright mind. In battle he was worth twenty men – fierce, huge, courageous and implacable. And he knew what a battle plan
was. He knew that personal courage was useless if it was simply thrown about helter skelter like a raging animal.


“Swi, I will lead the warband up right after supper. Tell them to get ready. Bows. Twenty arrows a piece. Spears. They can carry their own pemmican. Light, we want to be light and quick.”
Swi nodded and went off towards a group of warriors on the other side of the field. Fils walked down to the riverbank where a group of men were working. A skinny middle aged man with a scarred face came towards him. When Fils came up to him he pointed to the bank where four men were digging a hole.

“The one on the other side is ready; this one, maybe by tommorow morning. Did you hear anymore about the chain?”

“Just what you already know. When the Teg trader came through a week ago he told me that traders come up from the south brought him a message that it would be here in a week. I’m expecting it any day now.”

“I hope that young man didn’t run into those Klegits up river.”

“Everybody tried to warn him but he was determined to go.”

“Tegs are adventurous. They like taking their chances.”

“Let’s hope he sees them before they see him. Ilna gave him quite a talking to.”

They walked to the river where the warriors were digging the hole. They watched for a few minutes and then the skinny man, Glea, said,

“It has to be about eight feet. Then we put in the rope tied to a platform of oak and fill it with rocks. The men over there are building the piers. I’m sure it will work. It worked when I saw the Horse People do it down south years ago. Still it would be nice to get it all set up and try it. “

“We should have time. And if we don’t we’ll have to make time. Can you use more people?”

“I can. We still haven’t got enough split planks. The canoes behind the chain should have outriggers to make them more stable. If we had enough people we could even make a continuous oak wall. And we need rocks, lots of rocks to help hold the piers.”

“I’ll send a message to Ilna. Most of the warriors remaining in the village will be here in a week. I’ll see if Ilna can send them earlier along with some of the young women. Lo


is bringing a band of young women to supply arrows and food and Zuzy and her healers will be coming. My God when she gets here those Klegit had better hope they don’t break through and run into Zuzy!”

Glea laughed. “I’d rather take on Swi and Ilna at the same time.”

One of the diggers asked Glea a question and he went over closer to the hole to talk to him. Fils waited until he came back.

“I’m going up river tonight. You’ll have to take over here. Huan will run things with the warriors so you don’t have to worry about that. You can just continue with your work. But if anything happens before I get back I want you to act as leader. I told Huan. I want you to eat with him at supper and listen to the scout reports. He’s smart but he hasn’t done this before. OK?”


“And I sent a messenger south an hour ago to see if he can find out about the chain. Ilna already paid for it, didn’t he? “

“Pemmican. That young Teg sent it east for iron and when it arrived he traded it to the Osni for horses. Then Ilna decided he wanted the horses. The young fellow makes money when the door swings outward and when it swings inward as well.”
“How did Ilna pay for the horses?”
“ Gold.”


“Rechyai gold they say. A scouting party out east killed a band of Rechyai and they were carrying the gold.”

“Where I wonder?”
“Nobody knows and the Rechyai aren’t talking because they are dead.”
“Hmmmm. I’ll see you when I get back.”

“Good luck!”


Glea turned back to speak to his diggers and Fils went off to have an early supper before leaving to go up river.


Ohn lay on a bearskin rug near the fire where the old woman had placed him. He felt terrible. He had a headache like slow thunder rolling from the base of his neck up into his brain where it spread out and crashed in waves against his throbbing skull. His stomach ached. His chest and back and legs were badly sunburned. The skin was peeling and there were blisters. It itched horribly and it took him a great exercise of the will not to scratch. He was naked and there were perhaps twenty women across the yard drying meat and fish over a fire. He had been brought up to cover himself always even before his siblings. But now he was too racked with pain and too miserable to care.

Kweya had warned him. “The sun up here in spring is warmer than you think.” But Ohn took his shirt and leggings off and kept them off for the whole last day of riding. When they reached the village he grew nauseous and threw up his supper. He fainted and when he woke up he was laying on the bear rug. An old woman was pouring cool water over his chest.

He thought he could feel the eyes of the women at the drying fire examining him but he could have been imagining things. He was on his back looking up at the sky illumined by the full moon and a few stars strong enough to pierce through its crepuscular sheen of milky light. The women were indeed examining him for they were curious to see if the thatch of bright red hair on the top of his head was matched by a thatch of the same color below. It was and after some elbowing and tittering they went back to cutting strips of meat and tending the fires. Two young girls carrying a bucket each of dead bull frogs stopped and asked him why he was lying there. He told them. They bent over his chest


and examined the peeling skin and blisters closely until one of them reached out and gave his penis a vigorous pinch. He sat up and struck out at her but she was already running and soon disappeared into the crowd of women. He would have liked to send all the Teg curse words he could think of after her but he was in a strange place surrounded by strange people, all of them women. He lay back down on his bearskin obedient to the instructions of the old woman.

Most of the blisters had burst but not all. When the old woman came back she pricked them with a sharp needle which hurt a little but not as much as he thought it would when he first saw the needle. He made no sound. Among the Teg it was considered a weakness to cry out when in pain although this was a rule often broken. His mother said it came from the warrior past. When the blisters were pierced the old woman washed him all over his front with a cloth drawn from a basin of cool water scented with herbs. He could smell mint and lemon. Finished the front she told him to roll over and she washed his shoulders and back and the back of his legs. He was grateful that she skipped his genitals for the place where the girl had pinched was beginning to sting. Girls, he noticed, liked to pretend they were peaceful and loving but in truth they were quite violent. When she finished washing his back she spread a deliciously cooling sticky mixture over all the burnt parts. She waited a few moments and washed it off and applied a musky smelling salve. Then she told him to turn over and did the same on his front. She applied the salve very carefully and sparingly, murmuring a kind of tuneless chant while she worked. It seemed to Ohn, admittedly a neophyte in the language of the Sege, that the words of her chant were different than the words of the every day language. They were harsher and filled with consonants. Perhaps it was a chant from an old language still used by shaman and healers. Salve spread, the old woman covered the container with a piece of soft rabbit skin tying it in place with a leather thong. She placed it in the basket beside her and sat back on her haunches.

“My name is Zuzy. Say it.”


“Good. They say a patient should speak aloud the name of his healer although I’ve never noticed that it made much difference. Still, it’s good sometimes to follow the old forms.” Having said this Zuzy smiled showing a set of even, white, perfectly formed teeth. Ohn was astonished for most of the old women of the Sedge had no teeth at all. Zuzy noticed his surprise.

“It’s because I look after them and I eat vegetables,” she said.


“Ah!” said Oolon.

“The people around here don’t eat many vegetables. Meat maniacs is what they are. I collect from the woods and also I have a garden. Some of the plants in my garden are for healing, some for eating. There are very few of us who grow gardens. Just a few old women like myself. Everyone, especially the young men, make fun of us but I notice that when a vegetable stew, perhaps with a little rabbit added, is cooking in my pot this does not stop them from coming around with tongues hanging out asking for a bowl or two. I make them promise me a basketful of horse manure for the garden before I give them any. Only the odd one keeps his promise, but what can you do? I hear they grow gardens where you come from.”


“In some places children work the garden. Did you when you were little?”

“Yes. My aunt and father did the planting but we children weeded and went out to collect things for supper. In the fall we dug up the root vegetables and helped to store them in the root cellar.”

“I’ve heard of root cellars. Was it dug into a hill?”

“Where there is a hill. In our case they built the log structure and then covered it with dirt. There wasn’t a hill close enough.”

“What plants did you grow in the garden?

“Turnips, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, corn.”

“Strange names.”

“Teg names. I don’t know the names in Sege.”

“Later you can come look at my garden. It’s still early but some things are up.”

“I would like that.”

“Did you grow trees with fruit?”

“Yes, we had a big orchard. Apples mostly but pears and plums too.”


“I recognize the word apple. I ate some a long time ago down south on the Loona when I was traveling with my old hermit. Excepting that he wasn’t old then for we were both in our twenties so I guess I should say young hermit. We came to a village where they fed us apples. They were yellow and red and very delicious. When we went on we took a basket with us in the canoe.”


“Kweya. He’s my husband but he spends a lot of time up in the woods by himself. Not just because he’s old either. He did that when he was young too.”

“He is a shaman?”

“Yes. But if you ask him he’ll say he stopped being a shaman years ago and now he’s the boogie man or the death reminder or some such name as that.”

Ohn laughed but it hurt the skin on his chest and stomach so much he stopped abruptly.

Zuzy stood. She picked up her bucket with one hand, basket with the other. “You will have to stay here for a while; two days anyhow, maybe more. Do not go down to wash in the river. You can wash here with the rainwater I collect in buckets. Too many people shit and piss in the river. While canoeing the men are too lazy to pull into the bank and shit in the woods. They stick their backsides out of the canoe and let go when the need takes them. After washing I will put on fresh salve. No warrioring for a week or two. You can help me in the garden if you like or perhaps Kweya has something for you to do. Don’t work too hard. If the burns hurt, rest. Are you sad about not being able to fight?”

“I’m afraid I’m not much of a fighter. If I have to I will but I’m more of a trader and gardener.”

Zuzy turned her head and shouted towards the Hogan behind her. “Yaah! Yaah!” She turned back to Oolon. “I sent her ages ago to mix the sleeping draught.” She turned toward the Hogan again. “Yaah! Hurry Up!”

A young girl came out of the Hogan carrying a cup. She walked with a seeming reluctance to where Ohn was lying and held out the cup. It was the girl who pinched him. He sat up. She handed him the cup and he drank it down in one gulp. It left a horrible taste in his mouth. When he handed the cup back to her she refused to look him in the eye. But Ohn looked at her full in the face in what he thought would be a prelude to whispering something nasty to her. He didn’t want to say anything Zuzy could hear for he


was not old enough to have left the cabal of the young and although walking to the hogan with her back to him Zuzy was still close. But when he looked at the girl with the intensity which his anger and weakness gave him he saw that she was incredibly beautiful and her beauty completely disarmed him. He handed back the cup without saying a word. She took it, turned on her heel and walked away.

Ohn woke the next morning shaded by a structure of poplar poles and stretched deer skin. The sun was quarter high and around him was the hustle and bustle of the women working. Zuzy noticed he was awake and came over.

“Do you still have a headache?”


“And the burns?”

“They hurt a bit and itch but they are much better.”

“Good. Yaah will soon bring you something to eat, so just lay back and wait.”

He did as he was told and shortly Yaah came carrying a bowl of sweet stew. He sat up. Yaah handed him the bowl and sat on the ground nearby. He was ravenous but forced himself to eat slowly and neatly. He didn’t want the young girl to think him a savage barbarian. When he was finished Yaah took the bowl away and returned with two buckets of water. Over her shoulder was slung a large leather pouch. She wet a cloth from one of the buckets and washed his front, very delicately on the burned areas. Then, without her asking he turned over and she did the back. She poured the second bucket over him, back and front and dried him with a clean cloth. From the pouch she pulled a container of the same salve Zuzy put on him the night before, and, like Zuzy, put a very thin coating over the burns. They didn’t speak to one another or look into one another’s faces. When she turned her back to leave Ohn watched her walk across the yard and enter the Hogan.

He stayed outside in his improvised shelter for another night. Zuzy’s yard was a very large area at the west end of the village, surrounded by a rough fence of poplar poles and containing twenty or more hogans. Some, the smaller ones, were for sleeping and others held large leather bags of pemmican, dried meat, and dried berries and vegetables. There were baskets holding things like rope and hatchet heads. The inhabitants of the compound were, other than Kweya, who appeared late at night to sleep in a hogan at the far western


edge of the compound, all women. From what Ohn could make out of their conversations they were mostly Zuzy’s grandchildren and great grandchildren. During the day a number of older women came to work. They worked from early in the morning until late at night, cleaning and stretching hides, smoking meat, pounding pemmican. All the while they worked they talked; sometimes they sang and they laughed. Zuzy and another old woman supervised a host of younger women who did the cooking. There was always a pot of stew on the fire and someone always seemed to be adding something to it. In one corner of the compound there was a clay oven. Once a day two of the young women fired this. When it was ready Zuzy and five or six of the young women filled it with loaves of bread. They sealed the door by shoveling sand up against a piece of rusty metal.
The compound at times was over run by children. Some of these belonged to the young women who worked there but others seemed to be attracted by the food and activity. They were fascinated by Ohn. No one among their people or the people surrounding had red hair and light skin. They asked if they could touch his hair. He let them. He also let them touch the unburnt parts of his skin. They were impressed. When they became bothersome and he was supposed to rest (according to to Zuzy’s orders) Yaah would suddenly appear with a green switch and chase them away. This they saw as great fun and she would have to lash out at them vigorously to make them go. Occasionally the whole compound would become so full of children you could hardly move. Then Zuzy would open the gate leading east into the main part of the village and drive them through it as if they were a herd of cattle.

Besides the children there was also a group of young men who came to flirt with Zuzy’s young women. During the day there were a few but at night this would grow to quite a crowd. Mostly Zuzy put them to work and if arguments arose she would solve them by joking and joshing and ordering everyone about. If this didn’t work and Kweya was present (he spent a lot of time in the afternoon meeting with people in his hogan) she would call on him. When Kweya appeared the young men would melt away like spring snow. He was a shaman and they were terrified of the anger of a shaman. From the snatches of conversation Ohn could pick up from his bed they were convinced he would turn them into an insect or with one look infect them with a flesh rotting disease. Ohn wondered why so many young men were in the village when there was fighting north on the river. Yaah told him (they began speaking the second time she treated his burns) it was because the Sege never committed all their young men in one battle. Ilna wouldn’t let all the young men go north. They were not happy with this and sometimes it put them in a testy mood.

But Kweya seemed to be doing something about this. On the third morning, as the sun was lifting itself above the eastern trees a group of about forty young men gathered at the


gate and Kweya went out to meet them. During the night Kweya led in some of the horses he had left grazing on the grasslands and put them in a corral some of the young men construct the day before. The horses, one by one, were led out of the corral and packed with bags of pemmican and bundles of hides. When they were all packed and tied by their halters to the corral fence, an old man appeared and supervised the parceling out of the riding horses. There were some arguments but his authority was sufficient to settle them and soon, in a long train, with the older man at the head, they rode off east towards the grasslands. The next time Yaah washed and salved his burns Ohn asked her,

“Where are they going?”

“Southwest about twelve days by horse. They are building a new village there.”

“Do you mean that they’ll leave this one?”

“Oh that’s not settled at all yet. But Zuzy and Kweya say it’s inevitable and things have to be made ready or there will be great suffering and starvation.”

“How did Kweya convince them to go away from the fighting?”
“He told them in the future young men who are not masters of horse riding will be useless as warriors and a good way to master horse riding is to go on a long trip. He also claimed his shaman’s knowledge told him there would be no fighting until they returned.”

“Your great grandpa is very cagey.”

“Yes he is.”

After four nights in his improvised shelter Zuzy found Ohn a spot in one of the storage hogans. She and Yaah piled some of the pemmican bags on top of others and created a space where he could move around and sleep. As it grew dark that night and Ohn was drifting off to sleep the flap of the Hogan opened and Yaah came in carrying her sleeping roll. She undid the tie and spread it out upon the ground as far away from him as possible. He sat up and looked at her but said nothing. When she was settled down in the bag she turned her head towards him and said,


“It’s not good for a sick person to sleep by themselves.” Then she rolled over and went to sleep.

Early next morning When Oolon woke Yaah was gone. A few minutes later she came through the flap and said,

“Great grandma says you are to come with me this morning.”

He got up and followed her out of the hogan. It was very early. The disc of the sun was not yet visible above the eastern trees. Yaah was holding the halter of an old mare who had two large baskets tied onto her back. The women had already started their smoking fires and were cutting meat from a skinned deer suspended from a poplar pole tripod. Some of them waved and Ohn waved back. Yaah handed him a piece of pemmican and he ate it as they made their way through the gate and started down the trail leading east through the trees. After walking for an hour they came to a large marsh and Yaah took the baskets and halter off the horse so she could graze.

“Oozie won’t go far and when we want her if we call she will come right away,” said Yaah and handing him a knife and a small basket, she gave him a long talk on how to gather snakes and frogs; the best way to kill them; the best places to find them and so on. When she was finished she asked if he had questions but since he was so profoundly ignorant in the matter of gathering snakes and frogs he could think of none. They separated, agreeing to meet back in the same spot when the sun was mid morning high. Yaah waded boldly into the marsh and started off to the north along its shore. Ohn watched her go and then started off himself along the shore heading south.

When they met back at the agreed spot Ohn’s basket contained two dead snakes and a bull frog. Yaah’s was full, in fact brimming over. They sat on two rocks a little out in the water and gutted and cleaned the creatures, emptied them into one of the big baskets and went off once again. By mid afternoon they, mostly Yaah, had filled one of the big baskets and Ohn was beginning to dread the marsh slogging required to fill the other, but carrying the empty basket Yaah led him along the shore until they came to a section of wet ground filled with tall bulrushes. They cut off the seedpods and piled the stalks off to one side. After an hour’s work Yaah decided that they had enough and, putting a finger into each side of her mouth let out a long, high pitched whistle. Soon Oozie appeared and ambled in her easygoing way over to where they were standing. They tied the full basket


onto her and, having secured with a rope the remaining gigantic bundle, they tied it on top of the basket. When they returned to their original spot they tied the basket full of flesh onto the other side and headed back up the trail they had come by. Yaah was happy.

“That’s a lot to get in a single day. Great grandma will be delighted.”

“I’m not very good at catching frogs and snakes.”

“You did fine for your first time. You’ll get better.”

When they arrived at the compound Zuzy was indeed delighted. She and some of the other women unpacked Oozie while loading praise onto the shoulders of the gatherers. Yaah led Oozie back to the corral. Ohn followed. When she closed the gate and hung Oozie’s halter over the fence she said.

“I have some medicine mixing to do but I can’t start it until Kweya comes. We could go down to the river and swim if you like. Can you swim?”

“Yes. We had a small lake on our farm and my mother was terrified we would drown. So she taught us to swim when we were very little.”

They walked along the southern edge of the village until they came upon a trail leading through the brush along the riverbank. They walked the trail for some time until they came to a pool crearted by a collapse in the riverbank and towered over by a run of enormous cottonwoods. Here someone had made a log pier stretching twenty feet out into the water. Yaah walked to the end, removed the hide shift she was wearing, dropped it on to the pier in one easy movement, and dove in, barely creating a ripple on the surface of the water. Ohn took off his shirt and trousers and did the same, only his dive was more of a belly flop. This hurt the tender skin on his chest and stomach but he stifled the urge to let out a cry. The water was cool and invigorating and they swam about, crossing and recrossing the pool. Yaah swam beautifully with the fluid, seemingly effortless movements of an otter. Ohn was essentially a dog paddler and it wasn’t long before he was tired. He paddled to shore and sat in the mud with the water up to his chin. Yaah swam for some time more and then came over to join him. She sat beside him in the mud but not so close as to make him uncomfortable. They looked out across the river, the late afternoon sun shining on its surface creating an incredible display of iridescence. After a considerable time of watching in silence, Yaah said,


“I’ve been thinking about you.”


“Yes,” said Yaah, ignoring his distant tone. “And this is what I have been thinking. I want a man and I think you would be a good one to have.”

Ohn didn’t answer. After waiting for a few moments Yaah asked.

“Did you hear me? Do you have water in your ears?”

“I hear you.”

“Well then, don’t you have anything to say? Or perhaps where you come from in a conversation one person talks and the other remains silent.” After saying this Yaah laughed, a light, musical laugh which seemed to Ohn akin to the light display shimmering on the surface of the river.

“Don’t you think it would be better to wait?”

“For what? Old age?”

“Well, not for old age but for some time to pass by.”


Ohn thought about this for a few moments refusing to look at her even though he could feel her eyes crossing and recrossing the surfaces of his own face. Finally he said,

“I don’t really know why.”

“I do,” said Yaah.

Ohn turned to look at her. She was watching him very steadily without the slightest trace of mockery in her eye.

“Why then?”

“You are afraid.”


“Afraid of what?”

“You know, doing it.”

“That’s not true.”

“Have you done it before?”


“Are you sure?”


“With someone here?”

“No, back home.”

“Did you like it?”


“Well, why don’t you want to do it again then?”

“Who said I didn’t want to do it?”

“You did.”

“No I didn’t”
“You said we should wait.”

“Not the same thing.”

“To me it is.”

Ohn thought about this for some time. Yaah looked out across the river. When he was finished his thoughts he said,


“I suppose you are right. I’m afraid. I’m in a strange place and there are so many things that go on with the Sege that I don’t understand. But I do want a woman and you seem to me to be a good one to have. Do people here stay together for a long time?”

“Some do. I’m the kind who stays together for a long time.”

“So am I.”


Yaah reached out under the water, found his hand and held it in her own.

“Yaah, I’m probably not very good at it.”

“Do you pull yourself?”

“Of course.”

“Are you good at that?”


Yaah laughed. “Then you’ll be good at doing it with me.”

She sat on his lap reaching down to guide his penis into her as she settled onto him. He was fully aroused and so was she. She reached her hand behind his head and guided his lips to her nipple. He gave out a groan and sucked greedily. At first tentatively but then vigorously and surely as they let their bodies take over, they worked their way toward their first orgasm together. After they climbed out of the water and did it again, with him on top, on the grassy riverbank.

They washed themselves in the river and retook the trail leading to the village. As they were about to break out of the trees on to the field leading to the village, Ohn said,
“I suppose we could do it again this evening after dark.”

“Of course!” Yaah replied



When Fils arrived at the marsh he found the camp in a state of great excitement. Warriors were rushing about gathering weapons, captains shouting out names, women jamming packs with pemmican and dried meat and a group of young girls were loading a canoe with war gear while arguing about paddles. Miga was sitting on a rock close to the water giving orders to the men who rushed up to him and then rushed away. His war gear was beside him at his feet.

That morning scouts had come back to camp saying that it looked like the Klegit scouts might camp at the big field ten miles up river. A single Klegit canoe had reconnoitered it and then paddled back to join the main body. Miga was beside himself with joy. He leaped about like a young fawn and chased a terrified little boy across the camp to calm himself down. After straight facedly receiving an indignant lecture from the little boy’s mother he shouted for his captains and gathered them together at his hogan. Everyone agreed that the field would be the ideal place to attack the Klegit. There were smiles all around; they couldn’t believe their luck. Two hours later when more scouts came in saying the Klegit had indeed landed at the field and were setting up camp, Miga swung into high gear. With the captains around he drew a battle plan in the dirt with a stick, and they argued and shouted and hammered away at one another until they had a plan everyone could agree on. Places were assigned. Signals were agreed upon. “A semi circle from bank and around back to bank,” said Miga, “at first a ways out in the woods and thus thinned out. Then slowly, quietly closing until we are at the edge of the field. At first light our center will drive a wedge right down to the river splitting them in two. The wedge will then turn and spread out and the net will close quickly, at a full run, like lightening. But together, no gaps. Fils says it will be a disaster if someone escapes.”

“And the canoes?” asked one of the captains.

“Those girls will look after that,” Miga said motioning with his thumb to the group of young women eating lunch at the edge of the marsh.

“Girls?” asked the captain sarcastically.

Miga looked at him for a few moments before he replied. “Fils sent them up. It was Lo’s idea. She says that they are the best swimmers in the village and Fils agrees. If you want to argue with someone then you’ll have to argue with them. As for me I think they’ll do the job just fine.”

The captain shrugged.


To get up river in time they would have to leave quickly. When Fils arrived ten canoes were waiting to leave. There was a bend in the river two miles down from the field where they would rendezvous. Four hours before dawn there would be a waxing moon. Miga wanted them spread out in formation before it rose. Then they would use its light to close in slowly and silently. “Klegits aren’t stupid and they now have experience fighting the Rechyai,” Miga said. “They won’t die easily. This will be no picnic.”

When Fils came up to him Miga got to his feet and wrapped his big arms around the old man.

“Never in my whole life have I been so glad to see someone!” he shouted.

When the big man let him go, Fils smiled at him affectionately. “I heard from the scouts on the riverbank. This is wonderful luck.”

Then they sat down in the dirt and Miga redrew his battle plan and explained it to Fils. The captains who had been spread out organizing their bands, drifted back in to watch. Miga made as if to send them away but Fils stopped him. “No. If they agree not to make stupid interruptions then let them stay. It’s important everyone has their say and everyone knows the whole plan. And we love serious, well thought out objections. Those who make non serious objections will receive a hug from Miga which is like being war clubbed by a Klegit, only it doesn’t last as long.” Everybody laughed.

Fils listened very carefully to Miga’s plan. He was impressed by how sometimes one of the captains would jump in to add some detail. When they were finished Fils looked at the ground for a long time. When his silence started to become uncomfortable he looked up and smiled.

“No one could conceive a better plan than this. I’m very glad that some of my old students have become such excellent strategists. It makes me think I have not wasted all those years of shouting into people’s ears, giving myself a hoarse throat. But it would not be right to hold back from you my full mind on this matter. To do so would be to see you as less than myself and this obviously is not so.”

Miga twisted up his face in pain. He made a ferocious face for a moment and then he sighed. He asked Fils in a low voice, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing as far as the plan goes. It is brilliant and only an intelligent leader and wise captains could have come up with it. I myself would be proud to be the owner of such a


plan were it not for something which was left out of its conception; something important which in our situation must be included in all plans.”

No one said anything for a few moments. The captains looked at their feet. Miga looked into Fils’ sad, wrinkled face. Finally he said, “Too many will die.”

“Yes,” said Fils.

Miga looked at the sky. It was a beautiful clear crystal blue like you get some times when spring begins to flirt with early summer. Too bad Fils wasn’t a Klegit he thought. Then he could just kill him and not have to deal with such a painful and what was worst, solid and well based correction. He brought his eyes down to the old man’s face. “You are right. We can’t throw away warriors. We’ll redo but we have to do it fast.”

“I have to go talk to my daughter,” said Fils and he rose and walked across the camp to the group of girls eating lunch.

When Miga and his captains finished he found the old man sitting among the young women cracking jokes. He explained the changes and Fils thanked and congratulated him. Fils pulled him aside and said in a low voice into his ear, “This is not just for you and me. This is for everyone.”

“I know,” said Miga and he put his hand on Fils’ right shoulder, “I know.”


The six young women landed two miles below the Klegit camp on the opposite bank of the river. They carried the canoe well up into the trees and continued on some way until they came to a trail running north, parallel to the river. It was very dark but there was enough starlight for them to move slowly along a trail they had walked in the daylight several times before. They were anxious to reach a spot across from the Klegits and swim the river before the moon rose. When they came to it from behind a screen of cottonwood leaves they looked across at the camp. Two fires were burning but far up from the bank away from the beached canoes. As far as they could see there was no one guarding the canoes. Occassionally a figure moved across the fires perhaps to put on more wood or to walk away sleepiness.

They had not exchanged a word since they left camp at the marsh ten hours before. This had been agreed on long before. Even a low whisper can be carried by a breeze across water for a surprisingly long distance. They stripped and slid slowly into the water and spread out in a line. All the skin on their bodies was blackened with charcoal from the fire and this in turn was covered with a thin layer of bear grease. Fils had told them to keep their eyes half lidded to cut down on light reflection and this they did. Each had a short, razor sharp knife between her teeth. They breast stroked across the river moving at an angle northwards to adjust for the current. They didn’t hurry; they applied only half strength to the stroke. The river here was not very wide and in ten minutes they were clutching the grass and slipping their feet into the mud on the other side.

There were twelve canoes, all close to the water, three with their sterns jutting a few feet over the bank. The skins of the canoes were made of hide. They eeled their way up the bank and with their knives put a long slit along either side of each canoe keel. Then they slid slowly down the bank and reswam the river. Other than a sleepless otter and a few fish, nobody heard them, nobody saw them. They were halfway back down the trail when the moon rose. They were excited. They smiled happily at one another. But they did not speak. They were speechless ghosts somehow caught up in the blacked out bodies of young girls.



Swi stayed close to Fils. They were moving through dense brush toward the Klegit camp. Under the trees it was difficult to see anything but he could hear the small sounds of men moving in the dark to his right and left. When they reached a point decided best by the scouts they came to a halt. There were the slight sounds of men shifting their positions to close up gaps and then it was silent. He could vaguely hear the flowing sound of the river. An owl hooted. Swi could smell the sweat of the men around him mixed with a covering of bear grease. He reached out and felt his long knife in its leather scabbard. His bow was in his left hand, quiver on his right shoulder. They sat in the matted wet leaves under the trees.

It seemed to Swi a hundred years before the waning moon climbed into the sky but it was really only an hour. When the scouts came back from the tree line they had them advance a hundred feet. Then, as soundlessly as possible, they closed up gaps in their ranks. Soon they were shoulder to shoulder with some extras standing behind. Miga had guessed it would work out that way but he wasn’t sure. No one had counted the exact length of the semi circle.

Miga and his band were off to their left, ten bowmen and ten with clubs and spears. When they were ready Miga gave the command and in a body they moved through the woods and out of the trees. They crossed the open ground very swiftly. There were two guards. The bowmen shot both with an arrow through the chest. Their death cries awoke some of the Klegit. As they came out of their tents the clubmen struck them down. Others picked burning logs from the fire and set fire to the tents. Then all, clubmen and bowmen disengaged and ran toward the river. When they reached the bank they turned. On the far side of the tents the archers were out of the trees and drawn up in a curved line, arrows nocked. Behind each archer was a man with a spear.

Miga’s archers did the same with the clubmen slightly behind them. But they had drawn themselves up off to the left at an oblique angle to the river.

The burning tents illuminated the unfortunate Klegit as they stumbled out shouting and screaming. The bowmen shot them down. When most were cut down those who the arrows did not kill had their throats cut. Ten made it to the river to launch two canoes which swamped a few feet from the bank. The clubmen killed them as they were crawling onto the river bank. Two who tried to swim away were shot by arrows. Miga sent swimmers to bring in the bodies.

The Klegit dead were lain out in a long line. There were sixty-six. Fils stopped the beginning of a celebration among the young men by sending them into the woods to gather dead falls. “Warriors,” he shouted, “do not celebrate among the bodies of their dead enemies.” A group of men with axes cut poplar poles and drove them into the ground along the river bank, sixty-six of them. Then they cut off the heads of the dead Klegit and set them on the poles, dead faces pointing towards the north.

When the wood was piled high enough to satisfy Fils they threw on the headless bodies of the Klegit. In a circle, thirty feet from the pile they dug up a swath of sod and turned them over. Other than weapons and bags of pemmican they took all the possessions of the Klegit and threw it on top of the bodies and lit the pile. When the warriors sent to fetch them came up stream with the canoes they disembarked from a riverbank made bright by the burning fire.

When Swi looked at Fils in front of him in the canoe he was stone faced. He was looking back at the fire and before he turned his head toward the bow he gave a barely perceptible shaking of his head from side to side. Swi felt the same thing. Victory was delicious but it was also sad that even Klegit warriors had to die with no chance even to lift their weapons.

Two warriors were injured. One very young man ran into the drawn knife of the warrior in front of him. Another broke his toe on a root as he ran across the clearing between the woods and the Klegit camp.




When the Klegit came to the severed heads of their scouts they put ashore in a body. The relatives of the young men ( excepting the leader they were all young men) wept and wailed. The more practical among them removed the heads and brought them into the center of the field. Here they made ready a pyre of deadfalls. A shaman gave prayers to the spirits of the ancestors; the heads were laid on the logs and the logs set alight.

Afterwards the clan leaders and war bosses met on the riverbank. The great majority of the clan leaders were of the southern Klegit for the Northern Klegit ranks had been decimated by the attacks of the Rechyai. The southern Klegit had long lived in relative peace, secure in their ancestral lands and thus many of the leaders were old men. The two war bosses were northern Klegit, survivors of many bloody battles with the Rechyai and not yet out of their thirties. The clan leaders distrusted and even heartily detested the war bosses but they could not do without them. None of their own people were experienced in the conduct of war and the Klegit warriors, north and south, demanded the northerners be put in authority and be allowed to conduct actual operations. This disgusted the clan leaders and seemed to them to be a rape of their power and dignity but there was nothing to be done about it.

The war bosses began by speaking of vengeance, a most natural thing for war leaders to speak of. The clan leaders watched with a jaundiced eye. When they were finished two clan leaders in succession made oblique references to military incompetence, which, wisely, the war bosses pretended not to hear. Everyone present knew that the clan leaders had authorized such a large scout party with no one probing before it and no experienced men leading it or in its ranks so if anyone was responsible for the debacle it was they themselves. Scouts from the main body had brought the news of the vanguard’s annihilation two days before so the speech making seemed practiced, strategic and without passion.

As soon as they landed the clan leaders sent scouts ahead on the river. That morning they came back bringing news of Sege on both banks some thirty miles from the spot where they were standing. But the scouts had only gone so far when Sege archers shot at them from the bank. The place where they turned to avoid the Sege arrows was before a sharp bend hiding the chain wall so they had no knowledge of it. They did, however, report that the Sege archers were bad shots for, though the range was fairly close, they had not succeeded in injuring a single one of their number. The scouts offered the opinion that the banks there were lightly manned and that the main body of the Sege was downstream protecting the village of Sli. This opinion was accepted as their own by the clan leaders for it was what they would have done themselves if they were in the same situation. The war bosses looked at one another but said nothing.


The clan leaders thought the thing to do would be the next day proceed in force along the river. This would drive the light numbers of Sege warriors off the river to scramble south. They would then send scouts in their wake. Based on the information they brought back they would decide what to do next. The war bosses were about to intervene with protests against this course of action but the oldest clan leader, a man in his eighties, heavy with a sense of his own imperishable dignity, and speaking on behalf of all the clan leaders, quickly began a long speech on the proper way to proceed down river the next day. It would be most improper for the war bosses to interrupt such an old man and they both sighed inwardly and settled back to listen to his speech which combined an undercurrent of irritable long suffering with a vague, long winded rhetoric in such a way that made his listeners, even his fellow clan leaders, wonder when and if ever it would end. It did eventually end but by that time more than two hours had passed by. Listening to the meandering passages of the old man’s speech the war bosses had plenty of time to realize the full import of what he was saying. He made much of the fact that Two Rocks was the entry into the lands of the Sege proper and thus the necessity to cross this symbolical line in a formation which would do honor to the Klegit people. Therefore when it came to an end they made no protest but rather offered a few minor suggestions which the old clan leader, in the full sweep of his victory turned aside as coming from lesser men who would do well to keep their mouths shut after the great have spoken. The war bosses did not insist. On the contrary they gave way graciously before the superior strategy of the clan leaders.
Therefore, when the Klegit started down river the next morning it was the clan leaders, in their large, brightly painted canoes with the emblem of their clan carved in a figure on the bow, who led the way. There were no shields on the canoes. The clan leaders had refused them. Other than the few paddlers there were no young warriors. The clan leaders thought them unnecessary. There were not even any bows or javelins in the canoes. The clan leaders thought they would take up too much space, space necessary for relatives who would act as witnesses to the glory of their historical processional. Coming up to the bend in the river there were no Sege visible at all. As they came around the bend the banks were completely empty and the clan leaders began to congratulate themselves on the wisdom of their strategy. But when they came fully around the bend the wall suddenly appeared and the banks filled up with what seemed to them to be thousands of warriors armed with bows and javelins ranked in disciplined military formations waiting their arrival. The young paddlers tried their best to turn the canoes but it was hopeless. The river narrowed here and thus the speed of the current increased. The number of paddlers was measured for going with the current, not paddling against it. There were ten clan leader canoes. By a desperate effort the paddlers of five managed to turn but there were not enough of them to make progress against the stream. Inexorably, bow pointed up stream or down, or in two cases broadside to the stream and thus pointed to the shore,


the ten canoes, containing one hundred and twelve of the top leaders of the Klegit, came into bow and javelin range of the Sege warriors who fell upon them like ravenous wolves.

They butchered them to the last man, turning the river just in front of the wall red with their blood. The canoes just behind, smaller and manned with a full complement of warriors, easily turned and escaped up stream. The war bosses, who had wisely placed themselves in the fourth rank, watched all this with great satisfaction, which, of course, they did not allow to show on the features of their faces, rigidly composed to show bloody mindedness and grim determination.

The Sege warriors fished the bodies out of the river, decapitated them and placed the heads on poles mounted along the wall. And then, after posting guards along the bank and sending scouts to follow and observe the Klegit they rushed to the center of the camp and broke into loud, delirious celebration. Fils did nothing to stop them. While they exhausted themselves, he and Swi inspected the stake wall. Two spots they agreed should be strengthened. When Swi rounded up a few men with shovels and brought them over, Fils took of his shirt and joined in their work. Slowly the crowd of celebrants, observing their General shoveling dirt on to a section of the stake wall, left off their celebrations and drifted over to take up shovels themselves. “Next time,” he told them, “They will come in full force and they will not be led by the old fools we have just slaughtered.”



When the two war bosses called a meeting of the next clan leaders in line they were sent minor men who did not have the status to be included in the canoes of the clan leaders. They were much younger and not accustomed to deliberations at this level. They were also terrified that the next day they would be required to lead their clans into battle and hurl themselves at what seemed to them to be the invincible wall of the terrible Sege. There were ten of them and they were greatly relieved when the war bosses told them they would be doing no such thing but rather would be placed in the middle of the Klegit body to ensure they would survive to guide the Klegit nation. Then the bosses outlined a battle plan. One of the new clan leaders argued in favor of a plan of his own. He was


briefly supported by another of the leaders but when no one else spoke up for them the matter was dropped. The war bosses gave their orders. When they went back the clan leaders relayed these orders to their people, leaving the captains of the clan warrior bands to meet with the war bosses to work out the details. That night the two men who spoke in favor of an alternative plan had their throats cut in their sleep. Two even lower ranked men replaced them. From then on the clan leaders met briefly with the war bosses every day but only to receive orders. They were too terrified to say anything but purely formal and innocuous things. A week later the older war boss, by a matter of five or so years, died in his sleep. His face when they found him was a hideous mask of pain and those who found him could not help but think of poison. Whatever they thought they said nothing. They allowed only his closest relatives to see the body before it was cremated and they warned them to say nothing for there was somebody about who heard everything said against him and promptly avenged it. Skal was the name of the surviving
war boss. From then on when he walked through the Klegit camp men melted away and the children ran to hide themselves behind the skirts of female relatives.

Skal sent out five of his most skilful scouts. But the Sege pickets ran down three and killed them; only two came back. The information they gave him was partial but this was to be expected. One thing stuck in his mind as significant. Two miles up from the main Sege camp on the eastern bank there was a road south. There were no Sege warriors guarding it. On the western bank, according to the scouts, there was only dense bush. This meant that the main body of the Sege would be on the eastern bank to protect the road for if his warriors secured it the way to the village would be open and the battle over. That there was no body of Sege warriors across the road was, in effect, an invitation.

Skal was suspicious of invitations. Invitations have conducted a great many warriors to their graves. He sent out more scouts but none came back who got close enough to the Sege warriors on the west bank to give him an accurate information about their numbers and how they were placed and dug in. So he had to make an intelligent guess. He decided that the west bank would be fortified in some way for perhaps a hundred yards back from the bank and that these fortifications would be thinly manned. Therefore he spent two hours with his best lieutenant planning a landing in front of the fortification which would lay out an encircling line of Klegit warriors through the bush to the west of the Sege position. His main attack would land north of the wall on the east bank and drive in a straight line through the bush to the road. This he would lead himself. The attack would


begin when the encirclement on the west side of the river was complete. Faced with an encircling attack on one bank and a spear driving for the main objective on the other, both made strong by the Klegit superior numbers, the Sege would have no alternative but to withdraw to the river and escape by canoe southward.

Skal called in his lieutenants and drilled them in the part they were to play. He made them repeat back to him exactly what he had told them and did not release them until they could do so perfectly. He then met with the warriors attacking the west bank and then with those attacking the east. He explained everything very carefully and in infinite detail. The warriors said little. They seemed to him to be sullen, withdrawn, but he put this down to the depression that often comes upon warriors on the eve of battle. They were Klegit. They had their orders. They would accomplish them. But he decided to wait some days before the attack was launched. He wanted the Sege warriors to grow apprehensive. He wanted them to worry.



When two then three days passed by, Fils, at least, did grow apprehensive. He walked along the stake wall ordering further improvements. Several times he had to stop himself from crossing the wall to the west bank and inspecting the earthworks there. Every evening he ate at his daughter’s cooking fire and sat there into the night talking to the men who came to see him. Sometimes he went to Ilna’s fire on the river and spoke with
him. What’s going on? What are they up to? Everyone had an opinion and no opinion agreed with another. Scouting reports were contradictory. Sometimes young men would buttonhole him and passionately harangue him. He listened courteously. He patted them on the forearm and promised to take their suggestions into account. He was a little surprised how many of them he did take into account. He talked to the old men who distributed water about the battles they had fought in. One especially was intelligent and perceptive. He invited him to eat with him at his daughter’s. Every evening before the battle, at twilight, the old man sat in a certain spot quite a distance from the fire. Fils tried to move him closer but he refused. His daughter liked the old man and always brought him a choice portion even before she served her father. Fils spent hours listening to his talk about old battles. The old man never talked from a fixed point of view. He seemed, after all these years, for some of these engagements happened sixty years ago, along with telling the story to his listeners, to be seeking an understanding of what went on for himself. “Why do you think it happened like that?” Fils would ask. The old man would smile, crinkling up wrinkled face, and shrug his shoulders, saying “Who knows?”


On the morning of the fourth day he was worried. He was missing something. Captured Klegit scouts told of a single war leader, an intelligent and wily man from the north. The fools they had slaughtered in the river were no longer there to interfere with his plans. He walked up and down for an hour in front of his tent. He was waiting for scouts to come in from up river and from far off the river to the west and east. He was beginning to worry the Klegit would sweep around them in a wide, encircling movement. He badgered Swi. “Where are they?”

“How should I know, Fils?”

“Send someone after them.”

“We’ve already done that, twice.”

Swi’s emphasis on the word twice made Fils laugh. He sent him off to fetch Miga from across the river. Then he sat on the ground in the shade of the tent, for although it was only mid morning the sun had grown quite hot. The wind was from the south. It would be one of those muggy days when physical exertion bathed one’s body in a sheen of sweat. He was about to get up and pace some more when his daughter came out of the trees carrying two rabbits. She walked to the workplace near where he was sitting and began to skin and gut. When she was finished she looked across at her father who was now stretched out on the ground and feeling truly terrible and said “They won’t come down the river, Dad, so you don’t have to worry about that.”

Fils sat bolt upright. He suddenly realized he had become obsessed with the wall. Of course they wouldn’t come down the river. They had already seen where that led, even though it had been old, unarmed men who had been butchered. He stood up and came over to where his daughter was washing the rabbits in a bucket of water.

“Where then?”

“Around Miga on the west bank and straight for the road on the east. Where else? Why fool around?”

He was stunned. He looked at his daughter as if he were seeing her for the first time. She was of middle height, well muscled but a bit plump. She had a big cheerful face and lovely green eyes. Although it was not his usual custom, he put his hands on her shoulders and kissed both her cheeks. She smiled hugely, amused to no end at her


father’s antics. “Here I have been talking to halfwits and morons and the woman who cooks the rabbits is a genius and knows everything!” he shouted. Then he turned and ran across the field to talk to Ilna.

The scouts from far off the river came in at noon and reported that the Klegit had not swung wide. Fils didn’t think they had but still he was relieved to have it confirmed. He was sitting with Ilna in the shade of a weeping willow on the riverbank. Ilna was naked and was dangling his feet in the water. The heat is hard on big men like Ilna.

“I’m not saying that your daughter didn’t have something valuable to say. She’s a smart girl perhaps making up a bit for her dumb old father, ha, ha. But as you know we always knew they would go for the road. Why wouldn’t they? They would have to be total dolts not to. Even if they were leaderless rabble they could figure that out. As you know the plan was to hit them from below and draw them down to the stake wall where we could make up for the difference in numbers and secure our retreat. But what she said about the west side intrigues me. It makes sense. They have superior numbers. They know fortifications there will be lightly manned because our bulk has to be on the east bank to protect the road. Granted the bush would be rough going but if they have enough men and are determined they could do it. If they succeed that would be it for us. They would simply pour across the wall overwhelming us and cut off our retreat.”

Ilna looked very glum at this prospect. Then he slipped off the bank and sat in the water up to his neck. He turned his head towards Fils and smiled. “Nice and cool. Just the place to get ready for blood and battle.”

Fils took off his trousers and joined him. Ilna was right. It was truly lovely.

A few minutes later Miga and Swi arrived and, stripping, joined them in the water.

“The important point,” said Ilna, “is to hit them hard and inflict as much loss as we can and then get the hell out of here. We want to bite off one of their arms and leave them bleeding and wondering. Winning, against their numbers, is for dreamers.”

Others came to join them. They sat talking in the river until twilight and then went up to Ilna’s fire and continued talking.



The Klegit stayed where they were until the eighth day. Then, in the middle of a night illumined by a waxing moon, they embarked on the river and started south. They paddled hard for they knew Sege scouts were everywhere and speed was their greatest ally. Those assigned to the west bank landed half a mile up from Miga’s fortifications. Skal’s lieutenant was in the first canoe and the Klegit warriors followed him in a line as fast as they could make their way through the bush. A party of twenty warriors was left to watch the canoes on the bank. When the encircling line was established and turned towards the water, a messenger was to take the news to Skal across the river.

As it turned out, however, this did not happen. The Sege had changed their plan of defense. Skal’s calculations for the numbers required to make the encircling line complete were amazingly accurate and a tribute to his hard boiled intellect. But plans are plans and for a plan to be executed without errors is truly unusual. The error in this case was that Skal’s lieutenant, who, to be fair to the man, had no accurate knowledge of where he was or where the fortifications were, was led far further to the south than he should have gone. There were voices coming from what he assumed to be a Sege camp. By navigating to the southwest of this camp he thought he was ensuring that the encircling was complete but in truth the ‘camp’ was twenty old Seges who had been ferried by warrior canoes a half mile south of the wall the night before. They were woken by messenger an hour before and had kept up a steady stream of lively conversation since.

The extra half mile was too long for the warriors to cover. The head of the snake was too far along the river and the tail was not long enough to reach back to the canoes on the bank. Confused and having to decide what to do, the warriors invariably decided to follow the man in front of them rather than stand alone in the companionless dark. This left a gap in the end of the line a quarter mile long. The men left with the canoes were concerned, but what could they do? The last man had disappeared up the trail and it was their job to secure the canoes and guard the bank. They talked quietly amongst themselves for a bit and decided to sit and wait for someone to come down from the trail to tell the messengers to cross the river and inform Skal that the encirclement was complete.

But none of their fellow Kelgit came down from the trail. Instead sixty Sege warriors fell upon them unawares from the darkness and slaughtered them to a man. The throats of survivors were cut and the bodys left where they fell. Their canoes were taken from the riverbank and hidden among the trees.


The end of the Klegit line heard the death cries of their companions. They came together in a swirling, confused mass, shouting and asking questions which nobody could answer. After some time of this an older warrior marshaled together a large group and headed back to the river where the cries came from. They strung themselves out in a line to navigate the trail already cut through the brush. When the first in line were almost at the bank the javelin carrying Sege struck from the east. Totally confused, the Klegit were struck down, hardly making a move to defend themselves. The injured had their throats slit and those who ran to the west were run down and their head smashed in with war clubs.

The Klegits to the south, the holders of a truncated line now cut off from everything but dense, dark and silent bush, heard the sounds of battle from behind them but had no idea of what was going on, other than, from certain of the clear death cries, that Klegit were dying. They decided to move along towards the south end of the line and there to meet Skal’s lieutenant who could perhaps forge a new plan in the midst of chaos and confusion. They started to run but after a short distance found themselves running into small groups of warriors standing around arguing about what to do. This is when the entire body of Sege archers, stretched out in a line equal to the line of the Klegit and curled around slightly to enclose, let loose their arrows upon the unfortunate Klegit. They were mowed down like a field of hay. When no one was left standing warriors with knives and clubs came from behind the archers and slaughtered those not already dead. Two or three Klegit escaped by running west through the bush. Four hundred and six Klegit died on the west bank of the river that day but the Sege had no time to stop and count them. Limbs dripping sweat and blood they ran down the trail leading to the wall and crossed it to the western bank. And a good thing they did too for while they were gone, other than a stretched picket line up from the river, there was not a person capable of carrying arms on the eastern bank. The Sege warriors, in a meeting which included every one in the camp, had decided for a plan championed by Fils, Ilna and Miga. They had decided to gamble.

The warriors running across the wall knew they had won a great victory but they were also aware they had just defeated the lesser portion of the Klegit warriors. The great bulk were on the eastern bank waiting for a message which would never come. Skal, after waiting impatiently for some time, sent two canoes of warriors across the river to find out what was wrong. When they came back bearing the news of dead Klegit and no Sege he was so furious he stabbed and killed the captain who brought him the information. This was a fatal error on his part. The man he killed was well loved and two of his brothers were a dozen arm lengths away. The crowd of warriors opened a passage to let them through and they killed Skal on the spot. They and others of the warriors were so enraged


that with their knives they cut his body into pieces, throwing them into the bush. His severed head was seized by one of the brothers who hurled it into the river.

The conference among the Klegit warriors which followed was more organized than the one across the river. They were standing on ground secured by a mass of twelve hundred warriors, near approaches covered by pickets and scouts. An older war leader of the southern Klegit was chosen to be the war boss. A quick discussion with the main war band leaders led to a decision to follow the original plan and attack the road. Once the road was secure they would turn west and sweep the Sege into the river. The war leaders formed the warriors into a column six men wide and led them through the trees toward the road.

But the delay cost them dearly, for the Sege warriors had time to come across the river and run up into the trees west of the Klegit line of march. Here Fils and Ilna and Miga formed three wedges of one hundred and fifty men apiece. When the Klegit were almost to the road Swi and fifty of the youngest, most vigorous warriors attacked the head of the column and brought it to a halt. Before the Klegit could recover and outflank the attackers the three wedges hit them from the side. The wedges passed through the column cutting it into four sections. The wide part of the wedges continued to expand and attack the Klegit from the front while the spear points split and curled back around to attack them from the rear. Seeing Sege warriors on all sides of them, the Klegit turned toward the northeast and ran for their lives. The Sege pursued, killing many, but such were the Klegit numbers that they soon regrouped to the east and began to fight back in organized formations.

When this happened Fils called his warriors back. The Klegit closed ranks and began moving in a mass toward their canoes on the river. Fils sent archers to harass them and cut down stragglers but otherwise he was happy to have the battered, desperate Klegit climb into their canoes and paddle off north. When they were gone he allowed his warriors to move among the fallen enemies, kill survivors and gather any weapons and valuables they could find. Twenty Sege warriors were killed, three times that wounded. The wounded were carried or limped to camp. The dead were laid out in a long line at the edge of the field. Galna did the counting. There were three hundred and twenty seven Klegit dead among the trees.




When the Klegit arrived at their camp they were in shock. They walked through the crowd waiting on the bank like sleep walkers unable to answer the questions shouted into their ears. “Where are my sons? Where is my father? Where are the two uncles? Where is the young boy so lately made a warrior?” They walked to their tents and sat in the dust beside the empty fire pits. The questioners moved with them but stayed apart for their aspect was terrible. They were covered with blood and gore. Their eyes were the eyes of ghosts and their faces were slack like the faces of those who are about to die. They looked through the people around them as if they were some mad, temporary delusion. When finally the numbness began to wear off and they could recognize some of
the faces looking into theirs, this is what they said. “They are dead. Everyone who did not come back with us is dead.” Then, after a momentary pause, there began a great wailing and weeping which filled the camp with such an excruciating intensity of sound that the warriors covered their ears with their hands and closed their eyes so they would not hear or see the deaths of their companions played out for a second time in the pained and distorted faces of their loved ones. It was mid morning.

For ten days they grieved. Older men went out as scouts on the river. Young women manned a picket line to the south. Over seven hundred Klegit had died in battle, four out of ten warriors. Their grieving was not only for their loved ones, companions, fathers, sons, but for the future. What could be done now? How could they continue to fight the Sege with nine hundred warriors when they were so utterly defeated with sixteen hundred? It would seem that the gods had deserted them. It would seem that their fate was to be destroyed as a people and to be dispersed among villages of strangers.

On the eleventh day they began to overcome their despondency. They were still strong although not as strong as before. They still had more warriors than their enemies the Sege. The young wives of dead warriors could become the second wives of surviving ones. Children would be born. They would increase. They would become as strong as they once were, stronger perhaps. Only cowards gave up. Only the weak walked for long on the road of despair.

On the twelfth day some of the old men called a council. They held it on a hill east of the camp, a hill covered with lush grass and sprinkled with small, delicate, spring flowers. They decided that the war boss would remain the war boss, for how could they blame him for the failure of a plan devised by another? Then they chose a leader, a tall, thin, sixty year old who was the younger brother of the old leader killed at the wall. He had taken little part in politics in the past and when his name was proposed he was quickly accepted with no other being put up to oppose him. He had a long ceremonial


sounding name given him by an ambitious mother, but everyone, even his closest friends, had forgotten long ago. Everyone called him Neel. Other than perhaps a few old rivals in love affairs, for he was, even still, a great lover of women, he had no enemies. He was most reluctant, claiming his lack of experience and general lassitude disqualified him from so important an office but this was seen as the usual disclaimer offered by secretly ambitious men and no one paid it much attention. After this brief struggle to elude his fate he accepted graciously for he was a member of one of the great families and in youth had been trained in duty, manners and polite behavior. But he was secretly horrified. He could think of no greater calamity than to be Leader of the Klegit, a headstrong, bloody minded and dim witted people. He would rather have been chopped up on the battlefield along with the dead warriors but his family, citing his age, had insisted he stay at home, away from the battle.

After every one had congratulated him, pounding him lustily on the chest, back and upper arms in the Klegit fashion, he began to make his way through the tents towards his
own on the far side of the field, nursing a few painful bruises inflicted by the more powerful and enthusiastic warriors, gazing morosely at his feet as he walked along. He was beginning to think he should have stayed in the north country and waited for a sharp blow from the war axe of an invading Rechyai. Now he was condemned in his old age to listen to the endlessly boring arguments and senseless squabbles of the very people he had spent his whole life avoiding. People who, for instance, were so dim as to think that the Klegit, despite their greater numbers, (or now former greater numbers) who were essentially a farming and herding, peaceful people not engaged in serious war for over three hundred years, could defeat the fierce Sege who, during the same period, had made war their study and discipline. People ignorant of history and filled with the most violent and undisciplined passions. He himself had made a study of history, collecting a library in the large log house he and his wives had built in the north and even writing a history of the Klegit which, of course, was ignored by all but a few old friends and the odd person outside the Klegit such as Kweya from the Sege. They had often spent time together both at Kweya’s cabin on the Alder or at his own house farther north. He wondered where Kweya was now. He remembered that he had once been a war boss, but, after all, what member of the Sege with any intelligence and liveliness had not been a war boss? They were such a warlike bunch. But he could not imagine Kweya, now in his mid sixties, swinging a war club. Surely even the Sege, who pursue war like a billy goat pursues a beautiful young nanny, would not require that.

When he was half way to his tent his wives (he had twelve), having been informed of his election by a neighbour, came rushing up to him. Forming a kind of human wave in his rear they grasped him by the arms and hurried him along, all talking at once in a highly excitable manner, until they arrived at the cooking fire in the center of a cluster of tents. When they arrived the younger children, thirty or so under the age of twelve, joined


in the celebration soon added to by the arrival of his adult children (minus the men killed in the battle), grandchildren, and great grandchildren. The men brought meat, the women roots and even some of the grains still left from stores brought from the north. His older wives started supervising the cooking shouting out in the loud voices acquired raising an unruly gang of children. The din was incredible and Neel began to despair that every night would be like this now that he was leader. He was beginning to develop a headache. He grabbed the arm of a passing boy child whom he did not recognize, but then after twenty or so grands and great grands they seem much alike, and slipping a sweet into his hand, for he had found that little boys for a sweet will do practically anything, and whispered hurried instructions. When the boy came back with the grass wrapped in a cloth, Neel handed him another sweet, swearing him to secrecy, more for form than anything, for he knew little boys were not very good at keeping secrets. Neel had been one himself one time.

Under the cover of the shawl like garment one of his wives had put over his shoulders, he formed some of the grass into two plugs which he then, as surreptitiously as could be done in the middle of such a crowd, inserted into his ears. The relief was immediate. The tension in his shoulders relaxed. The plugs would last so long in their greatest sound
filtering mode and then he would replace them. He folded the cloth carefully over the remaining supply and slipped it into an inner pocket. Then he looked around at the crowd in as appreciative a manner as he could muster and smiled. After getting himself in to a great deal of trouble being garrulous in his young days, at the age of forty-five he had arrived at a firm policy for dealing with crowds. He said almost nothing. He plugged his ears so he heard almost nothing and when anyone addressed him or looked his way he nodded amiably and smiled a benevolent and radiant smile.

When, some hours later, an old childhood friend appeared and sat down beside him, he, wise to Neel’s unusual habits, brought his mouth close to his right ear and asked “So, what kind of trouble have you got yourself into now?”




Council meetings were usually held in Ilna’s hogan which was large enough to hold twenty-five or so. In matters of great importance, however, the meeting was held outside in the field between the river and the first line of hogans in this case in the training field at Two Rocks. The field was large enough for everyone, men, women and children. There was a central fire around which gathered Ilna, the heads of the clans, Fils with two of his lieutenants, and the two surviving former headmen who held that position before Ilna. Their number was twenty three. Surrounding the central fire, in a series of concentric circles was a jumbled, jostling crowd, for the most part its first three rows made up of warriors. Some women, lovers, wives, or sisters of warriors were mixed in among them. Behind them were a ragtag selection of the old, the middle aged, both men and women. There were a dozen or so young children sitting on the shoulders of their fathers but most of the children alternated between running about the open parts of the field with their friends and eating at the cooking fires set up by the women on the west side of the field near the hogans. Those who greatly desired to hear the speeches easily wiggled their way to the front row mainly because there were so few of them. The warriors, that band of one hundred allowed to come down from Two Rocks to attend the meeting, who would normally start to melt away after one or two speeches, that night stayed in place no matter how bored they were, for rumors were circulating that some of the clan heads favored retreating before the Klegit and they had come to ensure that the glory of their recent victory was not tarnished by the cowardice of frightened old men.

Ilna began by making a short speech praising the victory north on the river and saluting the valiant spirit of the Sege warriors. This was well received, especially by the warriors themselves who, when he came to his conclusion, hollered, hooted, whistled and gave out blood curdling war cries. This brought the children, especially the boys for they were great admirers of such displays, running up to the backs of their cousins or uncles or older brothers and contributing a tribute of lusty imitation. Not wanting to be left out of the bright sunshine of such a public sentiment, when the clamor died down, each clan leader and the two old headmen gave a similar speech which was greeted by a similar display, although lessening somewhat each time, so that after the last the reaction was quite subdued. Then Fils got to his feet, for the place of honor in Sege gatherings was left to the last speaker. When he walked into the center of the circle and stood in the spot close to the fire where the speaker stands, the warriors broke out into such a torrent of voice and song and whistling and cries of joy that every person on the field rushed in to add to its intensity with their own shouts and two fingered whistling.

Fils stood somewhat abashed for he was not a man who liked the limelight. When the


noise settled down to a low murmur, he looked across at Lo who was expert in the reading of crowds. Receiving her barely perceptible nod he began his speech. All day Ilna, Lo and Kweya had coached him in the big Hogan. They had gone over and over every word, every phrase twenty or thirty times. And when it was all agreed upon, all ironed out and battened down Fils had performed it a dozen times in front of them while they tweaked, adjusted and critiqued. When they were done he performed it once more
and they fell upon him with such praise, joy and enthusiasm that he felt like the young man who thirty years before had unexpectedly won a canoe race. Other than rough exhortations to his warriors in the field he had never given a speech before.

He started out slowly, designedly speaking from the middle of his range to force his audience to become quiet and lean in to listen. He spoke of his father who was a great war leader of the Sege. He spoke of the wise elders who had taught him, of the courageous warriors of his youth who had buoyed him up with their strength when he was a frightened young man. He spoke of the great warriors of the Sege who down through the ages had defended their nation, of their ferocity, of their selflessness in battle, of their unstoppable power. He spoke of the high destiny and the invincible spirit of the Sege. Then he paused. Then, as if overcome by emotion he took a cloth from the pocket of his cloak and blew his nose. He looked around at the crowd as if he were somewhat disoriented by this sea of familiar faces gathered here perhaps to listen to the speech of a great man who had yet to arrive. Then he dropped his eyes to the ground, collected himself and continued.

He himself was an ordinary man, a man of few talents who had been pushed forward by the accidents of time and history. Compared to the ancients he was a meager figure whom it would be a sin indeed to mention in the same breath with those epochal heroes. However, he had one strength, which in truth did not belong to him, and that one strength was the warriors of the Sege. That one strength was the great spirit of the warriors, the endless courage of the warriors, the inexhaustable strength of the warriors of the Sege nation. Without this there would have been no victory. Without this there would now be destruction, death, rape, burning and slaughter. The gods were kind to the Sege for they gave them warriors who could not conceive of retreat in the face of the enemy, who could not even in the darkest recesses of their minds utter the word defeat, and who the gods had made invincible on the field of battle. He himself was merely an old man who had been thrust by circumstances into an office which in truth consisted of carrying water bottles and patching the canoes of the warriors of the Sege. He thanked them for their great victory. He thanked them for their courage, intelligence and wisdom. He thanked them for the complete obliteration of the enemy’s vanguard, the repulse with heavy losses of the attack by their main body and would ask, after a short respite, that they deliver


their energies to a final and utterly annihilating blow against these same enemies, who were awaiting, with fear and trepidation, the onslaught of the warriors of the Sege nation.

Fils walked out of the speaker’s spot to signify he was finished. There was a brief moment of awed silence. Then the entire assembly erupted into such shouting, such displays of joy that afterward the old people claimed that there had never before been such a moment in living Sege history. Warriors wept openly, spluttering into the shoulders of their companions. Women, old men and children rushed Fils to touch the great man in the moment of his triumph. Children, inspired by the emotions of their elders, capered and leapt about in hysterical celebration. The old and feeble held one another’s hands and wept quietly. When the crush around Fils finally thinned out the councilors, overcome with emotion, eyes wet with tears, came up to clasp him to their chests and tell him he was the greatest man among the Sege and the savior of the nation.

After the warriors and most of the lookers on went off to celebrate at a giant bonfire on the bank of the river the councilors continued their deliberations. They decided everyone in the old village down river were to be sent to the camp on the upper Wah, that is women children and the old. As they could not spare warriors to ferry them by canoe, this logistical problem was solved by Kweya’s horses. There was some debate about whether the horses should be brought up to Two Rocks but reason prevailed. The horses would be useless in the thick brush along the river and their feeding and care would be more trouble than it was worth. Warriors were needed at Two Rocks for the coming battle.




When Neel woke the next morning he was not in his own tent. This was not unusual. In the past few years his wives had become more and more argumentative. When their squabbles reached a certain pitch, as they often did during and after celebrations, which, after all, often excite human passions, he went off to sleep elsewhere in a quiet tent where they couldn’t find him. When they lived up north in the large house he had a whole top floor of his own and could bar the door against them. In a tent, of course, there was no door to bar. When he opened his eyes he did not immediately recognize where he was which worried him. There were times in the past when, having slipped away from his wives, he had slipped into the bed of a young woman. This had created complications and in the case of his three youngest wives had created three new wives. Whenever he went away in this manner his wives all claimed, loudly and rudely, that this is what he had been up to. Now that he was Leader they would take up this accusation even more convincingly, for even very young, very beautiful women were eager to marry into the family of such a prominent man. But these accusations were mostly untrue. For the most part, for some years and solely in the last year, he went to the tent of one of his elderly female relatives. Not only was it blissfully quiet in these tents but the female relatives he chose were also excellent cooks. His wives were too busy fighting and jostling one another to learn the fine points of cooking. Their stews were tasteless. The chicken was indistinguishable from the rabbit. The breads were either soggy or burnt to a crisp. The puddings had dry lumps in the middle. When they fried even the most tender cut of meat in the pan, it came out as dry and hard as oak bark and tasted as if one had bitten into a charred log. When he gently tried to point out these deficiencies to his wives they reacted with loud insults, accusations and sometimes violence, so he had given up. He ate what they gave him with grim determination. If they asked what he thought, he smiled, praising the dish with manufactured enthusiasm. This did nothing to improve their cooking but at least saved him from accusations of philandering, ingratitude, faithlessness, etc which they hurled at his head (along with wooden spoons and plates) in the days before a wise friend had guided him into this course of action.

To prevent himself from worrying about where he was he examined the roof of the tent. It was white canvas, a material the Klegit manufactured in the northern villages now ravaged by the savage Rechyai. By the way the light played upon it, he would say it was mid morning. This made him happy for he was a man who liked his sleep and if it was mid morning then he had a good sleep. His wives woke early (surely to gain advantage in their ceaseless wars with one another) and insisted he wake early too. If he refused they made so much noise that it was useless for him to stay in bed. In the house up north he


slept on the third floor. During the construction he had a double floor installed under his bedroom and had it stuffed with straw. In that room he had often slept til noon.

While he was thinking of his old sleeping room Min lifted the flap and entered the tent. She was in her eighties, a sister of his now dead mother. She brought in a bowl of water and a cloth and put them on the floor beside the bed.

“They are looking for you.” She said.


“The Council. There is a meeting at noon.”

“No, there isn’t.”

“Well don’t argue with me dear. I told them I didn’t know where you were. Whether there is a meeting or not has nothing to do with me.”

“Sorry, Min.”

Min turned and went back out of the tent. Neel got up, washed and put his clothes on. When he came out of the tent Min handed him a bowl of fish chowder. He sat on the ground close to a wall Min had constructed to enclose her chickens. It was difficult to see him there unless you stuck your head over the wall. He ate the bowl of chowder. It was delicious.

“If I’m reborn into another life, Min, I’ll marry you even if you are twenty years older and my mother’s sister.”

“Very generous of you dear but I would have to be a fool to marry a philanderer like yourself and spend my life wondering where you are and who you are screwing.”

Neel did not reply to this. Instead he spooned another bowl of chowder from the pot and, jammed back into his corner, began to eat it. Min was skinning a muskrat at her worktable nearby.

“Min, where are the boys?” ( the boys were Min’s great great grandsons who hunted small game and did errands for her.)


“They are hauling water. They’ll be back soon.”

A few minutes later two boys came in the gate each carrying a bucket of water. They poured the water into a skin tub stretched over a wood frame. They didn’t notice Neel until they turned and were about to go back out the gate. One of the boys was skinny and tall as Neel had been when he was a boy. The other was short and pudgy. When they saw him the skinny boy said, “Got any sweets, Uncle Neel?”

“Yes, but you have to do something for me if its alright with Min.”

“After they bring one more bucket of water apiece, you can have them,” said Min.

Neel took the opportunity to have another bowl of chowder. When the boys returned he gave them two sweets each and sent them off on errands.

“Can I meet with people in the tent, Min?”

“Yes. When I finish this rat I’m going to Sala’s and won’t be back until dark.”

The skinny boy went to tell the council members that the next meeting would be in two days time at noon. The pudgy one brought four middle aged men back to the tent. They were members of Neel’s clan and middle ranking warriors. They entered the tent and sat on the floor. The boy wanted to stay. Neel could see no reason why not. He gave him another sweet and the boy popped it into his mouth and sat in the far corner. He and the men talked for two hours, then they left. Neel sent the boy off again. He came back with six younger men this time, warriors from his youngest wife’s clan. Again they talked for some time and then the men left. The boys were sent off to call in the other clan leaders. The meetings went on all day until it was dark and Min came back.

He went to his own tent to sleep. His wives made no comment on his absence. The next morning he went back to Min’s and the meetings continued. Some time after dark the last meeting ended and he once again went home to sleep.

The next day he held a last meeting just before the council meeting at noon. Four elderly, white haired women were ushered into Min’s tent by the pudgy boy who took up his position in the corner. At this meeting the boy was surprised with how passionately Neel spoke at the beginning of the meeting. Then the women, each in turn decided by age, spoke. Neel spoke again when they were finished. The five adults rose together and


left the tent and the boy followed. On their way to the riverbank the women began to draw away from Neel. He stopped in his tracks.

“Why are you moving away?” he asked them. “I want you to walk with me.”

The old women laughed and came back towards him. Two on either side they walked down to the river.

The Klegit were not a warlike people. They were farmers, weavers and keepers of flocks. In the North Country from which they had been dispossessed there were rich soil

and fine grazing land. Of course the Eg flowed through there and the country was laced with the streams and tributary rivers feeding it. They were a rich people with flocks of sheep and cattle and sturdy ponies with which they worked the land. They lived in log houses, some of them very large, plastered inside, with polished floors of sawn oak. Here they lived for some thirty generations before the Rechyai drove them out. Further up river, after they left their homes, a section of their people, perhaps a little over half their number, had gone off the Eg to the west to settle there far up the banks of one of the larger rivers dumping into the Eg. They took most of the cattle, sheep and ponies but those who chose south on the Eg brought some animals with them. In the Klegit camp the bleating of sheep, the clucking of chickens, the neighing of ponies and the lowing of cattle acted as an undercurrent to all other sounds.

In battle, the Klegit, as Neel knew, were no match for the Sege. The Sege had some farms and some animals but the greater part of their energies were dedicated to war. They exacted tribute from the smaller groups around them. They raided. They stole horses from the south and sold them into the north. They manufactured weapons. They made blades, not as good as the ones made by the Tegs in the southwest, but good enough. They had an army of perhaps six hundred warriors for whom hunting and war were their sole occupations. These warriors took part in regular training exercises and were in exceptional physical condition. It was not unusual for a Sege scouting party to cover forty miles in a single day. Once, the main body of the Sege had marched fifty miles in twenty four hours, after which they immediately fought a battle and won. They were disciplined. Because their numbers encouraged a kind of communalism, the planning sessions for battle could be disputatious, loud and long. But once the plan was settled the warriors gave themselves to it with fierce intensity. They went to war in organized units with a chain of command and a collective knowledge of movement in the field their leaders could rely on. All Sege warriors could shoot the bow but there was a special unit of


archers, one hundred in number, who were crack shots. They were used to make both attack and defense devastating and losses of Sege warriors as low as possible. They had a class of war leaders which renewed itself every generation from among the brightest and most vigorous minds. These leaders had both a written and an oral tradition of stories and analytical thought about war, strategy and planning. Adapting to the changing conditions of a battle, their leaders could order movements the Klegit had never heard of and have them flawlessly executed. That the Klegit had been thoroughly beaten in battle with the loss of close to half of their warriors was not a matter of fate or bad luck. No matter how individually courageous its warriors were, the Klegit army was a mass of untrained and ill led pastoralists who had the misfortune to run into a finely tuned, well oiled war machine.

If the part of their population which went west to flee the Rechyai had remained with them it might have been possible to overcome the Sege with numbers. With six times the warriors they could have outflanked them, forced them in close and, even losing men at three to one, overwhelmed them and either annihilated them or forced them south. But now that the numbers of Sege and Klegit warriors were much the same this possibility

was gone forever. With parity in numbers any future battle with the Sege would be a massacre. Their warriors wiped out, the Klegit woman and children and old people would be taken as slaves, after, of course, the Sege slaughtered those of no use to them.

The Klegit could not turn and go back up north. Coming rapidly down the river was the Rechyai. In the rear of the Rechyai traveled a large number of slaves, both Klegit and people from farther north, both male and female and all able bodied. They did not need more slaves. The numbers of Klegit on the river was miniscule in comparison to the Rechyai who were a great sea compared to the Klegit tiny pond. The Rechyai would simply butcher them all, hardly stopping to wipe the blood from the axes and swords they used to do so.

If they mimicked the movement of their severed brethren now far to the northwest of the Eg, which in hindsight they most certainly should have when they had the chance, by crossing the river and moving west, no doubt the Sege would pursue and destroy them. They were in a tight position. They were caught between two iron walls, one impenetrable and waiting, the other rapidly approaching. Neel saw this clearly and the horror of it propelled him into action. When the smoke cleared from a long and acrimonious council meeting, which was quickly turned into an assembly, for the whole camp attended, he was given the only thing which might avert the coming disaster. He and ten others were chosen to go to the Sege camp and sue for peace. Although the


opposition was vigorous and ill tempered, when the matter was put to a vote it passed easily. Klegit women had the vote and there now were many more Klegit women than there were men.

When the vote count was announced the faces of some prominent warriors screwed up in disgust and anger. In his mind, Neel marked them and remembered. He knew these men very well. Up north he had traded, hunted and drank with them. He knew what they were capable of. Subsequently, he traveled everywhere with a warrior clansman on either side. Six warriors watched outside his tent, at night. In public, under the ample robe designating him Klegit leader, he began wearing a metal chest plate and took to carrying a long bladed dagger, something he had not done for more than thirty years.

In the Min’s tent where he rested after the meeting, Min said to him “You look so discouraged. Don’t give up! There’s still some hope.”

He was lying on the bed, exhausted after his three day marathon. “At least we accomplished the first step Min. If we had failed in that the only thing left would be despair. But the outlook is not pleasant. Look at it from the Sege point of view. With negligible losses they destroyed half our army. So what kind of terms do you think they’ll offer? We are beggars at the rich man’s door.”

Min sat on the stool just inside the tent flap. She looked at her nephew who himself was looking at the tent roof his dark eyes full of sorrow. The skin on his face was haggard and
pinched around the eyes and mouth. He was had aged, yes, but he was still a very handsome man. Min had always had a soft spot for handsome men even when there was no sexual interest involved. Long ago when he was still a boy, Neel’s looks, combined with his intelligence, made him her favorite nephew. The passage of time had not change this. She knew very well that the disaster of his situation with his wives was of his own creation, as, to give him credit, he knew himself. In many things he was a strong, determined man but with women he was weak and vacillating. Sometimes the thought passed through her mind that the only two women he had really given his heart to were his mother and herself, the two beautiful women who were the goddesses of his boyhood.

“Not really,” she said. “In the short term perhaps but in the long term we have much to offer. “

“Such as?”

“Our animals. Our seeds and knowledge of crops. Our manufactures. The Sege have relied for hundreds of years on our cloth production, hide tanning and some of our crops. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to know that soon the Sege themselves will be pushed off


the river. The Rechyai will sweep over them like a tornado over a field of grain. They will have to move off the river and their military dominance will be broken. When that happens there will be no more tributes paid, no more boats carrying baskets of grain or bags of pemmican. How will the Sege feed themselves then? It took the Klegit many generations to gather knowledge about these things. It’s the kind of knowledge that is gathered bit by bit by many people over a long period of time. It cannot be gathered in a few short years or even in two or three generations. We could give them the knowledge which otherwise they very well may starve to death attempting to acquire.”

Neel thought about this for a while. Something similar had passed through his mind in the past few years but he hadn’t really thought about it like Min obviously had. When she was bringing everything to bear you had to bring all your wagons if you were to deal with Min. What she had just said threw him for a bit of a loop. After thinking about it for a while he said, “They could get that from us if we were slaves as well, Min.”

“Perhaps. But slaves tend to be forgetful. And if they reduce us sufficiently to make us slaves there will be much fewer of us to get anything from. You could even tell them that if they insist on war until the end, after our men are massacred, the women and old people will first kill the children and then themselves. Then they will get nothing.”


“One shouldn’t turn one’s face away from realities just because they are unpleasant. Especially leaders of a people facing devastation. The Sege are a hard bunch and will understand straight forward dealing.”

Neel sat up on the bed and dropped his feet onto the floor. “I know, Min. I know. If we go there in any other way they will write us off as weaklings. You’ll have to come.”

“But the assembly didn’t chose me.”

“No matter. The Great Leader can bring advisors.”



Two Klegit messengers paddled downstream the next morning. On a pole in the bow of the small canoe they flew a piece of white cloth. The Sege scouts along the river let them go by unmolested. When they reached the camp they arranged for a meeting the next day at noon and paddled back up river.

“There is a danger here,” said Min.

“I would say there are about five hundred dangers, Min,” Neel answered.

“Well, one that I just thought of recently.”

“And would that be that we are about to be massacred by the Sege or would it be that the Sege are about to massacre us?”

“This is too serious for you to make jokes.”

“On the contrary. The Great Leader, on the advice of his wise aunt, is simply facing realities. If he can’t joke about them, what would be the use of being the Great Leader?”

Min ignored this. He was eating lunch and it was unwise to interrupt him when he was eating. When he finished his bowl of stew and dropped the bowl into the washing basin she said “If we are truthful with them about our numbers and our situation they will know we are weak. If they find this out then why not simply attack us? Maybe an overestimate of our numbers is why they haven’t already done so.”

Neel sat on the ground by the chicken fence and moved about until he was comfortable. “This is true. But even to ask for a parley is to show that we are weak. If we felt that we could defeat them why would we even approach them?”

“Well, that’s true,” said Min.

“We cannot negotiate from a position of strength because we don’t have one. Yet we must negotiate if we are to have anything but death and destruction. The alternative is to sit here and wait for them to come. Or, if they take too long, then the Rechyai.”

Min washed the bowl and put it on the drying rack. “What do you think will happen?”

“One of your chickens will lay an egg tonight.”


“Now, now.”

“I don’t really know Min but I have some hope. The messengers who went down the river this morning told me that one of the men they met with was Kweya. I know that he was down river so I believe they sent for him. Also the older messenger, who at one time traded down here and knows many of the faces, told me that Lo, Ilna’s wife and political partner, was present at the meeting and she spoke directly to him. People I know tell me she has been in favor of moving off the river for a long time. Usually with the Sege, a woman would not speak directly at a meeting like that. In fact, normally, she would not even be present or, if she was, she would be very much in the background. Also I have information that the Sege are setting up a new camp on the Wah. And the leaders were very friendly to the messengers. There were young warriors glowering in the background, but that is to be expected.”

“That does sound hopeful.”

As evening came on, four men appeared at Min’s gate. Neel’s guards stepped up to meet them. When they were in front of the men the guards turned their heads to look at Neel in silent enquiry. Neel gave a slight nod of his head and the guards frisked the men, then opened the gate and walked in before them. They handed the knives they had taken from the men to Min who put them in a basket beside her worktable. The men did not seem to be bothered by the removal of their knives. One guard entered the tent with Neel and sat in the corner. The other remained outside.

These men were leaders of particularly warlike clans. Three of them were from the northern Klegit. The first part of the meeting was loud. This made the outside guard apprehensive. He called across the field to another young man who came running over. With the new man outside he went inside the tent and sat in the corner beside his comrade.

All four visitors were speaking at once in loud voices. The younger guard was surprised that Neel would allow the men to speak to him in that way. After all, the Leader should be treated with respect. The second guard, on the other hand, knew how cagey Neel could be and understood exactly what he was up to. Neel sat on the edge of the bed with his chin on the back of his right hand and his elbow on his knee. He was very still and
followed the progress of the men’s arguments by moving his eyes slowly from one face to another. After a bit the men ceased to speak over one another. They lowered their


voices and spoke one at a time. Of course they were putting forth the argument that Min had given him some time before, that is to treat with the enemy was to show weakness and thus invite an exploitation of that weakness. Neel listened patiently while each man gave his presentation of what was, essentially, the same argument. When they were finished he asked a few questions and received in return a few replies. Then, after a long pause in which he looked into the face of each man in turn, he addressed them in a very quiet, level voice, the very heartlessness of which chilled the younger guard to the bone. Min, who was listening at the tent flap was also surprised by the cold, icy edge in her nephew’s voice.

“You gentlemen were at the assembly meeting the other day. I saw you there. I heard you speak as well. In fact one of you spoke twice and another spoke three times which is against the rules of the assembly but these are trying times and it is best to let small things go by. It is up to the discretion of the Leader of the Klegit to let small things go by but it is also his responsibility to do the will of the assembly. If you gentlemen remember the will of the assembly was to send myself and a small delegation of others to talk peace with the Sege. Whatever my own personal opinion on the matter, and you perhaps have noticed that I have not expressed my own either here or in the assembly, it is my duty as Leader to implement the motion of the assembly. I cannot lay it by and replace it with the opinion of a few dissenters, no matter how wise and well founded their opinion may be, as I could not lay it by and replace it with my own, if my own were contrary to that of the assembly.” Neel paused and took a drink from the water bag on the floor beside him. Then he spoke again.

“It is not only the orders of the assembly that I go with the negotiating party to the Sege. There are other reasons that it is essential that I be present. I know many of their leaders and am on good terms with their leading shaman. In some ways I would prefer to stay here, sending ambassadors on my behalf. But this is not possible. There is no other Klegit leader who knows as many people negotiating for the other side and I’m sure you can appreciate to know the opponents sitting across from you is a great advantage, not just for myself but for the Klegit people as a whole. We are in a position of weakness and we must exploit to the full any advantages which we have.” One of the men made as to interrupt but Neel put up a cautioning hand.

“Please be polite enough to wait until I am finished, as indeed I did for you when the four of you spoke.” He took another drink of water.

“Now, it is not possible for me to go off and negotiate the future for our people and leave behind me a situation where the motion of the assembly might be challenged when


I am not here to defend it. This would be remiss of me. It would be highly irresponsible. So I say this to you. Tomorrow, mid morning, the canoes of the negotiating party will be leaving. You will be coming with us. Please bring your own canoe. And just the four of
you. If we bring too many the Sege will think we are invading under the guise of negotiating.” The men started to protest wildly but again Neel put up his hand.

“I am afraid I have to insist, gentlemen, as much as it is against my nature to do so. However I am a man of reason. I am not one of those wild eyed savages like, for example, the warriors of the Sege or the Rechyai. So this is what I would say to you further. If you do not want to do what I tell you, as an alternative you can leave the camp of the Klegit, paddling north, for that is the only way to go. If you and your clans decide on this you must leave before tomorrow mid morning. We will send scouts after you to keep track of your progress and as well postpone the meeting with the Sege until you are sufficiently far up river. There is, of course, another alternative which I am sure has occurred to you just as it has occurred to me. You could stay in your compound along with your clan members and refuse to do anything. You could pretend that you did not hear what I had to say to you, perhaps claiming that the tedium of my speechifying struck you suddenly deaf. This choice would be very dangerous. Before you make this choice I would ask that you listen to my warning.” Neel paused for another drink of water. When he swallowed he nodded at the guards in the corner. They rose, crossed the floor and stood one on either side of him. Neel continued.

“If you are not there when the negotiating party is ready to leave and have not left with your clans to travel the river north, then I will consider that you have declared war against the assembly of the Klegit People. In defense of the assembly warriors will invade your compounds and use as much violence as necessary to secure your persons. When this is done, I, using my powers as Leader of the Klegit People in war, will order you executed on the spot. This, as you could imagine, would distress me. But if I am forced to chose between your lives and the lives of all the Klegit people, then I will have no alternative but to chose the former.”

The men started to speak but again Neel put up his hand. “I have no more time, as I’m sure you can appreciate. There are others waiting to meet with me. As it is now I will be up into the middle of the night.” He stood up, walked into the far corner of the tent and turned his back toward them. His guards followed. They stood in front of him their bulky bodies obscuring all but the grey locks on the top of his head. The men looked about them in anger and confusion. Then they gathered together their dignity, and, lifting the tent flap, walked outside. Min was gone and so was the basket containing their knives. When they asked the guard outside he shrugged his shoulders. Twenty warriors carrying


spears entered the gate as they left. They sat on the ground outside Neel’s tent and began to play a bone gambling game popular among young Klegit men.

The next morning the four clan leaders were at the river. They gave Neel a cold and formal greeting when he passed them by on the way to his canoe. When the main party disembarked, they climbed into their own canoe and followed along behind.



The night before, after the participants in his last meeting were gone, Neel walked outside. Min was sitting by the fire where she had just made tea for the warriors standing guard. There were two. The rest were asleep in a temporary tent they constructed along the chicken fence. Min stood up and walked with him across the yard. The two guards followed him. Neel turned and was about to speak to them when Min whispered at him “Leave them be. It is their duty to follow you wherever you go and protect you. Don’t make it hard for them.” Neel dropped the hand he was about to use to gesture them away and instead used it to open the gate. He and Min, with the guards behind, walked along the edge of the camp, down to the riverbank. Min insisted they sit in the middle of the open area. Neel, as he was arranging the blanket he had thrown across his shoulders to protect him from the night chill, noticed that more guards had come to join the original two but he said nothing.

It was late and the stars were out in full array. No moon. Other than he and Min and the guards there was no one else about. Everybody was sleeping. The dying fires in front of the tents gave off enough light to create a world of shadows and glimmers, vague and ever shifting. The guards were discrete. They sat far enough away that their presence, rather than being intruding, was pleasantly companionable. Neel took a sip from the bottle of tea Min handed him and said, “I have got agreement from just about everybody that we must consider anything they offer us. I have been hammering away at people to


make them realize the danger of our position, how weak and vulnerable we are, how every day that passes by makes us even more so. The Rechyai are getting closer. When they are within striking distance we will have no other alternative then but to throw ourselves on the mercy of the Sege, and I have never noticed that they have much of that.”

Min shifted her blanket to cover her left shoulder and answered. “It will be totally useless to appeal to their mercy. This will just arouse the bloodlust for which they are so justly famous. I think we should be very cold and hard with them. We should lie about the number of warriors we still have. I am convinced they think the numbers much higher than they are. Otherwise their warriors would have demanded an attack many days ago. I think their leaders are holding them back with the argument that if they annihilate the Klegit and lose half of their warriors, then how are they going to fight the Rechyai? We should play into that. We should say that unless we in some way join forces, the Rechyai, when they come, will laugh and wipe both of us out in half a day.”

“I couldn’t agree more. This is absolutely the line we have to take. If either of us are to survive we must join forces against the Rechyai. All the people chosen by the assembly agree on this. But we also must hit them hard right off the go about two other things. Firstly if we both move off the river to avoid the Rechyai the Klegit have much to offer a
new settlement. Animals, seed, crop knowledge, manufactures, and so on. We must get this across right away so we can counter balance the argument of their military might. Secondly, that if we are not offered something we can take back to our people then we still have options other then outright capitulation to the Sege. We could, for instance, wait for the Rechyai to come close and then cross the river and strike west. Then what would the Sege do? To attempt a chase when the Rechyai are so near would be suicidal. They would have to let us go and flee from the river themselves to their new camp on the Wah where they would face creating a new life for their people without the knowledge of the Klegit to help them to do so.”

“And with one more enemy within striking distance of them to their north.” Said Min.

“That too.”

“I’m worried about the Sege warriors.” Said Min. “Warriors everywhere are not very good at the long run. They think in terms of battles and heroic actions, and because of their success the Sege warriors more then most. I’m afraid they will demand of us something humiliating and unrealistic. And where we are going is a war camp where the warriors rule.”


“This is true. This is a great disadvantage for us but there is nothing we can do about it. I have arranged with all of the speakers for them to praise the Sege warriors. Not in a groveling way but in the way warriors praising the skill of other warriors. I would like to link in their minds the skill of the Sege warriors with the settlement skills of the Klegit. I would like to get them thinking that these two together would be stronger than they are apart. Armies need food. Armies need clothing and weapons. An army strong enough to fend off the Rechyai will need strong farming and producing villages to support it.”

Neel suddenly noticed that the starlight glimmering on the river was interrupted briefly by a quick dark stroke. The dark stroke collected itself into a figure alighting on the grass a few yards in front of them. Neel was about to jump up but Min reached out her hand and placed it on his forearm to restrain him. “I think I know this one,” she said. The figure took a few moments to collect itself and then walked towards them. When it arrived in front of them it was clear that it was a crow. It nodded its head twice as if to acknowledge the two of them and then spoke in a hoarse whisper, perhaps afraid to reveal its presence to the guards. In this it was successful, for its voice did not cross the dark space between the three of them and the guards.

“I am a friend of Kweya,” it said. “Or at least that’s what he tells me to say, but the truth is that I am sometimes his friend, sometimes his slave. Today I am his friend so you can think of me in that way if you choose.”

Min answered, “I have heard of you, Bird. Kweya told me about you, saying you are a loyal and intelligent bird and very hard working.”

“You must know Kweya well if you are capable of imitating his flights of flattery. But enough of that. The old man sent me two places. First I went north and held a conference with my own roost joined by some of my cousins from further up the river. The topic was the Rechyai. From this conference I learned many things but the two most important for present purposes is the number of Rechyai coming and how far along they are. Brace yourselves for the news is rather shocking.”

“Go ahead bird. You are talking to ancients whom events of the past few years have made unshockable,” Min said.

“There are now fifty thousand Rechyai fighters on the river. More have stopped and settled in the lands and villages your people were forced to leave. Some of their slaves and women have also stopped there, but not all. Along with the fifty thousand on the river


come perhaps thrice that number, that is one hundred and fifty thousand, women and slaves. In addition to this there is a steady stream coming out of the Rechyai country in the north and following along behind. I have already told Kweya, Ilna, Fils, Lo and others sitting in Ilna’s tent when I arrived at the Sege camp. Kweya tells me this information might be of some use to you but would request that you keep the source to yourself. ”

Although everyone knew the Rechyai were as numerous as wheat seed in a vast field but this news astonished Neel. It was as if the Rechyai were uprooting themselves from their old country and moving en mass as a whole people. But even this was untrue for there were many who stayed behind farming and mining in the old country. The Rechyai were a truly numerous people.

Min slipped her hand into the pouch at her side and pulled out a piece of pemmican. She tore it into three sections and reached out to place them before Bird. Bird tossed them into the air and swallowed them whole.

Min said, “Tell Kweya the source will be kept secret. But Bird, you didn’t say how far away the Rechyai are.”

Bird swallowed the last piece of pemmican and said, “This pemmican is excellent. If all Klegit pemmican is this good I should look about among you for a kindly shaman. Perhaps one who is a little less active than Kweya, who, despite being an old man, hardly seems to sleep these days. But to answer your question. One week. The Rechyai are one week up river from here. That is a fairly safe estimate but to be completely safe one would have to be on the move in four days, five at the very most. Some of the Rechyai have sails on their boats and, if the wind is right, the fighters can move with amazing speed. Kweya says you should ready your camp for fleeing no matter what happens in your talks with the Sege. Otherwise the Rechyai will be having you for breakfast.”

“But which way would we flee Bird?” asked Neel.

“If you can make a deal with the Sege, south along the Eg in your canoes and boats and then up the Wah. If you can’t make a deal then east or west. East is woodlands for many miles. The Klegit being farmers with animals it would be best for the bulk to go west. Kweya says it would be wise if you started in two days. This would give you a safe margin.” Bird looked longingly at Min’s pouch until she gave him more pemmican.

The next morning Neel sent thirty of his young clansmen across the river to clear a trail through the woodland to the western plain



When the Klegit landed at the Sege camp there was the usual exchange of greetings and gifts. Everyone was truly delighted and greatly admiring. It was a fine day with just a few wispy white clouds floating across the sky. Ilna had chosen a spot to the south of the camp where a cluster of tall oaks provided shade even at the hottest time of the day. Here the fourteen Klegit and an equal number of Sege sat around a fire pit which, due to the heat of the day, contained only cold ashes and charred bits of wood. They spoke in the stilted way of such affairs all afternoon, until Neel became very uncomfortable thinking of the gap between the need for speed and the slow, laborious process of formal speeches. Yet they were necessary, for underneath the rhetoric the positions of both sides were being presented and by late afternoon it was clear that they were not that far apart. This surprised Neel but in Min’s case confirmed her best guesses. Ceding to the traditions of the Sege, although she sat in the circle she did not speak. The night before she had primed one of the males in the group on the points she wanted to get across and he had done a good job in presenting them.

Kweya was present, seated beside Ilna. Lo was on his other side and to Min’s surprise she spoke three times during the meeting. None of the Sege males seemed to take undue notice of this. At the end of the meeting when things were winding down and everything essential already said, Min looked around her at the Sege standing or sitting outside the circle and was surprised to see, beside a strikingly beautiful Sege girl, a red haired, fair skinned Teg. Neel, noticing where her gaze had wandered, whispered into her ear “That’s Kweya’s grandson in law.” Min lifted her eyebrows at this and whispered back “And how would you know that?” But Neel was then starting his final speech summing up the position of the Klegit and did not answer.

After the formal meetings there was a feast round a great fire pit on the riverbank. Neel invited the senior belligerent clan leader to sit beside him. When they sat down and made themselves comfortable he turned to the man and asked, “Well?” For a while the man
did not say anything, for he was working away on a large chunk of venison. When he finished chewing and swallowed, he replied, “Not as bad as I thought.” Neel said nothing. After eating more venison, the man leaned in and said in a low voice, “Don’t tell those other guys but I think you are right. We have to make a deal. To go with them up the Wah will give us a better chance than going off on our own.” Then the clan leader, being a seasoned politician, rose to make way for another. A similar exchange occurred with the three others. Later in the evening, when night had fallen and the fire was lit, Neel made his way toward each man separately and apologized for threatening him. They were gracious. “Perhaps it was necessary,” said one. “We had no plans for violence you


know,” said another, “ If I had been in your position I may well have done the same thing.” Later, back in the Klegit camp, he sent, at Min’s insistence, for Neel himself was quite tightfisted, a team of Klegit ponies to each man. At first he objected strenuously to the cost but Min said to him “So, are you planning on taking them with you into the funeral fire, you old skinflint?”
Kweya, accompanied by Lo, spoke with Neel and Min near the serving tables some distance from the fire. After they had been talking for a long time, Fils, dragging behind him four young warriors, joined them. Swi was one of them. “We could attack and kill you all,” Swi said to Neel. “I’m sure you could, young man, but what good would that do you?” When Swi hesitated Neel reached out his hand and touched him on the shoulder, saying, “I am not insulting you or brushing you off. I asked you a question and am waiting patiently for the answer.” Swi smiled. Sly old men are very good with words but this one was also very charming. “How about another victory for the Sege?” Swi said. Neel smiled. “If we join together I will be a great supporter of victories for the Sege. But the only one that really counts over the next while will be the Sege being strong enough to throw back the Rechyai when they come up the Wah. In this victory the Klegit could be of great assistance. With the Klegit to plow and supply the Sege warriors would be invincible. As well you could take the best of our young men and train them to fight with you, tripling the size of your army. An army of five hundred, no matter how good, the Rechyai will laugh at. But one of, say, fifteen hundred? This would make them think twice. And if they did decide to come, if you had an army of that size as good as the one you have presently, then on the banks of the Wah you could defeat a Rechyai army five times that number.”

Min buttonholed one of the young warriors who, with the din of voices and the whoops and shouts of children going on around them, had to lean his tall frame over bringing down his ear so he could hear her. “And have you asked your grandmother’s opinion on this affair young man?” He smiled sheepishly. “She’s not in the camp grandmother Klegit lady.” Min smiled at this awkward form of address. “Then I will have to substitute for her. She would tell you that to think only in terms of your own glory is selfish and stupid. She would say that a brave and fearless warrior makes decisions benefiting his people even if they might go against his own narrow self interest. Am I right in saying she would talk like this?” “Yes, grandmother Klegit lady,” said the young warrior, pulling a droll face, “She would talk exactly like that.” The young man beside him laughed and punched him on the arm and Min, addressed them both, saying, “Besides I would advise you big
fellows to save yourselves for the Rechyai who are almost as big and savage as you are. No use wasting yourselves on Klegits who are basically farmers and no sport at all for a real warrior to kill.” Min delivered this with a mock serious face stretched to the outside


possibilities of such a mask and then broke out laughing. The young men, at first astonished that she would talk like this, didn’t know what to do but when she laughed they joined in so heartily they nearly knocked one another over. They went off shaking their heads, occasionally breaking into further laughter, to tell their fellow young warriors what the crazy old Klegit lady said to them.

Fils and Kweya and Ilna and a dragooned and somewhat reluctant Miga worked the fires well into the night. “We can work with these guys.” Fils said to one group of older warriors. “We need the numbers. Even if we can train them to be three quarters Sege warriors, what an addition to our strength! The women and skinny ones can plough fields and pick weeds. Don’t forget the Klegit women. Half of the men are dead yet both bunches will need as many babies as they can get. This is serious. This is a duty which I’m sure you Sege warriors can rise to!”

Miga, dragged along in Ilna’s wake, said to three of his lieutenants. “The old man wants it. I’m not so sure myself but the old guy is seldom wrong on these sorts of things.”

Ilna himself, talking to one of his younger sons, said. “Use your brains. The warriors in the old stories often formed alliances. Not all problems can be solved by killing people.”

Fortunately, that morning, at the beginning of the meeting, Kweya had informed those assembled of the Rechyai numbers and how close they were. Kweya’s authority was such that no one even thought of questioning what he had to say. After this only a madman would see staying on the river as an option.

Every soul in the camp was present at the assembly called for noon the following day. Ilna presented the decision of council to form an alliance with the Klegit and together with them to start the move immediately to the upper Wah. When he was finished, he brought himself up to his full height and raked the assembly with a menacing glare, asking the required three times if there were objections. Since there were none he declared the decision of the council also the decision of the Sege assembly.

The Klegit gathered at the river and climbed into their canoes. As they were pulling away Min’s young man from the night before called out to her “Klegit grandmother lady!” “Yes, young man?” she replied. “Send me your grandson,” he said, “and I will teach him to be a Sege warrior!”



The village of Sli was almost empty. Women, young children and old people were at the new camp on the Wah. Warriors and older children were at Two Rocks. Zuzy kept back two dozen of the older children and a half dozen older women stayed to help. They were loading the last of the smoked meat on to packhorses brought back to the village by the girl scouts. When they were almost finished, a canoe, paddled by warriors, pulled into the bank. Zuzy, who, despite her age, had very sharp eyes, hustled the last of the women and children onto the horses and was about to shoo them off up the trail, for the warriors she saw were Klegit. But when the canoe hit the soft mud of the bank Kweya leaped out onto the shore and speedily crossed the field. Behind him other Klegit canoes were landing. The men climbed up the bank pulling the canoes behind them. They sat on the grass. Some pulled out clay pipes and began to fill them. Others started a cooking fire in one of the old fire pits.

When Kweya came up to Zuzy they embraced. Kweya explained events of the last few days. Zuzy listened very carefully and when he was finished she laughed and clapped her hands. Out of the crowd of warriors on the bank emerged a group of older Klegits, both men and women. Zuzy and Kweya turned and watched them make their way across the field. When they arrived, Kweya introduced them to Zuzy. Min was among them. Three of the men were ironworkers. Four were farmers, knowledgable in crops, irrigation, and drainage. Most of the women were weavers and tanners. While they were being introduced Klegit men were piling goods on the riverbank. Looms, bags of seed, tools, bundles of hides and many other things. Bringing up the rear was an old man with a shepherd’s crook herding along a great crowd of skinny sheep. From another point on the bank where several flat bottom boats landed gangplanks on the bank came a herd of stubby cattle, shaggy creatures with large moony eyes gazing balefully about them. Under the direction of one of the Sege women these animals were herded into the former horse corral and the gate was closed behind them. Their bleats and lowing filled the air. The Sege caravan just about to leave dismounted and came running over to the fence to get an eyeful (and noseful) of these unusual creatures. Other than horses the Sege had no animals of their own

But this was not all the flat bottom boats had carried down the river. Carts, pulled by long haired ponies, came rolling up from the bank. One of the carts was fitted with a tall structure jammed with woven cages stuffed with ducks and chickens. Others reloaded things piled on the bank and still others were empty. The drivers were young boys who seemed delighted by their task. Perhaps the death in battle of older brothers had torn them from running errands for their mothers and dropped them into the seats of the pony carts. They pulled up along side of the corral and came to a stop. They leaped from their seats with a proud flourish and tied the pony’s reins to the fence. They pulled short stem clay


pipes from the folds of their shirts, filled them with tobacco, and lit up. The Sege youngsters came up and, after a few moments of shyness, started asking them questions. At first the Klegit boys hardly deigned to answer the enquiries of such lowly beings but after much pleading and the gift of honeyed sweets and a pair of carved bone dice the boys showed off their cages of animals and their ponies. They even allowed some of the children to pile on to the seats and took them for a ride. When they started to race the carts across the field one of the Klegit men called them up sharply and made them bring them back them back and retie them to the fence. to the fence. “The carts are to take the animals to the Wah,” he shouted. “They are not for running races.” The Klegit boys then pulled out a duck from one of the cages and sold pats, ten pats for one honeyed sweet, but they were good natured boys and when the children at the back of the line with sad eyes and no sweets came up, they allowed them pats for free.

Zuzy and Kweya and the Klegit old people sat on the ground in a circle and talked for a long time. Kweya sent four boys off into the plain to bring in the last of the surplus horses. When they arrived everybody, the young people and the old, the Klegit warriors, the men and the women, started loading the Klegit baggage onto the horses and carts. It was a kind of purposeful chaos with Zuzy and Min as the maestros. When everything was packed and all of the horses and riders finally sorted out, Min and Zuzy, riding older mares, led the long stretched out caravan up the trail and off toward the plains. The pony carts, followed by ten Sege scouts on fiery stallions, brought up the rear.

Kweya, Ohn and Yaah, for these two had come down the river with him, then sat on the bank. It was a lovely day, clear and sunny but with a crisp coolness to the soft breezes. They watched the Klegit warriors rearrange the gear and baggage in the canoes, pour water on the cooking fires, then push off, heading for the Wah. The Wah was a middling river but it had shallow sections only navigable in the high water of early spring. Depending on the water levels there could be considerable portaging. For the most part the banks were covered with dense bush. It was better to send the animals and heavy baggage across the plains. Accompanying the Klegit were three Sege scouts who had been up the Wah many times and who could read the waters and chose portage routes. When the Klegit were gone, a group of Sege warriors came down the river but they didn’t pull into the village. They waved and shouted as they went by. When they were gone Kweya, Yaah and Ohn got up and began the task of razing the village.

There was little left behind but Kweya was of the opinion that a razed village would indicate to the Rechyai that they were dealing with an enemy who retreated with discipline leaving nothing for the pleasure or use of his enemies. They gathered everything into a single pile in the middle of the field. They even tore down the fence


around Zuzy’s corral and compound. When they had gathered it all Kweya insisted they make another slow sweep over the whole village to make sure they had missed nothing. When this was done and the last few items thrown on the pile, they stuffed dried grass and leaves under the edges and lit it. It took a while to get going but once it did the
flames leaped high into the air. They carried up water from the river in hide buckets and wet down the grass around the fire. After it was burning for some time they stirred it with long poplar poles, pushing the burning embers towards the center. By the time Kweya was satisfied the fire had done its job the sun was sitting atop the trees on the west side of the camp. They did a final pushing into the center, rolled themselves up in their blankets and went to sleep.

In the morning Ohn and Yaah doused the embers with bucket after bucket of river water. When Kweya came back from retrieving the horses hobbled in a clearing in the poplar woods, they stirred it once more and doused it again. It was still early and cool and they were glad of the exercise to keep them warm. The horses stood patiently while they loaded the packs. As they made their way up the trail through the poplars they were trailing behind them a line of ten pack horses.



Fils and Ilna had a long argument with the young warriors. The young men wanted to wait at Two Rocks and use the wall and the fortifications on the banks to inflict a defeat on the mighty Rechyai. Fils was loath to lose warriors in such a useless enterprise. Ilna was against anything which might arouse the famous blood lust of the Rechyai “That’s all we need,” he said, “ To drive a splinter under their fingernail and have them, hot blooded, come up the Wah thirsting for vengeance. They are a very vengeful bunch. Kweya tells me it is not unusual for a Rechyai to carry his grievance for twenty, thirty years and then, say in the marketplace when his victim is relaxed and unaware of danger, to suddenly scream out the name of the clansman slain long ago and cut him down. One of the favorite topics of their stories around the fire at night is successful revenge. I don’t think it a good idea to poke such a lion in the eye with a sharp stick. I think it would be best if the Rechyai had nothing in their minds about the Sege excepting a vague notion of a ghostly people who disappeared before they could lay eyes on them.”


Although they did not say so to the older leaders faces, the young warriors whispered among themselves that their leaders had had grown soft and lazy and afraid. Why should the mighty and victorious Sege warriors blanch before the wrath of the Rechyai? They would have to leave the river because of the Rechyai’s numbers, yes, but why not leave something behind the Rechyai could remember them by? Would this not make them less likely to come up the Wah?

The argument went on for several days. Ilna succeeded in sending some of the warriors down river to the Wah but at the expense of bitter complaining from the young men. He sent all the noncombatants in camp along with them - altogether, warriors and others, about half of their number. Then Fils and he decided they would have to compromise. Fortunately for the young warriors, the Osni, the tributary tribe to the east of the Sege,
sent two hundred horses which arrived in camp that morning. Ilna sent messengers across the river and into the grasslands to contact the horse scouts who patrolled there.

If the young men would help dismantle the wall then, led by Miga, who was more than willing, they could ride north on the plain and attack the Rechyai with arrows and javelins one of the narrow places on the river. When the Rechyai came on to the banks to counter attack, the Sege warriors would melt away into the trees and ride the horses south to the camp on the Wah. At first the young men were vigorously opposed. Why leave Two Rocks with its wall and fortifications? But Ilna dug in his heels. He threatened to send them all south. He claimed that they were spoilt children who did not know the difference between war and playing silly games and that their childishness could lead to a great disaster for the people. Finally, faced with perhaps getting nothing, the young men agreed to ride north with Miga. That afternoon, with ill grace, they helped dismantle the wall. Then gathering war gear and bags of pemmican, they and Miga swam the horses across the river and rode north.

When the chain was removed the wall still held. Ilna thought the stream would topple and break it up eventually. Fils was not so sure. He had a few of the old men go up into the woods and gather resin. This they spread over the wall and set alight. By this time night was falling. As they paddled their canoes into midstream and headed south on the river it was burning quite spectacularly behind them.




Two days after the agreement was made with the Sege, Neel, on Kweya’s advice, sent most of the Klegit warriors and animals south in the canoes and flat bottom boats. Then he led the remainder of his people across the river. The day before, warriors, directed by a Sege scout, had crossed and widened the trail cut through the woods and marshes to the grasslands by Neel’s kinsmen. Others swam the ponies across and corralled them on the other bank. When the Klegit arrived on the west bank they packed the ponies with their baggage and started off on their journey. Neel was a bit surprised by the happy mood as they started off through the poplars. But then he thought –of course! Just a few days ago they were facing disaster and annihilation. Now they had a new home to travel to, one out of the path of the rapacious Rechyai. And the Sege scouts told them of the rich soil that lay there waiting to be plowed and seeded. They still had plenty of time to put in a crop and plant the fruit trees they brought with them. There were plenty of grazing land for the sheep, cattle and the ponies. There was reason for hope, reason to believe that after all the suffering and death, they were going to a place where they could build homes and raise their families in peace.

It took them two days to reach the grasslands. They set up camp on the bank of a small stream. With twilight becoming thick and heavy, they were preparing to bed down for the night, when a body of Sege warriors on horseback passed them by going north. Neel watched them until they disappeared and then still he continued to stare after them. He knew what they were up to. He lamented for a moment the unwisdom of rapping the wolf’s nose with a stick, then went into the tent set up by his wives and, falling on the bed of skins they had prepared for him, fell immediately into a deep sleep.



The Sege warriors rode north for one and a half days. They ate pemmican while traveling and stopped only long enough to water, rest and graze the horses. At night they


slept for six hours and then, rolling up their bags and leaping on to the backs of their horses, were off again.

On the afternoon of the third day, they came to a landmark known to the scouts - a thicket of tall oaks on the banks of a stream. Here they dismounted and rested for an hour in the shade of the trees. When they remounted they headed east towards the river.

There was still plenty of daylight when they reached the river. Miga had them build a corral for the horses in a large glade in the poplar woods, two miles from the bank. Then they set up camp while Miga and some of the older warriors walked the bank. The river here narrowed and the current was swift. There was a clear channel in the center of the river but there were large boulders sticking out from the water some distance from the banks. The Rechyai’s canoes would be forced into a long tight formation and thus ideally exposed to arrows and javelins. The boulders would make it difficult for the Rechyai to land on the bank for a counter attack.

Miga and the warriors scouted the bank for a mile up and down stream. They decided the best spot to launch the attack was a few hundred yards north. They retraced their steps and took another look at the spot. The trees came almost to the riverbank and between the last line of trees and the bank was a dense layer of bush. Completely hidden in this bush the Sege warriors could unleash a hail of arrows and javelins, inflicting heavy damage on the closely packed Rechyai. Then they could retreat into the trees to the horses and be gone before the Rechyai could get more than a few dozen men on the bank. There were two hundred Sege warriors. Miga and the older warriors decided that lining them up shoulder to shoulder would inflict the most damage. Mass was not important for they would be gone before the Rechyai could get at them.

That night Miga would allow no fires. One young man asked him “How could they see a fire from a distance in these dense woods?” “They don’t have to see it.” Replied Miga. “Smelling it would do just fine.”

Miga explained how they were to be positioned. “We will cut a trail back to the horses. Twenty arrows and ten javelins for each man. When they are gone come back to the trail and up it to the horses. It’s as simple as that. Tomorrow we cut the trail and run through coming down from the horses and spreading out, coming back, mounting and riding off. We’ll practice this four or five times a day until they come so that when it’s important we can do it without thinking. I will be saying this hundreds of times but I’ll say it now for the first. When you are shooting and throwing, if they see you, fine. Still, try to expose yourself as little as possible. But before we start shooting and throwing it is absolutely


necessary that they do not see you. At that point we don’t have to see them. Therefore keep your beautiful faces hidden behind the leaves. When you hear my horn, push ahead and loose the arrows. Then the javelins. Then scram.”

That night, before total darkness, two scouts arrived from up north. The Rechyai were perhaps three days away. They had scouts on the river one mile or so ahead of them, two light canoes with six warriors. If anything was unusual one turned back to the main formation and reported. Some of the wooden boats had shields along the gunwales but not all. Some of the Rechyai warriors wore armor but not all. They were traveling fast, stopping only at night an hour before dark and starting in the morning an hour after first light. They were stretched out in a long line that no scout had yet seen the end of. There were thousands and thousands of them. The scouts seemed a little shaken.

For two days they worked their drill, over and over again until the warriors grumbled bitterly. “If you didn’t want to work you should have gone south with Ilna and Fils.” Miga told them. “There you could have planted a few cabbages or cut hay for the horses. Some might say that grumbling is for girls but I have noticed that the girls put in a long day working leather or preparing food without grumbling.” On the evening of the third day on the bank new scouts came from the north. The Rechyai should come through the narrows in the early afternoon of the next day. Miga had each warrior prepare his arrows and javelins and place them on side of where he would be sleeping. Again they had no fire and after eating pemmican in the falling dark, they rolled themselves up in their blankets and fell asleep.

At first light they watered the horses and gave them extra oats and hay. They brushed them down with handfuls of marsh grass and whispered in their ears how brave and beautiful they were and how their children and grandchildren would also be brave and beautiful. Then they rubbed their warm ears, kissed the broad foreheads between large, dark eyes, and headed down the trail to the river. They spread out and took up their positions. Miga walked back and forth along the line talking to each man, encouraging. There was little need. The warriors were cheerful and confident. “We will give them a big sting to remember us by,” Miga said. “And then we’ll go south and get ready for them down there.”

Miga took up a position at the north end of the line. When he calculated that the first boats were almost at the end of the line he would blow the horn.



The sun was past the midpoint in the sky when the Rechyai scouts arrived at the head of the narrows. As Miga expected one canoe went back to the main formation and the other paddled through the narrows. They let it go unmolested. Then things happened that they hadn’t planned on. As soon as the returning scouts reached the main body, a command was given and a large squadron of wooden boats carrying perhaps several hundred warriors broke off from their fellows and paddled for the western shore. They moved very swiftly and, since the distance was short, were leaping out of the boats on to the bank before Miga could overcome his sense of shock and react. He cursed himself. These were seasoned river fighters who had behind them years of traveling and fighting on the Eg. That he had assumed they would blithely paddle down the narrows exposed to his arrows and javelins was stupid. It was also stupid that he had picked a spot where the eastern bank was, for a long way back, composed of field land. If there was an ambush it could only be on the western bank.

The Rechyai landed some one hundred and fifty yards up from where he was standing. The main formation of Rechyai boats moved over against the eastern shore and stayed there. As soon as they came out of the boats the Rechyai warriors started crashing through the bush. Miga listened for a moment and became horrified. They were traveling in a line away from the riverbank attempting to cut off their retreat. He turned and ran along the line to the trail rolling up his warriors as he went. He blew the retreat on the horn and headed up the trail. He could hear the Rechyai moving through the bush on his right. So could his warriors. They ran like men possessed. Fortunately Miga’s warriors were better runners than the Rechyai. They reached the horse corral in time to form a double line of archers of half their number facing north. The rest tore down the corral rails to the west, mounted their own horses while holding the lead of another. When the Rechyai came through the trees, without the slightest hesitation they charged the archers. They carried long metal shields so the Sege arrows had limited effect. In close the Sege warriors had only their long knives against the shields and two handed swords of the Rechyai. They charged in a line and knocked the archers off their feet then stabbed them with the point of the sword where they lay on the ground. The warriors on the horses wanted to go to their aid but Miga knew it was hopeless. He and his captains screamed at them until they started the horses up the trail. The one hundred archers who formed the line were killed to a man. And the Rechyai did not send all their men against the archery line. Some fifty wheeled off the western end of the Sege archers and drove for the trail. There they two handed their heavy swords into the neck joints of the horses they could reach filling the trail with the screams of the horses and the hot copper smell of spurting blood. The more experienced Sege riders saved the massacre. They drove their horses directly at the Rechyai knocking them to the ground where the horses smashed them with


their hooves as they rode over them. Miga screamed at the others to ride and they did so. When they reached the grasslands Miga would not allow them to stop. The injured who fell off their horses were tied on and the horses led by other warriors. After four hours of hard riding directly west they came to a large stream and pulled up the horses on its eastern bank.

Of the two hundred horses, there were one hundred and sixty drinking the muddy waters of the stream. Of the two hundred warriors’ eighty-five, after drinking their fill, threw themselves exhausted on to the lush grass on the bank. Miga spoke of killing himself. The older warriors stripped him of his weapons and mounted guard on him. All night he lay on the ground wrapped in his blankets alternately moaning and weeping.


The next morning Miga was out of his mind. The older men tied him to his horse and led it behind them. The oldest warrior, a man in his forties by the name of Haun, ordered scouts to ride the tree line to the east and warn them of any Rechyai coming out into the plains. The Rechyai were famous for pursuit after they won a battle but even they knew the futility of chasing horse riders on a plain with men on foot. For the whole of their march south the scouts rode the tree line but no Rechyai appeared.

Some of the men were injured so Huan slowed their progress. The point now was not speed but to get as many men to the camp on the Wah alive and ready to fight again. When on the fifth day of their march they ran into the Klegit column moving south he was overjoyed. The Klegit healers cleaned and bandaged the wounds of the injured men and Neel ordered that room be made for them in the pony carts. Miga, still alternately raving and weeping was taken off his horse and placed in one of the carts. The column was slow for most were walking. Some of the old and maimed were in the carts but there wasn’t room for them all. Neel and Huan distributed the slow ones over the extra horses brought by the warriors and the pace increased dramatically. Both groups were anxious to reach the camp for there was much work to be done.


On the first day Neel and Huan decided to ride side by side as an example to their people. They rode silently for some time, each immersed in his own thoughts, when Neel turned towards the other man and asked, “They fight well, the Rechyai?” Huan didn’t answer immediately and at first Neel was worried he may have given insult. But Huan was merely arranging his thoughts. After some time he said, “They are excellent fighters, at least the equal of Sege warriors. In close, with their long swords and shields Sege warriors equipped as they are, have no chance. With the long swords they can stab or slash before a warrior can bring the point of his long knife within two feet of them. They rolled over and slaughtered one hundred and twelve of us in five minutes. Against the horses they swung the long swords at the joint of back and neck. Before we could reorganize and run them down they killed forty horses. They move toward you with a steady relentless aggression. The only thing that stops them is death or the command of their leaders. Their numbers are such that the loss of a few hundred warriors is nothing to them. For us it is a disaster. We should have gone south with the rest. We have committed a great folly.”

Neel did not reply. What could he say that would not be foolish squeaking from a man inexperienced in war?

When, two weeks later, the column arrived at the camp on the Wah, the news had preceded them. The Sege warriors walked silently through the camp, heads hung. When they reached their hogans they entered without saying a word to those waiting to greet them. Miga was taken from his pony cart and tied to a tree on the bank of the river. Here he continued to rave and weep. On occasion, exhausted, he slept for some hours. His wife managed to get him to eat something but very little. Kweya and Zuzy came to see him but he didn’t recognize them. When Miga’s wife approached them as they were walking away, Kweya said to her “Time will tell.” And it did. A week later Miga managed to get hold of a sharp stone, hiding it in the folds of his ragged tunic. In the night he slit the artery in his left wrist. They found him in the morning lying in a pool of coagulating blood with a queer peaceful expression on his face and quite dead.



In the new camp on the Wah, Ilna, Kweya and Lo were eating slices of fruit bread sent them as a present by Min. The bread was delicious. Lo cut it thinly with a sharp knife and its moist texture, with bits of apple and berry, gleamed in the lamplight of the hogan.

“It might not be so bad being a Klegit if you could eat this every day,” Ilna said.

Kweya looked about him and leaned into speak “Don’t tell her but Zuzy makes a berry loaf which is very good but not quite as good as this.”

Lo laughed.

Ilna brushed the crumbs off his lap. “Take it away, please Lo or I’ll become so fat I won’t be able to fit in the door.”

Lo took away the plate and returned to sit on the floor.

She said to Kweya, “The scouts say the Rechyai will reach the old village tomorrow. They say they have taken so long because they ran out of food. They have to stop to hunt and fish. I think, come fall, our ripening crops will start to look very good to them. Then perhaps they will come up the Wah. With the help of the Klegit and their plows, ponies and seeds, the camp now had a very large acreage under cultivation. Neel and the Klegit council has sent the ponies and plows and most of their farmers west two hundred miles to plant as well. They made a camp there on the banks of a river where the soil is black and rich. If the Rechyai come up the Wah we can harvest what crops we can and retreat to the west.”

“The Rechyai may not know exactly where we are or what we are doing,” said Ilna.

“There are always traitors,” Lo said.


Kweya ran his right hand over the stubble on his jaw. “More than likely they know we are here. And more than likely they know we are growing food. However whether they think it worth their while to come in force up the Wah to steal what would be to them, considering their numbers, a few mouthfuls, is another question. We will have to wait and see.”


“Perhaps they might wish to avenge their dead in battle,” said Ilna.

“Perhaps,” Kweya said. “But I doubt it. From the warrior’s description of the battle they wouldn’t have had many dead. To them it would be a minor scouting skirmish not a battle. Why come up the Wah to avenge a dozen dead and wounded? But then you never know. What does Fils plan if they do come up?”

Ilna extended his arms above his head and stretched. “He’s training the Klegit warriors right now. But I’m a little unsure of what he plans. I haven’t seen him for two weeks.”

“I see him every day,” said Lo. “I take a bunch of girls over to his training field and Ohn teaches them to ride horses. Fils says in battle it doesn’t matter much who is on the horse but how he it is ridden. The horse, apparently, knocks over your enemy and tramples him to death if you aim it correctly. For this purpose girls are just as good as boys.”

“Is he getting the iron workers to make armor like Huan wants?” asked Ilna.

“He plans to armor some of the horses lightly. And small shields for the left arm of the warriors. So they can fend off the long swords.”

“And I,” said Kweya, “have twenty older men making bows like the one I have been using for years. It’s made by laminating strips of wood and is twice as powerful as the bow most of the warriors carry. One of the warriors brought back a Rechyai shield from the battle, one of my students, a very intelligent lad. If you take my bow and shoot at the shield from twenty yards the arrows go through it as if it were paper.”

“Still,” said Lo “These are technical solutions. If the Rechyai come up the river with enough men then no matter how clever our weapons or tactics they will overwhelm us.”

“Very true, Lo,” Kweya said. “It would be very foolish of us to automatically offer battle. We have to do some very serious thinking about when we should fight and when we should simply withdraw into the plains. And if we do fight, how? I think it would be crazy for us to confront them head on. If we have to fight we should hit them from the side with horses and bow shooting riders. And we should wait until they come out of the woods on to the grasses where the horses have the advantage. Whether we fight or not


should depend on the crops. If they are far enough along then we could cut them and take them with us into the plains. If not then we have a problem. We could burn the crops so the Rechyai don’t get them but then we would starve or half starve this coming winter.”

“What does Fils think?” Ilna asked him.

“Fils doesn’t think anything these days. He concentrates on preparing the army. He talks a lot about Miga. He says Miga would have become a great Sege general if he had refused to let him go north.”

Ilna grimaced. “Would haves won’t get us anywhere.”

Lo flinched a little at this and then she turned to Kweya. “What about Huan? Is he training him?”

“Yes. But I don’t think Fils thinks much of Huan. I believe he sees him as a dull fellow. This is a bad reading of Huan. Miga was young and loquacious and obviously brilliant but Huan is just as valuable a man in his own way. He isn’t flashy but he has a very good mind. Huan has a canny toughness that is more important in a General than mere brilliance. Most of the brilliant Generals die young.”

“You two are awfully hard on Miga,” said Lo.

Kweya raised his eyebrows at this. “No. We are not judging Miga. We are merely making an observation about Generals. Miga had the misfortune to run into an enemy he had no knowledge of. What happened to him could have happened to a half dozen other men as well. If we are to apportion blame for that debacle we would all have to take a bowl or two. I would say we older men, who did not restrain the young men, have much more to answer for than Miga. But what good does pointing fingers and beating our breasts do for us? What is done is done. Miga is dead but he did leave behind a legacy. We now have knowledge of the Rechyai which cost us dearly. But if we had not paid the price on that day, we very well may have paid a much dearer price later on.”


Ohn spent all of the daylight hours teaching riders on the training field. When they first came to the camp he and Yaah built a small Hogan just outside the fence surrounding Zuzy’s new compound. The new compound was as busy as the old, filled during the


daylight hours with women and girls and boys working. Yaah spent her days here smoking venison some of the older boys hunted in a section of scattered woodlands to the south. When Ohn came back at night they ate together at Zuzy’s fire.

“Fils says that in two days Horse People riders will be here. I will be free then to do something else.”

“Like what?” Yaah asked.

“I was thinking it would be nice to go further west. The Klegit are growing fruit trees and putting in gardens there. Zuzy was there a week ago and she told me about it. A valley surrounded by small hills. A small river running south and marshes nearby. Zuzy says it is a lovely place. Her description reminded me of the land where I was brought up although the hills wouldn’t be as high. My hills were leading into foothills of the big mountains and some of them were quite high.”

Yaah didn’t say anything. She put a spoonful of stew into her mouth and chewed slowly.

“Kweya says there are some Sege there if you think you might get lonely. Gardeners and some of the older people Ilna thought wiser to have farther away. The Klegit say it will be cold and windy out there in the winter. They dug houses into the sides of the hills and built storage sheds out of the sods cut out by the ponies and plows. What do you think?”

“What if there is war?”

“Then they would send for us and we would come back and help.”

“And the trading?”

“I have come to like the gardening and the Klegit animals interest me. I have horses that Ilna owes me. Perhaps we could trade some for Klegit sheep. If we have children trading would not be a good life. Too much travel and too much danger. Fine for a young man but a man with children ought to pay some attention to keeping himself alive and being around to help them grow up.”

“And why are you talking of children all of a sudden?”


“Well what?”

“With all the screwing we do it is bound to happen sooner or later.”

Yaah laughed. “Perhaps we should stop then.”

Ohn smiled but didn’t say anything. He took both empty bowls and refilled them from the pot hung over the fire. When he came back and sat down Yaah said. “You don’t want to go back to your home place?”

“My home place now is where you are.”

Yaah leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Since there is a marsh there I don’t mind going. Perhaps we should keep a couple of Ilna’s horses for traveling. Great grandfather is keen on digging houses into hills. He knows how to make fire chimneys out of clay. We should talk to him.”

“I already have. He promised to advise me on the site and exactly how to build. But Kweya is very canny. In return I have to help him in what he calls one of his experiments. So I will have to go away with him from time to time. Would you mind?

“No. But do you know what he means by experiments?”

“Not really. When I asked he grew very mysterious.”

“I don’t know that much about it myself but it has to do with magic. That’s what Zuzy told me. He has ways of making things appear other than what they are. Zuzy won’t let him do magic around her because it frightens her. “Get out of here with your bag of cheap tricks!” she shouts at him. But she says he still does a few little things once in a while to tease her. She says it makes her very angry but I think she really likes it.”

“What does he do?”

“One time he became a horse and rode the little grandchildren around the corral.”

“A real horse?”

“It looked so to me but I know nothing about magic. You should ask him.”


“I have but he doesn’t give me an answer I can understand.”
“I know what he would say to that.”


“You have a hard Teg trader head and it’s not loose enough to understand magic.”

“Well, soon I’ll have a gardener’s head so maybe that will be better.”

When Zuzy came looking for them a little later they were gone. She looked over the fence and saw lamplight in their hogan. When she returned to the fire she said to her sister “If those two keep that up the whole camp will be so full of babies there will be no place to walk.”


When the Horse People riders appeared three days later they brought with them several hundred new horses. They were unbroken so the Horse People and some of the young Sege and Klegits took them down to a pool on the Wah. There they led them into the water up to the shoulder. A man on either side held them by a halter. The Horse People trainers, after soothing the horse by whispering a long series of chants and songs into his ear, climbed on his back. The horse thrashed about trying to rid himself of his rider but he soon grew tired and stood still, breathing heavily. They repeated this twice a day for four or five days until the horse became used to his rider and carried him about the field somewhat erratically but without trying to throw him off his back. Then the Horse People taught the warriors and girls to train the horses further, to trot, gallop and canter, to stop and turn suddenly. Each person was assigned a horse. Every afternoon, after exercises, they took them down to the river and, after washing and rubbing them down, dried them with handfuls of dried grass. Each horse was fed by its rider’s hands only and they were the only ones who rode it.


Ohn and Kweya went off east down the Wah. They rode for two days, winding their way through the bush trails on the northern bank. On the third day they arrived at a large clearing where the river pooled to twice its usual width. The banks and fields on both sides were covered with lush grass and they removed the halters from the horses and let them graze. Kweya chose a shady spot under an oak tree, gathered wood for a tea fire and


they sat down to eat a lunch of smoked fish and flatbread. When the tea was ready they leaned back against the tree trunk and looked about. The sun was at the meridian and now that it was early summer, lusty and ferocious as it wheeled itself across the perfectly clear blue sky. A cluster of harebells was on their left, tall, waving fleabane on their right and the field along its length was strewn with blue and pink and white asters. The perfume of flowers, vegetation and the trees was intoxicating.

“Right here is the perfect spot,” said Kweya.

“The perfect spot for what?” asked Ohn.

“An illusion.”

“An illusion?”

“Yes. When the Rechyai come, I plan to entertain them with an illusion. I know something of them from traveling in their country some years ago in the company of Neel, the Klegit leader. He wasn’t the leader then, of course. He was a farmer with too many wives and a library he spent a great deal of time in. We went by boat up the Eg and visited some of the main Rechyai villages. Neel is interested in history and we spoke with many old men and leaders. As you perhaps know, the Rechyai come from across the sea. They crossed a great lake tasting of salt, upon which they travel for many days without seeing land. They are a very courageous and even foolhardy people. Conquerors are always like that. It is as if nature fills them with twice the usual allotment of energy and it is their destiny to hurl themselves into adventures to find some kind of equilibrium and peace. Mostly they find death and destruction, both their own and others. But this has to do with the cycles of the natural order and is not a matter of planning or will but a matter of necessity and compulsion. In their wake they leave a new human reality or at least that is the way most people look at it. In truth the new reality is much the same as the old.”

Kweya paused to pour himself a cup of tea and then continued. “While Neel filled notebooks with names and places and dates, I sought out elders who told me the old, old stories of their race – the gods, how the world was made, that sort of thing. Neel is a very modern man who thinks such things are for children but for me, besides being intrinsically interesting, they give important insights into the minds of those who created them. The world of the Rechyai is truly a hard world. There is a great deal of cruelty and suffering. Death in battle is perhaps the highest form of worship they can give their gods, who, without exception, are arbitrary, nasty and brutish. Among them deceit and fast dealing are considered virtues. Except in very circumscribed instances, kindness and compassion are considered weaknesses, meriting disgust and antipathy. The depth of


their addiction to violence and bloodletting is truly astonishing. I tell you this in the spirit of factual description not in the spirit of judgment, for, in many ways, the Sege themselves are much like the Rechyai, but with less numbers and power and if, like myself, you were a Sege war leader in your youth, you will not find the Rechyai foreign and strange, but rather familiar, almost brotherly walkers on the same path of war, blood and domination.”

The old man paused. His voice had become very sad when he said this and Ohn turned to look at him. His face in the shadows seemed very old and very tired but after a few moments of looking off into the distance through his bright, clear eyes, he started up once again.

“I tell you all this not because I am lost in an old man’s memories, but as a background to what I am about to explain. In order to create an illusion you must understand the mind in which you plan to create it. Otherwise all is lost and you may as well take all your clothes off and rush about bashing yourself into trees and boulders. The Rechyai will come up the Wah. I do not want to alarm people, so in council I often say exactly the opposite so that preparations can be made in an atmosphere of sanity and confidence, not of fear and hysteria. The Rechyai do not suffer their enemies. They seek them out and destroy them. They will know by now that the Sege were the dominant force in this region of the Eg. So do you think they will let us go up the Wah and settle some hundred miles from their stretched out settlements in our former homeland while they go off merrily to the south to conquer others? They are not dull witted. They know the thinking of a dominant people because they are one themselves. They know that as soon as they are weak we will attack them. When they arrive at the old village they will rest and talk for a long while. And then they will come up the Wah. Their numbers are almost bottomless. As warriors they are endlessly courageous and adaptable. We could defeat them in a number of pitched battles and still they would keep coming until they overwhelm us. And when they do they will annihilate us, every man, woman and child. They will wipe the name and flesh of the Sege off the face of the earth. That is how conquerors operate. They do not allow resistance or opposition. And if we, the Sege, were in their position, we would do exactly the same.”

Kweya pushed himself off the tree and sat in a cross legged position. He gazed for a long time at the idyllic, pastoral scene in front of him and then turned back to Ohn and smiled. “When they break into this beautiful glade what they will bring with them is violence, bloodlust, fierce hatred, desire for the death of their enemy. The illusion we will create for them is the death of the Sege. The glade will be filled with their reeking, putrefying bodies, hundreds upon hundreds spread out upon the ground. Their throats will be slit from ear to ear. Their horses will be with them, also with their throats slit.


Children, babies, old people, warriors, not a blade of grass will remain uncovered. Their blood will be congealed and turned a rusty brown. Their flesh will be bloated by the gases and the heat of the sun, torn and ragged from the predation of birds of prey and eaters of carrion. Crawling from their eyes and openings in the flesh will be thousands, hundreds of thousands of the insects who feed on the dead. Over all will be an eirie atmosphere of silence and stillness, as if the souls had left behind above the blanket of bodies, the last keen breath of their disappearing energy.”

Kweya paused briefly once again and said, “Not a quieting vision, is it? Yet this is, at bottom, what the warriors who will enter here will be deeply longing for. So we are going to give it to them. And when they see it they will leave, shaking their heads and marveling at the gloriously horrible Sege, who, rather than suffer death and humiliation at the hands of their enemy, slit the throats of their loved ones and then slit their own, leaving to their enemies nothing but the evidence of cold, iron will and a pile of rotting offal.”

Ohn was almost in shock at these terrible descriptions, for so mesmerizing was the old man’s voice, it was as if his words took on a cloak of reality and the terrible things they told of were there before his eyes.

Kweya stood up abruptly and whistled for the horses. As they were coming towards him he turned and smiled once again. “But that’s for later. Right now we have to go back to the camp and get a few other things done. We’ll come back in a week. On the way to camp I’ll begin an explanation of how such an illusion is achieved and what your role is in achieving it. Don’t worry. What we have to do is not the slightest bit gruesome and, next week once we actually begin, will be highly enjoyable.”

Ohn, in the grip of a barely controlled terror, mounted his horse and wondered what monstrous things could be conceived as enjoyable in the mind of such a depraved, morbid, old man.


Ohn and Yaah were lying in bed naked. It was the middle of the night and they had just finished making love for the second time. They were on their backs not touching and looking at the ceiling where the tiny oil lamp threw a shifting pattern of light and shadow.


Ohn finished telling her the story of his visit to the clearing on the Wah. Yaah had listened without interrupting and then they were silent for a long time before she asked him,

“Do you know why he needs you to help him?”

Ohn did not answer this question right away for it was one he had asked himself many times in the last few days and his mind wandered for some time over the fragmented and unsatisfactory results of his inquiries before he said, “No. I thought about it a lot but came to no conclusion. I was going to ask Kweya but, as you know, he’s off somewhere for a few days.”

“He needs someone to aim the illusion at and he is afraid if he aimed it at one of the Sege it would destroy them. To create the illusion he must aim it across the space where it is to manifest itself. The person who he aims it at must be friendly and receptive, an active partner. If he chose one of the Sege for this, it would probably destroy them. After all, passing through their mind would be the gruesome death of all their love ones, all their intimates. They would most likely go insane. He needs someone from the outside, a Teg like yourself, for instance.”

Ohn made no answer to this. Although it did not change his mind about the terrible nature of Kweya’s expectation, it struck Ohn as obviously true. As well, it’s truth filled him with forboding for it laid upon his shoulders a responsibility he preferred not to carry. Yaah turned her head to look at him in the yellow light. She studied his handsome profile for some time and then she said, “What he says is true you know. If he does not
accomplish this, the Rechyai will destroy us. The effects of the illusion will not last for ever, of course, but long enough to turn the Rechyai around and for us to harvest and then move farther west where even the powerful Rechyai cannot get at us. But without this they will come up the Wah and wipe us out, no matter how many bows or horses or clever and nimble tactics we may have. Some people guess at things which are to come but my grandfather knows. He is clear sighted and even though some of the things he sees are terrible, he does not turn his eyes away.”

Ohn did not answer. Long after Yaah turned on her side and her breathing became deep and rhythmic he was still staring at the roof of the Hogan. Finally he reached out and blew out the lamp and, spooning up to Yaah, went to sleep.

That night he had a dream. He was in the center of a circle of women – old crones, hags


with nasty, vicious faces. The circle tightened and started to move in towards him. When, desperate, he tried to break through a section of the circle he was unable to do so. The crones were incredibly strong and with great force they pushed him back into the center. Through a tiny gap between two of the women he could see an old man sitting on a rock. He was smoking a long stemmed clay pipe. The man seemed to feel Ohn’s eyes upon him and looked towards him. When their eyes met the old man smiled. Then the crones closed in and it was as if they were smothering him.

He woke up leaping out of his bed in one movement. He was covered in sweat. He looked around the Hogan and back to the bed but Yaah was gone. By the deep brilliance of the light outside which created a paler version of itself inside, it was at least mid morning, maybe later.



Min established herself at the westernmost camp some two hundred and twenty miles from the camp on the Wah. She brought with her many of the men who worked her large farm in the North Country and they brought their families. The sheep and cattle and most of the ponies accompanied them for here there was rich pasture. Immediately they plowed and sowed crops. They named the river flowing through the new fields and eventually emptying into the Wah, the Silig, after a legendary farmer credited with developing the Klegit system of crop rotation. They dug a series of drainage ditches. They planted two large gardens of root crops. They planted the fruit trees they carried with them but not all. Some they kept in their rag root bundles watering them every day. The gardeners grafted saplings from them and looked after them with great care.

When Neel came he brought most of his own farm workers to swell their ranks. They plowed more fields and planted more crops. They built log walls on the north of the gardens to intensify the heat of the sun and keep off the wind. They dug a deep pond and built a water wheel for leather buckets to bring water up to irrigate the root crops. They lived in tents and lean tos until the essential work was done. Then everybody, men, women, children and old people began digging into the hillsides to make houses for the winter.


Although some older Sege came and worked at Min’s camp, the majority were Klegit. Zuzy came with her gang of grand daughters, great grand daughters, nephews, nieces, and little boys. Zuzy spoke with Min and it was decided they would work a large garden for potatoes only and catch fish from the river and smoke them. Yaah refused to come just then. She told Zuzy she had to stay with Ohn because Ohn had to stay with Kweya. When Zuzy complained to Kweya, for Yaah was one of her best workers and could have taken some of the young girls to gather in the marshes nearby, Kweya put on his stone face. “I need the boy,” he said. “And the boy needs Yaah.” Further complaints yielded no results so Zuzy, armed with long experience of Kweya’s intransigence, gave up. As she was walking away, Kweya did toss her a small dusty bone. “When certain things are finished the three of us will come.” Then, before she could ask him anything else, he turned on his heel and walked quickly away.


Ilna was out on the training field every day, early in the morning. He taught the young men, both Klegit and Sege, in close fighting using six foot staves covered with rawhide to soften the blows. He was popular with the young men for he treated them with respect and they were in awe of his fighting abilities. No matter how fast or clever they were it was impossible to throw him. His favorite teaching technique was to have two matched boys go at one another and to stop them when they were in the middle of their encounter. He would then, in great detail and with much salty language, show them what they were doing wrong and how to correct it. First thing in the morning he made the boys go through a regimen of movements in slow motion. He would correct them individually and everyone would repeat it again and again. The young men found this boring and complained bitterly but in this Ilna was unrelenting. “If you can’t do it slow then you can’t do it fast,” he said. “And as for boring, being dead is very boring. When you start out on the battlefield you are totally terrified. This goes for young like yourselves or old like me. The only thing you have at that moment is what you know automatically, what your body knows. If then you know nothing, you are screwed. The enemy will strike you down like a scared rabbit. If you can automatically defend yourself and strike, then you will be effective as a warrior on behalf of your people and as well may still be alive at the end of the day.” At noon, when exercises were over, he took on one or two of the
stronger men but he rationed this out carefully for it is discouraging for a young man to


be tossed on his arse by someone as old as his grandfather. In the afternoons the young men trained on the horses and shot bows. Ilna sat in the shade on the riverbank with his feet in the water.

It was here that Lo came to collect him mid afternoons. Usually by then he lay on his back asleep, hands clasped over his great belly. She brought him a plate of the smoked fish he liked and a bowl of sweet squares. Ilna first washed himself in the river and then they sat down to eat together. Finished they rose and crossed the camp to the vegetable gardens on the other side where they spent two hours weeding and thinning. Ilna, especially at first, just after Lo had bullied him into it, complained just as bitterly about this work as his young warriors complained about their exercises. But he soon stopped, for Lo mocked him unmercifully, scraping him up one side and down the other with her sharp tongue. After two weeks he began almost to look forward to his gardening and was even learning some of the names of the plants. Crawling along on his hands and knees between the rows while Lo gave him mild lectures about the great fighter giving an example to his people and some of her theories about farming being the future of the Sege, he actually began to enjoy.

One day when they were finished and sitting cross legged on the open black soil, he said to her. “I have made arrangements for Zili.” Lo didn’t reply at first for she was pulling out a couple of long weeds from between two corn plants. When she was finished she said “Oh?”

“Yes. I tried to talk her into remarrying. ‘No,’ she says. Then I get Zuzy to talk to her. ‘She doesn’t mind divorcing you,’ Zuzy says, ‘but she doesn’t want to marry anyone else.’ I ask Zuzy ‘Well, what does she want to do then?’ Zuzy replies, ‘She didn’t really say but I guess she just wants to be by herself, to be unmarried.’ I was about to say something but I checked myself. You know what Zuzy is like. If I said that was unnatural then she would claim my having six wives was also unnatural and so on. So I kept my mouth shut and she went away. Later on in the day I run into Kweya, who says, out of the blue, ‘She is going to study with me.’ I was tempted to say ‘And who might we be talking about, enigmatic old shaman?’ but he would just look at me that way he does when he thinks you are being childish, so I said, ‘Alright.’ And that was that. Zili moved into the storage hogan next to Oolon and Yaah. She eats with them now because Zuzy and all those women and boys are gone up to the Klegit camp – more gardening by the balls of the hairiest warrior among the Sege!”

When Lo said nothing to this for some time, and indeed did not even look at him, for she was still gazing at the weeds she held in her hand, Ilna asked “Well?”


“Well what?” she said.

“Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“I have to talk to someone first and then I’ll see you tonight,” she said. Then she got to her feet and walked out of the garden towards the hogans.

That evening Lo walked to Zili’s hogan. Zili was cooking a rabbit stew over a small fire. She had, on the ground beside her, small leather pouches stuffed with herbs. She asked Lo’s advice as to which ones would do well in the stew. Lo, sniffing the bags, placed herbs in Zili’s outstretched hand until she was satisfied and Zili tossed them into the stew pot. Lo stirred and tasted and they put in a little more. “Savory, mostly.” Lo said, “This one.” She handed the bag to Zili who took a good sniff. “I’ll try to remember.” She said.

After an oblique, wandering conversation, for Lo did not want to insult the young woman by being too direct, she was satisfied that it was Zili’s choice that she left Ilna’s hogan and that she was indeed studying with Kweya and very happy doing so. Lo ate a bowl of the rabbit stew and then went off looking for Ilna.

It was not that Lo thought Ilna was lying. He was a truthful man, even when it injured him to be so. However he did tend to interpret events in ways which were a little skewed and she wanted to be absolutely sure of exactly what happened with Zili. When she came up to Ilna he was fixing an old bow in front of the hogan. The older wives were some distance away cooking and tanning deer hides.

“The youngest wife will be bathing in the river and sleeping in the storage hogan tonight. Perhaps an aging warrior might want to join her, who knows?”

Ilna smiled broadly but Lo didn’t see because as soon as she said this she entered the hogan. Ilna was enormously pleased.

When Ohn ran into Kweya in the garden three days before they had agreed to go back down the Wah, the old man said to him, “I have been away in the hills gathering things which are necessary for our enterprise but don’t worry. Your role in this affair cannot be practiced and, in fact, excessive talking about it beforehand could cause problems. Yaah


will be coming with us. Perhaps the two of you could come to my hogan tonight and we could talk.”

Later that evening, when Yaah and Ohn entered Kweya’s hogan, the old man was washing his feet and laughing. In front of him, perched on an old table, was Bird. Kweya greeted them and said, “Bird here was telling me of a dispute between his in laws which led to a knock down, drag out brawl at a wedding.” Bird said hello and they greeted him in return. Kweya, finished washing, began to message an oily, sweet smelling ointment into the skin of his feet. Ohn watched him very closely. Granted, he thought, he might be a terrible old man, but the way he did even the simplest task with such an intense, relaxed concentration, was truly mesmerizing. Yaah asked for a dab of the ointment and when Kweya gave her some she smeared it onto her hands and rubbed them together until it was absorbed. She held out a hand to Oolon and he sniffed. There was a musky underlay of oil but above it floated the sweet smell of flowers and meadows, and just below that Yaah’s own smoky scent. Oolon found this bouquet intoxicating and since it was obvious from his face he did so, Yaah laughed and gave him a quick, unobtrusive poke in the ribs.

Bird did not stay long. After an exchange of polite pleasantries, Kweya lifted the flap and he flew out into the growing twilight. Kweya lit a lamp and began speaking to them of his ‘enterprise’, as he called it, in what Ohn thought to be a series of enigmas and circumlocutions, but which to Yaah (Ohn kept glancing sideways at her) seemed perfectly obvious and ordinary. When he was finished Yaah stood, on her way up grasping Ohn’s hand, and said “Thank you great grandfather.” Kweya laughed, waving off her thanks while Yaah practically dragged Ohn from the hogan.

Outside she said, “He’s an old man and we must not tire him. To cast such a grand illusion requires mind boggling amounts of energy.”

“And I, “ answered Ohn, “have mind boggling amounts of questions which I did not get to ask.”

“You know very well he would only give those long, weird explanations of his which would make no sense to you at all. Then you would ask him another question and he would do the same thing. After a couple of hours of that, nothing would be accomplished, excepting, perhaps, that you would be more perplexed going out than going in and that great grandfather would be tired.”

“Still, I would have liked to ask my questions.”


“You could ask me.”

“And why would I ask you?”

“To get an answer, silly.”

Ohn looked at her very suspiciously. He stepped back a bit and looked at her again.

“You are his student?”


“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why didn’t you ask?”

“Answering a question with a question is a cheap trick.”

“Sometimes maybe, but not this time. Have you told me everything about yourself? No, of course not. It is quite impossible to tell everything about yourself. If we jabbered on all day and all night for weeks on end, this could not be accomplished. Some day you will say something and I will say, ‘I didn’t know that about you!’”

“But this is something very important.”

“As what you might someday reveal to me might be very important.”

Ohn took some time to absorb this. Yaah was very quick with mind and words, quicker than he was, but still he knew that she had withheld something important from him by a conscious and willful act, not as a mere oversight. But what would be the use of going on about that forever? They walked through the hogans and sat on the bank of the river. Here the river was deep and the current strong. In the fading light the water gave the appearance of intertwined ribbons of silver and black. Ohn was just about to begin asking her questions, for his curiosity was so strong it over rode his sense of grievance at being kept in the dark, when Yaah said,

“I’m sorry. I should have told you.” Tears began to flow down her cheeks. Ohn was devastated. He had never seen her weep before. He moved closer and put his arms around her. Her head nestled into his chest. She made no sound. Ohn said to her.


“It is of no consequence, Yaah. And even if you did me a great injury, it would still be a matter of no consequence.”

After some time Yaah sat up and Ohn asked his questions.


Fils came over to the side of the field when he saw Kweya standing there. It was mid day of a hot day and they walked to the shade of a cottonwood tree and sat on the grass.

“I remember going into battle with your father on just such a day,” Kweya said. “It was in the war extending Sege territory south along the Eg. That was before you were born.”

“I don’t remember the war of course but I do remember my father and uncles talking about it. It was particularly savage, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. The Horse People were and still are great warriors. We lost three hundred warriors and were almost thrown back. It was nip and tuck. Finally we made a treaty giving us another twenty miles along the river. I still think the Horse People didn’t know how stretched we were at the end and if they had known we wouldn’t be here talking today.”

“Didn’t the Horse People go to war with someone further south on the Loona?”
“Yes. But even then, if they had exerted a reasonable effort against us at the end, we would have been defeated.”

Both men looked off for a moment to watch the young men being put through their exercises by the Horse People trainers. They were getting better every day. Some could now move together as a squadron, charging, turning, and regrouping as a single unit. The surface of the field was churned up by the horse hooves. On one side individual riders were weaving through a series of stakes. In another spot riders were leaping onto their horses at a full run.

“The Rechyai are getting horses.” Said Kweya.

“From where?”


“From the east. The Osni.”

“Those bastards!”

“Its inevitable I suppose. We can no longer get at them. If they do not do as the Rechyai ask they will be destroyed. One can’t really blame them.”

Fils remained silent for a while and then said, “It will take them a long time to learn to ride them properly. If they come up this summer or early fall we still will be capable of giving them a sharp enough blow to keep them from coming up again.”

“Surely you know this to be untrue.”

Kweya was looking directly at him and Fils flinched under his gaze. But Kweya refused to release him and Fils finally let out a long sigh.

“I suppose you have been talking with Lo.”

“This has nothing to do with personalities. It has to do with sanity, what is possible, and saving our people.”

Kweya let some time pass without receiving Fils’ answer then he asked,

“Perhaps you would be so good as to answer me. Let me put the question in another way. Surely you know that warriors lost defending the Wah will be like throwing dry shavings into a fire? Especially when we will desperately need these warriors to cover our retreat into the plains. Surely you know that anything else will be a repeat of what happen to Miga north on the river.”

When Fils still did not answer Kweya reached out and grasped his forearm.

Fils did not resist his grasp and he finally answered, “I know you are right. I know that to fight them in anything other than retreat will be a disaster and yet I still hate to say it. It is as if some one were grinding my balls between two stones.”

Kweya let go of his arm. “Your are a great warrior and what a bitter thing it is for a great warrior to admit that his arms can no longer defend his people. What kind of a weak and useless heart would he have if it were otherwise?”


“Well, I don’t know what kind of a heart I have but I do know these young people want to fight. Whoever tells them they can’t will be wrestling with a hurricane!”

“As you know this is another matter. To turn the hot blood of the young to useful military purposes has never been easy. But we older men who know cannot allow a useless waste which could well lead to our annihilation. You know I am not talking from war weariness or lack of courage but from the firm basis of what is possible and what has to be done. If the young hotheads disagree let them either overturn the arguments or go leaderless into battle. Let’s not have another Miga. The Sege would be lucky to end a small fragment absorbed by the Horse People or the peoples farther west. You know this. You are too intelligent a man not to know it.”

Fils hung his head and shook it slowly from side to side. Then he lifted his gaze and looked directly into Kweya’s eyes. “What does Ilna think?”

“That we must retreat into the plains covered by our horse riders. They will not be able to press us closely without matching both our number and skill with the horses.”

“And the Klegit?”

“Have, for the most part, already gone west.”

“Farmers who are now growing the food to feed all these young men next winter!”

“And Huan?”

“Huan is a military man. He will do what his leaders tell him to do.”

Fils looked for a long time at the sky above the trees to the north. It was a clear, limitless blue. When he had his fill of soaking up the sad emptiness of the sky, he asked. “And how is it to be done?”

“Assume they will follow orders and give the orders.”

“And if they resist?”

“Let’s leave that for when and if it happens. But you have to talk to them, Fils. You


have to challenge them. You are their General. If you reason with them they will at least listen. Do it as soon as possible. Let it sink in. Unrealistic notions tend to decompose with time.”

“Alright. But if you are going back to camp send Ilna. He and I will have to do this together. They love him and see him as a great hero. I will need him to help me.”

“I will ask him to come.” Fils went back to his exercise field and Kweya remounted his horse and rode off toward camp.



The Rechyai secured the riverbanks south to the lands of the Horse People and then they halted. The Horse People were numerous and fierce and fought mostly on horseback. The Eg through their territory had some wood on its banks but much of it was open prairie and the Rechyai would be hard pressed on foot against horse riders. Up to where they stopped, the riverbanks were densely wooded some miles from the bank. Here, using long spears, disciplined movement, and their large numbers they could repulse even a massed, concentrated attack by riders.

The Rechyai leaders sent an embassy east into the land of the Osni, who until recently recognized the Sege as overlords and paid tribute to them. Offering gold and salt fish they convinced the Osni to use their routes south, routes to the east of the Eg, to bring up horses from the peoples south of the Loona. The Osni men traveled along small rivers with much portaging, for that country consisted of evergreens sitting atop outcrops of rock crossed here and there with a network of rivers. They brought Rechyai gold with them and had little difficulty buying as many horses as they wanted. Somewhat farther to the east in their country was a belt of land wooded in places open in others. Through this the Osni herded the horses north. When they reached their own villages they drove them west along a cut trail to the Eg.

When the Horse People heard of this from relatives and allies in the south, they sent


agents to convince the southerners not to sell but without results. Rechyai gold was a stronger argument than sentimental attachments to neighbours far away in the north. As well, many of the smaller southern people had bones to pick with the Horse People. The Horse People were an imperial and bullying people and many saw the arrival of a strong new enemy to challenge them as an opportunity for a vicarious settling of old grievances. The agents tried to gain permission for Horse People warriors to pass through their territory going southwest to interrupt the trade but they met with vague promises and evasions. The Horse People council did not authorize the agents to up the ante by making threats, for most of their warriors were on their northern border and to combine this commitment with sending large numbers of warriors south would be unwise. The council thought that the Rechyai would not move again until the spring when they were equipped with horses but with the Rechyai you were never sure. To send men south and then be attacked from the north would be disaster. The agents bit their tongues and came back to their own country.

In their slow descent of the Eg the Rechyai drove everyone off the river and repopulated it with roiling mix of their own people, subject peoples and slaves. All of these had some skills farming and working with animals and now, all along the river from the Horse People border in the south far up into the far North Country of their origin, were Rechyai farms and villages. Far north where the Eg transformed into a series of huge lakes, Rechyai fishermen caught and salted great numbers of fish. With their numbers spread out much of this now went south to their brothers and sisters along the southern Eg. In the north there were gold mines worked by slaves.

The first movements of the Rechyai south were without organized leadership. They were driven by the conquering spirit of the new Rechyai and were little more than a vast mob occasionally chosing a leader in response to a pressing need. This worked when they were dealing with the small peoples to the north of the Klegit but when they came to Klegit territory they met organized resistance. In several of these small battles the Klegit inflicted defeats which outraged the Rechyai who saw the Klegit as a mousy, sheep like people. Warlords began to emerge among the Rechyai and eventually they formed a council. When they began the three year war which pushed the Klegit south the council elected an overlord to whom they gave the name Director, partly as an avoidance of the title King. The Rechyai had fled kings in the old country. The idea of a king, especially a hereditary one, was most repulsive to them. The Director who led during the Klegit war was killed on the battlefield. They then elected another who was their present leader. His name was Marl and the opposite of who one would think such a warrior people would elect as leader. He was a small, skinny man of fifty years with a great thatch of snow white hair. The bones above his eyes were particularly prominent. They formed caves from which he looked out at the world through a pair of piercing blue eyes.


Marl was an intelligent and capable politician. Six months after his election, he had drawn all the reins of power into his own hands. Since he was so capable a man, this made the Rechyai even more formidable than they would ordinarily have been. It was he who sent the embassary to the Osni to trade for horses and he who sent agents south with gifts of gold for some of the leaders of the small southern peoples. It was also Marl who decided to send warriors up the Wah to destroy the Sege and the remnants of the Klegit. Hot headed in his youth, Marl, in middle age, was a cool, almost passionless man. To him the destruction of the Sege was a matter of policy, not one of personal desire. One did not leave sharp things, no matter how small, off to the side of one’s path.

His battlefield leaders were against it. They thought what remained of the Klegit and the Sege not worth the trouble. The clan leaders were indifferent. Some thought it best to leave them alone for a few years and then to develop trade with them. The land they were now on could grow rich crops and the Klegit, at least, were good farmers and herders. Leave them be for a time and then offer them protection for tribute and a trading treaty. But the clan leaders didn’t really care. It was a small matter to them. As for the war leaders, in the end they did as they were told. Marl told them to prepare plans for ascending the Wah and wiping out the Klegit and the Sege.

The reason for Marl’s sanguinary attitude was what he learned from captives and from the Head Men of smaller peoples to the east, including the Osni. He listened to a series of songs sung by an Osni man having as their subject the prowess of the Sege warriors. The Osni told him the surrounding small peoples for hundreds of miles paid tribute to the Sege for as long as they or their grandfathers could remember. Another man, a southern Klegit, chanted for him a long poem about a war three hundred years before between the Klegit and the Sege. The Sege had been victorious. That such a war like and dominant people melted away in front of them without a show of resistance, made him very suspicious. That, other than vague reports they had ascended the Wah and were somewhere to the west, he could get no detailed information on their movements or numbers, made him even more suspicious. An Osni leader told him the Sege could field two thousand warriors. Another said five hundred. Reports also said the Klegit had made a treaty with the Sege and accompanied them. Some said there were two hundred Klegit. Some said there were five thousand. What if the high numbers were true and some Sege General welded together a disciplined army out of both peoples? And then, in the spring when they made their push against the Horse People, this army hit them from the side? He had sent horse scouts into the plains on many occasions. None had returned. This also made him suspicious. If the Sege and Klegit were a fleeing remnant, scouts would have returned telling him so. Instead all he had for Intelligence was a dark and reverberating silence.


His warriors were lazy and would prefer to spend the rest of the warm season drinking, wrestling and coupling with their large numbers of female slaves. But they had more important things to do than indulge themselves in their pleasures. Marl decided to lead the expedition himself. He was curious to see these Sege and watch his warriors destroy them. He would take the best of the Rechyai warriors. The presence of their Director would help snap them into line and motivate them on the battlefield.



Scouts along the Wah informed Ilna that the Rechyai were coming. The scouts from the north bank said there were ten thousand. Those from the south said fifteen. Whoever you believed the numbers were overwhelming. They carried their usual axes and long swords but were also carrying, in wheeled carts, large numbers of long handled spears. Slaves preceded the column, cutting, as they advanced, a wide trail. Over the swampy areas they created a road of lashed together tree trunks. All this impressed Ilna to no end. The Sege, in all their history, never had the resources to conduct war in this manner. Their armies had always traveled light and, for the most part, on foot. Even at the summit of their ascendancy, in Ilna’s grandfather’s time, the Sege could field perhaps one thousand warriors, in a major struggle. Calling in allies and tributaries, they could field an army of perhaps four thousand. And this for the Rechyai was a minor expedition, a kind of administrative mopping up. Even if, by some miracle, the Sege succeeded in totally annihilating this force, this would be to the Rechyai a matter of inconvenience rather than substantial defeat.

The scouts came into the camp in the early morning and Ilna decided they must leave right away. He called in the clan leaders and explained the situation. Even a halfday’s delay could spell disaster. He sent messengers to Fils at the training camp to the south asking for horses for the retreat west. Fils sent him two hundred. They arrived at noon to a scene of great pandemonium. The camp was a scene of breaking down and packing, the trampling of horses and people sending up a cloud of dust into the hot humid air. The young women and children were packing canoes on the riverbank and pushing off to paddle west. Lo was fitting the old people into wagons and commandeering people to drive them. The clan leaders dove into the arriving horses, leading them off to be packed


with goods and people. The noise was deafening, the crying of babies, the neighing of the horses, the shouting of mothers searching for their children, Ilna and the clan leaders rushing from one spot to another putting out fires, settling arguments. When Lo had the wagons loaded she sent them off one by one down the trail west for they would be the slowest of the company and the sooner they were on the way the better. Behind them followed a line of middle aged women with children carrying whatever packs and possessions they could manage on their backs and in small carts, and then a line of horses packed high with hogans, poles, bags of pemmican, smoked meat and fish.

One of the councilmen tried to persuade Ilna to leave in the morning but he said no. “We no longer have the luxury of time. We now move as fast as we can and as far as we can with our only break being the feeding and resting of the horses. Look around you. Do you want these women and children to be butchered by the Rechyai? We warriors can pick up our weapons and die on the battlefield but the weak and defenseless are forced to drink in the cruelty of their enemies as they die.”

Before dark the last of the long column flicked its tail and freed itself from the camp, now an empty field barren of everything but dust and the churn of footprints and horse’s hooves. An hour later the kindly moon rose to give them light. They did not stop till the middle of the night and even then Ilna would not let them cook or spread out. They ate from pemmican bags and slept where they lay and at first light were moving once again.


In the end there were no problems with hotheaded warriors. Kweya and some of the retired war leaders came and talked with them for an entire day. When the scouts brought the numbers, even if you cut them in half to account for exaggeration, no person experienced in war would suggest anything but flight. Fils sent out scouts to give him the position of the enemy. When they returned he sat on the dusty ground and gathered his lieutenants around him. “The camp is already packed and gone,” he said, “and it is our job to harass and slow the enemy to cover the retreat.”

With a stick he drew a rough map on the ground. He touched a spot with the end of the stick. “By tonight they should be here. You will remember that there is a large swamp spread out on both banks of the river. The scouts say they should arrive at the swamp just


before twilight. To push on through the swamp in the dark would be foolish, so they will camp in this field to the east on the north bank. The field is almost a perfect circle but to its north there is an extension along a skinny neck opening onto another large field. My guess is that they will graze the horses in this second field. This field is circumscribed on the north by a stream eventually making its way to the river. Swi and his twenty warriors and the horse talkers will cross the swamp and swim this stream to wherever they decide is best. Then they will climb the bank and kill the guards. There are two hundred horses. The Horse People talkers will gather in the horses and lead them ten miles directly north where there is a patch of grassland all the way to the camp. To steal their horses will be a great blow to them and will add to our own herd. How nice it will be to have two hundred horses paid for by Rechyai gold!”

Swi and his warriors and the horse talkers left immediately in canoes. Up to the swamp the Wah was deep and swift with no rapids. When they were gone Fils ordered the camp struck. “We go west to join Huan at the abandoned camp. Then we will see how fast they march. Perhaps we can slow them enough to have time to gather in the crop.”

When the carts and horses were loaded and mounted Fils led them along a winding trail through the woods.



Kweya, Yaah and Ohn came along the south bank of the river on horseback. They rode hard for Kweya was anxious they reach the clearing some time before the Rechyai arrived. In the moonlight they rode into the night and, after a six hour stop to sleep and rest the horses, started off again. They reached the clearing the next evening and camped in the woods on its far northern edge.

The next morning they took turns watching for scouts moving west. When one appeared riding hard across the clearing Kweya whistled him down. The Rechyai were two days away. Swi and the Horse People talkers stole their horses and were riding them west. They were overjoyed with this news. Even Kweya smiled broadly. Ohn and Yaah, shouting loudly, clasped one another’s arms and leapt about in their happiness. Kweya


asked the young scout as he was leaving, “Are there more of you to the east?” “No,” said the scout. “ Fils has a picket line ten miles west of here and I am the last to join up with it.” He shouted this over his shoulder as he remounted. He dug his bare heels into the horse’s ribs and rode off giving them a final wave just before he entered the trail through the woods and disappeared.

Kweya was pleased. He boiled water for tea and dug into his bag, bringing out a pouch filled with honey rolls. He and Yaah and Ohn sat on the ground and, at Kweya’s insistence, ate all of them. Their hands and faces became sticky with honey. They walked to the little brook nearby, washed and came back to have tea.

Kweya balanced his cup on his knee and said, “Bird will be coming around noon. We need him to give us the exact position of the Rechyai so the illusion can be created without waste. To create the illusion is a great drain of energy and not, as you two would no doubt think, because I am an old man. Indeed I am an old man but many things actually become easier with age and young people, and old people as well, often forget this. Each stage in a human life has advantages and disadvantages. Young people, for example, often waste energy worrying about things which an old person has stopped worrying about long ago. I first created a major illusion at the age of twenty. It almost killed me. Despite this, for some time afterward, I became addicted to creating illusions. It became easier as I went along but I’m afraid much of that young man’s activity was frivolous, unnecessary and vainglorious. I was very proud of my illusions. Later I saw this as childish and concentrated on more useful things. It has been some years now since I have created a major illusion although I have done minor ones to amuse the children.”

“How do you do it?” asked Ohn.

Kweya looked at him for some time, saying nothing. Then he looked at Yaah.

“How do I create illusions, Yaah?”

“I don’t know, great grandfather.”

Kweya looked back at Ohn. “You see, she doesn’t know. And she is your best friend and companion! If she doesn’t know then how would an ancient like myself with one foot in the grave know? Then again perhaps I knew at one time and have since forgotten. That is always possible.”

Yaah knitted her brows and said, “Great grandfather, you are being enigmatic.”


“No I’m not,” said Kweya. “I am being evasive.”

“Alright. Evasive then.”

Ohn cleared his throat. “If I am going to risk my neck then someone is going to have to tell me what is going on. Yaah tells me this could be quite dangerous. If someone will tell me what is going to happen, no matter how dangerous it is, if it will help the Sege, I will do it. But I’m not about to go off into some shaman’s mumbo jumbo world without some understanding. I won’t do that even for Yaah and I’m not going to do it for you.”

“Good for you, young man, because one who would would be totally useless. You cannot do it for Yaah and you cannot do it for me and you cannot do it even for yourself. What I need is not someone who will embrace the illusion but someone who will be deeply suspicious of it and have the energy of that deep suspicion all the way through. I myself will be totally immersed in the illusion and my doubter will draw my complete conviction from me across the space of the clearing between us thus raising in the minds of the Rechyai coming through the trees the horrible vision which they hold dear and deep at the center of their savage minds. That is all. It is nothing more complicated than that. And as for how I do it, I, along with Yaah, cannot say. It is something I do, not something I explain. You are an excellent horse rider. If I ask you, “How do you ride a horse?” You could bore me all day with a whole lot of technical talk, but that still leaves me innocent of how to ride a horse.”

Ohn listened to this very intently and thought about it for some time. Then he said, “And the danger?”

“You must hold your suspicion and hold it loosely with a kind of relaxed objectivity. This will require great concentration and energy for the natural tendency is to believe the illusion especially when it is thrown by one as expert as I. The danger is that you might run out of energy and begin to believe the illusion. Then, particularly because Yaah will be in the illusion as one of the rotting dead, you could go insane and have your mind destroyed. I cannot remove Yaah as much as I would like to, both for your sake and my own. She is a Sege and the strange thing about illusions is the closer they lie along side of reality the stronger they are. This one must be strong. We may have to hold it for some hours, maybe more. The Rechyai leaders will want to come up and look. They will stand talking and so on. While all this is happening we will have to hold the illusion.”

Ohn thought about this for some time. Yaah handed him a cup of tea and he took a sip. Then he said, “I really don’t understand but that’s alright. Now that you have explained it as best you can I will trust that you know what you are doing. As for holding my


suspicion even when viewing Yaah’s dead body, I cannot say that I will, but I can say I will do my best. If the illusion saves the Sege from butchery and I go mad, then many people will go on living while one dies. If I walked away from such an choice and the Sege were slaughtered, even if I survived, the life left to me would be one not worth living.”

Yaah put her arms around him and kissed him. Kweya was deeply moved. He reached out and took one of Ohn’s hands, rubbing and caressing it between his own.

Bird did not arrive until late afternoon. Today he was not the usual carefree Bird. When Kweya cracked a few jokes Bird gave him a mournful, disapproving look. When Yaah gave him pemmican he gobbled it quickly then went to the stream for a drink of water. When he came back he said, “ They should be here by morning the day after tomorrow. I suppose your scouts have already told you how many there are. My count, and you will remember that aerial counts are by far the most accurate, is about twelve thousand. Warriors that is. There are perhaps another thousand slaves clearing trails, driving wagons and setting up and striking tents. The Rechyai are big boozers. If you attacked them while they were in their cups you could knock them over with a feather and slit their throats. But they set their camps up well. The guards don’t drink and they set out a lot of guards.”

“Who is in the van, Bird?” Kweya asked him.

“The usual. The crack fighters. The lusters after blood. The Big leader’s young men.”

“My, my Bird.” said Yaah, “You certainly are in a sour mood today!”

Bird tilted his head and looked upon her with one sad eye. “The sight of old friends about to be chopped up depresses me.”

Kweya said to him, “Don’t you have any faith in the old shaman, Bird?”

“I don’t notice the old shaman to be very active these days. He seems to have been asleep for the past while. Meanwhile twelve thousand bloodthirsty Rechyai are crawling up the river toward, what is it? – two thousand Sege, Klegit warriors. Doesn’t look to me like a hopeful situation.”


“But we have horses, Bird,” said Ohn.

“At six to one the horses better have wings,” replied Bird. “And the Rechyai are a bone breaking bunch. They are not amateurs, that’s for sure.”

“Big men,” said Kweya, “Suffer the ravages of hunger more harshly than little. The Rechyai are used to eating hardy. All along the river they have lived well off the leavings of conquered people. But we will be leaving them nothing but burnt fields and abandoned camps emptied even of bones. In the long days awaiting them when they leave the woods they will be renotching their belts until they feel the hard knobs of their hipbones. The strong drink will run out and, accustomed to it as they are, they will feel its lack. They have brought so much food with them. How long can it last? The very fact that they are twelve thousand is in itself a liability. Numbers are useless unless you can feed them and bring them to bear on the enemy.”

Bird wagged his head from side to side which was his version of laughter. He chortled a few times in his throat. “Have you gone back to being a General, Kweya?”

Kweya laughed. “Everybody is a General these days, Bird.”

They left the clearing where they had been sitting and went into the shade of the trees. Ohn put the finishing touches on a stew he had been cooking all morning and he and Yaah ladled out bowls for everyone. They sat on the soft mould under the trees and ate.

That evening Kweya described to Bird what they were about to do. “I should stay,” Bird said to him.

“Why?” asked Kweya.

“The effect of your illusion could be destroyed by birds flying through it rather than alighting on it. I will keep the birds away.”

“Excellent, Bird!” said Kweya. “ Even a wonderfully gifted shaman like myself didn’t think of that.”



The next day, when the Rechyai came into the clearing, it was just after noon. A hot, grueling sun was grinding its ferocious way across the center of the sky. Even under the trees was hot and humid. The Director, furious at the recent loss of his horses, each evening issued orders for a forced march the next day. The warriors were out of shape.

For two months they had been sitting on the shores of the Eg eating, drinking, gambling and copulating. They had been marching with heavy packs since first light without a break and were close to their breaking point. To walk into the glade, where there was a cooling breeze coming from the north, was a great pleasure to them. Then they saw the rotting corpses stretched out in a long line from the river’s edge off into the trees on the north. They stood there gaping with their mouths open until their fellows coming up bunched up against them, jostling them from behind.

No one went close to the bodies. The stench was horrendous. The men pulled the tails of their shirts from under their belts and put them over their mouths. The more delicate bellied rushed back into the trees and vomited. There was a great roiling about with new men coming up constantly. When they were finished gawking, they went back into the woods but the first company stayed at the edge of the clearing for they saw it as their duty. A great humming rose from the insects feasting on the bodies. Occasionally a lone crow appeared overhead, cawing.

It was two hours before the Director rode into the clearing on a pony cart. He looked at the bodies and knit his brows. Then he looked again and started to retch. He ordered the cart turned around with a motion of his arm.

Back at his headquarters he told his lieutenants. “I thought we were a bloody and terrible people but these Sege must have been truly monsters. Can you imagine such horrible, bloodyminded will? Never, in all the stories I have heard in a long life full of stories, have I ever heard of such a thing!” Then he ordered his men to turn and retrace their steps down the Wah to the River Eg.

Walking back into the trees a Rechyai warrior told his captain he thought he saw an old man across the river. “A ghost, no doubt,” the captain replied. “With all the bodies it’s a wonder you didn’t see more than one

When Kweya reached Ohn he was unconscious on the ground beneath the trees. Yaah was pouring water over him. “No, Yaah, dig a hole,” he shouted. Yaah and the old man used deadfall branches to scrape out a hollow down through the mould and into the soft earth. They lay Ohn in the hollow. Kweya placed a round stone on his stomach and, except for his face, they covered him with earth and old leaves. Yaah showered his face


with tears and kisses and the old man made no move to stop her. He took a small flask from his pocket, gave it a good shake and handed it to her. She put it between Ohn’s lips and slowly spilt it in for him to automatically swallow. When it was all gone she handed the empty flask back to Kweya. “That will make him sleep, Yaah. One day perhaps. That’s what he needs. We’ll stay with him and give him water every few hours.” Then he stood up and started a long chant pitched so low the small birds in the trees nearby tilted their heads from one side to another trying to find where it came from.

Kweya sent Bird to Fils up river. Fils sent scouts to follow the retreat of the Rechyai from far in the rear. Then he spoke with an old Klegit man who told him the crops would be ready in three weeks. He sent riders after Ilna asking him to send back as many wagons and horses and men who knew harvesting as possible. He set his warriors to building baskets to tie on the backs of the horses.

On the third day after the illusion, Kweya and Yaah walked Ohn down to the river and washed him with cloths scented with mint leaves. He was still weak but growing stronger. He didn’t speak. He looked at them as if he were wondering who they were. His cheeks were hollow and his eyes sunk into their sockets. That evening Yaah fed him a thin gruel. He ate an entire bowl, slowly sucking it off the spoon Yaah held out to him. But when she brought him another bowl he turned his head away in refusal. He slept at night with his head in Yaah’s lap.
On the third night Kweya rode off, coming back early the next morning. He was leading a pony carrying Haal, an old Osni woman and Bird’s friend who now lived a few miles south of the Wah. Kweya and the old woman spent the rest of the morning pounding roots to a paste in two wooden bowls. When it was ready, with Yaah’s help, they stripped Ohn and spread the paste over his entire body. Then they covered him with black soil they carried in a basket from the bank of the river. That night Yaah lay beside him sleeping with her arm across his earth covered body.

Next morning Ohn sat up abruptly, throwing off Yaah’s arm and scattering black earth about him. He let out a long howl, so intense, so fully invested, it was as if he were a wild animal rather than a human being. Then he shook himself violently and climbed to his feet. He gave Yaah a long and piercing look and said, “How cruel it was to look on you dead, Yaah. How unbearably cruel!” Then, as if to soften his criticism, he reached out a soiled hand and brought his fingers across her cheek. Yaah burst into tears. Kweya and the old Osni woman came running. The three of them grasped his arms and led him down


to the river. They sat him in the shallows and began rubbing off the earth and salve with their bare hands. At first he just watched them as they rubbed him clean but then he started to help, choosing a foot and rubbing with both hands.

That evening he walked up and down the clearing for exercise. When the Osni woman mounted her pony and was about to ride off he insisted she take his knife and sheath with the leather belt he used to tie it around his waist. When she tried to refuse he tied it around the pony’s neck and begged her not to deny him this solemn duty. Kweya, who was standing nearby, nodded to the old woman and she thanked Ohn and rode off. That night at supper he said “ I’ll be alright to ride tomorrow.” Yaah and he lay under their blanket that night but didn’t make love. “It is as if I came from the dead Yaah.” He told her, “I have to wait before coming back to the ways of the living.”

They left the next morning, Kweya leading, Yaah and Ohn riding beside one another behind him.


Fils did not want to engage the Rechyai in large numbers. He preferred light hit and run attacks, at night if possible. He needed to save his men. “If we win fifty heavy skirmishes against the Rechyai, losing ten men each skirmish, then we lose one quarter of our warriors. They, on the other hand, would lose a company from a complement of one hundred companies. To match deaths with them, even at odds hugely in our favor, would be ruinous,” he said to his captains around the fire.

“But they turned back,” said one of the younger men.

“Yes, but for how long? If Kweya gives us three weeks with his illusion then we should kiss his feet. Ilna and the camp will be at the new place on the plains and we can harvest the crop and gardens and take them with us when the wagons arrive. What a mess it would have been if they had come up in their first push! We would have had to meet them front on or they would overtake the women and children. Now we are in much better shape. We can pick and chose. We can harass. We can isolate and attack. As for


the Rechyai, there is no doubt in my mind they will be back soon. Their scouts or somebody will tell them that the Sege are not rotting dead in that glade but healthy and vigorous and riding into the plains.”

He was right. Before the Rechyai reached the Eg scouts reported that the bodies in the glade were no longer there. “Perhaps enough stayed alive to cart them off and burn them,” one of the Director’s Lieutenants said. “Maybe.” The Director replied, but he ordered a halt and sent out his best scouts. The scouts didn’t have to ride all the way to the glade. Two days up the Wah they found a terrified family of Osni fishermen who told them the Sege went west, although some of their horsemen were still at the old camp. Luckily for the Osnis the Rechyai needed food and rather than kill their informants they made arrangements to buy fish and pemmican when they came back through. The Sege scouts in the area, whose instructions were to disappear at the sight of Rechyai, waited until they were gone. Then they rode down upon the Osni. By threats they got the truth and, confiscating their nets, drove them south off the river. “Sell a blade of grass to the Rechyai and we will burn you alive when we return!” the head scout told them. Threatened and bullied by two groups of hard men in a day, the Osni packed what they could and left that day. Two scouts went west up the river to tell Fils.

“It was just a matter of time,” Fils said to the two scouts giving their report.

Then he had a horse packed with bags of pemmican and told the scouts to follow the Osni and give it to them. “They were friends before so lets keep it that way. We might need them some day. Give them back their nets too but tell them to stay off the river. If they want to come west tell them we’ll feed them if their men fight with us.” Then he sent messengers west to Ilna.

Later that day he called off exercises early. He gathered his men and told them the news and that in five days days they would begin cutting the crops and harvesting the gardens. Then he spent a long evening talking strategy with his Captains. The next day he sent riders out to all hamlets within four days ride. The Rechyai are coming they said. Come fight with us and we will feed you. Otherwise the Rechyai will kill you or steal all your food and leave you to starve over winter. Fils was surprised at the response to this. Within two weeks four hundred and fifty people straggled into Sege camps. Some were riding horses and ponies but most walked. He kept the horses and the best young men and sent the rest west to join Ilna. Some were Osni, some Horse People, but most, to the astonishment of Fils, were Lacti, descendents of those who the Sege had dislodged from the river some centuries before. Their men, tall and long limbed, were excellent bowmen for they hunted most of their game by bow. With varying degrees of skill they could all


ride. Rather than have them work with his own men harvesting, he formed them into two units of their own and assigned two of the Horse People to train them.


When the scouts informed them of the disappearing bodies, the Rechyai did a turn about and started marching west, faster this time, for the road up to the glade was already constructed. The Director ordered the slaves to be forced marched up the Wah until they came to the end of the road and then to continue their construction. In carrying out this order the Rechyai warriors were cruel indeed. They drove the half starved men all day in the hot sun and into the night using torches. They were allowed to sleep only four hours a night. After the third day the weaker started falling in their tracks. The Rechyai handlers whipped them unmercifully. If they didn’t get to their feet they were killed with one stroke of a long sword. By the time they reached the end of the constructed road a quarter of their number had left their gashed bodies spread out along the trail.

When the scouts reported this to Fils he was delighted. He gathered a group of Klegit riders (most of the slaves were Klegit) and sent them south with Swi to lead them. Then he concentrated his efforts on the harvest. The horses and wagons and Klegit who knew harvesting arrived from Ilna. Fils put them to work. As the crop was harvested and processed he sent it down the trail to the west. Everyone knew how important it was to gather it all before the Rechyai arrived. The men and women worked from as early in the morning as they could see their hand in front of their face until darkness made work impossible. The weather was with them. Every day was clear blue sky. In a week it was done and the last horse laden with root vegetables from the gardens sent west. The next day Fils ordered double rations and gave everyone the afternoon off. The young women of the Sege who had trained on horses stayed. There were fifty of them and Fils cloistered them in a separate camp.



When Swi’s scouts came upon the slaves they were easy to see, for strung out along the swampy ground where they were laying a wood road was a line of brightly burning


torches. These were carried by Rechyai handlers who carried in their other hands horsehide whips. The road was close to the river. Swi had forty men dismount three miles upriver, handing the reins of their horses to other riders. These men slipped into the river swimming downstream in a line until they reached the end of the line of torches. Here they snuggled themselves into the muddy banks of the Wah and waited.

Swi and the remaining riders, fifty in number, rode first to the northeast and then curved back toward the river until their scouts ahead could barely see the torches burning through the trees. He sent ahead two scouts on foot, pulled his riders back another half mile and waited. An hour later the scouts returned. One told him the Rechyai were camped one mile downriver in an unwalled camp with a thin guard most of whom were asleep. The other told him the swimmers were in place and waiting. There was a narrow deer path several hundred yards east that led to the river. Leaping on his horse Swi led his riders to the path and they started down it at a fast walk, stretched out in a long line.

When they were almost to the river the Rechyai handlers saw them but before they could bunch up to make a defense the swimmers come through the trees at their back and struck them down with knives. Seeing what was happening some of the Klegit slaves with axes came to help. The twenty or so Rechyai handlers were dead in five minutes.

Their cries, however, were heard back in the Rechyai camp. The guards, after waking some of the men in the nearby tents, came charging down the road already cut for them by the slaves. Swi could hear their war gear jingling half a mile off. While the swimmers herded the slaves up the deer trail to the north, their retreat lit by the Rechyai torches, he stretched out a line of forty horsemen hidden in the trees on the river side of the road leading to the Rechyai camp. Then he formed up the remaining ten across the road at the west end of the line. It was now first light, still heavy twilight but when the Rechyai guards came running up you could see them clear enough from one hundred yards away. They were shouting and brandishing their swords. When they saw the horsemen they stopped and talked for a moment. Then, mindful perhaps of the lectures frequently given by Marl on disciplined formations, they jostled one another into a rough column and came charging toward them. When they were fifty feet away Swi blew his horn. The riders on either side of him unloosed their arrows at the front of the column and those along the road, having moved up to the edge of the trees unloosed theirs at the side. The effect on the Rechyai was devastating. Forty three in number, three volleys of arrows were enough to cut them down completely. Ten of the riders in the trees slipped off their horses and, moving in among the downed Rechyai, slit all their throats from ear to ear. They stripped the war gear off the corpses handing them up to their companions who had brought the horses up onto the road. When this was done they remounted and the horsemen, Swi at their head, thundered off west on the road turning at the deer trail to


follow the escaped slaves. When they came up to them the riders dismounted and helped the weaker slaves already chosen by the swimmers onto the backs of their horses. Grasping the reins of their mounts they started off on an exhausting trot along a series of deer trails found for them by their scouts eventually leading to the edge of the grasslands ten miles north of the river. There, after a run of some three hours, they stopped to rest. They fed the slaves from bags of pemmican. There were four hundred and fifty six.

There was great confusion in the Rechyai camp. The Director was furious. He sent a column of five hundred men charging down the road after whoever for they were not even sure who or what they were chasing. The column moved the bodies of the guards to one side and continued down the road until they came to the last section of road where they found the dead, stripped bodies of the slave handlers. They milled about for a bit arguing what to do when one of the rear guard of the column came running up to announce that horsemen had left the road onto a deer trail some ways back. They hustled back at a run and started up the deer trail but after a mile a runner came up and told them to turn around and come back. The Director didn’t want them wandering off into a trap. There was no telling what the Sege had waiting for them further up in the woods.
When the Sege riders reached camp Fils sent the weaker slaves west. The others he put on extra rations and inserted into Klegit companies.


When Yaah and Ohn were half way to the western camp Kweya left them. He went off towards the line of low hills that followed that section of the trail some ten or fifteen miles to the south.

“Where you going?” Ohn asked him as he was leaving.

“I have some people I have to talk to.”

“People? Out here?”


“More than you think. There are pockets here and there if you know how to find them.”

When he was gone Yaah said to Ohn. “Did you ever hear of the Lacti?”


“They are a very ancient people who once lived on the river where the Sege lived. The Sege drove them away some five hundred years ago. Most people assume they were all killed or went off somewhere and died out but that’s not true. Some escaped and went to live just off the Wah. I guess they learned a lesson from being so accessable on the Eg and from then on have mistrusted rivers. Others moved out onto the plains. They live in small hamlets usually among hills like the ones great grandfather is headed towards. You can see a long way from the tops of hills and if you travel in their lee it is hard for others to see you. They are hunters but have also taught themselves to grow crops. They live very quietly. Great grandfather is probably going to tell them about the Rechyai coming although I suspect they already know. They have connections among themselves. There is a thin, sometimes broken line of them which reaches from quite far west of here back down the Wah to the Eg. I know this all from great grandfather.”

“Has Kweya traveled among them before?”

“O yes. Ever since he was a young man great grandfather has had friends and associates among the Lacti. He told me that he once spent two years living and traveling among them.”


“Fellow shaman. Great grandfather tells me that when he was young the knowledge of the Sege shaman was very shallow. They had only knowledge centering round war and how to kill enemies. There were women healers but the shamen looked down on healing. They thought it unmanly. Although great grandfather was a Sege shaman himself he thought most of the Sege shaman were phonies, strutters and tellers of big lies. They lacked true understanding. An old Osni told him about the Lacti and he went to visit them. It took a long time before they trusted him. He traveled two summers into their country before they would even let him sit at their fires. When he kept coming back they decided he had genuine deep motivation. Jackasses and blowhards don’t travel all that way unless someone kisses their ass. Some of the old men started to teach him. Great grandfather says all of his deep teaching he received from the Lacti. He says they were a great people when they were warriors and they are even a greater people now they are hunters, healers and shamen.”


“If, as you say, the Lacti already know about the Rechyai, then why would he be going among them?”

“Hard to say. In such matters great grandfather says little. Maybe he doesn’t even know himself. He’s tends to make things up as he goes along.”

The rest of their trip was uneventful, excepting that Ohn decided that his returning from the dead was far enough in the past to allow love making. The last day it rained but they didn’t mind, for it was warm, and the feeling of warm, wet skin was not unpleasant. The trail west led to the river Silig and for the last ten miles followed its eastern bank until you came to the camp. The Silig was not as large as the Wah and certainly not as large as the wide and mighty Eg, but it was big enough. At the village it was one hundred feet across and quite deep although in other places it was much narrower and less deep. It contained plenty of fish. As they rode to the camp, the bank was lined with boys fishing the waters. On the grass beside them were silvery fish, scales gleaming in the subdued light allowed by the overcast and the rain. The little boys were naked and didn’t seem to care if it was raining or shining. They smiled and waved at Ohn and Yaah as they passed by then went back to their fishing.

The camp itself was nestled into a group of hills which came down almost to the river but not quite. They continued on the other bank as if they were a series of round backed frogs leaping off into the western grasslands. Before you came to the camp you had to skirt the hems of two of these hills at spots where they almost spilt themselves into the water. The camp itself was between the second hill and a third, held in the half bowl they made up against the bank. Along the river the banks were naked but half way up the hills there were patches of poplar and Ohn could see when he looked across the river the deep green color of oak leaves. With the rain the grass was a deep, almost flourescent green and so lush that it seemed, especially in the quiet light, otherworldly. Ohn and Yaah were very happy to be riding their horses together in such a world. They spoke little but occasionally they looked at one another and smiled.

When they arrived at the camp Zuzy came out to meet them. She hugged Yaah so tightly she could hardly breath; Ohn she slapped on the shoulder like a male friend would do. Yaah was Zuzy’s favourite among her great brood of grandchildren and great grandchildren and it would take her a long time to accept Ohn as enough of a proper man for Yaah. She suspected him of having terrible weaknesses now hidden but soon to be revealed.

After Zuzy’s greetings they said hello to a host of others who gathered around, giving


them the latest information from the old camp, hugging the ones they were close to and renewing old acquaintances. Then Ohn pitched the tent on open ground at the base of the first hill and dug them a small fire pit. Yaah stayed with Zuzy to say hello to all the relatives present from her vast extended family. When he was finished the pit he gathered wood from a poplar copse nearby, wet now but it would dry, and brought up a bucket of water from the river. He sat down to rest and Ilna and Lo came to join him.

“Where’s Kweya?” asked Lo.

“He left us half way along the trail.”

“Going where?” asked Ilna.

“He wouldn’t say.”

“Always enigmatic, our Kweya,” said Ilna.

Ilna seemed to gather himself together as if he were about to make an official oration. “We have heard about Kweya’s illusion. We are very thankful for the risk you took especially since you are a Teg and not even one of the Sege. First we heard you were very ill and might die and then we heard you had come back and were healed. We were so happy. You have given us three weeks at least. Fils should be able to get the crop in and sent up here. If we did not have the time which you bought for us then we would be in dire straights and hardly know which way to turn.” Having said this Ilna rose and came over to Ohn and gave him an awkward hug. Ohn hugged him back as best he could (Ilna’s girth was twice his own) and then Ilna sat back down beside Lo.

Then Lo spoke. “We are going to have a ceremony tonight which the Sege have not had for many years. Zuzy says she remembers the last one and it was fifty years ago. It is fairly long and involved and the details are now being argued out by three of the old leaders. If they don’t murder one another in the process it will be held at dusk down by the river. Zuzy and the women have made all kinds of delicious things to eat and everyone will be there.”

Ilna was becoming impatient with what he saw as Lo’s long windedness and was about to interject but Lo, catching his agitation out of the corner of her eye, hurried on.

“The ceremony will make you a member of the Sege. Not an honorary member but an actual member.”


Ilna laughed. “Not that it will do you much good. More than likely it will simply mean you get killed along with the rest of us when the Rechyai come.” Lo gave him a stern look but Ilna stared back and laughed once again.

“It doesn’t mean you have to give up being a Teg. It just means you are one of the Sege. You are anyway, hanging around with Yaah and being the victim of that nasty old sorcerer’s tricks,” Ilna added while Lo gave a soft, resigned sigh.

Ohn didn’t know what to say. He knew what a great honour he was being given for he knew how proud and clannish the Sege were. He rummaged in the bag of manners taught to him by his own people and said, “I couldn’t be more delighted. I am a Teg; this is true, but I am very happy to be made a member of the Sege. Yaah will be happy too.”

Ilna and Lo seemed quite satisfied with this exchange. They climbed to their feet, smiled and left.

The ceremony, as Lo had said, was long and involved. It was just the type of ceremony old leaders dearly love, refusing vehemently to leave out the slightest detail for the sake of brevity. But Ohn didn’t mind, and neither did Yaah who sat beside him throughout, although one of the ancients claimed this to be a dangerous variation. When it was over (young children earlier as their hunger cannot be disciplined by ceremony) everyone, starting with Ohn and Yaah, were served a delicious meal of baked fish and fresh corn, followed by dainties prepared by Zuzy’s great granddaughters. The dainties embellished their already high reputation for making festive sweets. Ohn and Yaah ate until they were stuffed to satisfy the great granddaughters gathered around asking their opinions and then, after being congratulated by what seemed all human beings within a thousand miles, slipped off and washed downstream in the river. By a circuitous route they made their way to their tent and, too exhausted to make love, although that was their original intention, fell, both of them, almost instantly, into a deep, refreshing sleep.


When the crops were off and sent west Fils had a long talk with his Captains. They decided to let the Rechyai come up the rest of the way along the Wah unmolested. There were some objections but the majority opinion was that it was better to delay attack until they were out onto the plains where Sege horses and mobility could give them the


greatest advantage. Fils decided to make two camps to the northwest. The farthest, located in a nest of low hills three days away by horse, would act as a reserve depot and the closer, one half day north of the trail leading to the western camp, would be trimmed down and operational. He sent riders with most of the supplies and wagons to the first and a smaller group to reconnoiter and establish the second. A week later most had returned and, after burning the storage sheds and anything else useful in the old camp, they set off northwest with the entire compliment.

Fils let the Rechyai march six days out onto the grass before he attacked. He posted lookouts on rises and small hills along their route so he would receive reports on their progress but they were cautioned again and again to let no Rechyai see them. He would rather have late news than a sighting by the Rechyai. In this he was successful for the enemy column traveled five days onto the grass without seeing a soul. On the fifth day the trail they were following (that of the retreating Sege)led them through a very flat area. There was a slight rise to the north so low that it seemed flat to the Rechyai; the land seemed to them as if someone had pressed a gigantic flat piece of iron upon the earth smoothing out rises, hollows and irregularities.

The first five nights the Rechyai army had drawn itself into a square with the supply wagons in the center but the Director decided that this took too much time; time in the evening to make and time in the morning to unravel. He and his men were eager to catch up with the Sege and smash them. That they had traveled five days and seen no one puzzled them. They expected the Sege to come out to meet them or at least to show some signs of their presence. But there was nothing. If this went on for much longer supplies would begin to run out. The Director sent back empty wagons to the base camp in the old Sege village for more food but he fully expected the fighting to be over before they came back. More than likely they would meet the wagons on the trail back to the camp. The important thing now was to speed up their march so they could overtake and defeat the Sege. So that evening they camped as they had marched, spread out along the trail. When dark fell, their cooking fires, seen from a distance, stretched out for several miles.

When Fils heard the scout report he fervently gave thanks to the spirits of all the old Generals he had ever served under. Then he called his Captains together, gathering them around the circle of bare ground he used for making maps. Upon this he placed a stone indicating where they were and a piece of rope indicating the Rechyai column. Then with a long, thin stick he laid out the battle plan. There was no hurry. They had most of the night. He explained. Some of the Captains had objections. He made changes then went over it a second time. Other captains made suggestions. They argued about them and adjustments were made. They brought in Lieutenants. Fils rubbed out the lines and went


over the plan twice more. It was midnight when all this was finished. The Captains and Lieutenants went off to their units to explain it all over again. Then they began to form up in units and move out onto the grass.

Fils sat on his horse on a slight rise while they passed him by. As each unit went by he called out. “Do your best. Don’t die uselessly. Use your bows.”

The approach of the Sege riders was covered by the slight rise to the north of the Rechyai. A sliver of waning moon gave a faint light to guide their way. They were fortunate in the breeze. It was from the south, steady and strong. It carried away the unavoidable sounds of their movement and the occasional whinny of the horses. Fils and his captains gave no voice commands, only hand signals. When they came up behind the rise north of the road, they reformed units which had become ragged in the travel across the grass. Then they moved out from behind the rise and started toward the Rechyai camp at a walk. They formed on the right into a column, twenty riders across, sixty deep. On the left a line three deep and one hundred across. Behind this line were the fifty young women riders, each carrying, besides their war gear, a greased leather bag full of pitch. Between these two formations and a little ahead rode Fils. He was alone. A quarter mile from the camp he raised his arm into the air and after holding it there for one hundred paces, dropped it. The riders dug their heels into the horse’s ribs and quickly broke into a headlong gallop.

The Rechyai guards along the north side of the baggage wagons first felt a strange reverberation in the ground under their feet. They looked questioningly at one another. Then they heard the pounding of the hooves and the jiggling of war gear and they leap to their feet. They smelt the sweat of horses. They saw a dark mass moving rapidly toward them out of the north. There were a few cries but for the most part the Sege riders were upon them before they could give voice to their fear and astonishment. They were ridden down and trampled by horse hooves before they could draw the swords from their scabbards.

The head of the column hit the camp at the joint between the main body of warriors and the baggage train. They pierced it easily, for it was thinly manned and came out the other side onto empty grassland. Once through, slowing only slightly, the column turned to its right and came through again slightly to the west of its first point of entry but, of course, from the other side. Through once again now on the west side they turned to their left and repeated this movement. Each time through riders on the western side shot as many arrows as they could manage to the west. It was too dark and they were moving too fast to aim. They simply shot as much of their quiver as they could in the direction of the Rechyai. In very little time the column smashed a two hundred foot section out of the line


of the Rechyai camp, separating the baggage train from the main body. They then pulled back to the baggage train side of the gap, formed a line and loosed a steady stream of arrows shot by the riders over the ears of their horses.

The effect among the Rechyai to the west of the line was to create pandemonium. Woken in darkness, they ran naked from their tents sword and scabbards in their hand to be run over by galloping horses, cut down by the javelins of the riders or pierced by arrows. The screams and shouts of both men and horses were ear shattering. Those in the gap created by the column were killed or cut down within minutes. Those to the west were met with a shower of arrows. They either died or turned and ran to the west. This widened the gap to five hundred feet. Fils ordered the riders to stop shooting. Riders with full quivers moved up to the front of the line.

While this was happening the line formation came up to the baggage train, slowed, and brought up their bows. They shot at anything moving, advancing first up to the wagons and then through them and beyond. They turned and came back to the wagons. Resistance was slight. Most of those around the wagons were slaves. Swi and his unit gathered the ones still living and herded them north onto the grass. Most were Klegit and two Klegit riders led them off running to the north.

The women riders came in behind the bow shooters with knives in their hands but there was no one to fight. Each was trailing two pack horses behind her. They leaped from the horses and tied them to the wagons. Then they rummaged the wagons and began loading the pack horses. Bags of flour. Kegs of salt pork. Smoked meat. Smoked fish. Dried beans. When the packhorses were full they threw bags up to the men to set on the backs of their horses in front of them. When everything they could carry was loaded they retrieved the bags of pitch. They emptied them atop the wagons and set them ablaze. Then they remounted and moved off north into the grass.

The line of riders in the column facing the Rechyai to the west waited. Some dismounted and opened the juggler veins of the handful of downed horses. Others helped fallen and injured riders onto the backs of extra mounts. They tied three dead bodies onto the horses. They were led away into the grass. Then Fil gave a command and they started a steady walk toward the main body of the Rechyai to the west.

A Rechyai captain had managed to form a line along his edge of the gap. More men came up every minute filling the line and deepening it, spilling it out to the left and to the right. The Rechyai, shouted curses and taunts over the heads of their fellows and brandished their swords up into the sky now showing signs of first light. A scattering of archers shot desultory arrows. A company of men came up from behind carrying long


spears. They pushed and shouted their way to the front of the line and once there leveled the spears at the approaching riders. More men stepped up between them and created a wall of shields. The captain shouted and the wall started toward the riders.

Fils gave a command and the line of riders came to a stop. Another command and they nocked arrows. Another and they sent a volley directly at the mid point of the shields. Another volley and then another and another. Every second arrow pierced the shields and continued on to wound or kill the holder or the spear carriers. The wall disintegrated. Frantically the men behind tried to disengage spears and shields from the hands of the dead and wounded but they were working in a rain of arrows and they either fell dead or wounded themselves or turned and fled. But there was an enormous press of men behind them. Some were shot in the back. When they fell those behind were shot in the front. The captain, far from a stupid man, ordered them to retreat. They pulled back amazingly quick considering they were shuffling backwards. More shields and spears were brought up and another wall was formed. Then the captain ordered something Fils was waiting for. From behind the Rechyai line a column covered by overlapped shields and bristling spears began to make its way to the north out of the main body, curving, as it grew longer, to the east. Fils looked behind him. The wagons were burning furiously throwing great towers of yellow and blue flames into the air. Some were already skeletons of blackened wood encased in sheets of yellow fire. He turned and blew a loud long note on his horn. The riders immediately turned their horses’ heads and started north, shooting a steady stream of arrows at the Rechyai over their left shoulders.

The riders turned slightly northeast to avoid the approaching Rechyai column. When they saw the horses riding off the Rechyai were enraged. From behind the shield walls came a roar of bloodlust and fury. Some of the men broke through the walls from behind and came racing across the gap swords held in both hands above their heads. They were struck down by arrows. Even a mile out on the plain the riders could still hear their screams of rage and frustration.

Although greatly reduced in number the Rechyai still had some horses. They were grazing on the plain to the south of where their vanguard was sleeping. In the confusion, darkness and chaos the riders took so long to find them, mount, and form up they did not arrive at the site of battle until the Sege were gone. They rode out onto the grass in pursuit but after a mile or two their captain called a halt and they returned. He was terrified that the real objective of the Sedge was the horses and a trap was being laid for him.

When the column rode into camp Fils had the remaining arrows counted. There were twenty-three. They had gone into battle with thirty thousand. They had slain or seriously


wounded, two thousand Rechyai while suffering three dead and twenty-three wounded. Fils sent a messenger, a horse train loaded with supplies and the rescued Klegit slaves west to Ilna. He asked Ilna to send him more pemmican. He said to the messenger as he left, to the enormous pleasure of his warriors still excited from battle. “Tell them this is what I say: Warriors have no time to cook. They eat. They fight. They kill enemies. We send you Rechyai supplies for delicious stews. Send us back pemmican for your iron warriors.”


The Rechyai spent the morning cremating the dead, patching up wounded and reorganizing supplies to be carried on the horses. The Director remained in his tent all that day and into the next morning. When he came out at mid morning the captains of all the clans in the army were waiting. They knocked him to the ground and with their long jagged daggers stabbed him to death. Then they had a meeting and elected a General.

The General was a much younger man than the Director. He was thirty-three, a fighting man. After talking to his captains he ordered a retreat. The Rechyai turned and headed back east. Every night they formed up in a square around what was left of their supplies. The General send riders south looking for food but they came back empty handed. Nobody there they said. There were cabins. There were little hamlets of dwellings. There were houses dug into hills. But there was no one in them and there was no food, not a scrap, not even an old hide.

The new General was an intelligent man and this worried him greatly. But he said nothing. When they reached the woods east of the old Sege camp, they stopped. Here he had his men dig a large square of earthworks. On top he had sharpened logs dug in facing outwards and behind a stockade wall of triple thickness. He had already sent east for more supplies, horses and men, especially archers. His scouts told him the supplies ordered by the old Director would be here in a week. Just in time to keep his men from starving. They were already on half rations.

Egil was the name of the new General. Unusually for a Rechyai he was a moderate man. He seldom drank. He had only one wife and did not touch other women even after battle. Gambling bored him. In the evenings he sat in his tent reading the few books he had brought with him, or sat outside by a small fire talking to his captains. He did not want to be made General but his objections had been brushed aside by his clan members. In fact he was no longer terribly interested in being a warrior. He and his wife had just


marked out a farm in the rich alluvial soil of the Eg near Osni country. This was to be his last expedition before he devoted his time to plowing and sheep raising. But now they had made him General he considered it his duty to do his best.

Sometimes in the evenings he sat in his tent pretending he was reading but actually he was thinking. He thought how limited most of his captains were. Their only conception of war was to rush at the enemy and with force of will smash him to pieces. This had worked on the river with the numbers, with the great rolling wave of Rechyai washing down the Eg. But out here it was different. They did not have enough horses and even if they did they didn’t have the men to ride them. Their archers were few and indifferent. They did not have a command structure allowing disciplined movement on the battlefield. Before a battle half the men got falling down drunk. The other half gambled till late at night. Or both. On the field the next day they were good only for beserker charges. In the battle with the Sege it had taken him fifteen minutes to convince the warriors to form a column and move out of the line to flank. And even that they did slowly with great confusion, while the riders, with ease, almost elegance you might say, trotted out onto the plain. Behind stakes and the wood walls he felt they were reasonably secure. The Sege and the Klegit had far fewer numbers. They would be foolish to throw them against dug in fortifications.

They would stay here behind the walls and wait for reinforcements, horses and new supplies. But what would they do then? Go out on the plain and be cut up by the enemy’s horsemen? Rush about from place to place while the enemy disappeared like smoke before their eyes into a country where he seemed to travel a full circle in all directions without the least impediment and without the slightest problem in feeding his men? And, all the while, especially if they were gathering allies as Egil suspected they were, they could cut off the supply line to the east at will and starve them to death.

His captains went on endlessly about how sneaky the Sege were and how afraid they were to face them in pitched battle. Cowards who hid behind their horses they called them. His captains were a great pack of fools and unfortunately, most unfortunately, he had no others.

When the men, horses and supplies came he had the Osni horse handlers train his men on the old Sege field. His men complained about the delay but he ignored them. When he had one thousand horsemen who did not fall off their mounts during parades and two hundred archers who could hit a target at fifty feet, he gave in to the bitter complaints of his men about the lateness of the season, and ordered a move out onto the plain. He decided to ride in the van. Perhaps the Sege riders would cut it off and he could die a honourable death struck down in battle.


When Kweya came back from being among the Lacti he was very quiet. He listened to Ilna telling him the details of the battle with the Rechyai and the story of their retreat to the tree line with interest but he didn’t say much himself. Perhaps he was getting too old for talk of battles and victories. Yet he was glad Fils forced the retreat and the Sege were, for the present, safe. When he went to his own hogan Zuzy told him a long story about one of the great grandchildren which made him laugh. When he was finished laughing he asked her if she had ever thought of moving southwest into Lacti country. She looked at him strangely. She said no she had not and why would she? No reason he said. When he left the hogan to look for Yaah and Ohn, she watched him go. “That man,” she said to one of her daughters, standing nearby, “ Can’t live unless he’s traveling.”


Yaah and Ohn were digging dirt out of a hill to make way for a house when Kweya came round the skirt of the hill on horseback. They talked about the house for a while and then Kweya said. “It’s very nice country down there in the south.” Yaah and Ohn looked at him but didn’t say anything. “There are some lovely valleys in the foothills and even up on the skirts of the mountains.” He said.
When they didn’t reply he said. “A little warmer for one thing. A couple of hundred miles down that is. There is an area that has small hills, evergreen forest and some flat sections. Lots of deer and the Lacti say winter trapping is good.”

“And the Rechyai?” Yaah asked.

“O Fils has that under control I think.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Ohn. ”They are still there on the edge of the woods waiting for new men and supplies.”

“The Lacti say the Rechyai want to move south on the river in the spring. They’ll have to fight the Horse People of course and that will be the biggest fight they had so far. They’ll send some men and supplies to the new General but not much. Why waste energy on people like us who are up off the river and no longer in the way?


“Still,” said Yaah. “Even if they send only some they could be a problem.”

“No,” said Kweya, “Five hundred Horse People have come up on the grass to join with Fils. Looking for practice for the spring I suppose. Although most of the Lacti are not interested in war, some three hundred of their young men with horses are on their way up from the southwest as well. Once Fils glues all that together when the Rechyai come out on the plain he’ll cut them to pieces. If they are lucky he will hit them a few days from the woods and they can retreat down the Wah. If they get far out they will either die in battle or starve over winter. I have suggested to him that he do the first. Simply killing numbers is of no use to us; quite the contrary. We don’t want the Rechyai clans on the river coming up the Wah to exact vengeance. At the very least there is no way the Rechyai will get anywhere near here. Not this year anyway.”

“But if we go south we have dug this hole for nothing.” said Oolon.

“Nothing is for nothing. Someone else can use it. Ilna hasn’t got a dug in house yet. He’s too busy supplying the war and getting things ready for the winter.”

“Is it big enough for all of them?” Yaah asked.

Kweya looked at it carefully, rolling his eyes across the space and pursing his mouth. “Well,” he said. “They could enlarge it.”



A half mile upstream from the Sege camp, protected by hills on three sides and in an area flat enough for their purposes, the Klegit camp had filled up so fast that new arrivals had to set up camp across the river. There was plenty of grazing land there for the sheep, cattle and ponies. In a large flat section of land to the north they plowed up sod and planted a huge garden. The season was getting late but they would harvest peas, beans, radishes and with a little luck, small root vegetables.

Neel was not with the first arrivals. He was talking war with the Sege and did not break away and come up river until two weeks later. Because of his absence his wives failed to secure a tent location worthy of his position as leader of the Klegit. Or at least this is


what his wives told him when he arrived. As he seldom slept in his own tent and seldom ate there, he felt no loss of dignity himself. His wives, however, felt this loss acutely on his behalf and in order to escape their harangues he made greater efforts than usual to avoid them. For some days he was successful but with the village being small and the fact that as a public man he had to be out and about, such success could not go on forever. He stayed away from Min’s for that would be the first place they would look for him.

One morning his wives, after spending several hours searching, found him exiting the tent of one of his cousins. They grasped him by the arms and dragged him to his tent located at the edge of the village and crowded up onto a rough area starting the skirts of one of the hills. They heatedly explained to him that it should be at the center near the river with no other structure between it and the riverbank. As well, they claimed, there should be a large open area all around, an area accenting the tent, so to speak, as a dwelling of special importance befitting his office as the leader.

Sometimes one of his wives spoke to make a point, the others nodding their heads. At other times, especially if he raised an objection, they crowded in on him all speaking at once and shaking their fists at him. His wives were short and they all had black hair done up in braids. Neel, his long, bony face topped by a prairie grass bundle of snow white hair, towered above. According to the passion of the argument or the buffeting movements of his wives he moved this way and that as if he where indeed prairie grass being blown by a confused, irregular wind. He did his best to be patient. He listened very carefully for he knew from past experience that any sign of inattention or contempt would cause trouble. He especially put great effort into not smirking or rolling his eyes for these were long ingrained habits. Yet, despite all his efforts, his wives grew more and more heated in their arguments. In an attempt to calm them he raised his arms above his head until they were silent. Then he said, “”Well, it’s done now so we will have to live with it.”

This was a mistake. This world weary fatalism did not calm his wives but, on the contrary, drove them to distraction. They brought up his past failures. They claimed that other than the pure blind luck of being chosen leader, he was a complete mess. Even his long lasting habit of lusty fucking he no longer brought to his wives but spread it hither and yon like an adolescent boy. His weakness of character and general buffoonery were beyond telling and past belief. When he tried slyly edging off to one side as a prelude to making a run for it, they circled round grasping his arms and pieces of clothing. In hands made strong by hogan building and working hides, they held him fast and would not let him go.

So furious were they that they began to buffet him with their open hands. He tried to


protect himself with his forearms but this only drove them to greater violence. They hit him more and more vigorously until eventually he was knocked to the ground and they piled on top. They began pummeling him with their now closed fists so effectively that Neel, fearing for his safety, began to shout. The more his wives beat him, the louder he shouted until his cries and his wives screechings could be heard all over the village. People began to gather. The crowd and noise brought more crowd and noise and soon there was a complete circle round the combatants. It didn’t seem to occur to any one to intervene. Some of the women shouted encouragement to Neel’s wives and some men exhorted Neel to defend himself, but otherwise they were content to watch.

One of his wives reached between his legs, grabbed his penis and gave it a vicious yank. Another bit through his right earlobe. He could feel hot blood trickling down the side of his neck. Another grasped his baby finger and twisted it sending a searing pain up his right arm. Neel began to wonder if he were about to be killed or badly injured when there came a loud shout from the back of the crowd. An opening appeared and through it came Min hefting the fourfoot wooden spoon she used to stir her chicken stew. She stepped into the fray, swinging and striking vigorously, scattering wives to the left and to the right. Those who tried to fight back were no match for Min. Threatening the point she made them drop their arms where upon she beat them soundly about the head and shoulders. Finally there was only one wife left clutching onto Neel for dear life and trying to bite off his right ear. Min beat her across the back and buttocks great smacking blows which brought cheers from the crowd. Finally the poor woman released her grip and crawled off to one side. But Min was merciless. She rained down a storm of blows upon her shoulders driving her off into the safety of the crowd. Min turned to help the bruised and bleeding Neel from the ground. With a granddaughter on one arm and herself on the other, they led the limping Neel through the crowd, across the village to her hogan.


Neel was lying on a bed in Min’s hogan. He had a bandage on one ear and another on his left hand. His face was black and blue, green and yellow. Excepting a loincloth he was naked. The rest of his body was covered in multicolored bruises. The day after the battle Neel’s wives appeared in front of Min’s hogan. They carried long wooden staves they cut from the forest. They shouted for Neel to come out. They were going to finish him off they said and pressed toward the hogan flap. But Min had anticipated this. Inside were ten of her grand daughters armed with staves as well. At Min’s signal they issued forth and drove off the invaders. Min followed them carrying her wooden spoon and only came back to the hogan when she was satisfied her grand daughters had them on the run.


For three days Neel lay on his bed. Min fed and washed him and carried out his latrine bucket. At night she gave him a sleeping draught but during the day he was in considerable pain. By the fourth morning, however, he felt much better. When he got up from his bed and headed for the opening to go to the outdoor latrine, Min said “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He looked at her questioningly and she continued. “They are out there, at least a few of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if this time they stick a knife in you.” He used the bucket and lay back down on his bed.

That afternoon Kweya came for a visit. He sat on a stool beside his old friend’s bed and talked of the country to the south. Neel himself had once been south on the Eg as far as the Loona, living in a large village for a year, collecting material for a history of the southern peoples. The history was yet to be written but the notes were in trunk in his hogan. Kweya explained that he and a small group would soon be off to live there for a year or two. There was room in the group for an old historian if his bones could endure several hundred miles of horseback riding. He warned Neel not to leave the hogan. “You are safe here for they are terrified of Min and her grand daughters but if you get caught outside you are done for. Excepting Di and Laly (Neel’s oldest wives) they are on the prowl with cooking knives in their belts.” Neel sighed but not so loudly that Min, who was outside cooking, could hear him. At the slightest sign of self pity or self justification on his part, Min launched into a scathing lecture. “They are crazy, yes, but they are crazy because of your stupidity, unfaithfulness and neglect,” she said. For three days he had to endure his sufferings in complete silence or put up with Min’s sharp tongue.

“I will think it over.” He told Kweya. Kweya left and Neel lay looking at the roof of the hogan and thinking for a long time. Then, gingerly, he rolled over and went to sleep.


“I’ll come on my own later.” Zuzy said. She and Kweya were sitting by the fire. It was late at night with most people already asleep. Now and then the odd straggler passed them by raising a hand in greeting. There was no moon and the full arrangement of bright summer stars were wheeling on silent, greased rollers across the sky. It was close and humid all day but late evening brought a change in the wind, pushing out the hot stew and ushering in cooler, lighter air.

“There will be people going back and forth between here and the south country. When we reach a place we are going to stay for a while I’ll send you a message.” Kweya flipped over the two rabbit legs he was cooking on the coals.


“Why not use Bird?” Zuzy asked.

“Good idea. Bird will be coming. He says he always wanted to go south and see the country there.” When the rabbit was done Kweya lay it on a stone to cool. He turned it a few times and when it was cool enough he handed a piece to Zuzy. They ate in silence. When they were finished they tossed the bones to a pariah dog sitting just outside of the fire’s light. He gathered the bones into his jaws and trotted off into the deeper darkness.

Kweya cleared his throat and said. ”I know I travel a lot. I realize this is sometimes a burden to you.”

Zuzy remained silent. She looked into the dying coals for a long time and then said. “ It is sometimes a burden to me. But having you around all the time bothering me with your wise sayings would also be a burden. When we married you were a shaman and shamen travel. I knew what I was getting myself in for.”

They rose from their crosslegged positions and walked to the river where they washed and made love in the grass on the bank. Then they lay looking up at the stars and talking about their almost endless legion of children, grand children and great grandchildren. Kweya listened carefully to all the news, occasionally making cynical comments which made Zuzy laugh out loud. When Zuzy fell asleep Kweya made a small tent over her with a few poles and a thin blanket and then lay down beside her and fell asleep.


Ohn and Yaah abandoned their digging and rode off north. After two days following the Silig, they switched to a small stream coming out of what at first seemed to be a country of endless grass. Another day of travel, however, brought them to a series of hills. Here they set up a large fire pit for smoking and went off hunting. The hills were full of sections of woodland populated with small deer and in two days they had enough meat to smoke and dry. They gutted and decapitated in the field. In camp they skinned and cut the meat into thin strips and lay it on the racks. Three days it took to finish everything and then they tied the meat and hides on to the packhorses and made their way back.

When they were riding into the camp Yaah said. “If we settle down in the south for a while, we will be closer to your country. Maybe we could go visit. Kweya says there is a series of small streams leading west which eventually come to one of the big rivers.”

“The Sampi. It flows into the Loona if you go east and out of its source, a long chain of lakes, if you go west.”

“Well, we could go down that way to see your country.”

“Maybe,” said Ohn, “but not for a while.”

“You don’t want to go back and visit your home?”

“That’s where I come from. This or a little farther south is my home. There will be children soon. We have to build a house, dig a garden, plant crops. I’m trading some of the horses Ilna owes me for sheep from one of the Klegit. And we have our work with Kweya. He is an old man and won’t be around forever.”

Yaah did not reply but she was very pleased. Not only was he handsome and her complete bedmate but he worked hard and thought of the future. “My own family is dead for me now,” Ohn said, “but they will be reborn in our new family. So, don’t worry, I won’t be lonely.”


When the Rechyai had resuppled and marched two days onto the plain, Fils cut off their supply line to the east. The horse picket line along the route was cut in the middle. The Rechyai riders to the west came back to the main body, those to the east to Egil’s camp. Egil nodded curtly when he was told. He listened patiently while his captains blew hot about what they would do when they got their hands on the Sege and what cowards they were never to stand and fight like men and proper warriors.

“Some of them are women I hear,” said Egil. This stopped his captains in mid flight. After a few moments one of the captains asked, ”And what does that have to do with it, Egil?”

“Well, if they are women, why would they fight like men?”

They looked at him strangely. After a short and embarrassed silence Egil ordered a


column of riders to reestablish the picket line east. The captains left his tent shouting for this lieutenant or that and Egil was left alone with the Klegit slave who did his cooking, a young woman of eighteen. The men thought Egil slept with her and he said nothing to discourage them in this belief. For the Rechyai a lusty General was a good General. The young woman’s name was Am. She had thick black hair and blue eyes. She was from way up north. Her father was a Rechyai and her mother a Klegit.

“Do you have relatives among the Klegit who are with the Sege?’

Am looked at him suspiciously. She thought of Egil as a good man, a man who snatched her away from a scene of drunken cruelty and saved her from the brutality of his men. But still he was a Rechyai and one had to think before telling a Rechyai anything. She gazed at him for a few moments and said,

“I’m not sure. It would depend on who survived.”

“Even if they were not relatives, if you went to them would they take you in?”


“We will soon be retreating to the treeline. Perhaps within a week or two. If you want I could arrange for you to escape. There will be some confusion and with a little planning it should be neither difficult nor dangerous. I am assuming you want to escape?”


“Fine. I’ll talk to you about it later.” Egil left the tent to give instruction to the column of horsemen being assembled by his captains.



The Sedge riders watched Egil’s column reestablish the supply line east without


interfering. They waited until the outriders arrived back in the Rechyai camp and the main body marched west two more days thus elongating the line. The morning after the second day’s march, at first light, they once again cut the line in half. Rechyai riders east retreated to the fortified base camp. Those west retreated to Egil’s camp, arriving early morning the day after the attack. The camp was just about to begin its march. Egil called a halt.

His captains wanted to rush back down the trail and smash the Sege riders. “They won’t be there.” He told them. “What do you mean they won’t be there?” his captains shouted at him as if he himself were the Sege general. He tried to convince them the riders would disappear as soon as the line was cut and rolled up enough to force the Rechyai to retreat to their camps. Then they would watch from afar attacking only under conditions favorable to them. But the captains were adamant that the Sege now sat across the trail east with their main body. Finally he agreed to allow his senior captain to lead half of the army east and confront the Sege. They left that afternoon.

Five days later they were back. They had fought no Sege riders. In fact they had seen no Sege riders. Neither did they hear or smell Sege riders. They were gone. The old captain was sure they had left for their camp in the west. Before coming back he sent riders to the camp on the Wah and reestablished the supply line. At strategic spots (or what he thought to be strategic spots) he reinforced the line with camps of horsemen who could ride quickly east or west. Egil convinced the captains to wait a few days where they were. The captains didn’t really want to do this, preferring to rush west, fall upon the Sege and destroy them. But their men were growing anxious about the army’s inability to hold its supply line to the rear of their march so they reluctantly agreed.

Three days later the captains were demanding the army resume its march when survivors from the recut supply line rode into camp. Once again Egil sent out the old captain to reestablish the line and the main body settled down to wait.

This time the old captain took both horsemen and warriors on foot. His plan was to march east down the supply line sending off scouts to the left and the right. When the scouts found the main body of the Sege they would manoeuvre them toward the Rechyai foot. The Rechyai riders would drive the Sege onto the waiting spears of the army and thus annihilate them. He wanted to take with him all of the Rechyai riders but Egil put his foot down and he rode out of camp with five hundred horsemen and five hundred warriors on foot.




On the Wah, not far from the glade where Kweya had created his illusion, there was a wide, deep section of river. In the fall, for it was now fall and nights were growing cold, several already near frost, Osni fishermen had traditionally worked their nets and caught large numbers of a fish they called oshc which came up from the Eg to winter in the smaller river. The Oshc were essential to their surviving the winter and despite the war and warnings to stay off the river they had decided they had no choice. But they took precautions. Firstly, instead of fishing in family or clan units as they usually did, this time they put together a number of normally isolated Osni clans and even brought in two Lacti clans who lived to the south. Leaving the young children with the grandmothers and old people, everyone came including the women. The women and some of the men did the fishing but the bulk of the men, armed, kept a guard around their camp and fishing spot. Out from the guards they placed a screen of scouts far into the woods to give them warning of danger.

So it was an Osni scout who first saw Swi and his two fellow riders come through the trees on the north bank of the river. But Swi and his companions did not see the Osni scouts. The scouts had played as children in the woods they were now in and they knew the terrain like the back of their hand. And, a few hundred yards later, it was Osni guards who came out of the trees and with raised spears and forced Swi and his companions to hand over their weapons. They did so and the Osni, taking hold of the halters of their horses, led them through the trees to the camp. They came to a stop before a large tent composed of ancient, weather beaten deer hides. An old man came out of the tent and with a wave of his hand had them dismount. One of the guards walked the horses to a nearby field and tethered them so they could graze. Another brought up a bucket of water from the river for them to drink. The Osni were great lovers of horses and always fed and tended their animals before they ate themselves.

“Are you Sege?” the old man asked.

“Yes,” said Swi.

“And have you come to kill us for fishing what you think is yours?”

“No,” said Swi.

“And how would I know you are not lying?”

“Firstly the Sege have no interest in saying you can fish the Wah or saying that you cannot. If you do we would advise that you be careful of the Rechyai but if you chose to


accept the danger that is up to you. Secondly if we had come to kill or chastise you we would be many more than three men.”

“What have you come for then?”

“Always we are on the lookout to kill and scout Rechyai but mostly we came to talk to you.”

The old man was incredulous of this. “How could you have come to talk to me when you don’t even know who I am or perhaps not even that I exist?”

“I know who you are, Osni shaman,” said Swi.

The old man laughed. “And who would that be, young man?”

“Tangout. Your father was also a shaman and so was your grandfather. There are perhaps one hundred and fifty people in your clan. You spend most of your time in hills south of here but come to the river to fish and hunt. I can see, however, that you have others here with you. Other Osni and also some Lacti. Kweya, the Sege shaman, tells me these things. I myself am an ignorant young man who, outside of a little about fighting and scouting, knows nothing and must rely on my elders to keep me informed.”

“A very polite young man. Well, very polite young man, assuming I believe that you have actually come to look for me and my people, then perhaps you could tell me why?”

“To buy?”

“Of course.”

“With what?”

Swi removed a small leather bag from the folds of his shirt and handed it to the old man. Tangout untied the rawhide string at the top and spilled a few of the gold coins out into the palm of his hand. He whistled appreciatively.

“I have not seen anything like this for many years. Is that slippery old Kweya going into business these days?”


“It is not directly from Kweya although perhaps he knows of it for he seems to know most things. It comes from Fils the war chief. They are Rechyai coins, the spoils of war.”

“You defeated the Rechyai?”

“We burned their supply train. This is some of what was hidden in a bag of beans.”

“How many pieces?”


“How much fish?”
“Enough to load forty horses. The horses included. They don’t have to be war horses but they have to be healthy.”

“Too much.”

Swi shrugged.

“Thirty horses would be better.”

“Each of the coins will buy a top notch war horse from the Horse People. Three hundred and fifty pounds of smoked fish and a supply horse for a coin is a very good deal. Things are difficult. Fishing is now dangerous. We are offering a premium but we will not be blackmailed. We have other friends.”

Tangout nodded. “Let me talk to some other people. You three sit down and someone will bring you food. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Swi and his companions sat on the ground and a young woman brought them a bowl of rabbit stew. Just after they were finished Tangout came back and sat beside Swi.

“I did not mean to insult you on the matter of price. I should have talked to the others before saying anything. They say what you offer is very generous and for the forty coins we will provide forty five loads rather than the forty you ask as a sign of our respect for the Sege and our love for your old rascal shaman.”

“No offence has been taken and I thank you for your generosity. To lower the price below what the buyer was willing to pay shows a noble heart.”


They talked for some time longer about times and delivery and then the three Sege mounted their horses. Tangout advised them to ford the river two miles west and ride the south bank for the Osni scouts said there were no Rechyai on the south bank. Before they rode off Swi said.

“Osni shaman, who is that young woman who served us stew?”

Tangout smiled. “My granddaughter.”

“Perhaps I could speak with you about her when I come back.”

“Her first, young man, and then her father, my son.” Tangout leaned in towards him to speak and Swi bent over to hear him. “If she is willing the matter can usually be dealt with for three horses. Good ones mind you. But you have to speak with her and then with my son.” They turned their horses and rode west.

Because of the danger the Osni carried their catch off the river and smoked it over fires at the edge of the southern hills. Two weeks after their first meeting Swi returned with pack horses and guards. They forded the river on the plains and came east far off the southern bank of the river. Osni scouts met them and led them to the camp. They stayed overnight. Swi talked to the Osni girl and she was willing. He brought three of his father’s best horses (without asking his father) and the girl’s father was more than pleased. When they left the next morning the whole village came out to say goodbye. Ten of the young Osni men riding their own horses went with them. They wanted to try their hand at war and ride with the Sege.



When Fils heard from his scouts that the Rechyai captain was leading one thousand warriors east on the road, he and the main body of the Sege were one half day’s ride


north. He called for the head scout and had him set up a relay of horsemen all the way up to the Rechyai camp. “If a body of warriors leaves their camp I want to know within a half a day. Can you do that?”

The scout did some mental calculations and then answered. “In a little less. I’ll send the best riders and the best horses.”

Fils sent out riders to call in units of riders further north. Then he called in his captains and they started planning. By midnight all the units were in and a plan agreed upon. Excepting the guards, everyone went to their tents and slept until dawn. When they woke the grass and trees were covered with hoarfrost and the early sun was creating a wonderland of sparkle and glitter. Before breakfast the riders fed, watered and brushed down their horses. Then they threw blankets over their backs to keep them warm while they had breakfast. The captains and Lieutenants met and went over the plan once again. Fils spoke to them so softly that they had to gather in closely around him to hear.

“We have two thousand riders and they five hundred along with five hundred on foot. There are scouts far east and far west to warn us if other Rechyai units are approaching. They have made a great error and now will pay for it. But on this day of opportunity we also could make a great error. We could become heroic and fight stupidly and lose too many men. If we destroy the Rechyai riders and lose half their number, that is two hundred and fifty, then in my calculations we have lost. I want each Rechyai killed with an arrow. I want as many of their horses to take away with us as possible. Restrain your young men! Do not let them break the discipline of their formations. If we do this we will kill all the enemy with few losses. If we do this people will speak of this battle as a great victory accomplished by intelligent and disciplined warriors. Our present allies will stay with us and more allies will come to join our ranks. On the other hand if we are foolish and act purely on blood lust and desire for individual fame, it will be the beginning of the end for us. Who will join us if we throw the lives of our riders away uselessly?”

“I cannot tell you how important this is. If we annihilate these riders with few loses the effect on the Rechyai will be devastating. They will no longer have enough riders to maintain their supply line. They will be forced to retreat. The Rechyai warriors will take back a great hatred of us but also a great fear. When they drink with their relatives and friends back on the Eg they will say. ‘They come out of nowhere. They move over the grass like a soft breeze which suddenly becomes an iron fist. They are impossible to trap or engage. When you think you finally have your arms around them you find yourself holding nothing but smoke. They kill hundreds and ride away with not a single man wounded.’ If we send the Rechyai army back to the Eg talking like this we will have a


year to build, to train, to gather more horses and allies. Even their bravest young men will think twice before they agree to come up the Wah and be destroyed by the devils on horseback who await them there.”

The captains and lieutenants went to their units who were already formed up. Scouts rode in and spoke with Fils. The Rechyai column was breaking camp five miles to the west. Fils mounted and rode into the center of his men. “You are brave and ferocious warriors,” he told them. “After the battle I want you to be brave, ferocious and alive. There will be more battles with the Rechyai. I need you. Your people need you. Your mothers and sisters and wives need you. Fight bravely but do not throw your lives away in foolish bravado. Keep to your ranks. Obey your officers. Use your bows and javelins.”

Huan rode off with two hundred riders to approach the Rechyai from the south. The remaining riders, with Fils at their head, started out of the camp at a leisurely walk. The hoarfrost was now melted and the long grass wet the legs of the horses. A few miles from camp scouts rode in from the west and spoke with Fils. He increased the pace. The grassland they were now traversing would seem, from a distance, to be flat but was actually composed of a series of small hills and shallow declines. Here and there they had to skirt around sloughs and once one of the scouts led them in a long line through a section of marsh. When they came to the other side they reformed into ranks and broke into an easy canter.

After a half hour Fils raised his hand to call a halt. He pointed to the south to where, a little west of true south, a column of dust was rising into the air. He turned back towards his men and shouted, “Rechyai!”

He called for his chief scout who came riding up from his place on the wing. He was a young man still in his twenties without an ounce of fat on him. He rode beautifully and effortlessly and when riding full out it was hard to tell where he began and his horse ended. When he came up Fils said. “This is wonderful scouting and you have made a flawless choice of terrain. There will be five Rechyai horses for you when the battle is over.” The young man smiled and went back to his place in line.

Where they were now waiting was in a decline deep enough to make them invisible from the road. The decline continued east for another two or three miles where, just as it was almost at the road, the ground rose and came out onto the flat. Fils started out in a brisk walk. He kept watching the dust to the south and the distance to the end of the decline. When he was satisfied the distances were correct he broke into a light gallop, the long line of riders behind him doing the same. When they came onto the flat they jammed their heels into his horses ribs and broke into a full gallop. The Rechyai were stretched


out on the road in a way that a captain experienced on the plain would never have allowed. The Rechyai riders were walking their horses dispersed here and there among the men on foot. Most of the war gear was on three wagons in the center. The Sege riders galloped the full length of their march some one hundred feet off, raking the column with arrows.

The Rechyai were completely surprised. They had no chance to react to the first ride of the Sege riders. When it was past the officers frantically shouted and rushed about trying to form their riders up and position archers with shield men but the pandemonium and chaos was such they could do little. Terrified and wounded horses threw their riders and galloped off to the south. Dead and wounded were everywhere. The high pitch scream of downed horses swallowed up the shouts of the officers. Some men unhitched the supply wagons and turned them over for cover.

When the Sege riders rode beyond the Rechyai column they wheeled about and came thundering back. Fils watched behind him until the ranks closed up, then rode directed at the head of the column. By the time they reached it they were at a breakneck speed and the thunder of the horses’ hooves hitting the sod was deafening. At the last minute he veered from the head of the column and rode along the Rechyai column to the south, the Sege riders raking the Rechyai with arrows and javelins. Some Rechyai came out of the ranks racing at the passing horses holding high two handed swords but they were cut down immediately. Some Rechyai bowmen managed to turn south and shoot a few arrows but they were ineffective. When the Sege riders were past the column once again they stopped and turned about. Fils waited until his horsemen were formed up. This they did three abreast. When they were done Fils led them off to the north some one hundred yards from the Rechyai line but parallel to it. When they were in position they turned the horses heads toward the Rechyai. Officers gave commands. The riders nocked bows and sent a series of volleys at the Rechyai aimed high and coming down into their ranks at an angle.

This was devastating. The Rechyai bows were useless beyond seventy five yards and although some shot the arrows fell short into the grass. Driven into a frenzy by the hopelessness of their situation a few dozen swordsmen came out of the ranks and tried to charge the horses. The front row of horsemen leveled their bows and shot them down before they were within a hundred feet. The finish came with Huan coming up from the south. In the same formation as Fils’ riders and moving forward at a slow walk they shot volley after volley into the Rechyai ranks.

When he could see no movement Fils called a halt. A minute later Huan’s riders stopped their volleys as well. Their own excited heartbeats and the thunder of the horse’s


hooves were still in their ears and for a few seconds, or at least it seemed so to them, there was an unearthly silence. Then the screams of the horses and the moans and cries of wounded and dying men rose like a great unholy flower above the mass of blood and torn flesh that was once the Rechyai column. Huan and Fils sent in units of horsemen who had been specially trained for this. They rode carefully into the midst of the devastated column, finishing survivors with long handled spears. When they had passed through twice, they dismounted and began the grisly task of stripping the bodies.

When the bodies were stripped and the armour and weapons loaded into the uprighted Rechyai wagons, the main body dismounted and moved in to drag the Rechyai corpses out into the grass. The riders used Rechyai swords to cut off the heads. The heads they piled onto three baggage wagons. Scouts rode the wagons off west along the road toward the Rechyai camp. The headless bodies were piled into a great heap. Drying fires were set up and the dead horses butchered. The meat was cut into long strips and laid on the racks above the fires.
During the first onslaught, many of the Rechyai horses had broken away and raced south. Huan’s riders rounded them up and rode off with them to the north. The baggage wagons, loaded with Rechyai supplies, were driven north. By nightfall there remained only the fires still drying horsemeat and a small contingent of riders left as a guard. By the next morning this work was completed and the driers and guards, leading wagons full of dried meat, rode north as well.

They left behind a half mile stretch of road, its beaten down grass and patches of bare earth streaked with blood and gore, a pile of headless cadavers, and off to one side the black remains of a dozen fires surrounded by the offal of two hundred horses. As well, one could feel, when the tops of the tall grass was swept by the breeze, the presence of the ghosts of one thousand Rechyai moving steadily and not unhappily northward, telling one another lies about their last battle and looking forward to the nights to come in their warrior heaven coupling with virgins and drinking only the very best of strong liquors.




One half mile to the east of the Rechyai camp there was a rise in the road high enough to conceal a man on horseback until he ascended it. Just before the rise the scouts dismounted, unhitched the horses from the wagons and took them back down the road a ways. One of the younger men was left to hold the leads. The head scout crept to the top of the rise and looked over. There were earthworks with a gate but only a dozen or so guards. No horses. The scouts tied the steering mechanism on the first wagon and, with a great deal of grunting and effort, pushed it over the rise. Then they ran to the horses, mounted and galloped south off the road towards the hills in the distance.

The guards were talking amongst themselves and did not notice what was happening until the wagon gathered speed. One of the guards ran back into the camp and the others, swords drawn, ran towards the wagon. When it was halfway down the incline the right hand wheels dipped into a hollow and it overturned, spilling the heads out onto the ground. When the guards came up they swore and cursed and shouted to one another the terrible tortures they had in mind for the Sege. They waved their swords in the air and spit and screamed in fury. After some moments of this, rage exhausted, they up righted the wagon, piled the heads back into it and began pulling and pushing it toward the camp.

When they told Egil he put his face in his hands and wept. Then he ordered twenty of the best riders to ride after the Sege scouts. With the wailing and lamenting which started as soon as the wagon full of heads was wheeled into camp it was some time before this order was executed. An hour after the scouts had ridden off fifty horsemen rode out of the camp and up the rise. There they found the other two wagons. One rider was sent back to the camp and the others rode on. They had a tracker with them but he had little experience on the plains. He dismounted and tried to read the signs but the trail was so overridden and he had little skill at detecting fresh sign amidst old. When he remounted he led them off down the road east.

The Sege scouts had ridden directly south off the trail and were now entering a Lacti village in the hills ten miles south. There they ate and slept the night. In the morning, taking with them six young Lackti men who wanted to join the riders, mounted on the wagon horses, they rode north, recrossing the trail two miles east of the Rechyai camp. Here, hidden by a rise two miles north of the trail, they watched until the Rechyai riders rode back into camp. Then they mounted and rode off northeast to the Sege camp.


“We will starve!” cried the captains in council the next day. Egil said nothing.

“They control the supply line. We can’t go west and if we stay here till winter comes on we’ll starve.”

Again Egil said nothing. He sat looking at them with the expression of an innocent child upon his face. Finally, after another half day of bitter argument, they said to him. “You are the General. Take us back to the old camp.”

Since it was late afternoon when this decision was made they didn’t leave until the next morning. Egil woke in the middle of the night and lay in bed with his eyes wide open adjusting them to the darkness. He got up and woke Am. When she pulled on her clothing and came over to where he was waiting at the tent flap he placed a wool cloak over her shoulders and put a small pack in her hands. She took these things without saying anything and followed him out of the tent.

The night was without a moon but the sky was clear and here on the plain the stars gave enough light to move by. There were torches here and there about the camp but they were dim and smoky and gave off little light. Egil led them between darkened tents to the earthworks on the north side of the camp. Here he paused for a few moments and listened. Satisfied there were no guards directly outside the wall he grasped her hand and led her across and onto the grass. Here he paused again. Then he led them running across the grass. When they were perhaps a thousand yards away from the camp he stopped.

“We are on a small hill,” he said. “Go this way down the hill and you will come to a wood. Hide in the undergrowth. We will be leaving just after first light. Wait until we are well gone, perhaps even until the sun is mid sky to make sure. Then come out and walk the trail west. Sege scouts will see you and pick you up.” After saying this he turned quickly and ran over the grass back to the camp.

Am made her way down the hill and came to the wood. In between the trees was very dark but she continued through it mostly by feel until she reached the other side. Here she sat in the grass until dawn gave her enough light to see by. Then, walking backwards while righting the grass behind her to cover her track she made her way another half mile beyond the wood to a patch of dense bush growing on the side of a slight incline. Here she slipped onto her belly and wiggled her way into the center disturbing as little as possible. She opened the pack and ate some mutton wrapped up in a cloth. Then, wrapping the cloak around her she curled up and went to sleep.


As she was drifting off to sleep Am could hear the sound of human voices in the distance. The Rechyai were striking their tents. An hour later they were retracing their steps along the trail to the east.

Am woke midmorning and found that from the top of the incline, peeping out between the branches she could see the road. They were gone. Far off to the east she could see dust rising. She ate some more of the food the general had given her and stayed in her hiding place until mid afternoon. Then she stood up, walked to the road and headed west.

That night, around the fire outside his tent, one of Egil’s clan asked him where the girl was. Egil shrugged and looked away. His fellow clansman dropped the matter. After all, the girl belonged to the General so what he did with her was his own business.


When Swi came into camp leading horses loaded with smoked fish, Fils was delighted. More and more riders were coming in from the country round about and even from farther north and south. The feeding was becoming a problem. When Swi dismounted Fils noticed the young woman who was riding beside him. He grabbed Swi by the shirt and pulled him close. “Who’s that?” He asked, jabbing his head at the young woman.

“A woman.”

“I know that you idiot. What woman and what is she doing here?”

Swi smiled. “She’s my wife.”

“Your wife?” Fils looked at the young woman who was looking at him with a calm expression on her face. He gave her a brief smile and a nod and then said to Swi.

“You are as bad as your father. By the time you are thirty you will have ten wives and have to spend most of your time hunting to get any peace. She will have to stay with the women riders. This is a military camp. No wives. If I make an exception for you then I’ll


have to do it for others. If I do that we will soon be encumbered with hundreds of women and babies. Tomorrow four hundred riders will be going west to the village. She can go with them.”

“Can I go with them?”

“No. You are too good a wheelerdealer and we need more supplies. There are Lacti villages twenty miles south. They have dried meat and corn. There is still some of the coin left and I want you to go there and bring back as much as you can. Talk to those Lactis over there. They are from that neck of the woods. We have lots of horses captured from the Rechyai. You can take as many as you want.”

Fils started to think and suddenly a light dawned in his eye. He looked along the line of horses Swi had brought into camp.

“Where are the paints?”

Swi looked at his feet.


“I gave them for her.”

This astonished Fils. He opened his eyes as wide as they would go. He looked at Swi who was looking off into the distance. He looked up at the sky and then down at the ground. Then he said. “Say that again.”

“I gave them for her.”

“Then I would suggest you don’t even think of going back to the village for some time. Your father, when he hears this wonderful news, more than likely will take his battle axe to you. And I can’t say I would blame him. Paying for wives with other people’s horses is not exactly the proper way to behave.”

“I plan to pay him back.”

“With what?”

“My share of the Rechyai horses.”

“That would amount to about one quarter of a horse if we dealt in fractions. But as you


know they will be divided up by lottery and even if you are lucky you will get only one. The Rechyai horses are not very good. Even if you get one it would only equal one half of one of those paints. They were magnificent horses. That leaves you two and one half horses short. Your father was particularly fond of that stallion. Who did you make the arrangement with among the Osni?”


“An old friend of Kweya’s. You gave too much. The stallion alone would have been enough.”

Swi said nothing.

Fils looked at him for a long time and then said, “Don’t be discouraged. I’ll send a message to your father with the riders so the next time you see him he will have had lots of time to forget his anger. You did a very good job with the fish. Get some idea of the prices from the Lacti before you go. I need you to leave tomorrow, first thing. We have a long winter to look forward too. Then there is next year. I would like to set up regular supply lines we can rely on. The Rechyai will be retreating to the tree line soon. Talk to the scouts before you leave and take two with you. You don’t want to run into the Rechyai crossing the trail.”

When Swi left at first light the next morning he took ten riders with him besides the scouts. They rode trailing a pack train of fifty horses. The air was crisp, the sky clear and pale blue. They rode for an hour when they came to a solitary figure riding towards them. It was Alma, Swi’s new wife. They did not break stride. She trotted over and took her place beside Swi. The other men smiled but they did not say anything. Swi was smitten and men who are smitten, especially one as large as Swi, can be dangerous.

Afterwards Alma accompanied him on all his trading journeys. She did not come into the Sege camp when they returned but camped five miles south in a hollow near a stand of poplar. When he was in camp Swi rode out every night to be with her.

Fils pretended he knew nothing of this. He pretended that Alma had gone west with the riders and never spoke her name or asked questions about her. When Swi left for the Lacti villages Fils sent a middleman to see Tangout. After some negotiation Tangout sent back the stallion and kept the two mares. When Swi came back he took possession of the


stallion without saying a word. When the lottery was held he was lucky and received a Rechyai horse. Since he was one of the first to win he got to choose a very good one. Now, according to Fils’ calculations, he was only one horse down.


One morning a group of warriors sent by Fils came into the Sege village. They stopped on the field in front of the hogans and dismounted. Scouts had brought the news of their eminent arrival and everyone was there to meet them. After the greetings of relatives and friends Ilna started to assign them to various tasks. Some he sent to dig into the hills to provide winter houses, some to plow fields making ready for spring planting, others to ride north to hunt deer.

Off to one side of the crowd two men in their forties with bulging upper torsos and gray hair cut short were looking over the young men. One was a strikingly tall and handsome man named Keli, a Klegit. He was an iron worker. The other, as ugly and short as Keli was handsome and tall, was Alo, a Sege. He was a bow maker. Both of these men had been at the villages since spring uninterruptedly working all day in the shops the warriors made for them and at the same time training young men. They had a reputation for being brusque which was well deserved. Craftsmen are often like that. Doing, not saying, is what counts for them.

Alo and Keli sat on a log watching the young men milling about. A group of twenty on horses left to go hunting in the north. Some were leaving one or two at a time with relatives to go off and work the fields. Who went where was very complicated. Lo, at Ilna’s side was giving him advice but even that was sometimes superceeded. Ilna would grab two young men by the arms and try to send them hunting (they had reputations as good hunters) but a clan elder would rush over and insist they were needed by the clan to finish plowing the fields. An argument would ensue. Lo would suggest a compromise – one to go hunting the other to go with the clan elder. More argument and finally


something would be agreed upon. Things were also complicated by many of the warriors not being Sege. The Horse People warriors had all gone south but there were Klegit and a few Osni and Lacti. Alo and Keli were particularly interested in the Osni and Lacti. Being few among many they were more isolated and more apt to respond to an offer to learn a trade. The Sege warriors especially but many of the Klegit as well, looked down upon any activity which did not involve galloping horses across the plain.

Occassionally Alo or Keli leapt to their feet, rushed over and grasped one of the young men by the arms and dragged him off to the side where the astonished young man would have a brief conversation with what he, perhaps, considered to be a grizzled madman. Mostly the young men then returned to the crowd but now and then they accompanied the craftsman back to the log. Behind the log were two of Alo’s daughters, both very good looking and not yet out of their teens. When the young men approached them they spoke to them in a friendly way and ladled out a bowl of especially delicious venison stew sweetened with honey. The young men were very appreciative. For the last two or three months their meals consisted of pemmican, porridge and water. As well they had seen few or no women during all that time. So they enjoyed their meal and they enjoyed talking to the young women. Keli thought that these manipulations on Alo’s part to be cynical and frequently told him so. Alo replied that Keli was free to sit wherever he liked but despite this exchange happening frequently as if it were some kind of ritual dance between the two men, Keli stayed where he was. His pride would not let him approach the fire for stew but the young women, being good hearted, brought him a bowl every so often.

By the middle of the afternoon the crowd was thinning out. There were seven young men behind the log, three of Alo’s and four of Keli’s. This they considered to be a good catch and they were in a happy mood. They were just about to close up shop when a lone figure stepped out of a group of young men and walked toward them. Behind the figure came Ilna and Lo arguing. It was Am and she walked up to the log and stood in front of the two men. Ilna and Lo, temporarily resting their argument, came to a stop on either side of her. Am obviously was aware of them but she paid them no attention. She addressed herself to the two men sitting on the log.

“”Perhaps you could be so kind as to tell me which one of you is the metal worker?”

“That would be me young woman.” Said Keli.

“I too am a metal worker.” Am said.


Keli glanced nervously at Lo. Lo was known to be death on men who pigeonholed women. He looked at Am. She was slight of build yet the muscles of her shoulders and upper arms were well developed. “Could I see your hands please?” He asked her.

Am held out her hands, palm up. Keli took them in his own and ran his thumbs along the palms. “There are callouses and muscle but it is starting to go.”

“That is because I was taken from the shop three months ago and made cook for the General.”

“The General?”

“The Rechyai general. Egil is his name.”

“I told you!” Ilna said to Lo.

“And so? What does that have to do with it?”

“Just the best information we will ever get on what the Rechyai are up to.”

Keli looked at the three of them and then asked the Am. “Where did you work and what kind of work did you do?”

“My uncle was a metal worker. He had a shop three weeks up the Eg from Sege territory. He made plowshares, knives, door latches, hinges. I have made these but mostly I made metal figures – ducks, deer, and other animals and sometimes human figures. My uncle loved me and had no sons so when I showed an interest when I was eight or nine he taught me. I did mostly figures but when he had his busy times of the year I would help him with his other things. The Rechyai killed my mother and my uncle and took me as a slave. General Egil claimed me and put me to work in a metal shop he set up in the old Sege village. I was making swords. But three months ago the general took me with him on the army’s trip up the Wah. Before the army retreated he snuck me over the earth wall and hid me in the woods. Scouts picked me up and eventually brought me here. I think the General was planning that all along. I think he is a decent man and has a good heart.”

Nobody knew what to say to this. Finally, after a long silence, Ilna said.

“You’ll have to come along with me and tell us what you heard and saw in the Rechyai camp, young woman.” He reached his hand toward her but Lo batted it away.

Am paid no attention to these two. She kept her eyes firmly fixed on Keli. “Will you take me into your shop?” she asked him.


Keli looked at Ilna and then he looked at Lo. “Well……,” he murmured.

Lo got herself in between Ilna and the girl and was trying to push him back without much success. Am took her eyes off Keli and looked at Lo and Ilna struggling.

“There is no need to fight. I am more than willing to tell you everything I know about the Rechyai. But first you have to give me a place in the shop. I don’t take much room. Just a corner.”

Lo and Ilna stopped pushing one another and looked at Keli.

“I can give you room, yes. But you have to spend mornings doing what I want you to do. Afternoons you can do what you want.”


“My wife and I have a dug in house. The children are gone so there is room. You could eat and sleep with us.”

“That would be fine. Thank you,” Am said. Then she picked up the pack lying at her feet and surprised Ilna by linking her arm in his and starting off toward the hogans. When Lo came along beside her Am shifted the pack on her shoulder and linked her other arm through Lo’s.

Am told Ilna everything he wanted to know excepting anything personal about the General. Ilna wanted to know where his farm was but Am refused to tell him. “I know what you warriors are like,” she said. “Sending people off in the night to assassinate enemies is one of your tricks. I will tell you nothing that will hurt the General personally. You can torture me if you like but I must tell you that I would much rather die then injure the General. He was good to me and gave me my freedom.”

When Ilna started to argue Lo raised a finger and he stopped. “I’m not planning to assassinate him! I am just curious.”

“Hmmmph.” said Lo. They went on talking late into the night.




The horses he had left Egil used for scouting. When they were marching he had riders out in all directions of the compass. When they stopped for the night he called them in. The army carried stakes with them and dug them in around the camp to prevent a horse attack. Every morning at first light he had his men practice making overlapping shield walls to repel arrows. They made camp in a square. Each night two thousand of his men slept in their gear on the outer perimeter. He wanted no surprises. He had no trouble with the men. After the wagons full of heads they were more than willing to do anything he asked of them.

They woke before first light and were marching just as the sun came over the horizon. In the evening horse units rode ahead, chose a camping spot, digging shallow earthworks and studding them with dug in the stakes. On the march spearmen with shields protected the perimeter. They marched five abreast, carrying their weapons. The nights were growing cold. When they woke in the morning the ground was covered with frost. Food was running out. The men wanted to butcher some of the horses but Egil would not have it.

It took them eight days to reach the camp on the Wah. They were on quarter rations and the men were exhausted. Fortunately supplies had arrived from the Eg. That night the men butchered and roasted sheep and emptied many barrels of liquor. Egil managed to keep enough guards on the earthworks but he had to do a considerable amount of badgering to do so.

That night Egil convinced his clan that he should relinquish the Directorship. They accepted his arguments that the military situation was hopeless and could only lead to disaster. To have this happen when one of their clan was Director would lead to a loss of prestige. The family heads were unaccustomed to this kind of war but they were not unintelligent men. The experience on the plain had taught them much, even a grudging respect for the Sege. As well Egil’s resignation would undercut the criticism of his unsuccessful campaign on the Wah.

Elmi, a grandfather in his sixties but still fighting, said, “It would be useless to return here without several thousand well trained horsemen. Warriors on foot are only good to hold fortified supply depots and for these to be of use one must control the roads between them and a supply road back east. I suppose some day we might put an army of riders together – Osni, Klegit and some of our own but we are a long way from that. Some of


these now trade with us but I doubt if they would fight with us. And next spring we have to fight the Horse People. If you resign as Director, when we get back to the Eg, for there is no purpose in staying here, then they will elect a Director who can lead the battle with the Horse People. Personally I think we should wait for some years, build and make alliances but, as you know, on the Eg the opinion is otherwise. Chances are the Horse People will kick our asses. We should not have one of ours as Director when that happens. Who gets to be Director after that will be what counts. We will send our fighters against the Horse People, of course, but we should put most of our energy into farming and fishing and looking for metals in the hills to the east of the Eg. We should cut a deal with one of the lesser clans for one of theirs to become Director on the condition they support us next time. Some of our middle aged men with big farms should have wounds act up in the spring and have to stay home and work their land. We should make a deal with our Klegit slaves to remit them after three or four years of work, allow them to marry, give them small plots of land and thus bind them to us. We should develop our sheep herds and learn from the Osni to breed horses. We should built shops and train more of our young men in metal work.”

There were a few dissenting voices but they were isolated and soon dropped their opposition.

When the Clan Heads gathered the next day they were bleary eyed and pale faced. They sat around the fire chewing left over mutton and drinking stale beer.
When Egil told them of his decision there was some protest but mostly for form’s sake. Clan leaders being what they are they immediately began thinking of how they could take over the Directorship and what advantages they could wring from it. They unanimously agreed to abandon the camp for now and march back down the Wah. Egil would lead them and when they reached the Eg the clan leaders, after notice was sent out for a great council and the people gathered, would chose a new General.

Egil was greatly relieved. That night he dreamed of his farm east of the Eg near Osni country. His wife and Klegit slaves were working the land to be seeded in the spring. He now had sheep, pigs, horses and goats. Even his short time as Director entitled him to grants of more animals and a pouch of gold coins. A barn and a house were half completed when he left. He would make snowshoes and spend much of the winter hunting. He longed for his wife. One night he dreamed of her when they were first married, naked and moving above him in the lamplight.

Three days later the Rechyai broke camp and started down the Wah.

Fils sent scouts to watch the Rechyai retreat but made no effort to harass them. When


the army reached the Eg the scouts turned back west. Fils had them set up a camp halfway up the Wah. From here they kept an eye on the Rechyai and visited the Osni and Lacti villages to the south.



When they came back from hunting, Yaah and Ohn continued to work on the dugout house. Ilna promised them three horses if they finished it before leaving for the south. While they were doing this Kweya took Neel, Zili and Bird west to hunt and fish.

Yaah and Ohn dug wider and deeper than they had originally dug for themselves. When the rectangle was finished they dug three deep trenches, one at either end and one in the middle. Over these they placed six thick tree trunks and over these twenty more crossing them at a right angle. Then they stuffed straw under and around the trunks. They laid two layers of split planks over this and covered them with a thick layer of clay. The roof and sides were framed with logs covered with planks and greased hides. Ilna traded for Klegit glass and they made two large windows in the wall facing south. Two of Kweya’s grandsons came and built a clay fireplace and chimney. The front wall was wattle and clay.

Ilna’s wives were very happy with their new home and moved in as soon as it was finished. They collected red berries from nearby, crushed them and mixed them with clay to cover the interior walls. They covered the floor with a layer of fine sand. They stretched a ceiling of hide below the poplar roof joists and filled it with straw for insulation. They extracted a blue colour from the roots of plants they found in their collecting expeditions and decorated the walls with figures and abstract designs. Then they built a porch with an earth floor leading off to one side. They studied the chimney built by Kweya’s grandson and built a smaller copy under the porch roof. For this they made Ilna get up early in the morning and bring them clay in baskets slung over the backs of two horses.

Ilna was so happy with the house he gave Yaah and Ohn an extra horse. Ohn took the horses out of the camp to a spot where he was gathering animals for the trip south. He


had fifteen horses, and a number of sheep, pigs and chickens. Yaah convinced a young Klegit couple to come with them and help with the animals. They built three rough wagons, light, wide bodied and with wide wooden wheels for crossing the grasslands. When Kweya and the others came back to the village loaded down with dried meat they were ready and waiting.



One morning, after he had delivered clay to his wives building the outdoor fireplace, Ilna rode his horse south from the village until he came to a slight rise covered by poplar. He rode around the copse to the other side and then dismounted. He sat in the grass and chewed a piece of pemmican. It was a lovely fall day of bright sun and brilliant colour, a slight breeze from the southwest. Hard frost was yet to come but there had been a few nights of mild frost and the poplars leaves were now a deep, golden yellow, the grass a rich green. After about an hour a man on horseback appeared out of the grass a quarter mile to the east. When he saw Ilna he headed directly toward him at a brisk walk.

When the man reached him, he dismounted and sat directly across from Ilna, his legs crossed. He was about forty with a scarred, weathered face lined with deep creases. His hair was jet black with the odd touch of gray. He was long and thin but sinewy, tautly muscled. There was an aura of nastiness, even desperation about him that Ilna didn’t like. But he who wants to hire an assassin can’t be too choosy. Ilna spoke first.

“Did he tell you who it is?”

“Of course.”

“That’s not a problem for you?”

“No. I am an Osni. I can move among the Rechyai without difficulty.”


“The best I have been able to get is that he has a farm somewhere off the river near the old Sege village. But he is a well known man so it shouldn’t be too hard to find out where.”


Ilna reached into his shirt and pulled out a small leather pouch. He tossed it across to the other man. He caught it and opened it, undoing the tie and spilling the contents out into his palm. When he counted the coins his lips moved very slightly. Satisfied he rebagged the coins, retied the bag and put it inside his shirt.

“And this again when it’s done?”


“And how will you know it’s done? It will be impossible for me to bring the head through Rechyai country. Too dangerous.”

“You will have to wait a month. Then come and see me. By then I will know through other sources.”

“And if I don’t get it done?”

“Then you will more than likely be dead.”


Ilna looked at the man who was staring out across the grass.

“He told you his name?”


“There may be many Egils.”

“Yes but this one I have seen. He was their General going back down the Wah. Going up it was somebody else. Did you kill the other General?”

“No. His own men killed him.”


“The Rechyai are hard men. Killing a man for them is no more than swatting a dog.”

Ilna did not reply to this. It seemed a strange thing for an assassin to say. The man across from him rose to his feet and mounted his horse.

“I’ll be back in perhaps two months, maybe a bit sooner. I’ll tell him and he will let you know the time.” The man gave Ilna a curt nod and rode off east. Ilna nodded back but the man had already turned away.


As the man had said it was easy for him to move among the Rechyai. There were many Osni moving about and he had no trouble finding Egil’s farm on the east shore of the Eg. It was off river a mile but still in the rich alluvial soil. Here was good land to farm for there were many natural fields for grazing and they were also easy to plow. He rode by going east and then rode back the next day going west. There was a farmhouse and a barn, almost finished. He saw two Klegit herding sheep and a woman sitting on the porch going east but on the way back he saw Egil. He was unmistakable – tall with yellow hair and a long nose. He was on the porch talking to the woman. He had no weapons with him.

He had thought it might be best to waylay him in the fields but this meant daytime and he might be seen. That night he camped by the river. When it was dark he crept through the fields and to the edge of a small copse of trees near the house. He separated some branches and watched for some time. The man and the woman were on the porch. After about a half an hour they picked up the lantern from the floor beside them and entered the house. A few minutes latter light showed in the window on his side of the house, on the second floor in the front. He waited. The light went out. He moved through the wood until he could see the back of the house. There were no lights. He came out of the trees and crept around the rest of the house. No lights. He reentered the trees and worked his way through the wood until he was opposite the barn. In a crouch he slipped through a section of long grass until he was at the south wall of the barn. Here he stopped to wait and listen.

He could hear a slight sound coming from halfway down the wall. He crept toward it. There was a window at man height. He slowly stood up until his eyes were level with the bottom of the panes. There was a quarter moon in the south sky and it gave him enough


light to see a dozen men sleeping in a bunk beds on the east wall. One was lightly snoring. This would be the Klegit slaves.

Back in the wood he crossed it and the fields until he reached his camp. The horse was already packed. He led him back and tied him to a tree on the west side of the copse near the house.

When he came to the house he walked around it carefully. There was a door at the front and one at the back but they looked very solid. On the east side there was a small window at ground level. He walked over, pushed it gently and it opened inward. He took from his pack a small lantern with an opaque glass. He lit it and shifted the glass until it was almost closed. He placed it on one side of the sill and looked in. It was the kitchen. He climbed in, picked up the lantern. Aiming its light in front of him he made his way across the kitchen floor into a hallway. At the end of the hallway was a stair. He turned the light to his right and slowly, one step at a time, made his way up the stair. One step creaked. He moved quickly to the next, closed the lantern and waited. There was no sound but to be sure he waited for five minutes more. Still no sound. Then he moved on until he was at the top of the stair.

He sat there on his haunches for a bit. He waited until his breathing was deep and rhythmical. Then he swept the thin line of light coming from the lantern across where he thought the door would be on his left. His guess was very accurate. He turned the lantern light away and placed it on the floor. Then he took off his shirt and gently snugged it against the bottom of the door. When he was satisfied it was tight he reached for the lantern, opened it wide, and laid it on the floor shining on the door. He stood up and tried the door. The latch gave way and it opened. He pulled out his knife and opened the door wide. For a Rechyai, he thought, Egil was remarkably trusting, or stupid.

When he came into the room Egil leaped from the bed with a short sword in his right hand. He was at a disadvantage for the lantern light was shining directly into his eyes. He took a swipe at the backlit figure before him but the man weaved to his left and he missed. The man drove his knife into Egil’s chest just below the right shoulder. Esti cried out in pain at the same time as he twisted his body quickly toward the bed. This pulled the knife out of the man’s hand and flung it skidding across the floor. The pain in his shoulder made Egil drop his sword and his twisting motion moved him away from it. The man pulled another knife from his belt and made a wild stab striking him in the ribs on the left side of his back. Egil pushed away toward the far wall and turned. The two men were left facing one another with ten feet between them. The man moved toward Egil, knife underhand, moving it slowly from side to side. When he committed himself to the


strike, Egil leaned back as far as he could and made a great sweeping kick with his left leg. He struck the man in the leg and staggered him but the knife also sliced across his right arm he was using for a block. It glanced off the bone as he went down and continued on into empty air. Egil fell heavily to the ground, half resigning himself to the coming deathblow.

But the deathblow didn’t come. Hurling herself silently from the bed at Egil’s attacker, his wife kicked the man in the back of his right knee, reached out with her left arm, grabbed him by the hair, yanked his head back and brought her teeth down upon his exposed throat, tearing out a great bloody chunk. The man fell to the floor. There he laid burbling air through his ruined throat, clutching at the ragged wound with his hands and drowning in his own blood. For two minutes his wide, desperate eyes searched the ceiling for a solution while the leather heels of his boots beat upon the floor. Then he was dead.

The Klegit men were running across the field shouting. They smashed in the front door and come running up the stairs. Egil was sitting up, his wife using the dead man’s knife to cut away his nightgown to expose his wounds.

He smiled at them. “The stitching gear is in the kitchen. A wooden box above the sink,” he said.



When one of Kweya’s grandsons came and told him the old man wished to see him, Ilna was apprehensive. “Twilight,” the grandson said and since it was midmorning he had all day to think about it. He grew increasingly morose. Lo noticed this and asked him what was wrong.

“Kweya wants to see me tonight.”

Lo looked at him searchingly for such a long time. Ilna grew uneasy.


“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“What have you been up to?”



“Honestly, Lo, the ones who come before be my witness.”

“You had better be careful what you say or the the ones who come before will come again at night and rattle their bones over the sleeping platform.” After she said this Lo went off toward the river to check the fish wier she and Zilli had built some weeks before.

When twilight came and Ilna was still sitting on the porch of his house, the grandson came up to him. He was a handsome boy, the bones of his face much like his grandfather’s. Without saying a word Ilna rose and followed him. When they reached Kweya’s new dug out house Ilna entered through the open door. The grandson stayed outside. Kweya was sitting on the floor in the far corner.

“Close the door, please,” he said. Ilna did as he was told and then crossed the floor and sat down opposite the old man.

Kweya, who often approached the central matter very slowly and very obliquely, was direct this time. “What you have done is next to unforgivable. If you had been successful in killing this man you have no idea the terrible consequences sure to follow. That you embarked on this alone, without talking to me or the other people responsible for Sege affairs, let alone the allies we have so painstakingly welded together into a coalition, is unbelievable.”

“I did what I thought best.”

“What does it matter what you thought best? I may think it best to plunge a knife into your chest. Does this make such an act any less stupid and reprehensible? You are the Sege Headman not some lout drunk on Rechyai beer seeking personal vengeance! This whole situation is enormously complicated and delicate and yet you plunge into the middle of it like a deranged bear not caring what chain of events your boorish egotism


sets off. Thousands of people could have died. A whole culture could have been wiped out as the result of your irresponsible action. Let me tell you that if this were forty years ago I would have simply had you murdered by some of my young men and that would be that. One man’s life is inconsequential next to the survival of a whole people. Lucky for you, in my old age I have come to see things differently.”

“I apologize. I’m sorry.”

“Wonderful. Marvelous. And now we can just go on as before with you periodically sending off thugs to kill the one leader among the Rechyai who we can deal with, the one man who in the future will lead the Rechyai forces of accommodation and coexistence.”

“I did not know this, Kweya.”

“Of course you didn’t know it. How could you know it if you did not ask? Or, indeed, if you did not choose to consult your own, if it is freed from blind bellicosity, fine, high intelligence. Did you not speak for hours to Am, the young Klegit woman? And, after that, even if you still came to your insane solution, why did you not talk to others about it so your imbalance could have been corrected?”

“I was blind, Kweya. I was not thinking clearly.”

“Obviously, but I want to ask you a question. Will you do this again?”


“Are you telling me the truth or are you simply appeasing me?”

“I am telling you the truth.”

“And when did you come around to realizing this truth?”

“As soon as the assassin rode away from me into the plain.”

Kweya looked at Ilna for a long time. Ilna felt like his bones were being scoured, like the flesh of his face was being peeled back and the old man was looking directly into the center of his brain. After some time of this the old man said.

“I believe you Ilna and I think you are a great Head Man, a great leader of the people.”


Ilna broke into loud weeping and wailing, such that the grandson started to open the door. Kweya cried out to him. “It’s alright, Wani. Leave us be.” Then he handed a cloth to Ilna and said. “ To be humiliated and stripped is a necessary thing for one who is to lead his people wisely. Did you know that, dear Ilna?”

Ilna wiped his face and blew his nose. He dropped the cloth into his lap and said. “So I have been taught, Kweya.”

“And now those teachings are a reality rather than words in the mouth of another. Do not be ashamed, Ilna. Rather be glad that you have the courage to see your own stupidity and change course. Think of all those whose fate is to die in their ignorance! Have you eaten?”


Kweya turned toward the door. “Wani!” he cried. Wani opened the door and popped his head inside. “Food, my dear young lad.” Wani smiled and went to get the food. Kweya reached across the space between he and Ilna and grasped both of Ilna’s hands in his own.

“Perhaps you have an inkling, dear Ilna, of how grateful I am that my dear, dear friend has found such deep and profound understanding.”

Then Wani entered with a platter of food and they ate and talked of horses and Lo’s new plan of selling oats to the Rechyai through Osni middle men to raise cash for buying metals from the Horse People in the south.

When Ilna came back from his meeting with Kweya, Lo was sitting on the porch weaving on a small loom. He sat down beside her, saying nothing, but he did slip his hand inside her tunic to rest his hand on the top of her buttocks. She kept on weaving but found the warmth of his hand very comforting.




Zuzy decided to go with Kweya after all. “I’m getting tired of running this racket around here. I think I need a change of pace,” she said to Zi.

“Some change of pace, riding all over the country with crazy Dad,” Zi replied.

“He says it will take two weeks to get there and if my arse gets tired I can ride in one of the wagons.”

“With the chickens and the bags of beans.”

But when the time came Zi decided to accompany her mother. “You’ll be lonely without me,” she said.

“Nonsense,” said Zuzy. “Kweya says a person who has a garden is never lonely.”

The daughter laughed. “Now you are quoting him!”

“Well, occasionally he does say something that makes sense.”

Zi’s daughter decided to come as well. She brought two young children who thought a trip across the grass with great grandpa the most wonderful thing in the world. Zuzy’s sister came too. “You will mess up the seasoning in the rabbit stew and the poor men will die of starvation,” she said to Zuzy. Her husband accompanied her as well and her sister in law who wanted to get away from her husband who was riding with Fils. “I was waiting for an opportunity to leave that skunk behind,” she said. One of her cousins joined them and two of her husband’s younger brothers.


Ilna and Lo and a crowd of relatives and friends saw them off.

They left early afternoon on a cool, cloudy day perfect for riding. First there was Kweya, with Bird on one shoulder, and Neel riding by his side chatting about his plans to finish his History of the Southern Peoples. Behind them Zili rode a large Klegit pony, leading two others packed high with traps and hunting gear. Beside her, Zuzy and her sister who, deciding that horseback would ruin their aging bums, drove a wagon full of chicken cages. Neel’s oldest wives, Di and Lally, rode in amidst the cages. Wani rode on horseback beside the two women in the wagon. Behind them were twenty five or so others of various descriptions. Bringing up the rear came Yaah and Ohn, along with the Klegit couple, Tel and Gally, pushing ahead of them one hundred and sixty four Klegit sheep and followed by six yearling pigs, five sows and a boar, and three mangy Klegit sheep dogs.

The first night they camped on the grass and on the second day entered the low hills to the south. When they camped that night at the base of one of the hills beside a deep stream Tel and Gally sat on the bank smoking long clay pipes. Zili unpacked her fishing net and walked upstream looking for a good spot. Neel sat in the sunshine and went over a section of his notes for the History of the Southern Peoples. Zuzy and her sister lit a fire and cooked a stew using some of the dried venison. Yaah, with bird on her shoulder, and Ohn rode south to a taller hill to see what they could see from its summit. Kweya climbed the top of the nearby hill, trailing the three dogs behind him, for what dog can resist the opportunity of a romp through the long grass?

On the summit Kweya retrieved from his inside pocket a small telescope. He put it to his eye and looked north. He could barely make out the Sege village. Then he turned and looked to the south. There were more hills but through their gaps was a sea of grass as far as the glass could show him. Repocketing the telescope he sat down crosslegged and began to meditate. One of the dogs lay beside him with his head in his lap. When Zuzy called him for supper at first it was as if her voice came from a long way off but then it grew closer and closer until he opened his eyes and looked down the hill to see her beckoning him. The dog had gone off with his companions chasing a rabbit. In one quick, fluid movement he rose to his feet and started down the hill.


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